When New Zealand born Dennis Dent arrived at Mareeba in north Queensland back in 1967 he owned just an old beat up Valiant car and had a meagre $200 to his name.
The 73-year-old Dent, who is known affectionately by his nickname Denty, started business there as a truck driver in 1970 and set up Dent’s Transport Heavy Haulage five years later.
Denty has built that up over the decades into one of the north’s most respected transport companies with a high annual income.
Big Rigs visited the business on the corner of Beams and Costin Street in Mareeba and met up with Denty in his workshop.
“I now have two Kenworth 650’s and a 2010 Mercedes 2244, which is the pride of my small fleet, and employ two drivers and two women in administration. Once I had 13 trucks,” Denty said.
In recent years, Denty has appeared in two series of Outback Truckers, and has been asked to participate in a third.
“That was interesting being on that program, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. I copped a fair bit of ribbing from my mates over it as well,” he said.
Born in Whanganui on New Zealand’s North Island, Denty may have arrived in Australia with little money, but he always had big dreams.
“My first truck was a single drive Leyland and I used to deliver concrete blocks,” he said.
These days Denty is still driving and his company delivers a variety of equipment and goods to some of Australia’s most remote communities on Cape York Peninsula.
“We go all over Cape York to Lockhart River, Weipa, Napranum, Mapoon, Aurukun, Kowanyama and other places including to roadhouses and properties. We carry building material, machinery, cement powder to Weipa and supplies all over the place,” he said.
They travel over mostly corrugated red dirt roads and maintenance of the trucks is a high priority and is done at the depot workshop.
Dent’s Transport also has a variety of trailers to service numerous customers.
Denty said that his partner Teresa, who is a Jill of all trades with the company, and office worker Ivana are vital to the business.
“I couldn’t do without them and they both do wonderful jobs,” he said.
The roads to Cape York closed due to wet weather in early January like they do every year and traditionally re-open around Easter time in April.
During the enforced closures, Dent’s Transport has plenty of work to do in other areas around the far north.
In previous years when Denty has been left stranded due to a closed road and it sometimes resulted in daring escapades.
Like the time he was stranded for several days and swam across a river to get some beer and supplies from the Archer River Roadhouse.
“Weren’t you worried about being eaten by a salt water crocodile?” I asked Denty.
“Not at all because it was a freshwater creek and those crocodiles don’t attack humans normally,” he said with a wry smile.
Many of the places Dent’s Transport delivers to are isolated Cape York Aboriginal communities and over the years have also included Northern Peninsula Area centres Bamaga, Injinoo, Seisia, New Mapoon and Umagico.
Denty has great respect for the Indigenous people from these places and one of his Kenworth’s is dubbed “Which Way?”.
“That is an Aboriginal term which I have named in honour of a man from Bamaga,” he said.
And Denty reckons that some knowledge passed onto him by Aboriginal elders about the weather has proven spot on.
“They told me that if you see a frilly lizard looking up it will soon rain. Every time that has happened to me the rain came,” he said.
In his younger days Denty was renowned for being a man who could handle his fists and once had a punch up with another driver over an equipment dispute.
“It was at Coen and we both gave each other a bit of a hiding and nobody won. But we got on the grog together after it and have since been mates for years,” he said.
Many older and middle-aged drivers around Australia will tell you that the camaraderie which once existed between drivers on the highways and byways no longer exists.
These days they reckon that if you break down most truckies will drive past, whereas years ago most would stop and offer assistance.
Denty concedes that may be the case in most places around the country. But he is adamant that is not the case on Cape York.
“We all know each other and the last time I broke down six drivers stopped to help and I was back on the road within hours,” he said.
One example is that Denty is warm friends with long time Weipa transport operator Rob Roy and his son Gavan.
“Many of my clients are roadhouses along the way and they are like family” he said.
Denty and his drivers don’t use electronic logbooks because they don’t work so well around Cape York where there is limited reception.
Each year Denty tries to visit New Zealand to catch up with family and friends in the land of the Long White Cloud.
“I didn’t get there in 2020 because of Covid-19 but will endeavour to later this year,” he said.
The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t affected Dent’s Transport much with Denty saying “business is good”.
But what does the future hold for this champion truckie who has the road transport industry in his blood?
“I will continue to drive for as long as I can because if I retired what would I do? Sit at home and do nothing,” he said in conclusion.