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Industry Interviews

Mary Mann speaks with Bernard Clifford
Director, Kanmantoo Bluestone

Bernard Clifford - Kanmantoo BluestoneHow did you get into the quarrying business?
A friend and I used to lay stone for buildings and landscaping projects. In 1977 we formed the company Albern Slate Pty Ltd, and would buy stone from the Kanmantoo Bluestone Quarry. In 1983 the quarry came up for tender, and we bought it! I was young then, very energetic and enthusiastic, and I had a lot to learn. Back when we bought the quarry, there wasn’t much dug out of it. We basically started from scratch and I learnt a lot along the way. Now we produce material for a commercial market and we deal with a lot of architects. I love working with stone because it is ever changing, not like a brick. Every piece is different. I think it really grows on you.

How is the quarrying process of bluestone different from the process of quarrying dimension stone?
Bluestone is different from dimension stone in that each piece is unique in size, shape and colouring. You don’t just cut a block into smaller pieces; each stone is individual and needs to be treated as such. The quarrying of bluestone is a very labour intensive process and thus we don’t mass produce.

What special skills do you look for in your workers, seeing as the process is so labour intensive?
As production requires splitting by hand, workers need to know how and where to hit the stone. They really need to have a trained eye. They also need to demonstrate initiative and aptitude. I can pretty much tell straight away whether someone is a good worker or not, just by the way they handle their tools and the stone. At the moment I have some really good workers, I’m really happy with them.

How have the types of products you produce changed over the years?
Years ago we mainly supplied stone for random paving and walling. Now we supply material for a variety of projects, from the paving and cladding in house construction, to the production of big blocks for things such as creek beds and retaining walls. Also, many people these days want Kanmantoo Bluestone as flooring inlays, for example in Prince Alfred College they have Kanmantoo Bluestone pieces inlayed in their Jarrah flooring.

What do you see as being special about Kanmantoo Bluestone?
It is such a unique product, with lovely rich colours. I think for a raw material, it’s one of the best. It has been tested and came up on top; it’s right up there with the best. I think it has a very good future. The saying goes that you need to move with the times or get left behind; that’s what we’re doing with Kanmantoo Bluestone, moving with the times and showing that it’s one of the best.

Do you have a favourite project where your stone was used?
I really like the project we did at Adelaide Oval. It was a big project of paving and cobble. The paving leads all the way down onto the oval. I really like random paving and I’m very happy with how it came up.

Why do you think people like to use stone in their surroundings?
People like stone because it is timeless. It has a nice feel about it and it doesn’t date, so naturally, people want to be around stone. It is still as appealing today as it was many years ago. If a piece of stone is done nicely, it always looks great.

The Australian stone industry is now competing with a huge influx of imported products. What do you think Australian quarries have to do to survive and prosper?
I can definitely feel the impact of imported stone. Especially stone from China; they’re really starting to make their presence felt. The pressure from importers pushes us forward though, so in that way it’s a positive force. We try to show people that Kanmantoo Bluestone is as good as there is. The fact that really big blocks of bluestone aren’t easily imported leans in our favour because we can provide them. However what the Australian stone industry needs to do is make the market know that Australian stone is up with the best and even better. Australian stone really is just as good as you can get anywhere else.

By: Mary Mann
Media Liaison Officer
Stone Initiatives (c)