The teenager’s plan was to turn left or right after arriving in the Northern Territory’s capital city.
But he soon realised that there is no simple left or right turn – Darwin is the end of the long road north.
Like so many arrivals before him, Caleb’s idea of moving on after a few weeks was quickly forgotten as he fell in love with Australia’s quirkiest, happiest city.
He’s still in Darwin more than 20 years later, now a successful businessman, father of four boys, pilot and speedway president. And he says:
“I’m proud to be a Territorian.”
Caleb, who owns C and R Constructions, a well-respected and capable project management and building firm, with his brother Karl, was born in Melbourne, where his parents, John and Ellen, were deeply involved in the Truth and Liberation Concern Church; in fact, John helped build a church as a volunteer.
The family never had much money but used a special loan scheme to buy four hectares of land surrounded by a state forest at Glenluce – where they set about building a house out of stone.
“We lived in a shed for just over a year while we were building the house. We used recycled materials, collected stone from the forest and got ‘seconds’ from a timber mill. It was a great experience.”
Caleb, his two brothers Joshua and Karl and their sisters, Ahna and Kyria, were home schooled by their mother until high school.
“I liked it. We worked at our own pace and then did our own thing. We had 20 acres and were surrounded by 10,000 acres of forest. And our neighbours had huge blocks, which we played and worked on as well. I had my brothers and sisters and neighbouring friends, so I didn’t feel isolated. I started riding motorbikes from a very young age and got my first bike – a postie bike – at the age of eight.”
Caleb’s carefree life was shaken when he was sent to high schools at Castlemaine and later Kangaroo Flat.
“That was an eye-opener. At home, I could knock off when I had finished my work, but I couldn’t do that at school. It was much more structured. I got into lots of trouble for playing up. Nothing too serious, though.”
At 14, Caleb showed his strong independent streak by telling his parents that he was leaving school to visit his father’s relatives in New Zealand for three months with a sole purpose in mind – to get his driving licence.
“You could get a licence in America at 14 and in New Zealand at 15. I couldn’t afford to go to America, so I went to New Zealand.”
He bought an old motorbike, rebuilt it, got his licence and drove around the North Island before returning to school in Australia. Caleb loved riding motorbikes, but his first love was flying.
“I was always fascinated by planes. When I was little I used to wave at planes flying over our property, hoping they would land in our paddock.” T
he boy with a love of adventure disliked school and left at the end of year 10 to take a carpentry apprenticeship. But after two years his schoolmate Russell Henry persuaded him to quit and work for his dad by prospecting for gold in Central Victoria.
“Our job was to cruise around mining tenements collecting soil samples and take the samples to a lab in Melbourne. It was brilliant. We camped out bush or stayed in one-pub towns. We even built our own drilling rig. No, we didn’t find any gold.”
The job ended abruptly when the price of gold slumped. Caleb went to work for a building firm, didn’t get paid (“I’m still disgruntled about that”) and took a certificate in drafting.
But he hungered for something different and in 1999 decided to drive to Darwin.
His parents had often spoken about getting away from the cold and it was decided that the whole family would move north. A visit to Darwin had been the highlight of a holiday by Caleb’s parents and younger siblings.
Mum, dad, Karl and the two girls arrived in Darwin first so that the kids could start the school year afresh in Darwin, while Caleb and Russell, with their partners Amy and Helen, and mates Josh, Caleb and Nichol drove slowly north in a Toyota van with a motorbike in the back and a panel van towing a caravan.
First stop was Mildura where they picked pistachio nuts and lived on the Murray River, followed by a short stint in Adelaide picking grapes before turning north.
When they arrived in Alice Springs, they found, to their horror, that their joint bank account only contained one dollar.
They had to find work.
The brothers and mates all got jobs at Outback Ballooning. But Darwin still beckoned – so after a few months the young team of travellers boarded a 1942 double-decker bus they had bought and hit the road again.
“The bus had a max speed of 60km/h so the trip from Alice to Darwin was a long one.”
Caleb and Russell did a string of jobs before starting C and R Constructions less than three years after arriving in Darwin with little more than a few dollars and a share in the 57-year-old bus.
The business is thriving and expanding at a steady pace. Caleb’s dream of flying was still strong so he joined what is now the Top End Flying Club. He holds a private pilot’s licence and is trained to perform aerobatics. He also has a helicopter licence. His first aircraft was a Drifter ultralight, which he crashed.
“I was coming into land one day when the engine stopped. I had to turn away from power lines and aim for something of a clearing among the trees. One wing was torn off as I crashed and I spun around 180 degrees. But I was lucky – I only suffered a bruised hand and bruised ego.”
Caleb now owns six aircraft, including a helicopter, which he mostly uses for recreational flying. He owns Gotts Aviation, which used to own and lease aircraft to various operators, but as the saying goes:
“The best way to make a small fortune in aviation is to start with a big one.”
With C and R Constructions being the main business focus, Gotts Aviation has been scaled back to minimal operations so that it doesn’t fall into the “small fortune” trap.
Caleb’s love of thrills doesn’t stop there – he has also competed in go-karting and raced sprint cars at Northline Speedway.
In 2015, while on holiday in New Zealand, Caleb was elected vice-president of the Darwin Speedway Riders and Drivers Association only a few years after becoming involved with the club.
The next year he was elected president, a position he has held ever since.
“I like to think that we’ve improved the club by introducing a more business-like structure to how we operate and with a focus on becoming the best track in the county. The fact that I came to the club with very little knowledge of speedway and had not been part of the ‘politics’ of the club helped immensely. I feel like that because of this I was able to set a new direction without being bogged down in the ‘this is how we have always done it’ because the reality was I didn’t know.”
In 2022, Northline Speedway was recognised by the National Speedway Association as the best track in Australia.
Caleb praises the club’s team of volunteers, especially vice-president Jacalin Ekins, daughter of legendary speedway champion Warren Ekins, and public officer Jason McIver, son of another speedway legend, Peter McIver.
“Working with Jacalin and Jason has been amazing. Their commitment to the sport and Northline Speedway is second to none. They have been part of the transformation of the venue since I started. One of our biggest accomplishments is the now nationally recognised annual sprintcar series, Chariots of Thunder. Jacalin and Jason have taken this event and promoted it to the next level where it is now a permanent fixture in the calendars for many interstate and local competitors and injected over $11 million back into the Territory economy in 2022.”
Caleb lost his father in a plane accident in 2019.
“We were in Katherine after a speedway event when I got the call that someone thought they had seen John’s airplane spin out of control while coming in to land. By the time we got to Pine Creek it was confirmed that it was him. It wasn’t a great time in my life. John was my idol and worked for me for many years at C and R Constructions. As a kid I would go to work with him at every opportunity, even if it meant skipping school. I learned a lot from John and contribute the diverse range of skills I have to him.”
John’s death was particularly hard on Caleb – he had introduced his dad to flying, including instructing him to be a pilot.
“John was a good pilot. Unfortunately, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time – he conducted an evasive manoeuvre to avoid a mid-air collision and lost control. If he hadn’t done that I believe both planes would have gone down.”
The loss of his father hasn’t deterred Caleb from flying and he is quite often found at the MKT in Noonamah where he stores his planes and regularly flies.
Caleb has four sons following in his footsteps: Xavier, 17, who works for C and R Constructions as an apprentice carpenter; Liam, 15, who is studying to become a business manager and wants to run the company; and eight year old twins Hamish and Jethro who are just being kids.
It’s not surprising that the two older boys are taking after their dad – Xavier races wingless sprintcars at Northline Speedway and Liam is mad about motocross, hoping to compete nationally one day. Caleb is confident that Jethro and Hamish will also have a passion for motorsports and flying when the time comes.
“The older boys were 10 when they started racing and much to the twins disgust I was hoping to wait until then to let them out but I think they will be on the track soon. The boys also have an interest in flying. Xavier became a solo pilot on his 15th birthday and Liam is quite competent in the helicopter, although he is too young to go solo. Jethro and Hamish also love flying with Caleb – “they’re still a bit young to be taking the controls by themselves”. I am immensely proud of all the boys. I have never pushed them it to flying but it is something that we have always done since they were born – and for the older two to both show an interest and be good at it is humbling. “I’m sure the twins will get their opportunity too in the coming years.”