In Aussie Angles14 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineDecember 4, 2020

In part one last month, Paul arrived in Darwin, grabbed his Western Star 6900 series and headed for Helen Springs Station for a load out of the drought-stricken Barkly Tableland. But things got complicated when too much dry turned into too much wet in Central West Queensland. Part two starts with Paul playing a waiting game in RTA‘s Longreach depot.

Part 1

Photo: The trucks were stranded on Warbreccan Station. Eventually they were left there for retrieval at a later time.

DAY 8.
I ran the truck and trailers over the pit for a grease and general maintenance, then drove into town again to take some photographs of various trucks parked up due to the floods (as you do). Nobody was complaining though, after years of near drought conditions the country was benefitting from a good soaking.

DAY 9.
Standing at the deli counter of Cornetts IGA, the phone rings: “I‘ve got a job for you, see you when you get back to the yard.” Details were scant, but in these situations you don‘t ask questions. All I knew was I needed a set of Longreach trailers, with a ramp on the back trailer in case rain stopped us getting to the unloading ramp at the as yet unspecified cattle yards. Having got the gear sorted, the plan was to load cows and calves at the Longreach cattle yards. They‘d come from Warbreccan Station about 180km southwest of Longreach, and were heading elsewhere on agistment (grazing) due to the lack of feed on their own property. But with the road impassable, and the bill from the Longreach yards growing, my understanding was the owners had decided to bring the cattle back to the station, although with more rain imminent, it was a risky plan. On this particular job there were three other drivers: ‘Camo‘ in the blue Kenworth T904 driving for Danny Morton who had the contract with the station, another RTA driver in a Mack Titan based out of Mount Isa, and an older Mack Titan with a driver I was curious about. At midday we began to load and by afternoon the convoy of four triples was heading south on the Longreach – Jundah Road.

We pulled up in the tiny settlement of Stonehenge just before the now fast-flowing Warbreccan Creek to enquire at the pub about the road conditions ahead. It was at this point that I recognised the old Mack Titan driver. In one of Bruce Honeywill‘s famous outback trucking DVDs of the 90s, he travelled with a guy named Dave Bielenberg in a 1988 Mack Super Liner V8 as he loaded 12 decks of sheep across three 4-deck trailers. It was something I had watched many times: a softly spoken owner-operator speaking about the decline of the sheep industry around the Longreach area. Now, here I was, some 20 years later, face-to-face with the man who seems to have changed little in that space of time. But as storm clouds loomed on the horizon, we decided to defer our chinwag until later. Turning right in the village, the water was now flowing over the bridge, and the chat on the CB didn‘t do much to reassure us that things were going to improve further on. “I don‘t know, guys, I don‘t like the look of those black clouds ahead,” said Camo, travelling behind Dave, who was leading the convoy. “Yeah, and that‘s right where we are headed,” replied the gently spoken Mr Bielenberg. All I could do was follow the pack and see what would happen. The decision was made to unload at the side of the road if the rain reached the yards before we did, jumping the cattle off the trailers. Even with that plan I couldn‘t see where we‘d be able to turn around and head back to Longreach.

Photo: Unloading Brownie‘s truck before it bucketed down.

Dave was the first to leave the bitumen stretch and attempt the final two kilometres through the paddock to the yard. Although the mighty Titan succeeded in somehow traversing the spongy track to the yard, that was as far as he would go. “I‘m bogged here fellas,” he said quietly over the airwaves. Just as that realisation sunk in, Brownie declared, “I‘m bogged too.” Having barely made it off the bitumen, the 120-tonne road train sank into the wheel tracks already made by Dave‘s outfit. A few well-intentioned but futile attempts to free him with the station‘s own Kenworth T909 were quickly abandoned, upon which it suddenly began to bucket down. Camo and I quickly pulled off the tarsealed road onto the dirt, so the cattle would have a soft landing when they jumped off the truck. We were soaked to the skin as the cattle ran off in all directions, calves bawling for their mothers, and the trucks were all well and truly bogged. We‘d be going nowhere anytime soon. The mud gets so sticky that you end up dragging what feels like two concrete blocks around on your feet, so instead you go barefoot. A kind offer of accommodation back at the station was extended, and taken up by Camo and Dave, while two of us stayed with our trucks, preferring the comfort of our cabs over an unknown sleeping arrangement back at the station. The only thing to do was to climb into the cab, wash the mud off your feet as best you could, turn on the Icepack, crack a beer, and get the laptop fired up.

