Planning and problem-solving all in a day’s work for Gerry

WA/NT Maintenance Manager puts in the miles to oversee smooth running of National Group equipment over a vast area.

For most people, one hour is a long commute to work. For Gerry Bennett’s team at National Group, a work commute can involve a 1,500-kilometre road trip.

Gerry is Maintenance Manager for National Group’s Western Australia and Northern Territory operations. He leads a team whose coverage extends from the Boddington Gold Mine in southern WA to the Pilbara in northwestern WA and at times the NT. That combined area represents almost half of Australia’s land mass.

“We might, for example, send a diesel mechanic from Karratha to work on one of our machines at the Mount Keith Mine (nickel),” says Gerry. “That’s a two-day drive there and back, but when something needs to be fixed, we get a mechanic straight on to it.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some National Group maintenance staff drove 1,500 kilometres just to get to work. “Wherever possible, we fly people to reduce travel time,” says Gerry. “But when there were no flights during COVID, the only option was to drive.”

National Group has an office in Perth and a main workshop in Karratha to service its equipment at mines in the Pilbara and other areas. Gerry is based at Bunbury (two hours south of Perth) but spends a week at Karratha most months.

National Group equipment is used mostly at iron-ore, gold and nickel mines in WA, and also at some copper and lithium projects in the State.

Long career at National

Gerry has seen much growth at National Group, having worked there for almost a decade. “The fleet is so much larger than when I did my first job for National Group at an iron-ore project in the NT. We also have a bigger team in WA these days and more clients.”

National Group’s growing maintenance team in WA/NT includes two apprentices. “The company decided a few years ago to develop more of its own diesel mechanics internally and train them up in the National way,” says Gerry. “We’re always on the lookout for diesel mechanics, but it’s an ongoing challenge to get quality mechanics given the tight labour market in the WA mining sector.”

A diesel mechanic by trade with three decades of experience, Gerry occasionally supervises jobs in the field when required. “Most of my work is about planning and problem-solving,” he says. “I leave the jobs to the maintenance crew, but if they ever need an extra pair of hands, I’ll jump in and help out. That’s the nature of working for National Group in WA. Everyone pitches in to get the job done.”

Gerry says no two working days are the same. “I’m the person people usually call when there’s a problem with something. Every phone call can present a new issue, but we always find a way to figure something out and get a good result for the client. People, parts and logistics are never-ending challenges because mining in WA is so spread out.”

National Group’s WA team does plenty of complex work. The team recently demobilised a Liebherr 9800 mining excavator which was located at a mine in the Pilbara. The team also worked on Hitachi EX1900-6 Excavator for a coal mine at Collie in south-western WA.

In between organising these and other jobs, Gerry spends time with National Group clients in WA whenever possible. “I’ll go up to the Christmas Creek and Newman mines, or spend a week in Karratha meeting with clients,” he says. “It’s important to get out and talk to people on the ground about how our equipment is performing and their needs.”

Gerry says he enjoys the autonomy of his role. “I like working for Mark Ackroyd (National Group founder and CEO). Mark leaves you to get on with the job, but if there’s ever an issue I call him directly and get an answer on something. That makes your life easier when you need to get something done quickly for a client.”

Most of all, Gerry enjoys the variety of his work. “The WA maintenance team work on lots of different equipment at lots of different mines, across a vast and remote area,” he says. “That creates a bit of head-scratching at times when unexpected problems emerge, but also keeps the work interesting and busy. You’re always learning something in this job and National Group has a great team in WA.”