Tom hangs up his tools
When Tom Mitchell (above) started working for a Cairns steel fabrication company in 1972, it was only meant to be for a short time.
WHEN Tom Mitchell started working for a Cairns steel fabrication company in 1972, it was only meant to be for a short time.
Forty-five years later, he has hung up his tools and bid farewell to the Scott St business that became his own.
“I started off with Don Geoghegan, who owned the business,” the 68-year-old says.
“I was only supposed to help him for a few weeks, just to get a job done that he was getting pushed for. After that, he decided he wanted to retire, so I managed his business for seven or eight years.”
Tom eventually bought it with a mate and finally took it over completely to form Tom Mitchell Engineering.
Born in Cairns, his workplace was just a hop, a skip and a jump from Aumuller St, where he spent his childhood.
“We were the second house built on the northern side of Mulgrave Rd,” he says. “When we first moved in, the road was dirt.”
Tom spent his early years at Parramatta State School, which his mother also attended. He started at Trinity Bay High “the year after it opened”.
Tom shone across many sports and represented Cairns in every sport he played.
“At Trinity Bay, I was captain of both the basketball and football side, and right through high school I held every running record, from the 220-yard sprint to the mile,” he says.
“I never really had any idea of being a tradesperson. All I wanted to do was play rugby league. I played sport all year round — rugby league, basketball — and I sailed until I was about 21.”
He served his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with one of Northern Australia’s biggest construction firms, TJ Watkins, working in Townsville and Darwin before returning to Cairns.
Tom says he deliberately kept his business small. At its peak, he employed five people; more recently, just two and it is those two who have bought the business from him.
“It’s good that they want to take on something that I started,” he says. “I’ve done my bit and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“Working for yourself isn’t that bad. You are your own boss. You can come and go as you please.”
A keen hunter and accomplished archer, Tom has plans for his free time.
“I love the bush. I don’t care if I just sleep under the stars,” he says.
STEELY RESOLVE: Tom Mitchell from Tom Mitchell Engineering in Scott St is retiring after 45 years in the same workshop.