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The Mawsons Story



In 1912 E.B. (Barney) Mawson began work as a contractor cutting thistles for the Kerang Shire. Two years earlier Barney and his father, brother and sister had moved to Cohuna from Koondrook where they had lived briefly after leaving the gold diggings at Marong. Barney worked with his father Charles and brother Bill in the Gunbower forest cutting wood. Charles passed away in 1918 and his sons continued the business, which also involved fencing and cartage contracting, until 1927. 

In 1927 the Mawson Bros. Partnership, set up when Charles died, was dissolved. Their 8 HP steam traction engine, 13 draught horses, 2 mares, 7 drays, ploughs, scoop harrows and tools were sold. Bill farmed on the Gunbower Island and later bought a dairy farm at Koyuga. Barney set up a household milk delivery service (which, like much of the early business, his wife Annie administered) and continued contracting around Cohuna.
Always keen to invest in new ideas and never afraid to take a punt Barney decided to invest his share of the sale proceeds in a 1.5 ton 4 cylinder, petrol powered Chevrolet truck.

This new Chev truck replaced the wood drays delivering firewood to the Cohuna Butter Factory. Horses were still used to collect wood from less accessible parts of the forest and to do other contracting work including channel, drain and road construction using scoops.
Barney sold his half share in the Cohuna Sawmills in 1926. Later in 1937 he purchased another farm on the Gunbower Island, which he cleared to run dairy cattle. Land was also leased for growing vegetables and tobacco. Market gardening was an important part of the Mawson business throughout the 1930s. New technology was utilized here too as Barney built glass houses in Cohuna. Vegetables for the local and Melbourne markets were grown by Italian and Spanish workers in the large glass sheds.
Mawsons again embraced new technology in the late 1930s when Barney had an old Reo truck re-fitted with a new Gardner diesel engine. He also purchased a hydraulic loader mounted on a Cletrac crawler tractor. Both these machines were the first of their kind in the region.

World War II brought hardships and opportunity for Mawsons. Two trucks out of the 9 truck fleet and the hydraulic loader plus operators were commandeered by the Government's Civil Construction Corp. Fuel was rationed and spare parts were scarce. The resourcefulness of Mawsons' staff came to the fore as all of the trucks (except 1 kerosene powered unit) were converted to gas fuel (produced by burning charcoal in truck mounted gas producers) and semi trailers were built from timber.
Charcoal burning and cartage became a major source of work for Mawsons. This work, along with firewood cutting and delivery to local and Melbourne markets (via train), and roadworks and channel construction saw the business continue to grow steadily.
 
Immediately after World War II Mawsons won contracts for bridge construction. Numerous timber bridges were built during the late 1940s & 50s throughout the Cohuna, Kerang and Gordon shires. Most were still being used in 2006.
It was the Mawson bridge building crews that Barney's older sons, Ken and Bernie joined in 1946 and 45 respectively. In 1955 son Lloyd also joined the business.

Stone for the growing post war road network in the Cohuna, Boort and Kerang districts was, at this time sourced from quarries at Mount Hope and Pyramid Hill. Tip trucks were loaded at the quarries using hand shovels and cable loaders mounted on Fordson tractors (the hydraulic machine was not replaced until 1950). The rock was drilled using hand-held jackhammers, blasted using safety fuse and then broken into pieces small enough to fit into the mechanical crushers by men using 12 pound spalling hammers.
Mawsons' construction contracts required a lot of quarry products. This demand combined with the cartage capacity of Mawsons' trucks pointed towards the next new venture for the Mawson business; quarrying.

In 1949 Mawsons purchased the Mount Hope quarry from Ole Roald. Initially surface gravel was dug from the ground. Later harder stone was drilled and blasted. Mt Hope stone was not however the best quality and the site had no electricity to power crushers and screens, so when the opportunity came in 1956 to purchase Pyramid Quarries from H W Snell, Mawsons purchased their second quarry.

By this time Mawsons were operating about 20 trucks including an increasing number of semi trailers equipped with 'modern' 12 ton hydraulic hoists to tip the 'big' 10 cubic yard loads. The effectiveness of the larger trucks and continuing increase in demand for better quality road building materials lead Mawsons to join with Ted Lightfoot in 1958 to develop the Lake Boga quarry. The best equipment from Mt Hope was shifted to Lake Boga and Mt Hope was closed. Some years later Mawsons bought Lightfoot's share of Lake Boga Quarries Pty. Ltd.

At the request of the Country Roads Board in 1961 the Mt Burrumboot quarry overlooking Lake Cooper was reopened. Another joint venture, this time involving Ekbergs and Mawsons, was set up. Equipment brought from the Kiewa hydroelectric project was reassembled and Lake Cooper Quarries Pty. Ltd. began crushing stone that was previously considered 'too hard to economically break'. In 1969 Mawsons purchased Ekbergs' share of Lake Cooper Quarries Pty. Ltd.

