Constructing a large slice of history

Saturday, 01 September 2001


    It ranks as one of the great success stories in Australian corporate history. How two young Queenslanders with little money and loads of ability, thriving on challenge, laid the foundations of a world-class construction and engineering company – the Barclay Mowlem Group.

    Ian and Don Barclay began a modest carpentry business in postwar suburban Brisbane more than 50 years ago. Today, the group employs more than 2000 workers, has an annual turnover exceeding $600 million and is considered one of Australia's most multi-disciplined engineering and construction companies having specialist skills in building, railway construction and maintenance, road and bridge building, development of mines and power stations, minerals processing, materials handling and marine installations. That's a long way from the humble beginnings, working out of a backyard in Moorooka, Brisbane, in September 1951, with a truck and a toolbox. Ian Barclay, with a work ethic inherited from his Scottish ancestors, was adamant about quality, reliability and delivering what he promised. Those values still underpin the success of the company and define the character of the individuals who work there today.

    Ian was joined by his younger brother Don in 1953 and in 1957, they incorporated their partnership into Barclay Bros Pty Ltd with Ian filling the roles of chairman and managing director and Don as deputy managing director. In the early years, they concentrated on jobs around Brisbane and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. When it came to major contracts, however, they had difficulty breaking into a market dominated by larger companies. Expanding to south west Queensland The seeds of expansion grew out of remote expertise, gained while chasing business in western Queensland where rural industry was booming, wool prices were soaring, and where there was less competition. Their logistics, planning and project management skills were fully tested with transporting materials and equipment long distances in the face of unpredictable weather. In no time, they had a reputation as remote area specialists, and business boomed until a severe credit squeeze in the late 1950s applied the brakes. The timing of the economic slowdown in Australia, however, coincided with the Commonwealth Government making good its postwar commitment to subsidise rebuilding and development in its mandated territory, Papua New Guinea.

    Exporting skills to PNG With their entrepreneurial flair honed in western Queensland, Barclay Bros made a foray into Papua New Guinea. The big break came in 1958 when they secured a contract worth almost 650,000 from the Commonwealth Department of Works to build a new General Hospital in Madang. Work began on another major hospital complex at Lae in Morobe Province in 1961 and other major contracts soon followed. Road and bridge construction began on Bougainville Island in 1968 and the following year saw a start on the Bougainville Copper Mine. This included infrastructure such as access roads, water supply, sewerage, temporary and permanent accommodation, a hospital and school facilities. In the late 1970s, the company took on another challenging project in the Western Highlands for BHP's OK Tedi gold and copper mine. This close association with mining and mineral developments continued with global clients BHP, Chevron, Rio Tinto and Placer Pacific and has spanned over 40 years. In 1997 Barclay Bros helped create a township in remote jungle on the island of Lihir for one of the world's richest gold mines and the tradition continues with a joint venture contract to build Paiam Township on the site of the Porgera Gold Mine in the highlands. Paiam, a major commercial service centre for the Porgeran people is due for completion in 2003.

    A willingness to tackle the most remote and difficult projects, embrace the local culture and invest in developing the skills of the local workforce stamped Barclay Bros as much more than just another contracting company. As the company expanded, further opportunities to test its remote capability became available in the Northern Territory. Northern Territory Starting in the early 1960s Barclay Bros made a name for itself in the Northern Territory constructing dozens of buildings for State, Commonwealth and private sector clients. It already had a sizeable workforce in Darwin when, on Christmas Eve 1974, one of Australia's worst natural disasters, Cyclone Tracy, devastated the city. The company's initial tender was to construct 400 new homes, extended to 600, making it the biggest Commonwealth housing contract ever awarded. The company was handing over new houses at a rate of 20 a week. It continues its commitment to the Territory, being instrumental in the development of defence, health, commercial and residential facilities. 2000 saw a celebration of 40 years of continued business.

    As former Chief Minister Denis Burke puts it: "Barclay Mowlem has made a significant contribution to the building and construction industry in the Northern Territory for more than 40 years and their involvement in the $1.3billion Alice Springs to Darwin Rail project as an equity sponsor and manufacturer of concrete sleepers underscores their ongoing commitment to the Territory's development." Companies merge Ian Barclay's first encounter with John Mowlem & Co PLC had been during a Master Builders Association tour of Britain in 1969. Ian Barclay met executives from John Mowlem & Co PLC, a business founded in 1822 with a turnover into the multibillion pounds. Barclay Bros struck an agreement with Mowlem and it introduced them to a global world that would change the company's destiny. Later John Mowlem & Co PLC moved to full ownership, buying out the minority shareholdings of Ian and Don Barclay on their retirement. David Hudson, from Roberts Construction, was appointed as managing director in September 1990.

