Driving triples and quads on red dirt corrugated roads around Weipa on Western Cape York, in far north Queensland, is just an ordinary day for 41-year-old Josh Henry.
He works for Bowyer Group which has a contract with mining giant Rio Tinto to cart bauxite to Weipa Port for export on ships to various countries.
Bowyer Group has been a family owned company for more than 25 years and is the largest provider of quarried products, plant hire and labour hire in the Cape York Peninsula.
The company has depots at Weipa, Coen, Mareeba and Sydney.
“I drive various trucks including a Western Star, a Mack and a Volvo, towing triple and quad combinations with bauxite. The quads and triples are more than 50m long and I enjoy it,” he said.
He rates the 2021 model Volvo as his favourite to drive but said all of the trucks were well maintained.
Henry works two weeks on, and one week off during which time he travels back to his hometown which is the small hamlet of Mt Garnet on the Atherton Tablelands.
“I got my Multi Combination licence to drive the big road trains a few years ago and when in Weipa we are accommodated in dongas near the Evan’s Landing wharves and they are very comfortable and have air conditioning, television and other facilities,” he said.
Henry added that the Bowyer Group was great to work for and praised one of his bosses, Darcy Bowyer Junior, who has been good to him.
A genuine ‘Jack of all trades’, Henry also gets to operate graders and diggers around Weipa and said the variety in the job was hard to beat.
His long-time experience driving trucks includes a stint in the Northern Territory during 2015 and 2016 when he was based and working for Norbuilt Booroloola.
That is located on the McArthur River, about 50km upstream from the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Being on the coastal plain between the Barkly Tablelands and the Gulf of Carpentaria, the rivers that run regularly flood in the wet season, making travel on the unsealed section of Highway One along the coastal plain to Queensland impossible.
“I drove Mack and Kenworth triples to some of the more isolated places and areas,” he said.
His other jobs have included driving trucks on return trips from Cairns to Gatton.
“One of the best things to happen on the Bruce Highway which I used to get on often was the upgrade of the Cardwell Range section. I drove one of the first trucks on it after it was officially opened. It was a Volvo F7,” he said, adding he enjoyed being a truckie around the scenic Atherton Tablelands, which is one of Australia’s beautiful regions.
I asked him to rate the conditions of the Gillies, Palmerston and Kennedy Highways from which access to the Atherton Tablelands is along.
“The Palmerston is in pretty bad shape and when it gets fixed it is often a band-aid job. The Gillies is winding and you have to take care on the Kuranda Range stretch of the Kennedy Highway,” he said.
Another road which Henry has found challenging to travel is the 450km of mostly dirt between Chillagoe and Kowanyama.
“But the road from Musgrave Roadhouse to Pormuraaw has improved in recent times and is good now,” he said.
A proud Aboriginal man who is a descendant of both the Girramay/Jirrbal First Nation’s Peoples, Henry started driving trucks when he was just 16.
“My uncle Cedric Congoo taught me about trucks at Laura and when I got into my first rig I had to ask him what the R was on the gear stick. He said it was for reverse. But I learnt quickly and fell in love with trucks,” he said.
The first truck he drove as an employee was an old Nissan UD which he still has a photograph of.
Over the years Henry has driven trucks for various companies including for Cairns based Tuxworth and Woods, which delivers lots of freight and food to Cape York.
“I used to do the Cairns to Weipa run along mostly red dirt roads and liked to stop at the Palmer River Roadhouse which had good food and welcomes drivers. The road between Laura and to near Fairview used to be terrible and sometimes travel was restricted to 20 to 40km an hour. But now most of it is good to drive on,” he said.
On his week off, Henry enjoys heading back to Mt Garnet which has a population of about 400.
“I have lots of family there and go hunting for kangaroo and fishing for black bream in the fresh water reaches of the Herbert River. We also have a family farm, Badguballa Station, at Kennedy near Cardwell and have 300 cattle there and others come for agistment. There is green grass all year round and it is a peaceful place,” he said.
His other passion is playing cricket and over the years Henry has lined up for a team called Black Bream at the annual Goldfield Ashes Carnival at Charters Towers each January.
The team was formed decades ago by his uncle Dick Davidson and some mates, and named after the Black Bream fish they regularly caught in the Burdekin River near Charters Towers.
Henry is an all-rounder who has also played at the Reedybrook Ashes which is held on a station via Mt Garnet with proceeds going to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and other charities.
His most recent cricketing experience was organising the Mt Garnet men’s and women’s side to compete at the recent carnival held at Musgrave Roadhouse on the way to Cape York.
Many road transport identities from around the north participated and former Test cricketers Doug Walters and Jeff Thomson were special guests.
His Mt Garnet side took out the men’s comp which had 12 teams and the women were runners up in their division.
“We had a good time there and the people who run Musgrave are friendly and good to deal with and lots of drivers stop there,” he said.
When at Weipa during his time off, Henry likes having a meal once a week at the Bowls Club there.
“They serve up really good food,” he said.
On the subject of Weipa, Henry added that he admired the late and great female driver Toots Holzheimer who used to travel in an old MAN truck all over Cape York.
Toots tragically died in an accident at Evan’s Landing in February 1992 but her legend lives on. There is a monument in her honour near the Archer River Roadhouse.
“Toots was a legend and still inspires drivers including women. I want to get to see her restored truck which is at a museum,” Henry said.