A lot has changed for Ian Bird, 77, since he first starting driving trucks over half a century ago at the age of 22.
He bought his first rig, a small Commer in 1967, followed by a few other trucks including an International Acco 3070 he had from about 1975 to 1986, before splashing out on a brand new 1986 Kenworth W924, which he still has to this day.
While the Kenworth W-Model is now highly sought after, it never left Bird’s side.
Over the years, the truck has certainly been put through its paces, with Bird doing regular runs from his Melbourne base to WA and up north. These days it’s mainly carting machinery into mine sites throughout the Pilbara or Kimberley regions or heading up north into outback Queensland. It’s usually doubles heading west and triples when he goes up north.
“It’s a very good old truck but it’s been through a few engines, diffs and gearboxes over the years. It’s up to its fifth engine now,” Bird said.
“As time went on, I kept repairing things so there’s not a lot of original stuff left on it now. It’s still a nice thing to drive. For many years, I used to knock out about 200,000km a year on it, but in the past ten years or so I’ve been doing about half that.”
Bird says his love of trucks was sparked by his father. “He and his brother had trucks during the war and I was always interested in hearing the stories of what my father used to do. He was involved with trucks from before I was even born,” said Bird.
“But for trucks it was a different world back then. There were only really rigids and stuff like that. Nothing like the triples we have now.
“Road trains are getting closer and closer to the big cities now. It was pretty hard when I started with road trains, you had to go such a long way out before you could hook it up. To go to Perth, we used to hook them at Wentworth at the NSW border – although we couldn’t even do that in the beginning. It’s gotten a lot easier now. There weren’t many of us doing it when those permits first came through.
“I think it’s probably a better job now than what it was. You were always under constant pressure years ago. To a certain extent you still are today, but you seem to be able to get the rest you need now.
“If you went back to the 1980s I wouldn’t have recommended it as a career path then. I never pushed my son into it or anything but I really think it’s a better job today than it used to be.”
While much has gotten easier as time has gone on, Bird says having to cross borders during a pandemic has brought about a new set of challenges.
“I’ve found it’s getting harder with getting permits and fulfilling all these things the state governments want you to do. It’s become quite a nightmare if you’re not great on computers. They seem to be making things harder and harder,” Bird explained.
“The regular testing hasn’t been too bad, so long as you can find somewhere to get it done. That can be a challenge in some areas. It hasn’t been too much of a problem when I run east to west and NSW has a few places you can get tested; but when getting into the Territory or north-west WA, it can be difficult to find a place that’s willing to do it for you.”
Some of the roads he travels along can also pose quite the challenge. “Going out to some of these outback mines, most have good access roads, but there are also a lot of them that are really bad. You can be doing 10-20km an hour, then you look down at the clock and five hours have gone and you’ve only travelled 100 kilometres.
“Most of the WA roads are beautiful and SA is not too bad, but they’ve deteriorated in NSW and Victoria, and they are shocking in Queensland and the Northern Territory is bad too. WA is good but it seems the rest of the country’s roads are falling apart. Some of the roads are in a terrible state – so it’s pretty hard on the truck and not great on the driver either.”
Despite being a truckie for so many years, Bird still enjoys being out on the open road and being able to see the countryside along his travels.
“As long as I’m fit and healthy, I’ll probably keep on going for a little while longer. They reckon if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” he laughed.
“I just enjoy the whole thing and making it all happen. Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s nice to overcome any problems and get there. The only thing I don’t enjoy is being under too much pressure so I just don’t go for those sorts of jobs. You need sufficient time to do the job,” Bird added.
“Because I’ve been around for a while, I know a lot of people on the road and have a lot of friends on the road, so I usually run into someone I know.”