New Zealand Geotechnical Society

New Zealand Geotechnical Society
C/O - Engineering New Zealand.New Zealand Geotechnical Society
PO Box 12-241
New Zealand

Tel: 04 473 9444
Fax: 04 474 8933


Chairman: Anthony Fairclough (
Management Secretary: Teresa Roetman (

New Zealand Geotechnical Society Inc

Brief History

The early history of the Society has been recorded by John Blakeley (1978) in his paper “TWENTY YEARS ON – A HISTORY OF THE N.Z. GEOMECHANICS SOCIETY” and extracts from the article have been used in this brief history.  This outline was initially compiled by David Jennings (1992) with updates being added by Stephen Crawford (2001), Kate Williams (2010) and more recently, Gavin Alexander (2018).

The original impetus for the formation of the Society came in 1956 when the Second Australia-New Zealand Conference on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering (which was a regional conference of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering) was held at Canterbury University College.  As there was no organisation in New Zealand to represent the International Society, the organisation of the conference was undertaken by the University and it was a very successful conference.

Following on from this, Mr P J Alley, one of the pioneers of soil mechanics in New Zealand, pressed for the formation of a New Zealand national committee.  Mr Alley, who was an individual member of the International Society, was most concerned that New Zealand had no voice at executive meetings and was, in effect, represented by the Australian National Committee.  In January 1958, he, along with Mr J W Ridley (as appointed by the 1958 New Zealand Institute of Engineers (NZIE) Annual Conference) convened a meeting in Wellington on 24th April 1958 with the purpose of forming a national committee which would consist of representatives from each of the two university engineering schools, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), the Ministry of Works, the NZ Railways and two representatives of the NZIE.  A committee was appointed consisting of Professor P W Taylor from Auckland University, Mr Alley from Canterbury University, Dr R D Northey from the DSIR, Mr V A Murphy from NZ Railways and Mr Ridley from the Ministry of Works.  The NZIE representatives were Mr N W Collins from the Ministry of Works and Mr T A H Dodd from R G Brickell, Consulting Engineers.  Mr A G Hutchinson from Auckland City Engineer’s Department was subsequently appointed as a third NZIE representative.

The first meeting of the Committee was held on 17th July 1958.  Mr Ridley was elected Chairman and Dr Northey Secretary.  Statutes for the Society “New Zealand National Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering” were drawn up, the subscription was set at ten shillings per annum and the International Society and the Australian National Committee were informed that the embryo group was under way.

The Society has continued to grow and expand its activities ever since.  The first annual meeting, held at the NZIE Annual Conference in Christchurch in February 1959 was well attended and ratified the statutes of the Society.

During Mr Collins’ three year term as Chairman (1959-1961) there was considerable discussion over whether the fourth Australia-New Zealand (ANZ) Conference should be held in Auckland in 1963.  The fledgling Society finally decided it did not have the financial resources to handle the undertaking and the conference was held in Adelaide.  Subsequently the fifth conference was held in Auckland in 1967 and was extremely successful.

The Society has organised various symposia on topics of interest to members on a regular basis.  The first national symposium of the Society was held in Hamilton in August 1965, on the subject of Roading Earthworks.  Subsequent symposia are listed within the initial pages of the membership booklet.

In November 1970 the first issue of the Society’s newsletter “NZ Geomechanics News” was published with Mr J P Blakeley as Editor.  This newsletter has been produced regularly twice yearly ever since.

In 1972, the Society changed its name to the “NZ Geomechanics Society” and became the official body in New Zealand representing the International Association of Engineering Geology (IAEG), the International Society of Rock Mechanics (ISRM) as well as the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering (ISSMFE).  During the ten years 1962-1972, membership had grown from 48 to nearly 200.  Since then, the membership has grown steadily to now with more than 1100 members. 

The NZ Geomechanics Lecture was conceived in 1974 primarily to honour individuals who have made a notable contribution to New Zealand geomechanics.  By 2010 thirteen lectures had been presented to members over the years.

The first Geomechanics Award was made in 1986 to Mr B D Hegan and Mr P J Millar for their paper “Investigations in Soft Rock Terrain”.  This award is bestowed on the author(s) of papers that are distinguished in their contribution to the development of geotechnics in New Zealand.  Eight awards have been made to date.

Also in 1986, the Life Membership of the Geomechanics Society was presented to Mr K S Birrell.  This honour is made in recognition of significant contributions to the affairs of the Society over many years.

In 1992 the Society hosted its first international symposium – the 6th International Symposium on Landslides which was immediately followed by the sixth ANZ Geomechanics Conference in Christchurch.

In early 1994, the Society supported six candidates to attend the first Australia New Zealand Young Geotechnical Professionals Conference in Sydney.  Nearly two years later, the second conference of this type was successfully held in Auckland.  The on-going strong support by those under 35 bodes well for the future of NZ geotechnics and further conferences have been held on an annual two yearly basis in New Zealand and Australia.

In 1995 the Student Prize was initiated as a way of encouraging students to participate in this Society.  Also, free student membership was instituted in 1995 to encourage more participation by younger people in geotechnical disciplines.

