Fitzy ‘over the moon’ with win
THE stress levels faced by drivers today are much higher than those in past eras, says Barry “Fitzy” Fitzgerald, the Australian Trucking Association’s National Professional Driver of the Year for 2018.
Barry, 67, is a Boral cement and fly ash tanker driver in NSW, and was presented with the honour at an awards ceremony in Canberra on April 20.
The award recognises the outstanding performance of a professional truck driver, including driving skill, attitude and contribution to industry improvement.
“I couldn’t believe when my supervisor Geoff Beattie told me I had been nominated and was amongst the final three. I was over the moon to win and it was a great honour when my name was read out,” Barry told Big Rigs.
Cootamundra-born Barry has been a truck driver for 49 years and plans to retire later this year.
“It has been a wonderful career but the stress and concentration levels truck drivers have these days are more than any time in the past. You have to put yourself in a zone as you worry about every other road user. It might be car or caravan drivers or people walking who are using a device like a mobile phone,” he said.
Barry’s concentration levels have obviously been magnificent as he has never had a traffic accident during millions of miles or kilometres.
The veteran driver has been married to Jennie for 45 years and they have had two daughters – Priscilla, aged 43, and Tamara, 42, and a son, Justin, 39.
“We also have nine grandchildren, aged three to 18, and Jen has been very important to me. For the first 24 years of my working life I was away most of the time and she raised the kids. When I was at home I’d sleep a lot but we always had a meal together before I took off on an interstate run,” he said.
Barry said he was proud, at the age of 26, to join the ranks of Ansett Freight Express and then transfer to Kwikasair.
A negative change in the road transport industry according to Barry is the loss of camaraderie among many drivers.
“In the past people would stop and help if you had a flat tyre or breakdown but now that is not always the case. Most times they drive past. Having said that though, many don’t have to change a tyre ourselves now.”
Asked about fatigue laws for truckies, Barry said Boral was a leader in making life on the road safer.
“All of the company trucks have i360 GPS and tracking computers and the company knows where the truck and driver is at all times,” he said.
“In the old days the only form of communication we had was by red public telephone boxes.”
Barry said the company also had cameras in the trucks which filmed at the front and down each side to the steering tyres.
Barry has contributed greatly to making Boral’s fleets and drivers safer, been a mentor and friend to many drivers and an excellent representative for them on safety and industrial committees.
Barry started his career delivering fuel in 1971 for his future father-in-law who owned an Ampol service station in Cootamundra, NSW. He soon progressed through several companies transporting newspapers, meat, livestock and interstate freight.
His ability and his ambition to drive big trucks led him to Blue Circle Cement in 1993, a company that Boral would later acquire.
Driving cement tankers requires specialised skills, managing the potentially dangerous processes of loading and unloading, the latter requiring the vessels to be pressurised.
Barry acquired these skills and also upgraded to a B-double licence, immediately making the switch to the 60-tonne rigs, and has been driving them ever since.
“In those days we had dayand night-shifts and the supervisor put me in a truck to do day-shift, partnered with a bloke called Rod Sellwood who did nights,” Barry said.
The successful enduring partnership that still exists is a reflection of their pride in their truck’s appearance, right down to painted tyres, clean windows and mirrors and spotless floor mats.
The partnership has survived eight prime movers.
“We’ve done over three million kilometres in 25 years without a traffic ticket or a serious incident,” Barry said.
“Everything on the truck works – all the valves, hoses and cam locks – because we look after them. We have a strong sense of ownership.”
Barry said that in two and a half decades of his working relationship with Rod Sellwood they “had never had a blue”.
“A few cross words from time to time but no argument. That must be some type of record.”
As for rest areas, Barry said there were nowhere near enough of them for truckies.
“These days the rest areas are mainly service stations. Along the M-7 most are not long enough and are very difficult to exit. A lot of the truck’s areas are taken up by caravans,” he said.
The worst road Barry has travelled on during his long career was between Tarcutta and Tumalong.
“Two of my mates died on that section and are honoured at the Tarcutta Truckers memorial,” he said.
On the flip side, Barry said, the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne was now wonderful to negotiate.
“It is two lanes and I also must praise the bypass at Albury/Wodonga which has cut time of travelling and made it a safer journey,” he said.
A favourite roadhouse of Barry in his long career was the Black Mountain between Armidale and Glen Innes.
“I use to stop there for a meal but don’t go to roadhouses much now,” he said.
This gentleman of the highways and byways also possesses a sense of humour, as became apparent when asked if he ever had any nicknames other than Fitzy.
“Some years ago I went to a picnic dressed as a market gardener and they called me Fitzy-Pop. Now I am a granddad or pop,” he said.
His hobbies outside work have included following speedway and coaching a junior rugby league team named the Hawks, which son Justin played for.
“That was when Justin was aged six to 12 and I barrack for the West Tigers in the NRL,” he said.
Upon his retirement, Barry will get a look at life in another form of transport when he tows a caravan up the east coast to Townsville in the far north of Queensland.
“We purchased a caravan recently and Jennie and I reckon we will enjoy a trip away in it,” he said.
“I reckon 49 years as a truck driver is now enough but I have lived the dream doing it.”
Boral Logistics NSW/ACT Supply Chain general manager Victoria Sherwood said Barry was meticulous in his appearance and regarded himself and his equipment as Boral’s face for customers and the community.
“Keeping cement tankers clean is a challenge since their natural environment is always potentially dusty, particularly at mobile concrete plants on construction or highway sites, but Barry and his night shift driving partner have efficient routines for cleaning their equipment,” Victoria said.
She said he was mindful of the constant concentration required for driving heavy vehicles, including awareness of others such as pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their mobile phones and cars cutting in front of turning trucks.
Victoria said Barry’s professionalism had shone through in the way he had elected to retire, recognising four years ago that his knowledge and input could be missed.
“This was particularly so of his role on the safety committee,” she said.
“He personally selected a driver he thought had potential to replace him as a drivers’ representative and asked him to take over the safety and industrial roles.
“He has been a shining example of professionalism to his fellow drivers and he is respected by managers and drivers alike.”
DRIVING FORCE: Barry Fitzgerald caps a stand-out career with his win as National Professional Driver of the Year at the National Trucking Industry Awards in Canberra. INSET, TOP TO BOTTOM: Fitzy with his wife, Jennie; one of his old rigs; a shot from back in the day as a young truck driver.
Barry is looking forward to spending more time with the grandkids when he retires.