Back to Cattle: Jamie Wallace and his Western Star Constellation

By: Peter and Di Schlenk


Like many drivers, Jamie Wallace gave the mining game a go. But the job’s mind-numbing aspects soon had him back to hauling livestock. Peter and Di Schlenk write

Back to Cattle: Jamie Wallace and his Western Star Constellation
Jamie Wallace prefers hauling livestock over other freight.

 

Jamie Wallace was busy hosing out crates behind a 6900 series Western Star Constellation at the Gracemere saleyards, but was happy to take a break to chat with us about his 30 years behind the wheel, and the livestock industry in general.

The Queensland town of Gracemere is around 9km west of Australia’s beef capital Rockhampton.

It’s a regular destination for Jamie, who drives for Willoughby Livestock Transport near Mackay.

Jamie has witnessed many changes in the industry over the years, in particular the safety aspects of livestock.

"The key thing is to look after your cattle while you are travelling," he says.

"Then you shouldn’t have an issue.

"If you aren’t treating a beast right, you never know who’s looking over your shoulder.

"It is all about animal welfare these days."

Jamie says patience is one of the key attributes when hauling livestock.

As well as dealing with motorists, including grey nomads on the highways, there’s the temperament of the animals to consider.

However, the improvements in crate design have made life a little easier.

"Walk-through crates are friendlier to use, and then there’s slam shut doors, safety gates, full width ramps with electric winches instead of the old hand winches.

"You are dealing with a tonne of bull that has a mind of its own," he says.

Jamie says a couple of properties on his run are still stuck in the past, but others aren’t afraid to spend money on their yards, building double decker ramps.

Livestock know-how

Over the years Jamie has seen people come and go in the livestock industry, and it’s easy to spot someone who knows what they’re doing.

"When you get to a grazier’s property to load you can see if someone has done stock," he says.

"You know the places to stand and which cattle to jigger and the ones to let go.

"It’s all about being quick and steady. It is a specialised job in its own right."

Jamie certainly knows his craft.

His started out as a gate opener for his grandfather Col Matton who ran a few trucks.

"There were a lot of gates," Jamie says.

"Thank Christ for the invention of grids these days."

Jamie first learned to drive around the age of 12. His grandfather ran a mix of UDs, Fords and Mercedes-Benz trucks.

"They were day cabs and at night we would sleep under the trailers," he says.

By the age of 14 Super-Liners and Scanias began to appear on the scene, making it a lot easier for Jamie and his brother Joe to tag along.

"My brother and I just lived in the trucks. Our house used to be right alongside the depot and as soon as a truck would start up, we’d be over there.

"Mum would be yelling at us that we had school. We didn’t care — we were going for another ride," Jamie says.

"I didn’t think I’d really know of any other job I wanted to do."

Jamie -Wallace ,-Western -Star ,-Constellation ,-TT3

 

Mine time

All up, Jamie has been with Willoughby Livestock Transport for seven years. He left once, going to work on the mines for a short-lived nine-month period.

"For the first few months the wife and kids loved it because of the time I got to spend at home, but it wasn’t for me.

"I think if you were bred into the mining industry or came in off the street it would be okay.

"It was hard because on the road we think for ourselves; we are thinking about the motorist coming towards you, your next job and your cattle.

"On a mine site they do all your thinking for you," Jamie says.

"I couldn’t handle it and came back to cows again."

Jamie also tried his hand at being an owner-operator, running his own business Wallace Livestock for five years.

"It just became too hard, the time away from home and the maintenance.

"We had three young boys and which ‘Luvvy’ [Toni] did a wonderful job of raising them on her own.

"We’ve been together for 22 years; she is the best."

Jamie has praise for his boss, Gary ‘Gaz’ Willoughby.

Based at the bottom of the Eton Range just west of Mackay. Gary runs 10 trucks, eight of his own plus two permanent subbies.

Apart from the Western Star which Jamie drives, the rest of the fleet are all Kenworths.

"Gary is a nice fellow to work for; he is a really good boss," Jamie says.

"He keeps the 10 of us pretty well hopping, moving the cattle.

"If you have any issues we can ring and tell him what it is and he will try and work with you.

"It could be family, driver issues … it could be anything. I just tell him straight away and he’s happy.

"That is why I keep coming back to him," Jamie says.

Unlike the truck drivers’ image as portrayed in the TV series Outback Truckers, Jamie says Gary is fairly relaxed about deadlines.

"If it takes you an extra hour to travel somewhere because you are going to be a bit steadier, so be it," Jamie says.

"You still get there and the freight is in better condition."

Jamie has been driving the Western Star for around two years, and while he says the truck is roomy and comfortable, he says the Cat Acert engine has been a little "doughy".

"With Gaz, maintenance is everything. If there are any issues with the running gear, I just ring and it is taken care of.

"No one wants to be broken down with cattle on … it’s not a good look," Jamie says.

Jamie -Wallace ,-Western -Star ,-Constellation ,-TT2

 

Family business

Willoughby’s have been hauling cattle for nearly 50 years. The company was started by Gary’s father Greg Willoughby, with Gary coming on board 20 years ago.

"They’re a good bunch of blokes that work for Gaz," Jamie says.

"Everyone seems to get along. It’s a good family business."

Toni does the occasional trip with Jamie. In previous years the couple’s children were also keen on trucks.

"Now our youngest is 17 and the kids don’t have time to go in the truck anymore."

Jamie says he tries to keep them away from the industry.

"It’s a rewarding but lonely job," he says.

Nevertheless, the Western Star is well set-up for the times when Jamie needs to spend a couple of weeks away from home.

There are the big phone bills, but he says it’s important to keep in touch with loved ones.

"The best part of the job is the variety of places we go," he says.

"We cart cattle from all over Queensland; as far west as Mt Isa, north to Normanton, south-west as far as Windorah, south to Casino and everywhere in between.

"Like they say, you wouldn’t be dead for quids if you are doing something you enjoy," Jamie says.

"I think my wife thinks I am on a big holiday sometimes," Jamie says.

"I don’t think life could get any better."

 

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