OUR SAY: The black dog is more than a movie

Tales of woe in transport so familiar they’ve inspired a new movie, putting the spotlight on mental health

OUR SAY: The black dog is more than a movie
OUR SAY: The black dog is more than a movie
By Jason Whittaker | August 31, 2009

You didn’t need to go to film school to map out the story arc on the new Australian big-screen film Prime Mover: boy meets truck, falls in love, longs for the freedom of the road, goes into debt to buy a rig, gets behind on the repayments, gets screwed by his prime contractor, takes on extra work, drives too fast, takes drugs to stay awake, never sees his family, truck is repossessed, dodgy loan sharks come after him…

I groaned along with others from the trucking industry in a recent film festival screening of the romantic feature (pictured), billed as a "diesel-charged romance about ambition, pressure, responsibility and the love shared by a man, a woman and his truck". Writer/director David Caesar has brought the trucking cliché to life — fondly vivid, but with few deviations from a familiar tale.

If nothing else, maybe Caesar’s movie casts the plight of road warriors in a better light. Drivers take drugs and push themselves too hard — and many do, let’s be honest, if not the majority as some suggest — for a reason. The audience will see that.

The pressures of the game, for drivers and operators alike, can simply become too much. Prime Mover is a sympathetic portrait.

It is also worryingly timely. Cliché or not, the story of hardship on the road is all-too-familiar in pretty tough economic times.

It’s virtually impossible to quantify this, of course, but there’s enough evidence to suggest more trucking operators are going to the wall than in any time in recent memory. One transport lawyer tells ATN he’s working overtime on business closures.

There’s a lot made of what less work and more cost pressure is doing to businesses. There’s much less made of what mental toll it takes on those under financial hardship.

The National Transport Commission is currently reviewing medical standards in the trucking industry. For drivers, the issues of poor diet and exercise, often resulting in dangerous obesity levels and worryingly high rates of diabetes, have long been known. But the physiological health of drivers, the rates of depressive illness, is now in the spotlight.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) quotes a survey of NSW transport workers that found more than 13 percent of truck drivers were rated as depressed on a medical scale, while a further 8 percent suffered from clinical levels of stress or chronic anxiety respectively.

The ATA wants drivers to submit to a questionnaire assessing their mood to obtain a driver’s licence. The union calls that "disgraceful" and argues it will discourage people to admit any problems because they will fear for their jobs.

They’re probably right, and an industry with a shallow labour pool can’t afford that.

But the issue of mental health needs to rise above industry politicking to allow drivers — and many operators, no doubt — to receive the support they so desperately need.

The ATA is planning a national initiative to raise awareness of depression. The entire transport industry should line up beside them.

The issue is too important not to.

What do you think? Leave your feedback below, e-mail us or join the debate on Twitter by following @atnmag.

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