Though his trucking career has seen him move near and far, the lure of the outback has kept 42-year-old Mark Cottier coming back for more. “You can leave the outback, but once the red dust is in your bloodstream, you always seem to end up back there,” he said.
Originally from Tasmania, Cottier moved to Kalgoorlie in his late teens and it was there that his trucking career began. It wasn’t in the big road trains as you might imagine – instead it was something much smaller. “I was dating a girl there and her father was the manager of a transport company. He told me to get my rigid ticket, so I started working there. But when I saw the first triple road train come into the yard, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” recalled Cottier.
After a couple of years delivering general freight and mining equipment in rigids, he went on to semis, carting ammonium nitrate. Once he got his HC licence, the big wide road was calling and he moved to Broadford in Victoria to drive Melbourne to Brisbane runs carting general freight, before eventually moving to Adelaide and doing express runs from Adelaide to Melbourne and Adelaide to Sydney. After some time in Adelaide he started learning low loader work with Lucas Earthmovers – and it was there that he got his MC licence and began driving B-doubles into mine sites.
But the west was calling. He returned to Kalgoorlie around 13 years ago and began driving double and then triple road trains carting ore out of different gold mines around Kalgoorlie.
Today, he’s based in Port Hedland and works for Qube Ports and Bulk. “I mainly cart lithium and salt in triples and every now and then quads carting manganese from Woodie Woodie mine. I’ve been with Qube for about 15 months and had worked with them previously too for about three years. It’s a great company to work for, which is why I’ve come back – as many others have done too. They might leave to try something else that their heart desires, but they often come back,” he explained.
“Qube has a great bunch of people running the show and a lot of really good drivers. I’ve always found management to be on the drivers’ level, not a step above, so it’s really easy to go in and talk to them all.”
From behind the wheel of one of the company’s Volvo FH16s, the lithium run is usually triples from Pilgangoora mine to the lithium storage shed in Wedgefield. From there, when the ship is in town and ready to be loaded, the lithium is hauled to the port for export. On occasion Cottier also does the Rio Tinto salt run or the Sandfire copper run (which is usually in a quad) too.
“It’s different trucks all the time but they’re always FH16s. They’re the best truck on the road I reckon – like a hotel on wheels and very comfortable to drive. We have Volvos here that have well over 2 million kilometres on the clock and are still plodding along towing triple road trains and doing the hard yards,” added Cottier.
And despite over 20 years on the road, he says he never tires of the view. “Even to this day, looking in that mirror and seeing all those trailers behind you, I still get a bit of a buzz. The bigger and heavier I am, the happier I am,” he said.
“There’s nothing like the country here, particularly up in the Kimberley or Pilbara – it’s just stunning.
“Yes, it’s long hours and hot dusty days. But if you come up to this part of the world, you’ve got to get used to it and if you can’t, then you just don’t do it. It’s part of the life up here.”
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