Features, Second generation, Truck driver, Truckie Profiles

Well-known truckie lands her dream role in the west

Having found her calling behind the wheel, this second-generation truckie is taking over 78,000 Instagram followers along for the ride.

For Casuarina Smith – better known as Trucking with CJ – social media has become a way to share what she does with the masses. From providing insight into the day-to-day life of a truckie, to spreading important safety messages and working to attract more people into the industry, which has been calling out for more truck drivers for years.

In the two years since she started her Trucking with CJ Instagram page, it’s amassed over 76,800 followers – a feat she never could have imagined. While 44.8 per cent of those followers are from Australia, the remaining 55.2 per cent of her followers come from overseas, with the lion’s share being from the United States.

CJ’s work sees her pulling weights of up to 300 tonne. Image: Trucking with CJ

Based in South Australia, 34-year-old CJ works for Merkanooka Haulage in Western Australia’s Goldfields region. It’s fly-in fly-out work, on a two week on and two week off roster, which has been the perfect fit, allowing CJ to continue working on her other projects too.

“I started with Merkanooka in January,” she said, “When I’m on a mine site, I haul the raw unprocessed gold ore from the mine to a processing plant. Some of that is within the mine site and some is on public roads. 

“We’re hauling around 300 tonne when loaded, so are really heavy.”

A family owned and operated company, Merkanooka Haulage specialises in both mining and agricultural transport services.

That means there’s a fair amount of diversity in CJ’s role too. For example, when CJ spoke with Big Rigs she was on her way to the Forrestania mine site, located around 400km east of Perth, to pick up a drill rig and bring it back to Marble Bar in the Pilbara. “Sometimes I’ll do that sort of work as well. Then in October I’ll be coming off the mine work and will go and do the grain harvest, driving a C-train.”

CJ developed a love of trucks early on. Image: Trucking with CJ

But for CJ, despite being around trucks her entire life thanks to her truck driver father, following in his footsteps wasn’t always on the cards.

CJ grew up on a cherry orchard in the Adelaide Hills. “I still live on that property and I would have been fifth generation on the land doing cherries if I continued with that; but there’s not much money there for small time farmers anymore, so we’ve mostly had to pull the fruit trees out which is super devastating. Now my dad and I are both driving trucks,” she said.

When CJ first finished high school, the initial plan was to follow her other dream – motorcross. She found work in a motorbike store with dreams of pursuing a career in racing, but it wasn’t to be.

“I raced motorcross for a few years. I don’t have much time to ride anymore but I still have my Harley and Husqvarna for when I go home.”

Looking for a long-term career, CJ got her diploma of financial services and moved into insurance broking, where she spent seven years successfully climbing the corporate ladder. As she quickly found out though, being chained to a desk just wasn’t for her.

The insurance work, which she did for seven years, brought her to Darwin, where she’d do truck driving lessons after work, eventually securing her HR licence.

It wasn’t until a stint living in Queensland that she finally made the decision to return home and switch to trucking – inspired by her sister, who had just started working as a truck driver with their dad.

“I was so jealous of the work she was doing so she knew I’d end up loving it. I’d always call her and ask what she was doing and where she was going,” recalled CJ.

“I loved Queensland but my sister said there’s no point in staying in a place you love if you’re doing something that makes you miserable five days of the week!”

CJ applied for a Canadian Visa. “But I had zero dollars in my account. So I came home and worked for seven months driving concrete agitators to save money. I bought a one-way ticket and headed over for just under two years.

As she explained, “I worked on a cattle ranch in Alberta, at a Harley Davidson store, on a ski resort, and as a builder’s labourer.”

When CJ came home, she was straight back into the concrete agitators. “I didn’t want to do that though, I wanted to get it into the truck and dogs like my dad, but my boss wouldn’t put me into them – maybe he didn’t think I could do it.”

That only served to make her more determined. CJ’s father helped to train her and then she was able to get her HC licence, driving truck and dogs from 2020-2022. “And I loved it,” she admitted. “I was so proud of it because I’d worked so hard to get there. You can’t drive a truck and dog unless you really have the skills because some of the sites are so tight.”

Prior to starting at Merkanooka Haulage in January, she was driving triple fuel tankers for Liberty. Image: Trucking with CJ

When an opportunity presented itself to drive fuel tankers, CJ got her dangerous goods ticket and secured work as a driver for Liberty Fuels. In the meantime, she progressed to her MC licence and eventually moved into fuel road trains.

“In the beginning people were hesitant to give me a go.”

CJ continued, “Throughout my driving career, it’s been other people’s fears that have outweighed my ambitions – but then persistence paid off, and I finally got into a double road train and then progressed to triples, driving the AB triple fuel tanker. I did road trains with Liberty for over a year.”

That was when another opportunity came knocking.

Through social media, she shares her life as a truckie with the masses. Image: Trucking with CJ

“Fuel transport is meant to be the crème de la crème but I got to a point where I felt like I wasn’t learning anything anymore. All the trucks were automatic and I found the work to be repetitive,” explained CJ.

“I started talks with the boss here at Merkanooka in November last year. I wasn’t looking for another job but this opportunity presented itself.

“Although I had held my unrestricted licence from 10 years prior, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do the work – and I was honest about that with my boss. I knew I could pick it up easily though and I did. Within a week, I was driving a triple road train, at about triple the weight of the fuel tankers I was in.”

For CJ, she’s taken to the role like a duck to water. “One of the great things here is the variety. I ask people all the time, can you teach me this or teach me that. I’ve learned to identify punctures, change tyres – because you’re working so remote, you can’t just call a mechanic; so that’s been really good for me, it’s what I always wanted. 

“So many people have tried to tell me I wouldn’t be able to do this or do that. But what I’ve found here is that people will always find a way for you to learn to do it, so I’m eternally grateful for that.

“There are some beautiful people I’ve met too. I feel like I have all these older experienced uncles I can learn from!”

As for CJ’s social media and online presence, she says her boss has been very supportive. “He sees the power of what I’m doing online and encourages it.

“I really love doing the safety videos to try and help educate everyday road users. My plan now is to build up my YouTube channel, where I can do more of the informational, longer videos.”

It’s CJ’s hope that by sharing the work she does, it might just encourage other people to take the leap and join the transport industry.

“I’ve been up against it a fair bit with people who didn’t think I was capable. But I’ve persisted and people can see the benefit and the power of that. For now I’m just trying to be the best and most skilled truck driver I can be!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *