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Big career helping build CQ began on campus

Published:07 November 2019

Les Brooks at the Men's Shed at CQUni Rockhampton North.

Before the very first CQUniversity students even opened their books, Les Brooks was on campus every day, and always ready to learn.

The year was 1964 and the apprentice carpenter was working on one of the very first buildings for the Rockhampton North campus.

But Les Brooks’ connection to CQUni didn’t end there, and at 71 the long-time local is still a regular at the busy site – and he’s still eager to learn, too.

Born and bred in Mount Morgan, Les moved to Rockhampton at 16, for an apprenticeship with the State Works Department (now QBuild).

In his first year, that included working on one of the three original campus buildings – now known as building 7.

“Back then, there was nothing out there – we were in cleared bushland, basically,” Les explained. “I was just out of school and didn’t even have my driver’s license, I was riding my push bike out to site every day!”

Helping construct the three-storey structures, Les said he was learning a lot – but looking back, some of the work was a lesson in what not to do.

“We were young and naïve, up three floors and walking across 9-inch support beams before they were encased in concrete, no harnesses or anything – we thought it was normal. The only safety item supplied was a safety hat (hard hat),” he said.

While Les did some of his apprenticeship study by correspondence, he attended practical subjects at Rockhampton Technical College, the precursor to CQUniversity TAFE. The original site of the woodworking area is now part of the Kern Arcade Carpark.

He recalls learning how to build gothic arches and wooden louvre frames: “I never once had to build one on a job, but I still remember how we had to learn how to build them!” he laughed.

“I remember working on the one of the first buildings at Rockhampton High School, and every building had mortise and tenon timber joints, as there was only one power saw on the whole job, and only two electric drills, all the joints were cut and drilled by hand!”

After completing his apprenticeship around Central Queensland, in places including Biloela, Emerald, Longreach, Winton and Birdsville, Les moved back to Rockhampton, and started as a cadet surveyor with Tony Hoffmann in 1972.

“I worked my way up from a cadet and in 1999, I acquired my surveyor’s license. Then 43 years after I walked in the door, I retired!” Les said.

That was in 2015, and soon after Les joined Rockhampton Men’s Shed – operating since 2014 at CQUniversity Rockhampton North.

“Being retired, getting up with nothing to do and driving my wife up the wall – joining the Men’s Shed made a big difference to my outlook on retirement,” he said.

He’s now Vice-President of the busy organisation, and helping drive a project to create more space on campus for their activities building community and combating loneliness.

While Les had been back to CQUni now and then since 1964, he admitted he couldn’t immediately spot the building he’d helped construct, amidst nearly 40 buildings that now make up the bustling Rockhampton North campus.

“The place looks very different, there’s no doubt about that!” he said.