Steve Broadbent, 62, reckons the secret to such a long life behind the wheel is pretty simply when you get down to brass tacks: he’s never lost the passion for the road, even after more than 40 years and six million kilometres.
He’s still just as fervent about the role today as he was when he first started out, as a fresh-faced 19-year-old driving logging trucks for Gippsland legend Norman Blackwood.
“I just love it,” said Steve, still buzzing from his career highlight, winning the Professional Driver of the Year prize at the recent National Trucking Awards on the Sunshine Coast.
“People say it gets into your system, and it really does get under your skin. And the mates I’ve met up the road…it’s just a pleasure to go to work.”
For the past five and a half years that’s been as a Melbourne-based interstate linehaul driver for Freestone’s Transport, more recently carting “time sensitive” parcel freight from Tullamarine to Sydney in a 2004 Peterbilt 379 Lowline in a single semi-trailer combination.
“She’s pretty forgiving and a pleasure to drive,” said Steve of one of the most revered rigs running the Hume today.
“She’s got all new running gear; a new CAT motor, 18-speed gearbox and been repainted not long ago so she looks the part.
“You get a bit of a big head because you listen to the UHF and people go, ‘Oh, look at that thing’, because there’s not many of them on the road, and it’s always clean and shiny.”
Wife Jodie Broadbent, nationally recognised for her work in the safety and compliance sector, can testify to just how fastidious her husband is when it comes to presentation, he’s been like that throughout his storied career.
The cherished Lowline is washed at the end of each trip, without fail, she says.
“If it has been raining in Melbourne from Sunday to Tuesday, the truck is washed before he leaves on Tuesday night. If Steve is held over on Friday nights in Sydney, he will spend that afternoon washing and polishing the old girl to the nth degree.
“Even when it rains, he dons his raincoat and washes and cleans the truck.”
The inside is no different, adds Jodie. A neat grey sheet on the doona and pillows complement the burgundy and cream interior and Steve even has a grey cable knit throw rug to adorn the bed.
“Steve has, at his own expense, purchased gold buttons for the dash and chrome nut covers for the exterior to show the truck off. He sees the presentation of the truck as a reflection of his professionalism.”
Jodie says that attitude extends beyond his job and customers to those he deals with outside of work.
He always makes time for non-industry people who are curious about what he does, and he’s become something of an unwitting social media star as a result of giving so many youngsters, and their parents, a tour through the Peterbilt at service centres along the Hume Highway.
“I’m always keen to get them to have a look at it, just trying to get other people involved in the industry,” said Steve.
He believes there’s a myriad of issues contributing to the current driver shortage, from an unfair wage system and poor career image to the lack of correct training.
“I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to get them from a young age and teach them the right way, that’s how I was taught,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be able to bridge that gap with the training at the moment.
“I don’t know whether it’s just in the too hard basket, or because of the dollars.”
He believes the burgeoning driver apprenticeship scheme is probably “not a bad thing”.
“When I first started driving trucks, my first thing was to get under the truck and adjust the brakes.
“Now I’m not sure you’re allowed to do that anymore, but you got your hands dirty straight away, and that to me is why an apprenticeship is probably a good thing – it teaches them from an early age how to drive a forklift, or be in the yard, how to do things the right way.”
Steve has transported everything from livestock through to Formula 1 cars, and worked with all types of load restraint tools, including dogs and chains, straps, ropes, tarps, tautliners, logging skels, drop-decks, flat tops, vans and flat-racks.
He has driven everything up to triple road trains and been all over Australia on all types of roads requiring him to drive to the conditions at all times.
At one stage that even included transporting delicate glass bottles from Penrith to Brisbane via the Putty Road, and Steve was renowned for never losing a bottle.
He’s also never been involved in an at-fault accident, in any vehicle, car or truck.
Although he prides himself on the way he’s embraced the many regulatory and technical changes over the years, Steve believes the general driving standards aren’t what they used to be.
The ‘fly-by-nighters’ who think they can bend the rules to suit themselves, is a particular bugbear because everyone in the industry suffers as a result, laments Steve.
“If the public sees you doing the right thing they leave you alone, but they jump on you real quick if they see someone doing the wrong thing. Just education, a lot of education [that’s what we need].
“Back in the 80s and 90s before speed limits came in and trucks where quick there was a road etiquette that you lived by and that seems to have gone out the window.
“A lot of blokes my age are keen to get out of the industry but I’m not quite that keen to finish up just yet.”
When he is ready to finally shelve the work diary, Steve concedes that he might just pivot into the auditing side of the industry.
With a gentle “push” from Jodie, he’s just completed a lead auditor course with PwC, covering quality, safety and environment.
“I’d like to go to that side of the business just to help companies do a better job, help them with their drivers, their procedures and their training.
“I still see a gap that’s still not quite there. I’m just passionate about the industry, always have been, I just love it.”