Gerald graduated from Melbourne University in 1965, the same year that gas was discovered in Bass Strait.
The travel bug bit him early, and in 1966 he travelled to London via Singapore, Vietnam, China and the USSR (via the Trans-Siberian railway). He remained in London only briefly, as he discovered quickly that a junior engineer’s wages covered little more than basic living expenses. Canada was his next stop, and he commenced work with Atlas Construction Maritimes of Fredericton N.B. Other than vacation experience with Prentice Bros & Minson, his father’s Victorian construction company, this was his first taste of what construction was all about. With Atlas, you tendered the work, you were the engineer in charge of construction, you reported the results monthly, and you attended to final clean-up and paperwork. This was an ideal start for a young construction engineer, and he remained in Fredericton until January 1968, when he was transferred to Churchill Falls, Labrador.
In Churchill Falls he was employed by Churchill Constructors JV, a joint venture of Atlas Construction Limited and four other major Canadian construction companies. The contract works were the construction of a 5,500 MW underground powerhouse, one of the largest in the world. Gerald was the cost engineer, responsible for the preparation of all site input to the computer based cost accounting system. The work that he did there formed the basis of a major (successful) claim for the recovery of costs associated with extensive additional rockbolting. The CCJV cost accounting technique impressed him, and he introduced a similar system in Australia several years later.
He returned to Melbourne in 1970, and became the project engineer on the construction of the Emerald Tunnel. At the north portal of this tunnel, progress was slow, and it became clear that the geology of the area was not as represented in the tender documents. Negotiations with the client were fruitless, and arbitration was commenced. It was his responsibility to supervise the preparation of documents for this arbitration, as well as engineering the continuing works, and being the contractor’s main witness at the hearing. The strain of running all these activities was significant, but the result was worth it. Prior to the end of the arbitration, the client agreed to a significant additional payment, so all ended well. Gerald kept a framed copy of this cheque on his office wall for many years.
From 1973, Gerald was the managing director of Prentice Bros & Minson (PBM), which was a traditional civil engineering contractor with a water/sewer line emphasis. Gerald’s father had started this company in 1945. Natural gas arrived in Melbourne on April 1 1969, and Gerald, like his father, saw gas transmission as a natural addition to the business of a pipeline company. In 1979 PBM completed the Deer Park to Sunbury line, and in 1981 the Bendigo to Mt Franklin line. These jobs went well, so he looked further afield, to central Australia. The pinnacle of his career started in 1982, when he undertook the construction of the Moomba-Tirrawarra lines for Santos. This was followed quickly by the Della-Toolachee job, and then the commencement of the eastern spread of the Jackson to Moonie line in early April 1983. However in late April 1983, the drought broke in Queensland; the site was flooded, and work was stopped for 4 months. Undeterred, Gerald negotiated an increased price for completion of the work by January 1984. The gamble paid off. The work was recommenced in August 1983, and duly completed by the contract end date.
Elsewhere, things were not going so well. PBM Queensland had been established in 1981 and had ticked along quietly until late 1983 when a succession of Bruce Highway road jobs was won. It became apparent in late 1984 that these bids were too low, and that most of the contracts were going to sustain big losses. In spite of the Jackson success it became impossible to carry on, and PBM was sold to Transfield in June 1985. The Mereenie pipeline and spread 4 of the Alice Darwin pipeline were constructed at about this time, the first as a JV with Transfield, and the second after the buyout. Gerald was transferred to Adelaide as the South Australian manager of Transfield, and continued in this role until August 1986, when he resigned to establish Minson Constructions.
Minson Constructions existed at a time when the various state gas, electricity and water organisations were being privatised. Opportunities for smaller contractors were reduced, and the introduction of more aggressive commercial conditions greatly increased the risks on some contracts. The great days of 1982-84 were not seen again, but nevertheless, Minson Construction worked on many fronts, spread throughout Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Fiji & Guam. In 1997, a three year maintenance contract with Santos in the Cooper Basin was won. This contract worked effectively until 1999, when there was a vehicle accident on site. Safety is now of paramount importance on construction sites, and when Santos heard about the accident they terminated Minson Construction’s contract.
This incident, combined with a stroke in 1998, made it impossible for Gerald to carry on alone, and he sold a 50 per cent share in Minson Constructions to Nacap b.v. of the Netherlands in April 1999. The new company was called Minson Nacap, and Gerald was both the chairman and the marketing manager of this organisation. In the difficult business environment that existed at this time, both partners were dissatisfied with the operation of this new company, and in August 2001 Gerald sold his remaining shares in the organisation to Nacap.
Gerald died of a stroke at his home in Adelaide in June of this year. He is survived by his wife Sue and four children.
- Fellow of Institution of Engineers Australia 1978
- AFCC Vic Branch President 1975-77
- APIA Committee 1994-97