As a child growing up in southern England in the 1970s I knew my dad, Malcolm Coates, wasn’t like other dads. His job was driving trucks (or lorries as we called them back then) and he went everywhere – across Western Europe, to Hungary, Romania, Greece and Turkey and, as the years went on, even further. By 1975 he was driving to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, spending weeks away at a time. His truck was his workplace, his bedroom and his kitchen (he fitted a huge steel box full of canned food and a primus stove).
As I got older I started spending my school holidays in the passenger seat of dad’s Volvo, travelling between farms in the south of France, factories in Stuttgart, industrial estates in Denmark. I never got further than Europe though – before I was old enough to go the 1979 Iranian Revolution put an end to most of the Middle East trips .
We moved to Australia in 1982 and, despite short stints at ‘normal’ jobs, it was inevitable that dad would end up on the road again. In 1985, en route from Melbourne to Brisbane, he was killed in an accident near Coonabarabran.
In a box under the bed I have a handful of memories of his adventures in the 1970s: some photos, passports, diaries, an invoice book and an ageing Radclive Transport brochure. I’m sharing some of these snapshots of a truly unique way of life …
These are vivid documents of their time despite being poor quality shots that are showing their age. (They’re all undated and I don’t know where most of them were taken apart from two that have something written on the back, noted below).
‘Fuel Qatar’ written on the back
‘Old road to UAE’ written on the back
Our family: Steve, Val, Suzanne, Malcolm Coates, dog Bella – around 1978
Because he crossed so many borders dad’s British passport filled up before it expired so a second one had to be attached by the passport office.
Diaries and invoice books
Radclive operated from Faringdon in Oxfordshire. Dad drove for them from about 1974 and and eventually hung up his truck keys to become their Operations Manager in 1980. As much as nine year old me enjoyed having the run of the Radclive yard on the forklift, working in the office didn’t suit him – less than two years later we left England for Australia, where he ended up doing a different type of long haul driving. Below is a Radclive brochure from around ’77 featuring dad and his trusty F89 Volvo registration FJO 522S (he was lucky enough to walk away from a serious accident in another Radclive Volvo in the former Yugoslavia, an event accompanied by a fantastic story that has been told in our family for so long I’m not sure which bits of it are true).
Get in touch
I was 14 when dad died so I never got to talk to him as an adult about these experiences. I don’t know all the places he went, most of the people he met and how it affected who he became. If you knew him or were part of this world and would like to share your experiences or talk more about it please leave a comment below or contact me.