Unlike most Master Plumbers, Robert Hansen looks up to admire his company’s work – not down. In the case of most of his projects, a ladder wouldn’t even help; to properly appreciate the scale of Barden-Steeldeck Industries’ work, you would need a helicopter. Their business is roofs. Big ones.
Barden Steeldeck Industries (BSI) have worked on many of Victoria’s iconic projects and have worked with most of Australia’s major commercial builders. They have become Victoria’s number- one pick in major roo ng projects, and here’s proof: out of all the buildings in the Burke St – Collins St precinct of Docklands, Barden Steeldeck has roofed all but two of them.
That in itself is a pretty amazing thing, says Robert. “We started working on Docklands buildings 15 years ago and we’re still down there. One project after another: NAB, Lend Lease, Myer, ANZ... we’re pretty proud of our efforts there.”
Climbing the ladder to the roof
Notching up over 30 years in roo ng, Robert has been involved in all aspects of the business from on-tools general roof plumbing to supervising roo ng gangs, estimating projects and developing company policies and procedures.
Like many long and successful plumbing careers, Robert’s entry into this highly specialised field was very pragmatic.
Two years into his general plumbing apprenticeship Robert began working with his uncle who happened to be a roo ng plumber. His uncle subcontracted to Reg Mullin’s well-known company, Barden Roo ng. After a short hiatus overseas the young Robert returned
to find he had no more work with his uncle. A bold move changed his career: “I rang the director of the company... I started the next day with Reg Mullins in Barden Roofing.”
This was the beginning of a lifelong working relationship between Robert and Reg. One of those almost magical relationships you often nd in plumbing that secures the apprentice to their employer for life. “I knew Reg through my uncle’s work. We always had a connection – he became like a dad to me.”
“Reg Mullins was a very genuine, very honest guy. He was very committed to his staff and the people around him. I think that helped him make a good living because he always had good people around him. He was one of the gentleman of the industry. There’s not a lot about like him. A real gentleman.”
Business history: roofing, guardrails, sheet metal and waste bins
Reg had been a partner in Barden Roo ng since 1974 with another great name in the business: Barry Stokes. They were clearly a clever pair. Barry left Barden Roo ng and become very successful in a company called Deck Guardrail, which was eventually bought by Australian Temporary Fencing and now supplies guardrail to the whole
Reg continued with roo ng, merging Barden with Steeldeck Industries, which was involved in many of Victoria’s major projects during the 1970s and 80s. Steeldeck Industries had earlier acquired Holvex, an old and highly reputable roofing and sheet metal firm. The Holvex name lives on with the continuing manufacture of architectural waste bins and ashtrays.
The company grew under Reg’s steady hands. “He was proud of the position he built up in the industry,” said Robert. “He enabled Barden-Steeldeck to became not only one of the best roo ng companies in Victoria – it became the best.”
With wonderful continuity, when Reg was about to retire in 2006, Robert Hansen, along with long-term employees Michael Shacklock, Mark Fisher and Nick Mullins were given the opportunity to purchase the company. It was a very successful move. Between them – two Barden and two Steeldeck employees – they had project management, estimating, supervising, foremanship, as well as plentiful ‘on tools’ experience. It means, says Robert, that responsibility is equally shared.
A successful approach: quality, honesty, integrity
While others have buckled, Barden Steeldeck has stood firm. The company has survived recession, company mergers, the innate financial instabilities of the construction industry – and bad weather.
The pressing issue in roofing right now is keeping a level playing eld, says Robert. “People get desperate when things get hard and things get quiet. They then undercut in order to get the job but can’t see it through.
“Reg built equity in the company to be able to finance large projects, which is very difficult – you can’t just walk off the street. You need backing behind you to be able to guarantee the work.”
“Five major companies have gone broke in recent years. There was a lot of inclement weather and a lot of downtime in 2013. That was a time for us to take stock,” says Robert. “We decided to stand firm. Not drop our prices. We need to keep being sustainable for the long term.”
