Load & Haul

Gary Basford: Between two worlds

Born in Sydney in 1947, Gary’s education continued in 1955 at the Stafford State School when the family moved to Queensland. His father was a state manager for a company distributing food and other grocery products. Gary did well at primary school, thanks he said to a very tough teacher in his final primary school year. He moved onto the newly opened Everton Park State High School which recently celebrated its Golden Jubilee. 
Glenn Wheatley and Geoffrey Rush were fellow students. Gary’s family were not wealthy and at times throughout his school years encouraged him to think about work. Fortunately he had teachers who encouraged him to continue his studies at higher levels. At one stage he was tempted to join BHP as a trainee metallurgist at Port Kembla but mustered the finances via a Commonwealth scholarship to go to the University of Queensland, undertaking a three-year Bachelor of Science degree. He graduated in 1967.
If you believe in genetics and blood lines, it was during the first year in university that Gary realised his love of geology. The Basford family already had strong ties to the mining industry. His great-grandfather had migrated to Australia from Wales in the late 1800s. He discovered some of the coal deposits in the Cessnock and Maitland regions because of the geological and prospecting skills he had in recognising coal seams in surface outcrops. His son, Gary’s grandfather, was a highly respected mining engineer in the coal industry. He opened the Rothbury Colliery in 1914 and was its first manager, going on to build the whole Rothbury mining complex and township.
{{image2-a:r-w:200}}Gary’s mother was of Welsh extraction with the characteristic surname of Thomas. The main street of Rothbury is Thomas Street. Gary said she tells of her memories of the early days with the floods  in Maitland and also in 1929, a 16 month long union labour lockout culminating in the “Bloody Battle of Rothbury”. On the happier side, she occasionally asked Gary if the Tulloch and Tyrell families she knew well as a child still make wine there. It’s not surprising that Gary’s genetic inheritance kicked in and geology, in its many and varied forms, became his life’s objective and indeed fulfilment. It may also explain why he enjoys a red wine indulgence.
Gary said that he met his wife Lyndsay in his final year of university. “She was doing her arts degree and teaching diploma, leaving uni to begin teaching her speciality in ancient history,” Gary recalled. “When we travel overseas now, particularly in the Middle East, we find we are stars of the group, with Lyn talking ancient history – she can even read hieroglyphics to some degree – while I give a run down on geology.”
{{image3-a:l-w:200}}The selection for national service for 20 year old males based on a birthday lottery (drawn marbles) was in operation when Gary turned 20 in 1967. In his final year at university, he arranged to postpone his service for a year to complete his degree. He was able to complete university by virtue of a scholarship from Queensland’s Main Roads Department where his life as a public servant engineering geologist began.
The initial six months employment with Main Roads was, strangely enough, Gary’s first connection with the quarrying industry, an association which in many ways remained throughout his working life. His first task was carrying out the investigation and fieldwork for the senior main roads geologist looking for a quarry site in the Warwick area.
By this time, Gary hoped the army had forgotten about him but inevitably he received the call to report for national service in mid-1968. He was one of a small group of 13 selected from his recruit training battalion for the Officer Training Unit at Scheyville, near Windsor, NSW. Then came six months of tough, intensive training designed to prepare young officers to be capable of commanding a 33-man infantry platoon or other equivalent corp for active service in Vietnam.
The pass rate for this course was only 60 per cent and Gary said it changed him from being a bit of a “tearaway lad” into “officer material”, teaching him the teamwork and leadership skills that were to shape the rest of his life. One of his classmates was the former Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett, with former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer another earlier officer graduate. This small group who survived this largely army “experiment” to quickly train good officers still celebrates frequently at reunions what was a life changing six month experience for all of them.
With less than 10 months of his two year service to go and with only two weeks’ notice, Gary was sent to Vietnam to replace a wounded officer in the Royal Australian Artillery. His tour of duty was tough, operating in and around remote fire support bases, supporting infantry operations. Gary was offered a further short term commission on attractive terms but chose to return to civilian life.
Gary and Lyndsay had become engaged by the time he left for Vietnam but postponed their marriage until he safely returned. They eventually married in August 1970. Gary is quite bitter about the attitude of fellow citizens to the troops that returned from the Vietnam War. Gary said he has not suffered to the same degree that many other returned servicemen have but on retirement he joined Legacy as a volunteer as he felt he should be doing something to help others. He has subsequently been entrusted with supporting conflict widows, from the Second World War through to current conflicts.
Although Brisbane was home base with Main Roads, Gary also spent considerable time in Townsville and Toowoomba as well as many outback areas of Queensland. His speciality was finding construction materials required for major road projects, bridges and associated engineering and infrastructure work. His early days from about 1971 onwards were what he called “frontier days”, with new beef roads being built in remote areas of Queensland. Also included were mining projects such as the Greenvale Nickel Project with its associated township and air strip.
