REPORTING FROM THE FRONT LINE
IT HAS been a wonderful experience writing for and snapping pictures for Big Rigs over more than 10 years.
There has been lots of humour, warm friendships made, sadness when truckies have passed on, and lots of big events such as cyclones, floods and road closures.
I started as a Big Rigs contributor at the end of the long reign of editor John Pickford.
While the brain cells these days are not as good as they once were, I can recall working with many editors including a New Zealander named Robin, Matt Linton, Karen Bruyn, Greg Bush, Bob Riley, Gary Worrall and the current captain of the team, Chris Smith.
They are not necessarily in order of their editorship and apologies to any I have missed.
Some of my most vivid memories include covering Cyclone Larry, which devastated far north Queensland in March 2006.
My drive through a street at Mourilyan just south of Innisfail soon after revealed a scene I will never forget. It looked like an atom bomb had hit; power lines were down, buildings were wrecked and lives had been shattered.
Banana crops were destroyed and that affected the road transport industry for more than a year.
On the way back to Townsville from Innisfail I got caught at the notorious Seymour River crossing on the Bruce Hwy north of Ingham after rain water and king tides combined to flood the road.
The water there rose as I waded across and then a truck slowly negotiated the water and continued on its way.
There was the time around 1987 when I got stuck at Bowen when floodwaters closed Sandy Gully.
I got through the next day but ended up staying at a motel in Ayr with several stranded truckies.
One was nicknamed "Noah" and he was the subject of many good- humoured jokes.
"So where is Noah's Ark?" everybody asked.
There was Cyclone Yasi in February 2011, which also caused lots of damage, and there have been a few other big blows.
The best practical joke I have ever seen played on a truckie was outside the Lights on the Hill Roadhouse at Hughenden.
The victim of the prank was a popular small fleet owner named Tim, who used to play jokes on mates.
The night before some topless waitresses had served drinks at the local Great Western Hotel and a mate of Tim asked one if she would come out to the roadhouse early the next morning.
Tim was highly protective of his new truck and used to enjoy breakfast in the roadhouse.
Two of Tim's employees were also there and one managed to get hold of the keys to his truck and open it.
The lass totally stripped off and sat in the passenger seat of the truck and one of his workers told Tim that "somebody had broken into his truck cabin".
Tim stormed outside in a rage yelling out expletives suggesting what he may do to the culprit when he grabbed him.
When he opened the door the lass smiled and said, "Hi, my name is Sugar and you have a load of naked sugar".
The perfect "got ya" and his mates laughed loudly.
Tim also burst out laughing when he spotted me with camera in hand and although that occurred many years ago, it still gets mentioned at roadhouses.
Let's move on to legends of the industry. One who comes to mind is the late Malcolm B Johnson, whom I was warm friends with.
Malcolm owned Blue's Country Magazine at one stage and we travelled by car together to cover a Beef Expo in Rockhampton.
A diabetic who used to needle himself with insulin every day, Malcolm and I were coming back from Rocky between Clermont and Charters Towers.
Malcolm had run out of insulin and I thought he might have a fit and die but we managed to get to the Towers so he could get some.
Scary stuff but we laughed about it for years after.
I remember the time at Charters Towers when I saw two truckies in the warmest embrace you could imagine in a roadhouse parking area.
Turned out they had both worked together 25 years ago and hadn't seen each other since. In fact, both thought the other had died and they just saw each other at the roadhouse and it was pretty emotional stuff.
Then there was the time an outback truckie killed a taipan snake that threatened a lady motorist on the driveway of a remote roadhouse.
I mentioned it and soon after it was published Parks and Wildlife phoned me wanting to know who the truckie was as it was an offence to kill a protected species.
Naturally I couldn't remember his name.
Four years ago, quite accidentally, I came across Australia's tallest truckie, James Coles, who stood at 215cm.
Along the way there have been maybe a dozen very short drivers who were around 155cm.
There have been numerous trips to Tasmania in my Big Rigs time and lots of truckie interviews and stories.
There was also a trip through New South Wales when it rained so heavily that visibility was almost zero.
The wonderful thing about interviewing truckies is that no matter where you see them, they could be from anywhere around Australia.
I'm often asked have I ever tried to interview a cranky driver. Well that did happen many years back outside the Guthalungra Roadhouse.
Soon after asking a veteran if I could take his pic in front of his rig he hit me across the shoulder with a length of cane, similar to what the headmaster used if you were naughty at school. Albeit on the hands.
I beat a hasty retreat and a few minutes later he came up to me and apologised saying he had a bad day, which involved an argument with his wife.
We had a cool soft drink together and it was all good.
The worst highway I have ever travelled along is the Hann, which is 253km long between Hughenden and the Lynd Junction.
It used to be mostly a shifting dirt surface, which was dangerous, but it is being upgraded year by year and is now only 150km of dirt.
You have never seen so much dust as you drive along the Hann but I guess along with rain and floods that is why we call it trucking in the tropics.
Every time there has been a flood or cyclone the cold, hard facts about how vital truckies are to Australia come to light. Countless times I have seen empty supermarkets shelves that are quickly stocked when the trucks get through.
Proves just what true blue champions our truckie mates are.
'The lass totally stripped off
and sat in the passenger seat
of the truck'
'After asking a veteran
if I could take his pic,
he hit me with a length of cane'