Tony Wildman talks about the earthmoving industry on the Sunshine Coast.
When a reader wrote in saying that we should talk to the man behind Wildman Earthworks, Tony Wildman, images of us hunting down a part-man, part-beast quickly sprung to mind for the Australian Earthmoving crew.
As we prepared to meet this Yeti in Gympie, about 160km north of Brisbane, images of the biggest, wildest hair and beard known to man continued to plague us.
Surely Tony would be at least ten feet tall and be known to growl at people from behind trees at dusk?
Naturally we dressed in camouflage, complete with camera gear, tranquiliser guns and night vision goggles, before jumping on a plane to meet him.
Surrounded by mountain ranges in this former gold-mining town, the setting was perfect for our fictitious beast. But Bigfoot was nowhere to be found - after being greeted with a warm smile and a friendly hello as we pulled up to our destination, our dreams of a grizzly barbarian come crashing to the ground. Tony, a well-presented professional, extended his hand and backed it up with a friendly ‘G’day’.
We sheepishly put our barbiturates back in our bag.
Tony quickly revealed to us the only kind of beast he could be described as is a sun-worshipper.
He has spent his whole life in various regions of the Sunshine Coast and holds the area very close to his heart.
"Gympie is a great place to live because of its close proximity to the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane," he said.
Tony was introduced to the earthmoving industry straight out of high school.
"Gympie is a historical mining town so there are a lot of mineshafts around the town," he explained.
"Over the years these had started to fall in and collapse, so they began the mineshaft repair project, which provided plenty of work for local contractors."
Tony says he started working for his brother on one of these repairs projects. And the rest, as they say, is history.
With the abundance of work available, Tony says it was the perfect place for a newcomer to cut his teeth and learn the business.
"I got roasted," Tony says, laughing.
"You can’t ask for more than that and I am so fortunate to have such an awesome team."
He was initially drawn to the Takeuchi as his brother had a few and loved them. "My bro had no problems at all and they are just a really well-built, solid, reliable mini-excavator," Tony says.
"I actually dry hired a Takeuchi 015 from my brother for a job that he was doing and ended up buying the machine from him! When it came time to replace that machine it was a no-brainer to just get a new one of the same."
Tony says he’s not sure if it’s sibling rivalry or just ‘a Wildman thing’ but him and his brother have a competitive nature.
"So it is important to try and always have the best equipment that you possibly can," he explained.
"This is probably why I have grown the business from one small skid-steer to the fleet that we have now. I have seen different opportunities come up and it just isn’t in my nature to let them go by the wayside."
When more work came up, Tony was able to get his first operator, Kev Honour, on board.
"I bought him a machine and another one for myself," Tony explained.
"Three years ago another brilliant operator, Danny Malcolm, came along so that led to the next natural expansion of the business."
Tony stresses the importance of having both men as part of a successful business.
"Kev has been an important figure in my earthmoving career long before I even considered moving dirt," he explained.
"When I left school, Kev was working for my brother, so I learnt under him and another great local operator, Barry Lee."
Times changed and Kev moved on.
Years later, Tony heard that Kev was available again and didn’t hesitate to snap him back up.
"Like I’ve said, Kev gets what Kev wants," Tony says, laughing.
"To have him on the team, it is worth keeping him happy. The thing is, he only wants the very best equipment regardless of cost!"
But Tony agrees whole-heartedly with Kev’s opinion.
Subsequently, on the end of the new Caterpillar boom is a JB Powertilt.
"These Powertilts aren’t cheap," Tony explained
"But they are just fantastic."
His Yanmar has one too.
"You just wouldn’t have anything else if you are remotely serious," Tony says.
"You can bitch all you want about the price, but you will be complaining a whole lot more if you had something else."
Tony says it simply does the job and it does it well.
"The angle you get is awesome too," he says.
Tony also loves the warranty they come with, but he says the only warranty worth having is one that you don’t have to claim on.
"If you want the best setup then you need to look at all of the components," he says.
"A great machine is not going to be any good without a bucket or attachment and if any one of the components fails, then you are buggered."
Tony reckons word gets around quickly if you have good gear and can do a job well.
"All of a sudden you get a call out of the blue from somebody that you have never heard of, needing you to do something," he says.
"If you hadn’t bought that machine or attachment you probably would have never got the call in the first place."
Tony says most of Wildman Earthworks’ jobs come from Gympie Regional Council and the National Parks and Wildlife.
"One of the highlight jobs was doing the 80km great walk from Noosa to Rainbow Beach -
"It goes really well and does whatever I ask of it," Tony says.
"Gympie is not the easiest country to dig and nothing likes rock, but this trencher just keeps on chewing anyway."
Tony also has posthole borers and several other bits of gear, which he says gives him an edge over his competition.
"You don’t have to ever say no when an enquiry comes through for a job," he says.
It is just as important to have the good gear to move the machines around and Tony currently has three Hinos; one six-metre tray Hino and two single-axle, five-metre tipper Hinos.
"I try to keep the fleet the same just for uniformity and ease of maintenance," he says.
Tony also has the Ford Louisville beavertail, which is used for carting the eight-tonne excavator around.
"It’s a great truck too, and although you won’t win any drag races in it, you know that it will get you to your destination."
Business wise, there is always the opportunity to go bigger and he has definitely thought about it.
"At this point in time I’m still very attached to and enjoying the fire service," he says.
"If I did want to go bigger, I would have to quit the fire service, and that isn’t something that I want to do."
Tony says he feels very lucky that he has two great operators working for him which allows him to manage the current workload while still having a life.
"Having guys that just think on their own and really look after the gear is simply awesome," he says.
"Those guys have set the standard really high, so an operator would have to be pretty special to be a part of the business."
Tony’s 15-year-old son, Connor, could join the business after school if he wanted to.
"But there is no special treatment," Tony says.
"He would have to come into it with the right attitude."
Now, Connor is the business’ number one detailer, keeping all the machines clean and greased.
Tony’s wife, Julie, and 13-year-old daughter, Amy Lou, have an interest in horses.
They provide the motivation to keep working all of the time and ensure there is never too much in the account," he says, laughing.
The family own five horses and are passionate about dressage and jumping.
Does he have plans for them to take over the business?
"Connor does have the interest in the machines and Amy Lou is definitely bossy enough, so would do well with the management part," Tony says, laughing.
Tony is a field hockey nut and, despite being extremely busy with two full-time jobs and an energetic family, he still makes the time to get out for a run on the field each weekend.
Motorbikes are another hobby that Tony and his son enjoy when they can find the time.
"Time is always the killer but they say a busy person always makes time," Tony says.
It is exhausting enough for us just thinking of the hours that Tony commits himself to, but his extra-curricular activities continue.
Tony also does heavy rescue, which involves truck rescue, and is a swift water rescue operator.
He is on call whenever there is a flood and has saved many lives.
Tony has been involved with mines’ rescues, which he says is a great combination of the two things that he likes.
"I love machinery and rescue, so I go up north to the mines when required and when I have the time," he says.
Tony is also doing up a 1985 Ford F100, which has just had a fresh coat of Toxic Green, a Ford GT colour.
"A solid 351 V8 engine sits under the bonnet and this will make a pretty nice work ute to get around in when it gets on the road," he says.
With such a busy schedule we are thankful for the time Tony took out of his day to catch up with us.
We also want to commend him on his service to the firies and the local community.
People like Tony really reinforce that earthmovers are the best kind of people that you can meet and is another example of why we love being a part of the industry.