Features, Roadhouses

‘Truckies are struggling – they can’t afford to live out of roadhouses’

The owners of the iconic Little Topar Roadhouse on the Barrier Highway in western NSW have said they are “heartbroken” after making the difficult decision to close the business.

The popular spot has offered friendly service, good food, and ample parking to truckies for over 35 years, and news of its closure has been met with shock and sadness throughout the road transport industry.

The roadhouse, which is in the “middle of nowhere” between Broken Hill and Wilcannia, was taken over by owner-driver Kym Starkey and his partner Jo Lindsay in 2018 after legendary husband and wife duo Colin and Barb Harvey retired.

Starkey and Lindsay continued the Harveys’ great work for five years, but dwindling business has now left the couple with no choice but to close their doors.

“It was a massive decision to pull the plug, but it was the right decision,” Lindsay told Big Rigs.

“We’ve been struggling for about 10 months.

“Kym and I have had a lot of sleepless nights. The conversation kept coming up, and we knew we had to make a decision.

“We kept saying we would have another go at it, and another go, but it just wasn’t happening. There was more money going out than coming in.”

Jo Lindsay and her partner Kym Starkey ran the roadhouse for the past five years. Image: Little Topar Roadhouse

Lindsay thinks there are two main reasons for the business’s financial struggles – changes to transport routes, and the rising cost of living.

“The transport’s not out here anymore,” she said.

“We used to be the main road train route, you had to come this way from Adelaide.

“Now they can tow road trains on the Newell Highway, and a lot of them go to Cobar through Hillston. It’s all changed.”

Lindsay added that when truckies have stopped by the roadhouse in the past year, they have been much more reluctant to buy a meal or drinks.

“During Covid, some days I only took in $200. But I stayed open for the drivers,” she explained.

“When they did come in, they had money and they spent it, they were really appreciative.

“But now, the drivers are really struggling. Some of them tell me their home loans have gone up anything from $350 to $700 extra a week. They just don’t have the money to spend anymore.”

Until its closure in January, the Little Topar Roadhouse was open six days a week, 15 hours a day, and from 7am to 4pm on Sundays.

Lindsay said it just wasn’t worth the number of hours she was putting in.

“Last Monday, I cooked three meals for the entire day.”

The roadhouse is in the “middle of nowhere” between Broken Hill and Wilcannia. Image: Little Topar Roadhouse

Lindsay understands that most truckies are just worried about paying their bills and looking after their families.

“More and more truckies are bringing meals from home, and I’ve got nothing against them.

“My son is a truck driver and I spoke to him to see what he thought.

“He said I was doing the right thing closing down, because he couldn’t afford to live out of a roadhouse himself.

“It’s anything from $30 to $40 to have a meal and a couple of drinks. These truckies have got mortgages, some of them have wives and kids at home.”

Lindsay said she and Starkey have some very happy memories from their years running the roadhouse, and have built strong friendships with their regulars.

“We’ve had some late nights here, I’ll put it that way!” she laughed.

“We have some amazing memories and we’ve met some awesome people.

“I want to thank all our customers from the bottom of my heart. We will miss them, but we hope to catch up with them again soon.”

The roadhouse is now up for sale. Image: Little Topar Roadhouse

Lindsay and Starkey have had the roadhouse on the market for quite a while, but haven’t been able to sell it yet.

“I’ve had some interest,” Lindsay said. “I had one lady really interested in it not too long ago, but I actually talked her out of it.

“I just couldn’t live with myself if she went under.”

For now, she doesn’t know how long the roadhouse will be closed.

“We are still selling fuel 24/7 for anyone who needs it.”

She said some loyal customers have offered to set up a GoFundMe page to keep the business going, but it wouldn’t solve their cashflow problem long-term.

She said one of the most difficult aspects of having to shut the roadhouse is the weight of its iconic reputation.

“That’s what rips my heart,” she said.

“I feel so bad about it.

“The first 13 months of business were unbelievable, we really thought ‘We’ve got this’. Then Covid came and it really knocked us around, but we got through it – we thought that would be the worst of it.

“I did not think it was going to end up like this. I never thought the transport industry would end up like this.”

Fuel is still available from the roadhouse 24/7. Image: Little Topar Roadhouse

She takes some comfort from the fact that the previous owner, Barb Harvey, and her daughter Deb, have both contacted her to empathise with her situation.

“Poor old Col Harvey, Barb’s husband, has passed away, but Barb rang me and we had a really good chat.

“I felt like she gave me her support to close the place, she really understood.

“Even she said the country has changed, transport has changed. Her daughter Deb also rang me and said I could keep my head up and know that I gave it my best shot.

“I just felt so relieved by that.”

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