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Trucking Memories: Macks working in a war zone


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Big Rigs  /  March 13, 2017

In 1999, I was attempting to have a midlife crisis with the stupid idea that I could prove that my youth wasn't fading by riding a pushbike from the Roper River through the Gulf Country to Borroloola.

Lying under a mosquito net waiting out the heat of the day under a shady tree, I listened to the news on a small battery-powered shortwave radio, as all hell broke loose in a close neighbour, East Timor.

I decided that if I was a real journalist, I needed to go and cover what was happening to our north.

Through a television news agency I got a gig reporting on television, so on the HMAS Jervis Bay I travelled with a couple of hundred soldiers and found myself in a country that had been destroyed by fire and violence, very few families were not wearing black armbands because of members lost in the many massacres across the small nation.

The world of trucks seems to find you wherever you are, and so I found myself with an Australian army transport unit shifting critical freight from the capital of East Timor, or as it is now known since independence - Timor Leste - heading towards the coastal city of Baucau and in spite of the war footing, it was a joy to travel with the Australian Army truckies.

The UHF crackles, a woman's voice rides the static. "Traffic stopped on the defile, come on through".

Six Macks fire into life and the camouflaged 6x6s bellow and pull their 40 tonne GVMs up a winding narrow bitumen road.

The view out over the tropical blue sea is stunning.

The woman's voice belongs to the MP sergeant in control of the escort of the convoy of Macks.

We're part way between Dili and Baucau in East Timor.

The incredibly narrow coastal road twists back on itself, over and over.

Dynatards thuddering, holding these hills are steep, many make Cunningham's Gap seem like a Sunday stroll.

Operator Specialist David Brown (Brownie) is driving the Mack I'm in. He's an experienced hand, works on the tank transporters - the S Line roadtrains - back in Oz.

Over here he's one of the senior drivers.

He's got a sparkle in his eye and with his long lanky frame and the durrie hanging from the corner of his mouth, he could be a truckie anywhere.

But the camo gear and an automatic Steyer hanging off his shoulder suggest that this is just a bit different.

Heading towards Baucau and the Thai army. Supplying provisions is one of the main chores for the 26th Transport Squadron now based in East Timor.

Beside the road, farmers use a mob of buffalo to mull the rice paddies.

Groups of women plant rice. Life is getting back to normal throughout East Timor, although there's still much lacking in many parts.

Women scrape by hand salt that has been gleaned from evaporated sea water.

The salt is then put into ceramic pots and carried on their heads.

So close to Darwin, only an hour by plane, yet culturally so far away.

Then we were over the mountain and the forest opened up onto a sort of a tableland and we were driving alongside the largest airstrip in Timor - Baucau.

Here more than 500 metres above sea level the weather is surprisingly cool, a relief after the hot and humid lowlands of Dili.

Lunch comes out of an army "rat-pack" (ration pack) - a wide choice of muesli bars, tinned tucker, biscuits - that is the daily field ration of the Australian soldier. One piece of cutlery does all, including opening cans - it's called a FRED (aka f#%*@! ridiculous eating device) - but it does the job.

The trucks are unloaded by mid afternoon, and the loading process begins.

Brownie gets the refrigerated container on his truck shifted to a trailer on another unit, and drives a RAAF loader onto the Mack's flat bed.

We have to wait to load a forklift onto the trailer.

Baucau was being used as a major freight airstrip as it is long enough to land the huge Russian Antonov freighters.

We camped on the floor of the burnt out air terminal, 50 Aussie diggers cum truck drivers sleeping with rifles and Minimi machine guns in their arms, I felt it a safe place to be.

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