The story of Curley Cattle Transport started with the purchase of a single truck in 1972 – a Dodge with a 160 Cummins engine, towing two cattle crates. Fast forward to over 50 years later and the business now operates a fleet of 40 Kenworth T659s, all used to pull triple road trains across Queensland and into the Northern Territory.
With seven Queensland depots – located in Cloncurry, Charter Towers, Normanton, Georgetown, Boulia, Blackall and Winton – the company’s fleet travels in excess of 2.5 million loaded kilometres each year.
Mick Curley, now aged 79, grew up on a cattle station in Morven before moving to Cloncurry with his family in 1963 – which eventually became home to his transport company’s main base.
By 1975, he was driving a B-model Mack, and then in 1982, Mick and his brother Robert Curley purchased Chaplain Haulage to form their business Curley Brother Cattle Transport.
By 1996, the brothers decided to split their business, with Mick continuing his focus on the cattle transport aspect. Together with his wife Dawn Curley and son Stephen Curley, they acquired Hudson Transport, which included the Cloncurry and Normanton depot, along with three sets of trailers.
Stephen, 48, was just 22 when he joined the family business, after completing an apprenticeship as an electrician. “I started in the shed and then eventually got my MC licence so I drove trucks on and off for a while. In 1999, I went overseas and then really got stuck into it in 2000. Cattle transport was something that, once I got the hang of, I knew it was going to be my life,” he said.
“Growing up, Dad was always driving, and my sister and I used to go out with him in the truck sometimes too.”
Like many transport industry veterans, trucking runs through Mick’s veins – and although he’ll soon be celebrating his 80th birthday, he’s still there at Curley Cattle Transport, working every day – and he enjoys getting back behind the wheel on occasion too. “Dad still does a little trip every now and then, about once a year. He enjoys getting in the truck – it’s something he’s had his whole life, that’s his identity,” explained Stephen. “He’s been semi-retired for about 15 years so I’ve been running things since about 2000.”
And Mick’s contribution to the industry hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was inducted into the National Road Transport Shell Rimula Wall of Fame in 2009; and in 2021 was presented Life Membership from the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Queensland in recognition of his dedicated service to the livestock and rural transport industry.
Curley Cattle Transport has grown into the business it is today through numerous acquisitions. In 2002, they purchased Hickey Transport, acquiring an additional four road trains and the Georgetown depot. They bought 150 acres in 2003 to build and establish the Charters Towers depot. The following year, in 2004, they acquired Boulia Transport, which included the Boulia depot and two road trains. In 2005, they purchased Cleary Transport in Mount Isa, including five more road trains. They then purchased Batts Transport Blackall in 2016; followed by Fanning’s Transport and the Blackall depot in 2017; and then Grant’s Livestock in Winton in 2019.
But Stephen insists it’s never just been about getting bigger – it’s about getting better.
“There’s only one way to go. In anything you do, you’ve always got to try and keep bettering yourself,” he said.
Today the business employs over 70 people, including 40 drivers. The operations are predominantly centred around transporting cattle from station to station, station to abattoir, station to feedlot, and to the port for export. “We do a lot of inter-station movement for the big cattle companies in Queensland – it could be 1000 kilometres between stations,” said Stephen.
The company employs many long-term drivers, who’ve been there for 10 to 15 years, along with managers who’ve worked there for over 20 years.
“It’s getting harder to get good drivers. To keep staffed you’ve really got to be ahead of the competition. You have to look after your people really well and do things that others aren’t. It’s about more than just the money – you need to have good equipment, good facilities and treat employees well too,” Stephen added.
In terms of its prime movers, Curley Cattle Transport has been purchasing Kenworth T659s exclusively since it purchased the first one from Brown and Hurley Townsville in 1997. “Originally I went for the T659 because it’s a truck with the least warranty issues. They are just built really tough. They were originally designed as a logging truck, so very little goes wrong with them,” Stephen said.
“We have one driver per truck and buy five new trucks each year, which replace the oldest ones in the fleet.”
The latest truck, picked up on June 14, is the 75th new Kenworth to be purchased by the company. It’ll sport the same white and green livery the company has become known for and will be based at the Winton depot.
“And then next year, there’ll be another five new T659s. Growth has always been a part of this business, so if any opportunities arise we’ll seriously take a look at them. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being like that,” Stephen added.
As this second-generation transport operator continues to push the family business forward, with his father by his side, Stephen reveals his hopes for the future. “I have a 10-year-old boy and eight-year-old twin girls – and I hope they’ll join the business too one day.”