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Richard Sharp’s grandfather William Sharp working on one of New Zealand’s early roads, circa 1866.
Richard Sharp’s grandfather William Sharp working on one of New Zealand’s early roads, circa 1866.

Family’s quarrying history runs in the blood

There are some families in the quarry industry whose history runs deep. For one family, its involvement spans two growing countries and more than 100 years. Richard Sharp spoke to Mandy Parry-Jones about his family’s contribution to quarrying and the development of the industry in that time.

Today, with the advantages of so much modern technology, it’s easy to take for granted just how tough quarrying must have been more than a century ago.

Take away that excavator and replace it with a navvy, take away the feeder and replace it with a cart – those would be some of the harsh realities of the time compared with the “creature comforts” of today. While there might not have been the huge list of council hoops to negotiate or a host of development applications to complete (as is the case today), the work would have been back-breaking and relentless.

Typically a small, hand-fed crushing plant would produce between 20 and 25 cubic yards of aggregate per day. The rock would be hand-drilled and small shots fired. Cyril Sharp is circled on the hill.
Typically a small, hand-fed crushing plant would produce between 20 and 25 cubic yards of aggregate per day. The rock would be hand-drilled and small shots fired. Cyril Sharp is circled on the hill.

Take away that excavator and replace it with a navvy, take away the feeder and replace it with a cart – those would be some of the harsh realities of the time compared with the “creature comforts” of today. While there might not have been the huge list of council hoops to negotiate or a host of development applications to complete (as is the case today), the work would have been back-breaking and relentless.

An individual whose family history can attest to that is Richard Sharp, managing director of Leverlink, the Brisbane-based engineering and manufacturing company that designs and manufactures rubber torsional springs for a variety of applications, including impact mounts for use in the mining industry, conveyor load zones, motorbases, motor mounts and self-tensioning motorbases.

The Sharp family has been in the quarry business since the early 1900s, and three generations of quarrymen have worked in Australia and New Zealand in the past century. They started out with shovels and picks more than 100 years ago and today employ mobile crushers and loaders.

Richard Sharp’s grandfather William Sharp worked on some of New Zealand’s early roads, from the middle of the 1860s and other family members were also involved in quarrying. The Sharp family business, though, was actually started later, by Richard’s father. 

“It started in 1932 with my father Cyril. He was born in 1906,” Richard said. “From 1932 to 1982 he was in the quarry industry in New Zealand, so that was virtually in the pioneering days when there was a changeover from solid tyre trucks to pneumatic tyre trucks. He ran about 10 quarries at one time in the Northland region [north of Auckland] in the North Island.”

Cyril Sharp started out as a farm boy in New Zealand in a family of 10, with seven brothers and two sisters. His father had escaped the poverty of England to move to New Zealand in 1865 as an 18-year old. For his family, quarrying was to become a way of life.

“Quarrying is one of the oldest industries in existence,” Richard said. “Dust, rocks and hard places have been part of the Sharp family for ever. The sound of a single toggle jaw crusher breaking hard rock was music to the quarryman’s ear. It was honest work by hard men, respected in their community.”

A LIFESTYLE, NOT A PROFESSION 
Cyril Sharp came to Australia in 1927 just before he married and spent a year working on the Harbour Bridge and digging the foundations on the David Jones building in Sydney. He then moved back to New Zealand because his wife wouldn’t come to Australia, and he turned to quarrying. 

An early dump truck drops rock into the crushing plant.
An early dump truck drops rock into the crushing plant.

A LIFESTYLE, NOT A PROFESSION 
Cyril Sharp came to Australia in 1927 just before he married and spent a year working on the Harbour Bridge and digging the foundations on the David Jones building in Sydney. He then moved back to New Zealand because his wife wouldn’t come to Australia, and he turned to quarrying. 

“What happens with quarrying in New Zealand is that it is all leased spaces, so what usually happens is you find an outcrop of rock somewhere and then you negotiate with the landowner and then you pay a royalty,” Richard said. “Normally you would also sign a contract to lease the property and pay a royalty based on cubic yards, but today it’s all tonnage.”

