Blessed in the west

By: Ricky French


For Cameron Bishop, keeping a linehaul network going between Perth and the Kimberley means backing your company’s support and systems

Blessed in the west
Cameron Bishop

 

Anyone with their ear to the ground knows that if you want to get a handle on what’s going down in town, head to a country horse race meeting and have a yarn. Everyone who’s anyone will be there, and it’s where the best tips are passed round, both on and off the course.

June saw Perth-based Bishop’s Transport’s Cameron Bishop and Michael Ferraro make the trip north to the small Kimberley town of Derby for a bit of work and a bit of play. It was the Derby Cup and it offered a great chance to touch base with friends and associates from the north-west – a far-flung but vital cog in the Bishop’s Transport network.

The business runs two-up services Perth-Broome four times a week, and has depots in Broome, Derby, Karratha and Port Headland, to support the main depot in Perth. It’s a lazy 5,000-odd kilometres from Perth to Derby and back.

Because of the vast distances and specialist skills and equipment required to cart loads up here, Bishop and Ferraro have developed a smart relationship with two of the Kimberley’s best transport performers: Dean Wilson Transport and Derby Stock Supplies.

Stuart Kempton from Derby Stock Supplies was at the races too, having a beer and chewing the fat with Bishop and Ferraro, pictured right, as the horses thundered down the dusty Derby straight.

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Kempton carts loads for Bishop’s Transport going up the famous and often treacherous Gibb River Road, as well as specialist transport – such as sideloader jobs – around Derby, while Dean Wilson Transport carts the small loads north from Derby on the bitumen. In return, Bishop’s Transport will bring their freight up from Perth.

The alliance has seen all three businesses grow and has increased efficiency for remote customers.

For the people in remote towns in the Kimberley, getting their freight delivered on times means food on the table, general stores stocked, animals fed and work vehicles staying on the road. Put simply, reliable road transport is a necessity of life. And it’s a responsibility Bishop’s Transport takes very seriously indeed.

IN THE BLOOD

Perth native Geoff Bishop founded the company back in 1972, when dirt roads were the norm throughout the interior and every trip was an adventure.

Geoff Bishop remembers the time in the late 70s when he led the fleet from Melbourne to Perth, transporting a circus across the Nullarbor.

He had two elephants chained by their legs in his trailer, while other drivers had lions and tigers in cages.

The carnies weren’t in cages but did provide some good entertainment every night over their week-long trip. Geoff Bishop has never lost the trucking bug. He is 73 this year but still jumps in the cab whenever the urge strikes.

Cameron Bishop, on the other hand, doesn’t drive trucks and has no desire to. But he’s as passionate as his father is about the family business. Ferraro, meanwhile, is not technically a Bishop, but is the next best thing. Both have sons, so there’s every chance the business will be passed down to the next generation.

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Their ability to ride out the ups and downs of commodities by focusing on the big picture and diversifying their freight has put Bishop’s Transport in a great position for the future. But, according to Cameron, the secret to success is an uncompromised commitment to customer service.

"We do well because of our service. Being a smaller business, our customers know they can get hold of the two top men 24 hours a day. We know what’s going on." He pats his top pocket. "The phone is always on, mate, it never leaves me."

NITTY GRITTY

With a minimum of nine trailers a night leaving Perth, having the best rig and equipment is essential. Bishop’s Transport trusts Kenworth to handle the linehaul and have around 20 in the fleet of 47, mostly T909s and T904s.

"The connection to Kenworth goes back to my dad," Bishop says. "He’s always loved Kenworth, and it’s built to what we need. It’s the best truck on the road."

Ferraro says an added attraction is the favourable resale price they fetch: "They hold their prices really well and last a long time."

Most of the gear gets bought from CJD in Perth, he adds. "They’ve always looked after us really well."

Nearly all the maintenance is done in-house by the company’s own qualified mechanics, electricians and specialised Cummins mechanics, who even handle engine rebuilds.

The main requirement from the equipment is that it can handle anything. Servicing the mining industry, plus remote communities, means carting a huge variety of freight. The trick, says Bishop, is to not be fussy. 


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"We’ve carried everything from helicopters, submarines, planes, cars, anything that can go on the back of a trailer."

