PERSPECTIVES: Retiring industry legend not planning to lay down his trowel

Retiring industry legend not planning to lay down his trowel


When Jim Browning, Technical and Training Manager at our Pinkenba facility in Queensland, retires in June 2018 after almost 62 years, it will be the end of an era for our industry as well as the company.

In December 1956 the 16-year-old Jim (who’d already put in three years in a retail despatch department) started training as an indentured plasterer with Stucoid, a company of fibrous plasterers in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. Offering a weekly wage of 4 pounds, nine shillings and sixpence in the old currency, his plastering apprenticeship entailed two years of manufacturing fibrous plaster sheets and a further three years installing them in domestic and commercial premises.

But Jim stuck with it, advancing to Leading Hand, Foreman and Site Supervisor – witnessing the change in technology from fibrous plaster to plasterboard. In 1979, seeing Sales as the next stage in his career, he made the move from installation to the manufacturing side.

“I didn’t think being a Field Sales Representative would be a very different role,” Jim recalls. “But it made a hell of a difference. Some jobs don’t ever seem to finish, but just become bigger ones.” Jim progressed to Trade Sales Manager before taking his current position in 2003, and it is with relief that USG Boral executives accepted Jim’s offer to continue to be available beyond retirement to help with training matters and other invaluable info we could only tap from his vast industry experience.


Over the next few years, Stucoid Pty Ltd became a subsidiary of API, then Derite, and is now USG Boral Interior Linings, our contracting arm. On the manufacturing side, the plant Jim worked from changed names from API (Victor Board) to AGL and went on to become Boral.

Jim has kept his finger firmly on the pulse as a highly respected member of the plasterboard industry – serving on Association of Walls & Ceilings Industries (AWCI) Technical Committees, contributing articles to On the Surface magazine and elected AWCI Life Member.

On his 50th anniversary with Boral Plasterboard, the AWCI journal wrote in tribute: “Jim has always represented the industry with integrity and has promoted a fair deal and level playing field for the plasterer. He has recognised that information is a key and has spent many years on maintenance reduction by putting together plenty of information into easy-to-understand plasterers’ language.” Jim worked on the AWCI Trade Guidelines and many other industry publications.

So what has changed the most over his long career?

In his role as Technical and Training Manager, he’s seen the training time greatly reduced from that of his own five-year apprenticeship. “Each week I had technical classes two nights a week, plus a day of practical training each month.”

Working conditions are also much improved. “There was a lot more involved in plastering then. We had to reinforce ceilings in the roof. Although ceilings were higher back then, we often had to work in confined spaces.”

“Fibrous plaster was very heavy. Even plasterboard was heavier than today’s when it was first introduced in Australia. The AMES tools we used then weighed around 50kg when fully loaded.” Jim reckons that the introduction of lightweight SHEETROCK® with the USG Boral Joint Venture and lighter mechanised tools make the installer’s job considerably easier. “I might even make a comeback!” he jokes.


Actually, Jim has never really left the job… and not about to lay his trowel down now. He has always been his family’s own in-house handyman, going as far as to learn other trades in order to build their home. Nowadays he’s go-to for the next two generations. “If there’s a project on in the family, I’m there,” he says.

If building and renovation doesn’t fill the days of his well-deserved retirement, Jim is a passionate restorer of old Ford and Holden cars. He’s also a keen gardener, with extensive rainforest to care for on his property.

Those of us at USG Boral – and we’re sure many others in the industry – deeply appreciate Jim Browning’s enormous contributions over the years and join in wishing him a very happy retirement.

Read more industry perspectives in this occasional blog series.