“Trucking is everything I am, who I identify with. For me, this is the dream,” said Darwin-based quad road train driver Kattie Risk, 36.
Starting her driving career as a bus driver when she was 22, before moving into trucks at 24 and working her way up to her MC, Risk is now behind the wheel of a double-deck quad (two B-doubles connected by a dolly), transporting cattle for Hale River Transport.
The company has a station about 100 kilometres south of Alice, with a trucking base in Clare, SA.
“This is my first cattle season. I started in April. I travel everywhere.”
“I’ve been over to the west, done quite a few trips on the Great Central Road, go to some of the stations around Alice, up to the stations in Darwin, down to Victoria, and all around SA. There’s only two places I haven’t trucked in Australia and that’s the ACT and Tassie,” said Risk, who is also a mother of two boys, aged eight and 15.
You’ll find her behind the wheel of a 2017 model Western Star 6900. “I love this truck. I call her Gloria because she’s glorious – she’s my green-eyed girl.”
Though Risk didn’t grow up around trucks, she says,
“I grew up under the bonnet – I have six brothers, so I grew up around cars and everything mechanical.”
She also has one particular childhood memory that really stands out. “When I was a little girl, I would have only been five or six years old, we pulled up next to a road train. I remember looking up and seeing the driver – with that iconic blue singlet and tattoos. When I saw him, I thought wow, it’s really something else to be that man in that road train,” she recalled.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be that person sitting in that truck. As far I’ve now come, I never thought I’d amount to be doing what I’m doing, in the quads, cruising around the outback, it’s just so unreal. Before I got into a truck, every other job I had was just another job, just a pay cheque. Being in the quads is something that was on my bucket list.”
Risk got her MR licence in 2011 and drove school buses. She upgraded to her HR 12 months later. “I tried to get work driving heavy vehicles and just couldn’t get a break,” she said. “Then my dad bought trucks and he’s the one who actually taught me how to drive Road Rangers. About 12 moths after that I got my MC in 2013. I drove hard bodies for two years, learning how they all work, learning how to drive a Road Ranger and honing in on that. I was driving hard bodies, water tankers, then I got into double side tippers. I worked for my father for a little while before moving into road trains.”
But one of the most unusual and interesting loads Risk has carried were crocodiles, which she transported from Darwin to Queensland. “That’s one of my favourite loads I’ve ever done. You know those big water pipes, they put the crocodiles in them, with a little bit of water, and it’s refrigerated. The crocodiles go dormant because of the cold and sleep the whole way.”
With her husband also being a truck driver, with a career of over 20 years, the couple spent four years doing two-up. “Working together, we both taught each other different things. I taught him how to change an alternator on a truck, he taught me how to chain an axle after we had the bearings go and the hub heat up. Then he wanted to step away from trucks for a while – but I wasn’t ready to hang up the boots,” explained Risk.
“He stepped away from linehaul for about 12 months and then in February, he was out of trucks all together – but he’s going back into it next month, working for the same company as me. He loves cattle carting and did it for many years.”
Risk said they won’t be jumping back into two-up, but they’re happy to do it when and if the need arises.
Though the number of animals onboard the quad differs depending on their size, Risk says the most she’s carted at once is 167 head of cattle, which is about 13 head per pen. “At the moment I have about 140 on. The bigger they are, the less you can carry,” she said.
Her runs can also differ, depending on the season. “When I first started in April, it was a lot of off road. I did four trips along the Great Central Road back to back, back and forth – and that road apparently breaks a lot of people, who will go across it once and never do it again. It was 1100 kilometres each way – 900 kilometres of that on dirt,” explained Risk.
On the topic of difficult roads, Risk says there’s one route she used to travel that was particularly challenging, on the way to a remote town called Bulman, about 400km from Darwin. “I used to run up to Bulman quite often to deliver freight for the shop up there. It’s a small community. That would have to be the worst road I’ve travelled on, it was horrible. It’s about 250 kilometres of dirt but it takes about 5-6 hours. I actually had the bolts snap from under the microwave while going through there and it just hit the floor and the glass shattered everywhere,” she said.
“Then I got up there to do the load and had two flat drive tyres and didn’t have any more spares – so I pulled the pumped up ones onto the inside and the flat ones onto the outside, and had to go all the way back like that.
“There’s a sense of pride and self-satisfaction, especially when I tackle an issue on my own and I’m able to get myself out of difficult situations, when all I have to rely on is me.”
While the job is undoubtedly tough and challenging in so many ways, Risk says this is where she wants to be. “I had that dream of going into carting cattle. Then when I started it dawned on me that I grossly underestimated how hard it is. It’s the hardest trucking job I’ve ever done. But thankfully I had built my trucking knowledge and experience up before trying to tackle cattle carting.
“Being a woman in this sort of role, I feel like I constantly have to perform at the highest level. You have to be in front of the ball, because if you drop that ball you know you’re going to be judged more harshly than if a bloke drops the ball. There’s no room for error.
“This is what I’ve worked so hard at. Looking at my mirrors and seeing all those crates and the cattle’s’ snouts hanging out the sides – everything that I’ve worked towards is for this moment. When I go and check the tyres, I’ll chat with them on my way down. Cattle carting for me is the pinnacle of trucking. I’ve done oversize, general, but in my experience this is where I want to be.”