Felicity Forth, 07 October 2015

A GOOD feed and the company of trucking mates is getting harder to come by for truck drivers in Australia’s centre.

That’s according to Alice Springs fuel tanker driver Mark Nietschke, who says life hasn’t been the same for the centre’s transport workers since the Alice Springs Truck Stop closed its doors some two years ago.

The truck stop diner closed its onsite dining facilities when it converted from Shell to Coles Express two years ago.

“When we pull up here to fuel up there is nowhere decent to have a feed,” Mr Nietschke said

He said transport workers are taking their business to truck stops to the north and south of Alice instead of the hassle of unhooking the trailer going into town for a solitary meal.

But it’s not just the annoyance of unhooking the trailer that bothers Mr Nietschke.

What he misses most about the diner at the truck stop is the opportunity to catch up with old mates.

“You used to be able to pull in here years ago and you’d have blokes going north and south, east and west,” he said.

“Sometimes you’d pull up here and you’d sit in there for an hour or so and have a chin wag.”

Transport workers travelling through the centre may be the losers in this story, but the closure of the diner at the Alice Springs Truck Stop has been a golden opportunity for service stations to the north and south of town.

The CEO of the Australian Road Transport Hall of Fame, Liz Martin OAM, said the lack of dining facilities at the truck stop was a major issue for transport workers passing through the centre.

“It’s detrimental to the trucking industry and that’s because it’s intrinsically linked to fatigue management. Part of fatigue management is being able to have a healthy diet and being able to eat something that isn’t junk food,” she said.

Ms Martin said Alice Springs was an important stop in the NT and that’s why these facilities should be available.

Unfortunately, Ms Martin said Alice Springs wasn’t the only major centre to have services for transport workers cut from road houses with Mount Isa also losing their diner at the roadhouse recently.

Both Stuarts Well to the south and Aileron to the north have become popular truck stops in their own right since the closure of the Alice Springs truck stop dining facilities.

Proprietor of Stuarts Well Roadhouse Peter “Spud” Murphy has been building up the roadhouse 91 km south of Alice Springs since he bought the service station with his wife two and a half years ago.

As an ex-truck driver himself – Spud said he knows exactly what truck drivers need and he likes to share it with every truck driver on the road.

He offers drivers a separate ablutions block, discounted meals and free showers in a bid to win their business.

He said he was saddened by the lack of services for truck drivers in Alice Springs.

“There is absolutely nothing in Alice Springs for truck drivers at all,” he said.

Outside of the transport industry, the Aileron Roadhouse may be better known for its towering sculptures of an Aboriginal man, woman and child surrounding the roadhouse than for the services to truck drivers.

But for owner of Aileron Roadhouse Greg Dick, Alice Springs’ loss was his gain.

He said they had had an increasing number of truckies pulling in for meals and a shower since the closure of the diner in Alice.

“It’s a shame that no one in town does it anymore,” he said.

“It’s terrible. They’re working, they want a feed and to sit down for a while.”

Like Stuarts Well, Greg said he was building much of his business around the needs of transport workers, including opening at 4am and an open kitchen policy.

“We get quite a few truckies coming in for meals,” he said

“They call us up on the radio or ring us from Alice… and we’ll knock up there meal so it’s ready for them when they arrive.”

The Alice Springs Truck Stop is owned by Shell and leased by Coles Express.

Coles was contacted to see if they had any plans to reopen dining facilities at the Alice Springs Coles Express Truck Stop.

A spokesperson for Coles said no Coles Express outlets throughout Australia had dining facilities.

Extracted in full from Big Rig.