From Rocky Road to Off-road Success

Published on 28 November 2019

Tony Davys and Elize Hattin sitting on a black couch

How adversity drove Rockhampton business opportunity

The road to business success isn’t always easy. This week Elize Hattin, SmartHub Business Manager welcomes Tony Davy’s from Rockhampton Tours and Four-Wheel Drive Training to the SmartHub Live couch, to talk about the driving force behind his new Rockhampton venture and getting back behind the business wheel.


When Canterbury, New Zealand was rocked by earthquakes in 2010, Tony Davy’s successful four-wheel-drive hire company, like many other businesses, felt the aftershocks. Being a tourist-based business, when the earthquakes started, the tourists stopped. His business came to a screeching halt.  

Despite years of financial, emotional and mental hardship, Tony said there were positive business lessons learned from the experience.

“One really good lesson I learned is that you can't rely on the fact that things won't change and things can change in an instant. I had some very good people to talk to, which is so important. I did a course, which was kind of like a group psychology thing, which helped. It was really tough,” Tony said. 

When Tony was offered the opportunity to move to Australia through a contact with a tour operator and four-wheel drive instructing business, he jumped at the chance, moving his family to New South Wales five years ago. 

His new job allowed Tony to explore all parts of the country, leading remote tag-along tours in the desert and Northern Australia. It was a trip to Cape York last year that steered Tony in his current business direction.

“I stopped in Rockhampton to see some friends who have a business here and got thinking about opportunities and ideas…I talked to Community Engagement Officer Wade Clarke from the Council before I left.

“When I got home, I said to my wife, Helen, "Hey, how about we move to Rockhampton?" and she said, "Okay!"

“Helen's got a full-time job, she's an environmental scientist here. There's opportunity for her, the opportunity for really good schooling for the kids, and opportunity to set up my business,” Tony said.

Fast-forward eleven months and Tony is now reaping the rewards of seizing the opportunity to start something new, in unchartered territory.

“I could see what opportunity was coming to Rockhampton. There's a gap as far as the tourist market goes and the number of projects and business that's moving into the area, there's so many projects happening,” he said.


Rockhampton Tours and Four-Wheel Drive Training is essentially two businesses in one; tours are separate to the four-wheel drive training, but they complement each other as well.

“People can go in my vehicle and we can go to some really cool scenic four-wheel drive type places, or we can also run some tours where people follow us in their own vehicles known as a tag-along tour. We'll go camping in remote places and although they drive themselves, I provide the expertise.

“That's the appeal of a tag-along tour, it's a safety net for people that might not have the experience or even just the friends to go with on a trip. You turn up, you don't have to organize anything, it's all done for you, and away we go!

The second arm of the business is four-wheel drive training, for both private and corporate markets.

Tony offers one-on-one training to members of the public in their own vehicles to learn how they operate and build their driving confidence. 

“After showing you how your vehicle works and how to cope with different four-wheel-drive situations and vehicle recoveries you'll go anywhere with confidence. That's my job and I love seeing people's confidence increase when I'm out there with them. Drivers go from, ‘I'm really terrified about driving up the sand hill,’ to ‘Wow, I can really do this by myself or with friends’.

“Even people that have been four-wheel driving for a long, long time, I can show them things they have never seen or known about,” Tony explained.

Capitalising on the growing market for four-wheel-drive training for personnel working in government, resources and agricultural sectors, Tony also offers nationally accredited statement of attainment training packages, allowing drivers to achieve units of competency in four-wheel driving.

“People who operate four-wheel drives in the course of their daily work often require a certificate for those jobs. They might be going to remote areas, they might be by themselves, and it basically shows you how to use the vehicle safely and confidently. If things don't quite go to plan, you know how to get out of it,” Tony explained.

Tony said a key element of corporate training is safely navigating bush tracks, dirt roads and defensive driving.

“It's getting more, more and more important. Managers haven't realised that a lot of people, even contractors who are going off-road, doing long hours on dirt roads, should have some form of four-wheel drive training. If they end up in a heap or somebody dies, the manager goes before the Coroner's Court.

“You think, ‘Oh, it's just a dirt road,’ but, if you don't tackle the terrain the right way, or even take a corner too fast, you don't understand how your vehicle works, and you turn off your vehicle stability control because you don't think you need it on dirt road…you end up upside down because of it. It's just understanding how the vehicle works, really,” he described.

Currently conducting training on a bush property close to Rockhampton, Tony is now exploring a different area with more diverse driving conditions. Thanks to Queensland Government legislation, it is legal for Tony to train in Byfield National Park and areas such as Stockyard Point, Five Rocks and Nine Mile Beach.

A driving force behind Tony’s business is his desire to re-educate and correct people’s thinking about four-wheel-driving.

