Clean sweep on the Murray

In the last 12 years or so that I have been writing for Big Rigs, it would be fair to say that the Scarab street sweeper owned by the Wills family would be the ‘littlest’ rig that I come across in my travels. But the specialised little truck is part of a big future for the Echuca-based family business as they build on a steady foundation which commenced in early 2021.

Born and bred in Echuca, Justin Wills has been behind the wheel of either a truck or heavy equipment since the age of 20, operating everything from B-doubles on linehaul through to truck and dog tippers and all manner of earthmoving and agricultural gear. 

The recent project involving the construction of the Echuca-Moama Bridge over the Murray River was the catalyst for Justin, in partnership with his wife Jeanette to take the plunge into what is a niche market in the popular tourist town. 

As a result, the ‘Sweeping the Murray’ operation was launched, which now has two sweeper units in constant demand.

“We saw a bit of a gap in the market, every man and his dog has bobcats and excavators up here chasing a piece of the pie with everything going on,” Justin explained.

“We got the little Scarab unit first, and the bigger machine came about with the bridge project. We started picking up a lot of work with earthmoving and civil construction clean-ups around the bridge construction, along with the new BP fuel outlet and Woolworths supermarket here in town.  It’s a very niche market, there are lot of companies in Melbourne doing this sort of work, but not in these rural areas.”

The two sweeper units looking sharp on the banks of the Murray River in Echuca. Photos: David Vile

Made in the United Kingdom, the 2015 Scarab was purchased with 9000 hours on the clock and whilst the VM Motori engine only puts out around 78 horsepower, it performs a variety of sweeping and surface cleaning functions. 

Its larger brother in the fleet is also a Scarab unit which is mounted on a 2010-model UD, which had been initially built for the Launceston City Council. Despite the size difference, both units are identical in their specification and operation. 

“The little Scarab is Euro-5 spec so it meets all the emission requirements, whilst the UD is dual-control and will run along on 1200 revs all day. Both are specc’ed the same for ‘dry’ or ‘wet’ operation, with the high-pressure water function, you can use it with a lance to clean machines or to sweep and wash paths and other hard surfaces. 

“You can use the high-pressure wash bars on the front to wash all the mud down and then use the vacuum to pick it all up,” Justin explained.

While the little left-hand drive Scrab is road-registered, it only has a maximum road speed of around 65km/h. 

One of the first jobs done by the Sweeping the Murray team was 300km west of Echuca, so a Fuso with a beavertail tray was added to the fleet to carry the Scarab about. 

“The first job for it was out at Ouyen after some railway works, the Fuso doesn’t do big k’s, but we have done a fair bit of work as far afield as Bendigo and Yarroweyah” he said. 

For assignments out of town the Fuso with its beavertail and ramps swings into action.

The Scarab has also proved to be a success in many of the caravan parks and tourist areas around the Echuca-Moama which are hugely popular with holiday makers: “The smaller machine really earns its keep in the caravan parks and camping areas. 

“From an OHS perspective, it’s a safety hazard with all the leaf fall from the gum trees- the little machine works in amongst everyone without being disruptive,” he continued.

Being mechanically minded, Justin undertakes the majority of maintenance and service himself working out of a yard in the Echuca industrial area. 

Both sweeper units are painted in the blue and white company colours and feature the Murray River paddle steamers that the Echuca township is famous for. 

“I am pretty particular about how things look and run. Rosmech, the Scarab dealers in Adelaide, have been a huge support to us as there is a bit to them, you can’t just get in them and push a button. I pride myself on how they look and they quality of work we leave behind as well,” he said.

With Jeanette using her accounting background to keep the financials in order, the couple’s 11-year-old son Ben is keen to have a role to play in the family business in the future as Justin said with a smile.

“Yes, we have talked succession planning. He’s gotta learn some mechanical skills first but anything practical, anything to do with these sweepers he’s right on the ball  with it all.”

For Justin and Jeanette, the business is in a good place, and he has an eye on the future and looking at evolving as new infrastructure projects occur and require specialised services such as his.

“With this business you can do all the advertising you like but word of mouth and relationships is what builds the work. 

“For a business going only 12 months I am confident there will be some good things in the pipeline, but for a little family company we are pretty happy with how we are travelling.”

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