Based at the outback Queensland town of Hughenden, Coffison and Sons has been operating for 51 years. The town is located 388 kilometres west of Townsville along the notorious Flinders Highway.
Started by Fred Coffison, who is now aged 78, together with his wife Marilyn, it’s been a family affair through and through – now run by his son Dean Coffison, 53, who is the current manager, with his sons Wyatt, 24, and Dylan, 21, who work as drivers.
Coffison and Sons has a fleet of four trucks including a Mack, a Western Star, a Hino and a Freightliner Argosy, which travel as far away as Townsville on the coast and to some of the most isolated locations in the outback.
It may well be old; but the ex-army 2000 model Mack has become the pride of the fleet. It was purchased because military vehicles are always well maintained.
“We bought it at a Townsville auction a year ago and it only has 40,000km on the clock. A great addition,” said Dean.
“We are a proud family-owned company and I think we have the only independently owned fuel depot in Australia at Gray Street in Hughenden. When dad started the business, he delivered fuel to property owners and since then I have taken it to the same places where their sons are in charge. Now my sons are taking fuel to those properties where grandsons are.”
Dean says he was already travelling in trucks with his dad from the age of just eight years old. “The road transport industry is in my blood.”
As for the worst roads he has travelled along, Dean rates the Flinders Highway as being right up there.
“It is bad between Hughenden and Townsville and also the 100km stretch from Hughenden to Richmond is terrible – it is up and down like a rollercoaster,” Dean said.
He also reckons there are nowhere near enough rest areas along his travels, which is a common gripe with many other truckies.
I asked Dean to nominate any decent rest areas and he thought for a moment before replying. “There is a good one at the top of the Burra Range where there are toilets and I often stop at another near Balfes Creek called Red Hill, which is just a pull off area,” he said.
On the subject of the Burra ranges, I raised the subject of numerous truck drivers claiming to have seen a Yowie-like Hairy Man at night along that elevated section of the Flinders Highway.
“I have heard rumours about drivers seeing the Yowie, but haven’t seen it yet, but I have spotted what I thought may have been a ‘Min Min Light’,” he said.
Now that did spark my curiosity as other drivers had claimed to have come across a Min Min too, so I asked where.
“It was around Birdsville but I never followed it,” he said.
After that remark, Dean added that Birdsville was one of his favourite locations he had delivered to.
“I used to take fuel there before the annual Birdsville races and it was always a great place with loads of nice people and is simply a wonderful outback country town,” he said.
The Coffison family is highly respected in the north-west outback, and along his journey, Dean has met some genuine characters.
One was a hawker named Laurie Friswell who was nicknamed the ‘Birdman’ and would travel weekly between Townsville and Mount Isa, a 900km trip, along the Flinders and Barkly Highways.
The Birdman sold everything from sausages, home brew beer, and any other supplies required by his many customers.
He also serviced scores of condom vending machines at roadhouses and on properties.
“The Birdman used to fuel up at our Hughenden outlet on the way out each Monday and then on his return journey either on Wednesday or Thursday. Everybody knew him,” Dean said.
I had travelled with the Birdman on several occasions way back then and used to enjoy a stop at Coffison Fuel.
Whilst three generations of males dominate the company, Dean’s wife of three years, Angela, is also an integral part of the smooth running of the business.
“Angela does all the bookwork and is a school teacher. I met her at Hughenden and it was love at first sight. She is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
Versatile Angela is a full-time teacher based at Townsville. I asked Dean about how the distance they lived apart affected them.
“We have a house in Townsville and my company runs freight there every week, so I get to spend the weekends with Angela,” he said.
Dean also possesses a wonderful sense of humour, and I can be testimony to that.
About 20 years ago Dean was at the Great Western Hotel in Hughenden when a scantily clad lady was serving drinks.
There was a small fleet owner who did the Townsville to Mount Run weekly who delighted in playing practical jokes on other truckies.
This jovial gent used to stop at the Lights on the Hill Roadhouse on Hughenden’s outskirts with two of his other trucks and their drivers.
“He was passionate about his new truck not being damaged or the paint scratched and when they were eating breakfast, I had the key to his rig and got her to sit in it naked. Then we told him somebody had broken into it, and he came out like a raging bull. That even appeared in a big national men’s magazine,” Dean said.
As for roadhouses he likes, Dean nominated the Gold City Puma on the western outskirts of Charters Towers and the United near Hughenden as his favourites.
“They both have friendly staff and good food,” he said.
Outside work Dean enjoys motorbike riding in the vast expanses of the outback and has a passion for camping.
“There are many places in the outback where I can camp and the people are so nice to deal with,” he said.
Coffison and Sons is a community minded business which has sponsored many events.
These include the popular Corfield Races held annually between Hughenden and Winton.
“Times may be tough but if we are asked to sponsor events we will always try and help,” he said.
Recently, Dean and Angela participated in the annual Townsville Convoy For Kids held on May 29.
“This was my third such convoy and I like supporting an event which donates to kids suffering from cancer,” he said.