Association History

Address by Mr T Nelson at the Opening of the 1980 Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to go back in time to the early 1930’s when the Fibrous Plasterers and the Solid Plasterers had an Association which met infrequently and like many Associations, the records have not been kept, members pass on and memories become vague.

Means of travel were slow and time-consuming; lines of communication poor compared with today’s standards.

The Fibrous Plaster industry was fragmented and because of the untidy appearance of many business premises and factories it gained the name of a backyard industry and this image persisted for some years.

Emerging from the depression years of the horrible 30s, the first Labour Government took office in 1935 and very soon implemented their housing policy. Fibrous Plaster was specified for all wall and ceiling linings.

Tradesmen were keen to once again be gainfully employed and production per man hour, both in factory and on site was something which I am sure employers would like to see in the 80s.

  • No official morning tea
  • No afternoon tea
  • No travelling time etc
  • Wages approximately £5-12-6 or $11.25

Now to the year 1939, the commencement of World War 2 during which many firms went into recess.

1940 saw the formation of the Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers Industrial Association of Employers – President – Mr F Johnson, Secretary – Mr W Mountjoy.

The first Annual General Meeting was held in the Wellington Employers Room, The Terrace, Wellington. Attendance at the meeting – 5 members and 2 apologies. 1/- per ton levy on plaster to provide finance to and returns to be made by individual firms.

James Fletcher became Controller of Building and many defence programmes of work were undertaken, supervised by the Public Works Department, now Ministry of Works. The Association played a prominent part in many projects.

One project of note was the American Base Hospital which was built in record time at Central Park, Auckland. The interior walls were lined in fibrous plaster, all flush jointed. The ceilings were Gib Board, joins covered with wood battens. The exterior sheathing was a cement board manufactured by Fibrous Plasterers, fixed and plastered on site by Solid Plasterers.

Because of the extended hours of work daily on this project, the afternoon tea break was conceded by employers. Unions never relinquish these gains. Plaster was available from Victor Plasters in Auckland. Sisal was under Government control. Flax went to NZ Woolpacks, Foxton.

The Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers did have Seine Fishing ropes which were cut into 2 ft. lengths, washer to remove some of the salt, dried and then put through a teasing machine; or Linen Flax residue. This was similar to stripper slips and cotton wool, or cabbage leaves (which teased out very well of you could get enough) also tussock grass, none of which made good sheets, however, they did get by.

During these years the Association had a rocky path and had it not been for some of the firms – Wardrops – Dunedin, Carrara – Wellington, Masters – Masterton, Wallace – Auckland, the Association would have folded up.

It is worthy of comment that from the inception of the Association, the name of Wardrop has always been prominent, the late Archie Wardrop being the first Life Member. It is encouraging, afther a lapse of some years, that the firm of Masters is again taking an active role.

Now forward to the late forties. Upon the cessation of hostilities the Association and the industry experienced a very difficult period. Import controls were extremely tight. Many businesses which had been in recess were endeavouring to reopen and because many had not held import licences for certain years they found they were not eligible for licences.

Winstones had made representations to the Government that they could supply all the plaster requirements. Owing to shipping, supplies of gypsum were very spasmodic and during thise periods the Wallboard plant naturally got first preference.

The Fibrous Plaster industry was badly treated, both by Winstone and the Government Department of Industry. Firms who were fortunate to have import licences had to pay high prices for the plaster they imported, also paying for large shipments on arrival taxed the finances of many firms. The Association during this period did not have the support from the industry which is should have, too many firms believing they could go it alone and then crying to the Association when hurt.

1955, the Association Secretary suffered a stroke and had to relinquish his position, which was filled by his assistant, Mr Geoff Turner. Mr Mountjoy is still alive. Mr Turner passed on in 1976. Mr F Johnson passed away October 1957 having served as President for 17 years, and the vacancy was filled by Mr Doug Little from New Plymouth.

1967, the Association decided to hold a luncheon at the Waterloo Hotel at midday in conjunction with the Annual General Meeting. The luncheon was a success with 15 attending. Points of interest:

  • Members’ Subscriptions – £3-3-0
  • Membership – 44
  • Total expenditure for the year – £120-2-7
  • Excess income over expenditure – £88-2-3

Perhaps it would be fair to comment that although members did not show the interest they should, some blame could be levelled at the Association’s lack of communication with members.

About 1958 was the period Winstones were launching their fix and stop service onto the building industry and they were in certain areas making inroads on our sales.

1959 was my first year as President. Geoff Turner, who had given good services to our Association, advised that because of his added duties in the Wellington Employers’ Association, he would have to pass over our Association activities to his assistant, Mr Ray Taylor. He assured us that Ray was an up and coming young man and that he would make his mark in the Wellington Employers’ Association. How true those words proved to be, as Ray Taylor now holds 2nd in command in the New Zealand Federation of Employers.

