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MAT THE MASON: BUILDING THE FUTURE & RESTORING THE PAST

Mathew Harris’ passion for stonemasonry first began as a 16-year-old apprentice in the stone yard of APS Oxford—at the eye-watering starting wage of 96 pence an hour.

“If my memory serves me right, I topped out at £168 a week by the end of my apprenticeship,” laughed Mat.

“But I’ve never regretted that choice. I’ve had many people help me along the way, from lads on the tools to the Prince’s Youth Business Trust, and now I try to pay that forward by helping others in the craft.”

Fast forward 28 years, and you’ll find Mat as a ‘banker fixer mason’, with work on some of the most iconic buildings in the United Kingdom in his professional portfolio—from Oxford University to the Palace of Westminster, the UK Houses of Parliament and even Buckingham Palace.

But what exactly does a banker fixer mason do?

“I breathe life into old stone buildings, using my skills to restore the stone to its former glory,” Mat explained.

“I can work stone into different shapes and sizes with mallets and chisels, replace decayed stone and do new builds if the job calls for it.”

Mat is currently the owner and operator of Tasmania-based business, Mat the Mason. He and his family emigrated to Hobart in 2018, after appearing on the UK BBC TV Show, Wanted Down Under, which catapults British families across the world to experience life in Australia.

Mat has since taken to life in Hobart like a duck to water, working on notable local projects such as The Tasmania Treasury, St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens—to name a few.

“We chose Tasmania because the state is filled with so many old stone buildings,” Mat explained.

“There is so much heritage work to be done and so few banker fixer masons around to offer their services.”

Mat describes stonework as a form of art with roots in the architectural profession.

“Stonemasonry isn’t a trade you can just pick up and start,” he said.

“You need the technical hand skills, you need knowledge, you need experience.”

“Once upon a time it took seven years to be a qualified mason, which I think is fair given the skill required.

“On top of that, stonemasonry is also proper hard graft.

“A mate and I often have to move big heavy stones, some weighing in at well over 500 kg.

“Actually, I don’t know any stone masons who don’t have bad backs!” added Mat, ruefully.

That’s why Mat decided to trade in his ute for an Isuzu Ready-to-Work NPR 55-155 Tradepack, tweaked to suit his needs.

Offering a 5,500 kg GVM (driveable on a standard car licence) and a generous GCM of 9,000 kg, the NPR Tradepack packs a hefty payload. Its intercooled 5.2 litre turbo-diesel 4HK1-TCN engine puts out 155hp (114 kW) at 2,600 rpm and max torque of 419 Nm torque @ 1,600 – 2,600 rpm.

“I wanted the biggest crane I could get, but the Fassi crane I opted for would have overloaded a ute, so the Tradepack was a great option for me,” Mat explained.

“It does wonders for my work efficiency—and also my back!”

The NPR Tradepack’s built-in tray includes a heavy-duty headboard with chrome grille and an aluminium body which guarantees a lighter tare weight without compromising body integrity or strength.

“The Tradepack still has enough room for my toolbox and building materials alongside the Fassi crane,” Mat said enthusiastically.

While Mat is usually driving along Hobart’s metro routes, he has found himself on the occasional off-road track. He notes his truck is robust enough to handle the rough terrain, while its relatively tight turning circle makes it nimble across the city streets.

“I’m actually surprised at how well it drives. It has great visibility, and the cabin is comfortable, which is a bonus.”

Matthew tried numerous other truck brands before deciding to go with Isuzu’s Tradepack—trusting in the brand’s reputation for reliability and the promise of great service from Shane Hilder at Webster Trucks.

“The guys at Websters have been a pleasure to work with, and if anything goes wrong with the truck, I know they’ll fix it,” Mat said confidently.

“The Tradepack has been a great investment for my business. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, my work hasn’t slowed down, and I’ve needed the truck to keep up with it.

“Government work has been keeping me busy and with international travel on hold for most of last year, there has also been quite a number of people looking to buy beautiful heritage sandstone homes that have been sadly neglected over time.”

While some believe stonemasonry to be a dying art, Mat suggests stone will outlast us all.

“We build with stone not because it is cheap and easy, but because it has true beauty that can last for millennium,” he remarked.

“My craft is my life and I’ll be happy to leave something behind that will live on for generations.”

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