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Dick Austen AO

Written by Len Ashworth, images supplied.

FROM a railway apprentice earning six dollars a week to a major player in the national and international world of serious business and a place at the table with the rich and famous, the CV of the late Richard ‘Dick’ Austen AO reads like a classic case of ‘local boy makes good’.

But with all the trappings of success this was a ‘local boy’ that never lost the common touch.

Mr Austen, of ‘Karingal’,   one of the most significant figures in the industrial and commercial history of Lithgow and the wider region, has died in a Sydney nursing home after a short illness.

He was in his 95th year.

Mr Austen’s often whirlwind career began in relatively humble terms as an apprentice railway fitter in Lithgow in 1946

But everything began to change in 1950 when he and his newly acquired brother in law, Angelo Butta, went into business together with one truck delivering coal purchased from local mines and an abandoned mine dump..

That was the unlikely beginning of what became Austen and Butta, a household name in Lithgow and the nation’s coal industry and a major player in pursuits ranging from mining to a Chrysler motor dealership and to beef cattle.

Austen and Butta’s mining ventures included Grose Valley Colliery — an operation that ended when the leases reached the boundary of Blue Mountains National Park — Invincible at Cullen Bullen , Yellow Rock at Jamberoo, and in the Illawarra the Avon and Bellambi collieries supplying AIS at Port Kembla and the export market..

There were also interests in the Hunter Valley and at German Creek in Queensland.

After what is termed in financial circles as a ‘hostile take over’ of Austen and Butta by multi national shareholder, Shell, Mr Austen’s responsibilities diversified even further, sometimes at the invitation of the Australian Government.

He became chairman of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, the Meat Marketing and Technology Council, and chairman of public companies involving the beef industry, shipping and even a zinc mining and refining operation in Tennessee (USA).

For a time he was chairman of shipping and ferry operator, Holyman with oversight on ferry services in Europe and in the English Channel.

All a long way from the Lithgow Loco railway workshop and one truck delivering coal.

Perhaps as a fitting bookend towards the end of a long career he enthusiastically became involved with his son and daughter in law’s cultivation of sought after delicacy truffles on the Hartley property.

Mr Austen’s achievements were recognised with an Australia Day honours Order of Australia and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of New England for services to the beef industry.

Through all this success he never forgot his roots and to friends, colleagues and those in his workforce he was always simply Dick

He is survived by Yvonne, his wife of 72 years; son Richard and daughter Lucia and their extended families, seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.  Another daughter predeceased him.

His funeral took place from St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Lithgow on Wednesday.

Mr Austen’s partner in the Austen and Butta company, Angelo Butta, died suddenly some years ago following a cardiac arrest.

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