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Pete knows he has best of both worlds

The best of both worlds. Peter McVeigh’s towing company and saloon.
The best of both worlds. Peter McVeigh’s towing company and saloon.

PETER McVeigh knows the Northern Territory, having spent the greater part of his life traversing the outback. He knows the roads and has even put in a few himself. He knows the trucks best suited to the terrain and he knows the drinking habits of the local populace.

Coming from a rough-and-tumble background, Pete is living proof that success is not the sole province of university graduates, that intelligence is not taught in classrooms and that achievement comes from a lot of hard work.

From hauling road trains to new truck testing for Universal Transport Operations back in the '90s, Pete has settled (for the time being, at least) in Alice Springs, running two diverse, if not totally exclusive businesses.

When most of us think of tow truck companies we picture the broken down car, or Nationwide Towing carrying away our pride and joy which sat under the Clearway sign for 30 seconds too long. The towing business in the NT can encompass somewhat more.

"Four years ago I bought Jet Towing as a small concern. Within six months I needed another truck and then another. Now I need another one as I just can't keep up. I think I've created a monster," said Pete.

 

Peter McVeigh with partner and business manager, Liz Winders. Photo Graham Harsant / Big Rigs
Peter McVeigh with partner and business manager, Liz Winders. Photo Graham Harsant / Big Rigs Graham Harsant

His recipe for success is the oldest one in the book.

 

"We like to look after clients. Bear in mind that up here people don't break down just around the corner. There's also plenty of work for the trucks supplying lighter transport needs. When people tell me what they want done, where it's got to go and can give me a little bit of notice, I'll do a bit of homework and can often get loaded both ways. That way I've got two happy clients who are only paying half the bill each. I don't like running around empty and this way, they save," he said.

Jet Towing also services drilling rigs and campsites.

"I shift camps for drill sites and I make drill sites. I've got a nice Isuzu FXZ1500 - the first one into the country - purpose-built with an 8m tray and 20,000lb winch. I hook up to a 45 foot trailer and stick 40ft huts on it. There's usually lots of overhang but that's not a problem up here. I'll take them out into the desert and set them up on blocks, level out the sites and whatever else is required."

 

What does he think of the Isuzu?

"It's brilliant. I had a few bugs, which you get no matter you buy. The lights are crap and I'll rip them out shortly as I'm sick of having to go to bed because of them. The only other problem I had was the starter motor. Air Power, the local Isuzu dealers, have been great," said Pete.

As well as the Isuzu, Pete runs UDs, which he reckons are close to bullet-proof.

"They have to have the strongest diffs I've come across. I've got one that's done 800,000km - all dirt work. The engine compression is just as good as new. I'll replace the gaskets because they've gone brittle and I'm getting a few oil leaks, which I hate. At 800,000km in this terrain it should be in the scrap dump. I'd like a bonneted truck - that's what you should have out here but I just can't justify the money," he said.

Pete also works with another bloke who owns a few road trains.

"We share a yard and if the job's too small for him, he gives it to me.

If it's too big for me, I give it to him. From maybe two pallets of freight, at the end of the week we've got a road train ready to go, with a few phone calls. We look after a site for Central Petroleum. We spent two years carting gear to various drill sites. They struck a massive amount of oil and now we support that site. We've even bought graders and rollers in and built access roads for them," Pete said.

 

Pete's other business is Bojangles Saloon & Restaurant.

"Friends of mine owned the place and when they got divorced I thought about buying his share and being a silent partner. His missus wanted to go it alone, which was probably a good idea because partnerships never work. Then she went into liquidation. They were going to turn the place into a backpackers and I couldn't let that happen," he said. "The long and the short of it is that I bought the best pub in Australia for $250,000. Mind you, I spent another $570,000 to get it sorted. A bloke from the Health Department put us through the ringer but we got everything he wanted done, and more.

"We don't hire 'chefs' because they think they're above anyone else. They are all 'cooks' and I reckon they're as good as any fancy titled chef. The seafood we serve here is as fresh as you'll find in Melbourne or Sydney. If we are so busy that we can't clear the tables, the kitchen hand will come out and do it and the cook will do the dishes - there's no them and us. Our security guard is a gentleman. He is a big boy and can handle himself if he has to, but he doesn't need to - courtesy and a smile get you a lot further.

"In the old days Bojangles was considered a bloodbath - not now. We want people to feel welcome, we want families coming here. When we built the beer garden we didn't want square tables, so we got old steel cotton reels as tables and put trailer springs on them with tractor seats.

"If an outsider walks in and sits down, they are welcomed because it is round, and wherever they sit they are looking at someone else. We'll get people come in and spend hours just looking at the memorabilia. The best part of it is that no one can kick me out of my own pub!"

When asked if he'd had problems since taking over, Pete related the following: "I had some bastards break in one time - one of them slid bottles one by one under the door to the other. Obviously the silly buggers couldn't read. The door they were sliding stuff under is an emergency fire door - it's never locked from the inside. The alarm is silent and went off at our place, so we catch them in the act. They could have been out of the joint and gone in 10 seconds flat!"

There's plenty of larrikin in Pete McVeigh and Australia would be a poorer place without people like him in it.

If you're ever up Alice Springs way and the car carks it, you now know exactly where to go while you're waiting for it to be repaired.

Topics:  graham harsant northern territory outback

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