Digging Into The Past


Hitachi UH07 excavator

Situated off the coast of Victoria lies French Island—an island made up of 70 per cent National Park and accessible only by a short passenger ferry ride from Stony Point.

Inhabiting the island is a unique sight—a Hitachi UH07 shovel. Launched in 1973, and one of only 3,483 models manufactured, the Hitachi continues to stand the test of time.

French Island Earthworks is responsible for the management of the original quarry, supporting the island’s road maintenance requirements and supplying gravel for the island’s road network.

Business owner, Doug Churcher, said, “We deal with a mixture of volcanic rock and basalt which are all incredibly dense. We use the old Hitachi to dig up the hard rock and sort out the larger materials, which end up in the jaw crusher.

“We only have a limited amount of rock we sell. Most of the material we supply is utilised in road maintenance as virtually all the roads on the island are gravel.”

Due to the limited accessibility to French Island, all equipment and resources are transported by barge. As a result, the export of materials off the island is not viable.

Aside from the quarry, the business is involved in excavator and dozer work for fire prevention, rebuilding containment lines, construction of dams, private driveways and culvert installation, as well as a bit of forestry work for the National Park.

The Hitachi UH07 features a four-stick lever system that controls the slew, boom, dipper arm and bucket crowd. The operator only uses two sticks at a time with foot controls. It maintains its original condition, incorporating the same Isuzu engine, drive motors and tracks as new.

“It’s clocked well over 20,000 hours and continues to prove a reliable all-round machine,” said Doug.

“Although its digging functions are primitive compared to modern excavators, it does the job. It also has the luxury inclusion of a small Hitachi heater!

The shovel is by no means easy to operate and requires a high-level of skill to coordinate the ‘old-school’ controls. This has led to Doug delegating the task of operating this machine to the older blokes.

“I have tried some of the younger operators. They have difficulty managing the complex four-stick lever systems and foot controls. Like the Hitachi shovel, the older guys are consistent and reliable. Maybe a little slower, but they get the job done.

“I am actually the old guy that gets to operate the machine!” commented Doug.

“The Hitachi is a very important part of our equation here on French Island. It’s definitely a handy piece of equipment to have in a small quarry.”

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