Driller de­liv­ers hope

The hus­band and wife team with young son head to heart of drought

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - NEWS - James Gra­ham James.Gra­[email protected]­grigs.com.au

AN­THONY and Danyelle Haigh were mak­ing the most of a rare so­journ at home in Al­lora when Big Rigs, the Ru­ral Weekly’s sis­ter pa­per, caught up with Aus­tralia’s busiest wa­ter drillers.

The hus­band and wife duo, along with their pre­co­cious four-year-old Heath, are hop­ing to be back again at their 80-acre oa­sis 160km south­west of Bris­bane by Christ­mas.

But the way the drought is grip­ping the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and western Queens­land this year – the main hunt­ing ground for the Haighs’ in-de­mand Mur­ranji Wa­ter Drilling busi­ness – Danyelle isn’t bank­ing on it.

“When we took over the busi­ness (four years ago) we were do­ing about 30 to 50 bores a year – this year we’re about to hit 100,” Danyelle, 34, said.

“In just a year we’ve seen a mas­sive leap in the num­ber of peo­ple des­per­ate to get wa­ter.

“It’s just dev­as­tat­ing to see the im­pact on the crops, cat­tle and farm­ers, it’s re­ally quite sad.”

Sta­tion by sta­tion, how­ever, the Haighs and their rov­ing Western Star road train con­voy of drilling equip­ment and ship­ping con­tain­ers con­verted to liv­ing quar­ters are win­ning the war.

They’ve hit wa­ter in just about ev­ery spot they’ve set up camp this year and Danyelle says noth­ing beats the sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing the smile that lights up the farm­ers’ faces.

“I never get sick of it, gosh no,” she said.

“My son screams ev­ery time we hit wa­ter and runs around shout­ing ‘we’ve got wa­ter, we’ve got wa­ter’.

“It’s very ex­cit­ing for ev­ery­one. You’re in sus­pense too be­fore that, stand­ing around, wait­ing pa­tiently.”

Danyelle ad­mits tak­ing the plunge and buy­ing out for­mer owner Danny Smith – he named the busi­ness af­ter the sta­tion he owns 4.5 hours south of Kather­ine, NT – was the big­gest punt she and An­thony, 42, have made in their 11 years to­gether.

An­thony had been work­ing for Danny for a year or so be­fore then but Danyelle, a nurse, had been man­ag­ing her mum’s women-only traf­fic con­trol busi­ness on the Gold Coast, the role she had when they first met.

“It re­ally could have gone ei­ther way,” Danyelle said of those tense first few months in the out­back.

“We were go­ing into this whole new busi­ness where we were just buy­ing all this ma­chin­ery that cost a lot of money, go­ing up into where this guy who had been drilling for the last 20 to 30 years and tak­ing on his clients who could eas­ily say, no we don’t like you, we don’t want to use you.

“It was very stress­ful on all of us in the be­gin­ning and we were com­ing into wet sea­son too so we were short on money and not sure on what was com­ing next.

“But about six months later it started to pick up. Clients were ring­ing us to come again next year and we started to pick up new work and new clients. Word was get­ting out that we’re gen­uine peo­ple do­ing a great job.”

As fans of the hit re­al­ity show Out­back Truck­ers know only too well – the Haighs make their third ap­pear­ance on the se­ries next year – get­ting bogged be­tween bores is all part of the game for Mur­ranji Wa­ter Drilling.

But thank­fully An­thony says there’s never been any ma­jor dra­mas with the trucks them­selves, a huge relief when the near­est spare part could be a full day’s drive away for one of the staff – An­thony Hayes, Joshua Roods and Steven Ocht­man – in the con­voy ute.

Rou­tine main­te­nance is the big­gest de­mand the Western Stars make, a yearly chore that usu­ally takes place dur­ing the wet sea­son, which sees the Haighs back home for a well-earned break in the weeks be­fore and im­me­di­ately af­ter Christ­mas.

The trou­ble-free run An­thony’s had with the rigs even helped coax Danyelle into qual­i­fy­ing for her road train li­cence last June.

“It can be nerve-wrack­ing know­ing that you’ve got a mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of stuff be­hind you and if you have the slight­est break in con­cen­tra­tion some­thing very bad could hap­pen,” she said.

“I’ve con­quered my fear now and I’m get­ting bet­ter as we go.”

Danyelle jokes that Heath would be ready to take over by the time he’s 10, if they’d let him.

“He al­ready knows how to op­er­ate ev­ery­thing and tells you how to do stuff,” she said.

Danyelle says it’s near im­pos­si­ble to keep him in­side and has her fingers crossed that she can find a governess to har­ness his en­ergy long enough to help in his first year of ed­u­ca­tion with the Al­ice Springs School of Air in 2019.

“He’s never re­ally been a city kid but he can ad­just,” she said.

“He gets the best of both worlds now – the beach on the Gold Coast and then the bush.”

Although she of­ten lives weeks at a time off the grid, Danyelle is adamant she’s gained far more riches than the ma­te­rial ones she sac­ri­ficed by fol­low­ing An­thony into the bush. Many of their clients have be­come friends, wel­com­ing them into their homes for a meal or a bed for the night as they pass through to the next sta­tion.

Their busi­ness is go­ing so well they were able to donate a bore to a strug­gling farmer in western Queens­land this year and they get a kick out of help­ing out wher­ever they can by re­duc­ing prices.

“As we get big­ger, we re­ally want to help out as much as we can,” Danyelle said.

“They’re all very stressed and many are strug­gling but they’re all such beau­ti­ful, wel­com­ing, gen­uine peo­ple who will still take the shirt off their back to give it to some­one.”

❝ My son screams ev­ery time we hit wa­ter and runs around shout­ing ‘we’ve got wa­ter, we’ve got wa­ter’. — Danyelle Haigh


TEAM MEM­BER: Heath Haigh, 4, still gets a thrill ev­ery time they hit wa­ter.

The drilling gear needs more up­keep than the trucks.

Danyelle, Heath and An­thony Haigh.

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