“I am a wealthy man Ian, my family stuck together” – Bombala’s Ron Milliner.

Ron and Lexie Milliner - solid gold people. Photo: Ian Campbell
Ron and Lexie Milliner – solid gold people. Photo: Ian Campbell

Bombala’s Ron and Lexie Milliner have worked hard, smart and with passion all their lives, they are now moving towards a kind of retirement that will keep them busy, but see them enjoying the spoils of their labour.

Six months ago they all but wound up their long-running earth moving business.

“We wanted to dismantle things while we still had our marbles, although some say I lost them a long time ago,” Ron laughs.

Negotiations continue around the sale of their beloved “Crystal View”, which had been HQ for the family and the business. Most of the trucks and machines that were once parked on the property on Gunningrah Road are gone, sold at auction back in May.

“We built the business up to a point where we had just over 60 registrations – trucks, trailers, utes, and machines, and now after the sale, we are down to about 10,” Ron says.

“I’ve still got a granite rock quarry and I make road base and sell all sizes of granite stone -from 20mm to rocks as big as this lounge we are sitting on.

“We are hoping to expand and sell wall and landscaping rock to the coast.”

It’s hard to imagine Ron not driving trucks and machinery, it’s his boyhood dream – trucks and music.

“When I was a little kid I wanted to own trucks and bulldozers and play Slim Dusty music,” the 71-year old says.

“And to a certain degree, I’ve managed to do that.”

Ron beams as he talks about his two and half-year-old great-grandson playing in the Milliner quarry.

“He’s doin the same thing I used to do as a little kid – load little rocks into his little dump truck,” Ron says.

Married for 53 years, Ron and Lexie have three children, seven grandkids, two great-grandsons, and another two due in January.

The pair met while working at the old Harold Golberg department store in Bombala.

“Lexie worked upstairs in the accounts department,” Ron remembers.

As a founding member of the “Bombala Knit and Knatter Group”, Lexie has been busy knitting baby blankets for the new arrivals on top of her regular crafty generosity.

The Knit and Knatter girls get together often at Bombala’s famous Cosmo Cafe, making woolen blankets for the charity Wrap With Love.

“We sent 100 wraps away in August, I’ve lost count how many we’ve done over the last eight years,” Lexie says.

Some of the wraps, Wrap With Love send around Australia and around the globe to people needing care and comfort. Photo: Carlingford Uniting Church
Some of the wraps, Wrap With Love send around Australia and around the globe to people needing care and comfort. Photo: Carlingford Uniting Church

Apart from keeping the home fires burning, Lexie has been key to the businesses success, often called on in the early days to move a truck when Ron needed an extra pair of hands.

Both fondly remember family barbeques in the bush when their children were young. Precious family time while Ron was working a 13 day fortnight harvesting and carting logs, building up the business.

At aged 25, it was the forestry industry that gave the Milliner’s their break in the 1970’s.

“We had no money when we got that first contract, and I remember getting that first cheque from the Eden Chip Mill for $6500, I’d never seen so much money,” Ron says.

“We built the business up from there, trading up to new machinery, three steps forward and 2.99 back.

“But as we were going along we could see we were losing more and more forestry areas to National Parks.

“There were about 40 contractors in those days,” he says.

Recognising the decline in forestry, Ron and Lexie started to diversify their business and moved into earth moving.

In 1992 they took over the local concrete plant from the cash-strapped Bombala Council.

“Forestry started pulling names out of a hat and I didn’t want to go like that or get to that stage so I took a small package from the government and that helped us move on.”

Logging, earth moving, and concrete were all part of the business for a few years before the Milliners finally got out of forestry in 1995.

Bombala, on the southern Monaro. Photo: Google Maps
Bombala, on the southern Monaro. Photo: Google Maps

“It was important to have a diverse business so that we could cope with the rise and fall, there was something going all the time,” Ron says.

Milliner machines have worked on some to the region’s big projects.

“But nothing was too small for us,” Ron smiles.

Reflecting on his 50-year career, this boy from Mount Darrah who trapped rabbits and sold turnips as a lad points to Bombala’s new softwood processing plant as one of his biggest jobs.

“On one day alone we did 75 truck and trailer loads,” he said.

“We worked on the Eastern Gas Pipeline that came through in 2000, we did clearing work out on the Hume Highway in the nineties getting it ready for the road to go through, and more recently we worked on the big new electricity substation at Cooma – some interesting jobs.”

In winding up the business at Crystal View, Ron and Lexie considered moving to the coast for their retirement years but instead, they opted to become “townies” building a new home in the community Lexie was born and breed in.

“Ron was too frightened a tsunami would get him, so he said – I am staying on top of the mountain,” Lexie chuckles.

Family and friends invited to Crystal View will be familiar with the large performance space Ron had created to share his love and skill for music. Lexie’s warmth, humour, and hospitality an important ingredient to the party.

“In a smaller way we’ll still do it here in the new shed,” Ron suggests.

“We could hold 6o or 70 people at Crystal View, here we might be able to fit 20 or 30.

“The last concert we had out there, there were a few tears, but nothing lasts forever, everything comes to an end Ian,” Ron says.

With self-funded recordings to his name and countless gigs in dozens of country halls with his family band, Ron still has musical ambitions and a need to celebrate music and its influence on people.

“I’ve got an old peddle steel guitar, its about 30 years since I’ve played it, so I am going to try and get that cranked up,” he says.

