Prime Mover Magazine

Local Heroes

Local Heroes

Travel through the Illawarra district in New South Wales and you are likely to encounter Cleary Bros’ bright yellow trucks or their earthmoving equipment. Since it was established more than a century ago, Cleary Bros has become synonymous with the region.

In 1916, three Cleary brothers started a business, with John Joseph ‘Jack’ Cleary leading the way. His leadership transformed Cleary Bros from an operation that transported timber to diversify into a much broader service provider for the then expanding construction industry.

Following Jack’s passing in 1958, his four children – John, Jill, Denis and Brian – assumed management responsibilities. To this day the business is overseen by Denis Cleary in his role as Chairman.

Steve Rogers joined Cleary Bros four years ago as its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer; he is poised to face the challenges of the business’ second century, bringing a wealth of experience in Australian construction materials.

As a business, Cleary Bros has always been prepared to accept the difficult jobs and has earned a reputation for taking on extremely challenging projects, as well as the more straightforward tasks, and successfully fulfilling their roles to completion.

The Cleary Bros Construction Division provides a broad range of civil services including large earthworks, residential and industrial subdivisions, roadworks and remediation works and is able to implement the use of company-owned equipment to perform most of the necessary tasks.

The diversity of the sectors of the business has been a factor in the formula for the ongoing success of Cleary Bros and the concrete, transport, quarrying and construction sectors work well together and contribute to the overall competitiveness of the group’s business offering.

Cleary Bros’ Concrete Division has a fleet of thirty agitators as well as five cement powder tankers. The traditional 6x2 agitator trucks are progressively being replaced with 10x4 units which have the capacity to deliver eight cubic metres of ready-mixed concrete in each load. There are around 30 road going combinations which are mainly tippers as well as three low loader floats to move the pieces of earthmoving machinery and which are also available for hire to relocate third party machines and components.

The most recent acquisitions for the road going truck fleet are predominantly Mack, the latest being 535 horsepower Mack Trident tippers attached to four axle tipping trailers operating at 57.5 tonnes Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) under the Performance-Based Standards (PBS) system. Other towed equipment includes side tippers, conventional tippers and two 26-metre B-double combinations mostly used in transporting fly ash.

Cleary Bros’ long association with the Mack brand is evidenced by the superbly restored pair of 1940’s NR Mack trucks on display in the Cleary Bros museum alongside bulldozers and other earthmoving equipment, all of which have been restored to ‘as new’ condition. The restorations have been performed by Cleary Bros employees and are a genuine showcase of their abilities.

Cleary Bros are a major supplier of construction materials and hard rock in both boulder and crushed forms is extracted from the Albion Park quarry which is also the site of one of four Cleary Bros concrete plants. Sand is mined at Gerroa located further down the South Coast.

There is an increasing demand for what is termed ‘armour rock’ which is used to stabilise sand areas on the eastern coastline in order to minimise the erosion effects of severe storms. Some rocks have a specified minimum weight of six tonnes each which requires the utilisation of steel bodied side tippers. 

“We can’t put rocks of that size into an alloy body,” says Phil Dennis who is the Capital Works Manager at Cleary Bros. “We also face a challenge of positioning the rocks within the trailer body to maintain legal axle weights. It’s almost impossible to get the axle weights right with three rocks of that size so we normally limit each load to two armour rocks.”

To ensure strict compliance with mass regulations all trucks leaving the quarry cross a weighbridge which will be duplicated in the near future to enhance traffic flow and efficiency.

In a trend similar to modern truck combinations becoming larger and more efficient, so too is earthmoving equipment. Cleary Bros currently has about 100 pieces of earthmoving machinery, which are collectively capable of doing more work than the 150 machines of a few years ago.

All servicing is carried out in Cleary Bros’ own workshops with one dedicated to road vehicles and the other concentrating on machinery including stationary units such as pumps and rock crushers. The Transport Workshop looks after compliance, and safety is at the top of the agenda. Cleary Bros has been a member of the TruckSafe program since 1998 and the company was awarded the prestigious John Kelly Memorial Award by the Australian Trucking Association in 2012 for its exceptional implementation of the TruckSafe accreditation system.

The maintenance on the trucks and earthmoving equipment is consciously carried out at levels even more stringent than required by the manufacturers. Monitoring programs involving regular laboratory oil sampling are followed rigorously and up to 3,000 samples analysed every year.

All of the earthmoving machines are equipped with fluid evacuation systems that can be connected to a truck that has been specifically set up to suck out the used oil. Instead of drums, 1,000 litre pods of new oil carried on the curtainsider truck are connected to pump reels which are used to deliver the fresh oil. Waste oil is returned to the depot and stored in larger tanks prior to being collected by a waste oil recycler.

After 65 years with the one lubricant supplier, four years ago the Cleary Bros supply of oils and greases was by taken over by Valvoline. This decision to change was certainly not taken lightly.
“The products we were using were excellent quality and with any of the major oil companies we naturally expect them to have good products,” says Phil Dennis. “The suppliers are mostly price-competitive, so the point of difference comes down to service, and the service we’ve received from Valvoline has been nothing short of great.”

Earthmoving machinery and rock crushing plants are particularly demanding of the lubrication of their moving parts and grease supply was an issue. Cleary Bros had been negotiating with their previous supplier for almost five years with the desire to obtain bulk grease.

“The problem with the 180 Kg drums we were using was having an empty drum we had to dispose of, plus we were never able to get all of the grease out of them which presented an environmental issue,” says Phil. “Valvoline offered a solution and supplied two bulk grease hoppers for our use.”

“No one can build long term partnerships by saying they are going to do it, and then not doing it,” says Mark Hurt from Valvoline’s Commercial and Industrial division. “I was a Valvoline customer myself for 14 years before I joined the company and I had the same level of great service all the way through. It’s something that is inherent with us. A fundamental difference between Valvoline and other big suppliers is we don’t have a major fuel company to back us up. We are purely a lubrication company so if we don’t do what we do for Cleary Bros or any other of our customers properly, we don’t have a business.”

Steve Crandell, who is the General Manager for Concrete and Transport at Cleary Bros, says the oil decision may have been less critical if they were regularly changing over its fleet like one of the big road freight operators.

“Because we’d know we’re going to turn vehicles over in a specified period it then becomes someone else’s problem in its later life,” he says. “While we do trade them when they get to a certain age we’ll aim to get a good ten years out of a truck. We don’t want to be using a cheap oil and then in five years’ time rebuilding an engine. If you’re running trucks for a set short period and then replacing them in your fleet you could run a less recognised oil but for longevity we need to do regular maintenance and run a good quality oil like Valvoline”

Between them Steve Crandell and Phil Dennis have 61 years of collective service at the company and there is an evident and strong culture among the people who work at Cleary Bros that this is much more than a ‘job’ to them. Together with Denis as the surviving second generation member, a number of third and fourth generation Cleary family members are now involved in the business in various roles. Cleary Bros and its employees are strong supporters of community events including the annual Illawarra truck convoy which raises money to assist local charities and always features many trucks from the Cleary Bros fleet. Visitors and community groups are regularly welcomed to the Cleary Bros private museum where immaculately presented examples of historic construction machinery and trucks are on display in a purpose-built building. The family and community values philosophy of Cleary Bros hasn’t impeded the company’s success which is due to a large extent on delivering levels of service to its clients above any expectations.

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