Purtles power on

By Robert Muir

On July 1, 1970 Helen and Robert Purtle of Mulwala took over an existing business G.G. & I. Burley Electrical Contractors from owners Graham and Iris Burley who decided to move to Queensland.

Five decades on, the Purtles have been in business for 50 years which is believed to be a record for the same Mulwala family or couple.

Married in 1969, qualified apprentice Robert (Possum) and wife Helen began the business the following year.  “We purchased from Graham an old panel van, a ladder and some cable, and started R & H Purtle Electrical Contractors,” Helen told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.

“Our first job was at Pat O’Kane Telford Street where we repaired a light and charged $5.00. We still have the invoice.”

“One of our first major jobs was the kitchen extension at the Mulwala and District Services Club with the builders Oakley Brothers (Bing and Gordon),” Robert Purtle OAM said.

“We are proud to say that since then we have continued to be the three clubs’ (ClubMulwala, Mulwala Water Ski Club and Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort) major electrical contractors over the past 50 years. Another early job was lighting of the tunnels in Oakland’s Clay mines for John Easdown Senior.

“In the early days power was going through Lake Rowan, Bungeet and Wilby areas, and we were able to connect power to many farms in those areas.”

Former Yarrawonga Shire Engineer Jack Dempsey and Yarrawonga Football Club’s Leo Burke offered many jobs to the Purtles through football connections in those early days, and where Possum played 190 senior games of football as a centreman.

Since 1970, R & H Purtle Pty. Ltd has trained 20 apprentices, many school work experience boys and numerous other A Grade Electricians and labourers. 

Currently the company employs nine A Grade Electricians two apprentices, two administration staff. Including Helen and Possum, the total workforce is currently 15.

Their three sons Nicholas, Thomas and Lucas, who have completed their apprenticeships with the company, are preparing to take over the business, which is now called Purtle Electrical Pty Ltd.

Being an electrician is the best trade according to Possum who became the first electrician in his family. “It’s a clean job. You have so many varied jobs, something different every day. You could have half a dozen jobs one day and they’re all different,” he reasoned.

At age 16-years, Possum undertook his apprenticeship with G.G & I. Burley and in the early years of his business, “knew everyone in Yarrawonga and Mulwala”, with their populations of “about 3,000 and 1100” respectively. With postcodes 3730 and 2647, the overall population would be about 10,000 people.

Many big jobs have been handled by the Purtles, including electrical work at the three licensed Mulwala clubs and many shire council jobs both sides of the border in relation to irrigation, pumps, halls and other facilities; wide range in the type of work which includes installation of solar panels.

Apart from being in business half a century, highlights have been many including the powering of the Mulwala Rock Isle Pop Festival in 1972 and the past biennial Yarrawonga Rockalonga Festival.  

The Purtles recalled many fond memories and promotion of their business which included the wearing of a T-Shirt in years gone by which contained the wording ‘Let Possum turn you on’.

How did you get the nickname ‘Possum’? “My mother (Ruth) gave it to me when I was three months old. I used to cuddle under the blanket like a possum!”

Helen and Possum have been, and continue to be very community-minded, which includes helping out struggling people.

For the best part of 40 years, 72-year-old Possum has been Mulwala Progress Association Chairman and was simultaneously Mulwala Water Ski Club President for about 10 years after being club treasurer. 

In 1994, he was named the town’s Citizen of the Year and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2016 for outstanding service to the community. “We hope the younger generation takes on a community-minded spirit,” Possum said.

“We’ve been very grateful to live in a community like Yarrawonga/Mulwala. People have been very supportive of our business and we’ve appreciated that support over the 50 years,” the happy couple said.

“We’re proud our three sons are in the business and hopefully they’ve learned a lot.”

Helen and Possum will retire one day and the business will continue to be in good hands with their three sons, maybe for another 50 years.