Peter Mayo: The travelling quarryman

Peter was born in 1946 in Kew, Melbourne, not long after his father returned home from war service. His first memory of a family home was when they moved to a house in the then new suburb of Box Hill. It was the third house in the street – an unsealed road and, of course, had outside amenities.

His dad was working as an accountant for T&G Insurance but not long after changed jobs to join Burrows Adding Machines as a salesman for ledger machines to the major banks. Peter’s father must have shown unique skills with numbers and the like because in 1955 the company moved the family to Detroit, USA. “Burrows had started to look at those funny things called computers and because of his accounting background wanted him involved,” Peter said.

Peter was nine when his family moved to Detroit for five years. “In 1960, Dad came home to announce the family was to move again,” Peter recalled, “and placed a box of 45RPM records on the table containing a ‘Linguaphone’ language course in German, as the move was to Frankfurt in Germany.”

Peter was just 13 and by this time had three sisters, twins born in 1948 and one in 1954. He said the children thought it was a bit of a joke as they learnt very little from the records!

Although American forces schools were available, his parents sent the children to local schools because they felt they would pick up the language more readily. Peter struggled with the language in German high schools because students also had to study English and Latin. “I was trying to learn Latin from a German teacher when I couldn’t speak German, which confused the issue a fair bit,” Peter said.

{{image2-a:r-w:250}}The company then decided to pay for Peter to go to a boarding school where instead of six half-days a week at high school, from 7:00am to 1:00pm, he was to spend the next two years living full-time with Germans. His German improved to the point that the local village mayor could not pick out the “foreigner” among the students at a school performance.

Peter was 18 when his family returned to Melbourne in 1963 and he attended Swinburne Tech to study for an engineering diploma. Keith Johnston, a good family friend and quarrying identity, asked Peter if he would like a part-time job over Christmas and so Peter’s involvement in the quarry industry began when he joined Jaques Bros’ spare parts division. This led to employment as a trainee draftsman in Jaques’ project drawing office. Peter returned to school to achieve a structural design drafting certificate.

At Jaques, Peter came under the influence of quarry identities including Keith Clugston, Adrian Town and Ted Young. “I started out drawing sticks and ended up drawing full plants,” he said. As Peter became more experienced, he eventually moved to the outside world, where under supervision he commissioned his first crushing plant at Mildura Quarries. After that, he was given his own commissioning project, a plant in Western Samoa. As the company grew, so Peter’s travels increased as he established more plants. He married his wife Beth in 1973 and their son was born in 1976.

After 12 years with Jaques, Peter felt it was time to look further afield. In 1977, he successfully applied for a position as a design draftsman at Rio Tinto’s Hamersley Iron complex. With a one-year old baby and a young wife, Peter packed their car and drove to Western Australia, calling in at Rio’s office in Perth. They were directed to drive 1000 kilometres north to the Nanutara Roadhouse where they received further directions that took them to Karratha, a small, remote town with limited facilities. Dampier was the Hamersley Company town but Karratha gave the Mayos the opportunity to meet a variety of people employed by other companies.

The Mayos’ new home was isolated, being the last house in a very small town. Making social contact was not easy, particularly for Beth, so the office staff arranged a barbeque that helped them make new friends. Peter joined the volunteer fire brigade which also assisted in expanding their contacts. Beth did law at Monash University and was also a qualified librarian. When people at Hamersley asked what Beth did, she was soon appointed librarian at the railway’s company which also arranged day care for their baby.

The location’s isolation is clear when you consider that shopping at a supermarket, in this case Coles, meant a 500km return journey to Port Hedland on a Saturday.

Beth liked to walk when she was pregnant and although the house was air-conditioned, Peter and Beth would walk outdoors at about 3.00am when the ambient temperature was relatively low. Their second baby was born in 1978 when the temperature was 48 degrees. After two years, they felt the isolation was too much.

Peter had maintained contact with friends at Jaques and returned to Melbourne to work with them as an estimator. However, itchy feet and cold winters caused him to look around for other opportunities. He turned down jobs in Kandos and Weipa, again because of their isolation.

He then joined Collinsville Coal, an offshoot of Mount Isa Mines, located near Bowen in northern Queensland. The family spent the next five years there, with Peter becoming involved with coal washing and processing plants as a supervisor. He also joined the newly formed Collinsville open cut rescue service and the local fire brigade.

However, in 1985, the children were due to move on from primary school and the secondary schools in the area did not look attractive to Peter and Beth.

Vickers Ruwolt, which was closing down its Richmond plant in Melbourne and opening one in Ipswich in Queensland, was seeking a design draftsman. After a couple of interviews in Sydney and Melbourne, Peter accepted the offer to become a sales engineer. Later in 1985, he began at a new factory facility at Karrabin, near Ipswich.

{{image3-a:l-w:250}}Shortly after Peter started work, Vickers came to an agreement with Comsteel and the company’s name changed to Comsteel Ruwolt. About 48 hours later, it was announced that ANI had taken over the company because ANI Ruwolt specialised in the manufacture of large cone crushers.

Following the threat of reorganisation with 50 per cent job losses, Peter joined T O’Connor which opened an office in Brisbane, distributing Hazemag impactors and Finnish-based Lokomo crushers. Things were quiet and after a year, he was contacted by an acquaintance at ANI to say the company had settled down. He rejoined ANI as a sales engineer, for not only coal crushers but also Symons crushers.

Space does not permit the many changes in company names and ownership in this period in the quarrying industry – Nordberg Australia, Morgardhammer, Telsmith, Allis-Chalmers, Kew Ken, Kobe, Kawasaki and Austral Mining, etc. Peter’s work travels took him to places such as Singapore, Japan and Europe.

Again, conditions became unstable, even involving the intervention of one Kerry Packer. ANI was eventually taken over by Smorgons, which was not interested in selling crushers, and Peter found himself retrenched for the first time. After a short period involving commissions to report on machines to other companies, he was offered a position with Index, a large company in Brisbane trading in second hand equipment of all types, which was looking for someone who knew crushers. Peter continued to work with Index until his retirement in 2006 at age 60. Beth had retired a couple of years earlier.

Peter has been a stalwart of the IQA since 1986 – some 25 years of representing the suppliers that are so essential to the quarrying industry. This has involved stints as secretary, chairman and speaker’s officer for the Queensland branch. He also served many years together with Dennis Staley as a suppliers’ representative on the IQA Council.

Peter and Beth have attended many IQA annual conferences and he well remembers the impossible task of trying to fit a 45’ cone crusher into the Brisbane Convention Centre in 2004. The crusher won and spent the time on a float outside the hall. In 2011, Peter was appointed secretary/treasurer of the Australian Institute of Quarrying Education Foundation, which indicates the esteem in which the Institute holds him.

As late as September this year, Peter received the IQA Service Award, one of the Institute’s highest accolades, which recognises a person who has given outstanding service to the IQA and to the quarrying industry at large.

Having written many of these personal stories over the past decade, talking to Peter brought home to me once again the role played by many of the wonderful wives of our travelling quarrymen. All too often they are required to sacrifice their own careers and comfortable homes to uproot young families and to set up house in some lonely isolated location while their husband cracks rocks or builds crushing and screening plants.

Was there ever a better proof of that old cliché “Behind every successful man there is always a supportive woman”?

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