Toni Risson

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Some people dive into canyons with elastic around their ankles. Some plunge into shark-infested waters with small tanks of air on their backs. Others open their laptops and dive into subjects they know nothing about. Each adventure requires a leap of faith, the belief that, ‘I can do this’. Probably.

I spent the last two years writing about a trucking company. In addition to the biography of a man, the story includes a multi-generational family history in transport and enough context to situate events within trucking life as it was in Australia from the 1960s until well into the 2000s. Little research had been done on the material I wanted to cover, and there were few company documents to work from; this story lived mostly in people’s memories. In the sixty interviews and meetings that ensued, I spoke with drivers, mechanics, despatchers, office staff, wives, and even the children of drivers. This book was for them too.

My primary source was the man who had created the company and steered it through a period of great change in the transport industry, thereby influencing the lives of hundreds of families. Week by week, we uncovered memories together, and the story’s protagonist began to emerge. He had childhood dreams and adult flaws, and I was rooting for him from the very beginning. Finding the juicy bits – anger and fear, laughter and larrikinism, tenderness and love – and making them leap off the page was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project.

But trucks are potentially a dry subject for all but the enthusiast since there’s a lot of technical detail to unload. What does ACCO really stand for? What’s a joey gear box? How can an axle be lazy? I therefore took the advice Alice offered right before she dashed down the rabbit hole: ‘What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?’ Capturing the voices of the men was important, as was using their jargon: ‘holding hands’ for travelling together, ‘tricking up’ for refurbishment, ‘coat of jam’ for a paintjob. And if a driver rang the workshop and said, ‘Better send a mirror out,’ this meant his Kenworth was lying on its side. A glossary was soon on the agenda to make sense of everything from bobtail, boomerangs, and bitch trucks . . . to dogs, spider wheels, and yard yabbies. There would be pictures too – procuring, managing and captioning hundreds of jpegs was more difficult than I ever imagined.

If you open your heart to them, you’ll fall in love with trucks. You will also develop admiration and respect for the people who make life happen the way we consumers want it to happen. Few of us could do what truck drivers do.

Writing, as it turns out, is a fine way to find out about things. I’m sure bungee jumping is fun too.

Photo: A driver and his W-model Kenworth coming through the bulldust around Chillagoe in North Queensland