WAY UP THE TOP END: Gavan beside his long road train.
WAY UP THE TOP END: Gavan beside his long road train. Contributed

What's it like driving around remote areas of Australia?

AT just 29 years of age, Gavan Roy could aptly be described as a veteran truckie and from his base at Weipa on Western Cape York Peninsula has travelled some of Australia's roughest roads.

Gavan works for his father's company Rob Roy Earthmoving which is at Evan's Landing in Weipa.

"I'm now the operations manager, however still finding myself regularly behind the wheel. I have been a driver since I gained my semi trailer licence when I turned 18,” Gavan said.

He drives a 2014 Western Star Constellation powered by a 600hp Cummins motor and with an 18 speed Roadranger gearbox.

"It is a pretty comfortable truck and good for what we do, which is mainly triple side tipper work. All of trucks are spec'd with 6-rod suspension as we find this best suited to the conditions” he said.

Until eight years ago Gavan drove a 1995 Western Star which was known around Cape York as "Born Country”, and was purchased by Dent's Transport in Mareeba.

"We sold that and now have six Kenworths, my Western Star, a Mercedes Benz Bitumen sprayer and a range of other vehicles and more than 200 pieces of equipment,” Gavan said.

From December through to April most years, Weipa is isolated by road after rain.

In the dry months Gavan has travelled to isolated communities such as Aurukun, Mapoon, Lockhart River and Bamaga on Cape York Peninsula.

"There are some very rough roads up here and in recent times we have been doing a lot of work carrying material to the Amrun Mine just across the river at Weipa. This cartage was on a barge called the 'Quandamooka' and we fit two triples side by side on this boat,” he said.

In such tough economic times, Gavan was glowing in his praise for the Amrun Mine project.

Gavan on the way home from a freight delivery on the Aurukun road.
Gavan on the way home from a freight delivery on the Aurukun road. Contributed

"Rio Tinto's Amrun Project has been a tremendous boost to the local economy and the last three years have probably been some of our best years around here,” Gavan said.

Gavan said the Peninsula Development Road between Weipa and Lakeland Downs has improved in leaps and bounds with much more bitumen over the past decade.

"It is about 554km long and now almost 300km has bitumen. But it used to be nearly all corrugated dirt,” he said.

Although that comment came with a qualification.

"Although there are new sections of bitumen, some of the remaining dirt sections are atrocious. Late last year I was carting screenings from Lakeland Quarry to Weipa and the one way trip was 16 hours,” he said.

From time to time Gavan also gets to travel down to Cairns which is about 800km from Weipa.

It was in Cairns that Gavan and other family members gave dad Rob a surprise 70th birthday party last year.

"He's always been generous and always willing to do what he can to help others out, so I had the idea of throwing this party for him with an aim of showing some appreciation to him. I bounced the idea off my partner and we came up with some ideas. From there she took charge and did nearly all of the organising to make the event a successful and memorable one,” he said.

Rob who started the company in 1981 is a genuine legend of the road transport industry around Cape York and loves getting down to Cairns on occasions when time permits.

The company does earthworks, road construction, bulk loading and cartage, bitumen sealing services, wide load pilot duties, and heavy equipment haulage.

In a room near Rob's office is a large picture on the wall from 1992 when he won a major prize with one of his old Louisville's in a competition run by Ford. It is still his pride and joy.

FLASHBACK 2009: Gavan on the back of the Western Star, which has since been sold.
FLASHBACK 2009: Gavan on the back of the Western Star, which has since been sold. Alf Wilson

There are plenty of roadhouses between Weipa and Cairns and I asked Gavan what was his favourite.

"I don't stop at many roadhouses as I am self sufficient in the Western Star with a fridge, a microwave, a gas cooker and my favourite - a 12V oven or 'black box'. So I have all of the little comforts,” he said.

There are some things that Gavan finds disturbing during his travels including what he calls "the stupid things tourists do whilst driving”.

"The lengths they will go to get around trucks never ceases to amaze me and then they will get on the radio and abuse us,” he said.

"I don't know what their hurry is, they are on holidays and we have a job to do.

"They put not only their own, but their families and other road users lives at risk by being so arrogant.

"There are also a lot of road users who give the truckies respect and we appreciate this, sometimes the roads are so bad we are travelling at walking pace for hours on end weaving in and out of table drains trying to get a break from the corrugations.

Life is great for Gavan who has a loving partner Vanessa and a 10-month-old son Kendall.

Outside work when time permits, Gavan enjoys the odd coldie at either the Weipa Carpentaria Golf Club or the local Bowls Club.

Sometimes he even ventures over to the Albatross Hotel where many locals meet and yarn including truckies, some passing through.

Other recreational passions for Gavan are fishing and the waters around Weipa abound with lots of popular species such as Barramundi, threadfin salmon and grunter.

But anglers have to beware as well as the creeks and rivers are crocodile infested.

Like many others in the Cape York area and also around Australia, Gavan enjoys pig hunting.

After all these feral pigs are in huge numbers and damage the land and upset the food chain.

"I have seven pig hunting dogs and the biggest boar I ever caught weighed 120kg,” he said. Generally every year in the wet season,” he said.

Around January February some years, Gavan and close friends travel over to Japan to enjoy some snowboarding.

"It's a great place, the people are friendly, the food and beer is second to none,” he said.

When Rob finally retires Gavan will take over the company and with his experience he will handle the position with ease.

With Gavan running the day to day operation of the business, father Rob now gets to enjoy getting back behind the wheel.

"In July last year we purchased him a new Kenworth T659 and a brand new triple set of Roadwest sidetippers,” Gavan said.

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