“People think they know how to do it. They see and read things on social media. They watch four-wheel-drive shows. I generally can't watch those shows because the things they're doing are not safe,” Tony said.

Tony acknowledged having moved from New Zealand “where there's nothing big like kangaroos to avoid” when driving, required him to retrain his brain, which he now bases his training on. 

“Your natural reaction isn't usually the right thing to do when you're off-roading or even on dirt roads.

“I had to retrain myself so when a kangaroo jumped out in front of me, I knew to brake hard in a straight line. Where people get into trouble is that they brake hard and they swerve, and they lose control, they roll, or they hit a tree, or they're off the road upside down.

“This is why the training is so important, it’s not until to put it into to “on the road” context that it is incorporated into your neurological framework to retrain your brain,” Tony explained.


Elize Hattin, SmartHub Business Manager noted the different expectations we can have when it comes to starting your own business, and potentially failing in the process.

“In countries like America people expect you're going to fail at business a couple of times before you succeed.

“They have wakes for businesses. When things fall over, you have a wake, you bring all your family and your friends in to commiserate and celebrate at the same time because you're one step closer to success.

“You can tick off the list your first failure and maybe have a couple goes, and then on your third go you actually succeed. Whereas in Australia, this is my observation, we don't seem to tolerate that approach very well.

“We don't seem to understand that failure is part of the business journey as much, and you always learn more from failing than you do from succeeding…it's what you learn along the way,” Elize contemplated.

Tony recalled how his New Zealand friends reacted when they heard he was starting a business again, knowing the difficulties faced when his business failed following the earthquakes.

“If you don't have a crack, you never know. You just have to work through it … the support offered by fellow businesses and SmartHub members has been fantastic. It's quite overwhelming at times how much people want to help and support you.

“It's how you deal with the ups and downs as well. I haven't always been proud of my down moments, but you learn. It's on its way, it's coming, it's good. Things are happening,” he said.

Elize agreed, saying when businesses face challenges that take a while to recover from mentally, financially and emotionally, business owners may not have the courage to have another go.

“When you find that courage and it finally works out, you're almost like, "What? This is working? Really?... you can't speed those up, I've discovered. It has to happen when it happens. You do your compliance, you do your things that need doing,” Tony agreed.

Elize likens starting (or restarting) a business to building an engine:

“There's a lot of work to be done before we can turn that key and before it all goes humming along and the wheels are turning. Particularly in the beginning, you must systematically build all these systems until they're all in place and working together,” she said.


Tony acknowledged during his time as a business owner in New Zealand, to being out on the road and then back again as a start-up business owner in 2019, technology changed dramatically.

“Trying to keep up with it is difficult, but once you embrace it, it can make things so much more useful, streamlined and helpful. The way things integrate these days is incredible,” Tony noted.

Elize agreed, acknowledging the importance of having a good website for your business.

“Even though technology has existed for a long time, it's still tricky when you haven't fully embraced technology in your business, and what Tony has done is build his business through embracing technology,” she observed.

Tony credited his connection to the SmartHub with exposing him to the kind of technology he needed to adopt, while providing him with the required resources to implement in his business.

“There's an amazing sense of community and we have a really great help first, give first culture. Everyone is so helpful and willing to give.”

“The courses and being able to talk to people is fantastic because I'm not an office person. I'm supposed to be outside doing stuff…being part of the SmartHub community you give as much as what people help you,” he said.

Tony’s final advice to anyone looking to start or restart their own business? “Be open to opportunities. If you don't try, you don't know,” he urged.

  1. Change happens – expect the unexpected and be flexible in your approach to change. Seek advice and support from your tribe to explore opportunities created by change.
  2. Reach out to fellow business owners – fellow business owners like the SmartHub community want to help fellow start-ups. Colleague John helped Tony build his new business website; find the subject matter expert you need and exchange skills or services.
  3. Learn and embrace technology – we don’t know what we don’t know – SmartHub Lunch and Learn sessions presentations and workshops can keep you in the loop about emerging trends and how you can adopt them to your business.
  4. Be open to opportunities - if you don't try, you don't know. The alternative? You might be sitting in that job you hate forever, whinging to your co-workers.
  5. Commiserate and celebrate failure – have your wake and move on…you’re one step closer to success!

Tony Davys is a member of The SmartHub; a collective that encourages our community, and our business community, to adopt modern best business practice and technology to ensure that we become more profitable, more viable, save time, and just to make life in general, easier.

Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business. If you’d like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, message SmartHub Rockhampton on Facebook or just head over to Customs House at 208 Quay Street, Rockhampton for a tour.

Click here to find out more about Rockhampton Tours and Four-Wheel Drive Training.  With Christmas fast approaching, why not give the gift of four-wheel-driving experience to family and friends? It could be a lifesaver…

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