FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL: Mackay Labour Hire director Mick Barfield at his Glenella property with German Shepherds Missy and Brutus.
FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL: Mackay Labour Hire director Mick Barfield at his Glenella property with German Shepherds Missy and Brutus. Stuart Quinn

How this $4M business came crashing down

EXCLUSIVE: They say you can tell a lot about a man by his handshake - and when you shake Mick Barfield's it is one of a man  who has been to hell and back.

Mr Barfield set out with just $5000 when he launched Mackay Labour Hire 16 years ago, building it into a large business that employed up to 250 people and pulled in an annual profit of about $4 million.

But his highly successful business began to fall apart when, he claims, Rockhampton-based firm JM Kelly Project Builders failed to pay $341,484 owed to him for labour hire he provided on multiple projects between May-August 2013, as well as interest.

The projects included work on stage one of Mackay Mater Hospital, the Captains Corner residential apartment block, repair work at Mackay Sugar sheds and the construction of a Queensland Government office building on Nelson St.

Mr Barfield initiated legal action in 2013 to reclaim the money owed and the case was heard June 13-15, 2016 in the District Court of Queensland, before being adjourned.

Five days later, JM Kelly Project Builders went into voluntary liquidation, halting all legal proceedings against them.

Having forked out $250,000 in legal fees, Mr Barfield lodged a civil claim to recoup the costs and after a five and a half year court battle, the matter finally came to a head on Friday with the Supreme Court of Queensland knocking back an appeal by JM Kelly Project Builders and ruling in Mr Barfield's favour.

Geoffrey John Murphy, the director of Collhart Investment's Pty Ltd, formerly known as JM Kelly Project Builders, was in May 2017 ordered to pay the court costs incurred by Mr Barfield from April 13, 2016.

Mackay Labour Hire director Mick Barfield at his Glenella property with German Shepherds Missy and Brutus
Mackay Labour Hire director Mick Barfield at his Glenella property with German Shepherds Missy and Brutus Stuart Quinn

He had appealed the order claiming the judge in the matter erred in a number of findings and a hearing was held in the Queensland Court of Appeal on October 13, 2017.

Tears welled in Mr Barfield's eyes as he recalled the moment he found out the decision.

"I have been waiting for this judgment for seven months. When I found out I had won, I was on a dozer working in Ayr and my solicitor called me," Mr Barfield said.

"I'm a bloke that will stand up for myself and I did that and it has taken everything from me. But what it has done is proved a point, people rubbished me and said I was a liar, but I proved I was right.

"I have had to fight this. It is a lot to go through, I don't care what anyone says.

"I have proved them all wrong, that's all I have wanted to do. It's my pride and my reputation."

While the judgment in his favour brings a world of relief, Mr Barfield said it will never bring back what he has lost.

For the past few years, he has struggled to gain work and says it has been an ongoing fight for survival.

"I have been fighting this for five and a half years. People don't understand what I've lost," he said.

"The money I lost in wages plus the cost of the court proceedings has destroyed me. I lost Mackay Labour Hire; my company was my life.

"I have a bad leg but because I was my own boss, I could drive my own excavator and do everything. Now I have to go and work for other people and they won't give me a job because they think I'm a compo (compensation) risk.

"I'm not going to get back what I've had. I'm 62, all I want to do is save my house and have somewhere to live.

"I had $850,000 in the bank and I have lost it all through this. I have lost all of my super. I have had to sell off my machinery, my cars and my trucks.

"I was turning $40,000 a week in profit. All I have left is a house that I am in debt with and my two dogs.

"These days I get up at 3.30am every day, work 11 hours straight without getting off the dozer and I live on nothing. I eat fu- all."

Mr Barfield said through the entire ordeal, what hurt him most was the lack of support from people he had done right by in the past.

"I had 250 people working for me, I paid all my bills and I did everything right but when I wanted help, no one was there," he said.

"I broke down in the street not too long ago. I started crying in the street and I just couldn't stop crying.

"What I can't understand, and what hurts me more than anything, is I did favours for people when I had the labour hire business.

"I used to hire labourers at the drop of a hat, get them good people and do everything right by them. But when I wanted a favour and a helping hand to save my house, or my excavator or anything, I never got it.

"They all just didn't want to know me. But I just kept plodding along, to prove a point."

Multiple calls by the Daily Mercury to Mr Murphy seeking comment on the judgment went unanswered.