At the fresh age of 23, Stuart began his career by working in the pipeline industry with McConnell Dowell in New Zealand in 1963. Stuart had previously trained as a civil engineer with a consulting firm and gained the qualification of a “˜MICE’ – a chartered engineer.
Stuart recalls that it was in his early years with McConnell Dowell that the company was engaged to build parts of the country’s first natural gas pipeline- the Kapuni Gas Pipeline.
Directly after this pipeline was completed, Stuart came to Australia in January 1970 to start up McConnell Dowell.
Stuart says “It was the experience that I had gained from working on the Kapuni line that the company was able to bring over to Australia, and was the main impetus for getting into the pipeline side of things.
“McConnell Dowell did do – and always has done – some civil works, but the money just wasn’t there and the real money has always been in the pipelining.”
Reflecting on the major pipelines of his career, Stuart says that the first major pipeline that really put McConnell Dowell on the map in Australia was the reticulation for natural gas in Geelong, which was undertaken back in 1970.
“From there, the next milestone for the company was in about 1975, which was the Euroa to Shepparton Pipeline which was about 60 km of 6 inch cross-country line.
“Prior to that Shepparton project, the company also undertook the reticulation for the Dongara gas field in Western Australia, as well as the follow up reticulation of sections of Perth and Fremantle from the main line.”
Stuart says that the next major milestone for the company “would have been the first of two or three contracts that we did for the Gas & Fuel Corporation in Victoria, which was the 30 inch line that involved the looping of the existing main pipeline into Melbourne.
“Following that one, we also did another 60 km of 26 inch line from Longford to Esso.”
The last major pipeline that Stuart worked on was the Jackson to Moonie Pipeline in 1983, which involved almost 800 km of 12 inch pipeline.
However, Stuart said that in amongst all of those major pipelines there were dozens and dozens of other lines constructed in that time which he was involved in.
When questioned about the most challenging pipeline of his career, Stuart recalls that it was a line under the Yarra River in Melbourne which topped the pile.
“Probably the most technically challenging job for us was building a crossing under the Yarra River, which involved a pipeline which went from one side of town to the other. The pipeline was intended
for the power plant at Newport, and involved a 30 inch gas line and a 26 inch oil line was laid parallel and just slightly upstream of the West Gate Bridge.
“It was a challenge simply because we had to keep the shipping going and the pipeline needed to be 55 feet below the water level and it was a U-shape with a long U on the bottom. It had to be welded up, rolled and pulled and floated across, and all the rest of it. It was quite a task!”
With regard to the characters he came across during his time in the industry, Stuart says that there are just too many people to talk about.
“When I started, the main ones in town were Carter Johnson, Lucio Lussu, and Corbet Gore.
“Carter Johnson was a real roughneck, if you like – but a go-getter. Nothing was ever going to beat the guy. Lucio was the absolute professional – I remember him when he first came to Australia; he didn’t speak a word of English, but by the time I was involved with him, he put me to shame. Finally, Corbet Gore was just an absolute gentleman and probably one of the most highly respected professionally in his ability.”
Stuart says that in amongst these characters, his main mentors during his time in the industry were Malcolm McConnell and Jim Dowell.
Stuart says that each one played a different role in a different area: “Malcolm McConnell was the real driving force behind the group in those days, while Jim Dowell was the real professional.”
Firstly, Stuart recalls several people that he had worked with and employed at McConnell Dowell that helped “˜change the course of the company’.
“When I came over from New Zealand, it was just myself and my wife as the company.
“We picked up a fellow who worked with me in New Zealand, a fellow by the name of Jimmy Gubb. He was one of the most loyal employees I’ve ever had and a pleasure to work with, and he passed away 6 or 7 years ago.”
Another character that stands out during Stuart’s time at McConnell Dowell was Jeff Shepherd.
“In about 1976-77, when APC went broke after it built the Moomba to Sydney line, I went to an auction and bought some parts of their major equipment because I thought the company were going to go to 30 inch (which is what happened).
“I also met a fellow called Jeff Shepherd at that time, and 12 months later I employed Jeff mainly because we had no-one with his experience in the construction of large diameter pipelines, nor his intimate knowledge of the who’s who in pipelining.
“Jeff came along and really made the company from that point on and led the company for all the rest of the years that I was there and did it extremely professionally.”
Stuart recalled that it was during that time period of 1976-78 when several other great characters of the industry came along, including Charlie Hall, Mark Twycross, Graham Tait, Peter Anderson, Johnny Bristow and Dave Robinson (now current Chief Executive Officer of McConnell Dowell.)
Finally, Stuart made a note to point out a man named Allen Carmen, who was “one of the back room people” during Stuart’s tenure at McConnell Dowell.
Stuart says “Allen Carmen was our Chief Estimator for all our pipelines, right from the mid-1970s on until he died in South Africa. He was also an absolute gentleman and a tireless worker.”
Stuart is currently enjoying retirement with his wife of 52 years, Eletta. Much of their time is spent at their beach house on the Mornington Peninsula and about three months of the year in their caravan chasing the warmer climates. The couple have six grandchildren.