Eyre Hwy Water Carting
The Eyre Highway is the only sealed road linking the states of Western Australia and South Australia. It runs east from Norseman for 1200 kilometres, stretching across the Nullabor Plain, along the top of the Eyre Peninsula and into the South Australian town of Port Augusta.
First constructed during the Second World War, the Eyre Highway followed a telegraph link between the eastern and western coasts when a narrow horse-and-cart track was widened into a passable gravel road, ranging from 4 to 9 metres in width.
But as the 20th century wound on, the Eyre wasn’t holding up to expectations. Despite yearly maintenance, expensive works were deemed unwarranted. The highway simply didn’t get enough traffic, with estimates being fourteen vehicles per day throughout the 1950s.
But the situation was made worse by the region’s lack of rainfall. The Eyre would be smoothed out each year by maintenance crews with small sections freshly gravelled. But the soil that the road was made from was too weak to be an effective road surface, and when rain did come, the road would turn to a bog as the bulldust transformed into impassable mud.
When Perth was awarded the Commonwealth Games in 1962, the Eyre finally saw heavy traffic as large numbers of vehicles travelled east to west. Unable to hold up to this increase in use, the Eyre was damaged in many locations, and the lack of water along the highway meant that maintenance crews to pump salt water over 100m from below the surface. A reality was finally becoming undeniable: it was time to seal the Eyre.
The State governments agreed, and work began to seal the Eyre in the 1960s and 1970s without Federal funding. Responsible for its side of the highway, the Western Australia government began construction in 1960 with crews starting at Norseman and slowly sealing their way east. By the end of that year, eight kilometres of road had been reconstructed and lay ready for a sealing at a width of 6.1 metres. Over the next ten years, sealing progressed at 100km per annum, and by 1969 WA’s portion of the highway was sealed, from Norseman to Eucla.
During this decade, camps for the construction crews progressively moved along the highway as the blacktop stretched across the nation. But there was no fresh water along the Eyre, and all water had to be carted from Norseman, an arduous task that proved difficult. and a more effective and flexible water solution was needed
In 1967, Little Industries were approached for a three-month contract to cart the water from Norseman to the camps. By that point, the sealed road was 40 miles west of Caiguna, about 350km away from Norseman. There were four camps that needed supplying: a formation camp that lay 20 miles ahead of the blacktop, the final trim camp just ahead of the road, the sealing crew, and behind them the ready-mix camp that crushed blue metal for the road surface’s aggregate.
Equipped and ready for the task, Little Industries began hauling three trips per week, each taking two days to complete the 700km round trip. The State Government supplied the water tanks which were hauled by the company’s trailers and trucks, and quickly the camps’ water issues were solved.
At the time of this contract, the company was still Mining Timber and Services, a timber provider for the Goldfields mining industry with only a small fleet of trucks. In order to maintain their current contracts and service this new demand on their trucks, the water carting operation was seamlessly integrated with the timber hauling. The timber trailer would be unhitched in Norseman and the water tank picked up for a few trips down the Eyre. By the time the truck returned empty, the wood cutters would have loaded the timber trailer to be hauled back to Kalgoorlie.
At the time of its commencement, the contract for the water supply was three months in length. It ended three years after it began, when the blacktop marched across the border, and Little Industries supporting its advance all the way.
These years of work were enough to convince Noel to upgrade the fleet as the old trucks that the company had weren’t quite up to the job, or other new contracts that the company was beginning to service. One truck that is not-so-fondly remembered was a Leyland Beaver that had four gears and maximum speed of 35mph, which made the 350km journey all that more difficult.
Quickly, trucks were bought that could handle the work that the company was undertaking, and for new contracts that the company was positioning itself to service. After their success on the Eyre, water carting became a key service for the company. Little Industries had once again proved its reputation for reliability and getting the job done.