Global career for adventurous council engineer

With an accomplished and unique career as a civil engineer, Simon Norton has settled into Central...
With an accomplished and unique career as a civil engineer, Simon Norton has settled into Central Otago. Photo: Supplied
Having a career like no other, Cromwell’s Simon Norton is not your average civil engineer.

A "sense of adventure" has lead Mr Norton half-way across the world and into some remarkable, and occasionally dangerous, scenarios.

Now he brings more than 30 years’ engineering experience to the Central Otago District Council (CODC) where he has been overseeing major water projects as the major capital projects manager.

Originally from Leeds, West Yorkshire, Mr Norton (68) has been specialising in water engineering since he graduated from university.

"I enjoyed it. The beauty of water is that it can take you all around the world.

"Everyone needs it [water]."

His first job did indeed take him to a far-off part of the globe.

Following  graduation, Mr Norton took up a five-year contract with Southern Africa’s Department of Water Affairs, where he was based in Namibia.

To ensure he and his partner Pip were in "suitable accommodation" provided by the department, the couple got married prior to their departure from the United Kingdom.

"It was very old-fashioned. We got married in a rush. "

"All the single guys had to go into dorms and lesser accommodation.

"It was a good move, and I’m still married to her."

In Namibia he was immediately thrown into the deep end.

"My first job was writing the government funding proposal for a large dam."

Mr Norton played a significant role in the design and construction of the 45m-high Oanob River Dam which took eight years to build after $100 million was approved by the Namibian government.

The pair returned to the United Kingdom after their five-year stint in Namibia.

The travel bug continued to follow him as he signed up for a secondment with the United Nations (UN) in Somalia in 1989.

Somalia, under the rule of President Siad Barre, was on the verge of civil war.

Mr Norton described the 15-month stretch as a "strange experience".

"The UN wanted to send in some water engineers and bring water to the villages in [the capital] Mogadishu so the villages were placated to some degree.

"We got some work done but it was mayhem."

Mr Norton and other UN contractors had a fortuitous escape when they decided to get out of the city for a day."We came back to the compound and the area had been washed and jetted with water.

"We found out there had been a riot and 400 people had been killed."

Eventually, the situation became "untenable" for Mr Norton and his wife as expats  were targeted by Somali rebels.

"Because I wasn’t doing anything political and was just delivering water outside the city I felt I was in the clear. But it was just getting too dangerous."

Along with many other European expatriates, the couple made a hasty departure from the country via Nairobi, Kenya, where they misconstrued Independence Day celebrations for a riot on their first night.

Mr Norton and his wife also spent two years in Pakistan where they flew into "high tension" as the Gulf War ignited.

Mrs Norton was sent back to the UK upon their arrival as it was deemed unsafe, She returned when things calmed down.

But the impending arrival of their first child in Pakistan meant the pair later returned to the UK.

Mr Norton expanded on his existing skillset by doing more project management and working on dams and flood defence in Leeds.

"I’ve worked in all extremes.

"A lot of time in deserts and then a lot of time in the UK."

With lengthy commutes and long working hours chewing into the family’s quality time, Mr Norton again took the plunge by seeking a new life in New Zealand in 2006.

"We both looked up one day and saw a plane go over and talked about whether it was time again [to travel]."

The Nortons spent nearly a decade in Wellington where Mr Norton worked for SKM and then Tonkin + Taylor.

Now the pair are in the quieter surrounds of Cromwell, where Simon is at council and Pip works as an event manager.

The engineering veteran helmed the Cromwell wastewater upgrade project last year.

His work will continue in 2019 with the 10km pipeline from Clyde to the Alexandra North Reservoir, among other projects throughout the region.

"I’m absolutely loving it.

"I am blessed. I’ve loved my career."

adam.burns@odt.co.nz

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