The Fawcett family began transporting cattle with one truck. Today its fleet of 35 trucks is more likely to haul earth and rock for major infrastructure projects.
Story By David Hancock
When Tom Fawcett began catching scrub bulls and wild buffalo around Adelaide River in the 1960s, he could never have dreamed that the venture would grow into a multimillion-dollar transport business stretching across northern Australia.
The Fawcett Cattle Company began with a B model Mack then switched to a W model Kenworth prime mover with a couple of cattle crates to take the bulls and buffalo to the meatworks. About 50 years on, the Fawcett Cattle Company (also trading as Fawcett Contracting) operates 35 trucks, employs between 60 and 70 people, and is one of the largest family-owned trucking businesses in the Top End.
Tom’s transition from buffalo catcher to trucking magnate has been gradual and reflects the changing circumstances of the north itself. The business is a family one with wife Patsy and sons Gil, Dean and Jed – and Jed’s wife Patty – all involved at one time or another. It has enabled the Fawcetts to get ahead in a highly competitive industry.
Tom made a name for himself in the Katherine and Victoria River districts when the stations were thick with wild cattle in the 1960s and ’70s. He was a young and fearless bull catcher who used to throw the animals by the tail and tie their legs with leather straps before carting them to the yards. With buffalo, his crew used cut-down four-wheel-drive vehicles to herd the animals into mobile yards out on the floodplains.
“I started catching in 1963 or ’64,” Tom says. “I can’t remember when we bought the first semi but it was a long time ago. We started with scrub bulls and then went buffalo catching until BTEC [Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign] put us out of business. When live export came along we had our own trucks and sort of got a few clients; we ended up having a lot of work the big companies didn’t want to do.”
The Fawcett Cattle Company rode the growth in live-cattle exports and then, when the AustralAsia railway was being built between Alice Springs and Darwin around 2000, the Fawcetts moved into bulk haulage. They developed a good relationship with Macmahon, a partner of ADrail (the company responsible for construction). Based at Adelaide River, 130 kilometres south of Darwin, Fawcett Contracting was in a good position to haul earth and rock to Darwin for much of the track south of Katherine.
This Story is from Issue #87
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2013