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- Hughie Rogers (73), parks up his scraper for the last time on Western Sydney Airport Bulk Earthworks Project.
Born in Canberra and worked his whole life, 73-year old Ronald “Hughie” Rogers has been operating heavy machinery, scrapers in particular, for as long as he can remember. “I’ve always been an operator – it’s what I’m good at,” said Hughie. On the Western Sydney International Airport site, Hughie has been operating a 651 scraper since Early Earthworks began in February 2019 and now on the Bulk Earthworks (WSABE) package.
But now, Hughie said it is finally time to park up and retire.
“It’s about time now to stop. I’ll miss working with other people, chatting to my work colleagues about all the previous jobs that we’ve done together, the bouncing around and noise of my machine [number 7046, his favourite on this project], and the wages! But somewhere along the line you’ve got to park up and draw the line,” he said.
As far as projects go, Hughie’s bounced up and down in scrapers on just about every major highway upgrade in New South Wales, but his career in heavy machinery with ACCIONA and its legacy companies date back to 1973 with the late Jim Abignano (founder of Abigroup Contractors) on the Copperlode Dam project in Cairns, Queensland.
“It was easy to get into the industry back then. It was just if you knew somebody. I started with Thiess brothers in Canberra operating a loader, then went to Leightons Fitzroy Falls for a few months and made my way up to Queensland to do another small job.
“I then started with Abignano in Cairns on Copperlode Falls Dam with the supervisor at the time, Joe Parker. I was on a dozer and loader then conned my way into different machines and before I knew it, I was in a scraper.
“It was a very small crew, but then the project got shut down for wet season, so I came back to Canberra and went to another company called Brambles, where I was on the scraper for six years at Woodline Mine on hire to Abignano.”
When asked what it was like working with Abignano back then: “Jim gave me a couple of serves back then. When you got pushed by a dozer back in them days, Jim didn’t want the machine in gear so he would watch us sometimes. One day I put the scraper into gear to sneak it over a rock and he saw the wheel spin and he went off!”, laughed Hughie.
“I was also caught doing a rain dance on a Thursday once, when Jim saw me, he said, ‘Well if you want time off, you can [***] and come back next week!’,” he continued to laugh.
Reminiscing on the changes throughout the years in construction, a big stand out to Hughie is how much safety has improved.
“There were no cabs on scrapers back then. You just sat on a seat and had nothing around you, but I’ve always worn a seatbelt, I’ve seen what it can do when you don’t. The whole safety culture has finally woken up and started enforcing things and bringing in these changes.
“On this job [WSABE] alone, with the number of machines running around, the amount of dirt and material moved, and we’ve had virtually no incidents, it’s extraordinary. It’s a credit to everyone in the crew, and the management for setting the job up as safe as possible. Everyone’s been real on the ball here as far as safety goes.”
Another change Hughie’s noticed is the opportunity that younger operators have now.
“Young operators here are extremely lucky to be able to come from labour and get trained up on a scraper straight away. It wasn’t like that back in the day when if you said you wanted a go [on a machine] and the Foreman would make you jump through hoops. So good luck to them.”
However, what has been a constant for Hughie is the comradery and close-knit community that construction offers to its people.
“Abignano was known for looking after their operators, they really looked after their core group of people, helping with relocation and their families. Back in the day everyone had big caravans and the families would all come with us. You’d see twelve people in the caravan park from work!”
“But my crew here have been exceptional. They put up with my hearing problems, so I feel privileged that they see around that. That’s culture set by Chris O’Donnell (Superintendent) and Travis Fell (General Foreman), for the crew to accept me the way I am which has allowed me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
“I’ve been fairly hands-on all my life, I started working at 14 years old. My father had a big property out of Goulburn. We only had sheep; it was rough bush property. We did school from correspondence as it was 30 kilometres from the nearest school and there were no buses.
“I came off the land. We did rifle shooting and chain saw work cutting timber, but we didn’t wear ear protection back then and construction didn’t make you wear them either which is why I’m hard of hearing now”, Hughie smiled.
The list of projects that Hughie has worked on is vast. With ACCIONA and its legacy companies alone, Hughie’s operated a scraper on the Hume Highway upgrades with Woomargama Alliance and Southern Alliance; the Pacific Highway upgrades at Karuah to Bulahdelah, Tintenbar to Ewingsdale, Nambucca to Urunga, Oxley to Kundabung. He’s also worked on Kooragang Coal Export Terminal and the Bonville Deviation in Coffs Harbour, NSW.
Now, it only seems fitting that Hughie parks up on the largest earthmoving project in Australia’s history, the Western Sydney Airport Early Earthworks and Bulk Earthworks Projects.
“I have two children, seven grand kids and two great grand kids. My wife, Yvonne, we’ve been married for 52 years and she has supported me working around the country raising our family, so I need to support her now,” Hughie says.
“I’ve also got renovations I’ve been putting off for the last few years on our property in Kurri Kurri (near Newcastle, NSW). I’ll finish them and then Yvonne and I will join the grey nomads and take off in our caravan to work our way around Australia with our other two kids, Alfie and Lily (their dogs).
“I’d just like to say, thank you again to all my crew here, Chris O’Donnell, Travis Fell, Quinton Cowling, Shaun Paisley and the rest of the team. Also, Paul Bull (General Superintendent) for everything’s he’s done for me over the years with the company.”
When finally asked what his personal mantra was, Hughie replied: “It is what it is.”
From the entire team at WSA Bulk Earthworks Project and ACCIONA, thank you for your years of service, Hughie, and all the best for your retirement! You will be missed.