Delivering top service, come hospital or high water

870 652 In Good Company | Northern Rivers

McLeans Freight Service

3 Cook St, Lismore

Delivering top service, come hospital or high water

When Leisa Blok’s father, Laurie McLean, began running urgent nighttime blood deliveries from Lismore airport in 1992, he mightn’t have expected the one-man gig to expand into a 50-vehicle courier fleet, delivering across the entire northern NSW region.

Three decades on and Leisa, 53, who originally began helping her father with the bookkeeping, oversees McLean’s Freight Service from its Lismore HQ. Like most small business owners, she’s worn many hats over the years, making deliveries while pregnant and managing payroll from her hospital bed after giving birth. 

Laurie passed away suddenly in 2015, but the company continues to expand, responding to the demands of online shopping. McLean’s now has a second warehouse in Murwillumbah and handles around 25,000 parcels a week. A new HR manager has finally relieved Leisa of her payroll duties – and her three sons, now adults, are always on-call to help in the family business. 

Still, challenges are never far off. Having grown up in South Lismore, close to the site of their main warehouse, Leisa is used to inundations of the developed floodplain. The business coped very well with 2017’s one-metre flood, “But the February 2022 flood was different. It was completely beyond anything you could ever imagine,” she says.

The team had moved the entire fleet to higher ground and lent vehicles to local businesses to help them move valuable stock and machinery. They felt prepared, yet no-one foresaw the amount of rain that fell on the already-saturated city.

“It was completely beyond anything you could ever imagine”

“You just couldn’t comprehend the amount of water,” says Leisa, as she reaches high up her office wall to show the floodline. “We had 4.5 metres through here.”

The office – built above 1974’s flood level – was wrecked, 15 vehicles were lost and mud coated absolutely everything. Nothing, not even a single pen, was spared the destruction, and yet McLean’s services were suddenly more in demand than ever. The team swung into action, getting back up and running just over a week later. 

“We had to keep going. The freight wasn’t stopping, people had lost so much and desperately needed essentials – and we had to deliver them,” Leisa says. 

Amongst clothing and pet food consignments were urgent drops of machinery and health supplies. Her staff drove food to emergency shelters and joined forces with Australia Post after its Lismore depot was wiped out. They distributed 200 cages of freight a day with half a fleet, employees who had lost homes, and regional infrastructure badly damaged.  

Amid the shock and chaos were moments of light, too. One bride’s wedding day was saved by McLean’s staff, who searched through thousands of packages to locate the wedding dress she was due to wear to her nuptials two days later. 

Leisa is modest about the huge efforts she has put into the company’s swift recovery. “Everyone worked together, it was a bit tricky, but we got there,” she says.

And, slowly but surely, the community is getting back onto its feet.

“It takes a long time to rebuild,” she says. “Everyone is trying their hardest.”

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