In 1996, the Society changed its name to “New Zealand Geotechnical Society” (NZGS) in order to better represent practising and research aspects of the core disciplines of soil mechanics, foundation engineering, rock mechanics and engineering geology, as well as representing the more recent fields of environmental geotechnics and geosynthetic engineering.

The Society, along with the Earthquake Commission, was able to sponsor five members to the third ANZ Young Geotechnical Professionals Conference in Melbourne in 1998.  This sponsorship of young professionals to attend has continued throughout the years and up to eight candidates now receive this support at each conference.

A change in the Management Committee structure was agreed in 1998 with the committee having four elected members plus on appointed (Management Secretary) and two ex-officio members (being the NZ Geomechanics News Editor and the next conference convenor).

In late 2000, the membership voted for the Society to become an incorporated Society and the Companies Office granted the incorporated status in February 2001.  The Society is now known as the New Zealand Geotechnical Society Inc. and is a Technical Group of Engineers New Zealand Inc.

In late 2001 Debbie Fellows developed and established the Society’s first website under the URL bringing NZGS into the electronic age. In December 2009 this website took on a new look and the domain name changed to

A new and improved Guideline for the Field Classification and Description of Soil and Rock for Engineering Purposes was completed in 2005 for the geotechnical community.

The Management Committee decided in 2007 to apply to be a charitable organisation. This was undertaken on the basis that the Society was not a profit making organisation and that the objectives of the Society were that of a learned society advancing the education of geotechnical engineering and engineering geology, taking measures to ensure that such learning would be passed on to the public as appropriate.  The Society was successful in their application to be a charitable organisation in 2009.  A new objective of the Society was added, to ensure that learning achieved within the Society is passed on to the public.

Another change occurred in 2008 to the Management Committee structure when it was agreed there was a need for more committee members due to the increasing membership numbers and the management roles and responsibilities required.  Today (2018) there is currently a minimum of seven, and not more than ten, Management Committee members of the Society including six elected members, the Management Secretary (appointed) and three co-opted members to carry out specific tasks eg: Young Professional Representative and NZ Geomechanics News Editor.  In addition, there are also four ex-officio members incorporating the international societies and the immediate past Chair.

A new award was established in 2008 with the Young Geotechnical Professionals Fellowship.  This fellowship is awarded to the author of the best paper by a New Zealand representative at the Australia New Zealand Young Geotechnical Professionals conference.  It was first awarded in 2008 to Hayden Bowen in Wellington.

In 2008 the Society celebrated its 50th year, with two special 50th anniversary NZ Geomechanics News issues and a successful 18th Symposium “Soil Structure Interaction – From Rules of Thumb to Reality”.

At the AGM in 2009 a change to the Society rules has established a position of Vice Chair to assist with succession planning and continuity on the Management Committee. 

2010 saw an official change of the Society logo, replacing the original logo which dated back to 1995.

In 2010 the Society also hosted the 11th International Association for Engineering Geology and the Environment Congress “Geologically Active” in Auckland.

The NZ Geotechnical Society Inc. continues to provide forums for symposia, sponsored technical workshops lead by nationally and internationally renowned specialists, and expanded magazine style publication, the development of guidelines and the publishing of branch events and technical articles.

The Canterbury region of New Zealand was subjected to a sequence of damaging earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. In response to those events, the Society, in partnership with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, has prepared a series of guidance documents on earthquake geotechnical engineering. These guidelines are freely available from the NZGS website. They form guidance under New Zealand legislation, and cover the following aspects of earthquake geotechnical engineering:

  • Module 1 Overview (March 2016)
  • Module 2 Geotechnical investigations for earthquake engineering (November 2016)
  • Module 3 Identification, assessment and mitigation of liquefaction hazards (May 2016, superseding earlier guidance published July 2010)
  • Module 4 Earthquake resistant foundation design (November 2016)
  • Module 5 Ground improvement of soils prone to liquefaction (June 2017)
  • Module 5A Specification of ground improvement for residential properties in the Canterbury region (November 2015), and
  • Module 6 Earthquake resistant retaining wall design.

Separate guidance was also published on Rockfall: Design considerations for passive protection structures (November 2016)

The Society continues to hold national symposia and joint regional and international conferences. Recent events have comprised:

  • 19th NZGS Symposium, Hanging by a thread. Lifelines, infrastructure and natural disasters (Queenstown, 2013)
  • 12th Australia New Zealand Conference on Geomechanics, Changing the face of the earth (Wellington, 2015)
  • 6th International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering (Christchurch, 2015), and
  • 20th NZGS Symposium, What In Earth Is Going On. Balancing Risk, Reward, Regulation and Reality (Napier, 2017).

The New Zealand Geotechnical Society was very proud to be selected Outstanding Member Society of the International Society for Soil mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering for the period 2013 – 2017. This award reflects well on the huge amount of effort put into the Society by a large number of people. That effort continues, with the Society now representing over 1100 members.


Blakeley, J P (1978): Twenty Years On – A History of the NZ Geomechanics Society.  NZ Geomechanics News, No 16, June 1978.

NZ Geomechanics News, 1970-2010, Nos 1-79.

Edited by Gavin Alexander (2018)