Back to the future: Hornibrook Construction eyes a return to property development


Benefitting from increased business activity in Papua New Guinea’s mining sector, Lae-based construction company Hornibrook NGI is looking to further diversify into property development. Business Advantage PNG speaks to Managing Director Matthew Lewis to learn more.

Hornibrook’s Valleyview project. