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.
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.
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.
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.
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”