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Travelling plumber

As winter closes in, some plumbers might want to take a leaf out of Richard Burrows’ book and head to the top end. Kathryn Kernohan writes about his decision to move from the cold climate of Ballarat to hot and humid Darwin.

Plumbing has always been a profession that makes it easy to travel - wherever a skilled plumber goes, chances are there will be demand for their skills. That was what Richard Burrows reasoned as he made the decision of a lifetime, to temporarily relocate his family from Ballarat in Victoria’s Central Highlands to Darwin.

I spent a week working at a bakery, replacing the heating exchange in their oven. They had been looking for someone to fix it for years, and because I could come in and invest the time into rebuilding their oven, they were really grateful.

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Travelling plumber

“I said to my partner that if we didn’t do it now, while our kids are young, we wouldn’t get the opportunity to do it again,” Richard remembers. “When the kids are a bit older, we’ll be focusing on their activities. It was something we wanted to do, and despite COVID-19, the timing was right, so we went for it.”

So, Richard and his family bought a caravan, drove to Darwin and he found some certification work in local shops and food courts. From there, word of mouth spread and requests started coming in.

“I spent a week working at a bakery, replacing the heating exchange in their oven. They had been looking for someone to fix it for years, and because I could come in and invest the time into rebuilding their oven, they were really grateful. At home in Ballarat, I am so involved in the day-to-day work that I don’t get to invest time in those bigger jobs, which I really enjoy.”

Richard, who had built up a strong clientele based in Ballarat primarily in gas fitting and maintenance work, says the quality of his two long-term employees in keeping the business running at home was a huge factor in allowing him to relocate.

“Having such great employees, where I feel we bring out the best in each other, was really important in me being able to move. I’ve invested the time into these guys, trained them up and they have really repaid me,” he says.

“We have a lot of regular clients, do a lot of gas fitting work, and they were all on board with me going away. We made sure things were simplified for the employees before I went away. We went back to mainly breakdowns and maintenance work. Both of my employees have worked for me for more than eight years, and we do a lot of hospitality work around Ballarat, so clients already know them and know how good they are.”

Richard’s travels took him all the way to Lorella Springs, a working cattle station surrounded by the Limmen National Park and the Gulf of Carpentaria coastline, about a 12-hour drive from Darwin.

“Basically, I found and emailed all the truck stops and camps that I was going to be going through and asked if they needed any work done. I found myself in truck stops repairing hot plates and things like that, not for money, but in exchange for filling the car up with petrol,” he says.

“I also went to the very remote and famous Heartbreak Hotel, where I was able to repair some kitchen equipment that had been out of action for years. There are capable tradespeople around, but I have a lot of experience doing maintenance on kitchen equipment, so I was able to fix those really tricky issues that are not always an easy fix when you live remote.”

More recently, Richard travelled to the Tiwi Islands and the resort owned by Matt Wright from National Geographic’s hit TV show Outback Wrangler.

“I spent some time there servicing his appliances and gas equipment, and the manager and staff took me fishing. It was great fun and something I really enjoyed.”

The Darwin experience was so positive that Richard and his family bought a house - “the worst house in a good street” as he puts it - and is currently renovating it on his own.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I basically thought that because my employees are on board, why do I need to come home after a year? They are happy continuing to work at home and I’m really enjoying this experience I have been on.

“Travelling has been really cool, and in my field it’s not too difficult at all. What I’m doing is something that anyone can do, there’s so much work around. I feel like anyone with plumbing skills can do it if they want to travel, we are all very lucky in that regard.

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I spent a week working at a bakery, replacing the heating exchange in their oven. They had been looking for someone to fix it for years, and because I could come in and invest the time into rebuilding their oven, they were really grateful.

Share this quote
Pointsbuild_until 30 June 22

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