The New Zealand that quarryman Roger Jordan returned to after more than a decade in Hong Kong was very different from the country he’d left behind. Hugh de Lacy talks to him.
On the eve of the return of the British colony of Hong Kong to China in July 1997, Roger Jordan was so concerned about the aftermath that he sent his family home to New Zealand while he gritted his teeth and stayed on.
He needn’t have worried: there were no mass imprisonments or executions, no wholesale demolition of capitalist institutions and symbols, no revenge on the international community of people and enterprises that had made Hong Kong the last remaining jewel in the imperial British crown.
But there were changes aplenty, and they resulted in Jordan eventually following his family back home – a country much changed in the interim – but only because the supply of aggregates shifted from Hong Kong’s Lamma Island to the mainland.
Roger Jordan was a quarryman born and bred to the industry under his father, Lyn Jordan, who himself had a lifetime in the quarries of Northland and Auckland, and was a founding member and first secretary of the Institute of Quarrying.
Growing up in Kawakawa, Roger Jordan became steeped in quarrying by travelling with his father on weekends and holidays to quarries throughout the north.
Roger shifted down to Auckland in 1970 to further his education, gaining an engineering cadetship with a firm of stainless steel engineers and fabricators, Burns and Ferrell, that led in 1974 to his acquiring his Certificate in Mechanical Engineering from the Auckland Technical Institute.
With this behind him he returned to Whangarei for a couple of years as assistant to his father who was the Quarries Supervisor at McBreen and Jenkins.
Then it was back to Auckland to begin his quarry training proper under Max Laybourn at Winstone’s Lunn Avenue quarry, then the biggest in the country.
There he acquired both his Shotfiring and B Grade Manager’s Certificates, and started on his A Grade Manager’s Certificate by correspondence through the Petone Technical Institute in Lower Hutt.
The Lunn Avenue quarry was the perfect learning environment, he says today: “Everything they talked about on the [A Grade Manger’s] course was on display at Lunn Avenue.”
In 1980 he Joined Wilkins and Davies as Quarries Division Planning Engineer based at the Puketutu Island quarry, and the following year gained his A Grade Certificate with, at the time, the highest marks in the country.
It was from there that he applied for and gained the position of operations manager with Lamma Rock Products on Hong Kong’s Lamma Island, moving there with his family in late 1990.
Compared to anything in New Zealand, Lamma Rock was a huge enterprise, gouging three million tonnes a year from a hard-rock granite base, with four managers reporting to him and no fewer than 140 personnel on-site.
“The quarry site had a concrete batching plant attached to the screening plant producing concrete for sea-wall blocks, manufactured in a purpose-built pre-cast yard.
“Depending on design, each block weighed between 10 and 14 tonnes,” Jordan recalls.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week concrete aggregate was barged off-shore from Lamma Island to the various batching plants around the shores of Hong Kong.
A 40,000t twin-silo cement holding facility, also at the quarry, was half-owned by Japanese giant Sumitomo and Lamma Rock Products’ parent company Shui On Group, a large Hong Kong-based construction and materials company with over 4000 employees.
As the day of the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China drew closer, tensions rose among the ex-pats no less than the local Chinese, whose attachment to the wealth and freedom engendered by a century of evolving free-market democracy seemed about to be threatened by the dead hand of communism.
Roger Jordan was nervous enough at the prospect that he packed his family off home to New Zealand, though Beijing’s reassuring posture in the lead-up was enough to convince him he was in little danger himself.
What followed was what he describes as “nothing more challenging to a born-and-bred quarryman than closing down a large successful quarry, rehabilitating it, and walking away.”
The new regime had decided that Hong Kong’s future aggregates should be supplied by the mainland under the policy of partially integrating the two former economic rivals, and Lamma Island was the first of all the quarries in Hong Kong to be moth-balled.
The $66 million job of winding up operations and rehabilitating the 45 hectare site left Jordan with a powerful sense of achievement by the time he returned to New Zealand in late 2001, after 11 years in what he says was “one of the most exciting but sometimes anxious places on the planet at the time.”
One of those excitements was the building of the new Hong Kong Airport, which had to be completed before the handover, and required the excavation and placement of 93 million tonnes of material in 20 months.
Still recovering from the late-nineties recession, New Zealand was not a market offering great opportunities to returning quarrymen, but Jordan landed a landfill management job in Auckland with Waste Management at the former Whitford Quarry in Manukau City, preparatory to going out on his own as a consultant.
The time at Whitford was vital to his rehabilitation in New Zealand which, while he was away in Hong Kong, had plunged into a period of radical economic restructuring expressed most noticeably through the Resource Management Act and the Health and Safety in Employment Act.
Jordan had to learn to navigate his way through labour contracts and resource consents that hadn’t even been in the pipeline a decade earlier.
And there were other things that had changed markedly in his absence, most notably the rise of the drug culture that saw first marijuana and then methamphetamine make their appearance not only in workers’ lives but, alarmingly, in their workplaces.
“When I left New Zealand in 1990, drugs did not exist in the workplace, and there were absolutely none in Hong Kong where everyone was too busy hanging onto their jobs to bother with them.
“But back in New Zealand they seemed to be everywhere: the waste management industry was saturated with them.”
There was some irony in the fact that Jordan’s job at Waste Management ceased when the company was acquired by Chinese interests which promptly eliminated 50 management roles.
His only regret about that though is that he didn’t start his own consultancy earlier: He has found immense satisfaction providing technical and hands-on physical services to a wide base of Northland and Waikato quarry operators.