Opinion: Is the mateship on the road really gone?

Over the years I’ve met hundreds of drivers. I’ve had working relationships with many, become friends with many. A few have become good mates. A very few.

We all have workmates. Those who work for the same company that we say g’day to and pass a few words with going the other way. Friends from old jobs we see and call out to. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say there are mates you’d help when the need arises. Then there are also those who could ring you 24/7 for a hand and you just would.

So, what goes into a friendship. Shared experiences? Shared goals? Common interest?

At least once a week you’ll hear someone on the UHF complaining that the mateship that used to exist is gone. I’m pretty sure there still is mateship, but it’s far, far different today than it was.

So….. you know how you’re sitting there in the truck, making a mile, staring out the windscreen, listening to the tunes or just mulling things over, solving the problems of the world? I decided I wanted to get another opinion. I knew just the bloke to ask.

I met Barry Grimson a few years ago when I started driving tankers. He helped me along the learning curve and he’s become a friend.

Barry Grimson still doing what he loves.

Barry reckons that because we don’t work the way we used to, we don’t interact in the same way and therefore we don’t build the bonds we once had. He also thinks we don’t attract the same ‘type’ of blokes we used to.

Barry Grimson today.

The self-sufficient, pioneering spirit seems to be gone. The kid heading off for a few trips with the old man for a week or so during school holidays is a thing of the past. Insurance issues, OH&S and COR issues have pretty much out paid to all that experience and learning opportunity. At least for the company driver. It’s robbed the industry of a pre-school that gave that small taste of the good times and life you can have on the road.

Also pretty much gone are the companies that would take on a young driver and teach them the ropes. Starting them in the yard and helping them work their way up. Once again insurance issues and shrinking margins don’t allow for the teaching ‘experience’.

Barry and his mates changed our industry. They stood side-by-side at Razorback in 1979. I asked Barry about the experience and what the relationships between the ringleaders were before the event.

Obviously, there was a strong relationship between the men before the blockade. I was interested to ask the questions about how much thought had gone into it before the event and what the consequences were of taking the action they took.

Barry said the word was up and down the highway well before the blockade started. But it only endured and was ultimately successful because of the mateship. Not only those that started it but those who joined in along the way, whose share problems needed to be solved.

Barry agrees that life and mateship on the road is very different today. Relationships have changed. We used to do the job in a different way. The changes in storage systems, just in time freight has had an effect. Then there’s the technology.

Once upon a time you could nearly rebuild an engine on the side of the road. Some drivers could repair just about anything. Someone had the tool you needed. Someone would have the belt or bolt or air fitting. More importantly they’d often pull over and give you a hand.

These days your problem is more likely to be some electronic sensor than a mechanical issue. The technicians need a laptop to diagnose a problem.

I remember having a tyre disintegrate near the Tuckerbox one night. I pulled over on the side and started to get sorted out. A bloke pulled over when he saw what was going on. He got my spare out of the rack while I was putting the jack under.

Another bloke, a co-worker from my company, had pulled over as well. He was on the wheel brace cracking the nuts. Short story was the wheel was changed in no time flat. We were back on the road and into it.

These days there’s a lot of drivers out there who couldn’t help you. Some have never changed a wheel. Some don’t even carry spares! Some seem to take great delight in flying by seemingly as close as possible! Oh yes. It’s changed out here.

I talked with Barry for my podcast, Mick, No Holds Barred. If you’d like to hear a real Australian legend sharing some of his wisdom and his story in typical truckie style, have a listen to the podcast here.

You will at least crack a grin. We chew the fat on a few of the current issues share a few reminiscences and get into favourites industry hobby horses.

You can check out the latest podcast as well as catch up on episodes featuring Barry as well as Lyndon Watson, Big Rigs editor James Graham and a few other very interesting people.

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