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