Handling any job in outback Queensland can be tough. Hauling cattle is one of the toughest. Mark Johnstone brings cattle out of the westernmost parts of Queensland and wouldn’t choose to do anything else. He told Diesel News about how he ended up in the livestock carting business.
Directions to Mark’s yard are simple enough, ‘drive into Surat, keep driving straight down the main street and eventually you’ll end up in my yard’. Surat is a sleepy small settlement on the flat open outback of Queensland. The town lies 80 km south of Roma and 450 km west of Brisbane. It is an ideal jumping off point to cover cattle haulage between here and the far west of Queensland, up to 1200 km away.
Mark is full of stories about life on the road, still enjoying the life after 35 years as an owner driver. In fact, his association with the industry goes back even further. He goes by the nickname of Boulia, it is painted on the top of the prime mover. When he first started working for MacMillans Transport in Surat, sitting at smoko with the guys telling stories, he would always say, ‘when I was in Boulia’ and the name soon stuck.
“When I was nine years old, I was driving my first truck for Dad,” says Mark. “I loved them from an early age. Dad tried hard to dissuade me from buying my first truck but it didn’t work. I have thought about doing something else, you know, something where you’re home a bit more, but now, when I think about it, it’s all I know.
“When I first kicked off in trucks, I was pulling oil tankers. We carted crude oil from Moonie to Roma, there was a big refinery in Roma at the time. That contract got really big, we were running two trucks for CNW Drilling, it just blew out of the water, got bigger and bigger, they ended up with twelve trucks on the job, but I got out of it in the end.”
The three and a half years on the tanker work were followed by eleven years hauling rigs around. This port of call was contracting for Neil Mansell in Toowoomba. The work involved moving rigs around the country from job site to job site.
“He was one of the best bosses I ever worked for,” says Mark. “He loves a challenge. We weren’t supposed to be pulling triples, but we did. No-one worried about you too much, in them days. All of the work was from Moonie to the west, it was a road train route but not for a triple.
Mark ended up having one of Mansell’s drivers driving his truck while he worked supervising the logistics of moving the rigs to and from sites.
Like all similar booms in work associated with the resources industry, there is bound to be a reduction in the amount of work going on, at some point. The rig moving business was no exception and Mark, understandably, felt vulnerable, as a single truck subcontractor.
As it happens, around this time a livestock operator in Surat wanted to get out of his business and move across to a sand and gravel operation on the coast. Mark took over the existing work, starting off with one double deck trailer, soon to be joined by a second.