The road-train drivers who haul cattle across the outback shore up a $12-billion-a-year livestock-transport industry while revelling in the freedom of taking the road less travelled.

Story By Kerry Sharp

'Lizard' Williams drives triple road trains full of cattle out of isolated stations dotted along the beef roads of northern Australia. He’s regarded as a legend among his younger workmates. With 45 years of truck driving behind him and more than 30 years and six million kilometres dedicated specifically to cattle haulage, Lizard has rolled with the highs and lows and changing times of life on the beef roads. He and a handful of fellow long-termers – such as Reggie McGuiness, Alec McInness, Billy Mack and Tino ‘Ding’ Gianoncelli – are all revered ‘road bosses’. They’re the drivers who take up the rear of the convoy when stations call for several road trains to lift extra cattle numbers. Like their counterparts across the country, they’re all expert bush mechanics and masters at manoeuvring their big rigs across the roughest road conditions, but they’re also compassionate souls adept at tending to cows in transit. Mix all this know-how together and they’re a priceless resource for the cattle industry and excellent mentors for younger cohorts now carting cattle across the loneliest roads in the country.
Lizard, christened Peter (“Got the nickname ’cause when I’m tired my tongue hangs out”), reckons the young ones have it pretty good these days, driving rigs full of modern contraptions that weren’t even invented when he started out. But for a driver who’s straddled his industry’s changing eras, he’s yet to be convinced that air-conditioned sleeping cabins, complete with flat-screen TVs and ice-water on tap, match the pleasures of starry nights on a dirt bush road cooking up a camp-fire stew with your mates. “Driving the bitumen just isn’t the same,”
he says. “I used to drive coal trucks on the Hume Highway and got sick of the rain and mad traffic. I wanted to drive cows in the bush and I’ll take the peace and quiet and open space of the dirt roads any day in preference to that rat race.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #73

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2010