Photo: What a mess.

DAY 10.
Daylight the following morning not only saw the rain continue, but also shed light on the quagmire we were trapped in. Any hopes of getting the trucks out were dashed, although Brownie decided to unhook the trailers and use a loader to try and pull him out of the swamp. I watched with interest until he finally accepted that he was well and truly bogged indefinitely The second offer of food and accommodation at the station was not refused by anybody, and we hitched a ride in the loader, while the others jumped in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser. The old style farmhouse featured a large veranda in true Queensland style, and the bread, steak, eggs, and sausages were in plentiful supply. Although we had no phone coverage, we were definitely in good hands.

Photo: Dave Bielenberg (in the middle with the beard) and RTA driver ‘Brownie‘ to his right, stand amongst station staff and lament a situation no one had any control over.

DAY 11.
We awoke to news reports of substantial rainfall all across Queensland. While hunger was not an issue, thirst and boredom were setting in amongst those of us who didn‘t have laptops, or write for truck magazines, in other words, everyone but me. That‘s not to say I wouldn‘t join them, but boredom never features on my radar. Camo managed to borrow a new-looking Ford Ranger that belonged to the station owner‘s son‘s girlfriend, both of whom were away. It was only about 60km back along the dirt road to Stonehenge, a daily journey for the manager‘s young son who attends primary school there. At the first creek crossing, which was only a few kilometres from the station, the red Ranger suddenly stalls in water that shouldn‘t have posed a problem for such a vehicle. Instead of having snorkels, the air intakes were down low, causing a problem. Even after cleaning the filter, the ute still wouldn‘t fire. Spirits were low as Camo, not feeling too good about himself, had to radio back to the station for help. A trusty old Land Cruiser arrived and dragged us back to the house, with no beer and a worryingly stalled, newish, Ford Ranger.

DAY 12.
With still no let-up in the rain further north, back in Longreach a decision had been made to abandon the trucks and organise a lift back to town for us. Three of us were in a long wheelbase Land Cruiser, while two would go in another pickup and be met by an RTA Land Cruiser at Stonehenge. There were many wet spots along the way, but the station manager‘s wife took it all in her stride, keeping the power down and remaining calm when the vehicle occasionally drifted sideways. Arriving back in Longreach, we dropped Dave Bielenberg off at his home. It fills me with joy and nostalgia when I see Dave‘s trusty old Super Liner from the DVD, which made such an impression on me in the 90s, still standing there on Pigeon Lane.

Photos: Icepacks rumbling, nothing to do but wait; there were trucks all over Longreach.

DAY 13.
Having spent the night in a donga in the yard, I sequestered the yard Land Cruiser and headed into town, stopping off at the famous Qantas Boeing 747 that is on permanent display at the museum/airport. Qantas was founded in nearby Winton in 1920 by Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness, and Fergus McMaster as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd, moving headquarters to Longreach in 1921. Longreach Airport is tiny, so a behemoth like the 747 really draws your eye. The mighty 747 had reached the end of its life plying the Sydney to Perth long haul, and its arrival at Longreach required a 57-point turn to manoeuvre it into its final resting place. Also resting were about two dozen truckers stranded in the town due to the road closures. Along with a few Scanias, there were some really impressive Kenworth T909s with polished bull bars and tanks, their Icepacks humming away as the drivers remained cool in the sleepers. Another night at the yard. One can only but wait and hope.