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Radio Corporation - Mica Mining

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Working at Radio Corp
Mica mining
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Mica in NZ

By Bill Heinz Jnr

.Part 1.


My father, William Frederick (Bill) Heinz, originally a plumber by trade operated a retail sales and radio and electrical servicing shop in Greymouth during the 1930s and early 1940s.  He was also an experienced mountaineer and amateur geologist of some repute.   He operated his business until the wartime supply of the imported products that he sold ceased.  New Zealand-made alternatives became prohibited as priority was given to essential wartime production.  Because of the manpower shortage, the Radio Corporation of NZ, (RCNZ) a private company in Wellington that had only made domestic radios, (Columbus and Courtenay brands) searched for qualified men over military age to work in their  Wellington factory.  Dad accepted a position that they offered and closed down his Greymouth shop and proceeded to Wellington.  There he worked for the company from late 1942 until well after the end of the war.  The company had the heavy machinery to enable the manufacture of war equipment - from steel helmets to automatic assault rifles (sten guns).  In conjunction with other New Zealand radio and engineering companies, from April 1943 many thousands of  the ZC1 radio transmitter/receiver units were made to be used by allied forces in the British far east (Asia and Pacific) campaigns.


W.F. Heinz at Coil winding Machine RCNZ -1942


Dad worked in the factory not only in the radio area but also carried out essential and urgent work in the factory where his other skills were utilised.  He and one of the mechanical engineers  installed several hydraulically operated bakelite presses for  ZC1 component production.

The ZC1 units were New Zealand designed to use as much as possible domestic radio and New Zealand made components.

During the 1944 production of the ZC1 sets a shortage of sheet mica sourced from India occurred.  It was a vital component in certain capacitors (condensers) manufactured in New Zealand only by RCNZ who also supplied other companies making the ZC1 radio.  A survey for strategic war material had earlier been carried out by New Zealand geologists and it was known that mica existed in outcrops on the high coastal foothills in South Westland.  The Ministry of Supply and the Geological Survey Department became involved and Geologist Harold Wellman found a source that was considered worth mining.  Operations began during 1944 with dad as the on-site manager.  He had to engage quarrymen, track cutters, a cook and arrange for machinery, accommodation, and transport which was by pack horse from the end of the then road at Paringa.  A base camp was set up for quarry operations at a site above the bush-line and near the winter snowline at 3000ft ASL.   This extreme environment led to only 50 pounds of trimmed mica being sent to the factory after several months operation. 


Supply Packhorse train to Mica Mine  1944/45           WF Heinz Photograph


The Camp was located 12 miles in from the Road End.  Only the first ten miles (16 km) of the track through the steep rough country as shown above were suitable for pack horses, for the last two miles (3.2 km) everything had to be carried in by the miners.


Heading out from Camp to the First Mica Reef              WF Heinz Photograph


First Mica Reef in Winter                         WF Heinz Photograph


Part 2


Top                                                                                   June 2011