This genuine commitment to quality and integrity is impressive; it’s a testament to Reg’s original vision.
“We’re prepared to do it all the right way: quality assurance, OHS, the industrial aspects. So many other companies try to undercut to get an edge. With our ethos, we can still be the top of the tree. We are effective and competitive. If we are down there, swimming with the sharks, it’s not profitable and its not manageable.”
Barden-Steeldeck’s integrity, and financial stability, has led them to roof some of Victoria’s most iconic projects.
Southern Cross Station
The Docklands precinct is the work they’re most proud of, but their roo ng work on the award-winning redesign of Southern Cross Station is their ‘BBQ project’ (the project you mention when you are at a BBQ and people ask you what you do). Roof plumbing isn’t a well-understood profession, but mentioning the roof of Southern Cross Station always gets Robert a “Ahhhaaaa” moment.
In a joint venture with Queensland company Unison, Barden-Steeldeck were contracted by Leighton Contractors to install the Southern Cross Roof.
It’s a stunning-looking roof; however, it was designed as a very practical solution to the problem of diesel fumes and pollution which tend to build up beneath the roof in a train station. The roof also needed to meet the challenge of a low-energy-use building.
The roofscape, with its rounded forms and ventilation hoods at the peaks, was designed to let the station ventilate itself naturally, without air-conditioning or large diesel extraction systems. The system of louvres prevents the emissions from remaining trapped within the roof. The roof geometry was developed in parallel with the prevailing wind conditions of the station.
With 35,000 square metres of Kalzip Stucco embossed, curved and tapered aluminium roofing in a wave pattern, the installation was quite the challenge.
Each sheet on the project was designed using computer software to finalise the curving and tapering. “No sheet was the same,” says Robert. An onsite roll forming facility was set up nearby in Fisherman’s Bend, where the individually produced roof sheets were manufactured and then transported to site. The train station needed to remain operational, so each of the module spans were erected incrementally.
The final installation was 12 months on the job for Barden-Steeldeck. During construction, there were up to 25 employees working at any one time, on day and night shifts. Many staff needed to complete rope access training. They also supplied and installed permanent aluminium handrails and the aluminium access bridges across the pillow skylights.
It was a very challenging project, says Robert with typical understatement. “We’re pretty proud of that one.”
Kennels, treatment plants and shopping centres
“There have been some nice looking jobs,” says Robert. Barden-Steeldeck are never short on interest as well, it seems. For the new indoor kennels for the RSPCA Burwood, BSI recently installed the roo ng, wall cladding, framing and ventilation for the ve separate building for the 200 kennels. It included a ‘shower tower’ facility to help cool the kennels during summer.
Their recent Tarago Treatment Plant project was quite some time in the making. Barden-Steeldeck designed, manufactured and installed the roof over a 72-metre diameter water tank, including the support structure and Kalzip aluminium roofing.
“We worked with scientists in metallurgy to work out a way of avoiding aluminium, which needs to be replaced every 25 years, but also avoiding electrolysis between different metals. We worked for two years on the roo ng structure and finally convinced Melbourne Water on our method. We used long-length aluminium sheet roofing, with a slightly curved roof with a stainless steel structure.”
Barden-Steeldeck are now working on a large project, which will be appreciated in its own way by horses, dogs cats and bees (yes, bees): it’s the post-entry animal quarantine facility.
Master Plumbers, master roofers
Barden-Steeldeck have been members of Master Plumbers since the early 1970s when Reg and Barry first began Barden Roo ng. “Being a Master Plumber matched Reg’s ethos to a ‘T’,” says Robert. And it clearly still matches their ethos.
“The value of the membership for us is being part of a group: it’s supportive, and it’s a way of getting involved with other plumbers with the same issues. The backup industrially is great. Plus, being a ‘Master Plumber’ has a real ring to it. It says you are reputable and professional, and that stands you in good stead.”
Robert is hoping that they can carry the company through to the next generation, project by project. “My son is in the business, and we hope he’ll carry on. He’s got itchy feet at the moment, so we’ll see”.