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Shirley recalls days as a long-haul trucking pioneer

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For Bolton Clarke Pioneers resident and former long haul truck driver Shirley, 81, long roads were part and parcel of the job which often took her 2000km away from the family home.

In the approach to International Day of Older Persons on 1 October, Shirley embodies this year’s theme – the resilience and contributions of older women.

The mother of two, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother was co-owner with husband Peter of trucking company Rogers Transport and learnt how to dodge kangaroos from behind the wheel. Peter later served 25 years as a driver out of Charleville before they retired to Longreach.

“We used to go as far as Brisbane a lot of the time from Charleville, then load the cattle on trains and boats to go overseas,” Shirley said. “There was a lot of work involved.”

“Life on the road is not for the faint-hearted. The road is all bitumen now, but it was dirt back then. It was a risky business with no communication.

“We owned two trucks and we paid $79,000 for a brand-new Kenworth while now they cost half a million dollars. They were manual and one of our trucks had 18 gears. 

“We went in with not much and came out with less, but I didn’t mind being on the road – we used to light fires and have barbecue dinners.

“I helped them fuel up, get their parts and I was always on the go.

“When they needed spare tires, we used to drive around until midnight.”

Born in 1939 with a pioneering spirt, Shirley lived on the land with her parents in the North West Queensland town of Hughenden. 

Her father was a shearer and her mother a cook in the shearing sheds, and the small family lived in shearer’s quarters on her grandparents’ sheep and cattle station.

“During the war I remember we used to turn all the blinds down and lights off, so the planes couldn’t see,” she said. 

“Dad was out of work and we lived on rations – it was a hard life, but the nature was lovely. Dad even bought me an Army horse.”

Life remained simple even after Shirley’s marriage.

“When I got married, we had no power for six years, but we just got by.

“Peter [my husband] earnt 20 pounds a week and I made all my clothes.”

Today Shirley says her advice to city slickers looking to try life on the road is to “give it a go.”

“Anybody can do that sort of work if they’re interested enough,” she said.

“There are a lot of jillaroos around now and the work is in them because they had parents who lived on the land. 

“I can’t cop the city - give me the country any day over the city, it is so nice and quiet and you can do what you like. 

“I love the bush I’d go back to the bush today.”

Shirley’s two sons, Lawrence and John, followed their parents into the transport industry, while husband Peter has been inducted into the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.