In a career spanning 50 years with Isis Central Sugar Mill there were not too many areas of the factory that escaped the Gary Ralph “magic touch”.
“Ralphie”, as he is universally known at the sugar mill, retired on Friday, February 26, the same day coincidentally that marked 44 years of marriage to wife Jenny.
Gary is revered as one of the truly nice guys of the Isis Mill workforce and in reality looks young and fit enough to go around for another 50 years.
He held the position of Chief Engineer upon retirement after commencing as a Fitter and Turner on February 2, 1971.
He recalls his first day at work and more importantly his first pay packet.
Gary has a copy of his first month of pays received and netted the princely sum of $18.77 for his first three days work. The Government took $1 in tax. The next week a full week’s pay netted $22.96 and tax was a hefty $1.75.
“I feel I can look back with pride and a good deal of self satisfaction at what my working life has delivered both personally and professionally.
“I started work in the days when cane was whole-stick harvested before the modern method of cutting cane into billets. I’ve witnessed massive change, substantial mill machinery and infrastructure investment and also saw the first ever one million tonnes of cane through the mill rollers.
Isis Mill a tremendous place to work
“The Isis Mill is a tremendous place to work. Management has always supported and encouraged me to take on courses and gain experience in areas that ultimately provided me with a competent knowledge of the technical operation of the mill.”
Those who know Gary will attest to his quiet, almost shy approach to his work. “Actually in one of the Isis High School annual magazines I was tabbed as “the strong silent type,” he laughed.
However, it has been his demeanour, his dedication to his trade and an unrelenting work ethic that has endeared Gary to fellow employees and management.
“I always feel it’s important to acknowledge people when they do a good job and I found it imperative to always put myself ‘in the trenches’ with the workers. I have a firm belief that people respond to managers and supervisors rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty.”
Over the 50 working years Gary has accrued a raft of qualifications and certifications. However, it has been the last 18 months or so of his employment that has provided a new and rewarding challenge for Gary.
Gary was tasked with repurposing ex Queensland Rail bridge material into structural requirement for six bridges that are currently part of the Mill’s ambitious rail line extension from Cordalba to Wallaville.
Rail bridge named Gary Ralph Bridge
Gary’s name will live on within that project with the largest of the bridges, a majestic 110 metre curved structure across Woco Creek bearing the name “Gary Ralph Bridge”.
Gary was guest of honour at a function hosted by Mill management at Mollydookers Restaurant at Apple Tree Creek recently. The function attracted the entire Board of Directors of the Isis Mill and a host of workmates and partners such is the respect for the contribution Gary has made to the mill.
Chief Field Officer Paul Nicol has enjoyed a working life at the mill that almost parallels that of Gary’s.
“Gary always took an interest in employees, young and old, and always made sure they found their way. He was never afraid to share information and is recognised by many employees, past and present, as a mentor to many.
Mill CEO John Gorringe said Gary’s working life at the mill was a truly amazing story.
“Gary began as an apprentice fitter and turner in 1971 and worked his way through various levels.
“This encompassed Shift Engineer in 1990, Shift Supervisor in 1992, Maintenance Engineer in 1998 and ultimately the critical role of Chief Engineer in 2001,” he said.
First date proposed by letter
Gary and Jenny, his wife of 44 years, met at Isis High School.
Jenny was in Year 10 when Gary, who was an apprentice at this stage, asked her out.
No mobile phones in those days so how did young Gary propose their first date?
“I wrote her a letter,” blushed Gary. “She accepted, we went to the movies and have been together ever since.”
The couple currently live at Woodgate and Gary plans to keep up his two days a week visits to the Childers gym to maintain fitness and flexibility.
“I sure there will be travel. We have a mobile home and Jenny and I quite enjoy getting away.
“Then there’s our five grandchildren to keep up with. Our children Josh, Kyel and Bree have provided us with four grandsons and one grand-daughter.”