KEITH JACKSON with thanks to Rob Parer
Link here to a video of Robin’s early days in PNG from 1963-69. https://vimeo.com/177157110
This second video, titled ‘Overcoming the odds’, tells the story of the building of four Oro bridges in 2014-16. https://vimeo.com/226839061?ref=em-share
BRISBANE – The founder of Brisbane-based Canstruct Pty Ltd, Robin Murphy OAM, started his career in Papua New Guinea in late 1963 a week before me.
He had recently graduated as an engineer and soon found himself designing and, not long after, building bridges.
At that time he worked for the colonial Administration but a strong entrepreneurial streak saw him start his own company which, over time, became the leading Queensland construction firm, Canstruct, still going strong today.
Robin lived in PNG for six years, and says the country still holds a special place in his heart.
After working in Port Moresby for 18 months, he gained rapid promotion to become district works engineer in Mt Hagen at age 25 before seizing an opportunity to tender for the Nebilyer River bridge, quitting his job with the Administration.
He won the tender with assets of one Holden car and £500 (today about K25,000) began his long and successful career in business. The Nebilyer bridge still stands more than 50 years later.
Even though at first he had no crane, the company won other contracts to build bridges on the Highlands Highway and the company grew rapidly to employ two expatriates (“they were drunk a lot of the time,” he now recalls) and 100 local people.
Robin and his wife Margaret stayed in PNG until 1969, living in grass huts with dirt floors in remote villages, but when their third child was born in 1968, Margaret put her foot down and said it was time to go back to Australia.
Robin got a job with John Holland in Tasmania, worked for them for two years building mine shafts and a woodchip mill and then tendered on his own to build a wharf in Launceston – and started another company, this time in Australia.
A few years back, in a remarkable echo of those early PNG days, Contrac won a $53 million dollar contract to build the four new bridges in Oro Province.
They included the bridge over the Kumusi River which brought together communities that have been isolated for nearly a decade after being destroyed by Cyclone Guba in 2007.
The bridges also assist trekkers to access the Kokoda Track as they can now arrive and depart from Popondetta Airport on the coastal plain and safer than the old Kokoda wartime airstrip.
Canstruct is now a significant Queensland manufacturing and construction business, with 75% of its products exported. Robin, now 79, has handed over the CEO’s job to his son Rory and the business remains in family hands.