Take a drive among the rolling hills surrounding the New South Wales town of Goulburn and you can be sure you’ll happen upon a Divall’s truck. With the business having recently celebrated 50 years in the earthmoving and bulk haulage industry, these iconic vehicles are as much a landmark of the region as The Big Merino or the Wollondilly river.
Indeed, in the five decades since John Divall first bought Carrick Hill farm, Divall’s has come to play a significant role in the region’s development. From local roads through to schools, playgrounds and even railways, the company is a major supplier of materials, earthmoving equipment and operators on many civil engineering projects.
The earthworks and bulk haulage company as we know it today kicked off in 1991 with John’s two sons, Andrew and Michael at the helm. “Dad was a farmer, really. But there was a little a quarry on the property and he saw potential in it,” Andrew explains. “We used to just sell the material as a royalty until my brother, Michael, left school when he was 14. So, he worked in the quarry from a fairly young age, loading trucks. I left school a little while later and went around Australia for a year and a half. When I came back I decided to work in the quarry, too. Then we needed two trucks. And it just grew from there.”
The quarry has since become home base for the company’s wider earthmoving and transport business. “We basically have a crack at anything within a 200km radius of Goulburn,” Andrew explains. “We’ve got a transport business and a contract crushing business – both of which service a lot of rural clients, quarries and councils. We’ve also branched out into earthmoving and plant hire.”
Looking back, it was the purchase of that second truck which signalled the point at which Divall’s truly broke ground in the quarry industry. “It was a Kenworth – a road truck,” Andrew recalls. “It’s actually in the Kenworth Hall of Fame in Alice Springs – there’s a big trucking museum there. Kenworth didn’t have one of those models, so they asked us if we wanted to put it there. We did it up and – we still own it – but it’s in their museum.”
Divall’s own showroom is a sight to behold. A striking setup displaying a plethora of models and paraphernalia, it’s a museum all its own. An antique 1929 Twenty Model Caterpillar Dozer Crawler takes pride of place on the floor – a testament to the company’s history and deep appreciation for machinery.
Speaking of machines, these days Divall’s has quite the fleet. That second Kenworth truck quickly led to a third and now 50 large, shiny rigs proudly display the Divall’s logo.
Andrew reveals they also boast an impressive number of Volvo front-end loaders. “It’s got to be up around the 300 mark; we’ve got 300 people working for us and they all sit on something,” he laughs.
Michael is particularly taken with the Volvos – Andrew jokes his brother won’t let him buy anything else – but the operators are just as happy with the selection. “They like the comfort and the ride,” Andrew explains. “The Volvos also just hold the bucket in a really good carry position to transport and stockpile. There’s also just enough technology onboard to make them sophisticated but still simple.”
Since purchasing their first Volvo loader 8 years ago, it’s become Divall’s preferred brand for that category of machine. “We were disappointed with the aftersales backup and parts supply of the brand we were using previously,” Andrew shares. “Over the years, we’ve moved towards solely Volvo loaders. It all comes down to their ease of operation, their longevity, their backup parts and availability service.”
Volvo’s machines are certainly tried and tested, with all parts made in-house at their factory in Sweden. Andrew feels that quality in the build really shows. “I actually drove one at a railway shutdown job at Wagga a couple of weekends ago,” he says. “It was a loader with 14,000 hours on it and if I closed my eyes I would have thought it only had around 1000 hours on it.”
In terms of attachments, with that number of machines on site, you can bet Divall’s has the lot – including rock breakers, crushers and screeners.
With such a large number of vehicles on site it makes sense for Divall’s to bring all servicing and maintenance in-house. “We’ve got a strong workshop with 20-odd staff and we run both a day and a night shift,” Andrew explains. This easy access to maintenance allows the company to hold onto machines a little longer. “Yeah, we run them up to around 20,000 hours,” says Andrew.
When the need to purchase a new machine does arise, CJD Equipment representative Ross Forsyth is their go-to. “Rosco – he’s been great. He did his time as a field technician and then moved into sales. It makes such a difference to deal with someone who has that background. I rate him as our rep and also as our good friend.”
These kinds of long-term relationships have always been key to Divall’s success. Indeed, two of the first staff members they hired are still with them today, working in management positions. They also have plenty of repeat custom to keep them going. “We put a lot into our customer service. We’ll go back and fix any problem – make sure the customer is 100% happy at the end of the day,” Andrew shares. “As a result, we’ve got some long-term customers that we go back to every year. We tender a lot, but most of the cottage and farm work come in via word of mouth.”
