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Sweeping in Australia

Australian Sweeping

Australian Contractor, Geelong Power Sweep, A Leader in the Greater Melbourne Sweeping Arena

by Phileas Fogg (with Ranger Kidwell-Ross)

On the advice of a complete tennis nut friend of his from Seattle, our 'world sweeping stringer,' Phileas Fogg, decided to forsake a cold winter and see the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. It turns out the formidable Mrs. Fogg is completely besotted with tennis star, Roger Federer, so she leapt at the chance of seeing her idol in the flesh.

Although Phileas suspects his wife really wanted to see as much of Federer in the flesh as possible, as there are pictures of him on their refrigerator and on her screen saver, the end result is readers get to learn about how sweeping is conducted in the Melbourne, Australia area. And, for you sports fans, you'll learn a bit about Melbourne's world-class sports centers, to boot.

The Foggs Downunder in Melbourne

The city was in mid-summer and quite hot, but what a place, from geography to people! The Tennis Centre is located near the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, which holds 100,000 for both cricket and Australian Rules Football. It is surrounded by glorious parks and a meandering river. About 5km away is the F1 world championship street track and about 10km distant is Flemington Racecourse, home of one of the great horse races in the world, the Melbourne Cup.

So, within walking distance of each other are three major sporting venues catering to five different sports. Centrally located, all is within easy walking distance from the city centre and also well serviced by efficient trams. Melbourne really is the sporting capital of Australia.

The city is quite compact and full of wonderful Victorian and modern buildings. The City Fathers have carefully preserved the old cobbled lanes and alleys and they are bustling with cafes, bars and specialist shops. Melbourne is an eating heaven!

The tennis was just great. Mrs Fogg was thrilled to be able to see her beloved 'second son' win the Men's Singles Event; I thought she would faint with joy. She was so overcome she actually kissed and hugged me and thanked me for bringing her to Melbourne.

In such a celebratory mood, in fact, that she announced she and a new-found fellow tennis devotee were going to the boutiques on the fashionable Chapel Street to celebrate. That was the signal for me to go look at sweepers somewhere, one of my true joys. Certainly ever-so-much better than tagging along and being asked if the Mrs.' bum looks big in some dress...

Knowing that Schwarze has a plant in Australia, I tracked down their National Sales Manger, Ron McLean, to see who I might visit. He sent me off to Geelong, a regional centre just 50km from Melbourne. Geelong is an old port town that served the rural industry for 100 years with shipping of wheat and wool. Today, this city of about 200,000 has enlivened the docks and waterfront area into a tourist haven replete with museums, shops and restaurants.

Glenn Laybourne

I met up with contractor, Glenn Laybourne, owner of Geelong Power Sweep. Laybourne is an energetic guy who traces his ancestors to Lord William Laybourne, First Sea Admiral of England.

Glenn proudly showed me around his home town as he fielded constant phone calls from customers wanting new work done and checked on existing jobs.

Never missing a beat, he reported one job finished, another due to start that afternoon and a recommendation that another job could be done monthly instead of every two weeks. All of this driven by his laptop and the GPS tracking system he has in place for all his sweepers. With the GPS, he knew instantly where each sweeper was, when it was likely to finish and how soon it could go to a new job.

Glenn said the GPS was worth its weight in gold, not only for instant reports to customers and confirmation of work done, but as a second way of checking that driver's work sheets – and therefore invoices – were complete. He had learned the hard way that it was too easy for a driver to forget to fill in the work sheet, which then resulted in the job not being invoiced.

The WorldSweeper Interview

For the benefit of's readership, I asked Mr. Laybourne some questions about both his company and the sweeping business in that area of the world.

WORLDSWEEPER: How long have you been in business and how did you start?

Glenn Laybourne: Fourteen years. I was a long distance truck driver but became fed up with time away from my family and long working hours. So, I became a sweeping contractor, how stupid is that?

I started off with two PowerBoss sweeper scrubbers cleaning warehouses and factories, then gradually built up to street sweeping and sold off the smaller units. I still see them around town.

One of my early jobs was sweeping the pathways of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne with an old Schwarze 3000. At the time, the garden authorities were having a huge problem with a colony of 20,000 fruit bats that had made their home in some of the old historic trees. All sorts of efforts were being made to shift them to a more suitable site.

I noticed that they hated the pitch of the old "paddle wheel" fan in the sweeper and would rise up like a cloud when I swept beneath their roost. So, encouraged by the authorities, that section of pathway became the cleanest part of the gardens. Eventually the bats moved. I like to think I helped in their eviction.

WORLDSWEEPER: What is Geelong's main type of sweeping business?

Glenn Laybourne: We have regular business sweeping main roads and motorways and all the sweepers are fitted with large, retractable arrow boards to make us more visible.

We don't do any regular municipal sweeping but often get called out to help with heavy autumn leaf fall. All our sweepers are fitted with a retractable, high pressure front spray bar to handle spills and traffic accidents.


