Working to the end of the pipeline
ALAN Gamble has been behind the wheel for 31 years. In 2010 he exchanged traffic for the outback and has spent the past 24 months working in south-east Queensland on the gas pipeline for NACAP.
It's a high-pressure coal-seam gas pipeline that goes from Wallumbilla to Moomba where it will connect with the Sydney-Adelaide distribution.
From country Victoria, Alan spends 28 days on the job and has nine off, the company flying him in and out. That is one hell of a commute.
"Yeah," responds Alan. "It's not every day a truckie gets flown to work."
From a past life driving timber jinkers, quad-dog tippers, traversing the outback and fighting the traffic on Melbourne's Western Ring Rd, he now finds himself behind the wheel of a fuel tanker.
"It's only a little rigid four-wheel-drive American International Workstar," he said.
"She carries 9000 litres off-road, on road 6500. My job is to refuel the machinery working the pipeline.
"It's all good. I enjoy it even though I'm not driving a big truck. I enjoy not driving in traffic. I like the outback and the open isolation."
When asked about the ramifications if the machinery runs out of juice, Al laughs. "That doesn't happen, mate."
Is it a lonely life?
"Not at all. There's about 480 people on the site. The majority are men but we've got a few girls as well.
"They're mostly in admin, but there's some driving excavators and similar.
"I was sick of the hustle and bustle of city traffic, especially the Western Ring Rd. Worst road ever built."
With daughters grown up and wife Nevis in a full-time job, the time seemed right for a change in driving lifestyle.
"I'd always talked about doing this. The family have backed me all the way and Nevis hasn't got my grubby boots walking through the house," Al said.
While the money is very, very good, that was not the driving force behind Alan's decision to take the job.
"It's the lifestyle. You make a good dollar but you're only employed on a day-to-day basis. When the job's done you're obsolete," he said.
"The money shouldn't be the sole reason. You have to enjoy the work at the end of the day. It wouldn't suit everyone."
Daily driving distances vary, depending on the proximity of the job to the camp, which is moved every 4-6 weeks.
"I'll do anywhere from 200-600km a day, which is peanuts compared to the interstaters, but the roads up there aren't as good," he said.
There are three camps. When crews are in the second and third, the first is getting moved. The initial set-up takes a week, then gets built upon as the workers come in. It's a mobile village with offices, laundries, a gym, sleeping quarters, bar and kitchen.
The crew don't want for good tucker with smorgasbord breakfasts and fresh seafood flown in every Friday night.
Alan works 10-hour shifts but comes in for plenty of overtime in the field services area in which he works.
Camaraderie at the camps is good.
"There's lots of laughing, jokes and shit-stirring," he said.
"You have to have that because the camp is your family.
"There are a lot of middle aged blokes. They tend to be more settled. You get young fellows and obviously they want to, and should, be chasing sheilas and kicking footys.
"Having said that, there are some young blokes up here who tend to do it pretty hard by comparison. They want to be knocking around with their mates."
When asked how long he thinks he'll stay in the job, Alan's reply is swift.
"I don't know what I'd do if I came home. Couldn't handle the traffic and freeways," he said.