By 1965 Mawsons' civil construction division was operating 4 hydraulic wheel loaders, 6 bulldozers, 2 scoops, 4 scrapers, 12 draglines, 3 graders along with numerous tractors, rollers, watercarts and other earthmoving equipment. Some of these machines had cabins, others were fitted with large umbrellas for shade but none had airconditioning or heating.
The tip truck fleet was assisted by up to 20 subcontractors helping to deliver the quarry products, sand, sandstone and gravel. Five other trucks were fully occupied with float work transporting equipment throughout Victoria and Southern New South Wales.
The larger construction fleet enabled bigger contracts to be completed. More stone was crushed at the quarries and an opportunity for concrete production was recognised. Concrete made by Mawsons would use Mawsons' stone and generate more work for the transport fleet.

Concrete production was to be the next growth area for Mawsons. In 1963 a small concrete batch plant and besser block machine was set up in Hay St Cohuna. Soon afterwards in 1965 the Kerang concrete plant was established. The two plants shared 4 trucks (between 3 & 5 cubic yard capacity) and one loader but only the Kerang plant had a telephone.
 
In 1970 the Glenrowan quarry, originally established to supply railway ballast, was purchased from Rawsons. Rawsons also operated concrete plants in conjunction with their quarry so Glenmix concrete, Benalla and Wangaratta, became part of Mawsons.
Readymix Ltd wanted to sell their Echuca plant in 1976. The plant was a good Pyramid Quarry customer and Echuca had good growth prospects so the fifth Mawsons concrete plant was purchased. At this time the concrete fleet numbered 14 radio controlled trucks, the largest of which could carry 4.6 cubic metres.

By the mid 70s the majority of the civil construction and earthmoving divisions' work was in the Shepparton area. Subsequently a workshop and administration facility was established at Kialla. Mawson Constructions Pty. Ltd. continued to expand with the acquisition of a number of laser controlled irrigation layout graders and tractors, hydraulic excavators, cranes and boring units.

Sun-centre Pre-mix was the next Mawson concrete acquisition. Purchased from Bombardieri's in 1986 this Swan Hill concrete plant complimented Lake Boga Quarries. When the Barham Concrete plant built by Mawsons was opened in 1989 the efficiencies of the western cluster of concrete operations including Kerang, Cohuna, Swan Hill and Barham were realised.

The largest single Mawson acquisition at the time was made in 1988 when the Yabba North and Chesneyvale Quarries and Wren Transport were purchased from Tom Wren. This tightened the network of Mawson quarries along the Murray Valley. The network was further strengthened when the Mokoan pit was purchased from Sargeant's and Tungamah quarries was bought from Pioneer, both in 1997. Combined with 4 gravel pits this range of quarry sites allows Mawsons to use their fixed and mobile crushing and screening plants to supply various stone and gravel types to suit customer requirements.

Mawsons' presence in Shepparton was enhanced with the purchase of Supermix Concrete from Tony and Frank Pigatto in 1990. As with all Mawson acquisitions there was a very good, long-standing business relationship between Mawsons and Pigattos as the previous plant operators. Mawsons are very pleased to have so many employees of previous owners continue working with the company helping to develop their local markets and facilities.
In the long established tradition of innovation Mawsons teamed with the CSIRO to develop Granitgard, a longlife, non-toxic termite barrier made by reprocessing quarry dust at Pyramid Hill. Since its commercialisation in 1992 Granitgard has been used to safely protect over 150,000 houses across Australia from termites (white ants). As part of the Granitgard screening process a fine dust product is made. Mawsons' creative marketing team have found a use for this material in the ceramics industry.

1994 was a very busy year for Mawsons concrete which expanded into Deniliquin by purchasing Denimix from Fruewirths, Numurkah through the acquisition of Fitzpatrick's plant and Tongala via the purchase of Nunn's concrete operations. These acquisitions made the central cluster which includes Echuca, more efficient just as the Shepparton, Benalla and Wangaratta plants (Eastern cluster) had been since 1970 and 1990. The eastern clusters' performance was further enhanced with the purchase of Pioneer Concrete's plant in Benalla in 1997. The concrete fleet now numbered 35 trucks with capacities up to 6 cubic metres.

The links between concrete plants stretching from Swan Hill to Wangaratta were now much closer and more easily coordinated. By opening a concrete plant at Pyramid Hill in 1996 another link was put in the place to better serve customers and improve Mawson group performance.

In response to the needs of customers in locations not serviced by fixed concrete plants Mawsons have built mobile concrete batching facilities which allow for the delivery of quality concrete in a timely, efficient manner to remote sites.

Being family owned and operated Mawsons as a company has had to consider how best to structure their third generation business. In 1995 it was decided that the Quarrying and Concrete operations should be separated from Mawson Constructions. Today the two businesses operate in a cooperative spirit but with completely separate ownership and control.

