Born and bred on a cattle station near Alice Springs, William Rosie, 48, says truck driving is in his blood.
“I was forced into it at a very young age. I used to jump into the old Macks and Kenworths to pull the stock crates. I would travel in the back of the truck when I was about five years old, and by 15 I was out driving on my own,” he said.
“The first time I jumped in the truck by myself, I had to get three single decks of cattle to Alice Springs because one of the drivers had their appendix burst. I was only 15. The coppas saw me driving all the time and they knew I didn’t have a licence. I was a bit of a rebel back then.”
Rosie said he was taught to drive a truck by his father, along with the other truck drivers he was surrounded by growing up. “I took a lot of information on board over the years as I was really keen. It was a challenge and I was up for it,” he said.
“Back then, it was all hard yakka. The biggest problem we have in today’s society is that the trucks have gotten bigger, better and flashier, with a lot more expenses, but the mentality of many new drivers today is different, they don’t see things the way we do.”
“We were always taught to respect the gear. Today many just see it as a high paying job. But it’s one of the most dangerous jobs anyone could do.”
Rosie grew up in the NT before moving to Queensland with his family when he was about 16, after they sold the cattle station. He helped his father cart grain and gained valuable tipper experience. Then at 20, Rosie bought his first truck.
These days, he lives in Perth, which he’s called home for the past decade.
Rosie has worked for VPL Transport for the past five years. The Perth-based company started seven years ago but has grown very quickly. From six trucks, they’ve now got 26.
You’ll find Rosie behind the wheel of the newest truck in the fleet, a 2020 Kenworth T909, which he uses to pull triple road trains right across the state. “It had 6000 kilometres on the clock when I got it, 12 months later it has 306,000 kilometres on it.”
He usually carts general, oversize and machinery. “The company I work for is brilliant, I love it. They are relaxed and down to earth, but if something isn’t right, they’ll let you know. If you need a dangerous goods licence, or need to do a load restraint course, they’ll also pay for you to get it done, which a lot of other places won’t do. The more you do for the company and the more you look after your gear, the more they’ll reward you. They’re very fair.”
From livestock, tankers, refrigerated and floats, throughout his career, Rosie has done it all. “That’s probably why I’ve got the knowledge I have today. For the first 10 years of my career, I had my own business, and if someone asked me to do something, I’d say show me what to do and I’ll do it. I am big but I do not and will not tolerate laziness.
“I’ve worked for big companies and for little companies over the years, but the hardest thing I ever did was selling up and going back to working for someone else after working for myself for 10 years. It was hard because I had to comprehend the way they wanted things done,” he explained.
“A lot of people today tend to go the other way, where the company has to try and carry them because they’re not pulling their weight. I try and explain to people that it’s a privilege to do what we’re doing – to go down the road with millions of dollars worth of gear. The biggest haul I’ve done is two aviation jet turbines, which were valued at over $40 million. But even when you’re carting grog or cigarettes, it’s also big money behind you.
“We’re limited on what we’re allowed to carry now, but if we have $8-10 million worth of beer on and $100,000 worth of cigarettes on, it’s up to us to ensure the security of the vehicle because if we get broken into, we’re the first ones to be crucified.”
Through his many years in the industry, Rosie has seen many changes, among the most notable of which are the issues with driver licensing.
“This is a hard game and it’s not for the faint-hearted. I’m not happy with current licensing systems at all. There are people like me who are happy to train these guys, but insurance doesn’t allow it.”
“I think the big companies and insurance companies have a lot to answer to with why we have driver shortages today. If they let us do things the way we used to do it, we wouldn’t have the issues we have today. While this keeps going, this industry isn’t going to get any better, it’s just going to get worse,” Rosie said.
“Up between Newman and Port Hedland, 30 per cent of quad drivers are inexperienced for the job – it’s scary. Main Roads and the Department of Mines need a good arse kicking for allowing so many quads on public highways. Make your own haul road like they did in the Tanami if you’re going to put inexperienced operators on there. It’s just getting too dangerous. And if you can’t reverse, you shouldn’t be doing the job, because if you get yourself into a predicament, you can’t get yourself out of it.”
Over the years, Rosie has taught many young drivers the ins and outs of truck driving, and he’s always happy to share his wisdom. “We have a few young fellas working here now and they idolise me. I’ve taught six people over the years and they all turned out to be damn good operators, every single one of them.
“We have a young fella working for us in the wash-bay and he’s keen as mustard. He wants to get into the industry and wants to learn properly. My advice was to go around town and do the rigids, then get into the dog trailers up the hill, and then when you get more confident, travel with someone like myself. We’ll make sure you learn the right way.
“I think it’s a great job and a lot of people should do it, but people also need to wake up and realise that they need to learn properly. That’s the problem we’ve got, someone does three or four days to get a licence to drive 150 tonne machines. That is dead set wrong,” he added.
According to Rosie, it takes a special breed of person to be able to do this sort of work. “I was born to do the job, this is my legacy. I learnt to do this job for a reason. What really drives me is knowing I can go up the road and have that little bit of freedom. When I’m on the road I have so much time to think.
“But it’s very hard on family life too. I never settled down until five years ago when I had a wife. It only lasted that long because of the fact that she enjoyed me being away.
“Even at my age, one thing I do regret is not having kids, because they would have been damn good operators. I taught my sister, she does Adelaide to Darwin. As soon as she leaves that job I’ve told her there’s a job right here waiting for her. She’s only 5 foot 2 but she’s hard as nails that girl.”
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