Handling fuel supplies to vast rural areas like northwestern NSW requires a specific kind of operation, it’s a question of scale.
Northwestern New South Wales and southwest Queensland covers a considerable amount of ground. A small operation, Maktrans, does this task from a small unassuming yard on the western side of Toowoomba. From here, a small fleet of B-doubles haul fuel in tankers from depots in Brisbane in QLD and Newcastle in NSW.
Rob Hannemann started the Maktrans operation 13 years ago after he took over from an existing fuel carting business.
“Before I went out on my own, I was working in a local fuel depot, I was managing trucks, deliveries and depots,” says Rob. “My first job out of school had been working in an Amoco fuel depot at 14 or 15 years old. BP took over the depot, so I went off to do a butcher’s apprenticeship, of all things. My Mum and Dad told me I had to do an apprenticeship. My dad was a truck mechanic and even though I wanted to work with trucks, he said I was too young to drive them.
“The idea was, when I had done my trade, I could go off and do what I wanted as I would always have a trade to fall back on. I eventually started driving for an independent fuel distributor in Toowoomba and then I worked for the Petro group. They went on to be the Caltex distributors, so I went and worked for them. I had a good understanding of what it was all about when I took over the business.”
When Rob originally bought the business it comprised of two trucks, but that quickly became three. When it grew further, Rob could no longer drive because there was so much other work to do, especially with compliance, which was a priority. When he married, his wife helped with the paperwork and he continued to grow the business, much the same way as many smaller Australian fleets have grown.
At the start of the business 13 years ago, the initial two trucks were part of a contract with BP to distribute fuel to the distributors in rural NSW, in areas such as Inverell, Moree and Goondiwindi. The original business had been located in Ipswich but Rob relocated it to his hometown, Toowoomba.
As work increased, a third truck joined the fleet. Then a fourth and fifth when distributors called. This process continued and developed to the point where now, Maktrans work for all of the major oil companies.
“It all happened when the Cootes thing happened,” says Rob. “There was a shortage of contractors and so they brought in operators they could trust. It was a bit surprising to me that we got the call, because there are a lot of bigger companies than ours. It was the foot in the door for us, we were audited and passed to be able to carry their fuel.
“As these contracts have changed hands, we have usually been used as a backup. At that time, BP only had three companies contract to haul their fuel. This meant there was plenty of work for us at the time. Since then other companies have come in and taken some of those contracts. Our growth comes with me kicking and screaming, I don’t want to grow too much. I always ask, ‘ is there another way of doing this without buying another truck?’
While Rob explains that the likes of Toll and Linfox pick up the major contracts because they have the ‘national scale’ it requires a lot of resources. Also, when it comes to doing the job, the larger companies can fall down from inefficiencies.
“We are line-haul, mostly, so we load out of the terminals. We are going to a depot, a service station or an end user. That side of it is pretty basic, we want the driver to follow the rules, act safely and put the right product in the right holes.
“Over the years, we have had a massive increase in the amount of paperwork that goes with the job. We get some drivers who are overwhelmed with the paperwork and then forget how to do the basics properly. We spend a lot of time trying to get it back to the basics.”