Running a transport operation in the Northern Territory is often about a small operation, big trucks, but it also requires a certain kind of character. Bob Holt is one such character, with plenty of stories to tell and still running big trucks on a daily basis in the modern business environment.
Bob is not one of those trucking operators who has a big profile. He is an unassuming character who has built a business on doing the job right, being in the right place at the right time and adapting to whatever needs to be done. This is the way trucking has to work in the Territory – you never know what nature or the customer are going to throw at you.
Back in 1964, Bob first took to the highway to ply his trade as a mechanic for General Motors. Next came a small Bedford carting fuel for Shell. In fact, he was the Shell agent in Katherine from 1965 to 1988. A later move saw Bob go from fuel tankers to cement tankers.
“I didn’t want to get any bigger than I was,” says Bob. “I really liked small shows, so you could keep control of them. Shell was a very good company to work for, but the cement was a new area I got into and I am still doing it now.
“I just get up and go to work each day. I only run two trucks, but we do all of our own work. I cart cement for Holcim, we have a really big job on at RAAF Tindal at the moment and there’s a redevelopment there for the new aircraft that are coming. There’s also the Delamere Bombing Range – we supply all of the sand and cement for both the projects.
“That keeps us pretty busy, we cart all of the project into our yard and all of it out to the projects. The sand and gravel come from 20km away, on the Victoria Highway and the cement comes out of Darwin.”
Bob also used to supply into mines in both the Northern Territory and Western Australia, but they have since closed.
“The mines, you can never hang your hat on them,” says Bob. “That’s why I never wanted to get real big – if you’re only small and bust, it doesn’t matter. It’s very sad when mining goes down; it drags the trucking industry down, it drags the value of your equipment down – it’s halved. I think it will be a big worry to some huge companies – holding a huge bit of capital and then seeing it halve is not good.”
Bob was one of those pioneering operators who continually pushed the envelope of what was possible in the trucking industry.
“I was the first person to deliver fuel into the Nabarlek Uranium Mine and the Ranger Mine,” says Bob. “In those days, Shell was the biggest fuel supplier, by far. It’s a shame to see what’s happened to Shell – they forgot about the customer and wanted to chase volume.
“They would rather go and sell 10 million litres to BHP with one cheque, than chase up 15 pastoralists for the money. It wasn’t good business for them. We were supplying more of a service, because the cattle industry has always been difficult for getting your money.