Ian Bertram remembered
Farmer, entrepreneur and community worker Ian Bertram took on tasks that other people would pass over, with a relentless energy and an unflappable sense of purpose.
Mr Bertram had humble beginnings on a Gippsland farm but worked his way into positions of trust during his career, as a manager and eventually a director.
His quiet and sometimes direct manner could ruffle some feathers but his focus and capacity for work was appreciated by many people he worked alongside, both in volunteer and career roles.
One of his grandest visions was to develop a business which could transform tonnes of wasted food into energy — a principle now taken up by new enterprises in the Goulburn Valley.
Mr Bertram died on July 10 at the age of 70.
Ian Ernest Bertram was born on September 15, 1950, at Warragul, the third child of Helen and Ern Bertram.
Mr Bertram spent his early years growing up on the family farm in Drouin.
He often entertained himself by catching eels in the swamp on the farm.
He attended Drouin Primary
School and Warragul Technical School.
He joined the school cadet corps and learned to play the cornet. Before the family moved to Murchison North in 1966, they had a month-long stint living in a tent in Warragul between the settlement dates of the two properties, which the young Ian saw as a time of adventure.
He attended Shepparton Technical School where he was Drum Major of the Cadet Corps.
Teachers told his parents to take him out of school
because he had learnt all he was going to learn.
After leaving school, Mr Bertram learned more about farming by working for Frank Stevens at Girgarre East.
He followed his father’s and grandfather’s lead in showing prize-winning cattle at the Melbourne show.
Mr Bertram was conscripted to the army at the age of 20 and after completing basic training he joined the transport division.
He was due to leave for Vietnam when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam stopped sending Australian troops to the war.
Mr Bertram’s 20-year career with Midland Milk started as a casual transport driver, delivering milk around Victoria and southern NSW.
Mr Bertram eventually became factory manager, working for three generations of the Crothers family starting with Thomas, then Bill and finally the third generation William and Grant.
While working at Midland Milk, Mr Bertram continued to farm with his parents, breeding Holstein Friesian cattle, selling stud bulls and holding stud sales.
Mr Bertram bought a property at Kialla to run young cattle and cut hay. They would walk their cattle between the two farms; the quickest route meant going down the main street of Toolamba. To this day, Toolamba has a sign warning against droving cattle in the township of Toolamba — due to Mr Bertram.
Mr Bertram married Leeanne Garner in 1992 and they had three children in three years: Alexandra, Lauren and Hugh.
In 1992 Mr Bertram was approached by Ardmona Foods to apply for the position of production manager. Although he had no formal qualifications, they thought his hands-on approach to work might be a good fit.
He enjoyed the challenge of a new career in the fruit industry and stayed at Ardmona Foods for 10 years, before turning to farming full-time.
The farm had no drainage, and in 1993 it was flooded — with 30 per cent of the farm being underwater for three months.
Not happy with the situation, Mr Bertram threw himself into getting drainage for the district — but water and drainage is a polarising issue in a rural community and old attitudes were difficult to shift.
He stepped into the role of chairman of the Byrneside drainage group and helped navigate through government bureaucracy and break down decades of entrenched attitudes.
The Byrneside Depression Drainage Group was formed and today the organised drainage of the district is an asset to the local farms.
While owning his farm, Mr Bertram demolished three dairies, two houses, fully lasered the farm and built a 60-stand rotary dairy, with his family by his side supporting him.
The next challenge was an opening on the board of Tatura Milk; Mr Bertram threw himself into the opportunity and was elected to the board.
Not long after, he won support to become chair, following which the company became the subject of several takeover bids.
The Tatura Milk board recommended the Bega Cheese offer be accepted on the basis that it was the best option for suppliers.
In 2008, Mr Bertram was approached by Dayton Tooling/Daytek Australia to be a director on its board, a position he enjoyed and held until his death.
In 2010, Mr Bertram was invited to be the chairman of the community-based sustainable energy company, GV Energy.
A friend and colleague of 30 years, Geoff Lodge described Mr Bertram as systematic, dogmatic, and tireless when engaged in his work.
“Ian was quietly spoken, had a gruff persona and was an unassuming character to those who didn’t know him.
“However, Ian’s dry wit and incisive critique could quickly expose the shortcomings of any unwary professional adversary.”
During drought Mr Bertram had discovered the value of feeding food waste to his dairy cattle, and identified the possibilities of using waste as an alternative feed or as an energy generator.
He found a deserted building in the form of the former Heinz factory in Girgarre and established a new environment-focused company called Resource Resolution.
The day Mr Bertram took ill he was due to sign contracts to build a bio digester at Girgarre.
This was an enormous project that would have converted food waste into power and gas.
Unfortunately he never got to fulfil this dream.