Looking back on a career

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 13/11/2012
Nik Botica

WAIKATO DAM: Nik Botica, age 19, working on a bridge at the Waipapa Hydroelectric Dam.

Nik Botica
NEWLY RETIRED: Former road worker Nik Botica, 72, has retired after 57 years on the job. Pictured here with a traditional Maori toki given to him as a retirement gift from his employers Downer.

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Nik Botica, 72, has almost every grade of licence there is and plenty of good stories after a lifetime spent working on New Zealand roads.

The father of former All Black Frano Botica, has just retired after 57 years working for engineering and construction firm Downer and its predecessor the Ministry of Works.

He was born the eldest of 15 children in Whanganui and Mr Botica followed in his father's footsteps when he was hired by the Ministry of Works on his 15th birthday.

"In those days if your father worked there you were often given a job too," the Devonport resident says.

"Roading was the thing to do, the local industry," he says.

Mr Botica shadowed his father as a boy and says he was adept at driving most roading machinery by age 15.

He cut his teeth as a chainman and was paid two and thruppence an hour to carry and place pegs for a surveyor.

By age 18 he had left home and moved into a single man's working camp near Taupo.

"It was an eye opener. We would get tripe and potatoes for dinner and I hated it, but by the end I loved it. We had no choice," Mr Botica says.

The work varied between roading and hydro-electric dam construction, but Mr Botica says 12 hour days, seven day working weeks and graveyard shifts were commonplace.

"I would finish at midday on Friday, play rugby on the Saturday and then go straight back to work Sunday night. We put in the hours but we enjoyed it. They were great guys to work with."

Mr Botica found himself deployed to various parts of the country and in the early 1960s moved North to work on the Auckland International Airport runway.

In 1967 he came to the North Shore and worked as a supervisor in the laning of Northcote Rd for the Harbour Bridge "Nippon clip-ons".

He played a part in almost every major motorway project in the wider Auckland region and saw much of the landscape transform from farmland into main arterial routes over the next 30 years.

There was the occasional workplace accident but Mr Botica says he was relatively lucky.

"I've had accidents that could have been fatal. I tipped over a dump truck, then a scraper I was on tipped over. But we put ourselves in high risk areas like cliffs and steep slopes.

"The only way to get yourself right is to jump straight back on," he says.

Changes in machinery and site safety have been for the better, Mr Botica says.

"We have seen a great improvement in the smaller accidents, but I think we will always get the big ones.

"You've got to be very watchful and look after the guys around you."

High-vis clothing, hard hats, steel capped boots and ear mufflers were not always compulsory, he says.

"We'd be driving manual machinery and you'd have a six-inch exhaust pipe right next to your head and no ear muffs.

"I think that's why I have to wear hearing aids these days.

"But now it's part of everybody's work skills to be wary and that's definitely for the good of the industry," he says.

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Facing life as a retired man seems strange, Mr Botica says.

"I woke up the Monday after my farewell and said to my wife I wanted to go back to work.

"But by Wednesday I was enjoying the sleep-ins."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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