FAREWELL WAR­REN

Com­mu­nity gath­ers to re­mem­ber one of the most gen­er­ous busi­ness­man the Fraser Coast has ever seen

Fraser Coast Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE -

A PACKED Brolga Theatre was a tes­ta­ment to the in­tegrity, char­ac­ter and gen­eros­ity of fam­ily man, busi­ness­man and phi­lan­thropist War­ren Per­sal.

About 1000 peo­ple gath­ered yes­ter­day to re­mem­ber the life of a man who worked hard, loved his fam­ily, built an em­pire and gave back to the com­mu­nity in a way the Fraser Coast had never seen be­fore.

From hum­ble be­gin­nings and fac­ing many tri­als, the tri­umphant story of War­ren’s suc­cess in busi­ness and in life is noth­ing short of in­spi­ra­tional.

When you read his life story, you will learn from an early age that War­ren made up his mind to win, and never knew the word ‘im­pos­si­ble’.

HE WAS dev­as­tated and be­wil­dered. His beau­ti­ful young wife had died from a blood clot a few days after giv­ing birth to their first child. Rarely in his life would War­ren Per­sal ever feel such a sense of help­less­ness.

He had lost his part­ner, had a new baby to care for and his job was way out west, build­ing power lines in the dirt and the dust, the heat and the cold.

His mother Josephine stepped in, say­ing she would look after her new grand­son Gra­ham. Her son should go back out west and work through his grief.

War­ren might have al­ways been des­tined to be­come a le­gendary fig­ure in build­ing power lines on the coal­fields and the Fraser Coast’s most gen­er­ous bene­fac­tor but his fam­ily be­lieve the ex­pe­ri­ence had a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence in shap­ing his ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments.

“He and my mother had a plan to suc­ceed,” said Gra­ham. “When she died he felt he couldn’t stop – he had to hon­our that prom­ise.”

Over the next 50 years War­ren be­came syn­ony­mous with in­tegrity, ca­pa­bil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity as he built thou­sands of kilo­me­tres of high trans­mis­sion power lines in Queens­land. His word was an iron-clad guar­an­tee. His knowl­edge of the in­dus­try, equip­ment and lo­gis­tics was star­tling: he knew what could be done and he de­liv­ered.

Said sec­ond son Brian: “The bot­tom line was ‘Get the job done’. Re­gard­less.”

Brian’s sis­ter Janet added: “And it al­ways had to be good qual­ity and on time.”

In a tough busi­ness work­ing in re­mote and dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, War­ren pros­pered on the back of an in­tensely loyal work­force. Back home quiet sto­ries emerged in the com­mu­nity about sur­pris­ing acts of gen­eros­ity for staff, old friends and other in­di­vid­u­als in need.

He val­ued his pri­vacy and looked for no recog­ni­tion but he paid for an ex­pen­sive op­er­a­tion here, a uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion there, sup­plied man­power or ma­chin­ery else­where. Wi­d­ows and fam­i­lies bat­tling fi­nan­cial hard­ship had a help­ing hand.

Be­yond the power lines, another leg­end was tak­ing shape. War­ren was look­ing after his own in the com­mu­nity he loved dearly. How many in­di­vid­u­als were helped will re­main a mys­tery but over the next 30 years he be­came one of the great­est bene­fac­tors in the his­tory of the Fraser Coast.

His de­voted wife of 47 years, Rae­lene, and her chil­dren agreed the fig­ure would be in the thou­sands. “He liked to give. But we prob­a­bly only knew about 20 per cent of it.” The lar­rikin son of John and Josephine Per­sal was born in Mary­bor­ough in 1942. His ebul­lient school days were marked by fun pranks but he could walk into ex­ams and earn high grades – an in­di­ca­tion of a re­mark­able mem­ory and as­sim­i­la­tion of de­tail that would char­ac­terise his busi­ness abil­ity and so­cial net­works.

As a teenager he worked with his fa­ther build­ing power lines in south-west Queens­land be­fore start­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship with ‘Nutty’ Watkins. At night he would make box trail­ers to sell.

“He was al­ways look­ing for a way to make a dol­lar,” said Gra­ham. “He would work 24 hours a day to do it.

“With Watkins Elec­tri­cal they would use an Ariel and a side­car with a 12ft lad­der along the side. Dad used to be in the side­car and they would head off to the Bay or some­where to do a job.”

After fin­ish­ing his ap­pren­tice­ship as an elec­tri­cian he went to work with his fa­ther con­tract­ing to build power lines through­out the Wide Bay and Bur­nett, dig­ging holes with a bar and shovel and stand­ing poles with a shear leg crane on a Bed­ford truck. He bought two high­way bor­ers on Bed­ford trucks and in 1973 bought his first pro­line borer lifter on a C1800 in­ter­na­tional truck. War­ren also found time for fish­ing, crab­bing and wa­ter-ski­ing. He loved mo­tor­bikes, per­haps a lit­tle too well: ru­moured to have clocked the fastest time along the length of Kent St he also long rued the day when he was fined a month’s worth of wages for un­due noise at The Pocket.

In 1964 he mar­ried Glo­ria Har­vey and was work­ing build­ing power lines around In­june and Miles. After her tragic death two years later, he ploughed his en­ergy into his work.

Tragedy struck the Per­sal fam­ily again early in 1970 when his younger brother Bernie died in a road crash.

A bless­ing also came that year when he mar­ried nurse Rae­lene Keene of Howard, a quiet pil­lar of strength in the chal­leng­ing early days in western Queens­land who shared her hus­band’s unswerv­ing val­ues as his em­pire grew.

“Life with War­ren was flat out all the time,” says Rae­lene.

