Fantastic conference concludes in Darwin

Thank you to everyone who made the trip up north to join us in sunny Darwin for the AWCI ANZ 71st Annual Conference. Delegates and partners were treated to a fantastic showcase of the sights of Northern Territory and a three day program of professional speakers and industry discussion. We were delighted to have over 300 industry contractors, suppliers, manufacturers and partners fill up the Darwin Convention Centre from 9-12 October.

Our Conference Sponsors and Exhibitors were noticed by everyone with a fantastic display on the top level of the centre showcasing the latest products and innovation to hit the market.  In the lobby, the unique crocodile signboards constructed in the Apprentice Challenge had many stopping to watch the apprentices at work over the three days. It was definitely a challenge with many details that tested the apprentices. 



Monday 10 October

The official welcome to the “Exploring New Horizons” conference kicked off on the trade exhibition floor with delegates stopping by all of our exhibitors for the latest innovation, products and technology in the marketplace. The crowd was buzzing with conversation and curiosity until the bell rang for the start of our plenary speakers in the Auditorium.

The comments from delegates on the mix of topics our professional speakers shared were very positive. Delegates walked out with a new focus on their business and those that attended the afternoon workshops got an in-depth session with plenty of action items to take back home. Here are a few key messages from each of our speakers.

  • Nigel Collin - make step by step changes to achieve constant innovation
  • Steve Tighe - look at the industry trends and what society wants to shape your strategy
  • Matt Lynch - supplement your core staff with well-trained third party contractors
  • Karen Phillips - focus on doing one thing well with your communications
  • David Newell - rethink our relationships with apprentices



Tuesday 11 October

We were delighted to have our friends from AWCI in America join us on the stage on Tuesday morning. Michael Taylor and Steve Etkin brought the audience along on key issues in the contracting arena in North America. As an added bonus they also brought us up to speed on the much-watched US Presidential campaign. In fairness, our Australian political party system was just as difficult for them to understand! Whilst they are a long way away and work on a significantly different scale to us, the similarity of issues that contractors are dealing with was enlightening.

Tim Kraskov then covered the technical progress the AWCI has been working in the last 12 months particularly on standards reviews and finishing and decorating walls and ceilings.

Karen Phillips was back in the Partners Forum leading an interactive discussion with the room starting with techniques on persuasive management and agile businesses. The discussions were brought back to the participants as they openly shared their experiences on areas where they have struggled and how they have kept persisting.



Wednesday 12 Oct

NewStruct: On the last day we invited the NewStruct family to share the evolution of their business with the conference. A tight-knit family business, owners Jill and Greg Newman spoke of the beginning of the company where every job had a steep learning curve. Many in the audience could relate to the struggles of a small business and the many tough decisions they had to make. On the way, Greg and Jill realised they had put many smart processes in place that helped the business survive but they needed to make sure they were surrounding themselves with the right people and associations to grow the company sustainably.

The second generation of the family, Lisa and Jesse McKercher took over the presentation with an insight to the work behind the rebrand from GAJL to NewStruct, allowing them a targeted identity to compete in commercial construction. Then they finished the roundtable with the daunting project of the Jemena Melbourne Office, which ultimately won the categories of Non-Residential over $500,000 and People’s Choice in the AWCI ANZ Awards of Excellence 2016.

The Fitout Company: Mark Malone, who was featured in the 30th edition of On The Surface magazine, spoke from the heart about his journey in the industry and a lot of issues that many of us often think about but don’t speak up on.  It was a refreshing warts and all discussion that showed why Mark is one of the best wall and ceiling contractors in Northern Australia.

Closing Speaker: Having explored plenty of new ideas in the last three days, we called in an Aussie adventurer who has done his fair share of exploring to top off our final day in the Top End as our closing speaker. Jase Andrews from All 4 Adventure gave us a look behind the scenes at filming exciting off-road adventures and how the best footage sometimes comes completely unscripted with their Youtube video of “Recovery Gone Wrong” going globally viral. Jase’s talk and videos were an entertaining way to close out the conference.




Welcome Function on Sunday at Mindil Beach Welcome Function

AWCI got to mingling with the locals on our first night in Darwin, taking everyone out to the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets for the Welcome Function on Sunday. The markets are a must-see destination and many took the opportunity to wander around the eclectic mix of food and crafts store. After a quick welcome to the Top End, we let the magic of the atmosphere sink in as people caught up over drinks and fresh oysters. It wasn't long before the whole sky turned a striking orange and we walked onto the beach to watch the iconic sunset over the Arafura Sea.



Monday Exhibition Mixer followed by the 'Night of the Territory' dinner at Pee Wee's at the Point

After a break to refresh ourselves following the first day, we met back at the Trade Exhibition for the Mixer Showcase. We put the spotlight on our sponsors and exhibitors with a quick rundown on exciting news and new products to look out for over the next couple of days. There was plenty of action on the expo floor as well with a few exhibitors drawing in crowds to their booth for a chance to wrangle a snake or snap a silly pic at the photobooth.

