Truckies react to outbreak
THE clock clicked over to midday on March 23 when stage one of the Government’s social distancing measures came into place when I met up randomly with truckie Wayne Siebuhr.
I was beside the Port Access Road into Townsville and spoke Wayne to about his thoughts on what has been described as Australia’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and a health issue of mammoth proportions.
The 43-year-old Wayne drives a Kenworth 609 triple for Morgan Transport and was heading towards Phosphate Hill out west carrying zinc sulphate.
“I think the Government should have listened to the advice of Senator Pauline Hanson some weeks who said everything should have been shut down,” Wayne said.
Wayne believes many people including truckies don’t realize the seriousness of the virus and the impact it could have.
“So many people haven’t died in Italy so this is really a bad thing,” he said.
Included in the extensive list of businesses forced to close on Monday are registered and licensed clubs, licensed premises in hotels and pubs, casinos, indoor sporting venues, and places of worship, with restaurants and cafes restricted to takeaway service.
The day before I spoke to numerous truckies either by phone or contacted them by email about the crisis.
Not all truckies agree with the Government crackdown including Victorian owner-operator Russell Garner who is based at Lake Boga near Swan Hill.
The 60-year-old Russell was driving his Kenworth 604 carrying wine grapes from Swan Hill to Kingston in South Australia when Big Rigs spoke to him.
“This is totally ludicrous what the Government has done and the coronavirus is the biggest beat up and load of bullshit (BS) I have seen. They are shutting Australia down when the normal flu kills more people each year that this. Everyone is going to be affected. Many in the road transport industry agree with me but are afraid to say it,” Russell said.
Russell whose company is Garner Transport qualified that statement by saying he would abide by all laws regarding coronavirus.
Admitting he was in the age bracket which a high risk, Russell said he hadn’t seen one truckie wearing a mask.
“I have seen a lot of Asian people with masks though,” he said.
Russell said on his trip the previous night he had seen a lot less trucks on the road than before the scare.
“Many of the factories aren’t operating and have put workers off and truckies will lose a lot of business,” he said.
The veteran of 45 years as a driver said he didn’t stop at roadhouses since the coronavirus Pandemic news to abide by social distancing rules.
“I just fuel up and take off and keep my distance from others. Last night a roadhouse at Nyah was closed much earlier than it normally would,” he said.
A major concern for Russell is that the Government will close the borders to all traffic including trucks which provide an essential service.
“If they closed the border between Victoria and SA to trucks that would be devastating,” he said.
Russell hopes the coronavirus concerns don’t remain for a long period of time although he isn’t confident about that.
In conclusion Russell said he had seen “many more police than normal on Victorian roads and highways” since the scare commenced.
Although some respected road transport industry identities agree about how serious it is, some like Tasmanian Selwyn Sinfield can also see an unexpected benefit for others.
While many truck drivers carrying fuel and food supply chains are working flat out, others face months of reduced or no work.
Among all the doom and gloom surrounding the coronavirus Pandemic many drivers face months of reduced hours or no work.
Selwyn told Big Rigs on March 22 that SRT have employed extra contractors to service Woolworths Tasmania.
“Toll have hired extra trucks (contractors) to help fill the back log for Coles Tasmania. A supermarket down south has almost doubled what arrives each day, so all the others would be in same boat, no doubt. There have been advertisements for extra casual employees at supermarkets and transport companies which would be loading up the existing driver pool to do extra hours,” Selwyn said.
However on the flip side, Selwyn said there are no fridges or freezers available for the public to purchase due to panic buying.
“Locals have been buying all the freezers to store the extra stuff they get at supermarkets. Truck drivers are still able to travel to our big Isle with produce and returning with short supply products. Supermarkets have up til now been on automatic re order where the check out notes the sales and triggers the re order. I believe this has had to be got around to speed up the arrival of urgent products. Tasmania has around a seven day lag from order until arrives at shop. Both distribution centres for Coles and Woolies is in Launceston all freight enters through Burnie and Devonport adding to the lag by at least one day in some cases. WA would have similar lag times as Tasmania if the product is produced on east coast,” he said.
Selwyn said that with less tourists visiting Tasmania there had had been a downturn in the rental car industry which flowed on to road transport.
“A contractor who carts cars around Tasmania to have them ready for the rental market at smaller airports has been told he has had to try to find other business to cover his loss of work,” Selwyn said.
Meanwhile up in Queensland 71-year-old Steve Lawrence works for Mystgold and drives a Freightliner and admits because of his age he is in the highest risk of getting Contravirus.
Steve delivers Woolworths goods from his home Townsville to Sarina about 420km south along the Bruce Highway twice a week.
“This virus will end up almost stopping Australia as so many people are scared. I deliver to Woolies stores at Sarina and Ooralea in Mackay. I don’t handle the freight which is unloaded by Woolies staff but I am careful and wash my hands,” Steve said.
Steve said that the roadhouses he stopped at were doing everything they could to cater for truckies.
“A couple have taken the free tea and coffee making facilities away from the eatery or truck room so people don’t have to touch them,” Steve said.
Tully based driver Neil Messina said that truckies who deliver food are facing more pressure to deliver on time.
“These drivers are very important people at the moment to get food to the cities and towns to stock supermarket shelves. These are at high risk of getting contaminated just doing their normal job, and if so there is a chance of spreading it to their families. So respect these guys on the road, and let them do their job without the normal bullshit they have to put up with. I just hope all humans remember this when this is over, without trucks Australia stops,” Neil said.
At Australia’s northern outposts which are the Torres Strait islands, a State Disaster Declaration was approved on March 23 effectively restricting access. Entry into Torres Shire will only be by application to Torres Shire Council (and other councils for their LGAs) on a case-by-case basis.
Torres Shire Council Chief Executive Officer, Mrs Dalassa Yorkston announced today, “Only essential travel will be permitted to our Shire communities for all Qantas and Skytrans Flights from Cairns Airport into Horn Island Airport. The only exceptions to this restriction are Emergency Services, Health and approved providers for provision of food and fuel. All community access will be on a case-by-case basis”.
Big Rigs contacted 78-year-old Thursday Island semi retired truckie Barry Gower about how the public was reacting.
“Everyone here is pretty calm up here and they seem to be taking one day at a time,” Barry said.
Because of his age Barry said he was taking every precaution to prevent catching the virus.
“I am washing my hands regularly and following the advice of the medical experts,” he said.
Barry said he counted about 10 trucks operating around TI which is the business centre of the Torres Strait and as many on nearby Horn Island.