Mike Duggan has sixty-four continuous years working in the carpet trade, almost twenty years longer than most people work in their lifetime.
Mike was born in 1940 in the Sydney suburb of Greenwich. Some familiar people born that same year were Athol Guy of the Seekers; Jack Thompson; Diana Trask; artist Ken Done, and Bruce Beresford. It was just over a year after the outbreak of the second World War and warships would often be seen docked at Circular Quay in Sydney, loading supplies and troops bound for Europe. These were bleak years for Australia; threatened early in 1942 with invasion by the Imperial Japanese army. Australians tightened their belts, rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job of winning the war.
Mike is the youngest of five boys and two girls. Seven sounds like a handful but wasn’t unusual for the time. Mike attended Marist Brothers Catholic school in North Sydney until he left school at fifteen. In those days people didn’t work towards a career like they do now, they just went out and got a job. And so, in December 1955 Mike applied for an apprenticeship as a carpet layer at Express Carpets and Upholstery in the neighbouring suburb of Chatswood. He recalls that his father, a wool broker, had no idea about work in the carpet industry. On hearing Mike had got the job, his father said, “Son, what are you talking about?”
Back then a new car cost less than three thousand dollars; a house less than ten thousand and a loaf of bread, just eighteen cents. A young, teenage Mike Duggan was making his way in the world with a new job and a willingness to succeed. His siblings had mostly moved to Canberra to seek out opportunities and his parents moved there to retire in 1956, taking Mike with them. His brother was a motor mechanic there and his brother-in-law was working with the department of the air force after serving with them during the war.
He had the opportunity in Canberra to take any job he liked. He recalls, “Jobs were very easy to get in Canberra, the city was just starting to open up back then.” However, he decided to stay in the carpet industry and got a job with Anthony Horderns and Sons, a Sydney-based retail giant. Mike met a lot of good people there, amongst them Terry Mathews; Pat Quilty and Don Burrows. Unfortunately, Don is no longer with us, but Mike sees Terry and Pat regularly. Mike says, “Those three gentlemen were legendary businessmen and we’ve remained friends for over sixty years now.”
Two years after moving to Canberra Mike met Kay at a ‘pay night dance.’ Public servants were paid fortnightly and these dances were very popular. Mike recalls there was nothing much else to do in the capital at the time. Kay was fifteen and Mike was eighteen and they would marry five years later in 1963, remaining together to this day. At the time Mike was working as a sub-contractor in Canberra but one day in 1968 he had a chance meeting at a friend’s barbeque in Sydney, meeting Jack Preston; at the time a legendary carpet buyer for Grace Brothers. Jack called Mike six months later and offered him a position that would lead to new opportunities.
Grace Brothers were renovating three stores and opening a further seven and Mike won the job of supervising the installation of carpets throughout all the stores. And so, in January of 1969, Mike moved to Sydney to work with Jack on Grace Brothers store expansions for the next ten years and later, sub-contracting. During this period Grace Brothers was bought by Myer in 1983. In 1987 Mike won a tender with Norman Ross to warehouse and install their carpets. To meet these goals, Mike got together with Brian Williams, an accountant and they started Carpet Cutters Commercial Pty. Ltd. They employed a couple of well-known Sydney salesmen including Terry Brown who Mike had gone to school with, and Brian Sharman.
The company grew over the next few years in spite of the recession that started in the US the same year. Australian shares fell 40% and Mike remembers, “We had to work a lot harder to keep our staff. We had wonderful people and it was very rare for anyone to leave us.” Mike remembers ‘thousands of metres’ of carpets often laid even over the weekends. But the situation was about to change. The often-controversial Jerry Harvey had started Norman Ross in 1961 and by 1979 had 42 stores, but in 1992 the company went into liquidation. Brian said, “We can either pack up and go home, but with an obligation to our staff we can get into this commercial business boots and all.”
And so, Carpet Cutters Commercial went right round Australia on contracts with TAB; Greater Union Cinema’s; Energy Australia and Macquarie University to name a few. One of Mike’s biggest jobs was Greater Union organisation in Marion, South Australia and also West Australia. Over the years Carpet Cutters has grown to be a force in the commercial carpet industry. In 1998 Lloyd Jeffery joined the company as a director and in 2005 Glen Bryon took over Brian’s role for a full changeover of owners by 2006. Mike stayed on and retires this year, having vowed not to be working in his 80th year. He leaves Carpet Cutters knowing they will continue to grow with mature specialist staff and young, energetic people coming into the industry.
One of Mike’s memorable achievements was bringing young people into the industry. In 2000 and 2001 he was elected to the committee of the Floor Covering Association of NSW and did a lot of work introducing young people to the industry. He points out Terry Stenburg and said, “Terry is a guy I started training when he was fifteen years old. Terry is a very good installer and a very good person and he’s still with us at Carpet Cutters at fifty-four.” Mike laments that these days it’s not that easy; he says, “Young people stay in school too long to get into a trade.” It’s a sentiment held by many across all trades. Mike says, “People walk on carpet and flooring every day and never think about it in terms of a job.”
Another achievement is Mike’s 25 years as chairman of Carpetbaggers, a group of industry people who hold a charity golf day each year. Mike came on board with Bob Wallace and the late Frank Keenan in 1992 and this year was their 50th anniversary. The ‘Baggers of NSW’ are now organised by Glen Bryon (Carpet Cutters), Garry Tunks (Quest Carpets) and Nathan Carroll (Intafloors NSW). While it got progressively harder to extract money from the industry over the years, Mike said, “They always came good in the end.” Last year they gave $10,000 to the cancer research foundation and this year, $7,500 to the Starlight Foundation.
Mike is a very healthy (almost) 80-year old and plans to spend time with his two children, Lisa and Dean; and his three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. One thing he’s really looking forward to is more fishing with grandson Matt who he describes as a ‘mad keen fisherman’ and maybe do a little travelling. Sixty-four continuous years working in the carpet trade is almost twenty years longer than most people work in their lifetime. Mike has seen many changes in the industry like when broadloom carpet first came in and they had to make their own tools to lay it. More recently it’s carpet tiles which he says, “Has completely swamped the commercial sector.”
Mike laid his last carpet at the Sheraton Hotel in Darwin in 1985 at the age of 45, marking thirty years ‘on the tools.’ He’d like to be remembered as a carpet man. He said, “I loved the trade, I loved the job and it was a very rare day that I went to work unhappy. It’s a great industry, every single day is different and even as a young carpet layer, I never knew where I would be working or even where I would end up on that day. Mike’s legacy could be the people he’s helped along the way, like Terry. Or it could be his long service; the Carpetbaggers; or Carpet Cutters but maybe it’s just his love of the industry, after all, he is the carpet man.