“I wasn’t going to tell my kids — then two weeks later [the company] rang me up and asked if I would take a LandCruiser to Adelaide and bring back a Holden Combo. The kids said, ‘mum, you can’t do that!’ and I decided I was going to prove I could.” – Ruth Seymour
Ruth Seymour was 71 when she took up her second career as a long-distance driver.
Nearly 13 years later, the former bookkeeper and great-grandmother is still going strong — regularly driving the length or breadth of Australia. Ruth’s idea of a quiet year would exhaust most people.
“I’ve [driven to] Perth twice and Cairns-to-Melbourne and Sydney-to-Brisbane a couple of times,” she says. “At times I’m away more than I’m home.”
Ruth relocates campervans across Australia. The hire company she works for has depots in every state and if a particular vehicle is needed in another city, Ruth is called to take it there.
“Sometimes I might take one vehicle from Sydney to Perth, then there’s something in Perth that Darwin wants so I drive up, then fly back from there.”
These are massive journeys even by truck drivers’ standards, so it’s understandable her two sons and daughter — grandparents themselves — would worry about Ruth being on her own.
“After my husband died, I thought I’d never get out of Sydney again, but through a friend I was offered this job,” she says.
“I wasn’t going to tell my kids — then two weeks later [the company] rang me up and asked if I would take a LandCruiser to Adelaide and bring back a Holden Combo. The kids said, ‘mum, you can’t do that!’ and I decided I was going to prove I could.
“Then I was offered a job to Perth and my daughter said, ‘I hope you said no’, and I said, ‘No, I said when?’.
“My daughter still thinks I’m mad.”
Petite Ruth couldn’t look more different to a stereotypical truckie, but her no-nonsense approach has served her well. She admits she has done less in the past couple of years because her son and son-in-law have been unwell.
“I look after the vehicle and I can drive anything,” she says. “I have never had any major problems, just flat tyres. They were all on LandCruisers and I know I’m not strong enough to lift up those huge tyres, but I’ve been lucky that I’ve always been near help.
“I don’t get het up; I just think about what I need to do to get out of the situation.”
She also follows some strict rules. Ruth prefers free-camping sites to caravan parks — “I’m a million-star person, not a five-star person” — but she never camps alone.
“I’m no more lonely out driving than I would be if I was sitting at home.” – Ruth Seymour.
And she never drives too early or late: “There’s a risk you’ll hit something — a camel, roo or an emu. Goats are the most sensible road users — you rarely see them dead on the road.”
Finally, she always pulls over for road trains. “They can do 130km/h in the Northern Territory and I like to stick to 100, so I let them pass.”
While there are deadlines, she rarely drives more than seven or eight hours a day, breaks included. And, as she points out, she has lots of experience.
“When my husband was alive, we did a lot of outback travel — all the most extreme points of the country, the Canning Stock Route, the Pilbara and Kimberley and lots of other trips.”
When her husband Don was diagnosed with a brain tumour and given 12 months to live, they started planning ahead. Ruth put her name down for Australian Unity’s Willandra Bungalows in North Sydney.
“It was the only place I wanted to be, and one became available eight months later. My husband was with me here for six weeks before he died.”
Now she gets huge enjoyment from remembering their trips as she drives alone around the country.
“I love being in the outback — it’s so different.”
Her role is unpaid but her expenses are covered, so Ruth sees it as “free holidays”.
“I stay in the vehicles, I can cook in the van and there are fridges, so I can carry all my food,” Ruth says.
She could write a book on the best showers and rest stops — “the cheapest shower is $1 on the Nullarbor” — and never uses a GPS — “I hate the voice telling you where to go”.
She loves calling in on friends and family on her travels and meets some lovely people on the road, too. “I’m no more lonely out driving than I would be if I was sitting at home.”
To appease her children, Ruth takes a mobile phone and she switches it on between 7am and 8pm every day, in case they need to contact her. “But after that it goes off.”
Since she turned 75 she’s had to take an annual medical, but a teetotaller who has never smoked, she passes each year with flying colours.
At 85 she’ll have to retake her driving test but is confident she’ll pass. “I only need glasses for reading, don’t take any pills or potions and only go to the doctor for a flu shot or check-up.”
Even when Ruth is at home you’ll find her outside, working as a volunteer at a nearby sanctuary or catching up with her five great-grandchildren. Then she’s happy to hit the road again.
“I thoroughly enjoy it; why wouldn’t I?”
Words: Jane Canaway