The business is also fully licenced for every conceivable category of dangerous goods.

It’s also important to spread your eggs, and not be reliant on one industry, especially in a boom and bust region like Western Australia.

"If we get a downturn in mining something else, like gas for example, usually picks up," Bishop says. "It goes in circles, but there are always plenty of projects going on."

Even at the height of the mining downturn the business was only quiet for a couple of months.

"You’ve got to keep the trucks moving, so you do what you need to do. If you have to do something out of the ordinary, then do it. We cart a lot of rubbish now. It might stink, it might take a bit of cleaning when you get home, but it’s what you need to do to pay the bills."

THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY

Working the bush doesn’t mean using primitive technology. In fact, the opposite is true for Bishop’s Transport, which is starting to roll out driver fatigue monitoring "seeing-eye" machines.

"It’s an important safety feature," Ferraro says. "The machine will monitor the driver’s eyes and if he starts nodding off an alarm rings in the cab and the seat vibrates.

The data will also be logged in America, and if happens a second time Cameron or I will get a call from America, and we can then ring the driver."

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The trucks are also fitted with dashcams that can be activated by the drivers in the event on an incident. "It records 15 seconds before the driver activates it, and 30 seconds after. It doesn’t intrude on the driver’s privacy because nothing gets viewed unless there’s an incident."

MTData, meanwhile takes care of tracking where the trucks are at all times, something that is absolutely vital out in the bush, where mobile coverage can be limited or non-existent.

"One of the challenges in the transport industry is trying to keep up with the technology changes," Ferraro says.

"It’s not cheap, so you’ve got to do a bit of study and make sure you’ve got the right gear in your truck before you commit to buying something. It can end up being out of date two minutes after you buy it if you’re not careful."

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

As all trucking operators now know, keeping up with compliance has become a fulltime job. It’s a responsibility Bishop’s Transport has always taken seriously, and now even more so with the new Chain of Responsibility (COR) rules.

"Compliance has gone into overdrive," Bishop says, "and the biggest issue with that is training your customers, because they have a responsibility now, too.

"If something goes wrong it falls on them, and all the way through the chain, and a lot of customers aren’t used to that."

Care now goes into making sure customers are diligent with marking their dangerous goods properly, filling their paperwork out correctly and not allowing any shortcuts to be taken when loading trucks.

"A customer might say, ‘but this is how we’ve always loaded it,’ and we’ll have to explain that things have now changed.

"That kind of thing can be a bit of an issue in the north-west, but we help guide them through the new processes."

REMOTE REALITY

Ask yourself how you’d cope if a driver rang to say flooding had closed the road and he’ll be stuck where he is for up to a week. This is precisely what the team has to deal with every year during the wet season up north.

"One of our trucks was stuck in Derby for a week, coming back from Darwin," Ferraro says. "It costs you money. You might have to keep fuelling up the fridges and hope the goods last. We’ll get problems with water in our axles and bearings, and cows are always a big issue."

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Distance has its own challenges and can conspire against you in ways you wouldn’t expect.

"Bigger trucks mean bigger loads, and bigger loads move slower," Bishop says. "You’ve got to account for that. It doesn’t take much to slow trucks down when they’re this heavy and this hot. There’s a lot to think about and it’s a long way to go if something needs to be fixed."

Then, of course, there’s the need to budget for the quiet summer season, when visitors leave and the Kimberley largely shuts down.

"The trucks might go to Karratha and do a bit more oil field work on those times," Ferraro says.

"It’s important that blokes up here keep some money in the bank account for the quiet season."

ROAD AHEAD

With 80 staff, including 40 drivers, Bishop’s Transport has grown into a tight, manageable outfit. It’s something Bishop is especially proud of.

"It’s a great achievement to grow to the size we have. There’s a big reward in knowing you’ve got someone’s freight to them, because out here that’s so important – it’s people’s lives and livelihoods. Customers really rely on their transport companies to get the job done."

That personal connection shines like the Kimberley sun. For Bishop, satisfaction comes from small things.

"It was like yesterday at the races, when customers come up to us and say good job, well done… then you know you’re doing well. That’s what matters to me."

 

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