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George Connor: Giant of mining industry

Saturday, 24th May, 2014

George Connor when he became the general manager of the ZC-NBHC mines. George Connor when he became the general manager of the ZC-NBHC mines.

By Craig Brealey

One of the giants of the Broken Hill mining industry, George Connor, is remembered as one of the best managers the mines ever had and the best boss a worker could want.

He was also a character who was admired as much for his humour and odd ways as he was for his ability and leadership.

Mr Connor died this week at the grand age of 94 at his home in Bowral.

“Big Ugh,” as he was affectionately known to all and sundry in the local mining industry, spent 32 years in Broken Hill and was the general manager of the ZC-NBHC mine from 1971 to 1980.

He was also chairman of the Mines Managers’ Association and, under his stewardship, the mines and the city prospered.

When Mr Connor retired in June 1980, the BDT reported that in his years in the Silver City he had established a reputation as “a fine mining engineer, a fair-minded administrator and a tough but equally just negotiator.”

He was tough, alright. A veteran of World War II, after the war he would take leave from his work as a mining engineer on the NBHC to teach unarmed combat to national servicemen.

Many of the young men that Mr Connor trained at an army camp in Murray Bridge  hailed from Broken Hill.

Among them was Ross Brealey who was in his early 20s when he had his second encounter with the fearsome “Ugh”.

“He was a big bloke, about six foot, solid, no fat on him,” Mr Brealey said yesterday.

“We heard that he had fought in Russia and won Russia’s highest bravery award.

“When he was training us in Murray Bridge he’d make you run at him with a bayonet. He’d flick your elbow, you’d go flying into the air and land flat on your back with George kneeling on your chest - with your bayonet in his hand.”

The young serviceman also noted Mr Connor’s peculiarities: “He never wore socks, said they were a waste of money, but he’d fine you for not shaving.”

When Mr Brealey started on the NBHC in 1956, Mr Connor was the underground manager. He said he would sometimes jump in and help the miners do their work, and continued to do so even after he became the general manager in 1971 on the departure of Jack Liebelt.

The mineworkers also appreciated his wry humour and generous attitude, Mr Brealey said, especially when it came to certain rules and regulations.

One day two men got into a fist fight in the crib cuddy undergound and were marched up by two foremen to the general manager’s office.

“They had black eyes, split lips, blood everywhere,” Mr Brealey said. “George said to the foremen, ‘Did you see the fight?’ They said no, but they’d heard it.

“George said: ‘I’ve got better things to do than listen to rumours. Get back to work.’”

“I don’t think he ever sacked anybody in his life.

“He was a good boss, never had an enemy, popular with everyone. He was the best boss we had in my time.”

George Boyd Connor retired in 1980, and he and wife Sybil settled in Bowral, NSW. He is survived by three children. His funeral will be held today.

* BDT thanks Brian Tonkin, BH city archives officer, for his help with this story.

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