    A significant merger with Roberts Construction in 1985 assisted in catapulting Barclay Mowlem into the big league, ranking it among the top five Australian engineering construction companies. This expanded the group's capability particularly in rail, marine and mining. Rail An early contract secured by Roberts Construction in 1972 to build the 230 km track from Yabulu near Townsville to the Greenvale Nickel Mine established a Queensland speed record. The Rail Group's work includes the famous Zig Zag tunnels in the Blue Mountains, the Sandy Hollow railway project, the Muswellbrook to Ulan line and the first major contract using a track renewal train to rehabilitate 570 km of line from Kwinana to Koolyanobbing in Western Australia. Overseas work includes two contracts to build 500km of overhead cabling through New Zealand, and upgrading the busy Canton to Kowloon rail line in Hong Kong. Other projects have followed in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, and with an over 10 year presence in Hong Kong, Barclay Mowlem Rail are becoming a household name.

    Civil infrastructure Barclay Mowlem established an enviable record for civil infrastructure, ranging from carving access roads through remote PNG jungle to building major urban highways, bridges and dams.

    Works include The Houghton Highway, from Brisbane to the Redcliffe Peninsula, the longest bridge over water in Australia, concrete paving on the Hume Highway in the early 1990s, and design and construction work on the Goulburn bypass, plus all the paving work associated with the Sydney International Terminal Extension. The Mandurah Estuary Bridge for the Main Roads Department in WA was a significant development, being the first incrementally launched box girder construction in Australia in 1985-86. Then followed the Woronora Bridge, the largest incrementally launched bridge in the Southern Hemisphere in 2000. Recently Barclay Mowlem was a joint venture partner in the eight-lane upgrade of the Pacific Highway linking Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Its marine group devised a new technique, used for the first time during the immersed tube construction of Sydney Harbour Tunnel and the jacked tunnels in the Jacana Underpass, Victoria and has been involved in most of Australia's ocean outfall projects. Mining From its early days in Papua New Guinea to pioneering coal and mineral projects in central and northern Australia, Barclay Mowlem has enjoyed a long history of success with major mining and materials handling infrastructure.

    The company has a relationship dating back to the early 1970s at the Argyle Diamond Mine in WA, with ongoing project maintenance and more recently undertook all the construction work on the Pasminco Century Zinc processing, storage and port facilities at Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1999.

    Materials handling systems Barclay Mowlem has expanded its bulk materials handling technology to become a world leader in the field, across a whole range of minerals as well as sugar and fertilisers. The company has a number of associations and licence agreements with leading experts in the design and manufacture of overland conveyors, stackers and gantry systems. These include an association with Conveyor Dynamics Inc, a US company which specialises in rubber compounds used for low-drag conveyor belts. Barclay Mowlem is the Australasian licensee for a range of specialist stacking and reclaiming machinery developed by the German company Schade. Power In the power industry Barclay Mowlem with its multi-disciplined expertise has positioned itself as a key player, working on the construction of every black coal fired power station built in Australia in the last two decades.

    This includes Bayswater power station in the Hunter Valley, Mt Piper, Wallerawang, Stanwell power station near Rockhampton, Callide C power station near Biloela in central Queensland, Collie power station in WA and Pha Lai power station in Vietnam. Building Major building works have included Queensland Performing Arts Complex, Brisbane's domestic airport terminal, the 296-room five star Gold Coast International Hotel, Marriott Surfers Paradise Resort and high-density residential developments in Queensland like Silver Quays, Quay West and Petrie Point Apartments and Lexington, Mariner's Cove, The Hudson, Botanic Cove and Rockdale Gardens developments in New South Wales. Barclay Mowlem was responsible for one of Australia's most high profile public facilities-the Darling Harbour Exhibition Centre, completed for the bicentennial celebration in January 1988. Medical establishments include the redevelopment of Liverpool Hospital, Nepean Hospital, Broken Hill Hospital, Redlands Hospital near Brisbane, Thursday Island and Darwin Hospital which is currently under construction.

    Managing director, David Hudson said strategic directions had been set to take Barclay Mowlem into a challenging future. The company intends to nurture its core construction business in Australia, which is the base for developing and training its skilled workforce. The overseas focus is on high value adding capabilities developed in Australia in the areas of power, materials handling and processing, marine, railway construction and remote area capability. The Barclay Mowlem story will be remembered while the company leaves a positive legacy for clients and communities. Hard to believe that it all began with two Brisbane brothers who had a passion for quality, plus a truck and a tool box, in the early 1950s.


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