Danny Duke: From serviceman to quarryman

Daniel Peter Duke was born in December 1946 at Mount Lawley in Perth, Western Australia. He was always known as Danny but it was not until 40 years later that he became aware that the abbreviated name “Danny” had been passed down from his grandfather, whose true name was Andrew. Andrew’s siblings couldn’t manage “Andy” and found “Danny” easier to say – yet another inexplicable example of the origins of family nicknames!

Danny’s parents were born in Perth from English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh antecedents. His father served in the Second World War in the artillery division and his post-war rehabilitation training was as a linotype operator and printer. However, Danny’s father wanted to be a journalist. He enrolled in TAFE to learn the fundamentals of “writing” before becoming a freelance journalist and ultimately the editor of a provincial newspaper and then a graded journalist with the ABC.

During those post-war years, Danny’s father also served in the Citizens Military Force, which is now known as the Army Reserve, and then transferred to the Regular Army in public relations. Growing up with that military environment clearly had a significant effect on Danny’s later life.

The family moved several times to follow job opportunities and this resulted in many school changes for Danny. He started school in Guildford, WA, in 1951, then moved to schools in Bunbury and Margaret River, then back to Guildford to finish primary school. He started high school in 1960 in Middle Junction and transferred to Subiaco in 1961 before the family moved in late 1961 to Canberra, where Danny finished high school at Lyneham
High School.

“I went to four primary schools and three high schools,” Danny recalled. “With all those changes, I had to either learn to run fast, fight well or talk my way out of trouble. I think those who know me will know which one I chose. Well that’s my excuse, anyway!”

Danny had made the decision while still at high school that he would seek a military career but he could not attend the Officer Cadet School until he was 19.  He decided to go into industry for a “gap year” in 1965. He spent the first six months as a cadet engineer at the Hawker de Havilland training centre in Lidcombe, New South Wales.

Living in boarding houses, starting work at 7.00am and attending university three nights a week all proved too much for someone whose real interest was being an Army officer, so he returned to Canberra to work as a builder’s labourer for the remainder of the year.

In late 1965, Danny received the news he wanted most – his acceptance to attend the Australian Army’s Officer Cadet School (OCS) at Portsea, Victoria. In January 1966, he entered the OCS and in December of that year he graduated as a second lieutenant in the Royal Australian Engineers, his first choice of corps. Danny was to stay in the Regular Army for the next 12 years, in a range of roles, including command, administration and training. The latter was a significant influence on his post-Army career.

Danny said during his first year after graduation he learnt an important lesson that he has since relearned several times.

“Most times we have people working for us who know more about getting the job done than we do ourselves,” he said. “What is important is that you listen to what your experienced people have to say, take their advice and then they expect you to make the decision. It is your decision and if things don’t work out, you take the kick in the behind.”

Danny’s training and employment included a stint in Army Water Transport that included the Army’s fleet of cargo and transport vessels, designed to support the troops in the islands and along the coast. His training included a trip on the largest of the Army’s ships, John Monash, to East Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

This was one of Danny’s most memorable experiences in the Army – 10 weeks, mainly at sea, but with time ashore in Vung Tau in Vietnam and Subic Bay in the Philippines. Subic Bay was the home base for the US Seventh Fleet and had substantial facilities, including at least three officers’ messes. One night in one of these areas, the local band was playing songs such as Deep in the Heart of Texas and other US state and city classics.

The Aussies called out: “How about Waltzing Matilda?” The band didn’t know it, so at the insistence of his mates the brash 22-year-old Danny borrowed the rhythm guitar and performed Waltzing Matilda for the Americans. Having done that once, the Americans insisted he repeat his performance later in the night. After a few more beers, Danny did Waltzing Matilda plus a full bracket of all the songs he knew. That was his first and last public performance.

But it was not to be all play, and in 1969 Danny started a civil engineering course at the NSW Institute of Technology (now the University of Technology, Sydney). His commanding officer allowed him to go to classes in lieu of participating in regulation Wednesday afternoon sport. So Danny spent one afternoon plus three nights a week at the institute. However, if the rugby team was short of players, the team had to take precedence!

