Until Jo Veneman moved to Townsville from Darwin 25 years ago she’d never seen a fully timber-built cottage or homestead.
When she discovered many developers, and the like, were sending these beautiful old homes to the landfill, the seeds were sown for a career saving these heritage buildings.
“It was then, 19 years ago, my urge to start relocating houses began,” said Jo, now 41 and the owner of Renewable Homes, which specialises in giving the old Queenslanders a new lease on life.
“They all have a lot of history and by relocating and renovating these homes we provide affordable housing for families and the community, while saving irreplaceable timbers and materials, along with our heritage and environment.
“We either take them on as restoration projects or offer them for sale, sometimes for free, all you have to do is pay for the relocation costs, we raise the house, transport it to the new destination and restump it.”
Jo runs two Mack Trident trucks and has moved more than 90 houses since starting the business six years ago.
Both Macks are powered by 535hp motors while one has a 12 speed gearbox and the other an 18 speed.
Renewable Homes also has two tri axle hydraulic trailers and it can take three to four days to load a house on either before removal.
“The Mack trucks are great for we want them to do,” Jo said.
Jo employs two male workers and is often mistaken for a man by would-be customers or police who escort the wide load houses she transports.
“Often people ring up and because my name is Jo which is short for Josephine some think I am a man named Joe. And when police do licence and breath checks before our wide loads move some get a surprise to see I am a woman,” laughs Jo.
One recent project involved the relocation of an old house at Granville Street in the suburb of Pimlico. It had to be transported to Balgal Beach, 50km north of Townsville, in the early hours of the next morning.
Jo said it was amongst the widest loads at 11m she had transported and the job took almost eight hours.
“It was a long trip for us and there was two police and three pilot escorts and Ergon workers to ensure we were safe under the power lines,” she said.
The largest removal Jo made was when she loaded a 30m long 8.5m wide school building at the Southern Cross Catholic School.
“We had loaded it back to back using two trucks, repositioned and spun 180 degrees,” she said.
Another memorable removal was a 17m wide house “on site” in the Townsville suburb of North Ward.
By far the most difficult removal Renewable Homes took on was transporting a house to remote West Point on Magnetic Island which is eight nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean from Townsville.
The house weighed 20 tonnes, was 5.6m wide and 30m long and was taken to West Point on a Pacific Marine Group barge.
“The holiday house had to be cut into three sections to fit onto the barge and got bogged in sand dunes once we got there and it had to be at high tide. Two sections were loaded on top the same trailer and another section onto another trailer. It took three hours to unload but ended up being a great success,” Jo said.
Jo and her team also delivered a house straight onto the beach at Horseshoe Bay which is on the other side of Magnetic Island, and is much more populated than West Point which has a few holiday homes.
“The old Queenslander was taken there by barge then traversed onto the road near the Marlin Bar which is on the Horseshoe Bay Esplanade,” she said.
One of the most interesting jobs was in 2015 when Renewable Homes transported five historical homes from Fanning River Station property near Charters Towers.
The station was ceded to Australian Defence Force to be used for the Army’s Townsville field training area, known as High Range, and they’d planned to demolish the buildings if they weren’t removed.
Renewable Homes won the tender from the Department of Defence to remove all five buildings and they went to Charters Towers, Bluewater and Rollingstone the latter two places being north of Townsville.
The furthest Jo has travelled with a house was to a property near the remote Burke n Wills Roadhouse which is between Normanton and Julia Creek in the Queensland outback.
“We do regular jobs to Mission Beach and Cairns up the Bruce Highway from Townsville. The road is pretty good except for a stretch between Cardwell and Mirriwinni,” she said.
Jo gained her heavy vehicle licence four years ago because she found that some drivers she contracted were unreliable.
“I am pretty sure I am the only female driver who transports houses in Australia,” she said.
Frustrated by the building and development application processes, Jo also studied town planning and graduated from James Cook University with a Bachelor of Planning (Environment & Urban) in 2010.
Jo said over the years she had seen her fair share “of idiot drivers” as she relocates houses.
“There was a happy camper coming towards us who ignored the first and second pilot vehicles as well as two police escorts and we came around a bend and slammed on the brakes and almost collided head on. It was a near miss,” she said.
Overseas tourists who don’t understand the road rules about wide loads annoy Jo.
“In Australia a wide load is anything over 3m and they don’t know,” she said.
On the odd occasion, Jo said that fellow truck drivers would abuse her on the two radio if they were held up because of her loads.
I asked Jo if there had been a funny incidences which stood out on her travels.
“We were out west and came across a one way bridge and a cattle truck stopped on the other side to let us go and a woman who was a passenger pulled her top up and flashed her boobs,” Jo said.
Jo has a nine year old son Lincoln who she spends as much time with as she can when not working.
She also hopes that more women drivers will become truck drivers in the not too distant future.
“One of the two pilot escort drivers we use regularly is Kerry Dyson and Phil Blair,” she said.