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Doug Prosser at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, India.
Doug Prosser at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, India.

Doug Prosser: A humble man doing extraordinary things

Over the years Doug Prosser has written for Quarry about many talented individuals in the quarry industry. When he was invited to tell his own story, Doug himself was a reluctant participant – much like the subjects of his interviews. However, at the urging of IQA members, Doug has finally relented – and here is his story, as told to Jim Hankins.

Humble men doing extraordinary feats is an oft-repeated anecdote in our industry. If longevity was the sole measure of someone’s contribution to an industry association, then Doug Prosser would qualify merely on the amount of time he has devoted to the New South Wales Illawarra sub-branch, aside from work on the IQA Council, heritage work and setting up the IQA’s archives, not to mention the enormous amount of time spent on his “Then and Now” series, written for Quarry.

If individual achievements alone were the measure of someone’s contribution, Doug’s many endeavours would surely qualify him. If contributions to the community were worthy of acknowledgement by your peers, then Doug would certainly qualify. By any measure, Doug’s accomplishments are extraordinary. 

Age has rarely stopped the Prossers from travelling to exotic destinations. Here they ride on a Thai elephant.
Age has rarely stopped the Prossers from travelling to exotic destinations. Here they ride on a Thai elephant.

If individual achievements alone were the measure of someone’s contribution, Doug’s many endeavours would surely qualify him. If contributions to the community were worthy of acknowledgement by your peers, then Doug would certainly qualify. By any measure, Doug’s accomplishments are extraordinary. 

Doug was born in Lithgow, New South Wales, in 1925. He lived there for seven years until his family, in the midst of the Great Depression, moved to Port Kembla so his father could follow his job with Hoskins Iron and Steel. Hoskins had closed its operations in Lithgow and transferred to the Illawarra coast as Australian Iron and Steel (AIS). 

The family’s new home at Cringila was beside the steelworks so his father could walk to work. Cars were expensive and not common in those days.

Interestingly, Doug’s family had settled only a few kilometres from Lake Illawarra, where Doug would have a profound effect later in his life.

EARLY CAREER
Doug completed the Intermediate Certificate at the Wollongong Junior Technical College, including two years of special pre-apprenticeship courses. At age 15, he fronted up to the AIS employment office, together with several hundred other men.

In those Depression years, they waited patiently each morning at the works gate in the hope they might get a few days’ work.

Doug asked about possible work as an apprentice carpenter, as for years he had helped his father build things. In one of life’s unusual twists, his fledgling career took an unexpected turn when the employment officer, looking at his work sheet for the day, offered: “Son, you can become a moulder in the foundry or a fitter and turner.” 

Doug with wife Marie at his final Illawarra  sub-branch meeting. They have been married since 1949.
Doug with wife Marie at his final Illawarra sub-branch meeting. They have been married since 1949.

Doug asked about possible work as an apprentice carpenter, as for years he had helped his father build things. In one of life’s unusual twists, his fledgling career took an unexpected turn when the employment officer, looking at his work sheet for the day, offered: “Son, you can become a moulder in the foundry or a fitter and turner.” 

Doug took the second option and commenced a five-year apprenticeship that involved lots of shift work. His first year’s wage was 21 shillings (or $2.10) per week. 

The apprenticeship required attendance at “night school”. This was long before the days of companies providing time off for studies, so you had to make up one week in three when on an afternoon shift.

Doug’s apprenticeship was during the war years, as he was too young to join the services. At the time, AIS was making machine tools and weapons for the first time in Australia. It was to prove an invaluable experience. After six years on the tools, Doug was offered a staff position, with a move to the design office to train as a draughtsman.

It was here that he met his future wife Marie, who was a tracer. Both of these professions have, of course, disappeared over the past decade or two, being overtaken by technology in the form of computer-aided design, or CAD.

Doug and Marie married in 1949. They went for a one-week honeymoon on their motorbike and returned to live in a small self-built garage for the next seven years. They built their house at the back of the block and, with no rent, were able to pay off the mortgage before buying their first car. The house has evolved and been modernised over time, with Doug and Marie still living in it today. From vacant paddocks to a burgeoning suburb, the area has grown and evolved with them.

