Discovering Stone Magazine speaks with Tina Skliros of Victorian Bluestone Quarries about the company’s award-winning stone, recent projects and its processing services.

DS: Your quarry is located in Lara, relatively close to Melbourne. VBQ has been in business for over 40 years. Was stone produced on site prior to your tenancy?

TS: Our Lara quarry site was a bluestone quarry for many years from which bluestone was quarried and supplied to many buildings around Melbourne, including the Arts Centre and the Shrine of Remembrance.

DS: Bluestone – or basalt – as it is often called is the literal foundation stone of Melbourne. Construction of Parliament House commenced in 1855 and features extensive use of locally quarried blue-stone. Today, it is hard to avoid bluestone paving in the CBD. In spite of the stone’s history, you face stiff competition from local quarries and importers. How do you differentiate your services?

TS: We do not believe there can be a comparison made between local bluestone and imported bluestone. The local bluestone is a far superior product in terms of performance, appearance and technical specifications. We do often find ourselves convincing clients of the long-term benefits of investing in a local product. Our clients have the advantage of communicating directly with the supplier of their bluestone whilst also having the freedom to visit our production facility and to monitor their job from start to finish. Our new location makes us even more accessible to our clients. There is added flexibility should you require last minute changes as well as a quick response time to your queries. You also avoid the difficulties associated with imported materials including communication barriers, long lead times and the inconsistency of material colour and texture. Most importantly, you are supporting Australian industry which is a win-win situation for all.

DS: Bluestone is a flexible product which has a range of uses. Where do you process your products?

TS: Our stone is currently processed at our facility in Lara, Victoria, with the intention of transferring operations to our Brooklyn site in the next 6 to 10 months. Our new office and factory is nine kilometres from the CBD so we are easily accessible and welcome visitors.

DS: How well equipped is your facility with regards to machinery?

TS: We are continually evolving within our factory and keeping up-to-date with advances in stone processing technology. We like to operate a green factory, we recycle all the water we use and maintain all our machinery, ensuring that it runs efficiently. There is minimal wastage with our production as off-cuts are sold on. We have various machines operating in our factory, including diamond wire saws, multi-blade saws, tile blocking lines, block and bridge saws, CNC Diamond wire saws and edge profile machines. We also employ automated honing, polishing, shot blast and sandblasting machines.

DS: You describe your product as ‘Nature’s gift’. Do you find that architects, designers and consumers have a positive attitude towards using natural stone?

TS: I believe Australians have a love-affair with natural products which continues to strengthen. Australians have tremendous respect for the environment and the world around us and I think we like to incorporate this to create balance and harmony in all aspects of our lives. I also believe we like to respect our heritage in our buildings and to use historical products – like bluestone – to maintain this tradition, whether in a modern application or heritage reconstruction. We receive such positive comments from architects and designers about using natural stone, and in turn, we like to offer flexibility in production to accommodate any requests we get.

DS: I imagine that one of the benefits of having a quarry in close proximity to the CBD is the ease with which customers can stay in touch with the production of their materials. Is this beneficial?

TS: Absolutely. We are nine kilometres from the CBD in an easily accessible industrial location right off the Westgate Bridge. Customers are welcome to visit 6 days a week to view our showroom and they can even speak directly with our quarry manager, to discuss their requirements or to view the progress of their order.

DS: I note that the City of Melbourne has ap-proved your product. Name some of the major projects you have been involved with.

TS: We are so proud of our involvement with many prominent projects throughout Melbourne. We are most proud of our supply to the prestigious and world-renowned Hamer Hall at the Victorian Arts Centre. This was particularly significant, as my father had worked on the same site as a young stonemason when he first migrated to Australia. In 2012 he had the pleasure of supplying the same project as the quarry owner! Other significant projects around the City of Melbourne include the modernised tram stops, Melbourne Park, RMIT University’s City Campus Design Hub, Victoria Harbour Docklands, Flemington Race-course, Melbourne City Square, LaTrobe Street Bicycle project, and general cityscape bluestone supply. We regularly supply to projects in regional Victoria and have also supplied some prominent projects in New South Wales such as the Darling Walk redevelopment.

DS: Natural stone has many uses ranging from tiles, pavers and cladding to special pieces, and landscaping products. Do you work with local de-signers, landscapers engaged in freelance projects?

TS: The beauty of our set up is that it allows for flexibility in processing, which makes it possible to produce out of the ordinary pieces of bluestone for sculpture and art pieces. Anthony and Peter are both qualified stonemasons, so they welcome the break from cutting pavers! Together with local designers, we have produced bluestone for church altars, school en-trances, features in nature parks etc.

DS: Are you confident about your future prospects?

TS: We are confident that architects, landscapers, builders and general consumers will continue to give preference to Australian natural products. Whilst the market demands variety and choice, the benefits of in-vesting in a premium product, while supporting local industry, cannot be denied. We will remain competitive and continue to invest in our technologies to promote our product to the marketplace. As long as Australian consumers and the leaders in the construction industry continue to support local manufacture and give pref-erence to local products. We will continue to promote and supply a traditional product that has been a symbol of Victorian architecture for many years.

DS: How extensive is the stone resource?

TS: Our access to excellent quality bluestone blocks is secure for many years to come. We do not foresee any issues with supply well into the future.

DS: Fashions change but interest in natural stone survives, primarily because of the product’s flex-ibility, range of finishes and applications, and its durability. What are the slip resistance, porosity and abrasion characteristics of your product?

TS: Our products have the following slip resistance ratings – Diamond sawn: R13, Sandblasted: R13, Honed: R10 – and an abrasive resistance index of 41.

DS: Thank you for talking to Discovering Stone.


Originally published in Issue #26 of Discovering Stone Magazine.