What it's like driving one of Australia's 50m megatrucks

  • People
  • Tuesday, 05 Dec 2023

Zacharias standing next to the megatruck he steers through Australia's outback. Photos: Ingo Zacharias/dpa

Ingo Zacharias skilfully steers the 630-horsepower lorry along the red, dusty road.

The 53-year-old, originally from Germany, works as a long-haul driver in the vast expanses of Australia's outback, taking charge behind the wheel of a road train, lorries that often measure more than 50m.

For Zacharias, the long days spent alone in the driver's cab are a dream come true.

"Every day I experience beautiful sunrises and beautiful sunsets," he says about life on the road.

With his road train, Zacharias transports goods across extreme distances. The mega lorries are indispensable in vast and sparsely populated places such as in the United States and Canada. In Australia, the interior of the country, a region hardly connected to the railway network, is particularly dependent on them.

In use since the 1930s when they began replacing camel caravans that had so far been used to transport goods across the outback, Australia's road trains usually span three trailers in a row.

Zacharias' road train is loaded with gigantic tyres, each costing up to A$100,000 (RM3mil) and weighing some five tonnes. They are used for dumpers transporting iron ore, which Australia exports to Japan or China, for example.

The cargo is loaded onto the vehicle in a so-called Road Train Assembly Area in Wubin, north of Perth on the West Coast, before Zacharias transports it north to Port Hedland, some 1,600km away.Zacharias transports huge tyres across Australia on this road train measuring a total length of 53.5m.Zacharias transports huge tyres across Australia on this road train measuring a total length of 53.5m.

The road trains are not allowed inside the big cities. Measuring a total of 53.5m, Zacharias' lorry meets the maximum length permitted in Australia. By comparison, the maximum lorry length in his home country Germany is 25.25m.

Once he's unloaded his cargo in Port Hedland, Zacharias heads back south the next day to get more tyres, covering about 22,000km every month.

"Basically, a tour never ends," he says. The driver often works 80-hour weeks, sometimes spending 17 hours a day behind the wheel.

It is a solitary life, marked by long days and fatigue. Zacharias also sleeps on board his truck.

He doesn't see his wife often, he says. "When I'm working, I don't have a private life," he says, though for him personally that works out okay. Whenever he's back home after a tour, after a few days he already longs to get back on the road.

"It's almost like an addiction. If you work so much, such long hours, you don't know anything else."Zacharias comes from a family of lorry drivers. Both his father and his brother also have a license. When Zacharias was 10 years old, his brother was training to become a driver.

"He had a lorry calendar on the wall, and one month showed road trains," Zacharias recalls. The young child was fascinated by the massive vehicles heading towards the horizon on empty roads, sparking in him the wish to steer one himself one day.

But a lot of time would pass before his childhood dream became reality. He started out training as a mariner for inland vessels before getting his lorry license at 23.With his road train, Zacharias transports goods across extreme distances. With his road train, Zacharias transports goods across extreme distances.

Soon, he was driving cargo all across Europe, from Spain and Portugal to Italy, and even to Tunisia.

He first made it to Australia on a holiday in 2002. Falling head over heels in love with a woman as well as with the land, he never left.

But it would still take a few more years, and a difficult break-up, before Zacharias finally made it behind the wheel of a road train.

He says his reticence to take up trucking again also had to do with prejudices toward the profession.

"Especially in Germany, driving a lorry doesn't have the best reputation in society," he says. His inhibitions meant that for a long time, he didn't want to identify as a lorry driver, even though he had really enjoyed doing it when living in Germany.

But getting through the difficult separation from his girlfriend at the time helped him to make the leap: "Now I'll do what I want to do and not what others are expecting of me," he thought at the time. And that for him had always been lorry driving.

A few years ago, Zacharias was diagnosed with a mild form of autism – which also explains why he likes to keep to himself. "People are not my thing," he admits.

"I don't like to be alone all the time, but I need my own time to myself."

When he's on the road, he hardly misses home.

"As far as truck driving is concerned, I'm glad I don't have to drive in Germany anymore," he says, where traffic is a lot more dense and manoeuvring a lorry often requires nerves of steel.

In Australia, he's found a perfect home, driving his road train through a vast expanse of land, day in and day out.

"Nature, freedom – that's what I personally like so much."– dpa

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