A Ukrainian New Year’s Eve party in Canberra was the beginning of the end of single life for Danny. It was a great party and he asked his Ukrainian-Australian mate if there were similar Ukrainian parties in Sydney. There were, and in 1968 at a Ukrainian “Hawaiian” night in a little hall in Lidcombe, Danny met Ukrainian beauty Anne. Never one to waste time, Danny married Anne the following year on Anzac Day, 1969.

Space does not permit detailing Danny’s progress in the Army. Suffice to say, he loved the life and was rewarded with promotions through captain’s rank to major.

However, decision time came in 1978, when he was about to be posted to Canberra and then to Staff College in Victoria a year later, followed by other moves around Australia or abroad, as required by the Army.

As many other servicemen and indeed quarrymen have experienced, this would involve the disruption of family life. Danny chose family interests over the career he loved and after long consideration decided to leave the Army – but only if he could obtain a suitable position in civilian life.

This did not prove to be the problem he thought it might be and with his qualifications, experience and some good luck he accepted a position with Blue Metal Industries’ (BMI) technical services department in January 1979.

This department project managed and provided technical advice for all major capital expenditure projects within BMI, including quarries, concrete, bricks, tiles, timber, asphalt and transport.

Danny’s first major job was to manage the design, construction and commissioning of the upgrade of the Yarramundi Plant at the BMG Emu Plains Quarry. This was followed by managing the design, construction and commissioning of a new primary washing and sand plant at Emu Plains. This was the start of Danny’s engagement with the quarry industry.

Danny found his Army training and experience to be invaluable when planning these operations, for which a minimum shutdown period was critical and it was usual to have a number of contractors and other departments on-site at the same time.

“The key was to give an overview to all concerned and assign jobs to each group and how to interface with each other and outline the administration, management and communications arrangements,” Danny said.

“This way everyone knew what their job was and everybody else’s job was and how they interacted. To this day most of those involved did not realise they had being given ‘military orders’.”

Before the second Emu Plains project was completed, the position of quarry manager became available. Initially Danny did not apply as he thought his Army qualifications and industry experience wouldn’t cover the requirements of a manager of such a large quarry.

Even though Emu Plains didn’t involve blasting, the regulations required that the quarry manager had to hold a shotfirer’s qualification. The chief inspector of mines gave Danny an exemption from that requirement based on his military explosives training and experience and he was appointed to the position, becoming responsible for 100 men and a 1.5 million tonnes per annum gravel and sand operation.

His time at Emu Plains coincided with the takeover of BMI by Boral and the 1980s recession, the latter requiring massive cutbacks of production and staff to match market conditions.

{{image5-w:200}}{{image6-w:200}}{{image7-w:200}}Danny acknowledges that at Emu Plains he gained a substantial part of his knowledge of quarrying and its people. Emu Plains will be remembered by many as a family quarry with, for instance, three generations of the one family employed at the same time. The Pearsons have logged up 300 years of service and are still counting.


But Emu Plains was not always smiles. Shortly after Danny assumed full control as manager, a group of half a dozen union representatives burst into his office shouting demands about actual or alleged grievances.

“For once I sat there and said nothing until the noise finally stopped,” Danny recalled. “Then I quietly said, ‘This is my office, and you’re always welcome, but I expect visitors to knock on my door before being invited in. Now, would you please leave the room and start all over again?’ ”

This rather startled the representatives and they started to walk out, only to be stopped by Danny, who asked them to sit down. “We are now going to start a new relationship,” Danny went on to say. “Firstly, you may not be aware that it is the responsibility of those in leadership positions in the Army to ensure that those working for them get all of their entitlements and I will do the same here.

“I want to be your advocate, not your adversary. Secondly, if shouting is to be the norm, then after 13 years of commanding troops on parade grounds I have been trained to shout and I can probably out shout you all. In future, however, there will be no shouting on either side. My door is always open to you, provided normal courtesies are adhered to and I will ensure you get what you are entitled to but always keep your ‘claims’ factual.”

That is how things worked from then on.

While at Emu Plains, Danny was appointed as officer commanding 5 Field Squadron (an Army Reserve unit) at Penrith and undertook a graduate diploma in administration at the NSW Institute of Technology. He did this graduate diploma to provide him with training in business management, which was not part of his Army training and experience.

