Tommy Kelly’s passion for engineering is obvious from the moment he begins to speak, whether it’s about the latest Diona project (the wastewater pipe system in Sydney’s Darlinghurst) or the motherly advice that drew him to the profession in the first place. But it wasn’t always going to be that way. Growing up, Tommy wantedto be a mechanic like his dad.
“I love cars and I still have a big passion for cars,” he said.“Every year I go to Bathurst for the V8 supercars and Melbourne every March for the Formula 1.
“My father’s a mechanic, so when I was younger I was a real annoyance, because I was in the garage all the time, wantingto fix things and learn what he was doing and how these machines worked.”
But the possibility of construction was there in the background in the shape of his uncles, who were builders. Tommy helped them with building too, but fate intervened in the form a very good result in his Leaving Certificate (the Irish equivalent of the HSC).
Tommy graduated from university at 21 and has spentthe past 15 years working in the industry he loves.
It’s a career that has taken him far from the shores of his Irish home – to Australia’s Gold Coast where he first came to enjoy the famed sunshine in 2007.
“I don’t know what it is with Irish people and construction and pipelines in particular, but we seem to be involved in a lot ofconstruction,” the Senior Project Manager said.
“A few of my cousins had been here. People in Ireland just love Australia. The weather’s a big thing. It’s a nice country, nice people, nice lifestyle. I’d worked for a couple of years at home before I decided I wanted to come over and see what it’s like and experience it.”
“I’ve been home for two stints since 2007, but I’ve probably been with Diona close to nine years now. When I started off I was a Project Engineer, out on the ground a little bit more, doing more of the hands-on stuff. We were working on aproject on the Gold Coast –a water pipeline. I thought: ‘This is heaven. Close to the beach, lovely weather –I never want to go home again!’
Does his mum tell him to come home?
“Oh, she wouldn’t say it,” Tommy said. “But she gives a bit of a hint now and again.”
It’s the variety and constant challenges that Tommy loves most about his job.
“No day is the same,” he said. “Every day is different. I’ve been lucky. A lot of people that get into construction just do electricity projects, or maybe water projects all the time. But when I looked back at my resume recently, I realised that every second project I’ve done has been something different. I’ve gone from roads, to electricity, to gas, to water and wastewater. It’s great to have such good variety at Diona and that’s why I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
Tommy was initially drawn to Diona because they worked on similar projects to the company he workedfor in Ireland. Then there was the fact that Diona’s original owners were Irish – as is a fair chunk of the workforce.
“I thought initially coming over it would be a good place to fit in and make a few friends,” he said. “And I looked at their [Diona’s] website, saw the work they’d done and it related to what my experience was, and I thought this looks to be a good company.
“I’ll never forget the first time I came here. It’s such an experience. Just the small things you take for granted, like the currency. Looking at it and trying to figure out what’s what. You just feel completely lost, but when I started the job after a couple of days I felt like I was at home. A lot of people knew people that I knew and you get talking that way and you feel a bit more comfortable.
”It’s Diona’s ethics and sense of family that have kepthim with the company ever since.
“It’s a very ethical place to work,” Tommy said. “And even though it’s a very big company, you can have a good relationship with all the senior managers. And they know their people, they know what you do, they know the efforts you make and it’s very open. With most companies of this size, you wouldn’t even get to speak to those people. But at Diona, everyone in upper management talks to you. They pick up the phone and say hello and how are you doing? Is everything okay? It’s nice to know they care about the people that work for them and aim to give people every opportunity to be successful in their role.
“There is also a really good work ethic across the company. Everyone wants to do well and succeed together. That’s one of the big things with Diona’s teamwork. It’s like one big family. A very, very big one. And everyone that comes here enjoys it.”
Just how big Diona is becomes apparent when Tommy reels off the places around the country his job has taken him.
“I’ve worked on the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Toowoomba Victoria, Melbourne, Adelaide, the Hunter Valley, Newcastle, here [Darlinghurst] and Parramatta. So, you get to meet some great people all the time and it’s great going to new projects.”
Variety is the spice of life, even after two years working on the Darlinghurst project, where Tommy was the Senior Project Manager overseeing the installation of a new wastewater system for client Sydney Water.
“There was no typical day,” he said. “Every day was different. The first thing we would do every day is jump in on one of the pre-starts with one of the crews. Just be part of it, listen to the Supervisor, maybe provide input, ask questions. So that’s a good start to the day.
“I probably arrive about 6.30 and head out to site, just say hello to the guys and girls, work with the Supervisor, check out his plan, stay there for about 20 minutes and if all is good, no queries and everyone’s happy, they get cracking.”
Then it was back to the William Street site office for a day of project management and problem solving.
“It’s typical project management things: See how we’re tracking, make sure we’re okay, reviewing invoices and progress payments. But the main thing with this project, given the nature of the job, was planning with the engineers and just giving my technical input on any issues we had and trying to get them resolved with the client.
“I love the technical part of my job, especially when we face adifficult situation or something that’s hard to construct, I love trying to figure it out – that’s when I’m in my element.
“I like working with a team as well. I enjoy seeing people happy when they’re working. I also like teaching people. With the engineers, I’m always trying to get them ready for the next stage.”
While he’s looking forward to the next challenge thatDiona gives him, Tommy will be sad to leave the projectwhere’s worked for two years.
“I’ll find it hard to let go,” he said. “But I’d like to see the very last pipe being put in and then celebrate it.”
And in typically Irish fashion it’ll be with a few drinks. “Some Friday evening, a couple of drinks with everyone that workedhere. Just three or four drinks to thank them.”