Meet Rick … the Valley’s rock star

THE boulders, in seven-tonne loads, come from Molesworth. The man forming them into a large retaining wall comes from Sorell Creek. And the expertise that guides his eye and hand is drawn from some 30 years’ experience along the roads, flats and hills of the Derwent Valley.

Rick Salter is piecing together these bluestone boulders with his Kubota 51/2 tonner into a two-metre high feature that will effectively create a new landscape at the rear of a home in New Town.

The idea is for the boulders to delineate a flat section behind the house, before stepping down to a garden that’s already taking shape across the back of the property. Maneuvering these massive hunks of rock into place takes not only an experienced hand, but the sheer strength of the rock grapple at the end of his excavator’s arm. It’s a five-toothed claw, easily able to handle boulders well beyond the few hundred kilos of each of these. Rick has brought five truckloads of rock to the job site in preparation for the new wall. His work is part of a bigger job.

The large, two-storey house itself – once a Red Cross-run home for nurses returned from WW11 – has been unoccupied for about a decade, and needs a lot of love inside and out. An entire forest of trees and shrubs awaits planting once Rick Salter’s work is complete. Rick’s own place is back at Sorell Creek, beside the highway’s southeastern approach into New Norfolk. He’s been around for about 10 years as Granton Excavations, but previously worked as a contractor with TasWater, handling everything from slashing and mowing to maintenance and roadworks. He bought the Sorell Creek property of nine acres (3.6ha) about the same time as he started the business. “I thought it was completely under-utilised,” he says of the section of Derwent River frontage land.

“It was a mess, covered in blackberries, and unusable for any kind of agriculture or recreational space. So I got to work.” In the last couple of weeks, the last of the blackberries have gone, and Rick has finished off some pathways and created a couple of sitting areas, ideal for parking a caravan or pitching a tent, among multiple plantings of trees. “I want it to look pretty,” says the chunky bearded man behind the Kubota’s controls. “At least useable.”

He’s waiting now on council for what’s expected to be a rezoning of his acreage, along with other sites around the Derwent Valley. A change from open space to agricultural land will determine what he does in the future, although his first preference is to enable him to build a house on the property.

For now, though, it’s back to work. There’s 28 tonnes of rock waiting for the wall, and the weather is about to make things difficult. He’s too polite to say it, but we both know these boulders have a very particular name in his business: they’re known as FBRs. The ‘b’ is an abbreviation of ‘big’ and unsurprisingly the ‘r’ is for ‘rock.’

The first letter translates from the colourful language of the excavation trade as ‘very’.