DAVID Barr’s electrical engineering qualifications gave him the choice between three jobs after he decided to move back to Australia from the United Kingdom where he had been studying.
Mt Isa, the Pilbura and south of Perth were his options.
He chose Mt Isa, a decision questioned by immigration officials on his arrival in Australia.
“I told them I was going to a bloody good job and arrived in Mt Isa one week later with my wife, three children aged 7, 9 and 10 and $3 left in my pocket,” David said this week.
For the following three years he worked ensuring reliable delivery of electricity to surface and underground mines and the town as well as taking on the responsibility of the water supply. This also meant maintaining the dam’s stability.
He discovered early on that those he worked with often said they understood but more often then not, didn’t.
“They’d go ‘yeah boss, right oh’ and off they’d go without really listening to what I said.”
He understood early on in his career of 55 years that taking the time to properly listen, explain, repeat and make sure the message was received was paramount to working in what is a potentially lethal industry.
He also discovered that other industries didn’t have the same respect for the energy network.
“The mines would push the power into overload where we do all we can to look after the supply, to reinforce the network and protect it to ensure the supply continues,” David said.
From Mt Isa he moved to Moree where he thought he would be closer to the coast and he was. Instead of 1000km it was only a 600km road trip for an ocean swim.
In November 1987 he came to the Upper Hunter in the position of district engineer and was based at Muswellbrook when the now Ausgrid was known as Shortland County Council.
It was a fragile settling in a period and a time when a number of staff had just been let go. David was warned he would have to make more job cuts.
Investment in power supply by the government at the time was also strained and for some years capital investment was cut by 10 per cent every year making it difficult to effectively manage the power supply.
In 1992 there was a complete change in the industry’s regulation, Energy Australia was born and the delivery of power became a much stronger priority in government thinking.
By then, after years of neglect, much of the network needed to be upgraded.
In 1995 it was clear that growth in the coal industry was about to boom and immediate and extensive capital investment was needed to provide electricity supply.
Among the infrastructure was a second substation at Singleton which David said was completed almost too late.
“The day we switched that on there was huge energy demand in Singleton, the old substation in Orchard Avenue was fully loaded, and this second station was almost too late,” David said.
There have been upgrades to the main 132kv and 66kv lines between McGullys Gap and Mitchell Line depot and a new firm 120 loader to feed Mt Arthur, Bengalla, Dartbrook and the Mangoola mines.
Recognition of the need for upgrades is only part of the hurdle. Delivering that power in an area that covers from Colo River to the towns of Singleton, Muswellbrook, Merriwa, Denman, Aberdeen, Scone and Wingen has its logistic and geographical challenges.
The terrain is harsh and environmental expectations to protect foliage from the community has seen increased use of helicopters to deliver poles and conductors.
However the biggest change in focus over David’s long career has been the emphasis on safety.
“Our people are working at heights and they are working with potentially lethal, high voltage electricity and we need to be careful and we remind people of that every day,” David said.
It was early in his career that he was worried about the complacent manner in which one of his workers was carrying out his duties.
“I tried to talk to him one day but he wasn’t interested and he walked off, saying he was busy or some such thing,” David said.
“A few days later he was killed.”
“I am very mindful of the environment and safety is something we reinforce every day, more now then ever before,” David said.
But for now David is contemplating his retirement and has no plans to leave Muswellbrook any time soon.
However he will be embarking on trips in his caravan and even has plans of building a new van from scratch but says, at 72 years of age, some people believe he has left his run too late.
But after surviving invasive prostate cancer treatment over the past 12 months David is rebuilding his health and now has just as much, if not more zest for life as he ever had.
Someone please, pass the man a spanner.