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Change of pace for popular Outback Truckers star

If you’re a fan of Outback Truckers, then you’ll have most likely seen Paul ‘Sludge’ Andrews, 54, and his specced-up custom 2008 Peterbilt 379 Extended Hood – known simply as ‘The Phantom’ – tackling all that Australia’s unforgiving outback had to throw at him.

But early last year, he decided to make some big changes. “I had four trucks and now I’m down to one. It was getting too hard to get good operators. I was working around 20 hours a day, seven days a week for probably 15 years. I used to leave Sunday night, get home on Friday, then I’d spend the weekend working on the guys’ gear. I sold the other trucks 15 months ago,” he explained. 

Though Sludge had been considering downsizing his business for some time, it was the tragic death of his best mate that cemented the decision.

“My best mate Mark, who was back in New Zealand, died of a brain aneurysm and two days later I sold the trucks. He was the one I did a lot of filming for with the orchard runs in New Zealand that were shown on Outback Truckers – we were really close,” said Sludge

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve got, when your time’s up, it’s up.”

The change has however been a big adjustment. “I think I do struggle sometimes with being at home, it’s had its ups and downs. When you’ve had 30 years of living on the road, it’s a big change. I do love being home at night though. Occasionally I’ll still go and do an overnight load when I feel like I need to get away again. I don’t want to be away all the time, but every now and then, I still like to head away.

“Now it’s all mainly local, though I do the occasional run into Port Hedland. I made that change once I sold the other gear. The kids have all grown up too, they love riding motorbikes and stuff like me, so I’ve loved being able to go away on weekends with them too.”

The truck was named after a country song called Phantom 309 – which had nothing to do with the comic book.

Originally from New Zealand, Sludge’s parents ran their own transport business. “Dad had trucks before I was born – so my passion became trucks. When I was really young, like six or seven years old, I used to go out and drive the trucks around the paddocks with Dad. We’d drive around and the guys would throw the hay bales in the back. I’d sit on the edge of the seat and away we went. That’s what my son did as he was growing up too. I have two sons who are 31 and 16, and a daughter who is 29 – but none of them are in trucks.”

As a kid, Sludge loved going away in the truck. Sadly, tragedy struck and his father was killed in a truck accident when Sludge was just 14. That was the catalyst for his move to Australia. 

“A couple of years later I came to Perth,” he said. “Derek Murray was one of our drivers, he had his first job with dad, and I would go away with him a lot. He went all around the world and then settled in Perth. I went over there to visit him and go motorbike racing – and I never came home. It was supposed to be a holiday, but I ended up living with Derek and his family for over 10 years. 

“I was only 16 when I came here so he became my role model. He had his own trucking business over here called Derek Murray and Co, which still exists to this day, but he doesn’t own it anymore. He lives in Norway now. He helped set me up on my own. I used to work in a pellet mill in the day and at night I would go and drive trucks with him and help out. I wasn’t old enough to drive yet on my own, but I’ve been driving heavy vehicles since I was 16.”

Sludge was a regular on the television series Outback Truckers across many seasons.

Sludge says Murray didn’t only teach him how to drive, he also brought him up after he lost his father. Though Sludge did return to New Zealand for a brief three-year stint to work with the family business, it didn’t work out, so he returned to Perth which has been his home ever since.

And it was here that he got his nickname too. “On the first day I arrived in Australia, we went out in Fremantle for drinks. I bought everyone a jug and half of them didn’t finish because the place was closing – so I started at one end and worked my way down.

“Nobody knew my name so they started calling me Sludge and it stuck. Even my pay packets had Sludge written at the top. No one used to know my name. Even my mum calls me Sludge now too,” he laughed. 

By 2004, Sludge started his business Paul Andrews Transport and by 2009, he became the proud owner of his dream truck, The Phantom. It came over from the United States and was converted to right hand drive and built up in Melbourne by Christy Custom Trucks.  

“It was the first 140 tonne rated Peterbilt in Australia,” said Sludge. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved Peterbilt. In every movie I watched, if there was a truck, it was always a Peterbilt – it was my dream truck.”

Surprisingly the theme of the truck actually came about by accident. Sludge had named his Peterbilt after a country song called Phantom 309 by Red Sovine, which was about a haunted truck.

“It was never anything to do with the comic book. I just wanted the words ‘The Phantom’ airbrushed onto the side of the truck, but because I had it painted purple, he said if you let me do what I want to it, I’ll look after you – and back then airbrushing was quite expensive. They never told me what they were doing, they just painted it and did all the artwork,” he explained.

Sludge and his late friend Mark flew from Perth to Mebourne to pick up the truck. “And I was just blown away. The only thing I didn’t like were the flames on the sides with the skulls. He said if you don’t like them by the time you get home, I’ll paint over them. But once I got used to it, it was just incredible.

“Every nut and bolt has a chrome skull cap. We put a Foxtel dish on the roof, so you just push a button and the satellite goes up and turns around to pick up the signal – there was nothing in Australia remotely like this truck. And I never asked for that. Once it had the name and the colour purple, it went mad, and everyone wanted a piece of it, so I feel quite privileged because I got this showpiece. It was unbelievable to drive it home that first time. Every time we stopped, people just went mad for it. It was pretty cool.”

Every nut and bolt on the truck has a chrome skull cap.

And soon the truck was given even more attention, after Sludge took part in the television series Outback Truckers. He made regular appearances from season 3 through to season 9. Though a tenth season hasn’t been confirmed, many fans are hopeful of a return of the popular reality show. “It’s been an awesome ride for me. They’re hoping to get another season off the ground, and if they do, I’ll be there quicker than you can say boo,” Sludge said.

“They’re hoping to get the funding for another season and are still pushing to do the show again. For me personally, it’s opened a lot of doors. Before Covid, I had tickets booked for the UK, so now I’m planning on doing some driving over there next year. 

“It’s also opened up an opportunity to do the ice roads too. I’ve been doing podcasts with a guy in America, and two of his mates are ice road truckies. I really want to do that – that will probably be one of the highlights for me – driving across the frozen lakes into the unknown, when it’s minus 20 degrees, that’s something I really want to do. An opportunity like that doesn’t come along every day.”

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