As one who was closely associated with Ray and his untiring efforts on behalf of this Association, I must say that this Association would not be in the sound position it is today, had it not been for the interests and efforts far beyond his duties as secretary that Ray gave to the Association.

Ray became Secretary to the Association in 1967 until 1972. The decorum and knowledge he displayed in conciliation matters and the wise council he passed on to assessors will be remembered by many.

1960 was the first occasion on which the Association held its Annual General Meeting away from Wellington. The venue – The Employers’ Association rooms, O’Connell Street, Auckland.

A pleasing increase in members attending, numbering 24, with 6 apologies. A one day meeting and it was evident that the business on the agenda left no time for general discussion.

It was about this time that the Executive commenced meetings during the year from which many worthwhile recommendations were brought to the Annual General Meeting, proving to members that the Association was functioning on their behalf.

At the conclusion of this Annual General Meeting a dinner was held at the Star Hotel in Albert Street, at which members relaxed after a heavy day’s business. A very pleasing aspect of this meeting and dinner was that many members from a wide area (some of them competitors) talked, and where there is dialogue, good must prevail. Many found that their opposition had just the same problems as they had, and many trade tips were passed from one to the other.

At this Annual General Meeting I reported that I had represented the New Zealand Fibrous Plasterers at the Associated Plaster Manufacturers of Australia held in Sydney. President – Mr M Hitchinson, Secretary – Mr Eric Willis.

From this conference in Sydney I was asked to put to the New Zealand Association the suggestion that New Zealand join with Australia in forming a federation. The main attraction to New Zealand was that in Australia the two millers (API and CSR) were contributing to a programme of research into Plaster of Paris and its particular characteristics, this programme to be carried out by Dr Hugh Ridge of the CIRSO.

We in New Zealand having no opportunity of such research becoming available in the foreseeable future, decided to accept the offer.

1961, following the decision to join with Australia, I represented the New Zealand Association at the inaugural meeting of the Federation of Australian and New Zealand Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers, which was held in Brisbane. My wife Marion accompanied me on this trip, representing New Zealand wives.

At that time, this Federation was a first for any trade, and perhaps set a trend for NAFTA. From the beginning, we in New Zealand were to benefit from many of the projects carried out by CSIRO, also from the treatises on numerous trade matters, all of which carried an authoritative signature. The most notable product was the introduction of ‘SISASEAL’ to control the suction which had been a problem over many years.

Our 1962 Annual General Meeting was in my opinion the most momentous in the history of the Association. Again held in Auckland a light luncheon was served instead of vacating the building, and this proved a great time saver, as our Annual General Meeting was still a one day meeting. This luncheon on site was carried out at executive meetings enabling a lot of business to be attended to. Members’ wives were invited to attend with their husbands the dinner at the De Brett Hotel, interspersed with some light entertainment providing an enjoyable function. This dinner was the format for future years.

1964, our Annual General Meeting was held in Christchurch, after which we were hosts to Federation Conference at Christchurch. A large number of Australians attended and a tour of the South and North Islands was enjoyed by all.

1965 was the year in which the Association decided on a forward-looking programme, deciding to engage a promotional agency. His operations were to cater for the whole of New Zealand, visit architects and engineers and call on members in various areas. Branches throughout the country were formed to facilitate his operations.

This was a completely new area of activity for the Association and as with all new projects, some problems were experienced. The main problem being the length of the country and the time entailed to carry out the programme, not the least of the problem being the costs. It would be fair to say that, although modified in many ways, the Association feels that this promotion is still a vital role in its activities.

A note of interest in 1965 is that membership was 46, all members manufacturers – no associate members. Production – 1,881,292 square metres of sheet, 338, 023 metres of cornice, total employed 393.

Compare that to 1980 – 72 members. Production 421,010 square metres of sheet, 173,875 metres of cornice.

The industry had a close friend in Mr Jack Innes of API Australia, who suggested that members of Victor Plasters NZ and Winstone should be invited to a special session of our Annual General Meeting, in which trade problems relating to plaster could be discussed. Many will remember the lively discussions of those early sessions. Many good results were achieved, namely the high quality of 4F eventually produced by Roy Menners at the Auckland Mill.

Over the following years the Association’s activities increased, Executive meetings embracing research; development; marketing; taking 2 days, with 5 meetings a year. Annual Conference covering up to 3 days.

A good image has been presented by the Association’s active participation in conciliation, apprenticeship, trade certification, standards, metrication and BRANZ, to name but a few.

Worthy of mention is the rule set some years ago, that the Chairman should hold office for 2 years, has overcome Chairmen staying too long on the job, and not knowing when to relinquish their office. One point not to be overlooked is that in the early years when finances were low, some Presidents contributed in many ways, never claiming reimbursements, but happy in the knowledge that the Association was moving in the right direction.

In conclusion, may I thank you for your attention, also the opportunity of addressing this gathering.

I have great pleasure in declaring this conference open.