Come Rain Or Shine

Remote Building Solutions

As its name implies, the company designs, constructs and supplies new homes, motel and camp accommodation and office buildings, as well as being active in refurbishment of existing dwellings throughout the more remote regions of northern Queensland. Much of the work comes from state government, although the company is happy to carry out projects for miners and resource corporations. Working as far north as the Torres Strait Islands, Remote Building Solutions has now expanded its operations into the Northern Territory to meet market demand, while the business plan calls for expansion throughout Australia and even up into South East Asia.

The company is owned and operated by Tony Skaines and Brent Brosseuk. From the Cairns head office, Brent told us, “We started doing shopfittings around Australia some 15 years ago, working for Telstra and Colorado (among others).” As family commitments gradually took priority, Brent looked at the hotel business. He had properties out in western Queensland and as demand from the resources sector mushroomed, with Tony he built some transportable accommodation units to act as ‘overflow’ facilities for the hotels. “The call for accommodation was so great that we decided we would build units,” he explains.

From there, demand just grew, almost out of control. Eventually, some five years ago, the pair decided they would quit the hotel business and return full-time to construction; Brent says they have not had time to look back. “We all know the market’s bad but we decided to look for a way to make it good rather than sitting around moping. We developed what we believe is probably the best transportable housing system on the market and we specialise in remote areas.” He says this was a serious gamble but, “the state government saw what we could do and since then the opportunities have been endless for us.”

During the past winter, politics got in the way to an extent as Queensland went through the state election process and some of those opportunities were put on hold. Brent says these issues are largely resolved and it’s getting back to business as usual, except that now the rains have started.

Because of the company’s concentration on working in remote regions, says Brent, the team has built up an expertise that no other operation can match. “We understand the remoteness, the cultural issues, the weather. We go into a project with all this information already available to us; whether it is raining or not, we plan for it to rain at any moment. When we go into a community we are completely self-sufficient and ready to go. Anything can happen, but we have it covered.” Competitors have a tendency to take things day by day, he says, and if a big rain comes and the road is cut, for example, it can be a big headache if there is no relevant contingency planning.

Initially, Remote Building Solutions sub-contracted most services but, “we have gradually got to the stage now where we own all of our fleet. We do our own steel fabrication and boilermaking, our own carpentry in-house. As much manufacturing as possible is done in-house so we can better control the quality. We do our own freight. We have our own cranes and forklifts – we don’t rely on external contractors for the success of our projects. I believe we are more price-competitive because of this approach but more importantly, our quality is a lot better.”

On-time delivery of projects is also made more feasible by this hands-on approach and Brent says this is absolutely crucial in government-funded projects regardless of whether the weather is good or bad. “They have very strict deadlines and we are very proud that we have not only never missed them but in many cases we have bettered them by as much as 30-40 per cent. That tends to take a lot of pressure off the client,” because the government has its own fiscal and budgetary deadlines and imperatives that must be met.

There is no ‘standard range’ of housing or other buildings; Brent says what sets Remote apart from the competition is that every project is purpose-designed for greater flexibility. It would be difficult to walk through a remote community and see two identical houses built by the company; “you don’t do it in towns, so why do it there?” he points out. Standardising designs would be quicker but would not save money, he adds, and from the community’s viewpoint, it is far more desirable to have variety in a village.

The company is hardly a charity and the profit motive must always be present, of course, but Brent speaks about his and Tony’s genuine desire to ensure that with each project the community “benefits from us being there. We are big believers that the community, in a short period of time, should be able to take some of this work away from us and we support that.” Accordingly, the company has taken apprentices on board from the communities to Cairns to work in the factory; at any given time there are around thirty Indigenous trainees on the team.

There is a conscious element of ‘technology transfer.’ “We believe we are a guest in the communities – we are not there just to take the money.” The first graduate of this apprentice scheme, for example, has just completed his time and is now a qualified carpenter. “This is something we are more proud of than the awards we receive for the products we build. We regard it as a partnership. The community has something to offer and so do we; and together we all get good outcomes. They get a good product in their community from us and we get a lot of assistance from them.”

Too many companies cannot be bothered to make such an effort to engage with the remote communities, Brent believes, partly because they get easily confused within the ‘system.’ “But even though the government system is there, we go in and go straight to the Councils, to the community elders, and ask what they need from us. Once we establish that partnership, the rest of it just falls into place.” It’s partly a question of attitude; not coming in with a high-handed approach. “We make sure they have a say in everything, even down to where cultural monitoring or cultural induction is required.”

He cites Doomadgee, where Remote has completed a large number of projects. There were some issues with young workers, away from home for the first time. “We go the local mayor to speak to a couple of our young fellows and help them along the way. It’s a two-way street from our point of view.” Projects completed there include provision of safety ramps to existing buildings and the refurbishment of 38 houses.

Other recent projects have been completed in Bamaga, right up near the Tip (and, incidentally some 900km across mainly tough terrain from the Cairns base), where Remote has carried out construction, delivery and installation of two high set four bedroom houses. The works included the demolition of a vacant property for installation and connection of services to allow the tenant from the adjoining property to relocate. The second property was then demolished and the replacement installed.

Mer (Murray) Island has also seen some Remote projects as of late: the Tagai State College Mer Island Campus Replacement School project that met with conspicuous success at the 2012 Master Builders Awards. On a site built into the side of a volcano, “logistically, it was the hardest thing we have ever done.” The awards received by Hansen Yuncken as Head Contractors were: Project of the Year (Major Award); Health and Education Facility over $20 Million (Construction Award); and Sporting and Community Service Facility over $20 Million (Construction Award). Remote Building Solutions was contracted to construct and install nine school buildings. The scope of works for this project was complex due to the range of buildings being provided and the hill slope location for the college. The buildings included Pre-Prep, Resource, Cultural Administration, Junior and Senior school housing. Amenities and a Canteen were also provided. The company also supplied Cold and Freezer Rooms, Operable Walls, compactus, all kitchen and amenities, fixtures and fittings, curtaining and roller shutters.

Logistically, this kind of remote work necessitates meticulous advance planning of all supplies and delivery. “If you forget an 80 dollar item it can cost you 2,000 dollars to get it out there,” says Brent. But there is a highly experienced team of project managers who know the region (the company is now working on the NT border at Camooweal and as far down the eastern seaboard as Cherbourg); all of them have “come up through the ranks. They have worked in the communities; they are not just university graduates with a piece of paper.”

Each year as the company grows, “we can handle a little more business.” There is a lot to go at but the market is definitely very competitive, which is fundamentally healthy for the industry. “But it’s not an easy game – there’s a lot that can go wrong and when it does, it’s expensive in these areas.” Remote Building Solutions has it covered.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 7:36 AM AEST