End of an era: Celebrating the legacy of Winstone Wallboards’ Penrose plant

Published: 24 May 2024

Winstone Wallboards’ Auckland manufacturing facility is finally farewelled, after more than 50 years of producing GIB® plasterboard and associated products for millions of Kiwi homes and buildings. 

If we take a trip back down memory lane, to 1971, New Zealand’s population was approaching three million and despite being widely available in the United States, colour television would still be a couple of years away for Kiwis.

The year would mostly be remembered for a fried chicken frenzy, when in August New Zealand’s first KFC store opened to a big fanfare in Royal Oak, Auckland. But it was also in this year, just a few kilometres down the road that Winstone Wallboards opened a new, larger manufacturing plant and office in October 1971 on Felix Street, Penrose.

Thanks to initiatives like state-subsidised mortgages over the previous decades, home ownership had become possible for many Kiwi families and by the 1970s, a building boom was in full swing. By 1971, building consents had risen to 39,000 and demand for product was higher than ever.

So, when the Winstone Wallboards Penrose facility first opened its doors, it allowed the organisation to ramp up production significantly from its previous Balmoral location to meet that need.

At that time, the organisation had four manufacturing plants in operation, two in Auckland, Balmoral and the new Felix Street site, as well as a plant in Lower Hutt, and Christchurch.

After the new plant opened, the older plants in Balmoral and Lower Hutt were decommissioned, and the new Felix Street plant supplied product to the entire North Island market for many years.

Now, more than 50 years on, the Winstone Wallboards team finally farewells the Felix Street manufacturing site, which is being decommissioned, with a new purpose-built manufacturing and distribution facility in Tauranga now up and running to provide plasterboard to the North Island and the Christchurch plant continuing to serve the South Island.

More than a third of the team at the new Tauranga site is made up of Winstone Wallboards employees who relocated from Auckland.

From engineers, electricians, and maintenance operators, to managers, production operators, and distribution team leaders – their combined knowledge and depth of experience have meant a smooth and relatively seamless transition of operations to Tauranga.

Many Winstone Wallboards team members have worked at the Penrose facility for more than a decade.

At 75, Norm Moore is now retired, but he has a long history with Winstone Wallboards having worked for the organisation since 1962. Originally employed as a management cadet, Norm learned about all the aspects of manufacturing and production with the aim of moving into management. He stayed with Winstone Wallboards until 1985 and then contracted to the organisation for many years after that. Norm was also there the first day the Penrose plant opened.

“The site was officially opened by the Prime Minister at that time, Sir Keith Holyoake, and I remember we did a demonstration of a production run for him. All the top executives came to it, including many of the Winstone family who were also board members. Sir Keith Holyoake walked around the plant and said hello to everyone,” he recalls.

“At the beginning, we ended up running the Balmoral and new Penrose facilities at the same time to help streamline the transition, much like they did with the new Tauranga site. In those days there was such a lot of building going on across New Zealand.”

One of the special memories Norm has about the facility was that due to its vast size, getting around the plant, particularly carrying tools was challenging. To combat this, grocery delivery bikes with a basket at the front were made available so that staff could grab one, put their tools in and bike around the site.

“When people retired, they were presented with the particular bike that they used the most – It was a great bit of fun,” he says.

When asked what he remembers most about working for Winstone Wallboards, Norm says that the company has always been continually progressing and improving its products, which made for a working life that was both challenging and interesting.

“Felix Street always had a reputation for high quality production, so it was great to be at the forefront of that. The company has always been really family-orientated too and it was easy for people to become a part of the family,” he says.

The site will now be decommissioned, with the National Support Office moving to new premises in Penrose.  Of course, the facility and the people who have left will always mean so much to the organisation and will be fondly remembered.

History of Felix Street site provided thanks to Kevin Golding and Norman Moore.

Did you know? 

Over the plant’s more than 50-year history, there have been three brand name changes. The GIB® brand name started its journey in the early 1930s when a staff competition offered a £30 cash prize for the best name.

Gibraltar Board was chosen for its association with the strength and resilience of the Rock of Gibraltar. In 1979 Gibraltar Board changed to GIB Board and in the early 1990’s it was shortened to ‘GIB®’.

Images of Felix Street opening by Sir Keith Holyoake 

Sharing a moment of appreciation: Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake graciously accepts a gift from Chairman Alan H Winstone during the 1971 opening of the Winstone Wallboards Ltd Auckland Branch.

1971: Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake and George Winstone engage with cutting-edge technology, observing the close circuit TV screen at the opening of the Winstone Wallboards Ltd Auckland Branch.

Precision in action: Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake tests the batch consistency as the Factory Manager observes during the 1971 opening of the Winstone Wallboards Ltd Auckland Branch.

A historic moment: Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake inaugurates the Winstone Wallboards Ltd Auckland Branch in 1971, pushing the start button alongside key figures.

Journey through time: Experience the interior ambiance of the Winstone Wallboards Ltd Auckland Branch in 1971, reflecting an era of industrial progress.

A glimpse into industrial heritage:  a testament to craftsmanship and innovation.

Final shift at Felix Street, December 2023

David Thomas, General Manager of Winstone Wallboards, pushing the ‘STOP’ button to turn off the Felix Street Manufacturing Board plant.

David Thomas – General Manager of Winstone Wallboards, Gary Prebble – Engineering Manager and Simon Cooper – National Manufacturing Manager.