CICA, Features

Industry legend retires

Following a long and distinguished career operating cranes, Steve ‘Poppy’ Foster is closing the cabin door behind him for the last time. 

Foster has been working at Melrose Cranes and Rigging since April 2007, but his personal and professional relationship with managing director Gregg Melrose dates back 33 years.

In 1989, Melrose was the manager of a company called Mobile Concrete Pumping based in Wetherill Park, and Brian Callahan was his manager.

“We pumped a massive amount of tilt panels then watched two Wilson Cranes, HC340 Demags with 130t capacity, and two Brambles Cranes, PPMs with 127-tonne capacity, lift them. One day Brian said to me:
‘I want to pump them and lift them. How big a crane will I need to order?’” said Melrose.

“He registered the name Mobile Crane Co Pty Ltd before we flew to Germany and ordered a Demag AC615, 200t capacity, six-axle with 60t of counterweight and 51 metres of luffing fly with a triaxle dolly. It was the biggest on-road crane on the east coast of Australia at the time,” said Melrose.

“We employed approximately 50 concrete pump operators but no crane drivers, so we placed an advertisement in the paper and a dozen drivers applied. One of them was Steve Foster. He was 34 years old and easily liked.” 

At the time, Foster was working on the maintenance of Warragamba Dam, where he operated a high-capacity flying fox crane. This went from one side to the other and could lift 6m3 concrete kibbles. He also drove an Omega 30T roughie on the ground works.

“Basically, he had very little experience in anything mobile, let alone a large all terrain. Naturally, he got the job and he never looked back. He was like a duck to water and easily in the top three operators I have ever employed,” said Melrose.

Foster (right) has been working at Melrose Cranes and Rigging since April 2007 but his personal and professional relationship with managing director Gregg Melrose dates back 33 years.

 Mobile Crane Co Pty Ltd was sold to Wilson Cranes Pty Ltd in 1991. Melrose and Foster continued to work together during the 1990s until Laurie Wilson sold his business to Brambles in mid-1998. Steve went over to Wheelers Cranes and drove its Liebherr LTM1200 200t capacity all terrain and, later, its Liebherr LTM1300 300t all terrain, lifting panels.

While Melrose went about setting up Melrose Cranes and Rigging, Foster stayed with Wheelers, returning to work with Melrose in 2007. He jumped into MCR’s Liebherr LTM1200.

“He stayed in that crane until we got him a 2006 Demag AC350, which we nicknamed ‘Bewdy’. It came from Ireland secondhand and landed in our yard in 2008/2009. He treated it like his baby until a new Grove GMK5250XL-1 arrived in late 2020. This crane bears the registration ‘Poppy’ in his honour,” said Melrose.

“During the late 1980s, and right through the 1990s, Poppy was the best tilt panel lifter anywhere and I calculated that he erected well over 200,000 panels in approximately a 20-year period,” he said.

For Melrose Cranes and Rigging, Foster was initially the senior operator onsite at major construction and maintenance windfarm projects, from South Australia to Tasmania and back up the coast to Goulburn, NSW. More recently he completed a stint in Queensland, working with the Liebherr LTM 1500-8.1 and managing more maintenance work. He has lifted just about everything that can be lifted and has always done it well.

 Driving any crane is a big responsibility and involves getting from A to B safely, pulling the sticks to everyone’s satisfaction in a safe and productive manner, looking after the machine, mentoring the crew so they stay safe, and promoting the company to customers. Foster is the ultimate pro. He also diligently served MCR’s crane crews as their union delegate for his entire tenure at Melrose Cranes and Rigging.

“Like select employees before him, I have no doubt Poppy will become a Melrose Cranes and Rigging ‘immortal’, following the likes of our original allocator, the late Steve Smith, and the best all-rounder we’ve ever had, Greg ‘Pecker’ Lawless. A great innings Steve!” said Melrose. 

Foster has said he will still be available if needed as a casual, until such time as he and his wife, Susanne, find a house to buy in Queensland.

 Melrose also said: “Words cannot express MCR’s sincere appreciation for his contribution to the growth of our business. His efforts and loyalty have been second to none and we wish him a healthy and happy retirement in Queensland, either at the pub or on his boat.” 

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