Veteran quarryman Russell Vickers, one of the best known and respected quarrymen in the country, passed away back in August aged 84. By Neil Ritchie.
His passing came after a long battle with leukaemia.
Born and raised in the central Taranaki town of Stratford, Russell became well known in the Taranaki region, then the rest of New Zealand and even eventually internationally.
He spent his entire working life at the quarries named after him – the Vickers Quarries company – and was still overseeing the operation of those quarries at York Road, Midhirst, and a smaller one at nearby Toko into his early 80s.
Signs at the entrance to the Midhirst quarry say something of how he ran his quarries. “Caution elderly machinery operator … but he’s still good looking with all his marbles … now under review.”
Under his stewardship, Russell built the family business into an award-winning venture that is still one of New Zealand’s biggest and most successful quarrying operations. Businesspeople within Taranaki and others are effusive about the man who won several business awards.
“Russell and his family are well respected within the Taranaki community and in the New Zealand quarrying and mining industries,” says Taranaki Regional Council director of resource management Fred McLay.
And the Vickers company is one of Taranaki’s strongest environmental performers, having operated the quarry for over 50 years with a commitment to good environmental practices. Under Russell’s guidance, Vickers Quarries won several environmental awards, with compliance with consent conditions right up there with the best, for its quarrying operations near Egmont National Park.
This includes the Environmental Leadership in Business section of the 2019 Taranaki Environmental Awards for the operation of its 36-hectare quarry at the top of York Road. Vickers Quarries uses bunds in achieving protection of the land near the national park.
Sons Kevin and Noddy have been responsible for the day-to-day running of the sites for several years with Noddy’s partner Belinda responsible for the business side of the quarries.
Vickers Quarries is probably the biggest quarry operator in Taranaki with one of the largest crushers in the country (the 80-tonne crusher Kawasaki Crusher that can crush boulders up to 1.5 metres thick) is still producing high-quality products, with its crushing strength of 110,000 newtons.
The quarry face is where 13,000-year-old trees – perhaps buried in a previous eruption of Mount Taranaki – have been uncovered after excavation at the 50-plus-year-old Midhirst quarry.
Vickers Quarries produces about 20 different products, from fine sand to 30-tonne boulders, and increasing stockpiles of these products around the quarry. There are also two or three trucks going out each day.
The Vickers businesses supply most of the roading metal for the South Taranaki District Council and also quarry materials for new sites in the energy industry as well as for new infrastructure such as processing and production facilities, tank farm work or wind farm developments as is happening at Waverley.
And after half a century, founder and patriarch Russell Vickers was one of the most respected quarrymen in Taranaki, if not New Zealand, and the family name is synonymous with trust and integrity.
“I had a lot to do with Russell and his family (deceased wife Marie, sons Kevin and “Noddy”) over the years; he was of the highest integrity and a good quarrying and mining operator,” says former New Zealand Road Transport Association Taranaki branch president Tom Cloke.
“The Vickers family is one of Taranaki’s strongest environmental performers, having operated the quarry for over 50 years with a commitment to sound environmental practices.
“I have known Russell for a long, long time and we have worked together over the years on a number of issues – that’s what people tend to do in Taranaki.
“He was one of the stalwarts of the industry, and he was certainly one of the patriarchs of the Taranaki quarrying industry … there was no bullshit with Russell Vickers.”