AFTER more than four decades of employment in local government, Camperdown’s Peter (Chester) Reilly has seen the ravages of drought and floods at the local level first hand.
“I started working with the Hampden Shire in 1973 and just a few years later we had a shocking drought,” he said.
“I was working at a slaughter pit on Country Boundary Road where cattle from right across the district were being brought to be put down.
“It was heartbreaking and it went on for weeks – thousands of perfectly good cattle being shot and bulldozed into the pit.
“I remember seeing a truckload of black Angus cattle come through from Derrinallum – there was nothing wrong with them, but farmers were only getting $1 a head for them at the saleyards when the shire was giving $10 a head.”
The damage to the shire’s road network after the 2011 floods is also etched in Mr Reilly’s memory.
“The north of the shire was particularly bad – we’ve only just finished our flood recovery works now,” he said.
“The flood was so forceful, it was scouring the drains, big chunks of bridges were washed away as well as some fairly large culverts.
“It was devastating stuff, but a lot of work has been done to mitigate the risk since then with bigger drains and culverts put in place.”
Mr Reilly will put in his last day at the office today (Friday), officially retiring after 46 years on the job.
Starting as a surveyor’s assistant with the Hampden Shire, he then became a grader driver, worked in backhoes, returned to graders and then drove a Mac truck carting road making material.
“That first tractor I had was weird little thing – you had to stand up in it to see where you were going while you were driving it,” Mr Reilly said.
“The machinery now is so much bigger and better – we’ve definitely come a long way.”
By the time council amalgamations occurred in 1994 (which saw the Hampden and Heytesbury shires combine with the Town of Camperdown to form the current Corangamite Shire), Mr Reilly was foreman of maintenance and construction with the Hampden Shire.
“Amalgamations were a scary time for the workers, especially those in the 50 to 55 age bracket, because nobody knew who would still have a job and who wouldn’t,” he said.
“Everyone had to re-apply for their jobs again.
“I was lucky enough to secure the ‘team leader role’, which had a pretty big portfolio covering parks and gardens, maintenance, prima seals and reseals.”
Bringing roads in the south up to standard was the first focus of Mr Reilly’s new role.
The ‘quick fix’ solution saw roads ripped up, mixed with concrete and then resealed.
“In the first year alone we sealed 40 kilometres of road, whereas we currently average out at about 15 kilometres of reseal each year,” he said.
“It was a huge job, but it had to be done.”
In more recent years, Mr Reilly has served as the Corangamite Shire’s road inspector, assessing the different roads according to their class and checking on the effectiveness of signage, drainage and road surfaces.
Any issues are logged into the computer, which then triggers a works crew to repair it within a set number of days.
“I think a highlight for me has been to see how much the roads have improved over the years,” Mr Reilly said.
“When I started we had a budget of $70,000 a year for gravel roads, now we have a budget of $1.5 million and that means we can keep up the maintenance, which means the roads can last for years.”
Clocking off for the last time today, Mr Reilly said he has “absolutely loved” his job and appreciated the opportunities local government had given him.
“I’ve made some great friends over the journey and not just workers, the ratepayers as well,” he said.
Mr Reilly now plans to enjoy more time with his wife Jan, grandkids, continue his involvement with the local football club and travel.