In the latest initiative promoting the value of the quarrying industry, IQA general manager Paul Sutton asked us to write a human interest piece about our dual experience in the quarrying industry. We were asked three seemingly simple questions:
- Tell us a little about yourselves and your family.
- Explain your experience in the quarry industry.
- Explain what attracts you to our industry and the IQA.
Given our personal experiences working with some iconic families in the industry, this is quite a humbling opportunity, and we hope our story does it justice.
We are fairly modest guys (well, I am anyway) and I would never have dreamed of having an article on the Pottsy brothers. However, I think it will kick off an ongoing section that will draw some personal interest to Quarry and the industry.
To start with, I would like to make clear for the record that I am the older brother by one year. Because Travis has had such a hard life (look at his knocked-around head!) and wears that scruffy beard, people regularly mistake him as the elder. I thought I would clear that up and look after my little bro.
We come from a large family with an older brother and two younger sisters, so Travis has a severe case of “middle child syndrome”.
Travis and I grew up in the magnificent Illawarra region, which remains an invaluable source of hard rock and sand for the local and Sydney markets. As kids we knew little of these resources that would play such a critical role in our future careers.
We both made it through our schooling years and it quickly became evident that Travis had the brains and I had the brawn. That was fine with me because it is well known that if you have the brawn you also have the looks! Again just have a look at Travis for the evidence.
After I left school I completed my apprenticeship as a shopfitter and detailed joiner, then I worked for two local kitchen manufacturers for 10 years. Having the brawn, I loved working with my hands, and this would eventually lead to my first break into the quarrying industry.
During these 10 years after finishing school, Travis – with the brains – had gone to uni and studied geology. He was pretty successful at licking rocks, and ended up working for Boral in Brisbane.
During his time in Queensland, Travis missed his big brother and decided we should join forces. He had arranged – or set me up as I later saw it – to start as a casual “tail drum cleaner” at Boral’s Narangba Quarry. Not quite knowing what a tail drum was, I finally accepted after several harassing phone calls from him. Also Mum encouraged me to move to protect her little Travie – he was always Mum’s favourite!
I packed up the house and shipped up to Queensland with my wife and six-month old daughter Alyssa for a fresh start, and a great opportunity in a new, exciting industry. It didn’t take me long to learn what a tail drum was in the heat of my first Queensland summer. I was living with Travis for my first three months and during this time he began my love affair with Bundaberg rum.
Even though I was only the “tail drum cleaner”, it was a great opportunity to learn the crushing plant and the process of “turning big rocks into little rocks”. I quickly discovered that this industry was highly addictive and I had never worked in such a tight team environment before. I was in awe of the fact that average knock-around guys and girls can be driving million dollar equipment and operating multi-million dollar fixed plant. I wish I could write a book on some of the characters I bumped into in this industry – as I am sure everyone else in this game could also.
As fate plays its part in life, I reluctantly left sunny Queensland and transferred home to the Illawarra before our second daughter Amber was born. I was, however, lucky enough to transfer within the company to Boral’s Dunmore Quarry. It was at Dunmore that I earned my first leadership role as a production supervisor, and I continued developing my training and education. The gap between the brains and the brawn quickly closed when I completed two Certificate IVs and several IQA PDP courses.
The completion of an IQA PDP course is what first lured me to the IQA. I could appreciate what the Institute stood for and what it had to offer me personally and professionally. Not many industries have such an organisation dedicated to improving their people’s safety, education and opportunities.
I wanted to be a part of this great force and help make this industry better, especially for the younger workers. I took on the position of chairman of the mighty Illawarra sub-branch and have held this for the past three years. It has been an honour to be involved with the Illawarra sub-branch and also the Young Members Network.
I received the ESCO Young Members Award in 2013 and this remains a highlight of my career so far. Not to be outdone on the IQA front, Travis has recently rekindled the Northern Territory branch. Now Travis is quick to boast that his area is “bigger than mine” but everyone knows size doesn’t always count – especially in croc country!
After an 18-month stint as a supervisor helping commission Boral’s newest quarry, Peppertree, I have found myself back at Dunmore, this time playing in the sand at Dunmore Sand and Soil. For everyone who thinks dredging is not quarrying, as I naively did, you are sadly mistaken. The challenges of sand sucking compared with rock squashing are definitely unique!
As I begin this new chapter of my career and look back at the past seven years and my experiences, I am grateful to be involved with such a great industry. It goes to show that with a little hard work, poise and resilience you can write your own future in quarrying.
Craig and I were lucky to grow up on property on the escarpment behind Albion Park. Our lives revolved around everything outdoors for work and for play. We were blissfully unaware that Dad’s hobby of making home-made fireworks (the less said here, the better) would one day create an interest in blowing things up on a much grander scale … and getting paid for it.
