Sand on the Run

Canberra Sand and Gravel specialises in the supply of construction and landscaping materials to the thriving nation’s capital.

The city of Canberra is continually evolving due to multiple commercial and residential construction projects. Only a century ago the area was little more than some extensive sheep paddocks.

Today Canberra is a very modern city and the focus of the legislative, judiciary and executive functions of the Australian Government. According to the Bureau of Statistics, almost one third of the Canberra workforce is employed in the public administration and safety sector.

As Australia grows it becomes necessary for the public service to grow as well, which naturally adds to the population of Canberra and the surrounding areas.

This growing local population requires service and retail industries along with the infrastructure necessary to support them.

Canberra Sand and Gravel (CSG) has been a key supplier of construction and landscape materials for Canberra’s development since 1960.

Over the years CSG has being able to provide a diverse range of services to the Canberra and surrounding communities ranging from retail supply of products from its three landscape centres located in the suburbs of Hume, Belconnen and Mitchell, to its expertise in commercial construction excavations and the supply of construction and landscape materials.

The supply of washed sand used for the manufacture of concrete has grown to currently be the biggest sector in the CSG operation.

“We supply around half of the concrete sand used in the ACT and with our three landscape centres we are the area’s biggest landscape materials supplier,” says CSG Managing Director Wayne Gregory.

“We have progressively grown our business over the last 60 years and we put our success down to our people and building great customer relations. We’ve seen it too many times when businesses expand rapidly and they don’t have the capacity to properly control what they are doing and eventually end up going into liquidation.”

Canberra Sand and Gravel’s operational capacity is mostly centred on Canberra and the immediate local region.

If residential building activity slows then so does the demand for those products associated with it, yet, with a high level of government-led civil construction continuously happening in the national capital, the overall demand is usually well balanced.

CSG has deliberately aimed to incorporate a degree of vertical integration in its operations.

It was a partner in the construction of a large apartment complex in the suburb of Dickson, where it excavated and removed 70,000 cubic metres of material which, due to its clay base was able to be redeployed as rubbish tip cover.

All the concrete (about 20,000 cubic metres) used in the construction of the project was delivered from concrete companies using CSG supplied washed sand. CSG also provided the materials for the project’s extensive landscaping.

A significant benefit of this type of business is that it can be repetitive, rather than a once in a generation opportunity such as was provided by the construction of the Canberra light rail system or the once in a lifetime New Parliament House project which was completed in 1988.

Landscaping products provided by CSG include various sands, soils, gravels, and mulches. The diversity of the overall business is such that if any sector slows down, something else will pick up.

“A perfect example is COVID-19 situation,” says Operations Manager James Gregory. “The retail/domestic market is generally quieter going into the winter months however with people staying at home, they are taking the opportunity to re-do their gardens and our landscaping centre’s operations haven’t stopped. I thought people would be saving their money because of the concern about the jobs situation, but anything to do with domestic landscaping is very busy.”

CSG has a long standing policy of not having a special allegiance to any one truck manufacturer, with purchasing decisions made on what is the best vehicle available at the time for particular applications rather than being a badge choice.

The result is a late-model truck fleet which is quite diverse with American, European and Japanese brands represented.

One Freightliner is connected to a quad axle dog trailer, with two other Freightliners towing tri-axle dogs. There are a couple of Mack Tridents with quad dogs and Kenworth T610 SARs in similar configurations.

Spread across various facets of the CSG operation are Volvo trucks, excavators and loaders and a well-maintained Volvo N12 is still a valued part of the fleet. A selection of Hino tippers operate out of the landscape centres.

The most recent arrival has been a Mack SuperLiner with a quad dog which was chosen to celebrate the loyalty of employee, Peter Gawthorn, who has clocked up 30 years of service.

“The SuperLiner is his dream truck and he wants to finish his career in that truck,” says James. The cornerstone on which the company is built is a core of loyal employees and subcontractors, some who have worked with CSG for over 40 years.
“We are very proud that we have numerous employees celebrating milestones of 30 years, 20 years and ten years of employment with our company,” says James.

There are many and various roles within CSG and each person regardless of what role they fill is an important link to ensure the business operates efficiently.

At least 40 per cent of employees have been with CSG for ten years which contributes to its foundation of offering job security.

Developments in truck technology have been taken up by CSG management.

“Regardless of brand, any truck I buy now is an auto,” says James. ‘’When we had manual transmissions we were forever repairing clutches and diffs particularly with our single axle tippers in our landscape centres and I don’t think we’ve done a single one since we went to automatics in them.”

The approach works for the bigger trucks as well and even the newest Kenworth’s have automated manual transmissions.

“A lot of applicants for driving jobs are only licenced for synchro or auto and not for RoadRanger boxes,” says James. “So it helps if we can put them straight into an automatic truck and we’ve had good driver acceptance of that.”

The advent of the Performance-Based Standards (PBS) scheme has also led to safety and efficiency improvements for operations at the company.

Semi-trailers have since gone out of favour due to the rollover risks involved during tipping.

“A lot of the semi-trailers aren’t working anymore in the industry because they are considered dangerous and we won’t allow semi- trailers to tip at our own facilities,” says Production Manager Steve Trevillian.

The use of the PBS quad dogs translates to significant improvements in efficiency for trucks operating out of CSG’s Bungendore sand quarry.

“We can get close to 40 tonnes on them as opposed to 32 tonnes on a three-axle dog combination,” says James. “That weight difference picks up an additional load per day, per truck.”

Canberra’s wide roads, large radius roundabouts and broad intersections certainly make operations of the big trucks easier.

“It’s pretty rare that we can’t get a quad dog onto any civil construction sites around here and if it’s an issue we can unhook the trailer anyway,” says James.

Unlike the trucks, there is one preferred supplier for truck tipping bodies and trailers which is Muscat Trailers.

“Troy Muscat makes it easy because he understands what we want to do and he gets the combination sorted for maximum efficiency” says James.

“Whatever the brand of truck involved, we send him the specifications and ask what can he do. With the Kenworths we were able to achieve 40 tonne payloads, while with Freightliners around the same at 39.5 tonnes,” says James.

“From our point of view Troy is very proactive and delivers a very high-quality product.”

CSG has the capability to sell a single bag of sand or to deliver 10,000 tonnes of sand. The company utilises modern equipment and proven techniques to keep up with the requirement of Canberra’s constant demand for its products and services.

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