Truckie Profiles

Young outback truckie thankful he was given a shot

Just 12 months into his trucking career, James Lee, 23, is excited by what the future holds for him.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to find a very good company that was willing to give me a shot – and for the majority of that 12 months I’ve been towing road trains, from doubles to triples, as well as some oversize work, right across the country,” he said. “Trucking is in my blood now. I’m obsessed, to say the least!”

Based in Toowoomba, Lee began working with Higgins Services about seven months ago.

He had originally secured his HR licence at the age of 20, while working in civil construction. But an injury put him on the sidelines for nine months. “Then I decided I wanted to go for my MC licence. I wasn’t really into trucks before, but once I started driving them, I couldn’t get enough.”

Lee began working for Higgins Services about seven months ago.

He got his MC licence at the age of 22 and found work with Dalby-based Scott Roadways, driving side tippers – pulling everything from singles, to doubles and triples. “I applied like crazy for jobs, then they’d hear my age and say, ‘No, I can’t insure you’. My old boss Jamie Scott gave me a go, that’s where I had most of my training. I drove my first AB-triple two and a half months into driving trucks.

“When I first spoke to Higgins about the job, he wasn’t worried about my age at all because he was willing to train me up.”

These days, Lee is behind the wheel of a 2021 Kenworth T659, which he says is a great truck, but he prefers the older rigs. “I like the older stuff because I learnt to drive in a 1980s Value-Liner. I actually tried to talk them out of this one,” he laughed.

“The older trucks are a lot more entertaining to drive, they’re louder and a bit more difficult to drive, so they take more skill.”

His current role brings him to all corners of the country. “At the moment, I’ve just pulled up at Parachilna in South Australia. I’m carrying 40 tonne of 18m coated pipe in a 45m double road train,” he explained.

Being so new to the industry, Lee knows there’s so much more to learn and is eager to take on advice whenever he can from those with more experience.

“Higgins Services is a reputable company and it’s family owned. We do mainly general freight. They’ve been amazing to work for and so have all the guys in the company. They’ve been very patient and very helpful. One of the other drivers here Jamie Neville has really taken me under his wing. He’s been helping to teach me everything I need to know. And he’s always happy to answer any questions.”

As Lee has quickly found, things can and do go wrong, but he always takes it on the chin and carries on. “I actually did my first steer tyre yesterday. That was an experience. It was terrifying but it all went well.”

Like many outback truckies, Lee says he enjoys the lifestyle of the work and getting to travel all around the country. “Being on the road you feel so free. Obviously sometimes it has some down moments and gets pretty lonely, but I do really love driving. It can be hard on the mental health side of things though, sometimes you can find yourself getting a bit lost with your thoughts. And then there’s all the paperwork and dealing with the average road user. There’s a lot of responsibility when you’re carrying 130 tonne.”

Lee rates the Strzelecki Track as being by far the toughest road he travels. “It is very rough, I’m here for two weeks going back and forth. It plays a lot of tricks on your mind because you’re on the dirt for 10 hours, and there’s no reception.”

For other young people wanting to get into the industry, Lee’s advice is, “Keep trying no matter how much you get knocked back. There are people out there who are willing to give you a go. Accept that you’ve got to start somewhere, and you need to work hard to get to where you want to be,” he said.

“When you do get your foot in the door, put in a little extra. Your boss won’t mind most of the time if you spend an hour of your own time practicing how to back-in a road train or B-double. Take your time and don’t rush through everything – know your limits. Own your mistakes, no matter how big or small they are – everyone makes them – and you’ll build a better reputation for yourself.

“And listen – there are so many people out there willing to give you advice, and you’ve just got to take it and keep at it. Even when it’s bad advice, it tells you what not to do.”

Having only worked for two trucking companies so far, he is filled with gratitude at the opportunity they’ve given him. “I hold Jim and Jamie Scott, and Warrick Higgins, in very high regard for giving me a shot. There are a lot of young people out there that just want to get into the big 90s, but I’m so happy to be driving any truck and living the dream.”

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