Con­trac­tor Pro­file: North and Sons

Up in the ir­ri­gated fields of north Vic­to­ria, North and Sons is at the coal face of man­ag­ing some of the vast net­work of water chan­nels that farm­ers rely on. Ron Horner re­ports

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents -

Are­cent trip down the Mur­ray River in north­ern cen­tral Vic­to­ria had me parked up around Echuca for a week or more.

The mar­vel­lous Mur­ray, stun­ning steam­ers, amaz­ing an­tiques, beau­ti­ful build­ings and his­tor­i­cal houses are ev­ery­where, but it’s the only place in Aus­tralia where if you head west you find north.

North and Sons, from out near Gun­bower, that is.

Dougie North has been around for a long time. A Leitchville lo­cal, he grew up in the bush and worked for the multi­na­tional milk co-op­er­a­tives at Leitchville be­fore en­ter­ing full­time into the earth­mov­ing in­dus­try some 30 years ago.

Leitchville, Co­huna, Gun­bower, Kerang and Echuca lie in some of the rich­est ir­ri­ga­ble agri­cul­tural coun­try in Aus­tralia. Sur­rounded by lit­er­ally hun­dreds and hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of ir­ri­gation chan­nels con­structed back in the 1930s and smoth­ered in rich al­lu­vial Mur­ray River flood plain soil, the re­gion could grow ba­bies overnight given the cor­rect con­di­tions and suf­fi­cient moon­light!


If you are of the land, this seems like a per­fect re­gion where water is in abun­dance, crop­ping is rel­a­tively easy to man­age and dairy cat­tle live an ide­al­is­tic life of plen­ti­ful good tucker and the best water in the world.

Water is trans­ferred via el­e­vated man-made ir­ri­gation canals that are graded from a high point to a low point, con­trolled by a se­ries of lochs, in­ter­con­nected at cer­tain in­ter­vals and filled via grav­ity or pumps from a ma­jor water source such as the mighty Mur­ray River.

As these ir­ri­gation canals cross into a pri­vate prop­erty the own­ers can ac­cess water for a fee and use it for crop­ping, farm­ing, stock or pri­vate use. As the canals usu­ally sit higher than the out­ly­ing land the water can ei­ther be pumped or sy­phoned into the pad­docks for flood ir­ri­gation of the laser lev­elled crop­ping pad­docks, thus en­sur­ing an even amount of water to spread across the whole area.

Con­trol­ling the water and sub­soil mois­ture con­tent of the land enables the ir­ri­ga­tor to have bet­ter knowl­edge and prospects of a prof­itable out­come and avoid the dis­as­trous ef­fects of pro­longed droughts.

The up­keep of these canals is an on­go­ing and te­dious task, which re­quires money, ma­chines and men, be­cause as soon as you let the main­te­nance fall you can find that ir­ri­gation banks will blow out and the area could

Plas­tic lin­ing of des­ig­nated new and old canals to avoid seep­age and water loss is an on­go­ing con­cern.

be­come com­pletely flooded, veg­e­ta­tion growth be­comes excessive and slows the rate of water in­flow, and the speed of in­flow­ing water, plus ad­di­tional ero­sion of the banks caused by nat­u­ral pre­cip­i­ta­tion, re­quires con­tin­ual build­ing up and re-shap­ing.


Over the years, ex­ca­va­tors and graders have proven to be the best ma­chin­ery to ex­e­cute such re­me­di­a­tion and on­go­ing re­pairs to the banks and canals, but in re­cent years there has been a sig­nif­i­cant push to trans­fer all of the water be­ing de­liv­ered “on farm” to an un­der­ground pip­ing, pump­ing and mon­i­tor­ing ar­range­ment.

On­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and a grow­ing aware­ness of water con­ser­va­tion have been the main driv­ers of this change, but in do­ing so have opened up more op­por­tu­ni­ties for the earth­mov­ing con­trac­tors of the re­gion.

Step up to the plate Doug North and his two sons Macca and Harry.

When you meet this fam­ily you will no­tice im­me­di­ately that the seed has not fallen far from the tree.

Stocky, strong coun­try blokes with a good sense of hu­mour and with a great work ethic have turned the “one man, one ma­chine” busi­ness into a fleet of eight 20-ton Ko­matsu ex­ca­va­tors work­ing flat out in an ef­fort to keep up the main­te­nance of the ex­ist­ing canals. Plas­tic lin­ing of des­ig­nated new and old canals to avoid seep­age and water loss is an on­go­ing con­cern, as is the back­fill­ing and re­me­di­a­tion of se­lected canals and the dig­ging of new trenches to as­sist in the in­stal­la­tion of hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of un­der­ground high den­sity poly­eth­yl­ene pipe to re­place the pre­vi­ously open canals.

Com­ple­ment­ing the fleet of eight Ko­matsu ex­ca­va­tors, North and Sons run a nice set up with a Ken­worth prime mover and a Lusty tri-axle spread float.

Doug is proud as punch of his boys and the way they are learn­ing the ropes of run­ning the busi­ness; they are re­ally fully hands on in ev­ery­thing that is as­so­ci­ated with the ex­ca­va­tors and trucks.

Doug has a nice 300-plus acre farm just out near Co­huna/Leitchville where runs a few head of prime beef cat­tle, does a bit of crop­ping and pro­vides a bril­liant ser­vice to the lo­cals in an area many of us in Aus­tralia could only dream about.

Hav­ing a good prod­uct like Ko­matsu has cer­tainly helped Doug cre­ate his dream and with his sons on board it’s look­ing more like a “Dream Team” to me.

On­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and a grow­ing aware­ness of water con­ser­va­tion have been the main driv­ers of change.

1. North and Sons on the job 2. Norths Ko­matsu mov­ing the fallen Red River Gums from the Mur­ray River3. Doug, Macca and Harry North 3


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