Greg Haylock is no stranger to life lost along the way.
The owner of the haulage company remembers the day a collision killed one of his best drivers.
Mr. Haylock’s trucking company, Emerald Carrying, employs 200 drivers for a fleet of 120 trucks transporting fuel across northwestern Queensland.
His drivers spend long hours traveling back and forth along the 780-mile stretch of Flinders Highway.
The two-lane road is the main commodity corridor used to feed and burn northwestern Queensland and parts of the Northern Territory, including one of the world’s richest mining regions – North West Minerals Province.
While avoiding holes and breaking wheels through black earth and narrow bridges has become a different nature for Mr Haylock’s drivers, he said it did not stop him from worrying.
Since 2019, there have been 71 accidents on Flinders Highway. Four incidents were fatal, including a head-on collision with a truck that killed a woman and her daughter last year.
In July 2021, three men died after their cars collided, and one man died in April after his life overturned.
Haylock said the poor condition of the road and narrow lanes made it a dangerous route for his drivers.
“And when something goes wrong, it makes a hell of an impact on business and morale.”
In the Queensland budget given this week, $ 489.9 million was set aside to improve roads in the northwestern part of the state over the next four years.
That included $ 129 million for Flinders Highway.
But Mr Haylock said the list of repairs needed to make the road safer far outweighs that sum.
“There are many narrow bridges where trucks have to call oncoming traffic. There are rough shoulders,” he said.
“We have triple lorries transporting fuel on that road. It has to be a two-way road [two lanes in each direction separated by a strip of land].
Not enough for ‘life blood’ way
Belinda Murphy owns the haulage company KW Murphy Holdings based in Julia Creek. Her fleet transports cattle around the region.
“This is an important road – whether you’re talking about cattle or general freight, it’s the lifeblood out here and into the territory,” she said.
Ms Murphy compared the road to a patchwork quilt, saying there was a need to focus on continuously improving infrastructure rather than patching sections.
“It’s so uneven. Basically, from the Charter Towers out to Mount Isa, you get a lot of inconsistencies in the condition of the road,” she said.
“Consistency is the biggest issue for our drivers.”
She said $ 129 million did not reflect the value of the corridor.
“I understand that Queensland has a huge road network, but in the end, this is a significant supply chain, not just for our trucks, but for tourism. And that requires greater investment.”
Stifles the development of a ‘rich’ region
North West Minerals Province is one of the richest mineral areas in the world.
Despite this, freight of products in and out of the area has long been a problem due to poor transport infrastructure.
“It’s a shame the road is not in better condition because so much wealth is coming out of that area,” Mr Haylock said.
Richmond Shire Council Mayor John Wharton said the poor condition of Flinders Highways discouraged people and businesses from moving to the region.
“Without good roads, we do not get investors. They do not come out here, they can not move their product, they can not get staff,” Mr Wharton said.
“If we want people to work in these communities out here, we need to have good roads.
Hazard zones for black soil
After seeing his fair share of truck overturns, Mr Wharton said areas with black soil were a major concern and required “immediate” attention.
“We really want both state and federal governments to move this money forward and spend it right away because the road is very dangerous in many places, especially on the black soil between Cloncurry and Hughenden,” he said.
Leader of the Cats Australia Party and member of the Traeger Robbie Cats said areas with black soil and uneven surfaces should be a priority for future works.
“These poor road conditions can do innumerable damage to machinery,” he said.
“Truck drivers have been to my office about it because the ground moves a lot on the black ground, and at least you slow down, but if you do not see it in time, it can do a lot of damage to vehicles.”
While all stakeholders said they were grateful for the funding, Haylock said he would not hold back for any major improvements.
“We just want to keep doing the best we can,” he said.
Mrs Murphy said the funding was a little too late.
“Any funding is welcome and I know they are doing some work, but it has just come too far behind for too many years,” she said.
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