Road train water drillers deliver hope for farmers
ANTHONY and Danyelle Haigh are making the most of a rare sojourn at home in Allora when Big Rigs caught up with Australia's busiest water drillers.
The husband and wife duo, along with their precocious four-year-old Heath, are hoping to be back again at their 80-acre oasis 160km south-west of Brisbane by Christmas.
But the way the drought is gripping the Northern Territory and western Queensland this year - the main hunting ground for the Haigh's in-demand Murranji Water Drilling business - Danyelle isn't banking on it.
"When we took over the business [four years ago] we were doing about 30 to 50 bores a year - this year we're about to hit 100,” said Danyelle, 34.
"In just a year we've seen a massive leap in the number of people desperate to get water.
"It's just devastating to see the impact on the crops, cattle and farmers; it's really quite sad.”
Station-by-station, however, the Haighs and their roving Western Star road train convoy of drilling equipment and shipping containers converted to living quarters, are winning the war.
They've hit water in just about every spot they've set up camp this year and Danyelle says nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing the smile that puts on the farmers' faces.
"I never get sick of it, gosh no. My son screams every time we hit water and runs around shouting 'we've got water, we've got water'.
"It's very exciting for everyone. You're in suspense too before that, standing around, waiting patiently.”
Danyelle admits taking the plunge and buying out former owner Danny Smith - he named the business after the station he owns 4.5 hours south of Katherine, NT - was the biggest punt she and Anthony, 42, have made in their 11 years together.
Anthony had been working for Danny for a year or so before then, but Danyelle, a nurse by profession, had been managing her mum's women-only traffic control business on the Gold Coast, the role she had when they first met.
"It really could have gone either way,” said Danyelle of those tense first few months in the outback.
"We were going into this whole new business where we were just buying all this machinery that cost a lot of money, going up into where this guy who had been drilling for the last 20 to 30 years, and taking on his clients who could easily say, no we don't like you, we don't want to you use you.
"It was very stressful on all of us in the beginning, and we were coming into wet season too so we were short on money and not sure on what was coming next.
"But about six months later it started to pick up. Clients were ringing us to come again next year and we started to pick up new work and new clients. Word was getting out that were genuine people doing a great job.”
It helps too that they have two of the most reliable prime movers in the game lugging seven trailers of heavy equipment through some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet.
Anthony bought the c15 550hp 2007 Western Stars - one's a Stratosphere, the other a Constellation - from Strasburg Bros. in Marburg. He's eyeing up a third in the New Year.
They don't do big k's each year, admits their laconic owner. Maybe as much as 30,000km when they're really flying, but as Anthony rightly points out, the work they do is "not your average highway work” either.
"We probably only see bitumen for 10% of that. The rest is rough corrugated bull-dust, and you name it.”
As fans of the hit reality show Outback Truckers know only too well - the Haighs make their third appearance on the series next year - getting bogged between bores is all part of the game for Murranji Water Drilling.
But thankfully Anthony says there's never been any major dramas with the trucks themselves, a huge relief when the nearest spare part could be a full day's drive away for one of the staff - Anthony Hayes, Joshua Roods, and Steven Ochtman - in the convoy ute.
Routine maintenance is the biggest demand the Western Stars make, a yearly chore that usually takes place during the wet season which sees the Haighs back home for a well-earned break in the weeks before and immediately after Christmas.
The trouble-free run Anthony's had with the rigs has even helped coax former city girl Danyelle into qualifying for her road train licence last June.
"It can be nerve-wracking knowing that you've got a million dollars worth of stuff behind you, and if you have the slightest break in concentration something very bad could happen,” she said.
"I've conquered my fear now and I'm getting better as we go.”
Danyelle jokes that Heath would be ready to take over by the time he's 10, if they'd let him.
"He already knows how to operate everything, and tells you how to do stuff.”
Danyelle says it's near impossible to keep him inside, and has her fingers crossed that she can find a governess to harness his energy long enough to help in his first year of education with the Alice Springs School of Air in 2019.
"He's never really been a city kid, but he can adjust. He gets the best of both worlds now; the beach on the Gold Coast, and then the bush.”
Although she often now lives weeks at a time off the grid, Danyelle is adamant she's gained far more riches than the material ones she's sacrificed by following Anthony into the bush.
Many of their clients have become their closet friends, openly welcoming them into their homes for a meal, or a bed for the night as they pass through to the next station.
Their business is going so well now they were also able to donate a bore to a struggling farmer in western Queensland this year, and they get a kick out of helping out wherever they can by reducing prices.
"As we get bigger, we really want to help out as much as we can.”