Driver turns his life around and becomes a star
TRUCK driver Ben Stamatovich is living proof that something you love can really turn your life around.
He went from living on the streets as a young teenager, to landing a job in transport after rocking up to a local cricket game and now is a social media star with more than 25,000 Facebook followers.
He left home when he was just 13 and lived on the streets for years. All he had, he said, was his love of cricket. So he'd go to cricket training on a Saturday and no-one knew that he was homeless.
"I had my whites in a plastic bag that I'd stash somewhere and I'd wash them in some person's front yard and rock up on a Saturday," he said.
"I fell in love and it was the only thing I had, the only positive I had in my life at that time."
But it was too hard to keep up the facade, he said, and by the time he was 16 or 17, he was just too embarrassed about his life on the streets.
"It was hard to get to places walking," he said.
So he stopped playing for about five years and got mixed up into drugs. But after he moved from Perth to Adelaide, one day he came across a cricket game and went in.
That decision to go and play turned out to be a life-changing one - because someone he played with offered him a job.
He said he was 26-years-old when he finally "pulled his head in", citing losing his children as his wake-up call.
"I didn't want them to go through the life I did on the streets and that really shook me up. I said to myself, 'What are you doing, d**khead?' so I pulled my head in and got into trucking," he said.
That was 10 years ago. He started as a forklift driver and worked his way up to being a truck driver. Now he drives a road train from Adelaide to Perth and back every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, two-up with his wife.
"I met my partner and I'm now 46, drug-free, I own a beautiful farming property and have three wonderful grandchildren. Life is completely different," he said.
So how did he become a social media star? It all started with a drone he bought for his wife, Jacinta.
"She's into horse riding and wanted to get a drone, drones were a big thing three years ago. I think we used it once and then we put it away," he said.
"Then 14 months ago, I thought why don't we take it in the truck and get a photo for ourselves? I put one (photograph) up on a trucking Facebook page and it just went nuts, like 500 likes.
"(That kind of thing) gives you a bit of confidence to pursue something. I'm no photographer, the only photos I've taken have been on my phone. But someone suggested that I do a Facebook page, it's called The Drone Way, and now it's got nearly 25,000 followers.
"It's gone crazy, it really has. It's changed my life."
Ben said it was hard to express just how much his new-found hobby meant to him.
"It's something I've fallen in love with and I want to learn and learn (about it)," he said.
"I just spend hours on the internet learning. I've got my licence so it's all legal and it's been a whirlwind."
Ben said he was lucky that where he flew his drone there was no risk of flying into restricted airspace as he was usually out in the country, driving across the Nullabor.
"We're out in the middle of nowhere, but I carry a radio with me so I can communicate with aircraft within 30km, so there's no dramas. I have a map that helps out as well," he said.
Ben said he was incredibly lucky that the company he worked for, HVS Transport, allowed him to stop and take photos.
"The opportunity (in the country) for good photos is incredible. Driving we get to see so much beautiful landscape."
But it wasn't just the photos that Ben enjoyed while away at work - he said he loved spending time with his wife driving two-up.
"My partner helped me out heaps when I was off the rails - meeting her, that's what helped me out. My wife always wanted to drive to Perth in road trains and people say, 'I don't know how you do it'," he said.
"Obviously you have to have a good relationship - if you don't, you're not going to get along. You're sleeping for most of it, too, when you're not driving.
"We're on 20 acres at home and I love my drone and she loves to ride (horses) so when we're at home we do our own thing and we're not in each other's hair.
"We have good times and we have good arguments but like any relationship you move on very quickly, otherwise it's a pretty miserable drive. We worked that out early on."
Ben said starting his life on the streets gave him an appreciation for what he had now, so he liked to give what he could to charity.
"A bloke came up to me when I was living on the streets, I was freezing cold and hungry and he gave me $20 and a pizza. I'll never forget how good that felt," he said.
"I will never walk past a homeless person without giving them $20. I've used The Drone Way to do some charity work. I've sold calendars that raised about two thousand dollars and just this week I auctioned off a canvas for $550. Some people said they could afford that and gave what they could and I raised another $1000 to donate to a charity for kids that go to school without lunches.
"Whatever the circumstances, it's not the kids fault. These kids get no lunch, no breakfast and I want to donate to them so they can help the kids.
"I like to give back, I don't do it to for thanks, I do it for the satisfaction I get from my heart, knowing the homeless are getting a smile on their face for a day.
"I've been there, I know what it's like. It's like getting the lotto when you've got nothing."
Ben said it meant a lot that he was now in a position that he could give back.
"I started this page just for photos and ideas come to me as I got more followers to do a bit of good and raise some money. The followers are incredible and very generous."