‘I don’t want to bring it home to my family’

Brad Walker is a worried man. Along with wife, Lisa, the couple own two truck and dog combinations, one a CAT and the other a Kenworth. The Walkers own all their equipment apart from the KW prime mover, which is being paid off.

Kilmore based, Brad’s business is hauling crushed rock into Melbourne’s fast expanding northern suburb estates, as base material for road laying. To date it has been profitable, but for how much longer?

Hok'ee - a cheap prime mover if things go topsy.
Hok'ee - a cheap prime mover if things go topsy.

“We’re lucky at the moment in that we’re still working, but everything that has to go into these estates before we come in is getting harder to procure. They are running out of stock. Obviously the developers aren’t going to open any more stages up if they don’t sell what’s already done. So we’re just going to run out of work.

“Honestly I’m scared now. I’m 51. I don’t want to bring this Covid 19 home. The other day I went through Hungry Jacks drive-through on foot. The cars behind me were looking at me like I was an idiot. They actually served me, but then she hands me a straw to put in my drink with the gloves that she’s had on all day. I’m not joking! I ended up throwing the lot in the bin mate. My dad pops in every few days – well he was until now. He’s 73. Imagine if I gave it to him.

“It’s the same with getting our books or paperwork signed. They never have a pen so they take our pen, sign it and hand it back. I look at the guy and think, ‘have you got this or not?’ I don’t want to bring it home to my family.

“I have a young feller driving the other truck. We work from home so when we knock off I don’t let him in. That’s really hard but it’s the way it has to be. I am responsible for him and his income but it’s really hard. He is 24 and has not taken it as seriously as I am at my age. The penny is starting to drop now but I had to drum it into him.

“I think part of the problem is that people his age just don’t watch TV or read papers. There are either watching Netflix or playing computer games. The bloke who works for me doesn’t watch news, he doesn’t watch TV, he doesn’t read a paper. He’s out getting fuel and being reckless et cetera.

“I distance myself all day. I get loaded by loader, I tip off where a guy on the UHF tells me. When I get fuel I’m literally shitting myself mate. I’ve gotta get out, get fuel and go in to pay. I’m lining up at the BP and it’s bumper-to-bumper with people pushing and shoving trying to get in first. Then I’ve got to touch a filthy ATM machine and get out of the joint. You think, ‘am I getting out alive?’ It sounds extreme but it’s true.

Walkers Transport
Walkers Transport

People should have a look at what has happened in America where the governments and people have not taken precautions. Nobody can afford to say, ‘it’s not going to happen to me’. The fact is everybody is at risk. I’m sick of hearing only old people will die. What does that mean – old people don’t matter?”

At the moment Brad is still getting work but it’s starting to slow down. “For me, if these trucks park up then that’s it. I’ve got no income coming in.”

“It’s the fear of not knowing,” says Lisa. “The business is slowing down and could come to a screaming halt. We have payments we have to meet and it’s fine for the bank to say we can have a moratorium on the mortgage, but you can bet the compound interest will keep going.”

“I have about $2,500 a month in rego alone. Then there’s the insurance. If I stopped paying the rego are they going to make me get a road worthy to get it all back on the road? No doubt they would. The problem with the registration is that we can’t afford to pay if the trucks aren’t working, and we can’t afford to not pay them.

Brad is illustrating a multitude of problems that are liable to face the couple – and many others in the transport industry, sooner rather than later. “When this thing is eventually over, it’s going to be a year or maybe two before this industry fully recovers. There is going to be a massive delay in terms of the industry picking itself back up. People are going to go broke.

“Our expenses to run these trucks is out of control. Wasn’t the idea of having all airbag trucks to protect the roads? That was Vic Roads idea. If you have an older truck on springs you’re paying $2,500 a year registration. All the stuff on airbags is $1000 a month to carry an extra three ton per trip. Quite frankly I’d be better doing more trips on springs.”

A nice clean start to the day.
A nice clean start to the day.

Brad points to many young people in the industry who have young families, truck payments and are basically mortgaged to the hilt.

“If we go to a full stand-down how will they get going again? If they could afford to hold onto their truck, they put $300-$400 per day into the tanks, then they have to try and carry that for 45 days before the get paid again. They are not going to have the money to run a truck for 45 days before they get paid.

“And, it’s not just the young ones. We run two trucks and have between $800 and $1,000 per day going out in fuel. How are we going to carry that for 45 days? I don’t run a fuel card. I never have one, because to me a fuel card is a credit card. We pay as we go. Then of course there’s wages for our young bloke. And Super, and WorkCover. We’ll have to keep paying that while we are parked up. Those things don’t stop. The government needs to step in here and maybe freeze the registrations as a starting point. They’re doing 2/5 of FA in regards to this industry from what we can see.

“We couldn’t even sell the trucks because who would buy them at the moment,” says Lisa. “We couldn’t afford to buy trailers to replace the tippers and look at other possible opportunities. We are classed as an essential industry that needs to go to work. The costs are immense just to have trucks on the road. Another essential person is, for example, a doctor. He drives to his work every day and parks it up. Now he’s on the front line and it’s wonderful that he does that, but he doesn’t have the sort of associated costs that this industry does.”

“We are trying to be positive and it hasn’t got it down to the wire, but we know its coming. Soon they’ll start putting trucks off the road that aren’t essential I think.

On a brighter note, Lisa got a most unusual birthday present – a camel no less!

“I Love ‘em! On various trips through central Australia I was always on the lookout for camels.

Brad continues. “I was talking to a guy near Kyabram who milks them and sells a lot of camel products. He actually had one whose mother’s teats were too small and it couldn’t feed properly. He interviewed me to see if we would be proper parents He had this young one whose mother wouldn’t feed properly so he was prepared to sell it to us. Did you know they’re smarter than dogs to train? They are unbelievably intelligent. It just wants a cuddle. His name is Hok’ee, an Indian name which means ‘abandoned’. If the world does go to shit we’ll hook a trailer to Hok’ee - no fuel or insurance required.”

Brad finishes with this quip: “I think the only place where there’s no chance of catching Covid 19 would be in the Cornwill boys T908, ‘Paradise’. That would have to be the cleanest spot in Australia.”