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Veteran outback truckie on the struggle to find drivers

Michael-Kingy-King-Outback-Truckers - the struggle to find good drivers

Dangerous goods driver and business owner Michael ‘Kingy’ King, who has gained a lifetime of experience out on the rough outback roads, opens up about the struggle to find good drivers.

He runs a chemical carting business in Port Hedland called Faststar Holdings, transporting liquid chemicals such as sulphuric acid, caustic and hydrochloric to mine sites and remote communities; as well as containers of flocculant from Perth up to Pilbara. A separate arm of the business also buys and bags salt for mining companies.

“I travel from Port Hedland to Broome, all through the Pilbara and anywhere in the state that’s required for the chemical side of the business but the salt goes all over, as far as Queensland. It’s all based around chemicals,” he said.

The business has a fleet made up of two 2000 model Kenworth T950s, nine tankers, along with some flat tops. “I prefer the older trucks. The newer ones have more trouble with them. These 20-year-old trucks are built for reliability. They are good, classic trucks and if you put them on the market, you’d sell it tomorrow. I normally run them as double and triple road trains,” he said.

“I drive one of the trucks and I have another driver on the other one. There’s also another 2000 model T950 we’re rebuilding at the moment. I’ve been searching for another dangerous goods driver but I just can’t find one. It’s shocking. I’ve sat on a lot of Main Roads committees. With a lot of those drivers who are in their 50s or 60s and still driving, either their father or uncle was in trucks and that’s how they got involved – but now that’s all out the door.

“You can’t take your kids with you anymore. I can’t even take my grandkids with me, because when I get to the mine site, what can I do with them?

“I’m 64 and the bloke who works for me is 61. How can you keep running reasonably sized shows when we’re all in our 60s? They’ve created a monster because we don’t have any young blood. We have no safe systems – the system stopped 20 years ago and it’s going to take another 20 years to repair it. I can’t get a kid who’s 15 or 16 and start training them now, because I can’t even get him into the seat. People go to a driving school and get trained by trainers who aren’t driving a truck in the real world. It’s ludicrous. I started looking for a driver eight weeks ago and the first question they ask is how much I’m going to be paying them. I tell them I want to know what they can do first.”

“It all turned to crap around 20 years ago. It has a lot to do with the fact that we can’t take someone 15, 16 or 17 on the road, so you have some of these drivers coming to you at 22 and thinking they know it all. That makes it hard. They don’t know it all, I’m still learning at 64 years old.”

Like many truckies his age, Kingy – who some might recognise from his appearances on Outback Truckers – began driving trucks from a very young age.

“My first truck driving experience was at 13. My dad had a superspreading business down south. He had trucks and went from superspreading into farming. In between that, us kids would come home from school and load up the trucks, and me and my brother would go tractor driving. By about 13, we were both driving the truck. I got myself kicked out of school at 15 but was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship, so I did a five year apprenticeship as a mechanic.

“Then when I turned 18, I got my truck licence, and started doing the run from Kingsley to Perth carrying grain. As I got closer to 20, I got my C-Class licence and was carting Perth to Sydney for a few years.”

Kingy soon went out on his own and started Faststar Holdings – nowadays the trucks are based in Port Hedland, while the mechanical work takes place in Geraldton.

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