There’s been Colvilles in Barham for nearly a century, but probably the most famous one is 84-year-old Hume Colville, who designed and patented the world’s first self-priming irrigation pump in the early 1960s.
So, when Brenden Colville recently decided to return home with his young family after a decade of enjoying the sand and sunshine of North Queensland’s Tannum Sands, he naturally gravitated to the family business his great-uncle Hume founded.
“I’d worked in various construction jobs over the years since leaving Barham – in Melbourne and at Tannum Sands,” Brenden explains.
"But after ten years in Queensland, my wife and I decided to bring our two girls back to Barham – we both grew up here and we knew it was a beautiful place to raise children. Plus, we wanted our kids to know their family better,” he adds.
Brenden’s Dad, Merv, and the rest of the extended family welcomed him home with open arms.
“The Colvilles have built custom irrigation pumps here since Hume first unveiled his breakthrough pump,” Brenden says.
“Dad’s been building them now for over 40 years and I decided it was time to learn from him, develop the business further and hopefully help it to expand and grow in the future.”
Aussie legend keeps on pumping
In the early 80s, there were over 100 companies throughout Australia building Hume’s pumps under licence.
No one had ever done anything like it before – in fact, a lot of people had told him a self-priming pump with no foot valve couldn’t be done.
But Hume proved them wrong.
Today, his original design is still being used. However, the business has redesigned the prototype and re-engineered it to suit more modern applications, particularly with the move in agriculture towards being more water efficient.
“There’s less water available to farms and fewer allocations,” Brenden explains.
“Farmers have made a move to premium pumping systems – a lot use pipelines rather than channel systems, to eliminate seepage and evaporation losses.”
“So, our pump has had to change and develop to match. The self-priming function is still a primary component; however we’ve increased the efficiency and range of our custom-built pumps dramatically.”
Kubota and the Colville Pump – A steadfast partnership
Merv first used Kubota engines during the the early 2000s drought.
It was lean times – farmers didn’t have a lot of spare cash lying around to throw at pumps and new engines, so Merv started sourcing second-hand Kubota motors because of their reputation for durability and quality.
“Even if they've run 6,000 hours, the oil still comes out clean,” Merv explains.
“They're just an outstanding quality, well-built engine.”
When they decided to go to the Elmore Field Day a couple of years ago to generate more brand recognition and get the Colville name back out there, Brenden and his dad decided to purchase new Kubotas for the display.
“We prefer to use them because they're extremely smooth running, quiet and excellent on fuel,” Brenden says.
“We also like the excellent dealer support available.”
In fact, Brenden’s become good mates with Anthony Miliado, Swan Hill’s Kubota dealer.
“Anything we asked for, he made sure it happened,” he says.
“If you said, we need three engines by next week, they were always available.”
“He was very, very helpful. It's all about looking after us, which in turn gets our farmers their product quicker.”
“And when it comes to servicing, the farmer can give us a call, or he can call his local Kubota dealer and have the parts sent out to him, or they'll be out there with a service tech the very next day.”
“He never has to touch a thing – everything’s ready to go,” enthuses Brenden.
“That’s why we chose the partnership with Kubota. It delivers great serviceability, great reliability – just like Colville Pumps.”
“We’ve got peace-of-mind knowing that, if we set our pump up with a Kubota engine, the farmer can put it in, turn it on,” he explains.
“He doesn't have to worry about it, whether it's two days later, two weeks later – it's still running, it's still doing its job.”
Handcrafted ‘set and forget’ functionality
“We liaise a lot with each farmer to make sure we’re building a pump that will achieve the optimum efficiency for their unique application,” Brenden says.
“Once we’ve established the farmer’s needs, my father and I will cut everything by hand. We’ll then roll it, shape it, drill it and assemble it.”
“Ultimately, we try to make everything as easy as possible so that, once the pump is in place, it's a turnkey operation,” Brenden explains.
“We want the farmer to be able to just walk up and start it – or if he's too busy, he can send the wife, son or a worker down to do it.”
“There's no need for a foot valve. There’s no need for vacuum priming. Just put your pipe in the water, set up your discharge and it does the job for you.”
Like Kubota, the critical aspect of the Colville Pump is low maintenance reliability.
“Our pumps don’t block up,” Brenden says.
“It's set and forget – farmers know that 12 hours or two days later, whatever it might be, their Colville pump is still going to be running. It won't lose water; it won't block up.”
“I guarantee it will pump no matter what, whether its sticks, mud, trash, or any hard roughage, it chops it up and just keeps pumping – and the Kubota engine will be running right along with it,” he adds.
This means the farmer has one less thing to worry about, which is worth its weight in gold when they’re busy running a property.
Taking the Colville Pump into the 21st Century
Merv says Brenden’s brought a lot of enthusiasm back with him from his time in Queensland.
“Before Brenden came back, the business was just cruising along,” he said.
“We’ve diversified into other things to cover the dry spells when farmers don’t need pumps so much.”
Brenden’s also been instrumental in applying new media technologies to help the business grow.
While the Colville name has always been held in high regard for its high-quality engineering, the business hadn’t done much advertising over the years – and people had forgotten they were still around.
“Of course, after being out of the show for nearly 19 years, I had to find my place within the business,” Brenden says.
“For me, it was bringing the technology side of things to the party – developing the brand further, getting us more recognition and getting our name back out there.”
“Using online media to boost our profile has helped people realise we’re still in business,” he says.
“Hume’s is a great story about Australian ingenuity that deserves to be told more widely. And I think new media technologies have helped us do that – it’s brought us up to speed with the 21st century.”
“That’s valuable because farmers don’t have time to shop around like they used to. Now everything’s at your fingertips and it’s more important than ever to have an online presence,” Brenden says.
“I like to think I’ve added a modern flavour to the Colville Pump story,” he grins.