LOOKING BACK: HAYDN SLATTERY
In his eight years at the Mossman Sugar Mill, Haydn Slattery has led the plant through interesting times, as he told Moya Stevens
Far North Queensland is a long way from his birth town of Broken Hill, but Haydn Slattery has made it his home for the past eight years. This week, however, he leaves to take on new challenges in Brisbane.
Haydn was in his mid-teens when his family moved from Broken Hill to Melbourne, and on completion of his schooling he took a job with CSR at Yarraville as a laboratory analyst.
“CSR was a fantastic company to work for,” he said, “and once I got my credentials in applied science I was promoted to various positions, ending up in Mackay as production manager in the early 2000s.”
Haydn met and married his wife, Cynthia, in Melbourne and had their first child, daughter Ashleigh, prior to setting out to their new home many thousands of miles away.
“It was then that I got a taste for Queensland living,” he explained.
“Although it was only to be a two-year secondment, I ended up staying three years and then was transferred back to Melbourne.
“By then we had our son, Heath, and we only lived in Melbourne for six months before we decided to move away from the cold, damp Melbourne weather and return to Queensland,” he said.
“The kids wouldn’t leave the house it was so cold.”
The Slattery family moved to Cairns where Haydn joined the SITA-CEC Group who ran the Bedminster composting facility. Being site manager, Haydn made connections with various cane farmers and in particular, Gerard Puglisi from Daintree, who was “quite progressive” in his application of compost instead of traditional fertiliser on his crops.
Within two years of being in Cairns he applied to work with a company based on the Mossman Mill site but the then Mill general manager, Alan Johnston, spotted that he had the skills the mill needed.
“I started in 2009 as business development manager, focusing on developing the bagging plant and by 2012 I was Alan’s deputy,” Haydn said, “and, living in the northern beaches, I just loved the drive up the coast road.”
Haydn has always been a keen sportsman and has been involved with the Barron River cricket club.
“It is always great fun to play the Douglas Muddies as there are usually a few of the mill employees on the team.
“I’m sad to say the Muddies usually win,” he laughed.
During his time at the helm of the mill, Haydn has witnessed many changes including the acquisition by Mackay Sugar, tougher emission controls and more stringent safety regulations.
“When Mackay Sugar took over five years ago, Mossman had the worst accident record compared to their other sites, but I’m pleased to say we are now the best – if not, one of the best – within the group.”
Haydn has been involved in the environmental impact of the mill, and this year he said it will be the best year so far for emissions reduction.
“One of the other achievements is that, in 2014, the mill changed from a five-day a week plant to continuous operation, made possible by an additional 700,000 tonnes of cane coming down from the Tablelands,” he said.
“This had made a real change to overall efficiencies and this year we can boast making a profit – first time in at least 10 years,” he said.
The mill has made a significant impact on Haydn and his recollections of the dedication, camaraderie and mateship among the 150 staff still impresses him. “I’ve worked in a number of places but I have never worked in a place where everyone pitches in to help everyone else.
“In 2014, when we went to continuous crushing, we had broken two of the five mills and the only way we could get the last few thousand tonnes of cane through was to push it through by hand.
“So we actually had people, 24 hours a day for three days, using pitchforks to push the cane through the rollers.
“And everyone got in to do that – me, the HR manager, cane logistics, operators and tradesmen, to get the crush through and it would have been a lot easier for the whole operation to stop and let the cane growers miss out.”
Haydn will not miss the wildlife around the administration building including the 3m python, the grown goanna that comes into the reception area at times or the spiders.
“I have a bit of a problem with spiders and the staff have taken huge delight in placing plastic spiders in paperwork, around and in my desk – anywhere where I will get a bit of a fright,” he said.
“And I learnt not to get too close to when the team were doing the end of crush wash down as they found nothing better than to ‘accidentally’ hose the manager down.”
Things he will miss include the drive to work, the Carnivale and trying to beat the Muddies at cricket. And he will miss “when the sky turns to sepia before a big rain” and admits he “had never seen rain like it can rain up here”.
But most of all, he will miss the people – colleagues and friends. Haydn Slattery has been an integral part of the Mill. He may miss the Douglas Shire, and it could be suggested that the Shire will miss him too.
Everyone got in to get the crush through. It would have been a lot easier for the whole operation to stop and let the cane growers miss out
Above: Haydn Slattery this week as he prepares to leave. Inset: The final board and management of the Mossman Central Mill in 2012 prior to Mackay Sugar taking it over: Back row L-R – Don Murday, Greg Watson Haydn Slattery, Bill Phillips-Turner. Front row: Gerard Padovan, Lex Livingston, Alan Johnston and Maurie Maughan