Fa­tigue fines a fi­asco

Trav­el­ling an old route from decades’ past has rekin­dled mem­o­ries of the times be­fore bu­reau­crats and their uni­formed foot-sol­diers were hell­bent on sep­a­rat­ing you from your month’s wages.

Owner Driver - - Owner/Driver - Ken Wilkie writes

I HAD in­tended this month’s col­umn to be a pos­i­tive ar­ti­cle. In late Fe­bru­ary, I was com­mis­sioned to haul a load of fur­ni­ture to the Alice. It was a gov­ern­ment con­tract with the usual bu­reau­cratic di­rec­tion to do some­thing or be some­where or penal­ties will ap­ply.

In this case, labour had been hired to as­sist. Yes, I did at­tempt to be part of the ef­fort – off-load­ing I mean. I don’t and will never claim fur­ni­ture re­moval­ist on my re­sume.

There was much con­ster­na­tion on my ar­rival at the site on the Mon­day morn­ing. “We’re not ready for this yet”. My team leader had con­sulted with their con­tact in the days prior and no is­sue had been raised.

So what to do? A 45ft fur­ni­ture van loaded to the hilt, so much so that my lad­der had to be fixed to the outer of the rear doors. The stuff had to come off and go into stor­age. More ad­di­tional ex­pense for the tax­payer.

EARLY 1970S

The pos­i­tive story was go­ing to be the mem­o­ries of a time long ago – in my life any­way. In Jan­uary of 1972, in the com­pany of my then young bride, we em­barked on our new life to­gether by tow­ing a new 18ft van to Dar­win. We have wilted a lit­tle since then and I never en­vis­aged I’d en­joy climb­ing into bed with a lady plus 60 years – but I do. Time changes ev­ery­thing.

One of our wed­ding presents was a good-sized fan given by a broth­erin-law. I chris­tened it ‘Althea’ af­ter a cy­clone that ripped through Townsville in De­cem­ber 1971.

In those days, cy­clones were al­most wel­comed be­cause, af­ter tear­ing the guts out of some coastal cen­tre, they de­gen­er­ated into a rain de­pres­sion and well wa­tered the plains way out there.

Also in those days, the road link to ‘The Isa’ still had con­sid­er­able stretches of dirt be­tween Lon­greach and the min­ing cen­tre.

As the route through Bou­lia had less dirt, that was our di­rec­tion. The X2 HD was a lit­tle stressed drag­ging the van across the dirt. Just a week or so ear­lier, the north, west and Dar­win freight had been able to push through the mud with the aid of stiff bars link­ing trains so that those on hard ground could push or pull those with­out trac­tion in the mud. Woe be­tide us had the Holden slipped into one of the tracks left by nu­mer­ous sets of du­als as they were dragged through the soft stuff. We just had to stay on the high ground be­tween ruts.

Jan­uary and it’s hot and the Holden is strug­gling with the heat. From the Isa I de­ter­mined to do it in the dark. That was my first ex­pe­ri­ence with my lim­ited abil­ity to overnight.

I don’t know how many spells we had on the shoul­der, but on sev­eral oc­ca­sions the not-planned and notwished-for rest was dis­turbed by the sound of an on­com­ing en­gine work­ing hard, fol­lowed by the swish­ing noise as sev­eral axles rolled past.

We got to Dar­win in due course and with no other dif­fi­culty. I in­tended to take up cor­re­spon­dence stud­ies to im­prove my earn­ing abil­ity – an­other learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I couldn’t han­dle days sit­ting look­ing at books.

FREIGHT PI­O­NEER

I got a start with the Bris­baneDar­win or­gan­i­sa­tion McIntyre Freight Lines. ‘DJ’ ( Doug McIntyre) is com­mem­o­rated on the Alice Springs Wall of Fame as a pi­o­neer of gen­eral freight be­tween Bris­bane and Dar­win. I learnt a lot from DJ and I learnt a lot about the stamina and de­ter­mi­na­tion of that ab­so­lutely great group of hu­man­ity called truck­ies – real peo­ple.

And there was Wayne. Passed on, like most of those fel­lows I guess. But death came to Wayne pretty young, not in an ac­ci­dent but through heart fail­ure, most prob­a­bly as a re­sult of abuse through con­stant long hours.

Wayne could outdo Win­ney Atwell with the mu­sic he made with a 5x4 Spicer be­hind a small Detroit twostroke in a Di­a­mond Reo that DJ had in his lo­cal Dar­win fleet.

Wayne’s real joy was the R model that he pi­loted from Bris­bane – two trail­ers, weight no real is­sue, and 237 horses in Maxi­dyne guise.

Then there was Ter­rie, who has also left us. A sim­i­lar story ex­cept he was driv­ing when his heart shut down. No one else in­volved and Ter­rie would have been very re­lieved at that. Mack and Maxi­dyne were his choice.