In 1951, Doug left AIS to join fabricating company Thirlwell & McKenzie, to be in charge of its small drawing office. This proved to be a character-building position, as the boilermakers and fitters and turners in the adjoining workshops soon let him know if he had designed something that was difficult to weld or machine.

In 1958, Doug moved on, joining with a partner to set up, as consulting engineers, Engineering Drawing Services in Wollongong. This was during the post-war boom time, and the hours were 24/7.

Those years soon dispelled the idea that if you worked for yourself, you were your own boss! Long weekends were treasured, as for three days the phone didn’t ring.

Doug prepared working drawings for some interesting projects, such as the ball-jointed, telescopic steel arches used to support the “igloo-like” roof segments of the Sydney Opera House, until adhesives and post-tensioned cables fixed the blocks into their permanent position.

Doug also worked on what is probably Australia’s first mobile concrete batching plant. After five years his partner left for quieter times. The business could not operate with just one person and Doug was invited by one of his clients, Specified Concrete, a subsidiary of Blue Metal Industries (BMI), to join the company as an engineer.

COMMITTEE OF ONE
Doug would spend the next 27 years with the BMI/Boral group of companies.

Being an engineer led to him becoming the manager of Specified Concrete’s nine concrete plants, which were then located from Helensburgh to Narooma on the NSW south coast. He jokes that because he oversaw 30 truck drivers during this period he lost most of his rapidly greying hair! 

Doug was eventually promoted to a senior position in the parent company’s head office at Artarmon. This would have meant the family having to relocate to the “madhouse” known as Sydney, which was not an option.

The BMI group had held a contract with AIS to process and market its iron and steel slag products for the previous 10 years. This was an operation handling more than one million tonnes of slag per annum. The second 10-year contract was just a year away. To assist in securing this contract, Doug, with his knowledge of the AIS system and personnel, was fortunate to transfer from the concrete division to the quarry division of Blue Metal and Gravel (BMG).

As the south coast sales manager, Doug was responsible for marketing hard rock from the Dunmore Quarry and slag products from AIS.

In 1988, Doug was forced to retire under Boral’s then compulsory rule of retirement for all employees at age 62. This included the managing director at the time, Sir Eric Neal. Doug was allowed one extra year but then had to go. However, he consulted to Boral for one additional year.

The third 10-year AIS slag contract was ultimately lost by Boral, mainly due to changes that required the new contractors to accept the slag in its molten state on the furnace floor, which is a specialist steelworks operation, quite unlike any quarry process.

Doug explores Incan stonework in Peru.
Doug explores Incan stonework in Peru.

The third 10-year AIS slag contract was ultimately lost by Boral, mainly due to changes that required the new contractors to accept the slag in its molten state on the furnace floor, which is a specialist steelworks operation, quite unlike any quarry process.

The new contractor, Detroit-based Australian Steel Mill Services, along with BHP (formerly AIS), decided to establish an association to promote the use of slag products, based loosely on the United States Slag Association formed in 1918.

As part of his consultancy, on behalf of Boral, Doug attended an intensive five-hour meeting of interested and involved companies to investigate this proposal. Doug accepted an offer to form the Australasian Slag Association (ASA) and went on to serve as its executive officer/treasurer for the next 10 years, until his final retirement from paid employment.

Again, this was a self-imposed 24/7 function. He thoroughly enjoyed this stimulating period of the association’s growth, with its local and international membership.

The decade of promoting the use of slag, which in earlier years had been considered a waste product, was close to Doug’s heart, as he has spent more than half a century in the conservation movement, serving as secretary, president and journal editor for several related groups.

Of the many community organisations in which Doug has been involved, he has almost always finished up in some executive position. Doug works well in a team environment but has a long held philosophy that the best committee is a committee of one! 

SAVING LAKE ILLAWARRA
Growing up, Doug spent a good deal of his leisure time on the nearby Lake Illawarra.

