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John Fahey: Industry Icon farewells quarrying

John Fahey made his curtain call last year as he officially retired from the quarrying industry. He tells Quarry about life, achievements, and hopes for the sector’s future.

In speaking with John Fahey, he’s remarkably modest about the results of an extensive career in Queensland’s quarrying sector.

But that would overlook a career in quarrying that spanned more than four decades, which included business success and a legacy as chairman of the Institute of Quarry Australia’s North Queensland branch.

Many within the sector consider him to have a stellar reputation and a trusted voice on issues that face the industry.

While he spent some time in construction and earthmoving after university, quarrying always managed to lure him back.

“I just wanted to be able to see the stuff on the ground; I wanted to feel the earth,” he said.

“I get great satisfaction in working with the unknown. It is the same with quarrying; every site is different, every development is different.”

Fahey has spent a vast amount of his quarrying career at the helm of BQC Quarries, which also has BQC Sands and Burdekin Concrete within its group.

The family-run business has made its reputation by serving the Burdekin, Bowen, and Whitsundays areas for major infrastructure since 1974.

Fahey said the business, a partnership of three families, had been well-served by its local community.

“We virtually grew with the industry and grew with the demand in the district and the local demand,” he said.

“We didn’t have to travel too far at all; we looked after our local market and defended it vehemently.”

A younger John Fahey with batcher Scott McGregor, and plant manager Ron Sullivan in 1984. Image: John Fahey

INDUSTRY CHANGES

While there have been significant changes in equipment and technology for the industry over that time, Fahey sees government legislation as one of the fundamental changes during his career.

“We’re pretty well regulated and very regulated as an industry; it is a matter of making sure we conform and keep up to date with all that stuff,” he said.

“That is where the Institute of Quarrying Australia (IQA) has been great in helping us stay on top of it.

“It has been a big improvement in a lot of things; I don’t always agree with the changes and specifications, but apart from that, everything has been for the better.”

Fahey is well-placed to understand the role of the IQA within the quarrying sector.

Fahey was there for the early beginnings of the North Queensland branch, which opened in 1982. Ken Fletcher set up North Queensland as a branch rather than a sub-branch, and after one meeting, Fahey was signed up as a member.

“The annual conferences were a really good affair; the wives were involved, and it was like a great big family meeting; you were able to catch up with people you hadn’t seen,” he said.

“It was more about the camaraderie than anything, and the North Queensland branch was more of a family affair as well; it was really good.”

He also witnessed The Institute of Quarrying (Australia Division) being incorporated as the IQA and becoming the first affiliated body with the Institute of Quarrying in 1994.

At the time, Fahey was serving as the chair of the North Queensland branch and believed the change was a definitive moment.

“It meant we were able to be responsible for our own money and control it, which led to the education committee being set up and courses being launched at Box Hill,” he said.

“It gave the institute control but allowed them to go into the education, which everyone was keen on, and it went pretty seamlessly.”

Depending on who you talk to within quarrying, they may come up with a few different topics about the key issues that face the sector.

For Fahey, he sees one of the critical issues as perception.

He recounted when his daughter went to school, her teacher insinuated to her that her dad was an “environmental vandal” on account of his occupation.

“People sometimes don’t actually appreciate what is involved in quarrying; they think you just dig a hole and throw it on the back of a truck and charge a lot of money for it,” he said.

“There is a lot more involved in getting there, and I know all the community sees is a problem sometimes with dust problems or noise problems, but we’ve been lucky enough with our communities.”

Fahey and his team at BQC Quarries took it upon themselves to help change that perception by inviting the school students and teachers into the quarry.

In what became a regular occurrence, the quarry team showed students what they did and how much the local community relied on the quarry.

It remains one of Fahey’s best memories from his long career.

“The best part was some of the drawings the kids did after the tour of their interpretations of the quarry and the gear within it,” he said.

“It was a great experience being able to see all of that.”

John Fahey with his son, Lawrence, the current operations manager at BQC Quarries. Image: John Fahey

FAMILY TIES

Fahey also has a link closer to home to the North Queensland branch: his son, Lawrence, served as the North Queensland chair until recently and remains on the committee.

Lawrence also followed in his father’s footsteps in business and currently serves as the operations manager of BQC Quarries.

“As long as he thought he could handle it, I was happy for him to take the job; he has been a good chairman. It has been good for him,” Fahey said.

“He’s adapted all of his skills to the quarrying game quite quickly. I’ve been side by side with him, but he has learned incredibly quickly.

“He’s done quite well and probably brought us into the 21st century as a business and made us a lot more professional.”

Fahey announced his official retirement from the industry late last year after spending the previous year and a half transitioning with plans to travel and holiday next year.

“Even though I am retired, I think I’ll still take an interest in quarrying.” •

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