Even with COVID-19 affecting many industries, Divall’s has enjoyed relative stability. “We haven’t seen business falter. The last couple of months, we’ve even seen it get a bit stronger,” Andrew reports. “We just finished a windfarm at Collector – 55 turbines. We actually finished that job 2 months ahead of schedule,” Andrew shares. “We’re also doing some work down at the Snowy Hydro. We’re happy and proud to be a part of history on that one.”
History and legacy are a big part of the Divall’s brand and culture. The family takes a lot of pride and satisfaction from knowing they have contributed so much to their local area – down to the very roads they’re driving on. “Yeah, that’s rewarding for sure,” Andrew smiles. “And now our kids are coming through the business. My son, Jack, he won operator of the year when he was 18 with the contractor’s federation of NSW.”
The next generation of Divalls are certainly on track to take the company onto its next chapter. “I’ve got another son, Harry, who’s working more on our farming business,” Andrew explains, then laughs, “One of the Volvo loaders actually has Harry’s name on the side of it, because it was intended for the farming side of things, but it got poached for other uses.”
His 18-year-old daughter, Meg, has also joined the team. “She’s in plant allocations,” Andrew says. “Our allocations room is something else – a whole wall of plasma TVs with all our spreadsheets on them.”
In terms of structure, Andrew is looking at making some smart strategic moves to set Divall’s up for longevity. “We’re bolting on some businesses that more run themselves a bit. Like, we’ve got a concrete plant and a sand & soil yard. They’ve got managers etc – just run themselves nicely,” Andrew explains. “The rest of our operations run off all that – our transportation and quarry businesses. I’d like to develop more, actually – maybe something around the recycling industry.”
Things certainly look a bit different from the small quarry John bought all those years ago “It was a bit of doing for him,” Andrew recalls. “Dad died last year. He had a good innings and we had a great send-off.” No doubt, he was beyond proud of his two boys, taking the farm he started and seeing it grow into a company employing some 300 people, shaping the local area and contributing so much to Goulburn’s economy.
Andrew admits he’s “all over the business”, in terms of staying across Divall’s various moving parts. However, there are a couple of aspects that hold a special place his heart. “My passions are farming and conservation earthworks,” Andrew explains. “We’ve got five or six farms scattered around the district. We grow Angus cattle and also do bit of grain production. I help young Harry to keep all that moving in the right direction”.
Ensuring projects are carried out in safe and sustainable ways has become a particular area of interest for Andrew. “We pride ourselves on conservation earthworks. We build a lot of farm dams, sediment control banks, rock flumes etc and gullies. There’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it,” he explains. “We see a lot of contractors and people trying to self-perform that just have no idea. Some sort of education around that would be good”
The key to conservation earthworks, Andrew says, is taking the time to understand and work with the flow of the land. “Building a dam, for example, the most important thing is the overflow,” he explains. “People don’t even think about that. It’s got to get safely back into the gully.”
Many of the problems have arisen from city-dwellers looking for a tree-change. “We’ve had a lot of Sydney people bring their own machines up to our area and try to do earthworks in a non-conservation manner. Young Jack thinks there should be a buy-back scheme on old machinery, the same way there is on guns,” Andrew shares. “They knock all the trees down and leave a mess. They’re wrecking the farms. We try and get in there and teach them the right way. Help them understand that the work done now is forever lasting”
Andrew feels regulation of these kinds of projects could be strengthened. “There is some legislation, but it’s pretty loose,” he explains. As a company, Divall’s has taken active measures to try and improve the situation. “We’ve actually gone ahead and built our own handbook, so all our operators are aware of the legislation and the right way to go about things.”
Outside of work, Andrew’s interests still centre around his connection to the land. “My hobby is my farm and a bit of motorbike riding,” he shares. His bike of choice? “A KTM Adventurer. I can still chase cows and then head down the highway,” he laughs.
Andrew also enjoys getting away with the family on regular camping trips. “Until COVID, every year we’d try to go camping somewhere in rural Australia. Just anywhere we haven’t already been.”
Their last big family holiday, however, took them all the way to Las Vegas for the Conexpo. “After the expo, we took some time to camp our way around America – lived out of an RV for a month,” Andrew shares. The highlights? “The Grand Canyon, the redwood forest. Oh, and my daughter falling into an ice lake – not much of a highlight for her, but we won’t forget it anytime soon.”
As Goulburn’s small population of almost 24,000 continues to grow, there’s no doubt Divall’s will continue to play an important role in its future. Not bad for a business that started with just a couple of trucks, two brothers and a big idea. What a legacy. What a legend.