If you asked Fiona Christy, now 57, if she had any interest in driving a truck before she met her husband Norm Christy, the answer would likely have been a definite “no”. But now, after three decades behind the wheel, she says she’s still loving life on the road.
Based in Rochester, near Echuca, on the Murray River, the couple have worked for GKR Transport since 2010, doing two-up ever since and carting mining equipment and other goods from the company’s Melbourne depot to destinations all over the country – with places like Perth, Cairns, Darwin, Port Hedland and Karratha being among the regular runs.
“I never thought I’d get into trucking – far from it. I used to be a horse-riding instructor,” revealed Fiona. “When I met the other half in 1992, that’s what got me interested. I went in the truck with him quite a bit for about 12 months and I thought, I can do this, so I got my truck licence in 1994.”
On the contrary, 64-year-old Norm has been driving trucks for most of his working life, starting out in his early twenties.
For Fiona, getting a start in the early days of her career wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped. “The hardest part back then was getting a job and being accepted by everybody else. No one wanted to employ a female truck driver,” she explained.
“You’d get somewhere, and they’d go and talk to the bloke instead of talking to me about my load. I felt like I had to prove myself all the time, but I enjoyed the knowledge that I could do it better than many of them!”
Fiona’s first trucking job was carting tomatoes for a local company in a 1418 Mercedes Benz, a far cry from the brand new 2022 Kenworth T610 the duo was handed the keys to in March. “Before that we were in a 909 for eight years and I didn’t want to get out of it because I loved the truck and had been in it for so many years. But then we got this truck and it’s the best thing I’ve ever driven. The smoothness, the quietness and all the room inside,” said Fiona.
All of their loads are double and triple road trains. “We do a lot of mining equipment and a lot of hot shot runs. We’re the only team towing triples at the company. We don’t have to be home for anything and they know that, so we don’t care how far we go or how long we’re away for,” she added.
“We like going different places. I don’t mind going up north, I love going to Port Hedland and Karratha because it’s quieter. But going across the Nullarbor is becoming like the Hume Highway now.
“We used to go up the Strezlecki Track every week but don’t do it as much now. That road is pretty bad. The worst we’ve had is one time where it took 18 hours to do 500 kilometres. It was pretty rough that day.”
Fiona and Norm originally started doing two-up as part of their plans to retire, however life had other things in mind.
“At the time we were both driving solo, running to Brisbane on opposite legs to each other, so we were only seeing each other one day each fortnight. We were getting ready to retire so thought we would wind down and give two-up a go. It nearly killed us in the beginning because neither of us could sleep when the truck was going. We thought we weren’t meant for this,” Fiona explained.
Then in 2011, Rochester endured the worst flooding ever recorded and the couple lost everything. “We lost our whole house. We were in Perth at the time so only had the clothes we had packed – we didn’t end up retiring,” she explained.
The couple pushed on and have now been doing two-up for the past 12 years. And, as you’d expect, there are a few pretty funny stories to tell, including the time Fiona accidentally drove off without her husband!
“I pulled up at a servo to go to the toilet, then got back in the truck and left Norm behind. I didn’t realise he had gotten out of the truck too,” she laughed. “I got about 5km down the road before I realised and because I was in a road train, I couldn’t just quickly turn back around. I pulled up and about 5 minutes later a car pulled up behind me. Norm got out just shaking his head. Now whenever he leaves the truck he leaves the door open so I don’t do it again!”
Asked how they go spending so much time together in the truck, Fiona responds, “Headphones in and I spend a fortune on audio books! Even though we’re in the truck together 24 hours, we don’t spend a lot of time together because one is sleeping while the other is awake. We’d probably kill each otherwise.
“At first I didn’t think we could do it. We had a trial run with a previous company. Norm asked me to come with him. I had never driven an auto truck before. When I got in at Cobar, he felt me slow down and asked what was wrong. I said I could see sparks coming out and he said, no you’re alright. As soon as I put my foot down, the steer tyre came off the truck!”
While it’s certainly been an interesting ride for these two, they’re planning on hanging up the boots in the not-too-distant future.
“We have at least another 12 months and then we can hopefully retire but I think we’ll miss it. We go on holidays now and I can’t wait to get back to work. I love our circle of friends we get to mingle with. The only downfall of this sort of job is that you don’t get to have a social life because you’re never home.”