Ter­rie was an owner-driver. The 6-speed Maxi­dyne strug­gled across the Barkley. There are ad­vi­sory signs these days warn­ing of cross­winds. Ter­rie’s an­swer was re­plac­ing the 6-speed with a quad to limit the en­gine from labour­ing.

And there was Col in his long-nose White. I think he may have been the one in Slim’s song. And also Jamo, Jimmy, Bob and Nifty.

Nifty was a real char­ac­ter. I have mem­o­ries of Nifty ar­riv­ing with no brakes af­ter the de­liv­ery hose from the com­pres­sor failed.

Nifty wouldn’t ever dream of do­ing that to­day. No spring brakes to com­press then on how many axles.

And, of course, no means of bring­ing it to a quick stop should that be re­quired.

They were all real men. Hard work­ing and as de­cent and hon­est as no bu­reau­crat could ever hope to be.

These were the men and times I re­lived as I raced across the plains out there. Great peo­ple, great mem­o­ries. At times the old track is vis­i­ble be­side the cur­rent high­way. I won­dered what those fel­lows would think when they looked down on me in my sin­gle 2-axle trailer with twice the horse­power and dou­ble the torque, and a bi­tu­men sur­face with hardly a bump. Not to men­tion air­con­di­tion­ing, cruise con­trol – and I don’t think power steer­ing had even come into vogue at that time.

Back in those days there were no bloody hardarse cops out to milk a month’s pay just be­cause they could. That started not so long af­ter, though. What was that cop’s name from Queens­land?

Yes, ‘Paw Paw’. Rep­u­ta­tion has it that he was not be­yond pulling a gun if he felt threat­ened – or just had a de­sire to do so.

‘CON­CERNED’ EN­FORCE­MENT

Any­way, ow­ing to my so­journ into my past, I missed the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend an­other count­ing of hours’ fi­asco at the Na­tional Trans­port Com­mis­sion in Mel­bourne. An­other? I went to one a few years back. Then it was Vic­to­rian and South Australian po­lice of­fi­cers claim­ing con­cern re­gard­ing what they termed as nose-to-tail.

At that first meet­ing there was no re­morse from those po­lice who had been count­ing from just any­where and breach­ing if the count ended part­way through a seven hour break. Nose-to-tail? Rat­tling off the max­i­mum al­lowed num­ber of hours and start­ing again straight af­ter seven con­sec­u­tive rest hours, I think.

So many of these public ser­vants are a waste of space. Now that is hard, but for Christ’s sake. Af­ter that first ‘count­ing of hours’ meet­ing where I failed to point out that any 24-hour rule makes it legally not pos­si­ble to do what is be­ing claimed.

At that first meet­ing on the is­sue, the con­cerned en­force­ment peo­ple were in­structed to find ev­i­dence and ac­tion would then fol­low. No bloody proof has been found. And dear reader, as with the de­ceit­ful na­ture of bu­reau­crats, no bloody ev­i­dence has been sought.

In­stead of study­ing heavyve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents to de­ter­mine the cause, bu­reau­cracy is now off on an­other play­thing, which is de­ter­min­ing the va­lid­ity of fa­tigue-mea­sur­ing tech­nol­ogy. Any dis­trac­tion from what the grass­roots of the in­dus­try wants.

Are they fright­ened that proper study of heavy-ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents might dent their con­fi­dence in their pet schemes? Such as AFM or BFM? Are they con­cerned that the overnight tightly sched­uled sys­tems of their cor­po­rate friends might be re­vealed to be less than user friendly? Should I sug­gest some sort of col­lu­sion?

Now I am led to be­lieve that the NSW Roads and Mar­itime Services ( RMS) does not recog­nise the ‘in any 24-hour’ as­pect of the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor’s fa­tigue reg­u­la­tion.

I am led to be­lieve that af­ter a seven-hour con­sec­u­tive break, nei­ther the RMS nor the much-vaunted apps on fa­tigue raises an is­sue with ex­ceed­ing 14 hours un­less it hap­pens in the one work pe­riod.

Is that what is hap­pen­ing? Driv­ers are be­ing asked to go past the post re­peat­edly af­ter seven?

In Queens­land I have spent con­sid­er­able time ar­gu­ing for re­spon­si­ble le­gal re­dress for driv­ers who have in­ad­ver­tently ex­ceeded 12 in 24 af­ter seven hours. The com­ment is sim­ply that a seven-hour break does not re­set the 24 hour pe­riod.

One can have more than one 24-hour pe­riod in op­er­a­tion at the one time. Ad­her­ence to that phi­los­o­phy makes nose-to-tail a non-is­sue.

And should I men­tion that one of the best-known road trans­port bu­reau­crats talked about six con­sec­u­tive hours?

Was that a typo? For the driver a more-than-sub­stan­tial fine is quite pos­si­ble, or is this fur­ther con­fu­sion? I have asked the ques­tion but no re­sponse at this point.

“HE WAS NOT BE­YOND PULLING A GUN IF HE FELT THREAT­ENED”

KEN WILKIE

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