Ian Johnson.

When the Coota Times was invited on a tour of the Australian Meat Group’s new facility, two things impressed: the personality of the Project Manager, Ian Johnson, and size and complexity of the plant. Putting it another way, the success of this enterprise depends on the relationship between the personal and the professional and between the vision and quality of the Grand Design and the relentless attention to detail.

Ian Johnson began his working life as a plumber. ‘My grandfather, father, two brothers and son are all plumbers. Brother, Andrew, also has extensive meat industry experience and is providing very valuable assistance on site’. Early in his career, Ian took a job in an abattoir. He specialised and he has not ceased to work in the meat industry. As he put it, ‘meat gets into your blood’. Ian has over thirty years experience in design, maintenance and development of abattoirs. He came to work on this project in 2020. My comment was, ‘the company got themselves a gem, in terms of experience, and enthusiasm’. As he said, ‘meat gets into your blood’. Ian is an enthusiast and his enthusiasm is infectious. I was impressed by his years of experience but I found myself sharing his enthusiasm as he talked. ‘I love my work’, he said. He loved, too, the abattoir that is evolving as a result of his work, and, as he is quick to point, the quality of the team of which he is a part. ‘This is the A Team. I could not do this job without the men I work with.’

The daily meetings, the mutual respect, the cooperation and, I suspect, a sense that this is a great job, and more than a job. In the tour of the plant, Ian pointed out the details of the process. With pride, he showed me how things worked, beginning with the reception of the cattle, the circular ramp, the covering of the whole area, the approach to the electrical stunning room . . . ‘The aim of the whole process is to achieve a humane treatment of the animals, the highest quality of hygiene in the various stages of treatment, an efficient and systemic movement and, of course, good meat!’ This is a big project.

The area assigned to processing of sheep is in construction. Despite Ian’s enthusiasm, I allowed myself to recall extraordinary ‘big project’ failures, for example the Rozelle Interchange fiasco or the purchase of new ferries that were too big to go under the Harbour Bridge! So much can go wrong with big projects. Ian is a plumber. He knows about water and taps and connections, the hands-on stuff; and he has a passion for design, the big stuff. This combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the nitty-gritty and the inter-connections came through in all of our conversation. This combination is the critical factor is projects of this size. There was something else that struck me.

A young woman in protective gear walked past us. Ian spoke to her by name. ‘I try to know people’s names’. There were other occasions in our tour when Ian connected to people passing. He spoke appreciatively of the Pacific Islanders. ‘They are hard workers and they sing!’ There is a personal quality to the Big Picture. Efficiency, design, planning are all important, but so is that essential and indefinable quality, the spirit of a place or staff morale. I spent time talking with Peter, security at the front gate. He had his own butcher shop in a country town, for thirty years.

He retired to Cootamundra, joined the bowling club and loves the place. He, too, greeted staff coming and going by name. Some stopped for a chat. The Australian Meat Group abattoir will never be a tourist attraction. It will be a very significant feature of Cootamundra. My experience of meeting with Ian Johnson suggests that this business is one that we can be proud of and grateful for. It is state of the art, a good place to work and an example of a big enterprise that has its feet on the ground.

Richard White