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.
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.
“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.
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