Ron and Lexie say there have been many sleepless nights during the history of their business as they managed the various twists and turns but more so in the last 12 months as they worried about the fate of the dozen or so employees that were part of the business.

“Everyone of those people now has a job,” Ron says with relief.

“We’ve had some good men over the years, one of the things I am happiest about is that we gave dozens and dozens of young fellows their start.”

Ron, Lexie and I chat at the end of a long day, Ron is dirty, bleeding and in bright orange hi-viz having just knocked off. If he wasn’t chatting to me he’d be having a beer – I am regrettably polite and knocked back the earlier invitation to have one.

Lexie is surrounded in cream and orange wool finishing another wrap, comfortable in her deserved new home, talking of perhaps taking a bus trip holiday.

Their daughter Leanda has just left and promised to return for coffee in the morning.

This is a rich family, but not because they have just cashed in their life’s work.

“I am a wealthy man Ian, my family stuck together, the business and our music is a big part of that,” Ron says.

*About Regional content happens because of the support of members – thank you to the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Doug Reckord, Wendy and Pete Gorton, Bronnie Taylor, Amanda Dalziel, and Tabitha Bilaniwsky-Zarins.

Tourism showcase highlights local landmarks to global travel agents

Overseas travel agents dining at Fat Tony's Tathra. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Overseas travel agents dining at Fat Tony’s Tathra. Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Foreign travel agents have just experienced a free Eurobodalla and Bega Valley holiday – all in the name of research for their customers back home.

Not a bad gig!

NSW Tourism Minister, Adam Marshall says, “We want to ensure that international travel agents are well informed about Australia’s number one state for tourism.”

“Helping put money into local pockets and boosting local economies,” Mr Marshall says.

Called familiarisation tours within the tourism trade or “famils”, three parties of 31 agents from America, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France have just sampled, South Coast Sea Planes, Montague Island Discovery Tours, Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Tours, Bodalla Dairy Shed, Drift Eden, and Tathra Beach House Apartments – among a host of other local attractions.

“These groups are specialist travel salespeople who will now understand our region better, this experience will help them sell our region,” says Anthony Osborne, Executive Officer of Sapphire Coast Tourism.

The three local famils hosted by Destination Southern NSW were part of a group of six tours that sprung from a trade event on the Gold Coast run by Tourism Australia, and follow on from famils to the Snowy Mountains in May and June with 26 participants.

Sea kayaking with Region X at Batemans Bay. Photo: Kerrie-Anne Benton
Sea kayaking with Region X at Batemans Bay. Photo: Josh Waterson 

“Two of the groups travelled to the South Coast from Sydney, the other from Canberra,” Mr Osborne says.

Eurobodalla Tourism Marketing Coordinator, Kerrie-Anne Benton, says the agents loved their South Coast experience.

“Nature, nature, and more nature, that’s why the Sapphire and Eurobodalla Coasts were selected for these familiarisations,” Ms Benton says.

“And with flights into and out of Canberra and Singapore now, a gateway for travel has emerged connecting our region to the world.”

The Jindabyne based, Gang Gang Tours acted as chaperones on two of the three local tours.

“I had eight lovely ladies from the USA, front-line travel agents who will take this experience home,” says Gang Gang owner, Janine Becker.

“Out of the eight, seven hadn’t been to Australia before,” Ms Becker says.

“One of the agents told me people are wanting to get off the tourist trail, which is our region’s big selling point.”

Happy travellers at Glass House Rocks Narooma. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Happy travellers at Glass House Rocks Narooma. Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Aside from teaching them about us, these opportunities also serve as a learning experience for local tourism bosses and operators.

“It was interesting to hear about travel patterns in other countries,” Ms Becker says.

“Workers in the U.S only get two paid weeks of leave a year, which means the average holiday runs seven to ten days.

“European countries tend to get four weeks paid leave, so they have longer holidays and have a great opportunity to travel to regional areas overseas,” she says.

Ms Becker doesn’t think the international market will be the biggest part of the Gang Gang business model, but she is keen to grow its influence.

“This experience will help us target our marketing better,” Ms Becker says.

The other point that emerged was that in most cases, international markets travel outside Australia’s peak periods and in some cases in the heart of our off-peak season.

In the year ending June 2016, the Eurobodalla welcomed 28,000 international visitors – 20% from the U.K, 15% Germany, and 11% from the U.S.A

Kerrie-Anne Benton thinks it makes business sense to target overseas holidaymakers.

“Australia is a finite market whereas there is massive potential for international travel growth,” she says.

“Canberra has opened up new opportunities for the South Coast and we need to encourage more tourism businesses to be international ready and have options ready for travellers.”

Captain Sponge Bob at Pambula talking oysters. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Talking oysters at Pambula with Captain Sponge’s  Magical Oyster Tours: Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Further south in the Bega Valley, Anthony Osborne is nodding.

“Australia continues to see growth in international visits while the domestic market is static, it’s a no-brainer for us to focus some resources on building this market, and we have extra funding this year from Bega Valley Shire Council to tackle that challenge,” Mr Osborne says.

“We need to develop more experiences around our unique selling points. Nature and the coast are the number one reasons international travellers come to Australia and we have that in spades.”

*About Regional content is made with the backing of members, people, and businesses supporting local storytelling. Thank you – Sprout Cafe and Local Produce in Eden, Shan Watts, Robyn Amair, Gabrielle Powell, and Phil Martin.

*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council