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City farewells a beloved son

Saturday, 2nd May, 2020

It was said of Gary Radford that he could operate every piece of equipment his company owned. It was said of Gary Radford that he could operate every piece of equipment his company owned.

By Craig Brealey

 

Gary Arnold Radford was born in Broken Hill in 1941, the first child of Reginald and Nell Radford (nee Griffith). He hardly knew his father because he died in action in New Guinea.

According to Gary Radford’s biographer, John Miller, Nell never recovered from the loss of her husband and was eventually confined to an institution.

The boy was raised by both sets of grandparents with the support of Legacy, which was established to help war widows and their children. 

The manager of the North Mine, Jeff Bills, took him in as a Legacy ward, and Gary attributed much of his success to the fine example set by Legacy members and his grandfather Les Radford.

Les owned the biggest building and earthmoving firm in the city and among his early achievements were the construction of Penrose Park as a picnic spot for mineworkers. He also did work for the Silverton Tramway Company and had earlier transported houses from the town to Broken Hill.

Les Radford and Sons were involved in the building of several churches in the city, the famous Martin’s Corner and the TAFE Annexe in Argent Street where munitions were manufactured during the war, mainly by women, among them Gary’s mother.

He was schooled at Burke Ward primary and the Broken Hill High School which he left at the age of 14 to begin work as a welder with his grandfather’s company.

Gary left the firm for a job with the Department of Main Roads but then borrowed money to buy a truck and a tractor and went into business in 1964 with his uncle Peter Radford under the name R&R Earthmovers. 

He later he acquired his grandfather’s firm, changed the name to Gary Radford Earthmovers and soon won contracts with the city’s four mines and for public works.

In 1972 the owners of the oldest remaining mine, the South, declared it unprofitable and closed it. About 700 workers lost their jobs.

But another company, Minerals, Mining and Metallurgy, thought it still had a future, and with his knowledge from having worked for it, so did Gary.

MMM, from Adelaide, was a small company (detractors dubbed it Mickey Mouse Mine) with little capital. Still, Gary Radford offered to help get the South going again by providing his earthmoving equipment and starting open-cut operations without pay until it started making money.

Gary bought into MMM and eventually became its biggest shareholder and the managing director of the mine. During his ten-year involvement, he kept almost 300 people in work at the mine and with his earthmoving company.

In 1980/81 MMM achieved the highest rate of profit of any mining company in the nation, and it was no longer the Mickey but the Mighty Mouse Mine.

Gary always acknowledged the help of the local unions in saving the South and keeping it operational: “I believe in the unions. Providing you are fair dinkum and lay the cards on the table, the system works well.”

In 1983 in an article about Gary in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper, the president of the Barrier Industrial Council, Joe Keenan, described him as “the most astute young businessman in Australia. He has given so much heart to this city.”

In 1985, he sold out of the mining company but had already turned his eyes from the earth to the sky and established another venture. 

In his time with MMM he noticed that the Ansett air service to the city was not frequent enough to satisfy the demands of the mining industry, so he started his own.

In 1978 he established a charter service and, within a few months, it evolved into a fully-fledged passenger service, Radford Silver City Airlines. It offered six flights a week to Melbourne and, soon after, Adelaide as well, but despite his best efforts and those of our civic leaders, the NSW Government denied him a licence to open a route to Sydney.

Gary sold the airline as a going concern and, after a spell in Adelaide, came home to start a new earthmoving company, Radford Silver City Earthmovers. He opened a quarry and then a concrete plant and was soon back in the mining game doing work with Pasminco which had bought the Zinc-NBHC mines.

In 1992 he helped bring a 277-tonne mobile mining machine to town for Pasminco by running detours around the wooden bridges between Yunta and Broken Hill and putting steel bridges over 13 culverts on the highway.

Twenty years later Gary’s son, Stephen, emulated his father’s achievement, and attitude, when he famously stepped in to reopen the Adelaide road.

In March, 2012 Pine Creek Bridge, near Cockburn in South Australia, collapsed in heavy rain. The State Government said it would take months to replace so it ordered a temporary bridge, but that would have been too late for the St Pat’s race meeting.

Stephen, who was by then running the family business, told SA he could build a detour. He won the contract and within 48 hours, the Barrier Highway was open. His achievement was celebrated in the BDT under the headline “Done and Dusted”.

In 2016 father and son were inducted into the National Road Transport’s Hall of Fame.  It was said of Gary that he could operate every piece of equipment his company owned, and his favourite hobby was rebuilding old trucks.

He was a lifelong patron of the St Pat’s races and always lent his water trucks and other machinery to keep the track in good condition. He also gave the club the money to build a giant “shed”, capable of holding 1600 people, to save it hiring so many marquees.

At a meeting with the committee, he wrote and signed the offer on the spot. Written on a couple of sheets of toilet paper, it was later placed in a frame and now hangs on the wall in the club’s office. The big shed is now known as “The Radford Pavilion”.

Another example of his generosity was displayed in 1973 when champion Broken Hill racehorse, Felix Boy, died after being kicked at the starting barrier. Gary sent a crane to lift the stallion out of his Railwaytown stables and onto a truck which took him to the racecourse where he was buried in a pit that Gary had ordered dug in a place of honour at the top of the straight.

In retirement, he bought a string of sheep and cattle properties, from the Queensland border to south-eastern SA, and placed his sons Nicholas and Ben in charge of running them.

He also devoted himself to community service as a supporter and executive member of Lifeline and Legacy. 

Like Pro Hart and businessman Harold Griff before him, Gary was ever ready to give money and practical support to a good cause. Only last year, after hearing  that the Sea Scouts had been robbed of the bottles and cans they were saving to cash in for a “cuboree” he immediately presented them with a cheque for $1000.

He then turned up at the scout hall with his son Stephen and a shipping container to hold the empties so they couldn’t be stolen again.

As someone said this week, you have only to look around to appreciate how much he did for the city: the Miners’ Memorial and Visitors Centre that were built when he was chairman of the former Line of Lode Association; the old Silver City Comet in the railway museum that he had carted from the train station and hoisted into place; the Kintore mine headframe that he donated and erected in Blende Street; the sculptures in the Living Desert for which he transported the blocks and set them in place; the churches and schools he helped refurbish.

Gary Radford is survived by his wife Kaye and children Stephen, Carolyn and Nicholas.

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