Transport giant feels pain of lost cane
ONE of the Northern Rivers more familiar sights ? a dark-green Mills Transport truck hauling a load of sugar cane to local mills ? will soon be a thing of the past. Mills Transport, Australia's largest family-owned transport company, which had its roots at Burringbar 80 years ago in the horse-and-cart days, has lost its contract hauling sugar for the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative. The company, started by the late Archibald Mills in 1924, carting cream and bananas, will end its 32-yearlong relationship with the North Coast's three sugar mills at the end of the year when the sugar harvest season winds up. The firm's 110 full-time casual drivers servicing the three mills were notified by letter this week that the sugar-hauling contract would not be renewed, leaving them with an uncertain future. NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative chief executive Greg Messiter declined to comment on the issue. Mills Transport director Reg Mills, a grandson of the founder, said the company was in the process of negotiating alternative work to employ the drivers after the season's end. Mr Mills said he understood the new contractors were not locally based but would probably employ local drivers. Cane haulage, he said, was only one of several divisions of the large company and the loss of the contract would not have a major impact overall for the fleet. "It's a contract ? you win some you lose some," he said. The firm carts over twomillion tonnes of cane during the season (from June until Christmas) operating 24 hours a day, with three driver shifts delivering a semitrailer load of cane every seven-and-a-half minutes. As well as sugar, the firm also hauls bulk fuel, live poultry and feed and has depots in Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, Lismore, capital cities and other North Coast centres. Now employing 395 staff and with more than 456 vehicles traveling between Sydney and Brisbane, Mills Transport is arguably the largest family-owned fleet of its type in Australia.