In Short Story July 2021, Scania, July 20217 MinutesBy Dave McCoidAugust 29, 2021

If Kiwis knew the mix, breadth, and in some cases, depth of knowledge staring back at them from the windscreens of the trucks they pass, I’m sure they’d be flabbergasted. In our travels, we’ve met all manner of folk from a zillion different backgrounds, and Ben Brownless adds abundance to the rich fabric of characters who make up the wheelmen of this land.

If you see the Marsh Scania coming towards you and you’re willing to take a punt, say to whoever is with you, “I bet you a ‘hundy’ that the guy driving this truck has been a roadie, tour manager, and sound engineer for some of the country’s best-known bands.” If your travelling companion agrees, and Ben’s at the wheel (and there’s a better than odds-on chance he will be), then you’ll be one red note closer to your dreams.

Raised in the Awakaponga rural area between Matata and Edgecombe, 43-year- old Ben and his family are long-standing and respected dairy farmers in the area. From school, he went into the family business and stayed there for the thick end of 20 years, progressing from worker cadet into management, and eventually, 50/50 sharemilking with his own heard of cows.

“I just got to the point where I’d had enough. Farming’s a great industry, and I’ve never been shy of work. I just needed to explore other things that interested me.”

Ben’s passion in life, outside of all things work, is music, and mates from school in Whakatane had gone on to form the well-known band, Kora. Post the farm, in about 2008, he took on a job as roadie for the group. Concurrent with the roadie work, he qualified in audio engineering, and it wasn’t long before his studies and the practical, organisational and management skillsets he’d built up while farming paid dividends. Ben took on roles with increased responsibility, including tour manager and production manager. By the time he ended his band touring adventures in early 2015, he’d travelled the world with names that included not only Kora, but Shapeshifter, Shihad, and Katchafire.

“It was a fantastic time, but that life is really hard. People don’t realise. It’s pack-up, set- up, hotels, moving, constantly moving. Touring is hard, hard work.”

A quick spell at home farming and working in his brother’s contracting business, and it was time to tick off another bucket-list item, one that had him back on the land, this time in the USA – Fargo, North Dakota, to be exact.

“I’d always wanted to do a grain season over there, so I signed up with a firm in Christchurch that sources labour from around the world and off I went. It was just amazing. I loved it. That’s where I was introduced to trucks – big old Kenworths and Internationals. The operation I was with was one of the smaller ones, so it was good. We all got on and did everything from harvesting to carting the grain, to moving the harvesters. Huge distances from job to job – the scale over there is impossible to convey to someone who hasn’t been. Truck stops with literally hundreds of trucks parked up.”

Home from the grain season in late 2015, Ben went back to the family farm before helping bandmates on the summer domestic tour season.

Once he did that, he answered an advertisement for work at… you guessed it, Marsh Contracting, as a machinery operator.

“I didn’t want to do the trucks, particularly. I’d felt I’d done that, but there were trucks here, and it seemed a waste not to have those skills on tap if they were needed. Trouble was, I did things the opposite way around. I got all my heavy licences in the States and needed to convert them to New Zealand. I was just in time before the laws changed, so the US licences were recognised here when I did it. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous because their system is way better, much more thorough than ours; and they’re quicker to progress you through. You must do tests for loading, restraining, braking – everything, really. The precheck walk-around and fault identification test is so thorough.

“When I did the changeover, I had to do our driving-hour modules, and while I was at it, I did wheels, tracks, and rollers. I’d like to mention Peter Crombie from PJ Licencing in Mount Maunganui. He’s bloody amazing and knows everything there is. He made it all really easy.”

That was six years ago, and Ben’s now happily ensconced at Marsh Contracting. Of course, in typical Ben Brownless style, his attributes have seen him progress, running the operations for the trucking and contracting sides of the business and having a financial interest in the new truck. Ben’s partner, Tammy Marsh, takes care of the commercial side of the operations.

“It’s great. I enjoy it, and there’s lots of variety, and always something on. Rural industries have that inherent trap in that you could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you wanted. There is never any end, so you must manage that aspect for sure. Simply put, it’s a way of life.”