The dusty outback roads Ryan Garland usually travels are worlds apart from the glitz and glam of the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
But thanks to his involvement in the song Six Decks to Darwin, that’s exactly where he found himself quite recently.
The song is by five-time Golden Guitar winner Dean Perrett, written together with Garland and 94-year-old Kelly Dixon, who wrote the Slim Dusty classic Leave Him in the Longyard.
The trio took out the Golden Guitar Award for ‘Bush Ballad of the Year’ on Saturday January 23. The awards are held as part of the Tamworth Country Music Festival each year.
Hailing from the small outback town of Boulia in western Queensland, Ryan Garland runs Garland Cattle Transport, doing cattle station work into major cities throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory – sometimes to locations that are up to 2,000 kilometres away.
“My whole family is in trucks, so it was natural for me to go into trucks too. I’ve been around cattle all my life,” explained Garland.
“I grew up on a small dairy farm near Marburg in Queensland, then we moved onto a cattle station. I think I was about nine years old when I drove my first road train, sitting on my dad’s lap. He was a cattle truckie too, until he hurt his back and then went into tippers and flat tops.”
Now 32, Garland has been living and breathing the life of an outback cattle truckie for well over a decade, driving his beloved Kenworth 909 and transporting up to 300 heads of cattle at any given time.
So how does an outback truckie come to be involved in an award-winning song, with an award-winning artist?
Dean Perrett was also raised on his family’s cattle farm in Queensland – and it’s here that you’ll still often find him. He set out to write a song about Australia’s live cattle export industry and the lives of the truck drivers behind it.
Connected through Facebook, Perrett approached Garland after seeing some of the photos he had posted.
“I didn’t actually know Dean but we were friends on Facebook. He knew I was in western Queensland and that I knew a thing or two about live cattle and export,” said Garland.
“He wanted to write a song about carting cattle because it’s a completely different lifestyle to any other sort of trucking, so he got onto Kelly Dixon and asked me to be involved too.
“It’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing. I love music, it’s something that helps pass the time while driving the truck along, but I know nothing about writing songs and couldn’t put two lyrics together. We worked together though and then Dean released the song. When I saw my name on there, I couldn’t believe it, and then it just kept going further and further.”
Though he didn’t think much of his involvement at first, as the song began to gain more traction, it became clear it was much bigger than he had first thought.
For Garland, being able to attend the Golden Guitar Awards ceremony was such a surreal experience.
“All the nominees were there. We were sitting alongside these big names like Travis Collins, The McClymonts and Shane Nicholson.”
He added that Six Decks to Darwin is a song that many livestock truckies in northern Australia can relate to.
“It’s a pretty normal occurrence to be carting six decks of cattle. It’s a lot harder than some other jobs and it’s long hours on dirt roads. When you’re hauling cattle, it can take twice as long. One of the things you learn over time with this job is that you are learning something new every day.”