After three decades at our Herbert mills, Pan Operator Ken Gray is heading into his final crushing season.

Come August, he’ll make his last batch of sugar crystals, then clock out of Victoria Mill for the last time to start a well-earned retirement.

Ken has notched up a long list of skills since he started out in sugar mills, and he’s proud that he stuck with sugar for so long.

“It’s not something I think we will see as much of in the future, people spending their whole lifetime working in one industry.”

Ken first started off at Macknade Mill working as a Carrier Cleaner or, to use his words, “working the shovel”.

In this position Ken cleaned billets, bagasse and mud, and when he wasn’t holding a shovel, he was holding a paint brush, refurbishing the amenities.

Soon after, Ken became a Visual Inspector, where he was responsible for sampling the cane going into the mill during the crushing season to determine the quality, and reporting the findings to the mill’s laboratory.

Ken also spent a few seasons working on Victoria Mill’s A and B side tipplers, where the cane bins are tipped upside down to drop the cane onto a conveyor belt which is fed into the factory for processing.

Following that, he spent seven years working on the fugals, where the molasses in the sugar cane is separated from the sugar crystals.

For the past few crushing seasons, Ken has worked as a Pan Operator. He first started on the high-grade pan boiler where the sugar is boiled, but for his final season Ken will be working on the low-grade pan boiler, where sugar crystals are created.

After three decades in the Herbert mills, Ken is set to retire about two months into the 2022 crush.

He said that, in his time working at the mills, it was the variety of people he worked with that he enjoyed most.

“It’s been good working with a variety of different people across the mills, working with different people for maintenance and crush seasons in different jobs, it’s the best of both worlds,” he said.

“It’s great being able to show the young ones the ropes as they start work and come up through the ranks, to show them the safest and easiest way to do the job and pass down the knowledge.”