Ready, set, go: Traffic controller Judi Young at work. Picture: AAP/Sarah Marshall
Ready, set, go: Traffic controller Judi Young at work. Picture: AAP/Sarah Marshall

'Kill me now': Confessions of a traffic controller



As a kid I wanted to be a ballerina. Either that, or marry someone wealthy, and you can see that went well.

I started doing traffic control last year because so many people said "did you hear people are making good money being a traffic controller?". I went and got all the tickets and it's actually been really neat. Every day is different and the work is around the clock, which I love.

I've also been blown away by how professional and conscientious traffic controllers are. Some jobs are so quiet you look at your watch every two minutes going "oh dear God, kill me now". But other days I'll pull up [to a council roadworks job] and all the big road profilers roll in and there's diggers and excavators and all these workers there wanting to get in and get the job done and the whole day is an adrenalin rush.

This morning I was out at Pinjarra Hills [in Brisbane's west] while a big tree was being taken out, the other night I was sitting at home in my jammies and I get a call saying: "Judi can you get into the city? A guy has dropped something down a drain pipe [and they need to get it out]." I was there until 3am steering drunk girls around the cones and keeping people safe. Traffic controllers are literally the last line of defence: if we weren't there, there would be absolute carnage.

Stop start career: Traffic controller Judi Young on the job at Teneriffe. Picture: AAP/Sarah Marshall
Stop start career: Traffic controller Judi Young on the job at Teneriffe. Picture: AAP/Sarah Marshall

I grew up in Invercargill, New Zealand. I was a bit of a child prodigy when it came to dancing and even though I wanted to be a ballet dancer, my [late] Mum Lena wanted me to do highland dancing, so I did that from the age of three. I walked away from it at 16 before my final exams, as a bit of an act of revenge on my mother.

I was also mad keen on musical theatre; Invercargill had a really great amateur theatre company so as a teenager I sang and danced in all the Andrew Lloyd Webber shows they produced. One of my highlights was doing four shows there with [the late musical theatre star] Rob Guest. When I was 22, I bought a one-way ticket to London with the big plan that I'd come back when I was famous.

I nannied for various families in London including [the singer] Bryan Ferry and the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, for six or so years, while I was pursuing my dancing. I then went to Ibiza in Spain for a couple of years until my visa ran out.

I was in the NZ embassy in London [on my way out] and happened to run into an old work mate who was an Australian and he said: "if you ever go home, stop by Brisbane". I couldn't go home because I wasn't famous yet so I came to Brisbane; I've been here ever since.

I got into promotional work, which I was a gun at: doing demonstrations in shopping centres and hotels. I'd be selling beer one weekend, hair removal wax another week, then t-shirts at rock festivals. My dream was to do documentaries so I worked hard at that for a long time but I couldn't get a break. I also hosted a radio show for four years on community radio station 4RPH, which I absolutely loved. I then got a diploma of massage and did massage therapy for about 10 years.

I was sort of stumbling along and then when I was 40 I was diagnosed with ovarian and cervical cancer. I developed a large tumour, which I nicknamed Lucy, and it was eventually cut out. I spent the next four years writing a memoir which I called Living with Lucy and sold a couple of thousand copies.

Last year I won the part of Rhonda in Chris Lilley's Netflix series Lunatics. It launched in April and it's been shown in 130 countries. The reviews have been chronic, but I'm still hopeful something might come of it.

I've got two big regrets: not having children and not pursuing my [radio] interviewing career but I don't think of things that don't work out in life as disappointments, more that they lead you on a different path.

In my 20s I thought I wanted to be the big TV star or write the great NZ novel but what I've realised is that grand achievements aren't necessary to live a good life. What's important is doing lots of little, kind acts. I can spot a sad or lonely person in a shopping centre from 50m. I see them all the time and I always approach them and make sure they're okay. People really appreciate a connection.