Life in Curley Country

Posted: September 30, 2011 in Heavy Duty Trucks

Mick Curley…an industry icon.

With 40 years dedicated to cattle haulage in Australia’s most remote regions, Mick Curley looks back on his working life with a sense of pride. That he’s an industry icon is without doubt.

There’s a humble air about Mick Curley. Quietly spoken and very polite, he’s low-key about past endeavours.

Now in his late 60s, Mick remembers fondly the freedom of roads less travelled.

There’s no embellishment though of the challenges men of his era confronted in an environment where human character was perhaps the greatest asset of all.

Today, Mick enjoys just “wandering around the shed” or, if there’s a truck broken down, going out to help it get going again.

There’s a definite tone of pride in his voice when he talks about Curley Cattle Transport, a business based in Cloncurry, north-west Queensland, and which today operates 24 roadtrain triples, all with Cummins Signature power.

It’s a business that shows there’s no place for the ways of the past, no matter how fond the memories of previous feats.

I ask Mick’s son Stephen, manager of Curley Cattle Transport, what values he has learnt from his father.

“Dad taught me early on that one of the best qualities in a person is punctuality,” he says. “If you arrange to meet someone and do it on time you’re showing that person respect.

“Anyhow, you can’t run this sort of business without being punctual.”

Mick Curley was born in Brisbane in 1944 and spent his formative years with four brothers and one sister on Tregole Station – a 27,000-acre sheep and cattle station – near Morven in western Queensland.

Mick went to boarding school – Churchie – in Brisbane where he spent more than nine years before convincing his father he was wasting his money. Mick didn’t want to be at school any longer.

He spent a few more years at Tregole Station and then in1962 drew an 85,000-acre property by ballot in the Cloncurry region, a property that would be established as Gipsy Plains Station, owned by Mick and his brother Robert.

In late 1970 Mick married Dawn and began living in Cloncurry and after a brief stint as a bush mailman, he bought his first truck to pull two stock trailers, setting the wheels in motion for what is known today as Curley Cattle Transport.

A smile creases Mick’s face at the memory of that first truck – a Dodge powered by a Cummins C-160, a naturally aspirated 464 in-line six delivering an exceptionally modest (by today’s standards) 160 hp at 2800 rpm.

The Curley fleet comprises 24 roadtrain triples, all with Cummins Signature power.

“It was pretty slow…it made little hills into big ones,” Mick recalls today with a gleam of admiration in his eye for the Cummins-powered Dodge which he stirred with a five-speed box and two-speed diff.

By 1975 he had stepped up to a twin-stick B61 Mack, criss-crossing the many inhospitable dirt roads in Queensland, transporting cattle to stations and sales.

“When it got too hot in those days we’d only travel at night because we didn’t have air conditioning. The roads were atrocious… you’d only be able to do 20 miles-per-hour if you were lucky.”

While good communications are critical today for driver safety and efficient business, even the crudest form of communication was absent back then.

“If you didn’t turn up at where you were supposed to be, someone would come out looking for you,” Mick recalls.

The Curley cattle cartage business began to expand in the early 1980s when Chaplain Haulage in Cloncurry was acquired, adding four R-model Macks to the operation. In 1996, another noted Cloncurry cattle carrier, Charlie Hudson, also sold to Curley.

Up to that point the Curley business had been known as Curley Bros after Mick and Robert, but in 1996 the partnership was dissolved with Mick taking over the haulage operation and naming it Curley Cattle Transport, and Robert taking over Gipsy Plains.

Under the Curley Cattle Transport banner, further businesses were bought from Andrew Hickey (Georgetown), Mal Cleary (Mt Isa) and Nigel Steinorht (Boulia) in the 2002-2004 timeframe.

Today, the Curley operation endures in what is still a tough environment where the demands are obvious – achieving cost-effective life from equipment, maintaining this equipment in a harsh, remote environment, and attracting and retaining good people.

It’s all about achieving a balance between commercial and operational realities.

Stephen Curley says if there were other engine choices in Kenworth he’d still opt for Cummins.

“Business is all about building relationships… it’s everything,” he says. “We have those relationships with people at Cummins and we get the service and support from Cummins.”

Mick Curley with son Stephen.

Of the 24 Curley prime movers in service today, 11 are powered by Signature 600 EGR engines while the remainder are Gen II Signature 620s.

“Apart from the turbo issue, we’ve had no dramas with our EGR Signatures,” he says.

“Cattle haulage out here is probably the hottest and hardest application in the country.

“Typically, we’re looking at fuel consumption of one-to-one (one kilometre-per-one litre) so the engines are under high load all the time.

 “Heat, extreme heat, is our biggest issue.

“When you look at what an ECM (electronic control module) has to put up with bolted to the engine, you wonder how it ever lasts. Have you ever tried touching one after a truck has been running for a couple of hours out here?” he asks.

Indeed, given the intense demands of cattle haulage on man and machine, Mick Curley has every reason to look back over the past 40 years with pride. An industry icon without doubt.


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