Big Kenny keeps on tickin'


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Ex-pat Englishman Bill Barnett has seen more of Australia than most Australians, thanks to his long-haul truck driving days. Peter and Di Schlenk write.

Bill Barnett, who drivers a 1999 Kenworth T401 for Dandenong-based J. L. Transport Services, has called Australia home for close on 48 years.

When Owner//Driver caught up with England-born Bill at the Brisbane suburb of Archerfield he had arrived from MON Natural Food in Barooga, NSW with a tanker load of vinegar.

The Kenworth has a Cat C12 with 430hp and, although the truck is 18 years old, he says it handles the work easily. The T401 has an 18 speed Roadranger and sits in Neway airbag suspension.

"JL is buying new Argosys for their B-doubles but I think I’ll have to be happy with a new trailer," he smiles.

Now aged 73, Bill has driven and seen most of Australia. However, he hasn’t always been behind the wheel of a truck.

"I was a fireman in England and when I came over here I was a driver for the Port of Melbourne Emergency Services," he explains.

"I had always been in that sort of job since I was 17 because that was what I wanted to do."

Bill was 26 when he arrived in Australia in 1969, but by 1976 he was looking for a change and began hauling furniture with his own truck, a 1419 Benz.

"I was delivering furniture for Downard Transport before Pickfords bought them out.

"We used to run up to Darwin and Perth … we would be away for two and a half months.

"I loved the job, meeting people and going places. It was hard but interesting work."

Bill clocked up around 3.5 kilometres in the Benz, mainly through regular runs from Melbourne to Perth for six years straight.

"It was a lot nicer back then. You knew most drivers and it was a great lifestyle, but things change and move on. Nothing ever stays the same," he smiles.

In 1990, Bill began for working for LPG-hauling outfit Stevenson Transport where he stayed for 13 years. "I found out there was a lot more money to be made in dangerous goods haulage," he says.

Cootes bought Stevenson out in 2002 and then Ion Limited bought Cootes.

"That was the beginning of the demise of Cootes," Bill says. "It had been an incredible company to work for, a family company."

Semi-retirement

Bill was 67 and semi-retired when he left Cootes. But he kept his driving eye in, hauling new Kenworths across to Perth.

Around the same time, Jack Hellier, who was running J.L. Transport, wanted to step back and let his son Mick run the business.

"I knew Mick and he asked me to drive his truck. It is just like working for a mate and, with the tanker, it’s all good clean work.

"One stop, one drop and I get to do deliveries around Melbourne."

Bill looks back on his life as an owner-driver and has no regrets about being an employee.

"Today everything is so regulated and over policed," he says.

"They got rid of a lot of cowboys but back in the early days it was an adventure. The roads were an adventure and not what they are now.

"Yes, they are better but you are expected to do so much. There’s been a lot of good changes but a lot of bad ones too."

Bill says he has a pretty good record, but admits to being caught out recently. He was stuck, travelling in a line behind a slow vehicle which was cruising along at 70km/h.

"No one was making a move. There was one car coming towards me a long way away so I had a go.

"Well, the car coming towards me was doing 200km/h and no-one would let me back in.

"Anyway, it was an unmarked police car and he knocked me off for careless driving."

However, the incident didn’t end up in caught, with Bill copping a $250 fine with no conviction due to his good driving history.

"Apart from that I’ve had a very good run," he says. "There are a lot of drivers that have hassles with the RMS [Roads and Maritime Services] and VicRoads, but a lot of it boils down to their attitude."

Read the full story in the March edition of Owner//Driver.

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