It is normal practice in the Army for officers to be moved to new appointments every two years or so to provide them with a breadth of experience. After three years at Emu Plains, Danny felt it was time to move on. The company tried to help and offered senior positions interstate but Danny again chose family considerations over career and sought employment elsewhere.

In 1985, Danny applied for and was accepted as NSW regional operations manager for Monier Sands (now Rocla Quarry Products). He spent the next nine years there, which sounds contradictory to his “three year body clock”, but the position was one of constant change and challenges.

It involved such diverse activities as substantial modifications to the Bungendore plant, the acquisition of Kurnell and the implementation of changes on that site, the acquisition of Compton Park on the NSW Southern Highlands and the subsequent development application process and the acquisition, planning and development of operations at Bell and Mittagong.

In 1994, Danny was transferred to Rocla’s quarry products division head office at Chatswood in the national role of operations improvement manager, essentially as an internal consultant. This included managing the division’s operational improvement, vocational training and capital programs.

In 2001, Rocla was undergoing substantial change after being acquired by a venture capital company and in the process of the company restructure Danny’s position became redundant. The move forced his hand, as for some years he had been contemplating the rather dramatic change of becoming a consultant. Now the decision had been made for him and so Duke Consulting Services was born and commenced trading on 1 July, 2001. It was a redundancy without acrimony and his first client was his old firm Rocla.

Whereas Danny thought the main area of his consultancy would be operational improvement, it has turned out to be vocational training – a flashback to the Army, where he first learnt about and worked on competency-based vocational training and assessment.

Danny had always been interested in training others, which began during his Army service in the 1960s. In corporate employment, he was involved as a coach and assessor in Rocla’s Frontline Management program.

During this time he also became the NSW Quarry Masters Association’s representative on the NSW Mining ITAB, which was followed by representing the Institute of Quarrying as nominated director on the National Mining ITAB. Since that time he has become deeply involved in all aspects of competency based training and assessment for the industry and the Institute.

While working for Rocla, Danny served on the steering committee for the development of the quarry industry’s first national training package. As a consultant he reviewed all the operational units in that initial training package and more recently was part of the team that consolidated the metalliferous and coal mining, extractive, drilling and civil construction training packages into what is now the resources and infrastructure training package.

In the past six years, Danny has organised industry study tours to Europe every two years that have included time at major trade shows and factory and quarry site visits. A measure of the success of these tours is the number of couples who have participated in several of them. Perhaps including Munich, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Stockholm on the itinerary has influenced the repeat attendance.

Danny has been a staunch supporter of the Institute of Quarrying since he joined in 1982 and became a fellow in 1986. He was elected onto the NSW branch committee in 1984 and has been involved in that branch and its Sydney region sub-branch ever since, including a stint as branch chairman.

As a member of the IQA Education Committee, he served on the working party that developed the Institute’s Quarry Management Certification System (QMCS), which provides a system of professional recognition for quarry supervisors and managers. He believes that when this system is more widely recognised and accepted by the regulators, then industry take-up will follow and it will be the major feature of the Institute as the professional body for the quarry industry.

It is fair to say most Institute committee members dread the prospect of it being their turn to organise a national conference. Danny seems to revel in the task and he has been staunchly supported by wife Anne who ensured the ladies’ programs were first class and popular. Between them, they played a major role in the three Sydney conferences in 1986, 1994 and 2001. Danny was also on the committee for the Construction Materials Industry Conference in Sydney in 2008.

Incidentally, Anne was declared “Belle of the Ball” at the Institute’s 1988 bicentennial conference in Canberra, a deserving winner.

Danny said it was a great honour when he was elected as the Institute’s national president, and he served in that capacity from 2001 to 2003. This was a major challenge, as the appointment coincided with the first two years of his infant consultancy. Danny also greatly treasures the fact that for his service to the Institute and the industry he was made an honorary fellow of the Institute in 2009.

Danny’s consultancy is still heavily occupied in many aspects of competency training for the industry. His retirement is still some years off but he believes that while in the future he will still be involved in the industry it will be at a less frenetic pace.

It’s hard to imagine this military man and quarryman ever really retiring – or working at a less frenetic pace! •

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend