Updated: Jul 23, 2021
David L Buckle joined the New Zealand Institute of quantity Surveyors in 1958 and in 2018 enjoyed recognition for his 50 years of membership FNZIQS Retired. Since then, David and Dorothy Buckle have now retired from their “lifestyle retirement” and relocated from Matheson Bay on the Leigh Peninsula to a property long owned in Belmont, on the North Shore of Auckland. Having embraced “almost off-the-grid living”, they are completing the external phase of their total renovation by installing water tanks, decorative gardens and nursery gardens to emulate their practice of independent, self-sufficient, eco-friendly lifestyle. They make it clear to all, that their plan all along with their Belmont property, was to walk one day to live, only to leave when they have to be carried out.
David Buckle – Quantity Surveyor Retired. February 2021
David was born in South Hammersmith, London, England 2 September 1937. With two older sisters, (10 & 12 years older), who left England for NZ as he grew up. They wrote back home to say NZ is much better than the UK to live in. They were followed by mum, dad and David. The voyage took 5.5 weeks on the SS Tamaroa, Shaw Savill & Albion Line. They travelled via the Panama Canal visiting two cities in Panama, then they sailed close to Pitcairn island. “The islanders came out in their boats, came on board, and sold their carved Knick Knacks and stuff.”
From arriving in NZ in September 1954, David spent his time to the end of the year doing miscellaneous work. Towards the end of the year, he decided he wanted to start work having reached 17 years of age. Somehow, he ended up at the Government Employment agency and spoke with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Kilgour. “I produced my Oxford and Cambridge school certificate to Mr. Kilgour and he said this was the equivalent of University Entrance. My father always wanted me to be an Architect and Surveyor. So, I asked Mr. Kilgour “Have you got any work for an Architect and Surveyor?” He looked down his list of songs and said, “hmm, no don’t have any listings for surveyor. Hmm, what about quantity surveyor? How would that do?” I replied, “Yeah that’s fine. I’ll do that.” So, I duly started work in January 1955 for the Ministry of Works in Custom Street.”
“Colin Smith was the district QS. I remember that all of us in the QS department of 6-8 people, would each sneak off to get our hair cut at some stage during the day, because we didn’t get any time off. Colin said to me once, “hmm, where have you been?” I answered, “I just had a trim, a haircut”. He said “it’s the firms time lad?” I replied, “yeah but it grows during the firms time too”. So that was the end of that argument.”
“Colin got me to do a lot of tender analysis on big sheets he got printed out, for scheduled jobs with one rate per item, inclusive of labour, materials, P&G and Margin. All done by hand using ready reckoners'. I was always good at mathematics. There was measuring, scheduling , reading back schedules of quantities, sending them back to the typist to get corrected, they were all Gestetner or Roneo skins to go on a Gestetner machine (duplicating or mimeograph machine). The QS’s used to do the final runoff of the schedules and assemble them with brass screws portrait style and thick embossed lettered covers.”
“My first job paid me £275 per annum. More money than I knew what to do with for the rest of my life. I was in luxury, but I was single and living at home with mum and dad.”
How he met his future wife Dorothy. David took up ballroom dancing at Dorice Dower Dancing Studio. At the end of the year, Dorice had a get together of all the pupils. “We were each on opposite sides of the hall and I went up and asked her for a dance.” Now they are about to celebrate 62 years of marriage. They have a girl and a boy, both married with each also having a girl and a boy.
David worked for the Ministry of Works up until 1958. “In 1958, I was sent out by Colin Smith to the Railway Yard in Avondale, where M B & M Builders Ltd had their offices & joinery shop. To sort out their increased cost claims for materials and labour, like Penny Farthings an hour increased cost, all in accordance with the trade labour awards. The builder didn’t have a clue how to do these claims and Denniston Bishop, (the B in M B & M builders Ltd), was a friend of Colin Smith, so Colin organised for me to help the contractor get his claim prepared correctly. I used to be very good at increased cost claims. My theory was that everything you bring onto the job, labour and material, has an increased cost content built into the price paid at the time it is purchased. The trick is how to get it out. I used to use reverse inflation figures when we did not have a price of a product at time of tender. It is X now and you can apply reverse inflation to determine what X was at tender time. So, everything was wrung out for increased costs. The Ministry of works approved the calculations based on my method.
Monroe-Matic Calculating Machine - as seen here at MOTAT
We did our calculations on a Monroe-Matic Calculating Machine, it had a 10 x 10 button keyboard and superseded ready reckoners. They were electric and you had to programme in your data and they would chunk away with a kerchunk sound. I used to be able to set it up, so it sounded like a train. Just for laughs. The time spent waiting for it to process the data was very entertaining. The first one they bought cost £700, twice my annual salary at the time.
