Af­ter 42 years “ply­ing” his trade Gary calls it quits

Australasian Timber - - PROFILE -

GARY HOLMES has spent al­most all of his life “ply­ing” his trade but now the fu­ture takes on a whole new mean­ing as he steps into re­tire­ment. You see

Gary has spent 42 years in­volved in the ply­wood in­dus­try and he’s seen changes ga­lore dur­ing that time ... some not so good, but the ma­jor­ity that have ben­e­fit­ted the in­dus­try.

“I started my ca­reer in the good old days of “so-called col­lu­sion” when ply­wood mills and in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions set pric­ing. With prices set, the mill main­tained busi­ness by qual­ity and ser­vice.

“The sales reps for each mill were em­ployed to find out about their cus­tomers busi­ness and the best way to ad­vise them on prod­ucts best suited for their busi­ness. They were not just “or­der tak­ers”, he said.

Mill ma­chin­ery made from left-over World War Two gear

In 1973, Gary ac­tu­ally started his ply­wood ca­reer with Cemac at Re­gents Park in Syd­ney.

“In those days Cemac was one of many mills through­out Aus­tralia. Cemac’s mill was in the vil­lage of Yar­ras near Wau­chope in New South Wales,” Gary re­called and heaped praise on those early fac­tory pioneers ... “The mill ma­chin­ery was made from a lot of tank and jeep parts left over from World War 2. Pro­duc­ing ply­wood and tim­ber prod­ucts from mainly a beau­ti­ful NSW coach­wood re­source. To this day, in my opin­ion, there has not been a bet­ter ma­rine ply­wood than Cemac ma­rine ply­wood.

“Their per­man­ised ma­rine ply­wood (CCA treated) was the only ply­wood with a 25 year war­ranty against dry rot. This was in the days when wooden boats were the norm,” he said.

“Cemac ply­wood and tim­ber prod­ucts were also used ex­ten­sively in the Syd­ney Opera House,” he added with a great deal of pride.

“There used to be many ply­wood mills through­out the coun­try. A num­ber in sub­urbs of all cap­i­tal cities and right down the east coast of Aus­tralia. My favourite mill visit was through Na­tional Ply­wood at Glebe. Their log yard was in a sub­sidiary of the Par­ra­matta River,” he said.

Pos­i­tive change

The mid-70s saw a ma­jor and pos­i­tive change for Gary.

“In 1975, Wayne Turl, the then branch su­per­vi­sor of Cemac, of­fered me the po­si­tion of branch manger of the Chatswood branch at the ripe old age of 22!

“Cemac was a very good com­pany to learn all about ply­wood types, grades and uses. This back­ground played a ma­jor part of my de­vel­op­ment and knowledge of ply­wood. I also spent a num­ber of years at the Hurstville branch.”

In around 1981, the Cemac branches sold and re­named to Bis­mac.

In 1982, Gary and his wife June and two chil­dren had a life­style change and moved to Bris­bane.

Gary bought a lease in a squash and ten­nis com­plex, but af­ter three years I found out the hard way that he was a much bet­ter em­ployee than a busi­ness­man!

“In 1985, I was very lucky to get a sales rep po­si­tion with Aus­tral Ply­woods. At that time Aus­tral was a part of the Fox­wood group, owned by Email (white goods).

Try­ing to be ev­ery­thing to ev­ery­one

“In those days, we were a small mill try­ing to be ev­ery­thing to ev­ery­one. Our re­sources in­cluded North Queens­land hard­woods, such as Queens­land Maple and

Satin Sy­camore. From South East Queens­land, our main re­source was from natural hoop pine for­est.

Aus­tral was pro­duc­ing sliced fancy ply­wood, ro­tary peeled dec­o­ra­tive ply­wood, ma­rine ply­wood, struc­tural ply­wood and brac­ing ply­wood

-- ev­ery size from 1800x900 to 2700x1200.

“I had a num­ber of dis­cus­sions with the man­age­ment at that time re­gard­ing our high grade re­source with the low grade out­put, try­ing to match much larger struc­tural mills, but it all fell on deaf ears,” he said

In 1986, the Matthews and Clark fam­ily pur­chased Aus­tral Ply­woods, and that sig­nalled the start of al­most a new era in Gary’s work life and he’s ex­tremely ap­pre­cia­tive of ev­ery­one in­volved in that change.

