Unlike many outback truckies, Jai McDougall, 41, didn’t grow up around trucks, nor did he start driving them as soon as he was of age.
His was a slightly different story to many. Having grown up in south-west WA, he moved to Kununurra in the Kimberley, not far from the NT border, 21 years ago – and he’s never looked back.
His foray into trucking however, started more recently. After working as a mechanic for several years, he scored a job with a local company called Guerinoni & Son around eight years ago.
“I was always driving around the yard, hooking and unhooking, and really wanted to get into driving. I got sick of working in 40+ degree heat, so I went out and got my truck licence, by that stage, I’d already been driving quite a lot. And I’ve been doing it ever since,” said McDougall.
“We do a lot of road repair work for main roads and spend a lot of time off-road. The majority of driving I do is off the black stuff.”
Guerinoni & Son specialises in the supply and transport of concrete and quarry products, as well as plant hire, travelling to some of the most remote and challenging locations.
McDougall drives a 2001 Kenworth T650, which he says is a perfect fit for the work. “It’s basically purpose built for off-road. It has a way higher clearance than other models and is a really good bush truck. If something goes wrong, you can easily fix it. And if I can’t fix it, I’ll find a way to get it to where I need to go. I love that truck, it’s my home away from home,” he explained.
From Kununurra, McDougall travels anywhere from Darwin to Broome. “We supply concrete and sealing aggregate for most of the roadworks on Duncan Road, do yearly works at Kalumburu Road in the Kimberley and have work coming up on the Tanami next year.
“I do triples most of the time but for some of the bush work, we go back to singles and doubles because it’s really tight. The longest run I do is about 1058km one way and that’s from Kununurra to Broome.”
Sometimes he’s hauling tankers filled with bulk cement, sometimes it’s tippers and other times it’s float work to transport the company’s graders, rollers and more. “There’s always something different to do which is one of the reasons I really love the work,” McDougall said.
“I get to see some pretty awesome country off the beaten track and get to see areas a lot of people don’t. The Gibb River Road and Kalumburu Road are some of my favourite roads to travel, and the most challenging. Sometimes you’re down to 5-10km/h, counting the bumps.”
And in fact, it was a photo McDougall sent in for our Facebook #PicOfTheDay competition (pictured above), taken while traversing the Pentecost River Crossing at Gibb River Road that first caught our attention – it very quickly racked up over 1400 likes. “I travel through there a lot. It gets to 3m deep sometimes so you can’t cross it then. I wouldn’t go too much deeper than what’s in the photo – that’s just the norm for me.”
But that’s the way he likes it. “I couldn’t do what I do in built up areas, that’s not for me. I guess starting to do this as late as I did, and learning here, it’s been trial by fire. I couldn’t have learnt the stuff I’ve learnt anywhere but here.”
That being said, the job has its challenges too. “I think the most challenging part would definitely have to be navigating the web of rules and regulations that us ‘professional drivers’ have to adhere to.”
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