John Holeman supervising the construction of QAL's precipitation tanks.
John Holeman supervising the construction of QAL's precipitation tanks. Contributed

Pioneering first plant manager at Gladstone's QAL has died

JOHN William Holeman, the first plant manager of Queensland Alumina Limited in Gladstone, died on Saturday aged 90.

American-born Mr Holeman was instrumental in the planning, design and construction of the refinery.

Leading the Kaiser Engineering team, Mr Holeman assumed the role of plant manager in September 1965, and was proud of Gladstone's subsequent development.

"An operation the size of QAL coming into a small town like Gladstone could have overwhelmed and taken over the community," he told historians who were documenting QAL's early days.

"Likewise, the town could have resisted its intrusion. Yet neither happened as the two worked together, allowing the city to grow while maintaining its own individuality."

Under the direction of Mr Holeman, the plant produced 545,000 tonnes of alumina.

Having encountered Australian troops while serving as a US Navy lieutenant in World War II, Mr Holeman had expressed his fondness of Australian culture.

"I liked their attitude, I liked their beer," he said.

"When the opportunity arose to work on the project in Australia, I didn't have to think about it twice."

Mr Holeman and his wife Kay were pillars of the Gladstone community in 1965 and 1966, often welcoming newcomers into their home to help them assimilate.

Upon retiring, Mr and Mrs Holeman spent a year doing missionary work in Zimbabwe before settling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.