In addition to its many claims to fame, Broken Hill is also home to one of the most successful family businesses in the region, made even more remarkable for the fact that it has been in operation for over a century – under the stewardship of Gary and Steve Radford.
Back in 1911, as the focus of the mining rush shifted from original deposits in Silverton to far more lucrative seams in Broken Hill, Les Radford started a building and transport business that helped local families to literally move their houses, piece by piece, to the next town, using camel teams and steel trailers.
From there, Les Radford’s business grew to become one of the largest building contractors and earthmoving companies in the region, and was the major service provider for the three main mining companies in Broken Hill. The business passed down the generations when it was acquired by grandson Gary in 1972, and it thrives today as Consolidated Mining & Civil, under the stewardship of Gary’s son Steve.
Gary’s life-story was immortalized in the biography Ripper by John Miller, which traces his grandfather’s arrival in the town, with eleven children in tow, through to Gary’s semi-retirement and his maintenance of the family’s legacy as philanthropic supporters of the local community - not least of which is Gary’s personal contribution to the construction of a pavilion at the Broken Hill Race Course, which now bears his name.
“My great-grandfather had a great relationship with the town,” says Gary. “What he put back into the community, no one will ever know. I guess that's the same as us now - what we put back into the community, if it was a dollar value, no one would ever know.” Whilst the value may never be known, their contribution has nonetheless been qualified - both father and son have been honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for their services to the community of Broken Hill.
Steve has been working at his father’s side from a very early age – learning the mechanics of the industry and the value of community. He recalls his father’s sage advice, "we only get out something that we can put back” and he is determined to continue that tradition going forward.
Now, as owner of a business that’s the largest employer in the region, he is also driven by the need to reflect on what success means and the opportunities that it offers. “I've got to take a step back and appreciate the magnitude of our business today compared to what it was doing years ago. That's good for me as a challenge - where does the business go? Where do I go? And what does that mean for the community?
The answer, in part, to those questions is the development of White Leeds Station – a 6.315 hectare arid-zone property on the outskirts of Broken Hill, co- owned by Steve.
As well as establishing conservation zones that protect the local Sturt Desert Pea, along with other native vegetation, Steve has helped to develop a unique protected wetland system – designed to naturally treat effluent water through an ecosystem that would improve the water quality to ‘primary contact’ level (that is, suitable for swimming).
“Everybody said, “It won't work, you're mad, you're crazy!” recalls Steve, “but we’ve done it, and people can see that now. We'll be the first to treat that kind of water, through a natural wetlands process, into primary contact water. We can now take that model, and use it on a smaller scale, in other places. That's making a difference - through conservation, education, agriculture, horticulture, and by recycling that water – we’re giving opportunity back to the community.”
And it’s that opportunity that Steve hopes will be the legacy of the Radford family. Whilst the business itself is a clear model for professional success, it is ‘what you put back’ that really counts. “I'd like to make a difference for Broken Hill”, Steve concludes, “I want to make opportunities that can leave something behind for the younger generation. If I can hang my hat on making a difference, and giving kids a go, then I think I would have achieved what I've set out to do.”