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Just lovin’ the job

Learning new skills and gaining a qualification are the main drivers for 33-year-old Bonnie Walker who works at Fulton Hogan’s Appleby quarry near Nelson. Richard Silcock spoke with her about the role and future aspirations.

I just love my job and I love working with big machines,” says Bonnie Walker, Fulton Hogan’s Appleby quarry supervisor.

“I always thought I wanted to be a truck driver when I left school, but after gaining a National Certificate in Road Transport in 2006 at Nelson’s technical institute and a Certificate in Civil Plant Operations the following year after attending a course at Tai Poutini (Greymouth Polytechnic), Neil Jackson Contracting took me on for 10 weeks’ work experience before employing me fulltime. 

“Neil had a wide range of work and I helped him for a couple of years pulling out apple and kiwifruit orchards and crushing aggregates before we moved to Fulton Hogan’s Motueka quarry to help run their sand and aggregate plant for them. 

“I was hooked, and have no regrets with the way things have eventuated – as working at a quarry has given me the opportunity to move out of my comfort zone, expand my personal horizon, and learn a whole lot of new and different skills.

“I spent eight years with Neil, learning the ropes, and it was a good grounding, as I not only got the opportunity to operate all of the machinery, including the jaw crusher and screening plant, but it also instilled in me the need to gain a qualification if I wanted to progress within the quarry industry.”

Neil’s motivation led her to achieving a B-grade Quarry Managers Certificate in 2014. Having proven herself to be a very competent operator and able to work with a range of machinery, Bonnie was offered a job at Fulton Hogan in 2016 and, after additional training, was made a foreman before being appointed to her current role.

“Prior to Appleby, I also worked at other Fulton Hogan quarries: York and Wairoa out the back of Brightwater, and at Black Marble quarry for nine months, which is a pretty challenging and remote hard rock quarry in Golden Bay. I was doing bench work with a digger, targeting big rock for river protection. 

“The Appleby quarry is alongside the Appleby River. It covers an area of seven hectares and produces mainly road chip and aggregate for concrete along with sand, all of which are interconnected.

“I work with a great bunch of five guys and get to operate all of the machinery, although at the moment I am pretty well fulltime on a loader as we are currently short of loader operators.

“The quarry recently underwent a massive upgrade over several stages, we got a new silt press, and the chip plant has been replaced with a new and bigger plant that includes a large feed hopper, a Barmac crusher and double-deck dry screen with a flow divider, a triple-deck wash screen and a dual dewatering screen.

“It has been exciting to have been a part of this upgrade while still operating the quarry. We can now produce Grade 2 chip and production has increased substantially along with the addition of some extra product.

“While I am the only woman on the staff, it has not been an issue and the guys all treat me as an equal, which is good. We look out for each other and work as a cohesive team.

“I get a lot of satisfaction in keeping our throughput figures up and being part of a team able to supply the various products for our clients and the roading division of the company. Fulton Hogan is a great company to be working for, as not only are they the largest quarry operator in the country, but they treat their staff very well and encourage entrepreneurial ideas.”

When asked what she liked least about the job, Bonnie says, with a laugh, that she isn’t an early morning person and that the 6am starts at the quarry took some time getting used to.

“We work 12 hours, five days a week and on occasions sometimes on Saturday mornings, but that is pretty infrequent.

“Fulton Hogan has given me the opportunity to grow within the job, and they have trained me to the extent that I am now able to run the plant and being in a supervisory role it has allowed me to lead others, offer advice, problem solve and help out where needed across the whole plant.

“I realise I still have a lot to learn about this industry and going forward I would hope to increase my work experience, skills and knowledge and eventually work my way up to a management position with a quarry managers A-grade qualification.”

Bonnie says she would like to have the opportunity to work at other Fulton Hogan quarries in the future, for example the ex-Stevenson’s Quarry at Drury (now owned by Fulton Hogan), which is a far bigger operation, producing a far larger range of product.

“I had the opportunity of being shown over this quarry when I was up in Auckland last year. It is huge and on a scale I had not seen before,” she says.

At last year’s industry conference Bonnie was the recipient of the Terra CAT Travel Award, which is awarded to a young person who has shown dedication and resourcefulness in their job. This award comes with a $3500 travel grant to enable the winner to further their knowledge and skills by visiting other quarries. Bonnie says there’s been a lot of discussion on her quarry tour as Covid kept delaying things. But, now she’s in the middle of locking in the travel dates to tour the country this year looking at some large quarries and their operations.

She was also a finalist in the National Association of Women in Construction Tradesperson of the Year Award, and a recipient for the 2021, IOQ New Zealand Youth Programme for aspiring leaders. 

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