The road’s an inescapable feature of Australian culture.
At its core it’s a matter of access—it’s a bloody huge country and getting anywhere in Australia requires driving, and quite a bit of it—but as a symbol, its interpretations are endless. For photographer Nick Lawrence, the road is a romantic symbol, conjuring images of surf trips to remote and wave-rich parts of his native Western Australia, youthful rebellion and everything in between. Nick adopted the road as muse and began shooting some of the empty stretches of white lines extending into the distance a few years back, shortly before realising that landscape photography wasn’t really his thing, and the series needed a human element. Enter the truckie.
The truckie is a prominent character in modern Australian folklore, and the butt of a fair number of its jokes. People, mainly men, who earn a crust driving long hauls are generally thought of as a collective with terrible diets, mainly consisting of energy drinks, meat pies from service stations and amphetamines. Nick Lawrence’s self-set task was to find out what truckies were really like, and whether the endless dotted white lines strewn across the country were a symbol of freedom or oppression in their eyes.
“Skulking around at truck stops and talking to people,” is the to the point way that Nick explains his process to me. “I treated it like a photojournalism kind of thing,” he continues. “Waiting and watching, and then just walking up and giving the spiel: ‘Hi I’m Nick, would it be possible to take a picture.’” Nick tells me that the one common theme that he identified among the truck driving gentry, was the love of a yarn, and enthusiasm for that fact that anyone was asking their opinion on, well, anything.
Nick discovered that the negative connotations of the truckie (presuming that you’d consider truckie dusk, aka ‘speed’, a negative as I would) are the products of a bygone era. One far less regulated than today. “Most of these guys have a GPS and cameras pointing in and out of the cab,” Nick tells me. “To the point where one of the guys mentioned that if they pull over for a while, they’d be getting hit up on the intercom asking why they were taking an unauthorised break when they had one scheduled in an hour.” The Wild West days of speeding through the night and being rewarded for dropping the thing off ahead of schedule, appear to be over. “‘You get paid X amount and we want you to get from here to here in this amount of time, abiding by all the rules,'” says Nick, mimicking the job description given to him by one of his subjects.
Perhaps the most surprising thing from an outsider’s perspective, one that had given little thought to the plight of the truckie, is Nick’s findings that in general, they’re a happy bunch who enjoy what they do. “They feel like they work hard and take pride in it,” he tells me. “My assumption was that these guys would be over it. The romance of the road will have been lost, they’ll be jaded and that’s why they come across as these gruff Australian men. But they really surprised me, most of them tended to love it, talking about sunsets and sunrises and how they love being up in the cab and having their routine.”
Nick’s photos will be on show at Sun Studios from Thursday 7th June for three weeks. He’s also produced a zine to go along with his images, and there may even be (vegan) meat pies, in keeping with the truck stop theme. We highly encourage you to attend.