Showed faith

“I would like to thank Mal Matthews and Fred­die Clark (de­ceased) for the faith they put in me help­ing them with the di­rec­tion of Aus­tral Ply­woods. They gave me a free rein to try new prod­ucts no other com­pany would dare try. Peel­ing .6mm ve­neer to pro­duce 1.5mm ply­wood. Mak­ing a hoop pine faced bendy ply­wood. Some ideas worked, some did not, but Mal and Fred­die al­ways en­cour­aged and sup­ported our ideas.

“They could see the ben­e­fit of halv­ing the face thick­ness and hav­ing a sanded both sides ap­pear­ance struc­tural ply­wood. Our B-B struc­tural quickly be­came our largest pro­duced ply­wood. Aus­tral was out of the com­mod­ity ply­wood mar­ket for good. By then, our re­source was 100% plan­ta­tion hoop pine. We es­tab­lished our­selves as Aus­tralia’s pre­mium ply­wood man­u­fac­turer, con­cen­trat­ing on ap­pear­ance grade ply­wood for walls, ceil­ings and fur­ni­ture.”

Dur­ing his 32 years with Aus­tral Ply­woods, 25 years as sales man­ager, Aus­tral has been in­volved in many high pro­file projects.

He says unashamedly that the qual­ity of ply­wood pro­duced has made Aus­tral Ply­woods the most suc­cess­ful and prof­itable mill in the ply­wood in­dus­try for many years. Aus­tral is in its 92nd year of man­u­fac­ture.

“In re­cent years, I was asked to help RH ply­wood mill in the west­ern dis­tricts of PNG to get their ply­wood to com­ply to EWPAA re­quire­ments and es­tab­lish an Aus­tralian mar­ket for their mixed hard­wood struc­tural and ex­te­rior ply­woods.

I would say that in­no­va­tion is Gary’s great­est strength. He has de­vel­oped more in­no­va­tive ply­wood and ply­wood-based con­struc­tion sys­tems than any­one in the Aus­tralasian in­dus­try.

Not only has Gary been in­no­va­tive, but he has de­vel­oped prod­ucts that are highly com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful. Many oth­ers have tried to copy, but most have failed.

The prod­ucts and in­no­va­tion will be Gary’s legacy to the Aus­tralasian ply­wood in­dus­try. -- For­mer boss of the En­gi­neered Wood Prod­ucts As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­trala­sia (EWPAA) Si­mon Dor­ries who had a fair deal to do with Gary dur­ing his work life.

“I was also able to get their ply­wood im­pact tested and ap­proved to be used in cy­clone-prone ar­eas.”

A few dodgy air­plane trips

The PNG trips weren’t with­out in­ci­dent he re­calls ... “dur­ing this process I had a few dodgy air­plane trips from Port Moresby to a postage stamp size airstrip at the RH mill”.

“As you can see ply­wood has played a ma­jor part of my life. I was very for­tu­nate to work for the two best ply­wood man­u­fac­tur­ers in Aus­tralia,” he said with gen­uine re­spect.

“I will never for­get the last 32 years at Aus­tral, the peo­ple I have worked with, the friend­ship made from long term cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships. Aus­tral will con­tinue to grow un­der sec­ond gen­er­a­tion CEO’s Stu­art and Scott Matthews and I wish them con­tin­ued suc­cess.”

And, on a fi­nal note, he gave a word of ad­vice to those wish­ing to get into the trade ...”There is no such thing as a dumb ques­tion. Projects go pear shape be­cause peo­ple do not ask enough of these so-called dumb ques­tions!”

So, from 18 Au­gust it’s a whole new world for Gary and wife June (in­ci­den­tally, June re­tired on the same day).

It’s going to be a case of more trav­el­ling, do­ing some vol­un­tary work and, as Gary puts it .... “los­ing a lot more golf balls”.

“I’ve got some shares in a few horses, too, so I’ll be able to see them race more.”

One could be for­given for con­jur­ing up a pic­ture of one of Gary’s horses dur­ing the fi­nal stages of a race and the race caller says --- “he’s ply­ing down the out­side with all thanks to a top hoop”.

Gary with the dis­tinc­tive num­ber plate.

From Left (the Aus­tral crew): John Clark (di­rec­tor), Gary Holmes (sales man­ager), Mal Matthews (di­rec­tor), Scott Matthews (Joint CEO), Stu­art Matthews (Joint CEO).

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