Soon after they were mar­ried they were mak­ing reg­u­lar trips out west, liv­ing in car­a­vans with Gra­ham and Janet, born in 1971. Oc­ca­sion­ally they rented a house but a car­a­van was usu­ally their home as they went to where the con­tracts were. The no-frills life­style of­ten in­cluded no roads. A con­tract with MIM de­liv­er­ing power to the Kianga mine near Moura in the early 1970s sig­nalled the start of a lu­cra­tive as­so­ci­a­tion with the coal­fields. The Per­sal rep­u­ta­tion grew as War­ren left no stone un­turned to de­liver qual­ity on time.

In his spare time he took his build­ing tools to Her­vey Bay to build the Pine Lodge and Sil­ver Sands units. His fa­ther John had al­ready built the Pa­cific View units. By 1973 War­ren and Rae­lene were ready to build their first home. It was go­ing to be made of tim­ber in John St but War­ren de­cided if a Moura mine con­tract in the wings came through it would be brick. Brick it was. War­ren’s young fam­ily con­tin­ued to travel with him to jobs, grow­ing to three when Brian was born in 1975. Life had another cruel blow in store that year: John Per­sal drowned in a fish­ing boat tragedy off Break­sea Spit on Fraser Is­land.

Five years later War­ren looked around for a ho­tel in­vest­ment and set­tled on the Car­ri­ers Arms Ho­tel, car­ry­ing out ex­ten­sive re­mod­elling and in­stalling An­gus Robert­son as man­ager while he con­tin­ued to build power lines in the mines and be­yond. The early 1980s was a piv­otal time as the min­ing boom started. It was a case of get big or get out. War­ren bit the bul­let and kept de­liv­er­ing qual­ity.

He took power to Bur­ke­town, to the Ok Tedi mine in Pa­pua New Guinea and to the dam pump at Lake Ar­gyll. In 1987 he built three sec­tions of the Bris­bane to Rock­hamp­ton rail elec­tri­fi­ca­tion scheme. In 1990 Per­sal and Co crews raised more than 1000 poles in six months in a 340km line from Kid­ston to Nor­man­ton. He was in­no­va­tive, took risks and tack­led com­plex con­tracts, such as the Cape Up­start pro­ject where lines had to be laid with he­li­copters.

In­vest­ing in his home com­mu­nity suited him: he had a pas­sion for the Fraser Coast, keep­ing his main head­quar­ters in Mary­bor­ough, cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple and buy­ing lo­cal when­ever he could. Staff loy­alty at Per­sal and Co was in­tense and the back­bone of

(War­ren Per­sal’s) bot­tom line was ‘Get the job done’. Re­gard­less. — son, Brian

cus­tomer ser­vice. If a power emer­gency arose on a big site on Christ­mas Eve and a crew or equip­ment was needed ur­gently, it would be done. War­ren con­tin­ued to in­vest in the Fraser Coast, set­ting up a hire busi­ness net­work and in 2014 buy­ing the Beach House Ho­tel at Scar­ness.

Brian says War­ren was driven by “good old Aussie have a go” and was al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties. Janet said de­spite his ex­ten­sive and in­ten­sive work, “Dad was al­ways about fam­ily.” Al­though, she added, they never had a hol­i­day in a car­a­van. He had enough of car­a­van­ning in the early days. He in­sisted that each of his three chil­dren went out in the world and “work it out for your­self” be­fore he would give them a job. They read­ily ad­mit he could be a hard taskmas­ter but saw him as a good teacher. Per­sal and Co. busi­nesses have given valu­able spon­sor­ship to sports clubs, re­gional events, mu­seum and Fraser Coast book pub­li­ca­tions. He pro­vided cranes and con­tain­ers to re­move and re­place St Paul’s bells when they were re­fur­bished and was the main spon­sor for the Dun­can Chap­man statue, ex­tend­ing that to be a part­ner in the sec­ond stage to be built this year.

He also spon­sored the statue of St Peter at the Uran­gan boat har­bour, the memo­rial to fish­er­men lost at sea. The name of his fa­ther John Per­sal is among those on the base of the statue.

On his of­fice wall he kept a sign, “A man who makes up his mind to win does not know the word ‘Im­pos­si­ble’,” which sums up his courage in busi­ness but on the Fraser Coast War­ren will al­ways be re­mem­bered as the man with a big heart who made his re­gion a bet­ter place.

In 2016 his achieve­ments and his role as a bene­fac­tor to thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions in the re­gion was recog­nised when he was named Fraser Coast Ci­ti­zen of the Year.

War­ren is sur­vived by his wife Rae­lene, his chil­dren Gra­ham, Janet and Brian and his six grand­chil­dren, Re­becca and Kelsey, Natasha and Kait­lyn and twins Lach­lan and Madi­son.

WAR­REN’S BEST FRIEND: Se­cu­rity dogs at Per­sal and Co in­dus­trial premises had a high turnover as War­ren quickly grew fond of them and took sev­eral al­sa­tians home, say­ing “He might get lonely at night.” His adored Kobi, a con­stant com­pan­ion at work and home in his last years, is shown with War­ren and Rae­lene at their Her­vey Bay home.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

FAM­ILY WAS EV­ERY­THING: War­ren and Rae­lene with chil­dren Gra­ham, Janet and Brian.

LAR­RIKIN DAYS: Mo­tor­bike riders War­ren (right) and Mick Pohlmann reck­oned Hazel Davies’ scooter was just a toy.

THE EARLY DAYS: Work at Moura in the mid-1970s sig­nalled the start of a lu­cra­tive as­so­ci­a­tion with the coal­fields.

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