There was a thunderous outpouring of admiration when FTMA Australia named Jim Cheney as the 2019 Clive Martella Service to Industry Award recipient.

Jim Cheney has long been a stalwart of the frame and truss industry in NSW and has driven industry improvements with national impact. Not only has Jim led the way with any number of innovations, from transport to industry collaboration, he has instilled the same values of collaboration and innovation in his family and the other workers at Westruss, their Orange-based firm that supplies frames and trusses across NSW.

At the recent FTMA Australia National Conference, Jim was recognised for his lifelong contribution with the association’s 2019 Clive Martella Service to Industry Award. Below is the speech given by Kersten Gentle, honouring Jim and reminding the audience of the life of Clive Martella and his lasting impact.

Clive Martella, FTMA board member and director of M.B. Pre-Fab Framing in Geelong was down-to-earth, funny, straight-up, hardworking and such an honest person.

Clive was an essential person within the FTMA board. Not only was he one of the people who worked hard to get the national association going, but he remained a director throughout his time on the board. He was my go-to person with technical, production or business issues and he always came through, not only for the Association, but for other fabricators, as he was always willing to share information to improve the standards of the industry and help his competitors.

Sadly, Clive Thomas Martella passed away on the 28th August 2016 at the young age of 62 after a short but courageous battle with cancer, leaving behind his beloved wife Ruth and three adult children, Catherine, Treina and Clive Jnr.

Before Clive passed away, we told him we would be honouring him with the Clive Martella Service to Industry Award. Typical of Clive, he said he didn’t need it as he was truly a humble person, but he meant so much to us that we need it. We want to continue his legacy by recognising people who shared his passion for our industry.

A group of four industry leaders who were all Clive’s friends – Michael Read (Keith Timber & Hardware), Doug Maxwell (Clive’s brother-in-law and business partner in M.B. Pre-Fab Framing), Steve Collier (TimberTruss) and Phil McCormack of McCormack Hardwood Sales – were appointed to the selection committee.

There are no criteria for the award as we wanted the award to reflect Clive’s values. Someone who went out of their way to help people and businesses in the industry. Someone who was honest and committed to seeing the national frame and truss industry innovate and grow and someone who has, themselves, made a great commitment to our industry.

The inaugural recipient of the award presented in 2017 was Reg Owen, a true leader in the industry just like tonight’s recipient.

Tonight’s recipient started working in Eugowra back in 1966. Making frames and trusses for Hay & Cheney was where Jim Cheney started his career before starting his own business, Westruss, in 1981 in Millthorpe, NSW. He was Multinail’s first fabricator.

By 1998 the business had outgrown the factory and Jim found a more central location in Orange. In 1998 they moved the business to its current location.

Jim is a pioneer in roof truss manufacturing back when the industry first began in its current guise. Jim had the vision to create what is still considered today to be a large truss plant and build the production level into it.

Jim, like many of his era has been through plenty of economic downturns and even though they have been tough times, he has managed to steer Westruss through them and come out thriving on the other side.

Innovation and leadership

Right from the start, Jim was happy to help others. He helped Ron Caddy when he started Lamcal, Multinail’s first Victorian plant, and he was an early starter and instigator in the wall frame line and making sub-assemblies and fitting them on the way down the line. He was also one of the first to try a flow-through saw.

Jim, like many oldies in the industry, is a bush engineer and he could see what was needed to streamline things in the factory. Over the decades Jim has put forward many ideas on machinery designs to Ross Rayner of Trussquip and Peter Taylor of Multinail, who would then go on to develop the machinery for the wider industry.

Part of his innovative ways is looking at ways to address efficiencies in transport and he was the first to send loads in to Sydney via the railway, loading trailers at Orange, putting them on the train and picking them up at the other end. Something we don’t see much of these days.

Jim has been a big advocate for the timber frame and truss industry over the years, especially when it comes to large local projects including the new local public hospital mental health wards and the Mission Australia Building. Both these buildings were designed for steel frames and it was only through much lobbying and hard work by Jim that they were able to convert these projects into timber jobs.

Westruss currently employs anywhere between 55 and 70 people throughout the whole business. Jim has always been a big advocate to employ local people and keep as many people as possible in work.

Over the last few years Orange has seen the demise of several large manufacturing businesses and Jim has worked tirelessly to ensure that Westruss can be a major employer in the Orange region.

Jim is passionate about giving back to the Orange community, supporting local events such as Cancer Council Relay for Life, the Orange horse racing community, Ronald McDonald House and the Orange City Football Club for over 30 years.

Even though Jim is semi-retired, he still has daily interaction with the business, and he ensured he left the business in great shape for the family to take over. His sons Leon and Malcolm, plus grandchildren Nikita and Thomas, all work in the business, which is a true testament to the legacy Jim created.

I’d like to call on Jim to come forward, along with Doug Maxwell, Clive’s brother-in-law, to present the 2019 Clive Martella Service to Industry Award.

The conclusion of Kersten’s speech was met with a spontaneous standing ovation that went on for several minutes. Most people in the packed room had a story of Jim’s positive impact in the industry, and many of them were told later in the night, but Jim himself was humble in his acceptance speech.

“I’m very honoured,” he said. “I’ve had some people help me through this journey…” before naming the members of his family, especially his wife, without whom he said he couldn’t have achieved anything.

The handing over of the plaque – and another round of applause – took a few minutes, but the respect and renown awarded to Jim have been a lifetime in the earning and will remain in the memories of everyone there.

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Image: Jim Cheney being presented with the 2019 Clive Martella Service to Industry Award at the FTMA Australia National Conference, accompanied by his family.