Reynolds Trezona and Lister Plumbing was started by three mates, Alf Reynolds, Len Trezona and Graham Lister, who all worked for Watson Bros
(one of the original plumbing companies in Brisbane) up until 1948, when in May of that year, Reynolds Trezona and Lister Plumbing was born.
The following is a walk through the history of Reynolds Trezona and Lister Plumbing, through the eyes of Greg Bernoth. Greg, a valued long standing employee, worked with RTL Plumbing from January 1977 to February 2004 and again from June 2009 until February 2018. Over the 40+ years, Greg has seen the company grow from a team of just seven tradesmen and apprentices in 1977, to 100 staff members in 2018. Greg has experienced firsthand the changes that have grown RTL Plumbing to the progressive business it is today. Going from using public telephone boxes to using mobile phones and iPads, as well as much needed changes to health and safety. Over the 70 years RTL Plumbing has been in operation, the same family values and work ethic have remained the same, and so has the phone number!
The story begins in 1977
I started working for Reynolds, Trezona and Lister (RTL) on the 4th of January 1977 as a first year apprentice coming straight from school. I had no car or drivers license and would rely on being picked up by one of three other tradesmen that lived nearby to get to and from work. RTL’s office was located at 17 Oxford Street, Bulimba which was originally a grocery store. Our phone number was 99 2203, almost identical to what it is today 3399 2203. We communicated with the office using public telephones, calling the office at lunch time when on an all-day job in case the boss had to ask us anything or to make sure we had not fallen off a roof!
The business was managed by Graham Lister who was a firm but fair boss. Working under Graham and with other tradesmen taught me to have a good work ethic and attitude, which would carry through my entire working career. RTL employees were paid in cash. Graham would take the phone off the hook, after hearing from all of us at lunch time and walk up to the ANZ bank at the other end of Oxford Street to withdraw cash for the pays. There was a concern that it was only a matter of time before he was robbed (it was the same time, same day every week) but fortunately it didn’t happen.
We had one Toyota one ton Hilux Ute and four Datsun 1200 half ton utes (Dattos as we would call them) which were iconic in the Bulimba area for many years. I recall if three of us went out on a job together, one of us had to ride in the back of the ute as the Dattos were too small inside the cab for more than two people. Sometimes we would squeeze three in the front if it was raining but it was a very tight squeeze. It was of course the apprentice that rode in the back, usually me.
I spent a lot of time back at the workshop as an apprentice making up gutter angles. These angles were all lead soldered, and I recall breathing in acid fumes thinking how much harm I was doing to my lungs.
On the job memories – key clients
My first significant memory of working for RTL was Wineburg Convent at New Farm which we re-roofed. The building was four stories high and we had no scaffolding or edge protection. We would rely on walking on the roofing nails to stop ourselves from slipping down the roof and if we did slip, the only thing that would stop us from going over the edge was the guttering. It was scary!
RTL‘s first major customer was Turner and Sons, a construction company. Through Turner and Sons, RTL began doing the maintenance of the Catholic churches and schools throughout Brisbane. We also did the maintenance of Brisbane Boys College at Toowong, and Somerville House Girls School at South Brisbane which was where I would spend eight weeks of the year working.
We also worked at National Mutual Insurance group and the State Government Insurance Office at Turbot Street, Brisbane (which would later become the Suncorp Centre). DA Jory Real Estate and Ray White who managed rental properties throughout the Brisbane area and the Mater Hospital at South Brisbane.
Bulimba had a large industrial area and RTL’s customers included Rheem Australia (who manufactured hot water systems and twenty liter drums) and Hornibrooks who were bridge builders. I recall RTL designing and constructing for Hornibrooks, a large hot water system, to run hot water through precast concrete beams to set the concrete quicker. We serviced all the Commonwealth Bank of Australia branches throughout Brisbane, Queensland Newspapers, Albert Smith Signs and Allan Scheeler who was a builder. Red Cross, War Widows Guild, MIM Building, Chandlers and Masonic Centres. There were also many private customers all over Brisbane.
Type of work
RTL was doing a lot of roof work then including reroofing and re-guttering of houses in the Bulimba area. I spent much of my apprenticeship doing this type of work. Plumbing was much simpler back then. There were not many fancy plumbing fixtures, and the trade was not heavily regulated as it is today. The plumbing and drainage regulations were quite a small document as opposed to an extensive Australian standard today.
I recall once a year burning all the job sheets in the back yard of the Oxford Street property in an old fire place. This fire place was behind a shed where we stored a forty-four litre drum of highly inflammable Shellite, which was used to run our soldering irons. I remember how unsafe this was.
I think the most interesting job I did for RTL was designing and installing a water recycling plant for a company called Biomerieux at Murarrie. The company produced petri dishes for the medical industry. I had to design a process to cool down water after it came out of the sterilisers for re-use at a set temperature. This was a complex procedure to build and design, I enjoyed the challenge.
RTL moved to new premises, located at 49 Taylor Street, Bulimba approx. 1991 due to the Oxford Street property being sold by Graham, who was the owner of the property. Property in the Bulimba area had become very valuable, and I believe Graham had been made an offer on the property he could not refuse. There is currently a high-rise apartment complex on this site.
Technology changing the way RTL worked
RTL got their first mobile phone approx. 1996, due to the need to provide a 24/7 service to Queensland Newspapers. I recall this was an analogue phone which was big and bulky to carry around. We would share this phone around to whoever was on call.
Back then all the office work was done in paper form. RTL would purchase its first computer in 2000 when the GST tax system was introduced.
I started working for RTL again on the 15/06/2009. I answered an ad in the newspaper with just a phone number not knowing it was RTL. When I was called in for an interview I was very surprised that it was RTL. By this time, Peter and Keith had sold the business to Ben. I found the business very different to work for as Ben had a new way of running the business. RTL was to experience a great leap forward in technology, using iPads connected to the internet, to communicate with the office and process jobs. I recall being reluctant to embrace this technology at first but when I got used to it I found it to be an extremely useful part of my job. Learning to use the iPad was a good learning experience in the long run.
When asked to describe Ben and RTL, Greg responded with, “progressive, unforgettable team, great culture and generous”. Fellow and current employees, feel honored to work in such a workplace and be a part of a great legacy that is RTL Plumbing.