My fascination with rocks, which ultimately led me to the quarry industry, began by accident. Every Christmas we would go camping on an old family dairy farm on the headlands at Kiama. One day, while the surf was too rough for rock fishing, Craig and our eldest brother Archie decided to catch crabs instead. They lifted a large rock (latite, to be precise) so I could grab the crabs under it, but they dropped it on my hand and crushed a finger. For the record, we didn’t complete a Take 5, which definitely would have identified them as weaklings, and I wouldn’t have suffered at the hands of their incompetence.
Whilst Craig may claim that I was smaller, so could reach under the rock, the true story is that he was scared of the crabs. He also had a fear of dogs when we were kids, which is why we could only have pet rabbits (until Craig developed an “allergy”, aka phobia, of them too!). So while Craig may claim to have the brawn, this proves it’s more about the size of the fight in the dog than the size of the dog in the fight!
Back on topic, Mum was too busy spoiling our little sisters Jenny and Lauren at Kiama to take me to the doctor, and my hand was too bashed up to fish, so I spent my time scavenging on the rock platforms and found my first fossil. At the age of about eight, this started a lifelong obsession with rocks, fossils and minerals. Given a piece of bumbo latite had crushed my hand, I think I subconsciously vowed to one day return the favour. Following my interests, I studied geology and chemistry at Wollongong University. I was lucky to have great support from Readymix to complete a mapping-based honours project at its Cooma Road Quarry.
From that point on, I was destined to become a quarryman.
I was offered some casual work with Readymix at its raw materials lab at Castlereagh Road Quarry. In my ignorance, the prospect of doing “a couple of thousand” gradings and crushing “a couple of dozen 44 gallon drums of rock” through a lab jaw crusher seemed like a much better prospect than my usual summer job of chipping cotton, rouging sorghum and contract fencing. That was a fortunate misjudgement, for after producing what seemed like 1000 tonnes of aggregate by hand, I was unexpectedly offered a full-time role as a geologist with Boral based in Sydney.
I was extremely fortunate to work with some industry experts on amazing projects such as the expansion of Dunmore Quarry, and I completed the exploration program that led to us buying what later became Peppertree Quarry. I also worked on acquisitions such as Dunmore Sand and Soil.
Fate has more than played its part in our careers in the quarry industry, as seven years later Craig would end up in his first leadership roles at these very sites.
To help thaw out after several months at Marulan, I transferred to Brisbane to work as a geologist and mine planner in Boral’s SEQ Quarries business. This role evolved into project management, as it became more fun to move dirt myself rather than telling others where to do it.
It was during this time that Craig, who is the soft and sensitive member of the family, complained that he was feeling a little lost in his life. After warning him that he’d need to earn his stripes, but selling the potential of the quarry industry, I convinced him to move to Brisbane with his wife Megan and daughter Alyssa. It was my great privilege that they lived with me for a few months, where I got to see Alyssa learn to walk and talk and open her first ever Christmas presents. Better yet, I never changed a single nappy right up until the time that Craigy Boy got homesick for Mummy and Daddy and moved back south.
My career took many twists and turns, working with Boral throughout Queensland and in a number of joint ventures with civil contractors. I was asked to go to Darwin “for a few weeks” to look at growth opportunities in the lead-up to the Inpex project one Thursday evening, and flew up the following Tuesday. Five months later I flew back to Brisbane to pick up my car, and I’ve been based in Darwin as the operations manager of our concrete and quarry business ever since.
During that time, we have taken on major project work to supply Inpex and implemented safety and operational improvement programs. We have also been lucky to have visits and mentoring from Boral’s CEO Mike Kane, who has developed a soft spot for us in the territory (perhaps we remind him of the land of alligators back home in the deep south of the USA?).
All this time I have tried to do my bit for the quarry industry, believing that the IQA is the platform not only for education and networking but also for building engagement in our great industry. While Craig was planning his coup on the Illawarra sub-branch of the IQA, I presented technical papers at CMIC in 2010 and at Mission Beach after Cyclone Yasi.
That experience would help years later when Paul Sutton “invited” me to help reopen the NT branch of the IQA, with me “volunteering” to become the chairman of the branch.
To share a few comparisons of the NT branch with the Illawarra sub-branch:
- We are indeed a branch, not a sub-branch.
- The NT branch encompasses members living across 1.4 million square kilometres, as opposed to the Illawarra, which is half the size of a typical territory cattle station.
- We contend with cute critters such as crocodiles and buffalo, not the ferocious poodles and rabbits down south.
- A winter’s day up here is seldom less than 30°C, and the build-up weather is hotter and more humid than the saunas the metrosexuals down there frequent.
- I personally gave first aid to an employee who was bitten by a snake in our toilet. Craig once had to put a bandaid on a paper cut!
- We move our material in road trains with more than 100-tonne payloads. I think they use trucks the size of our wheelbarrows.
It is the passion people in our industry have that is the biggest attraction to me – quarrying is an identity we wear as a badge of honour. I believe this is an industry in which anybody can succeed. I feel that for Craig and I, it all began at home. It is our family’s values of hard work, loyalty and openness to take on new challenges that allowed us to create our own unique career paths. Perhaps this inaugural family article is just another example of fate insisting that my career in the quarry industry remains intertwined with my big brother’s?