Roadkill and Loneliness: Aussie Truckers Turn to Poetry

by VR Sreeraman on  March 13, 2009 at 11:26 AM Lifestyle News
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Roadkill; the spectre of flashing eyes in the headlights; an endless, aching loneliness -- this is the poetry of an Australian truck driver's life.
 Roadkill and Loneliness: Aussie Truckers Turn to Poetry
Roadkill and Loneliness: Aussie Truckers Turn to Poetry

Infamous for drug use and reckless speeds, "truckies" form an integral part of Australia's cultural landscape as vast amounts of freight -- livestock, food, furniture -- thunder across the immense continent, crossing the red desert from east coast to west.

"Without trucks," goes local lore, "Australia stops."

But there's a little-examined interior life for the thousands of men and women who power these big rigs, a soft underbelly which finds expression in the most unlikely of forms.

"I enjoyed reading poetry when I was younger, but I wouldn't admit to it while I was a truck driver because of that so-called macho burly truckie image," said Dave Delaney.

"You've got to be a man's man, you know. You don't associate with those things."

But times change and these days 55-year-old Delaney is what's called a "dust poet," truck drivers who have turned their minds to the lyrical arts.

He is one of six people selected to exhibit his writing in a tribute to trucking by a poetry promotion and publishing group, the Red Room Company, in Sydney later this month.

Delaney is also among a dozen poets due to be published by Red Room in a first-ever "Dust Poems" anthology.

A driver for 25 years, Delaney hails from a family tradition: his father, grandfather and uncles were all truckies.

"Drivers say the diesel gets in your blood," he said.

Despite leaving school at 15, he said that poetry too came naturally.

"If you look out the windscreen of a truck, and be it absolutely beautiful landscape or the monsoon, it's gonna be a picture in your mind," he told AFP.

"And that's what happens to me -- I get the picture in my mind and then I put it down on paper. And that's what a lot of these guys do."

Delaney's work can dwell on the eerie darkness of a night run, or touch on the splendour of the landscape and wildlife, as in his poem "The Final Run:"

"Wondrous Australian beauty, I've been honoured to experience

Rainforests, deserts, mountain ranges, captured with ebullience

View our unique animals in their natural habitat

Amazing scenes will greet you on this lonely country track"

Emus attempting to run in a freshly-ploughed field, kangaroos grazing in the open plains, and mile upon mile of chattering sulphur-crested cockatoos on the railway line -- these are some of Delaney's favourite memories.

There are those, too, he'd rather forget, like the discovery of a car crushed head-on against a tree on an outback road.

Since the call for entries by the Red Room Company, Dust Poems convener Bonny Cassidy said, poems have poured in from across Australia.

"I think it's something to do with spending a great deal of time alone," she said.

"I think also it's something to do with passing through different landscapes, often foreign and alien landscapes that a driver doesn't necessarily get to know.

"It's almost like truck drivers are constant tourists, constant travellers, constant wanderers," she said.

While there was certainly a romantic element to the life of a long-haul truckie, much of the poetry describes a life of solitary pain, she said.

"They're often very dark and troubled things about everything from roadkill and the spectre of flashing eyes in headlights to wives and kids who are left at home alone to have their dinners alone."

Odes to beloved canine companions featured, along with the issues of "drugs, amphetamines and drinking on long jobs, deadlines, fatigue".

In the 12 months to March 2008, 275 people died in truck accidents, according to official figures.

A research paper commissioned by the drivers' union and carried out by the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research last year found truck drivers used about twice as many drugs as the rest of the population.

Almost one-third said they abused alcohol while average driving hours ranged from 62 to 100 hours per week.

"We're out there, we see things that the average person doesn't see and we've got the loneliness," said Delaney.

"There's the thought that you could nod off and have an accident, all those things go through your head. You listen to all the sounds, the humming of the motor ... it can be very lonely out there."

Fellow dust poet Mick O'Brien shares his truck with driver wife Kim, and says it's "just like a marriage".

"Nobody is ever completely happy with the way the other person does things, the way the truck is loaded, ropes are tied, how clean the truck is," he said.

"It is in your blood, it is a lifestyle not a job, and it becomes your life. I'm very lucky my family share it with me or I would be very lonely, as many drivers end up."

The O'Briens lost everything except their truck in devastating wildfires which killed 210 people in southeast Victoria state last month.

Their home was flattened, but O'Brien said his "Aussie spirit won't be crushed".

"We have lost everything but we have each other," he said.

As manager of a distribution company, Delaney says his driving days are now over, but in his bed at night his mind returns to the road:

"Traversing over mountains, changing through those gears

Listening to that diesel engine, humming in my ears."

The Dust Poems exhibition opens at the former Olympic site, now a sports and exhibition centre, in Sydney on March 20.

Source: AFP

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