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