Transporting over-sized wind turbine components to site has proven to be a job like no other for veteran truck driver Robert Liston.
On the road for three decades, Robert Liston comes from a family of truck drivers, but he’s never had a job like this one.
“A lot of people who know me, good friends, family - I show them photos of what I’ve been doing, and it’s just mind-blowing for them,” says Liston, who works in the renewables division of the logistics company LCR.
“In normal truck driving jobs, there’s a lot of care taken, but this is on a bigger scale, it’s a different animal altogether.”
Liston’s job involves trucking 80 metre-long, 150-tonne wind turbine parts from ports across Australia to the sites of new wind farms.
“You’ve got to be on your toes all the time,” he says. “You just can’t take it for granted. You can still have a joke and carry on, but at the same time it’s always in your head that if one person makes a wrong move and it all goes pear-shaped, someone could die.”
The trucks, attached in different cominations, can be up to 100 meters long with a turbine part bolted on top, meaning “you’ve got to make sure everything’s just spot on,” says Liston.
As well as steering the enormous trailers round tight corners, Liston is a ‘block driver’, which means driving the truck at the front of a convoy to lead the way, and route surveyor, who finds the best path to the sites.
“I’ve been in trucks since I was 14, and I’m 52 now,” Liston says. “My parents had trucks, I’ve owned trucks myself and I’ve worked for a lot of people.
“Every job you do and every truck you drive is different. But what I do now, on a scale of 1-10 it’s probably about an 11 because of the size and the weight of everything. You have to be able to stop and think. To slow down and really have a look at what you’re doing.”
As well as thriving on the complexity of the job, Liston enjoys seeing the fruits of his work.
“When we did the wind farm at Coopers Gap, 3 hours west of Brisbane, the drive took anything from 8.5 to 14 hours to drive 275 km, up winding ranges all sorts of stuff. It’s something that I’ll never forget because it was such a challenge to do.
“Since then I’ve taken my family out there, and I stood there and said ‘these are the tower sections we brought out the blades’. Yeah, it’s satisfying for me to stand there and go ‘hey, I shifted that out here’. I love it.”
Before being recruited by LCR 12 months ago, Liston owned a fleet of 14 trucks, transporting everything from groceries to heavy haulage all across Australia.
But he says being an owner-driver was getting tougher, and financially the switch to working at LCR made sense.
“I think it was the 50 phone calls saying ‘hey come over here we want you over here’ that did it,” he laughs. “Compared to being an owner-driver, let’s say it’s a lot better money because I don’t have to chase it every week, it just comes into my bank account.
“And it’s heaps less stressful, heaps. My family life is better because I have a regular income, a good income. If I need to come home they’ll put me on a plane, or I’ll jump in a truck or a car - there’s never a question asked.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy, myself, so happy in a job. It’s really good.”
He’s gone from knowing very little about wind energy to having great respect for the technology.
“I think everyone should have a wind farm in their back yard if they could fit one there! I think they’re brilliant. When I’ve taken my family out to have a look they’re blown away, they look up and go ‘holy mackerel they’re so big, and yet you can’t hear ‘em, they’re just quiet’.”
“Whenever we’ve got tower sections or blades [on the truck] there are people that pull up and take photos of them. I feel pretty proud about what I do and being part of the clean energy side of things.”
There’s no shortage of work in wind farm construction, and for Liston, there’s no looking back from working in renewables.
“I’d like to be in it long term. You know you can stand back and say ‘yeah I brought all this stuff out here and watched them build it all’, it’s satisfying.”
Liston learnt truck driving from his parents when he was a teenager, and he hopes to pass it on to his kids – but with a difference.
“I look at my 10-year-old son, he sits there, and he’s building wind farms out of lego blocks with his trucks,” says Liston.
“And he says ‘you know there’s no pollution with these dad, they’re clean’, and I go ‘yes they are mate, that’s what it’s all about’.
“So it’s going from generation to generation, and hopefully it will keep going down the line and get cleaner and cleaner as we go.”