We thought it best not to let Robert Cavanagh know he was our cover story subject for our October 16 issue – we might still be waiting for the return call.
After another long day at the helm of his two livestock transport companies, Cavanagh was happy to chat, of course, but it’s fair to say he was more than a little taken aback by the attention he was getting for receiving the Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Trucking Industry prize at the 2020 National Trucking Awards.
“It’s very unexpected,” said the managing director of Cavanagh’s Transport and Stockmaster, which share busy depots at Inverell and Tamworth in NSW servicing customers from as far afield as North Queensland through to Victoria and South Australia.
“I thought you had to be retired before you got one of those awards. It’s certainly very humbling to receive it and I’d like to think I received it on behalf of a lot of other people who do a lot for our industry associations.”
He may have had strong support from industry allies, but it’s been Cavanagh, however, whose name has been at the forefront of association lobbying and consultation at the highest levels for many years.
Cavanagh has served as president of the of the Livestock, Bulk and Rural Carriers Association, and has held the roles of president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary of the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association.
In 2018 he was awarded an ALRTA life membership in recognition of his significant contribution to the organisation and to the promotion of rural transport as a sustainable, responsible and safe contributor to Australia.
It’s the safety element that Cavanagh is perhaps most proud of as he reflects on his 35 years in the industry.
He’s always considered himself an early adapter of technology and how it can be best utilised in the livestock sector.
Cavanagh was one of the first carriers to fit EBS across the fleet – since 2012 – long before it was mandated.
He’s also had satellite tracking for the past 16-17 years in his trusty Kenworths, now 28-strong, and predominately a cab-over mix of T608s, T604s, K200s, a T908 and a T650.
More recently Cavanagh has installed the driver fatigue monitor, the Seeing Machines’ Guardian, and in the office is tweaking his own customised invoicing software which is making a phenomenal difference to processing times.
But Cavanagh considers the adoption of Advance Fatigue Management more than a decade ago now – and the culture it has helped foster – one of his greatest company achievements.
“The drivers don’t have to have a 24-hour break on the side of the road, and it gives them flexibility in their work-day,” he explained.
“It’s made an enormous difference and it’s great for operations when scheduling trucks.”
Many of jobs can now be finished in one lift, getting the animals to their destination without any welfare concerns caused by having to stop the truck for longer periods.
“We can load out of Longreach an bring them down to Inverell in 14 hours and everybody’s happy,” Cavanagh told Prime Mover Magazine in 2013.
“My driver’s home in bed, the cattle are not standing on the truck, it’s been a good investment. I believe in AFM, the onus should be on the operator to demonstrate they have a plan.”
For Cavanagh, who started out in 1985 as a single truck operator working as a sub-contractor, driver welfare is always top of mind.
“I wouldn’t be here today without the tremendous drivers of the past, and the current batch,” added Cavanagh who was also quick to praise his logistics and workshop team.
He said staff shortages are probably the biggest issue facing his business today, and the road transport industry as a whole.
“We’re certainly not immune. I think making truck driving a recognised skill would help, and we should be able to bring in overseas drivers with qualifications.
“I honestly think that’s the only way out of it.”
Not that you’ll catch Cavanagh complaining about his lot. As his father always told him, find a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life, and 35 years later in livestock transport, this diesel drover reckons he’s still living proof of the tried-and-true adage.
Originally from Casino in far north NSW, Cavanagh grew up on a mixed beef and dairy farm, a background that gave him the experience in dealing with saleyards and abattoirs.
“I’ve always had an interest in livestock and trucks so livestock carrying suited me down to the tee.”
He got his start driving for Jim Savage and his wife Helen out of Tamworth, the same company that grew into the Stockmaster organisation.
Cavanagh worked for the Savages for three years before going out on his own, still doing the same work for Jim and Helen, but now as a subbie with his own truck.
After a while, Cavanagh returned to the Casino area with a single truck and started working as a contractor hauling cattle into the large abattoir in Casino.
Cavanagh moved the operation to Inverell in 1995 and just three years later had to introduce a second truck to cope with the increasing workload.
Fast forward nine years and Cavanagh had eight trucks servicing the vast north-west NSW area and Queensland, hauling cattle into the abattoir.
When the opportunity to buy Stockmaster came up in October 2010, Cavanagh didn’t hesitate to take the plunge.
“There were already a lot of synergies between us – we both shared a lot of the same clients – and it enabled me to get into the sheep side of livestock carrying, and that’s been very good to us.”
Long-term, Cavanagh is unsure if he’ll keep both operations running on separate balance sheets, but for now it’s working out well for the staff and loyal clients.
“Stockmaster is very good at some things and there are things which Cavanagh’s are very, very good at,” he told Prime Mover Magazine.
“Continuity for the customers is also very important. We have customers who are used to dealing with Cavanagh’s and others who deal with Stockmaster.”
As for retirement, that’s a fair way off yet, if you ask Cavanagh who keeps himself fit with his love of horse-riding and rodeo. He’s still enjoying the industry just as much as he did when he first started out on his own all those years ago.
“I’ve enjoyed every day in the industry, and I don’t believe I’ve actually had to work that hard for it,” he said.
“But if you’re going to be in business for the long haul, you need to have an end goal and for me that’s to leave a successful business, a sustainable long-term business that’s a good employer, a good community citizen and provides a good service to our customers.”