Load and haul fleet a popular pick for fine sand operator

Robert Mackenzie – better known as “Macka” – is not your average entrepreneur. Nearly a decade ago the married father of two decided to take a break from his successful sand extraction business and whisk his family away for the adventure of a lifetime.

The jovial Australian hadn’t so much as looked at a map before they set off from their home in Salt Ash – about 30km from Newcastle and 200km north of Sydney – but that, he said, was all part of the fun.

“I wanted my kids to see the real Australia – and what better way to do it than spending time together as a family,” Macka said.

“We didn’t want to go to all the conventional spots that tourists flock to. We wanted to see the things that nobody else gets to see. Whether we were watching the sun rise on a deserted beach in Western Australia or discovering new cultures in Tasmania, we made every second count.”

The Mackenzies travelled more than 26,000km during their year-long odyssey. They home-schooled their children, then aged 10 and 11, along the way.

“The highlight for us was meeting the Aboriginal tribes that lived over 800km from a main road – let alone shops or restaurants,” Macka said. “They welcomed us so openly into their village – and even into their homes. We bonded closely with one particular family and later invited them to visit us in Sydney.


“It was the first time they took a flight, their first trip to the hairdressers and cinema – but as much as they loved experiencing all these new things, they couldn’t wait to get back to their tribal village. That was truly humbling.”

And the Mackenzies, too, were happy to return home to the family business – Macka’s Sand & Soil Supplies. Founded by Macka in 1992, the company shifts about one million tonnes of sand every year from one of Australia’s largest sand deposits.

Macka’s Sand has in recent years provided turf underlays and WM sand for the pitch upgrade at Hunter Stadium and a 70/30 blend for sand and synthetic ProRide tracks at the Newcastle Jockey Club’s Broadmeadow Racecourse. It has also provided product to new housing estates managed by McDonald James Homes for nearly 20 years.

Macka’s Sand also supports the Newcastle and Hunter Region Road Transport Awareness Day, held every November, and manages a rehabilitation program planting thousands of new eucalyptus trees on its properties to support the local koala population.

The family company’s experience of meeting indigenous people on the road around Australia was not new; the Mackenzie family has also supported the Port Stephens-based Worimi community through a profit sharing scheme that has provided education, training, employment and long-term financial security.

With his original pit almost depleted, Macka recently purchased the rights to begin extraction of a 121-hectare area that contains an estimated 154 million tonnes of fine sand. Today he manages three sites within the Salt Ash area.

The white coastal dune sand is used for a vast array of applications, including glass making, foundries and cement – but the finer, cleaner varieties, which are difficult to come by in other areas of the world, are much sought after.“We’re Australia’s main supplier of sand to golf courses,” Macka said.

“And we’re now looking into exporting our sand to holiday resorts for the rejuvenation of beaches in places like Hawaii. We’re also sending a lot of our sand to the construction industry in Sydney and beyond.”


Fine sand fleet

Macka’s Sand has a fleet of 10 Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) machines that work for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Macka owns six wheel loaders – the newest of which is an L220 from Volvo’s G-Series range. He also has four articulated haulers – two A35Es and two A40Es.

“Working on fine sand all day can have a huge impact on machines, but ours are by far the best ones for the job,” Macka said. “Despite the difficult ground conditions, Volvo machines are durable, and that increases their resale value when it comes to selling them. That’s another important factor when we decide which machines to buy.”

Machine operator Ross Lavis, who has worked for Macka’s Sand for 15 years, operating wheel loaders, said: “I have tested other brands and Volvos are by far the best on fine sand. The L180E that I operate has 23,000 hours on the clock and is still going strong – the torque ratio and anti-slip wheels mean they perform well and gain great traction on loose sand. And you don’t need to rev the engines hard either, meaning increased fuel efficiency and longevity of the engine.”


Macka’s Sand has worked with Volvo’s Australian dealer CJD Equipment for many years and built up a strong business relationship.

“Especially in recent years, CJD Equipment has really listened to our requirements and helped us source the equipment we need and maintain it,” Macka said. “Machine downtime has a huge impact on our business because we have 150 trucks and dogs [large trailers] coming in to be filled every day – and if one of our machines is down, it’s difficult to keep up with demand. The service we receive from CJD is fast and reliable, which is exactly what we need.” The G-Series wheel loader is described by Volvo CE as an evolution of previous generations. It enhances the operator features that have made Volvo loaders so popular down the years. With safety at the heart of all Volvo products, this is also a key feature in the design. Large expanses of glass in the driver’s cab give a commanding view to the front and sides, while the machine’s rear-facing camera completes the 360-degree view around the machine.

The ergonomics of controls inside the cab are designed around the driver to maximise safety, efficiency and ease of use.

“When I started here, it was the first time I’d operated a Volvo,” said Steve Morrison, another operator with Macka’s Sand for eight years. “The loader has heaps of power and no blind spots, making operation easy so we can concentrate on getting the job done – and enjoying it! Climate control, a radio, a comfortable seat and sun shields are added benefits that we take for granted in the 40°C heat of the Australian sun.”

Macka is only too aware of the importance of operator comfort, having been a machine operator for many years before starting his own business. “If the operators are comfortable, then they have fun while they’re working,” he said. “If they want to come to work every day, then they’re productive – and if they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Paul Carleton, a hauler operator who has been with Macka’s Sand for 18 years, declared the A40E hauler one of the most reliable vehicles that can be driven on sand. “Others are too heavy but the A40E haulers are fast and more fuel efficient,” he said. “Not to mention how comfortable they are – I still have energy even after a 12-hour shift”. 

Source: CJD Equipment

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend