Marlu Transport Solutions acquires Nighthawk Transport as former owners retire

After 12 years at the helm of Nighthawk Transport, Joce Dunning and Malcolm Bishop have sold their business to new owners Marlu Transport Solutions, which plans to continue driving the business forward.

Nighthawk Transport was started over 40 years ago, with Joce and Malcolm owning the company for the past 12 years. Starting with just three prime movers, they were able to grow that to a fleet of over 20 trucks.

The company services remote communities across the Northern Territory, with depots in Darwin, Katherine and Nhulunbuy. It delivers food products and general freight.

Despite their success over more than a decade, Joce and Malcolm decided the time was right to retire and move back to their farm property in New South Wales.

Alex McPhee and Saturn Turnbull have taken over Nighthawk Transport and are excited about what the future holds. Image: Nighthawk Transport

For the owners of Marlu Transport Solutions, company director Alex McPhee and chief operating officer Saturn Turnbull, Nighthawk Transport was seen as the perfect extension of their business – as both shared similar values and a strong commitment to remote communities.

Alex is a traditional owner of the Noongar, Nyamal and Nyiyaparli Countries in WA. Both he and Saturn spent over 10 years doing FIFO work for WA’s mining industry – and it was there that they met in 2016.

In some Indigenous dialects, the word Marlu means “the big red kangaroo” which is the name Alex was given by the elders when he was a child. “It’s his spirit animal, so that’s why carry the big roo as our symbol,” said Saturn.

While Alex is a qualified dual tradesman working as a heavy diesel mechanic and auto electrician, Saturn is an exercise physiologist who delivered health services at the mines.

Their move into transport has been a progressive one, started when they first launched their own business in 2019.

Though they planned to eventually move into road transport, life took them in other directions before it came to fruition.

As Saturn explained, “We started off as Marlu Resources Group in 2019. The original plan was emergency service vehicles for the mines but then Covid hit and it forced us to change our business structure.

“We were given the opportunity to provide security services to the Nullagine gold mine in WA, as this is the traditional land of Alex. So we got our licences and started supplying security services out there.”

Another business also spawned during Covid, called Jila Water & Coffee Beans.

“In 2022, we ended up getting our first really big security contract with Pilbara Minerals. It was a three year contract and now we have about 40 full-time security officers on the ground across WA.”

From there, they began providing emergency service teams to mine sites, which led to the formation of Marlu Health, which now also has a couple of occupational health clinics – one in Perth and the other in South Hedland.

But as Saturn explained, “The one thing that connected all of those businesses together was transport. There was an opportunity out there in the transport space for traditional land owners, particularly with some of the major mining companies. It also aligned with Alex’s trades.”

It was however a long road to get there. Saturn says their first attempt at acquiring a transport business was in 2020. “It’s taken us four years and three failed acquisition attempts to get here.

“We lost a lot of money in the process, have a lot more grey hairs and absolutely didn’t expect to be working in the Northern Territory, however Nighthawk Transport aligned best with the sort of business we were both after.

“I know it’s so cliché but the foundation of our business has been through a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

Nighthawk Transport services remote communities across the Northern Territory. Image: Nighthawk Transport

As Marlu Transport Solutions continued to look for the perfect fit to join their stable of businesses, they employed sub-contractors to deliver to and from the mines. “We did that so that once we got our own transport company, we could swap those trucks out with our own trucks,” Saturn added.

“Nighthawk isn’t as big as your Tolls or Centurions or Neil Mansells – it’s smaller, a lot more boutique and goes out to the communities.

“Nighthawk is a real family business that is built on customer service – and that’s where we’ve come from too.

“Joce and Malcolm didn’t want to sell to a bigger company, they wanted the continuity of their business, continuing on with their values.

“Nighthawk Transport aligns well with us as an Indigenous business. It was the perfect relationship. We knew we were coming into a company that already had these things in place.”

With the acquisition, Nighthawk Transport will retain around 30 of its existing employees. “And that was important to us,” said Saturn, “because it’s about supporting local. Even though we’re an Indigenous company from WA, it’s important for us to be able to hire locals.”

As the couple take the reins of their newest business venture, Saturn revealed that plans are also rapidly progressing on the acquisition of a Perth based transport operation. “We’re looking to replicate a similar move and fleet size in Perth,” she said.

Currently, among its other freight services, Nighthawk does runs between Darwin to Katherine each night. Once the next acquisition is complete, it will allow Saturn and Alex to have regular runs between Darwin and Perth.

As she explained, “Eventually we will look at the opportunity to purchase or acquire businesses in Queensland and South Australia. We’re already doing runs out to north Queensland at the moment, however we don’t yet have a base there.”

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