Truckie takes a welcome ride down memory lane

truckie memory lane

Roland ‘Roly’ Davis slept in a ditch under a tarpaulin beside a truck while his mate was snoring his head off nearby in the cabin during his long career as a truck driver in Western Australia.

Now aged 84, Roly – as everybody knows him – had many experiences driving trucks, including the time he hit a scrubby cow which ended up under the front of his old Hippo.

Roly, who lives in Townsville, went for a welcome trip down memory lane when Big Rigs met him at the BP Cluden Roadhouse recently.

Born in New Zealand, he drove different trucks including a BMC Morris making local deliveries around Rotorua, and to other parts of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

“I came to Australia in 1976 and in my first eight years here I reckon I saw more parts of this country than many others see in a lifetime,” he said.

He got a job for Railex at Dutton Park in Brisbane driving a Ford D600 and as a qualified diesel fitter that held him in good stead.

Roly also worked form Gemco at the small hamlet of Malbon which is south of Cloncurry deep in the arid outback of Queensland.

It was in 1979 when Roly started working for NTS out of Welshpool in WA driving an old 1418 Mercedes Benz truck.

“The gearbox in it broke once and I was stuck on the side of the highway north of Carnarvon for more than two days,” he said.

That WA stint lasted five years and he drove a Leyland Hippo with a 671GM motor and a 15-speed manual gearbox which was a genuine highlight during his long and eventful life.

“I even went to Albany in WA and worked as a tuna fisherman for a while,” he said.

During the mid-eighties, Roly also got to work around many trucks whilst employed a fitter working on the railway line between Townsville and Mount Isa.

“I had to repair a lot of International trucks at places such as Hughenden, Richmond, Julia Creek, Torren’s Creek, Prairie. In those days the railway line sleepers were wooden and the trucks did lots of hard work. My job was to effect all repairs on all the railway equipment including heavy duty on track machines and all gear associated with the gang. It was great to have the wooden sleepers to make a fire and have a lunchtime cookup. If you could beat the flies to it,” he said.

Roly also saw many derailments in his jobs which certainly don’t rate amongst his career highlights.

On the flip side, another major highlight was when Roly worked in WA for Readymix about 100km from Broome.

“We would work six days a week and on the afternoon we got off would head to near the Fitzroy River and we would sit in the middle of the river sucking on coldies (beers),” he said.

The old Leyland Hippo loading sand at Elvire River for Hall’s Creek. Image: Roland Davis

He carted blue metal out of Nillibubbica which was for the last bit of unsealed road so that traffic could travel around Australia on bitumen.

There is now a popular Nillibubbica Rest Area is on the Great Northern Highway at Waterbank WA and the area is generally clean and had plenty of space with road noise very limited at night and it can get busy at times.

I probed him on the incident where he slept in a ditch and the occasion where he hit a cow, and although he escaped with no serious injury, could have been killed.

“The cow suddenly came from scrub beside the road near Broome and I was in the Hippo and it was a very scary incident and I could have been killed. The truck had been up on its near side wheels twice fully laden.

“Only one set of wheel tracks in the dirt. It went under the front of the truck but luckily it was sturdily built and I was very lucky. The time I slept under tarpaulin was the coldest night I have ever experienced and to make matters worse my mate who was asleep in the cabin snored loudly and I couldn’t sleep. I have seen snow in New Zealand and even had a ski in some but it was never as cold as that.”

Another memorable event for Roly was when he got to meet then Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen who was at Broome in WA during 1975 checking out an investment opportunity for the sunshine state.

“He was with the WA Premier and shook my hand,” Roly said.

Up until 2005, Roly drove a Mercedes truck from Townsville working for Pioneer Road Services hauling machinery and equipment.

“I worked for Pioneer Road Services as a fitter in their workshops reconditioning truck and machinery motors, plus all the necessary maintenance on the trucks and trailers. Although I drove trucks there from time to time, I was never employed as a driver,” he said.

I asked him what have been the worst roads he has travelled on taking into account he has been getting around several states.

“Most of the roads in Queensland are bad. WA ones are much better,” he said.

Back in his younger days, Roly also held a plane pilot’s licence and used to fly Cessna 172 and Cherokee light aircraft.

A community-minded citizen, Roly is well known around Townsville and has been a volunteer for the Coast Guard, Lions Club and other organisations.

Still in good health Roly loves listening to music including trucking songs and country with Aussie artists and has a very positive outlook on life.

“I had lived a rewarding life and try to smile as often as I can. And get on with life,” he said in conclusion.

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