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Life behind the wheel attracts Indians across Australia

21-12-2023  Gday India

Thirteen years ago, Balwinder Lalli was 22 and working each night from 11pm until 5 am as a cleaner at Melbourne’s historic Young and Jackson hotel and also at Rydges in Exhibition Street. 

Recently arrived from Gurdaspur in the Punjab he was paying his way through a hospitality course.

Today, in conjunction with fellow former hotel cleaner Ninderpal Singh, they own and run a fleet of 30 concrete agitators and tippers- each worth around $350,000 - and a vital part of the supply chain to the city’s burgeoning construction industry.

From the Metro Rail tunnel and the Suburban Rail loop to housing developments across the Melbourne suburbs their trucks, all driven by Indian relatives and friends and mainly from the Punjab, are constantly on the road.

These two young men who are both in their mid 30’s are part of a major recalibration within the Australian transport industry as the Indian diaspora increasingly makes their presence felt in an industry that generates $66 billion for truck owners each year.

Australian government figures show the industry contributes $236 billion to the economy annually and employs 200,000 people including 70,000 truck drivers.

The sector is growing by 2.9 per cent yet the influx of Indian entrepreneurs, drivers and owners – especially those from the Punjab - is estimated to be twice that figure by industry specialists, ATIA Insurance Services.

For many Indians now living in Australia getting behind the wheel of a B Double or even a dump truck is an exciting new experience.

For others it is a skill they inherited from fathers, grandfathers and even great grandfathers and is helping them make a major impact in an industry on which Australia is so dependent. 

Australia’s 900,000 kilometers of roads and highways carry more than four million trucks and light commercial vehicles every day with each clocking up an average of at least 80,000 kilometers annually. Many in excess of 300,000 kilometers.

That can all mean long hours behind the wheel. So, what is the attraction?

Recently the ABC featured  Hardeep Mander who runs a freight business in the WA wheatbelt. 

Ten years ago, he was stacking shelves at a supermarket but became interested in the trucking industry when helping to unload the supermarket’s daily deliveries.

Today he owns a fleet of trucks and transports grain across Australia.

Sandeep Kaur arrived as an international student in 2013 from Goraya in Punjab and is now driving B Doubles from Brisbane across the nation.

She finds the freedom alluring and the outback scenery exciting and obviously inviting.

Back in Melbourne Balwinder moved from hotel cleaning to driving taxis and then bought his own. It was great fun until the weekend work interfered with his social life and the violence against drivers became an increasing threat.

So, he sold the taxi and put a deposit on a concrete agitator, even though he knew very little about the construction industry. He was quickly joined in this new challenge by his old cleaning mate Ninderpal .

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Above: Left: Balwinder Lalli with Ninderpaul Singh 

Balwinder and Ninderpal understood through experience that having an agitator – or any truck sidelined - can be calamitous. Under insurance is a major cause of the disappearance of many smaller transport companies from the industry.

They needed insurance but how much and what coverage. With a truck worth $350,000 there was little space for error.

After a review of the market and the recommendation of other Indians in the transport industry, he looked to ATIA Insurance Services for guidance on his requirements.

“ATIA were straightforward and very helpful,” he said. “Quality insurance is essential in the transport industry,” he said. “ATIA knew what I wanted and have been with me all the way,” he said. ” The relationship has been hassle free,” he said.

ATIA client manager Zac McGregor has been at the forefront of the campaign to support the growing Indian sector of the industry:

"Over the past decade, we have built robust partnerships to support the increasing number who have entered the Australian freight industry. 

“Many of them come from a rich transport heritage in India, often spanning generations. Of course, we also have many who have started as drivers and fueled by their nation’s renowned entrepreneurial spirit have progressed to become owner drivers and many now operate their own small fleet.” he said.

Balwinder has introduced “at least 15” of his countrymen to the transport industry including both brothers, his brother-in-law and a cousin to the transport industry. Many now have their own fleet”.

But that hospitality course has not been wasted.

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Almost 10 years ago Balwinder and another friend from the Punjab, Shinkoo Nabha, launched Creative Events which began running social events for lonely countrymen and women.

All events organised by Creative Events with national themed events and performers have sold out Australia’s leading arenas, including Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, Festival Hall, The Palais Theatre and Sandown Racecourse. 

Naturally ATIA also handles their insurance needs.

So, what is this Punjab entrepreneurial spirit?

According to Balwinder Lalli it takes courage to leave the comfort of home in the Punjab and come to Australia.  “They have plenty of spirit and they want to generate some real money to make their family proud. “For many of us trucking is the answer!” he said.

(media release)


21-12-2023  Gday India

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