He was working as a carpenter on Dunk Island in Queensland when he got into an argument with the foreman. “I decked him. I couldn’t help myself – he deserved it.” Arthur was sacked and sent back to the mainland.
“A mate suggested I drive to Darwin to look for work. I said, ‘Where the hell’s Darwin?’ He told me, ‘Drive south to Townsville, chuck a right, go as far as you can, chuck another right and drive as far as you can. That’s Darwin. So I did.”
Arthur drove 2700 kilometres to Humpty Doo and camped near the tavern. “I went into the pub at one o’clock and was in a bar brawl at five.” The next day, he looked for work and was taken on by the first boss he approached. It was just as well – he only had $20.23 in his pocket.
Arthur has come a long way since those larrikin days more than 30 years ago. He is now one of the most successful businessmen in Northern Australia. The British-born – but proudly Scottish – tradie owns Shorelands, a thriving multipurpose logistics group of companies that provides a wide range of services, including supply base, airport operations, cranes, truck hire, barge services across the Top End and Western Australia, and the production of precast panels.
Shorelands own millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, including cranes, trucks and barges, and employs 60 staff. Arthur says the key to success in business is “drive” and persistence.
“You have to be possessed,” he says. “You must want to succeed more than anything else. And the way to succeed is service, making sure the customer is happy.”
Arthur was born in the south England town of Bournemouth but spent much of his childhood in Scotland. His parents met when his Scottish father Jack was posted to Bournemouth with his army regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Arthur’s mother never spoke to her daughter Nita for 13 years because she had married a “foreigner”.
“A foreigner? He was from Scotland. That’s just up the road in Australian terms.”
But there may have been more to it than that. Britain is a class-ridden society and Jack was a working-class lad from the Gorbals, then a notorious Glasgow slum. Nita may have worked in a cafe, but her family had money.
While growing up in religiously divided Glasgow, Jack told the youngest of his four children that if he was surrounded by other boys and asked if he was Protestant or Catholic, he should lie and say: “Neither – I’m Jewish.”
“But then they may have asked if I was a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew.”
Arthur was always good at woodwork and metalwork and became an apprentice carpenter after leaving his state school at 16 with a company owned by the brother of actor Jack Hawkins.
“I was taught by a tradie in his seventies. He used to give me a whack with a stick if I didn’t get my work exactly right.”
Arthur worked for a few companies over the next few years, including unknowingly working alongside chief minister-to-be Paul Henderson in a shipyard, and picked up other skills, such as concreting and crane driving – skills that would help make his fortune.
He decided to follow his older brother Rod to Australia in the late 1970s after being fined 700 pounds for poaching pheasants on Lord Maumbury’s estate.
“I’d had enough of Britain. I came to Australia for a long holiday and got a job earning $75 a day. I couldn’t believe it. I rang my family in the UK and told them I wasn’t coming back.”
But Arthur soon had no choice but to return – he overstayed his visa and was deported. He flew to Bali and spent the next 11 months travelling overland to Britain – through South-East Asia and India, across Pakistan, where he dressed in a traditional salwar kameez and “looked like a local”, over the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, to Iran and through the Middle East to England.
Arthur was back in Australia within a couple of years – with a resident’s visa and childhood sweetheart Dee. His life would soon change dramatically when he and his best mate, the late Doug “Whiskers” Palmer, decided to start a crane hire business.
Their big break came when they bought a typewriter and 10 sheets of paper and typed up a work proposal for BHP. They won the contract – and Arthur proudly still has the typewriter and six sheets of the paper.
Contracts with Phillips (now ConocoPhillips), Shell and Woodside soon followed. They loaded the first rig tender for Inpex when it employed only six people in Perth – it would grow to indirectly employ 9000 at Blaydin Point in Darwin.
Shorelands was on its way to becoming one of the most successful and diverse companies in Northern Australia.
The bloke who arrived in Darwin with just a few dollars has done well – but there are no airs and graces to him.
“What you see is what you get with me,” he says. He tells anyone who will listen that the Territory is still the place to make your mark.
Arthur is now 63, going on 40, but the thought of retirement troubles him – he tries not to think about it because “there’s still too much to be done”.
“I don’t know what I’d do with myself,” he says. “Whiskers always told me, ‘A man needs a job – it keeps him out of the pub’.” TQ
ARTHUR HAMILTON’S FIVE RULES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS
- Be neat and tidy – in other words, have a disciplined mind. “Neat yard, neat paperwork, neat machinery” demonstrates a pride in your work
- Be professional – “always do things properly; no one will employ someone in this business who isn’t professional”
- Be compassionate – “a young bloke came to me and offered to hire me his truck with him as the driver for $80 an hour. He was shocked when I offered to pay him $95 an hour. I knew he wouldn’t survive at $80. Nobody benefits when a business goes broke.”
- Treat your staff well – “they are key to success” – they will make you and definitely break you if you don’t look after them. “My staff are my greatest asset.”
- Remember your family – Arthur is divorced but still has an amicable relationship with his ex-wife Dee, and his three children, Nicole, Meegan and Jack, and a grandchild, Michael, work for him. Nicole does accounts and Meegan HR. Arthur says they are an important part of the team. “If you’re not happy at home you’ll go to work pissed off.” And always appreciate the work your wife does. “Even if she doesn’t work with you, she’s contributing hugely to your success by looking after the kids and home.Every man should be grateful every time he walks in the door and finds food on the table and have the self-satisfaction of being able to look after his family the best he can.”