Home' Phillip Island and San Remo Advertiser : July 13, 2016 Contents PAGE 16 - THE ADVERTISER, WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2016
Despite the wet and cold, crane driver Jenny Harkess
keeps a keen eye on the controls of her hundred tonne crane.
Jenny works for Gows and was responsible for the lifting of
Caribou aircraft parts that arrived recently by truck at the
National Vietnam Veterans Museum.
Getting a lift
out of life
SITTING in an open door cabin, clad in wet weather gear and
driving the controls of heavy machinery is not everyone’s cup
of tea and especially for women who are nearing the retirement
stage of life.
But for crane driver and grandmother of five, 59 year old Jen-
ny Harkess of Kongwak, it is a lifestyle that she has pursued and
loved for nearly 20 years.
Jenny has become an integral part of the team of Gows since
she first started working for this family business in 1998.
Since that time she has not only become a valued staff mem-
ber, and in their eyes, part of the family, but she has expanded
her practical skills and can now turn her hand to all of the ma-
chinery that this crane and truck business offers, as well as be-
ing adept in the office.
It is what Jenny would call a fulfilling life as it involves a smat-
tering of the things she loves – machinery, driving and being
outdoors. Not to mention the main attraction of every day being
“I’m forever grateful that Gows took me on,” said Jenny, who
is the only female driver on staff.
“I get so much enjoyment out of the work I do as it’s always
different and there’s always a challenge.”
These challenges vary with the job. It could be anything from
a small crane job for a household or a sizeable undertaking for
a large company such as Murray Goulburn.
She recently played a leading role in the Caribou project at the
National Vietnam Veterans Museum (NVVM) in Newhaven.
Trucks arrived from Queensland carrying segments of this
former RAAF aircraft.
Due to the age and fragility of these parts, this project required
careful planning and precision handling.
With Jenny as part of the team, this task was successfully un-
While it was accomplished in ideal conditions on the first
week, the weather turned the following Tuesday creating havoc
and headaches for all concerned.
“The conditions were atrocious as it was cold and wet to start
with but then the wind picked up. That made all the difference
as we had to be extra careful,” Jenny said.
It meant that there was constant teamwork and discussions
between those on the ground, in the truck and Jenny in the
“As well as combating the wind factor I needed to be guided as
to where the strong points of the parts were.
“These aircraft might look big and robust but because of their
age they were quite fragile. So I needed guidance from people
like Colin Grey as to where the slings had to be placed.
“Then how to lower them so they’d land safely on the tyres that
acted as a cushion on the ground,” Jenny explained.
This mission was accomplished in seven and a half hours.
“We were cold and drenched but we had to get the job done
safely. That’s the most important bit as we all want to get home
safely, and in one piece,” she said.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Jenny as she found it isolat-
ing and difficult to get a job in the early days. Much of this was
because she was a woman.
“I got my rigger’s licence in 1998 (because I thought it would
be a good thing to do) but nobody wanted to know me,” she said.
“It was because I was female. We’re few and far between,” she
Over the years she has noticed a few more women at the con-
trols of big machinery and in general throughout the industry.
“I’m still very much on my own but most of the people I work
with accept me and know me by now. Yet I still have to prove I
can do it,” she said.
While the majority of women her age are planning on taking it
easy, this energetic grandmother has no intention of retiring or
doing anything else in life.
“I did take the whole family to Queensland for a holiday last
year. That was the first holiday I’d had in years. I just enjoy what
I’m doing,” she said.
Standing where the Caribou once stood is the team from NVVM (National Vietnam Veterans Museum) at the end of a long
day in Brisbane. Pictured, left to right, are Ray Champion, Carron Bourke, Peter Emmett, Phil Coburn, team leader Colin
Grey, Phil Wetherley, Tony Hughes and Robert Newell. This group of volunteers had spent the past two weeks completing
what was considered a near impossible task in dismantling two Caribou aircraft.
And they said it
couldn’t be done!
A GROUP of local volunteers has de-
fied the odds and amazed those involved
in the aircraft industry when they manu-
ally dissembled two former RAAF air-
craft in record breaking time.
It took them just 17 days to take these
planes apart and have them ready for
road transport to Newhaven on the back
Not only was this a major achievement
in engineering terms but a testament to
the power and value of teamwork.
It involved a group of nine men who
gave up some of their time to take part
in one of the National Vietnam Veter-
ans Museum’s (NVVM) most challenging
Headed by museum’s workshop man-
ager, and aviation expert Colin Grey,
these men set off to Queensland to do
what industry specialists believed could
not be done in such a short space of
One prediction was that this task could
be done but it would take between eight
and twelve weeks to complete.
One of the most remarkable aspects
of this project was the fact that none of
these men had ever worked together be-
fore, nor had they undertaken a task as
challenging, daunting and time consum-
ing as this one.
They came together as a largely un-
skilled and untrained group and with
backgrounds that included a retired
school teacher, taxi driver, truck driver,
carpenter and steel fabricator.
Aside from their lack of aviation ex-
perience and qualifications, their big-
gest asset was their commitment to the
cause, their ability to work together, to
put in long hours, and their sense of hu-
This not only stood them in good stead
as a team but it caught the attention and
admiration of those around them.
Over the two week period, both at
Oakey and in Brisbane, they received
praise and commendation from air force
“At one point we had (RAAF) technicians
standing by to help us, but they weren’t
needed,” said team leader Colin Grey.
“They were amazed when they saw the
professionalism of the group and asked
how many of us were aircraft engineers.
They were gobsmacked when they were
told none,” said a proud Colin.
“The RAAF were chuffed with what we
had achieved and congratulated us on
what they described as the most profes-
sional job they had ever seen.”
This job involved working up to ten
hours a day, every day for two weeks, out
in the open and in all types of weather.
The team had to physically take out
thousands of rivets, cables and other
aircraft parts to enable the planes to be
dismantled into portable sections and
loaded onto trucks.
While it was exhausting work it was ex-
tremely satisfying for all concerned.
“I’m very proud of the team as they
worked like clockwork. There is no
doubt that they worked above and be-
yond the call of duty , and in very trying
conditions,” said Colin.
“But above all, they never lost their
sense of humour! They were tremen-
dous,” he said.
The highlight for these men was to see
the recent arrival of the first of the Cari-
bou at its new home at the NVVM. They
shared this moment with some of the
Vietnam veterans who came to be a part
of this historic occasion.
It was a moment not lost on the work-
“It was very moving to see their faces
and feel their emotions as they (veterans)
saw the plane arrive. It means a lot to
them to see these planes here amongst
the museum,” said Colin.
The significance of the Caribou is their
connection to the Vietnam Conflict.
The Caribou were well used by the
Australian Army throughout the war as
light aircraft transport. Its capacity to
carry both troops and equipment, and
its ability to take off and land in a con-
fined area, made it a valuable resource.
Nicknamed “the gravel truck” the Cari-
bou could carry tonnes of materials, ve -
hicles and troops.
While it was in use for over ten years,
there were only six aircraft operating in
Vietnam at any one time.
The Caribou is now no longer used as
a military aircraft.
The acquisition of these two aircraft by
the museum has been a long process of
negotiation between the museum and the
One of these planes will be put on dis-
play and is hoped to be on show by early
next year. The other aircraft will be used
for spare parts.
It was a delicate operation to lift the fuselage of the Caribou aircraft when it arrived at the National Vietnam Veterans
Museum in Newhaven after a long road haul from southern Queensland. This aircraft was one of two being delivered from
airfields at the Army Aviation Base in Oakey, near Toowoomba, and at the Brisbane airport.
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