From the ground Upson

There's no place like home

Grit, adventure and resilience are three words which perfectly describe Kiwi miner-turned-contractor Kitt Upson. At age 26, Kitt packed his bags and swapped the rolling green hills of New Zealand’s North Island for the dusty, red desert of outback Australia. He quickly made a name for himself as a machinery operator in Western Australia’s extensive network of mines. “I would travel from New Zealand to Perth and then head to whatever mine I was needed at. Kalgoorlie, the Kimberley, the Pilbara. I went everywhere,” Kitt says. 

 

“These times were really formative for me, as I learnt to use a lot of different machinery. I was operating diggers, backhoes, skid steers, loaders – you name it. “I never would have had that exposure working anywhere else.”

 

As well as honing his skills, Kitt’s work in Western Australia gave him a unique insight into the world’s oldest living culture. “I remember working in a rural Aboriginal community in the Pilbara. We were there to help set up power for the community, and I was tasked with digging trenches and erecting the powerlines. “It was incredible to live within that community, see their ways of living and learn about their culture firsthand.”

Kitt had the best of both worlds. He was earning a decent living in Australia, while spending his downtime back in New Zealand with family and friends. But in early 2020 everything came crashing down. The pandemic forced the closure of Australia’s borders, spelling disaster for international contractors.

 

“It was tough not just for me but for many of my workmates. Western Australia’s hard borders meant that miners weren’t able to travel from overseas or interstate, so many of us were forced to find other jobs,” Kitt says. Back at home in New Zealand, and out of work, Kitt was forced to think hard about his next steps.

 

“After all the time I spent in the mines, I knew I loved operating large machinery and was already a qualified chippie, so I decided to use these skills to get back into construction.” With the savings he’d locked away from his time in the mines, Kitt took a risk and went out on his own. That’s how Upson Construction was born. Starting a business is no easy feat, but thankfully for Kitt, he could lean on those closest to him.

“The first piece of machinery I bought was the Kubota excavator U-17. It’s an amazing bit of machinery. It’s so efficient and so much fun to operate ”

“My brother Hugh is also a qualified builder. My other brother Bradley works as a plasterer and a painter. My dad Barry is also a machinery operator and my mum Nyree, well she is a great all-round support. My partner Maria is the backbone of the operations to keep everything moving, and my grandmother Heather also works behind the scenes – she truly is my greatest inspiration in life. “Together we all quickly figured out how to run a tight ship.”

 

In the early days, Upson Construction relied on rented machinery, but Kitt eventually realised owning his own tools could boost productivity. “The first piece of machinery I bought was the Kubota Excavator U17. It’s an amazing bit of machinery. It’s so efficient and so much fun to operate,” Kitt says. “Two years in, the U17-3 was being used so much I just had to buy a second in December 2022.”

 

Upson Construction now has its own fleet of Kubota machines, including the two U17s, a U27 excavator and the heavy-duty U48. Each machine plays its own unique role in the jobs Kitt and his team take on. “The Kubota machinery has been working overtime since we bought it. It helps our team do everything from drilling holes, ripping up concrete and removing trees to digging stormwater and power trenches. “I couldn’t imagine business without it.”

 

Kitt and his team recently hired out their Kubota equipment to help support communities impacted by the Auckland floods. “The excavators were ideal for working on flooded ground. The rubber tracks on the diggers let them go around houses without damaging the surface they are operating on.” Upson Construction is now a leading and trusted family-operated business, taking on a range of private and civil jobs all over the Northland region of New Zealand.

 

It’s a far cry from the sweltering heat of Western Australia’s desert mines, but Kitt hasn’t looked back. “Five years ago, if someone had told me I’d be operating my own construction business back here in New Zealand, I would’ve thought they were nuts,” Kitt says. “I’m so thankful for my time in the mines. It taught me everything I need to know about operating heavy-duty machinery.

 

“But there’s something really special about being back here in New Zealand and working alongside my family.

 

“There really is no place like home.”

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