Trailer Magazine

It comes with the territory

  • Posted on Tuesday 27th, March 2018
It comes with the territory

In Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory, vast deserts and tropical wildernesses constantly challenge the transport industry. But for Aldebaran Contracting, that doesn’t mean saying no to high technology.

With a population of just 245,000* – slightly more than the capital city of Hobart and notably less than the seaside town of Wollongong – the Northern Territory is the least populous region in Australia. Plagued by vast distances, rough road conditions, ‘bull dust’ and an erratic wet season, it is just as wild and unpredictable as it is beautiful. Add the fact that many of the Territory’s inhabitants rely heavily on decisions made in Canberra, building a successful transport and civil works operation must be considered an almost insurmountable feat.

Yet, that’s exactly what the Skewes family has done with Aldebaran Contracting. Located in Manton, an hour’s drive south of Darwin, Danny and Jacqueline Skewes and their sons have built a renowned earthmoving and transport operation that continues to defy the odds by combining traditional Aussie stoicism with a deep understanding of modern technology.

At least that’s the impression Bede Skewes, the company’s Trucking and Workshop Supervisor, leaves as he steers his mobile office – a triple road train comprising a 2010 model Mack Titan and a set of Azmeb side tippers that’s grossing around 160 tonnes – along the Stuart Highway.

Today, the 31-year-old is on ‘local delivery’ duty, hauling gravel from one of Aldebaran’s regional quarries to a new side road off the Stuart so it can be prepared for bitumen sealing.

The end of the mining boom has seen construction activity slow dramatically in the Territory, Bede explains, so much so that cranes are now entirely absent from the Darwin city skyline other than at the Inpex gas facility. A range of multibillion-dollar defence projects are said to be in the pipeline, but there is no word on when they might get any of them over the line.

“Work used to fall in our laps, but when the market slowed, we had to change our business plan and try harder to stay ahead of the game,” Bede explains.
“Others say work is drying up, but we haven’t stopped all year because of that move.”
Bede regrets that there are fewer opportunities for young people to enter the industry and help develop it due to tight regulations – even though the Northern Territory is often regarded as the most unregulated state in Australia.

“If I can’t put a 16-year-old into a road-roller on a closed construction site because he doesn’t have a HR licence, but they can drive a car on the road that does 200km/h, there’s an issue,” he says. “We need proper training to keep people safe, but also get them a start. At the moment, there’s not enough incentive to join the industry. If you can lose your licence and livelihood on just one page of a log book, why would you want to do a job like that?”

*Australian Bureau of Statistics

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