Wide open spaces

By: Peter Schlenk, Photography by: Peter Schlenk

After starting out driving trucks in England, Lee Norman moved ‘down under’ to enjoy the open roads of Western Australia’s wheat belt.

Wide open spaces
Lee Norman hasn’t looked back since arriving in Australia from England


Lee Norman drove trucks in England from the age of 21 but when he arrived in Australia he worked for a time in the Western Australian wheat belt.

"I was a farm manager and really enjoyed it, but as the kids grew older we moved to Perth for their schooling," he says.

The family moved to the northern Perth suburb of Joondalup where he jumped back into trucks.

Lee drives for Varley Transport which operates a 14 truck fleet, running mainly Mack and Kenworths. Lee, however, is regularly behind the wheel of one of two of the company’s Volvos.

"I got the first Volvo brand new and it went so well and they liked it so much that I got another one," he smiles.

"They are very comfortable, very good on fuel and we have not had any major problems with them.

"There were a few problems with the Adblue but I think that is with every truck. Apart from that it’s been very good."

The Volvo has a 600hp engine under the bonnet and Volvo’s 12-speed automatic. On average it travels around 200,000km each year.

"Everyone would like 700hp plus but 600 is all I need," Lee continues.

He admits to being happier in the Volvo than behind the wheel of a Kenworth or Mack.

"I can do 16 hours and I am wide awake," he smiles. "In a Kenworth you do 16 hours and you crawl into the bunk."

The Volvo has everything in it that Lee requires to survive, including a TV and microwave. He had asked for a coffee maker but the company baulked at that request

"The cab is big enough for me, and it’s comfortable. They whinge about the narrow bed but it pulls out, although it will be great when they bring back the extra big cabs."

Short runs

Lee says Varley specialises in servicing the wheat belt regions, hauling fertilizer, lime gypsum, blue metal, hay, liquid fertiliser and grain back to Perth’s domestic markets, feed mills and the CBH Group.

"We do liquid fertiliser as well," he says. "That’s what I am doing now. I’ve dropped the trailers off and they are being loaded.

"I will be working right through the weekend. Another guy who usually pulls the tankers will park up and have the weekend off.

Varley Transport has depots at Beacon, Narembeen and in the south eastern wheat belt town of Varley where the company was originally founded.

"Generally we just do local, a radius of 300 to 400km from Perth," Lee explains.

Varley has three sets of tankers with the remainder being tippers. It’s a relatively modern fleet.

"We try and look after the gear and present it and ourselves well," Lee says.

"Our farmers are our customers and presentation goes a long way. It promotes pride in the gear both in how it looks and is maintained."

Driver consideration

Lee enjoys the family-run atmosphere of Varley, especially with its one truck, one driver policy.

The trucks all have dash-cams and GPS tracking. It’s no surprise that the drivers are highly valued and are advised to pull over if tired.

"They would much sooner have you upright than the hassle that comes with an accident," he says.

"The rules are very good over here as far as driver fatigue. We just stick for 15 hours, it’s as easy as that. A 30 minute break for every five hours worked and minimum of seven hours sleep a night.

"There are a lot of idiots who don’t know how to deal with country roads and trucks."

"Driving over here is a bit more relaxed to the eastern states. They have to be as we have further to traverse."

While Lee admits that in general, the Western Australian road system is superior to the east coast, there are some roads that need improvement.

"The Brookton Highway especially needs work. A lot of grain is carted on it and it’s been very wet out there and the road is deteriorating."

Looking back, Lee says there are some major differences between driving in the UK and in Australia.

"When I tell them back home that I have 600hp and haul 130 tonne they can’t believe it," he smiles.

"Doing general in the UK, by 10pm you need to be off the road. The trucks in England are all in e-logs; the truck just shuts down. It is really strict and they only give you 10 minutes.

"The trucks are limited to 85km/h, so I prefer it over here. Once I am up and running I am going."

Lee has visited the UK four times since he first arrived in Australia, twice on his own and twice with the family.

"It’s been good here in Australia. The kids were born here and we call Australia home."

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