After 40 years of service, Burke’s Transport’s vibrant sky-blue trucks and trailers will travel the highways for the last time, as owner Graeme Burke prepares for his next chapter.
Started by Graeme in his hometown of Bathurst in 1982 with just six trucks, he has grown his business in leaps and bounds.
Over the past four decades, one depot has grown to four – Bathurst, Campbellfield, Orange and Sydney – and the fleet has grown to include 30 Kenworth prime movers, 94 trailers, 12 tray trucks and more.
At 67 years of age, Graeme says now was the right time to call it quits, but adds the decision wasn’t an easy one. “It was a hard decision because we have a lot of long-term employees. It’s been a great business for us. But I think everybody has a use-by date and I didn’t have family who could take it on. I’m 67 and my wife Connie is the same age,” he explained.
“I don’t have family that want to take it on. We’ve tried unsuccessfully for the last four to five years to try and sell the business. In the beginning, there was interest, but we didn’t get it over the line. Then with our last offer, they wanted to put a hold on the sale for 12 months due to Covid. Because of Covid, it became too hard to sell the business.”
Graeme started his career as an apprentice mechanic and then purchased a Bedford tabletop truck in 1971. In the beginning, he would transport general freight and timber. “It just progressed along from there. I never had any thoughts of it growing as big as what it’s got. I was content on being an owner driver. Then I got involved with a few businesses that were relatively small at the time and they grew, so I grew with them,” he said.
“There are some customers we’ve had for 40 years and we still have them today. There are also many others we’ve worked with for over 30 or over 20 years. Once we have a customer, we’re pretty good at retaining them. I guess it’s about trying to work out and solve problems for our customers before it becomes a problem for them. It’s about trying to understand their needs.”
The business as it stands today services NSW and Melbourne, carrying general freight as well as some refrigerated and tanker work too.
And though business has been booming – Graeme reports that since the pandemic began, work has increased by 10-15 per cent – the time has come to try something new.
“To be successful in transport, you have to get a lot of little things right and then all the big things will fall into place, but it’s a monumental thing to try and get all those little things right,” he said.
“Ever since the pandemic started, everyone in transport has been busy but with employment, it’s gotten harder to find people. It’s been impossible to find workers in Melbourne. We have our own aeroplane, which we’ve had for years, so I’d work between Melbourne and Bathurst and fly back and forth.
“I have no intentions of completely retiring, I just need to move on and do some other things and I can’t do them while I’m still running the business,” he added.
“I’m going to do some development work as I have a bit of land. I’ll also lease out the depots too. But what this means is that I’ll be able to have a bit of free time, because running a transport business just consumes six days of my life. It’ll be good to have a week off when I want to have a week off.”
Burke’s Transport will officially close on February 25 and all of its equipment will be going under the hammer at an auction in Dubbo held by Ritchie Bros. in late April. The dispersal will include 30 Kenworth prime movers, 94 trailers, 12 rigids, 20 forklifts and seven utes. The company will also sell its workshop equipment and machinery at a second auction later in the year.