Glenn Laybourne: We do a lot of cleanup during spray and seal work [Editor's Note: This is where they respray road surfaces and roll in small aggregate; commonly called 'chip seal' in the U.S.] for Vic Roads (The State Road Authority in Victoria), as well as for other large asphalt companies. That takes us all over the state, sometimes as far as 500 kilometres from home and on all sorts of roads, from new highways to steep twisting roads through rainforest mountains.

Photo of Sweeper

Some areas are quite some distance out of town. To make sure I have water for dust suppression, I have a 2,000 litre water tank I pull behind the sweeper when I know I can't get town water.

That allows me to simply throw a hose into a creek or pond and start up a little petrol pump to fill it. Sometimes if there are road works going on I can get a re-fill from a larger tanker. This system keeps the sweeper on the job all day and makes the customer happy.

If the aggregate is really heavy and they want to get the road open to traffic quickly, we have a Bonne trailer broom hitched behind the sweeper. Two or three quick passes with this machine brooms the stone to one side, allowing the road to open. We then run along and collect the windrow. Our Australian-made Schwarze sweepers just gobble up the windrow up to 12" deep.

Photos of Sweeping

In the mountain areas the problem is not only stone, but the sticks, leaves and bark that constantly fall from the eucalyptus trees. Quite often we can sweep 200 metres in distance and collect 6 cubic metres of debris.

We also specialise in sweeping the various sections of Geelong Port. The Pivot Fertilizer Company lands 1.5 million tonnes of fertilizer per year from bulk ships and, during the time when they are unloading, we are flat out with our sweepers night and day in order to keep the Port and surrounding roads clean. A little bit of rain on spilt fertilizer and the road can be very slippery, which quickly becomes a major safety concern and hazard.

We also sweep all of their facility area, as well as storage bins and warehouses. Fortunately, all our sweepers have stainless steel hoppers and, with a very rigid cleaning regime with hot water and the right detergent, we keep corrosion to a minimum.

Geelong also has a large woodchip facility and loader, which also keeps us busy as log trucks rumble through and wood chips seem to get everywhere.

WORLDSWEEPER: I couldn't help but notice that the sweepers are in good condition, bright shiny and well kept. What's your routine?

Glenn Laybourne: I am very particular about that. At Geelong, the trucks are washed every day, cabins cleaned, mirrors and glass cleaned before the driver leaves. Any scratches or marks are re-sprayed straight away.

I don't mind paying overtime to make sure they are spick and span for the next job. Geelong Power Sweep has a reputation for turning up with good clean equipment and I can assure you it brings in work when people see that you care.

WORLDSWEEPER: How many sweepers do you have and how much work do they complete?

Glenn Laybourne: We have 4 Schwarze A6500XL units (they are the Australian version of the Schwarze A7000, although with quite a few variations ) and each sweeper invoices about 45 – 50 hours a week. I'd estimate 90% of our work is on hourly rate. It is the only way to operate as you are never sure of the conditions you will find, especially out of town. My customers expect that now and know they will get good value for their hour.

WORLDSWEEPER: What do you look for in a sweeper?

Glenn Laybourne: Reliability and performance are crucial. Down time costs you money and damages your reputation. These Australian-made sweepers are tough and the Isuzu chassis is available all over the country. I have seen all the others and nothing touches them for all-round performance; heavy sand and stone, leaf, sticks and branches, wet material and a 6 cubic metre hopper means I get maximum productivity.

WORLDSWEEPER: How many people at Geelong Power Sweep?

Glenn Laybourne: We run fairly skinny; we have five drivers, and that includes my son and me. My hard working wife handles the computer and invoicing.

WORLDSWEEPER: And the future?

Glenn Laybourne: Well, at the moment we can see steady growth. I am not interested in chasing extra work just to lift turnover and not lift profit. Sometimes you can walk all the way around the block and end up next door.

I am not interested in chasing extra work just to lift turnover and not lift profit. Sometimes, you can walk all the way around the block and end up next door.

Vanity Sweeper Shot

We refuse some jobs where the rates are cut-throat and the customer is not interested in developing relationships. We still have most of our very first customers and over the years have solved some of their problems and reduced their costs. Business has to be more than just master and servant, you both have to work together.

So, concluding my interview and photo-taking with the good folks at Geelong Power Sweep, for me it was back to Melbourne. Though I hadn't been gone long, I could feel my credit card wilting as Mrs. Fogg celebrated her hero's win on the courts. Ah well, nice and warm in this part of the world at the moment and the beer is good!

Care to know more about the area you just read about? Here is the website for the Geelong Tourism Industry. For more info about Melbourne, one of Australia's true gem cities, click here.

Phileas Fogg is an intrepid and voracious traveler with an abiding interest in the power sweeping industry. He has agreed to, from time-to-time, provide the reading audience with interviews and other information from countries he finds himself in. You may reach Mr. Fogg via email sent to

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