Tony’s ‘second home’

Hernes Freight Service driver Tony Cutler has become somewhat of Western Star aficionado; his latest ‘home-away-from-home’ being a sparkling 4900 model. Peter and Di Schlenk write

Tony’s ‘second home’
Expat Kiwi Tony Cutler has driven the length and breadth of Australia – mostly in Western Stars.


Tony Cutler reckons the 2012 Detroit-powered Western Star 4900 he drives for Hernes Freight Service does not have the note of a real truck. More specifically, it doesn’t have the "cackle" of the C15 Cat-powered 2007 Western Star he drove for the company a few months ago.

"I was reluctant to come out of that one," he says of the older model.

"Detroit’s haven’t got a really good rap but I’ve got to say, my times are about the same.

"It’s just that this is smoother and quieter and it doesn’t seem like I am going as fast, and it’s certainly a lot more economical."

According to Tony, the 4900 is a more refined truck – a "gentleman’s truck". He says he could place his thongs in front of his gear shift of his former drive and, soon after driving down the road, they would end up on the passenger floor. "Now they just stay there," he grins.

Tony has become somewhat of an authority on Western Stars. Before joining Hernes, he drove a W30 anniversary model for P&N Logistics. Before that he was behind the wheel of a 6900 in Western Australia pulling a triple fuel tanker.

"I seem to be stuck in the ’Stars; they’re a home away from home."

Hernes Freight Service is based in the northern New South Wales town of Lismore, although Tony lives on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. However, he works out the company’s Brisbane depot and the four week on/one week off roster suits him, allowing him to spend quality time with his wife Joanne who has an equally demanding job – nursing.

"Hernes have been very flexible with our rosters," he says. "I have a lifestyle property and that gives me time to spend at home."

Tony says Joanne understands the demands of his job and the long passages of time he spends away in his "second home".

"Joanne knows I love my job, but the company allows us to bring our spouses along. It’s just a matter of getting her roster to align with mine."

’Roo alert

Tony’s runs can take him anywhere along the east coast, as well as South Australia and across to Western Australia. He says on a recent run down to Adelaide he tried his best to avoid the large number of kangaroos on the road.

"Coming down from Cobar to Peterborough, I have never seen so many kangaroos," he explains. "It was unbelievable."

"It just happened to be one of those nights with almost a full moon, it was clear and crisp.

"I was down to 60-70km/h in some places; they were just everywhere."

During that trip Tony lost a spotlight, nut covers and copped a dent on the left hubcap.

"I’ve got blood and bits and pieces of ’roos everywhere; they were even running between the trailers.

"I’ve seen a lot but I have never seen it like that," he exclaims.

He says in one particular instance, a train had scared the ’roos into jumping out onto the road at once. "The road kill was just phenomenal," Tony continues. "You just don’t know what they are going to do.

"You can back off, you can veer onto the other side of the road and they will do a 180 and come straight at you."

Career change

Tony had no concern about kangaroos in his formative years. His father, Ivan Cutler, won a New Zealand Driver of the Year competition two years running, and it wasn’t uncommon for Tony to venture out in the truck with his dad.

"I loved trucks and as a child I could recognise them from their mirrors and their lights."

However, he initially had no desire to be a truck driver, although he went for his rigid licence when he turned 18 merely as a backup plan. "I didn’t think there was a career in it," he says.

Instead, Tony ended up following his mother Cheryl Cutler’s career path and went into real estate. Arriving in Australia over 10 years ago he was encouraged to run a boutique real estate agency on the Gold Coast.

"I found that there were more sharks on that piece of dirt than in the surrounding ocean," he remarks. "It put me off and I questioned myself as to what I was going to do … I wanted something different."

So he went with truck driving, landing his first job with Tip Top.

"While I was working there I saw this B-double come into the Gold Coast bakery and I got talking to the driver," he recalls.

"I asked him what I would have to do to drive one of these and he said, ‘get an MC licence’." Tony’s reply was, "What’s that?"

The driver was working for AEG Interstate Transport and advised him to give his operations manager a call. Tony was then confronted with two choices – either do 50 hours on a trip with the driver or he could do local around town to get his hours up.

Tony opted for the long run, and soon after had his MC licence. He was then offered a job with AEG running interstate. "I’ve never looked back," he says.

Feeling more adventurous, he headed across to WA to drive tankers.

"I loved it, but in fairness you earned the money – and it was good money. It set us up.

"I was fortunate to have been paid a good amount to see a lot of this beautiful country."

He drove for a few different companies, including Mitchell Logistics, Linfox and Centurion. At one stage he was doing two up from Brisbane to Perth, driving for two weeks straight and then one week off. "I don’t like shuttles and change-overs," he says.

With his runs criss-crossing the country, it’s not surprising that Tony is no fan of national work diaries. He says he’s capable of managing his own fatigue better than any book can.

"I think that Western Australia has it nailed," he states. "You can make a mile and manage yourself better. It’s simple."

Professional outfit

Tony has been with Hernes coming up to two years. He enjoys the variety of the job, as well as working for a family company.

"At the end of the day it’s where you feel comfortable.

"The way I look at it is, they give you a job, you go and do it. When you finish, you give them a call and they give you another one and you go and do that and hand your paperwork in as soon as possible."

He prefers to work for a smaller company rather than a one of the large transport giants "where you are just a number".

"This is a nice sized company. They’re very professional, have a great workshop, maintenance program and good gear.

"That is where companies like Hernes stand out. We have quite a couple of young blokes coming through. They start as yardies, then onto rigids and work up.

"It puts a smile on your face because they’ve been taught to take pride in their job and their gear."

Tony says it’s all part of what makes the team at Hernes are a great bunch to work with.

"You can trust them and they in turn trust me – that’s half the battle," he says.

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