Then it was on to Pee Wee's at the Point for our 'Night of the Territory' group dinner. Nestled on the secluded lawns and overlooking calm tropical waters, we enjoyed the amazing food, wine and company.  Local duet Cheek to Cheek set the atmosphere playing laid back tunes throughout the night.



Tuesday Jumping Croc Safari

A trip to the Northern Territory would not be complete without a bit of croc spotting and boy did we get some big ones on the Adelaide River Queen Jumping Croc Safari! Led by tour guide Lexi, our groups made themselves comfortable for a thrilling croc show. The gigantic animals could almost clear the water for the bait hung off the side of a two level boat. Luckily we didn't lose anyone overboard as Brutus, a 6m croc was probably eyeing off his floating lunch. Then we helped ourselves to some outback tucker with double thumbs up for the buffalo burgers and crocodile sausages.



Partner Program - Pudakul Cultural Tour & Paspaley Pearls

Partners took a trip to the Pudakul Cultural Tours on Monday where they were welcomed by the tour operators, Lynette and her two daughters, to share some Indigenous skills and knowledge. From pointing out native plants to encouraging us to give weaving or spear throwing a go, the Indigenous family were a joy to listen to. Coming back from the trip, the partners were met back in the hotel with cold water and towels to combat the heat, and a beautiful gift thanks to Peter Collins from Winstone Wallboards Ltd.

For the final partner activity on Wednesday, a short walk brought us to the chefs at Wharf One who had a barramundi cooking demonstration waiting. The best part was, of course, the tasting of the barramundi which was spiced and sautéed to perfection. Then the final leg brought partners to the flagship store of Paspaley Pearls on the penthouse level of the newly opened Charles Darwin Centre. Still a family-run business, Richard and Gina walked us through the history of the Paspaley family and showed us the pearl grading facilities onsite. Finally, a rare opportunity to sample some pearl meat as the boutique showcased their fabulous new collection of pearls. There could not be a more luxurious way to finish our experience in Darwin.




Congratulations to the Queensland team, Carl Niven and Nick Crawford from Scooter Group, for taking out the Winning Team 2016. The judges highly commended their construction with precision measurements and good technical knowledge.

Also a huge congratulation goes to Rikki Dewes from Atlas Fibrous Plaster Co., New Zealand, who took out the Best Apprentice Award. Rikki was a fantastic tradesman and happy to lend a hand wherever it was needed. His great attitude and approach to perfection was recognised by being awarded the Perpetual Trophy for Best Apprentice.

Thank you to Phill Cooymans and Mark Toy for their involvement throughout the year in planning, coordinating and supervising the Challenge; and also to Tony Roberts who helped judge. Material and equipment were generously donated by our Diamond Sponsors and local partners without whom the Challenge would not have been possible.

A number of the finished crocodile signboards will be put to use at Henbury School, a purpose built special school for middle and senior students with disabilities. AWCI are proud to support Henbury School and their students.


Wednesday Awards of Excellence & Gala Dinner

Many that joined us in Darwin this year were stepping into the Northern Territory for the first time and had been blown away by the friendly atmosphere, world class facilities and striking beauty of the wilderness. Welcoming the new AWCI ANZ President, Steve Langridge, we celebrated the final evening of the evening and the outstanding workmanship achieved by many members of our industry with the Awards of Excellence Gala Dinner. The judges commented that there is no limit to what can be achieved as the quality and diversity of our entries showcase growing excellence in all areas of our trade. Congratulations to our winners of the Awards of Excellence 2016. To view the list of winners with the project photos and summaries click here.

AWCI are proud to support Variety the children's charity Northern Territory this year, with a number of prizes generously donated by our suppliers. A remarkable fundraising effort with $38,750 raised at the Gala Dinner thanks to the number of prizes generously donated by our suppliers and the auction of "Les the Crocodile". The generosity of Matt Patzel, MG Plasterers, and Paul Schampers, Rondo, will not be forgotten and on behalf of Variety NT we thank these two outstanding individuals again.

Closing off the night were Gee’d Up who had the crowd out of their seats in no time. The boys could bring a party like no other and there were some serious moves on the dance floor.

A final congratulations to everyone who joined us in Darwin. In a tremendous three days you soaked up inspiration and ideas to grow your business even further, built lasting relationships throughout the industry and supported the advancement of excellence in your industry.



Thank you to our Diamond Sponsors

The Conference would not have been possible without the support of our Diamond and Sapphire Sponsors. Thank you again for your support of the industry, the Association and our members.


Your Industry, Your Association

The Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries of Australia & New Zealand Inc. is a grouping of Building Industry organisations, including contractors, tradesmen, trainees, manufacturers and suppliers, established to represent the interests of members for the installation of ceiling, wall and lining sheeting systems and related products.

Become a member of the AWCI Join Us