Andrew Joseph Benakic

Maintenance, Brisbane

Andrew Joseph Benakic

Andrew has been with Nerada for more than 30 years – all his working life. He initially started on work experience, and his first boss liked him so much that he’s been part of the family ever since.

He started working for Nerada in Innisfail, when it comprised just one shed. “It was a small plant, with only a few machines,” he remembers. “Most of the tea being produced was loose leaf, although there was one tea-bag machine, producing 50 teabags at a time. Then we bought the C51 machine and that was only doing 100 pot bags. We did a lot of packaging for other supermarket labels back in those days, along with what we produced under the Nerada brand.”

For his work experience, he started out as a blender, which meant a lot of heavy lifting – moving boxes and tea chests to keep up with production. “We only had two blenders in those days,” says Andrew, “so we physically had to move from one work area to the next to blend the tea. It’s not like it is now, where the processes are automated. It really was hard yakka.”

Andrew’s first boss, Peggy, taught him a lot. “She was the blender and supervisor,” he says. “I used to just get in there and do the job, which was very much respected. You had to get the right density or it would not go through the machine. So it was not so simple as just pouring tea into a machine. There was a degree of precision required to make sure the consistency was right.”

When the company moved to Brisbane in 1992, Andrew moved with it in a maintenance role, fixing the machines and keeping them running. At that time, there were no other machines in Australia like them, so his was a very specialised skill.

“There was only one C2000 tea-bag machine in Australia,” explains Andrew. “The technician who installed it had come out from Italy, and we were doing 24/7 shifts back in those days. At the time, Nerada’s were the only teabags being produced in Australia. We were the first in Australia to do tea in this format.”

Andrew admits it was tough back when he started. “I was just 16 years old. It was my first job and my mum actually had to give me permission to leave school. I had to ride five kilometres to work each day for my shift. I really loved it and it kept me fit.”

For a period of time, Andrew even lived in caravan onsite at Nerada. “I was in charge, so it was long and tedious work. They were tough, the early days – physical, long hours with lots of trials and challenges. You just got in and got the job done, as you valued your job.”

Now Andrew is second-in-command in charge of maintenance. Making sure the machines are working properly and maintaining quality are paramount, and he’s also on the frontline when it comes to innovation.

“At the moment, we’re testing new tea-bag paper that’s 100 per cent biodegradable and plastic free, so we can improve our sustainability footprint,” he says. “It’s been a great project to be involved in. We’re always tweaking things to provide a better product.”

Over the decades that Andrew has worked at Nerada, the machinery and packaging has changed significantly. Making the entire process, from the tea being blended to the final boxes being sealed far more easy and efficient. Andrew rates the bags, blenders and lifters involved in production as having played a major part in Nerada’s evolution. “It’s a better set-up here in Brisbane than it was in Far North Queensland. We’ve learnt a great deal how to run this factory more efficiently. It’s a lean team, but we’re cross-skilled to make sure that we can run a range of products.”

For Andrew, the best thing about working at Nerada is the people. “There’s never a dull moment. Everyone’s pretty happy. I’m part of a bigger family, and I’m often the first person someone comes to if they need something done. We are a true team – we have to work together and sort things out.

“People can’t believe I’ve lasted over 30 years in a job. But I love it – my partner thinks I’m married to the job!” he laughs. “I often have the machinery running through my head – and yes, surely there’s more to dream about than teabag machines.”

When he’s not working, Andrew likes nothing more than pottering at home, tinkering with Holden cars. And his favourite Nerada brew? “Black tea, of course!”

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