He would ride there on his first push bike, and during his apprenticeship he and a friend built kayaks and would spend virtually every weekend on the lake. There were camping trips to Gooseberry Island, formerly the site of biannual dances for the area in the 1920s and ’30s, where the shell of the dance hall still remained.1,2

During the booming post-war years, with poorly controlled subdivisions, plus a lack of sewerage, Doug watched his beloved lake rapidly deteriorate. Both local councils and many state government departments had a “finger in the pie” with the lake’s health but little designated responsibility.

As the years progressed, he talked to anyone who would listen and constantly pestered the two local councils to do something. Eventually, with sections of the lake virtually dying, the State Government was forced to pass the Lake Illawarra Act of 1987, which provided the legislative basis for the Lake Illawarra Authority (LIA).

In 1988, five community representatives were appointed with bureaucrats who were charged with the task of restoring the lake. The Lake Illawarra Authority Act of Parliament overrode all other instrumentalities, and the responsibility for restoring the lake was well and truly on the shoulders of the LIA. It was given a budget, which made it possible to actually achieve results, instead of becoming just another talk-fest, like so many other committees.

This met with Doug’s approval, as it approached his one-member committee philosophy. He was the last original member of the authority and served as its chairman for 24 years. In 1998, Doug was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the community and Lake Illawarra. The State Government closed the LIA in 2013, with the responsibility for care of the lake passing to the two local councils.

To read more on Lake Illawara, click here.3

INSTITUTE AFFILIATIONS
Doug’s involvement in the Institute of Quarrying spans more than 30 years. He still recalls a phone call from one Bruce Blackwell, who had been appointed general manager of BMG following the Boral takeover of BMI. Bruce simply said: “Prosser, I want you to start a sub-branch of the Institute for Illawarra.” And Doug did. 

As a consulting engineer, Doug worked on what is probably Australia’s first mobile concrete batching plant.
As a consulting engineer, Doug worked on what is probably Australia’s first mobile concrete batching plant.

INSTITUTE AFFILIATIONS
Doug’s involvement in the Institute of Quarrying spans more than 30 years. He still recalls a phone call from one Bruce Blackwell, who had been appointed general manager of BMG following the Boral takeover of BMI. Bruce simply said: “Prosser, I want you to start a sub-branch of the Institute for Illawarra.” And Doug did. 

On 1 June, 1982, the Illawarra sub-branch was born. Elected as its secretary/convenor for the first two years, Doug then served as chairman for the next 16 years. He stayed on as secretary, covering minutes of meetings and preparing regular reports for Quarry until earlier this year, when he decided it was time to pass the baton to the younger generation. He is very proud that the Illawarra sub-branch is still arguably one of the Institute’s strongest branches.

Doug served on the IQA’s national council from 1995 to 2005 and on his retirement from the council was appointed an Honorary Fellow. This was after he’d received other accolades, including the Caterpillar Award in 1993 and an IQA Citation in 2000. In more recent times, he received the 2011 Atlas Copco Award for his presentation on indigenous people as the first Australian quarrymen and women.

It was in his time on the IQA Council, during one heritage week, that Doug realised the Institute did not have any archives, despite being formed some 50 years earlier. He also realised that many of his contemporaries were leaving this world and no effort had been made to record their contributions to the industry. His motion to rectify thissituation was met with the expected response of: “Yes, Doug, a good idea, as long as you do it.” 

As a result of Doug’s dedication, the Institute now has an archive of some 180 boxes in secure professional storage. For more than a decade he has been busy with his tape recorder and he has written more than 30 personal stories, with more to come.

A number of these were collected in the tome Men of Stone, published by Gunnamatta Media in 2007. However, Doug says that when a second volume is produced the title will need revision, as the stories of two quarry ladies are now on record!

For many years Doug and Marie enjoyed an annual overseas adventure holiday. Their choice of venue usually concentrated on the wilder places such as Easter Island, the Galapagos, Peru and Machu Pic












ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Hankins
Managing Director • Rivergum Industries

Jim Hankins is the Managing Director of Rivergum Industries, and holds a degree in Mining Engineering. Jim is the Chairman for the Institute of Quarrying Australia – NSW Branch.








Sunday, 19 August, 2018 06:18am
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