The latest in a number of rock-throwing incidents along the northern stretch of the Newell Highway in New South Wales has led to renewed calls for the authorities to act.
IT WAS 4AM on October 8 and, for Queensland-based operator Andrew Myers, it was looking like a regular trip south through Moree along the Newell Highway.
Then, suddenly, three males started throwing large rocks at his Mack for no apparent reason.
“One broke my weather shield, one hit the driver’s door, and one came through the windscreen and split my head open,” Myers tells Owner//Driver.
The result for Myers was a trip to hospital and six stitches, which he says would have been a lot worse if he hadn’t slowed to 40km/h after seeing the offenders.
“The rocks are ballast off the railway line, so they’re big rocks – if I were doing 100km/h, I wouldn’t be talking to you.”
According to Myers, the issue isn’t getting any better and the wire fence separating rock throwers from the road is being cut within days of repair.
“I’ve got blokes who have had it now happen in daylight, so it’s escalating.
“There’s a fence on the railway side and they just keep cutting that.
“When I got hit, it had been cut for a while and they did go on to fix it but it got cut back open within a day.”
Operating as a small business owner running three trucks, with a fourth on the way, has put Myers in a difficult position because he isn’t willing to send his drivers along that strip of highway.
“I limit driving through there and, if I do have to, it’s during daylight hours.
“I don’t send my drivers through there, I’m putting them at risk of a known issue if I do, and I won’t do it.”
The Newell Highway between Moree and Boggabilla has long been known as a notorious stretch of road within the road transport industry.
Acting general manager and director of planning and community development at the Moree Plains Shire Council, Angus Witherby, says he’s aware of drivers avoiding that area and taking the wide vehicle bypass instead.
“We have communicated with the RMS [Roads and Maritime Services] and suggested that if drivers do use that route, could the RMS tread lightly,” Witherby says.
“Without encouraging that, I fully understand if drivers make that choice.
“Our town absolutely depends on freight, we depend on agriculture and we are utterly dependent on the trucking industry.”
Myers has been in discussions with the Moree Plains Shire Council, the RMS and the local community about the rock-throwing issue, a commitment based on his own experience.
“On behalf of the kids that are doing it, they just need to stop because somebody is going to get killed.
“People have died from rocks in the past, there’s been about three I know of, one in a car two in trucks.”
Truck driver Mark Evans was a victim back in 1998 when four large rocks smashed through his windscreen while travelling under the Glenlee Road overpass on the Hume Highway south west of Sydney. Evans was killed instantly.
Myers says truck driving is dangerous enough as it is.
“My father passed away 21 years ago in a truck accident,” he says. “We go to work to do a job and we want to get home safe.”
From a council perspective, Witherby says the issue is being taken very seriously and it’s an issue that’s affected him personally as well.
“I know from my own experience, after I got a rock through my windscreen driving a truck, I flinched through there every time for 20 years.
“We take this very, very seriously as an issue.”
Witherby explains that the fence on the railway side of the highway is controlled by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).
“Fundamentally, this is an issue involving the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s line, and the RMS bypass,” he says. “ARTC literally repair the fence daily. “The council role is fundamentally one of facilitation and also ensuring coordination between the bodies.”
The Moree Shire Plains Council is taking a bigger picture approach to the issue of rock throwing, starting with greater police numbers and a focus on both education as well as enforcement.
“We believe the situation can be managed, and certainly the number of reports I’ve been getting have dropped off since the increased police presence has commenced,” Witherby continues.
“They’ve been successful in making a number of arrests and this is sending a very strong message that you won’t get away with this in the long run.
“The police view is also that there’s a major role for community engagement.
“They’re balancing it nicely between the education and regulation stuff, the two parts of compliance.
“We’re also working with our Road Safety Officer to provide a program into schools next year.”
Witherby says that, in conjunction with the policing focus, a grant from the RMS received in December is being rapidly put to use, offering practical solutions to the rockthrowing enforcement.
“We have a grant that we’ve secured from RMS and they put $95,000 on the table for CCTV and additional lighting,” he says.
“The police force undertook and has recently completed a site audit to identify the best way in which CCTV can be used to provide additional monitoring along the corridor.
“We’re expecting to have this up and running within a couple of months.”
Witherby believes chronic social disadvantage is contributing to the rock throwing and this stems from changes to agriculture in the last 10 years where school leavers are unable to find work.
“In addition to what the police are doing, we’re also working with the Moree Boomerangs Rugby League Club, and they’re proposing a number of programs for kids in the afternoons and evenings,” he says.
“We also had a visit from the Deputy Premier of NSW … and we discussed these issues with him as well.
“The underlying factors behind it are really quite complicated – how we deal with these movement issues, these corridor issues, the noise.
“In the future, we need to offer that movement path that people really want.”
The Moree Plains Shire Council has set up a database of everybody that has put through a complaint.
That database will continue to expand, allowing better enforcement and plotting of incidents.
A spokesperson from the RMS commented on the issue, urging truck drivers that have experienced rock throwing to contact the authorities.
“Safety is the key consideration for Roads and Maritime Services, which is working with NSW Police, Moree Plains Shire Council and the Australian Rail and Track Corporation into allegations of rock throwing along construction of the Moree Town Centre Bypass,” the spokesperson says.
“Truck drivers who are aware of incidents of rock throwing or other criminal activity when driving through Moree should contact the NSW Police or emergency services.”
Heading south on the Newell through the Moree Plains Shire – the start of ‘rock-throwing’ country