Corkhill’s Engineering has won a substantial contract to supply Harvey Norman with steel-framed glass screens for shop fit-outs, in another example of ingenuity from a workshop that has put Boorowa, northwest of Canberra, on the map.
In a village of 1600 people, creativity and an extensive network underpin Corkhill’s Engineering, without which the business would not thrive. The engineering firm is a family affair that draws on connections all over the region and further afield for its many projects, working with companies as diverse as Harvey Norman and the Brumbies.
Among their ongoing enterprises, Corkhill’s created and continues to manufacture the Enforcer, a machine that imitates a live scrum for rugby union teams’ training. Every elite team in Australia from the Brumbies to the Wallabies uses the Enforcer. Overseas teams use it as well.
The precision workshop also manufactures shotguns and rifles for farmers and clay target shooters.
“We have been doing work on and off for Harvey Norman for nearly 20 years,” Matthew Corkhill, the engineering workshop’s founder says. “A certain amount of that requires steelwork. We came up with a streamlined design for glass display screens where you can’t see any nuts and bolts of how it goes together. If there is a broken panel it is easy to replace,” he says.
“They are a free-standing screen in the majority of stores. The orders are starting to roll in. Gerry Harvey and Katie Page support Australian industry more than anyone will ever know.’’ Harvey Norman’s shopfitting division builds all the fixtures and fittings for Harvey Norman, Domain, Space Furniture and Joyce Mayne.
Matthew began his engineering business in a blaze of glory in 1995. He and his brother Martin worked into the early hours of the morning preparing the new shop. On the road home, they saw a fire in the chilly darkness of July on the other side of town. They raced to the scene to find Boorowa Hospital engulfed in an inferno.
“We spent the next couple of hours dragging people out of the hospital on mattresses and things, cleaning up and trying to put this fire out,” Matthew says.
“The whole hospital burned to the ground. I went home, cleaned up and went straight to work to open Corkhill’s Engineering for the first day,” Matthew says. “How no one was killed, because the hospital was 80-100 years old, weatherboard, and it more or less combusted.”
The original Corkhills hail from the Isle of Man. Matthew’s grandparents came from Canberra to Boorowa in the 1930s. He is one of 10 children raised on the family’s farm ‘Rockfield’ where his parents Robert and Leonie were always encouraging their kid’s creativity in everything from art to billycarts.
He went to St Gregory’s boarding school at Campbelltown, Sydney, followed his mates into rugby and then completed a specialist trade in Sydney as a machine tool fitter.
Playing rugby union, he met players at a much higher level from Eastwood, Randwick and Sydney University. Rugby has opened doors ever since for the 50-year-old who still packs into scrums for social games.
Returning to Boorowa and playing rugby, he began developing The Enforcer as the Super rugby competition kicked off, and Ewen McKenzie, who was at the Brumbies, took a special interest in this new scrum machine.
As McKenzie, the Brumbies and their coach Rod Macqueen rose through the ranks to the Wallabies, the Enforcer was developed and followed in their wake.
“I hardly had any money, the Brumbies didn’t have any money, they couldn’t afford to buy a machine and said look why don’t we just develop it? I would take it over and let them use it, take it home and make some modifications, so they were pretty handy guinea pigs to have,” Matthew says.
“We have had contractual arrangements since 1998 and still do today,” he says. The machine is sold internationally, France and Japan are strong customers.
To begin his business Matthew looked at what the region needed and made it. Firearms have been a big part of the business for 20 years. He makes everything for the Enforcer, except the upholstery, which is made at Young, and is a great believer in local manufacturing.
“If you go to a town like Young, a much larger centre than Boorowa, to buy a bearing for your header or harvester, you are going to buy food, some clothes. So, Boorowa is not only losing the sale of that bearing”.
Corkhill’s Engineering now has a fully-equipped machine shop, a retail section, does steel fabrication and anything to do with engineering.
Two of his 10 staff are apprentices. He is always on the look-out for tradespeople like a boiler maker, sheet metal worker and fitter and machinist. The work is often of a specialist nature.
“It is a complex business, we do a lot of one-off things, not a huge amount of production work,” Matthew says.