Remembering a bitumen savvy veteran
Back in December 2021 John Dawson, the ex-director of the Bitumen Contractors Association (later Roading NZ, now CCNZ) from 1988-1997, passed away.
Made a Life Member of Roading NZ in 1998, John featured in Contractor articles a lot back in the 1990s.
John was GM of McLoughlin Holdings with over 30 years of industry experience when BP took it over in 1988, and he then took up the new role of executive director at the BCA at the age of 58.
The end of the 1980s was an era of big corporate takeovers and the deregulation of the oil industry, on top of the corporatisation of the Ministry of Works and local-body restructuring.
Under John, the BCA was set up to take the initiative as the recognised industry body, which included linking up with the Contractors’ Federation (the BCA was also based in Margan House) on wider issues such as industrial relations and ‘high-powered politicking’.
“It’s pretty important that we have a close liaison with the Contractors’ Federation,” he told Contractor magazine back in 1988.
“That we have a common voice representing all sections. General contractors and bitumen contractors have a lot in common. Even the Aggregates Association has a lot in common with our organisation.”
In 1998, at an annual meeting in Wellington, John stepped down and announced his retirement at the end of that year to make room for a “new director to be appointed with fresh ideas and the vision to meet the challenges of the new era in contracting.”
The annual report from that meeting said that for the past nine years the BCA had focused on health and safety, technical development, and training. “However, a change of direction was now needed.”
John’s 41 years of experience was not entirely lost as he stayed on in the ‘backroom’ as a technical consultant.”
At the time, BCA chairman Paul Bishop acknowledged John’s, “huge amount of credibility in the technical area” but the association was now looking for someone who was, “market orientated and politically astute to promote bitumen and its uses in the face of expected competition from concrete.”
Paul Bishop is now retired himself and a member of the Contrafed board (publishers of Contractor magazine).
John was a gentleman of the industry and worked to promote the BCA after its ‘breakaway’ from the Contractors’ Federation, says Paul.
“He was very well respected within the roading industry as a technical expert and he turned the BCA into an organisation with great credibility, working particularly with John Fulton and Travis Brown.”
Farewell to an industry gentleman and friend
Trevor Tattersfield, the vice president of the NZCF when it broke away to form the Bitumen Contractors Association (later Roading NZ) and its chairman when it appointed John Dawson as its first director, reflects on his friend.
John was born in Dunedin and served his time as an electrician, before moving to Wellington to join the family firm of McLoughlin Asphalts.
The company had been started by John’s uncle Tom McLoughlin with a rehab grant after the war and was the major roading company in the Wellington region at the time, with operations also in Tauranga, Hawkes Bay and Southland.
His first position was operating the Waikanae Shingle Plant, just below the then SHWY bridge, and a major aggregate supplier to the area.
With the advent of ’Bulk Bitumen’ in the early 1960s, he designed and built a heating and blending plant for their branch Invercargill, and also a continuous-production bitumen emulsion plant. This was primarily designed for the construction of the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter. Both are still operated now by Downers.
During the late 1960/1970s he worked with his elder brother Errol, who was manager of the Wellington branch, and again with his technical bent, designed and managed the construction of the region’s first “Turbulent Mass” hot-mix asphalt plant, in the R.S.& S quarry at Belmont.
With the shortage of labour at the time, McLs had employed a gang of operators from Otaki and John quickly trained them to become the ‘crack’ paving gang in the region.
He personally supervised the laying of many thousands of tons of asphalt on such major projects as the Johnsonville Motorway, Thorndon Fly-over, Ngauranga Gorge, the Western Hutt motorway, the Wellington Container Terminal and, notably, the Hutt Road Median barrier paving, for which they gained a special MOW Commissioner’s Award.
John always held the Otaki boys in very high regard and this special relationship was reciprocated and continues to this day.
John always had a technical bent and revelled in ‘robust discussion’. This no more evident than when faced with the prospect of some thousands of tons of asphalt on the J/Ville MWY being ‘condemned’ by the MOW, he was able to negotiate a solution for all.
After the early passing of his brother Errol in 1984, John took over as GM of the McLoughlin Group, but was subsequently to be a casualty of the take-over by Bitumix from Auckland.
When the newly-formed BCA broke away from NZCF in the late 1980s John was an obvious candidate to be our first director and it was a position he accepted with some trepidation with our council being populated by the ‘heavies’ of the industry – Fulton Hogan, Higgins, Bitumix, Mathews, et al, – complete with all their underlying ‘politics’.
He quickly moved to form relationships with technical powers in the then MOW and roading authorities, to develop the introduction of ‘End-Result’ type specifications for roading.
This was a major shift in policy, as all the technical expertise was previously seen to be held by the then MOW.
Contractors were treated as ‘dumb animals’, working under ‘Method’ type specs, doing what they were told (but iniquitously still contractually responsible for the result).
Similarly, he promoted the move for the BCA to take over the E/2 Certification of sprayers, was instrumental in production of the industry’s ‘Code of Practice’, and the ‘Bitumen Safety Handbook’.
He developed a special relationship with Willie Vance (head of NZHIT), which led to introduction of specialised training programmes, where they both often enjoyed the ‘spirit’ of the occasion.
Under his watch the BCA gained an international reputation with our counterparts in Australia and the US.
In his earlier life, he was an accomplished brass band cornetist, having played for the champion Kaikorai Band in Dunedin, and was later selected for the NZ National Band tour of the country and played regularly for bands and orchestras in the Wellington region.
Till quite late in life, John practised regularly at home, and could play the lead part of the William Tell Overture by heart.
He was an avid reader of all things technical and, on retiring to Waikanae, had converted his garage into a library to house his massive collection of books (together with room for his whisky still).
Truly a true gentleman, a stalwart of our industry and one of life’s characters.