The turn of the century was marked by Mawsons expansion to the South with the purchase of Bernard Caddy's concrete operations in Bendigo and Castlemaine.
In 2002 Loddon Shire's “New Mediterranean” initiative to promote significant local agricultural changes from broad acre grazing to intensive crops like olives, tomatoes, walnuts, cherries and apples prompted Mawsons to set up a new concrete plant in Boort. This has been achieved through a cooperative arrangement with the Cooper family.
The rationalisation of CSR Humes' precast concrete business provided an opportunity for Mawsons to acquire a concrete plant in Rochester in 2001. In addition to supplying the Humes precast factory, the dairying region surrounding Rochester is well catered for by Mawsons Rochester Concrete facility.

An opportunity to extend to Mildura was presented to Mawsons by the Forbes Wilson Group. Since April 2004 Mawsons Mildura concrete, sand and quarrying operations have been servicing the fast growing, diverse economy of Sunraysia. The Mildura operations were further enhanced with the acquisition of the local Consolidated Plant and Quarries site late in the same year. The availability of water from the Murray River and the warm climate make Mildura an ideal location for the growth of intensive agriculture and a desirable tourist destination. Mawsons are now well positioned to share in this growth.
The excellent qualities of granite stone from Mawsons Glenrowan quarry have been long recognised in concrete manufacture. Until recently however the opportunities for utilizing the warm, inviting colours of the stone as building blocks have been largely overlooked. By improving stone selection facilities and modifying extraction techniques Mawsons have made this beautiful natural building product readily available. The stylish images of Glenrowan Granite in housing, retaining walls, gateways and barbeques speak for themselves.

As a centre of stone fruit and dairy production in the heart of the Murray and Goulburn Valleys, Cobram is a vibrant town with strong tourist appeal. When Steve Pain's NuCrete Concrete Cobram business came onto the market in late 2004 it was a logical link in the Mawsons concrete supply network. The Cobram operation offers another ideal opportunity for Mawsons to extend their excellent levels of expertise and service into growing country towns and rural communities.

Reopening the Fosterville Goldmine created a demand for concrete initially for ore processing plant construction and later for stope stabilization and underground tunnel roof shotcreting. In 2004 Mawsons established a plant on site to supply the mine’s specialist needs 24 hours a day seven days a week. The tough underground conditions and demanding concrete mixes regularly test Mawsons’ mechanical, technical and operational staff but the team’s skill and commitment shine through.

 

The Dalzell family delivered cement to Mawsons’ concrete plants for over 40 years. During this period their fleet of trucks grew from one 48 horsepower truck pulling a semi trailer loaded with 16 tons of 44 pound cement bags through the time of 1 ton bulk bags up to the modern pressurized B double tanker units. When Bill and Faye decided to retire in 2005 Mawsons were willing buyers of this well run business. Mawsons took on the operation of the 600 horsepower trucks and tankers that the Dalzell business had progressed to.

In December 2007 the shares in K.C. Mawson Pty. Ltd which owns half of E. B. Mawson & Sons Pty Ltd (Mawsons), were sold to Adelaide Brighton Limited. Thus Mawsons became a joint venture between an Australian blue chip company and B.A. Mawson’s family interests. Under the joint venture agreement Mawsons remains based in Cohuna, continuing to supply quality building products in the same reliable and efficient way. While Mawsons now has the backing of a major player in Australia’s cement, concrete and aggregates industry it is “Business as usual” for the Mawsons team.

In keeping with the ongoing strategy of steady growth a step further South to Seymour was taken in 2010. This involved the purchase of Precrete from the Taylor family. Rebadged as Mawsons the Seymour plant supplies quality concrete to this rapidly expanding area and also caters for the unique requirements of the nearby Puckapunyal Army Base. The Seymour site also operates a comprehensive landscaping and garden supply business which was a first for Mawsons.

Good quality, igneous stone for Mawsons Mildura concrete plant is sourced from Broken Hill. This quarry was owned and operated by Steve Radford’s Consolidated Concrete and Quarries business. In early 2010 Mawsons purchased this business and began operating a quarry, concrete plant and landscape supplies business from the Holten Avenue site. Like Fosterville Broken Hill produces specialist concrete for the mining industry while also processing sand and loading rail ballast directly onto trains that service the Transcontinental railway which passes very nearby.

During the first week of January in 2012 Mawsons took over the operations of Mildura Mini Mix and Garden Supplies. Previous owners; Michael Bleeser and Murray Mott had been good Mawsons sand customers for several years so a sale to Mawsons was a simple and logical step. This business continues to trade as Mildura Mini Mix and Garden supplies as it caters for a particular market sector distinct from the Mawsons (Maxi) Concrete business which is based in nearby in Buronga.

As a long established and well recognized provider of quality building materials Mawsons are proud to have a highly skilled and motivated workforce, a dedicated group of subcontractors and a network of quarries and concrete plants well equipped to meet modern customer demands. Many of today’s employees are second and third generation staff members. With such a strong tradition of loyalty, innovation and integrity, Mawsons value and respect their staff and customers and pride themselves on their distinguished safety record.