Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Big Man from Sydney

I met Greg at a truck stop a little while back.  He seemed a nice young bloke, with a quiet western Sydney drawl, tanned and good looking, and smelling of oil and diesel.

Grevillea - Truck station near Lithgow

When I am travelling I try to avoid fast food joints that seem to serve nothing more than differently flavoured stacks of fat.  In the small cafes you get a different sort of meal – made while you wait, from real food.  You don’t see a lot of truck drivers eating at fast food joints for a reason – they make their own or rest up in the small road side cafes.  It is time for a smoko or a beer during the periods of enforced rest.
Greg had already had a couple of beers when he hailed me over.  There is an easy camaraderie in these places – generally only truck drivers and the occasional biker sit on the plastic seats, at a table covered in a simple plastic sheet with a paper rose in a small jar for decoration.  The smell of diesel while eating a steak with three vegetables is a skill not easily learned. 
He wanted to talk.  We started with our trucks.  He was hauling gravel and river sand this week – hard work, and difficult on the truck and the trailers.  I quietly nodded in the direction of a long distance freighter I had seen down the end of the tarmac, trusting the driver would still be asleep in this cab while I finished my meal, avoiding the need for a long explanation about why I was only in a four wheel drive. 
He had a girlfriend and a young kid up in the mortgage belt in North Sydney.  He went home every fortnight for three or four days.  She worked part time while her mom looked after the kid.  He flicked open his phone and showed me a blurry picture, which matched the slur on his voice.  He talked about his place – the river and the wildlife on the edge of the town.
He had been doing work up Gunnedah way.  He grimaced.  Still owed a packet of money by a Big Man from Sydney.  Shifting sludge from a small test drill site for a coal seam gas company.  He said the spoil had been dumbed next to the drill site - four trailers worth.  He was going to be paid twice the normal rate to move two trailers of the spoil to a toxic waste dump.  The guy on site said the rest of the spoil was just going to be spread back over the site.  The toxic waste dump a couple of hours drive away was in an odd place – adjacent to what appeared to be a new residential development in one of the outback towns.  A sign outside the dump invited clean fill.
Greg paused.  He had rung up the guy who had contracted him.  The Big Man from Sydney assured him he was in the right place, adding that Greg wouldn’t get paid unless the spoil was dumped there, right now.  So he did, but he had not heard from the Big Man, and the mobile number was now disconnected.  He showed me a rash on his arm where he had touched some of the spoil trying to wash it out of his trailers.  I told him to go see a doctor.

I went to get a couple more drinks, but when I returned he was gone.  Like he had never been there.

Peter Quinton
August 2014

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