{{image4-a:l-w:200}}A defining period in Gary’s career in Main Roads came with the increasing shortage of naturally occurring road materials as well as a recognition that the Department’s specifications were not adequate for the materials coming out of the existing quarries at that time. Gary was chosen to head up an R&D project which led him to visit virtually every operating hard rock quarry in Queensland. In the process, he met many significant figures in the private sector. Amongst those were IQA stalwarts such as John Malempre, Mike Cooper, Frank Seymour and the inimitable Syd Hill. 
Defining the rock types and designing appropriate specifications based on these rock types and their engineering construction material properties were the hard yards that Gary and the Main Roads covered from 1986 to 1990 in that R&D project.
Quite probably, as a result of this prolonged technical contact with the private quarrying companies, Gary was invited to join CSR in 1994 as its senior geotechnical manager and so began his career for the next 15 years away from the public service. Gary has been asked many times just what the difference is between the two working worlds of public service and private enterprise. “In its simplest form, in the public service there are always management layers above you when it comes to significant decision making,” he replied.
In private industry, Gary quickly understood that he was working closely with the senior management who were prepared to listen to expertise and divert a lot of the critical decision making downward before mutually arriving at final decisions. Gary was appreciative of this team management approach and being left largely on his 
own to perform but did say it was accepted anyone can make a mistake — but don’t make two! 
Realisation of just how different life was going to be in CSR came quickly to Gary when, a year or so after joining the company, he was asked to look at a private quarry which was up for sale. He did so and in due course the regional general manager asked Gary at a critical decision meeting whether or not they should buy the quarry. Gary’s first response was to say: “We’re looking at a couple of million dollars here.” 
{{image5-a:r-w:200}}The GM’s response was simply: “You’ve been there, you have written a couple of reports, so do we — or don’t we?” Gary realised there was nobody to bounce the problem off — no back-up – no other layers of bureaucracy as in government. From now on life was going to be different. Incidentally, Gary’s answer was “No”, which proved to be correct.
Gary thrived on the autonomy of his work and with constant time constraints he worked on building up a circle of trusted consultants. He believes that the skills drummed into him back in his tough officer training school in the national service days helped him to lead teams to obtain results and not just produce reports for management requirements. Gary proudly stated  that some of his most enjoyable days with Readymix were the dedicated quarry managers’ training courses.“I was involved in teaching the fundamentals in geology, source rock assessment and quarry development planning and approval processes,” he recalled. “Mutual relationships built with those quarry managers still remain.  At IQA branch meetings you catch up with those managers you helped in training and have a good laugh about various things that happened on the courses and things that I may have taught them. I take a lot of pride out of that.”
This also involved considerable involvement with Cement Concrete Aggregates Australia, assisting in creating a better understanding of such products as manufactured sands and the skid resistance of aggregates. Working with the CCAA and other groups meant close contact with opposition companies and of course government departments and the Institute.
Gary became actively involved in the IQA’s Queensland branch, stepping in at the deep end early by being made responsible for organising guest speakers at meetings. With his background, he had no trouble arranging very relevant presentations. He was also called on to give papers himself at Launceston in 1998 and at the Sunshine Coast in 2004. 
Gary remains active with the IQA’s Queensland branch and is a regular meeting attendee, keeping in touch with the industry and the many people with whom he has built friendships over the years. His involvement at the Sunshine Coast conference covered much more than giving a paper on the geology of the Bli Bli Quarry. Gary also escorted the delegates on a site visit, whereby he was able to explain the layout of the quarry, its benches and the geology of the working faces.
Gary’s tenure with CSR included the period when the company demerged to form CSR as a sugar entity and the Readymix Rinker Company. This was soon to be taken over by the Cemex Group which subsequently sold its Australian business to Holcim.
Although Gary retired early at age 61, he continued part-time in his private consultancy Geobas Consulting Pty Ltd and is still well respected in the industry today. He has fixed ideas on how to live retirement. First and most important, he said, is to devote one third of your time to your family. With his wife, two sons and four grandchildren, this would be a pleasure and not a problem. The second third of your time should be for volunteer community work, which in Gary’s case is his volunteer work with Legacy and with his wife in View Club which supports The Smith Family. The third segment of time should be for yourself – that is, your hobby if you have one. He says golf is not his hobby but he does play club golf twice a week.
As mentioned above, Gary and his wife love to travel and count Antarctica and Ecuador on the list of the many places they have visited. In 2012, they embarked on two overseas trips. Gary has also spoken about writing a memoir on his time in the war days of Vietnam and his subsequent thoughts on the treatment of returned servicemen.
Freed of the confines of a lifetime working between the private and public sectors of the construction materials industry, Gary has now embarked on a life in which he has more control over his destiny, even down to being able to continually supporting his team of Legacy ladies and their families who have lost their loved ones in the defence and service of the nation. •
Doug Prosser is a Fellow of the IQA.

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