After Mr. Bishop saw what I did with the increased cost calculations, he offered me a job. Colin Smith went Spare about it. Poaching! So, Bishop said to me, I am going to put an advert in the paper. If you would like to answer it, we’ll accept you, and therefore I haven’t poached you, you have gone of your own accord. And I answered it.”
M B & M Builders Ltd was McKinnon (good at public relations), Bishop (a carpenter and leader of the business) and Moore (a milkman and funder of the business), who got together, started a company, and decided to contract with the MOW for housing to start off with. “In the 1960’s they got into a lot of school’s Te Atatu Post Primary School, I think it’s called Rutherford college now. At Mt Roskill Grammar we did an H shaped standard block. We built about 3 of those, including one at Tamaki College. Then we got onto Greenlane Hospital Stage 2. A massive excavation had been done by Green and McCahill and we got onto the job and built a six-story heart block. The company bought its first crane, a Pingon P60. We did the central police station accommodation block, and the gymnasium in Vincent Street as well. Auckland international airport stage 1 and 2 went on for quite a long time.”
In the early 1970’s David Buckle, Neville Corbett, (a quantity surveyor also poached from the Ministry of Works), joined in a newly formed company M B & M Construction Limited with McKinnon, Bishop and Moore in 1972, who were not long after bought out and David and Neville ran the new company through the 1970’s into the mid 1980’s.
“Running our own company was quite stressful really. You are always worrying about the money coming in and the money you are paying out. We had quite a good system, we had Mark Verran and Ray Knowles working for us as quantity surveyors.”
M B & M Construction Limited ceased trading in 1985 and then took a year to wind it down. The story goes that Chase were driving the market prices down. Chase also ran each project with a separate company and if the project failed financially, the builders and subcontractors involved would lose out too. So, Neville and David decided it would be too risky to trade on these terms and be sure to make a profit off the backs of their own labour, so they finished up the work they had and shut up shop. But they did not want to lay off their direct employees, so they hired their staff out to other builders and eventually these builders employed the staff directly.
David became a QS again for hire. He had been teaching students at Carrington Polytechnic part time in the early 1980’s, this became full time for a while. I had David tutor me in Contract Administration & Law and Costing & Pricing. While David was at Carrington Polytechnic, they brought in these 16-bit computer machines, one of the first desk top computers, he got into Visi-calc, an early spreadsheet software, then moved onto Lotus 123 and has stuck with it until fully retired (2019), because he learned all the keyboard shortcuts before the introduction of the mouse and GUI. With Visi-calc he worked out that by putting key dimensions of houses in, he could extrapolate all the material quantities. This led to providing services to builder’s merchants creating schedules of builder’s materials that the merchants would then quote to their customer builders. Everyone else was doing this work by hand at the time. David kept ahead of the curve.
David's Favourite Project
David’s favourite project was the 6 story CCCS church near Aggie Greys, in Samoa. This was because it was so unique to build in the Islands compared to New Zealand. “We had to load up containers at the yard. Key staff on site were a Forman and 2-3 leading hands housed locally. They ran construction schools on Saturday morning to teach local workers how to build. Local cranage was a run of planks up a ramp and wheelbarrows for low level pours. A line of workers in Samoan Gumboots, would risk falling to get the job done. If one did fall, their mates laughed hard at them. They would pick up the wheelbarrow, scoop up the spilt concrete and get right back at it. We tried socks and steel cap boots, but their feet went red and sore. Communicating from Auckland was difficult by phone occasionally. Neville and I would take turns to visit monthly for the progress claim and site meeting. There wasn’t much a bunch of well-formed local workers couldn’t lift, when you didn’t have a crane available.”
“George Banbrook. Englishman. A lot older than me. Neville and I helped paint his roof. A genuine guy.
Denniston Bishop (the poacher), when I had appendicitis, he lent me his Vanguard car so I could go to the doctors at Auckland Hospital. He would do anything for you. He would say “If you’ve done all your work early, you can knock off so long as you do all the work that is needed”.
I am grateful to the M B M directors who financed my first car, a red Mini Minor.”
A Cautionary Concern for the Future
“I am concerned that with the impact of the Auckland Unitary Plan, we will overload our infrastructure and lower the quality of life of the population.”
Advice to live by
“Make every post a winning post.
There are three things to get right as a building contractor.  The right price to start off with,  Efficient management of the site, and  attention to all the variations. Make sure the client pays for them properly. If you have got three things right, Price, Management, and Variations, you will make a profit on the job. Miss one of them off, and you might come out square, miss two off, and you will lose money.
The cost of the work is long forgotten, but the quality of the job is always with you. So, don’t go for the cheap way, because you do forget about the cost, but you will never curse the quality of the work, if you do decent quality work.”
Matthew Ensoll & David Buckle with copies of NZ Building Economist & Rawlinsons
By Matthew Ensoll
Editor New Zealand Building Economist.