Many hours and hundreds of kilometres now stand between triple road train drivers and a meal and a shower in Queensland’s north west, thanks to the closure last week of the shop attached to the fuel facilities at McKinlay.
Combined with the closure at the end of August of the roadhouse leased by BP at Winton, it’s a perfect storm that’s hit the travelling public on the Landsborough Highway, particularly truck drivers trying to manage fatigue.
The closure of the shop associated with the United Petroleum outlet in McKinlay, and the move to a 24-hour card service for fuel there, has been foreshadowed since July, and has been the subject of vociferous lobbying by both the shire council and local MP.
The Member for Traeger, Rob Katter, said this week that he had been in discussions with United and he would continue to pursue the matter.
“That business is worth little without the cafe component – commonsense has got to prevail,” he said. “I understand there’s interest in leasing or buying the shop but what they’re asking is way over market value.”
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The terms of the lease proposed by United include rent of $6500 plus GST a month, or $235/day, an $80,000 equipment fee, a $50,000 security bond, purchase of United uniforms and products, plus electricity and insurance costs, and wages.
“It’s mindboggling – I don’t know why these people would shut a perfectly functional business,” Walkabout Creek Hotel proprietor, Frank Wust said.
“Just today the card facility wasn’t working so no-one was getting fuel even, but no-one I know would pull up for fuel anyway, if they can’t get food or a drink. It makes no sense.”
Mr Wust said for the main users, triple road train drivers, the closest stop to the north that could accommodate their length was Camooweal, 420km away.
Tony, aka ‘Bones’, an owner-driver hauling between Cloncurry and Cannington, said he used to stop there for his breaks, particularly as the Walkabout Creek Hotel next door didn’t cater for walk-in breakfasts.
“It’s just getting harder and harder to work out here,” he said. “A lot of people reckon this is wrong.”
Local grazier, Mark Fegan, agreed, saying it would be especially hard for stock drivers who’d been loading cattle and were looking for a shower.
Kynuna Roadhouse bucks the trend
Although wanting to sell their business to deal with family illness issues, Jeff and Jane Lawson are adamant they’ll be keeping the roadhouse at Kynuna open.
The couple, who have operated the caravan park as well as food and fuel facilities on the site for the past 15 years, have this week been reaping the benefit of the automation of the fuel facility at McKinlay, 76km to the north.
Further south at Winton, the roadhouse has been shut since the end of August but there are hopes it will reopen within six months.
Owner, Peter Britton said it had been BP’s choice to shut, saying he’d been told they were losing money.
A BP spokeswoman confirmed the closure, saying the decision was made as the lease was due to expire in the near future and the fuel system for their products, aside from diesel, had been inoperable for some time.
“Unfortunately BP could not find an acceptable solution to continue operating at this location,” she said.
Winton mayor, Gavin Baskett, understood water had entered the ULP tanks during a 2016 rain event, meaning there had been no ULP sales since then.
He was confident the problem would be rectified, following council approval of development plans submitted by the owners.
“Hopefully that’s going to happen over the next six months and the business will reopen,” he said. “It’s not ideal for truckies, happening at the same time as McKinlay shutting.”
Winton has two other fuel outlets for the public, although neither can accommodate triple road trains.
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McKinlay mayor, Belinda Murphy, vetoed council taking over the shop/cafe side of the business at McKinlay town, saying it wasn’t council’s core business, but said they would cut red tape for anyone wanting to set up shop.
“We already do so much stuff that is not our core business – we built and run a gym, we have a sport and rec officer, we partner with Queensland Health in a community health nurse, we do a lot of stuff at the school and run the after-school care program, and we run the school holiday program.
“Our coastal counterparts wouldn't touch any of that stuff because there's government services, commercial organisations or Not for Profits providing it.
“Out here we have to step in but we probably have to draw the line at setting up a business like that.
“Our role is making sure that if someone wants to set up a shop in McKinlay, that we put the development approval through as quickly as possible.”
She said the shop/cafe closure was critical for truckies managing fatigue.
“And we have a drive tourism market - we want them to come into these towns and stop in McKinlay,” she said. “Outside the pub's lunch hour times they need to be able to grab a toasted sandwich and a coffee, and look around.”