Veteran quarry industry manager and consultant George William Cunningham – Geo – passed away on Wednesday November 25 aged 84 in Matamata.
Tributes are flowing in for the determined but softly spoken gentleman who spent more than 60 years in the industry, including key roles in every organisation representing the sector.
AQA Chief Executive Wayne Scott says George was a towering figure in the quarrying industry.
“We salute all that George contributed. He helped so many quarries and so many people within the industry he loved as well as all our industry organisations. We have lost one of our best.”
David and Lewis Swap of J Swap Contractors had a long association with George dating back to him asking to lease trucks to assist with a Think Big project in the 1980s.
The friendship was cemented when George and his wife Karen moved to Matamata nearly 30 years ago, making J Swap’s offices his base for work for the company and others he consulted for.
“He was one of life’s gentlemen. I never saw him angry or in an argument with anybody,” says David.
However, he says George could put up a fierce argument with a council officer over a quarry resource consent. “He was such an enthusiastic person about everything in life.”
“George has been a really good friend to Lewis and I and many others in our company and the industry. He will be very sadly missed.”
Hutt Valley-born, George got his start in quarrying aged 15 straight out of school at the Horokiwi Quarry where his father worked. He married Karen in 1958, the same year he got his A Grade Certificate in Quarry Management.
The following year George joined Wilkins and Davies Construction where he remained until 1987 managing its quarries division for 17 of those years. He worked in Wellington, Turangi, Taumaranui, Westport, Murchison and Auckland for the company, including recommending the purchase of the Puketutu Quarry near Auckland Airport.
George contested the 1987 election for National, standing against then Finance Minister Roger (later Sir Roger) Douglas in the Manurewa seat. Despite a huge swing to Labour, he was proud to have reduced the incumbent’s lead by nearly 4,000 votes.
After the election he resigned from Wilkins and Davies and set up Porchester Agencies providing consultancy services to dozens of quarry companies, councils and landowners in New Zealand and nearly a dozen Asian and Pacific nations.
He moved from Auckland to Matamata in 1992 after recognising it would be at the centre of expansion in quarrying in both Waikato and Bay of Plenty.
George’s contribution to the industry included being chair of the NZ Institute of Quarrying, as an A Grade certificate examiner for 22 years to 1998 and helping set up EXITO, the initial extractive industry training organisation. From 1976, he was on the council of the Aggregate and Quarry Association (AQA) including a term as president.
From 1988 to 2003 George also served as industry advocate for the AQA. Even from the 1970s onwards he and others were advocating that both central and local government start recognising the future need to create specific zones for replacement quarries. Little has come to pass.
On behalf of the AQA he made submissions to the Auckland and Manukau City Councils on district plan reviews and tried to promote the concept of quarrying zones. Unfortunately, as he observed, various smaller councils were already putting in place sub-divisions on top of some of the best rock in the Auckland region.
His last major piece of work was in Christchurch in 2015, supporting the need for better future planning by both the Council and quarry operators. He said the dust debate in Christchurch was in part a result of both central and local government’s failure to heed industry calls from the 1970s to provide planning for areas for replacement quarry sites. George was at the lead of those early calls.
One of his business activities was providing dust monitors, of which he sold close to 3,000 over the years. As someone who was never a quarry owner, George said he could see both sides of the current dust debate.
Not that he wasn’t a staunch advocate for quarries throughout his long life.
In an interview two years ago, he said sometimes quarries are managed so well they are hardly known. George recalled a quarry put up for sale in the 1990s. A potential buyer asked the local council for details. The council insisted there was no quarry in that location; it had been operating just 10km away from the Council buildings since the early 1900s.
George featured twice by video at the AQA’s 50th anniversary celebration last year, where he offered profuse thanks to all who supported the quarrying sector
The AQA and J Swap Contractors extend their sympathies to George’s wife Karen and family for their loss. The funeral to farewell George will be held Monday November 30 at 1pm at the Matamata Club, Rawhiti Ave, Matamata. For those wanting further details, contact David Swap 027 496 6266 or email@example.com
Fuller coverage of George’s life and contribution to the quarrying industry will be carried in the New Year edition of AQA’s Aggregate News.
Q&M farewells a respected veteran
The team at Q&M magazine and Contrafed Publishing express their condolences to George’s family and friends.
George made a significant and very valuable contribution to the industry over his long and successful career and was also a regular, and respected, contributor to Q&M magazine.
I will miss George’s regular calls to talk about story ideas, or to simply to have a yarn about all things aggregate and extraction.
If I learnt one valuable lesson from George in the endless battle to have our industry recognised with the respect it deserves – it was, ‘there is strength in unity and defeat in anger’. He ora te whakapiri, he mate te whakatakariri.
Alan Titchall, managing editor, Contrafed Publishing.