As one of the biggest business names around town, Des McNulty, whose father established Ryan McNulty sawmillers, is not what one might expect.
A strong figure of a man with the large hands of someone who has done more than his fair share of outside labouring, quietly spoken and humble — a man who believes in good, honest hard work.
And a frugal family man, who like his father before him, has handed the reins of the business to one of his sons.
Mr McNulty’s father, Ted started the business in 1952 with his mate Pat Ryan after they’d worked together milling timber for Terretts of Benalla.
They bought a 50-acre farm on Sydney Rd where Ryan & McNulty’s still stands today.
Mr Ryan then decided to concentrate on the farming, while Mr McNulty stuck with the five acres of the sawmill.
‘‘When I left school I went to work in Melbourne for a while and then I came back here and I got the first log truck,’’ Mr McNulty said.
‘‘I used to cart for Terretts, that was the other mill.
‘‘Then I took over my father’s contract (supplying timber for Terretts) and then later on I got a bulldozer and things like that.
‘‘I liked the logging. You wouldn’t make a fortune, but with contract work, you could make a pretty good living.
‘‘And the thing that stuck by me, a lot of my friends that were loggers, in the winter when it was wet, they wouldn’t work.
‘‘I’d take a job in the mill and if you got (paid) 18 pounds a week, that meant it was worth 36 (pounds) because it meant you weren’t spending 18 pounds of your savings.
‘‘Some of my friends, all the good money they earned in the summer would get used up.
‘‘I was 37 (years old) when I took over the mill.
‘‘My father said one day, ‘I’m going to retire in 12 months. I’ll sell you the mill on good terms, or I’ll sell it to someone else.’
‘‘At the time I thought, well I don’t really want a sawmill.
‘‘But anyway, I finished off taking it on. I had to sell my trucks and bulldozers to get into it. But it wasn’t long before I bought another lot.
‘‘Nowadays, (the state government Department of) Forestry does all the logging.
‘‘There’s probably a lot less worry on people. My eldest son and one of the other sons works here now.
‘‘The eldest son (Greg) probably runs it now and we get on well. He does a good job.
‘‘I didn’t really think Greg would be a sawmiller. I went on holidays and my father and Greg were pretty friendly and when I came back, Greg was 17 (years old) and he was benching (pushing the logs through the saws).
‘‘So that’s how Greg got here — he must have liked it. Greg did that for a number of years. It’s probably harder (work) than shearing, you know.’’
Now semi-retired, Mr McNulty loves playing lawn bowls and watching his beloved race horses, which again, was a passion he inherited from his father and has passed down to his son Greg, who he proudly reminds me is president of the Benalla Racing Club.
Des has become too busy to keep up with the ‘‘sequence’’ ballroom dancing that played a huge part of his life with his wife, Carmel, also from Benalla, who he met when she was just 16 and he 18 years old.
They made a fine partnership on the dance floor and used to travel to all the dances in the district.
For more than a decade, Des was president of the Wangaratta Dance Club.
These days, the focus is more on his thoroughbreds, though once a keen footballer and not one to play favourites, Des has been a member of the Saints and the All Blacks football clubs for more than 30 years.
Des jokes he now turns up at the mill a couple of days a week for ‘‘appearance money’’.