Debbie Menz’ 2004 Western Star 4900
Debbie Menz drives a 2004 Western Star 4900 from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. She tells Tamara Whitsed about the Brisbane business she operates with husband Mark Menz, M&D Menz Transport
Debbie Menz’s 2004 Western Star 4900 stands out from the other trucks in the M&D Menz Transport fleet. Most of the Brisbane company’s trucks are painted in the light blue livery her husband Mark chose when he bought his first truck, an Atkinson, back in 1981. But Debbie’s truck is an eye-catching purple.
“It’s my favourite colour,” says Debbie, who drives the Western Star five days a week.
Recently she has been carting two loads of containerised pavers daily from Dinmore near Ipswich to Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast. M &D Menz Transport specialises in containers and has eight trucks operating from a yard in Wacol, a Brisbane suburb. The company has invested in two container lifters.
Debbie’s life has revolved around trucking since she met Mark back in 1984. Originally from Melbourne, Debbie was working as a nanny in Queensland when they met, and Mark was running his Atkinson interstate.
She enjoyed travelling in the truck with Mark, and they married in 1985. When their first child arrived, Debbie embraced her new role as a mother. She enjoyed the 14 years she spent at home with Hayley (30), Amie (28), Erin (26) and Laura (22).
“I liked being a home maker – baking, and being able to do all the school things,” Debbie says.
Mark and Debbie began married life based in Mark’s New South Wales home town, Wagga Wagga. They also lived in Melbourne and Yass before moving to Queensland 25 years ago.
When their children were young, Mark was often interstate, leaving Debbie at home with the girls.
“We were very limited on money back in those days. It was pretty tough,” Debbie says.
She’s been through some hard times with me.
But their situation improved when they moved to Queensland. Wharf work helped them expand the business from one truck to 14. It was a mixed fleet – Macks, Whites, Atkinsons, Mercedes, Western Stars and Kenworths. But it was hard work maintaining and operating such a large fleet, so Mark downsized in 1998.
Over the next few years, he gradually built the fleet up again with a variety of work, including general freight and groceries for Toll. They also carted mining equipment and steel.
Meanwhile, their daughters became more independent, and Debbie found work as a cleaner and a personal care assistant. She enjoyed working with the elderly, but her real ambition was to drive a truck: “I just always wanted to. It was my goal.”
She was inspired by her daughter Hayley, who had already obtained an MC licence. Debbie attended lessons with a professional driving instructor.
“I suppose I found it pretty hard to grasp it all,” she admits. But she persevered and obtained her HC licence in 2010 and her MC licence a year later.
Debbie built up her confidence driving two-up with Mark in a 1978 International Transtar 4300, travelling as far as Mt Isa, Bourke and Melbourne.
In 2014, Mark surprised Debbie by buying her the purple Western Star 4900. With a truck of her own, Debbie has progressed to become a confident driver on Brisbane’s busy roads.
“I used to go from Brisbane to Warwick which is about two hours each way. I used to love doing that,” she says.
Mark points out that Debbie was contributing to the family business long before she was driving a truck: “She’s been through some hard times with me. The transport industry is very hard.”
Their biggest challenge came in 2011, when the Brisbane floods hit their yard at Oxley. “I think we lost 14 trucks,” Mark says.
Many trailers were also damaged. Over 3.5m of water flowed through their workshop, damaging spare engines and spare parts. The water even reached their upstairs office. Mark says much of the damage was not covered by their insurance.
“If it had been a fire, it would have been covered. Because it was a flood, they didn’t cover it,” he says.
“That took the wind out of our sails. It cost us a lot of money, but it doesn’t matter. There were a lot of people worse off than us.”
Mark and Debbie have relocated their yard to higher ground at Wacol and today they run eight trucks. Over the past three years, they have adapted to the downturn in mining. They specialise in carting containers off the rail.
“We’re pretty lucky we’ve got some good reliable drivers,” Mark says. “Stan [Gibbs] has been with us for 17 years. He’s part of the family. We probably wouldn’t be here without him because he’s been the backbone.”
Mark regularly drives a blue 2000 Western Star 4900 around Brisbane, but he spends most of his time managing the business and maintaining vehicles.
He has restored a 1978 Atkinson similar to the one he owned back in the 1980s; and now he is rebuilding his 1978 International Transtar 4300. He is especially proud of his restored Dodge, which is a replica of the truck his father Darcy Menz drove in the Wagga Wagga district after World War II.
Mark looks back fondly to his early years of trucking when he loaded and unloaded potatoes, fertiliser and hay by hand.
“It was all hard yards, but you never complained about it. It was good exercise. It kept you fit,” he adds.
Mark was still in his early teens in the early1970s when he first drove a truck to cart hay around farms in the Wagga region. Later he carted stock for Greg Finnen and general freight for John Meyers.
He was only 23 when he bought his first truck. He was full of trucking ambition and unaware of the highs and lows he and Debbie would face in their years in the trucking industry. Today he is confident their hardest times are behind them.
Debbie is optimistic about the future of M&D Menz Transport and content to keep driving her purple Western Star.
I think we lost 14 trucks and a lot of it wasn’t insured.
Above: Debbie Menz drives this 2004 Western Star 4900 for M&D Menz Transport.
1. Mark Menz’s 1978 Atkinson is similar to the
truck he drove in the 1980s.
2. Debbie Menz was behind the wheel of Mark’s Western Star during the Sylvia’s Gap Road
Run in June.
3. Debbie Menz fulfilled her ambition to become
a truck driver.
4. Mark Menz has been an owner-driver since
he was 23.
5. The Brisbane floods hit the Mark and Debbie’s
yard at Oxley in 2011.
6. The 2011 Brisbane floodwaters rose up the
stairs and into M&D Menz Transport office. 7. Mark Menz estimates that they lost 14 trucks
in the 2011 Brisbane floods. 7 5 6