Repairing the past, building the future

Written by Celine Louie

Anyone arriving on the doorstep of Dean and Monique Wright’s house can immediately sense the love, care and respect for preservation that has gone into their beautiful heritage-listed home perched high above the Mary River.

As we sit down to chat in their newly built pergola, a space brimming with the same old-world charm as his 141-year-old house, time seems to stand still.

The stately, yet understated surroundings reflect Dean’s easy-going nature. While he’s clearly not one to yell it from the rooftops, speaking with him you quickly realise this man is ahead of the game when it comes to renovating and refurbishing the many Queenslander and heritage homes that line the streets of Maryborough and beyond.

Dean is the third generation of the family that established W.D Wright & Sons in 1947 and felt drawn to continue in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He brings to the business the deep knowledge that can only be acquired as a third-generation builder. Like those who taught him, Dean is driven to preserve history, restoring the houses of the past.

That said, as a teenager making choices about which direction to head in Year 11, he flirted with some other ideas.

“I wanted to be a marine biologist. Back then everyone wanted to be one, ” he laughs. “But when dad said ‘Oh you might want to come and work for me’ it was the nudge I needed.”

It was an easy decision to leave boarding school and head back to Maryborough to start an apprenticeship with his dad, Graeme Wright.

Fortunately for Dean, Graeme was very hands on.

“He always had his nail bag on”, Dean said, explaining this gave him ample opportunity to learn all he could from his father, as well as from the older tradesmen who worked for him and grandfather Bill Wright. Which is how the skills of the building pioneers were passed down the generations to him.
“Dad just wanted to make sure things were done properly, that’s why he had such a good name in building. And he taught me that”.

Renovating Queenslanders is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Their deep history brings with it many challenges.

“As you’d expect, when these houses were built, the lack of technology meant that walls were built out of level, and these days many of the unique moldings and fixtures are no longer in production so need to be reproduced manually,” Dean said.

“Some people come up to a wall that’s out of level, and they end up in the fetal position, rocking”, he laughs jokingly.

“But, we’ve done so many renos, I just know how to sort this out”.

The more we talk the more it’s clear that Dean is well versed in anything to do with renovating heritage homes. His calm nature and ‘can-do’ approach are perfect for all the challenges that renovating these not-so conventional houses present.

Armed with the knowledge acquired by three generations of builders, and the added knowledge of modern innovation, Dean ensures that jobs are completed to a high level of craftsmanship.

“Being well connected with other trades in our local area is a must,” Dean says, and he has an array of equally talented people he can call on to get the job done when it comes to getting specialty items replicated.

Working closely with well-regarded local joiners such as Chris White from White Woodworks, and Graeme Palmer from G & J Woodwork, allows Dean to ensure all new work completed to renovations and restorations seamlessly fit into the existing style of the house, something he is very passionate about.

“I like to make it look like it’s been there 100 years”, he admits.

“Without these people you wouldn’t be able to do it as well”, Dean acknowledges.

What’s even more special is the well-established working bonds between these craftsmen that go back to the days of his predecessors, with Dean’s father Graeme, working closely with Brian White, Chris’ dad making machine timber moldings when needed.

Born and bred in Maryborough, Dean always felt he would stay and settle there long-term. However, in his 20’s and having finished his apprenticeship he decided to head to the Gold Coast to try his hand at new builds for a change, and experience life outside of Maryborough for a while.

Things took a turn when his mother and father were involved in a bad car accident. His father’s ‘hammer hand’ and shoulder blade were severely injured, forcing Graeme into retirement. With a family business to run, Dean and his wife Monique decided it was the right time to move back to Maryborough.

A lot has changed since his grandfather Bill Wright started the business and Dean admits the building industry is much easier since his grandfather’s time when everything was done by hand. These days builders no longer need to hand-saw copious amounts of timber, and the use of cordless power tools and mobile phones has been a game-changer.

“Dad always had to be so well organised as there were no mobile phones. He’d have coins in his work Ute and the first thing he’d do when he was quoting on a job would be to check where the closest phone box was, Dean recollects.

“Dad taught me to be organised”, a valuable skill even in today’s modern world,” Dean claims.
A quiet achiever, Dean has let his achievements do the talking. The winner of numerous Master Builders and Heritage awards, entering competitions fell off his radar as time became scarce and work piled up.

It took a call from Wide Bay Master Builders to coax him back into competition this year, and Dean agreed to enter some of his recent work in the 2023 Wide Bay Burnett Master Builders Housing and Construction Awards.

A fitting choice was the recently completed lengthy home renovation undertaken for Mel and Duncan Board. Competing against seven other builders, Dean Wright Builders’ Coastal Queenslander won the ‘Home Renovation Project from $200,000 to $400,000’ category, and is now a finalist in the QLD Master Builders State awards.

Fame can come in unlikely of ways, and it’s not just the Master Builders who recognise Dean’s special contribution to the building industry. Dean laughs as he recounts how one of his clients was so happy with the work he completed on her house that she asked to keep one of his saw horses, marked and covered in white and green paint and insisted that Dean autograph it. It now sits proudly on her back verandah as a tribute to the amazing job he did on her house.

Keeping clients happy is certainly a main motivator for Dean, and nothing makes him happier than the reactions he gets from his satisfied clients.

“I love building the structure and then seeing the client’s reaction when they are as happy as Larry”, he admits.

Maryborough’s history is encapsulated in beautiful old Queenslanders but could one day be lost without expert craftsman such as Dean Wright to help preserve it.

Thankfully Dean still has many years of service left in him, and having trained his fair share of apprentices we can be hopeful that our historical buildings will be preserved well into the future, regardless of whether there will be a fourth generation Wright to take over the business.