In 1932, Cyril Sharp would have purchased a small, second-hand crusher when he started his business. At the time there was no quarrying machinery made in either Australia or New Zealand because it was all imported from Britain. After winning some contracts from the local shire councils he would have been on his way.

“In 1934 or 1936, Cyril purchased two new Ford trucks and he paid 400 pounds each for them,” Richard said. “That was to haul the materials. Most of the quarry would have been hard rock but like in Australia most of the contractors, particularly on roadworks, would have looked for softer materials as well.

“Over in New Zealand they wanted to use material called conglomerate, which is a sedimentary rock normally formed out of rivers or glaciers, and then they would have also wanted softer rocks like basalt as well, which was easier to work without heavier equipment and easier to drill. They would have hand-drilled holes and in some photos they also wheelbarrowed the material to the crushers.”

Andrews & Beaven of Christchurch designed and manufactured this “closed circuit” portable crusher for Cyril Sharp.
Andrews & Beaven of Christchurch designed and manufactured this “closed circuit” portable crusher for Cyril Sharp.

“Over in New Zealand they wanted to use material called conglomerate, which is a sedimentary rock normally formed out of rivers or glaciers, and then they would have also wanted softer rocks like basalt as well, which was easier to work without heavier equipment and easier to drill. They would have hand-drilled holes and in some photos they also wheelbarrowed the material to the crushers.”

The work was a lot more physical and there were a lot more people on-site than now.

“In one old photo, there are six or eight guys working and they’re producing no more than about 25 cubic yards of material, which is about 6.75 tonnes of material a day in today’s terms, and they did that every day.”

Richard Sharp has four brothers and two sisters and every one of them has gone into quarrying over the years. The influence of his family history means working in quarrying has been unavoidable.

“When you’re a quarryman it’s not just machinery, it’s the whole package. You know about geology, you know about explosives. It’s a lifestyle. From very early in your life this surrounds you, it’s all encompassing. We went to the quarry sites all the time when we were kids. We all grew up with the rocks and dust and machinery.

“I own Leverlink today but when I first came to Australia I went into the quarry business. I designed and set up quarries here, then I went to Papua New Guinea. We built the OK Tedi project in PNG.

“Then I came back to Australia and went to a sand mining operation.”

DRAMATIC JUMP IN MACHINERY
The change in machinery has been dramatic, according to Richard, but it has not changed the basic quarry operations.

“If we go back to the 1930s and we look at rock crushers, they haven’t changed a lot. Jaw crushers in particular are much the same as they always have been. The designs have improved but they are basically the same. The biggest change has been in the mobile machinery.

"For example, up to about the mid-1950s, face shovels dominated the quarry industry. They were how you got the rock out of the quarry face and they were accompanied by tracked front-end loaders and tracked dozers and that’s how they operated.”

It wasn’t until the mid- to late 1950s that the industry saw the development of tyred loaders in quarries.

“Caterpillar was one of the first companies to produce these, initially the Cat 922A,” Richard said. “Then a whole bunch of other companies, mainly American, produced rubber tyred equipment for quarrying that took over from the tracked type equipment, and these machines also took over loading shot rock out of the face. So the excavator or the navvy, which was rope-operated, disappeared in about 10 years.

“From the late 1950s to the 1960s we saw this huge change in rubber tyred equipment and in 10 years it changed the face of quarrying, it really did.”

Until the mid-1950s, face shovels were used to extract rock from the quarry face.
Until the mid-1950s, face shovels were used to extract rock from the quarry face.

“From the late 1950s to the 1960s we saw this huge change in rubber tyred equipment and in 10 years it changed the face of quarrying, it really did.”

Initially, there were problems with rubber tyred machinery, particularly with abrasive rocks wearing out and cutting tyres. However, as the tyres improved and as operators understood the operation better,



















Saturday, 20 October, 2018 02:04pm
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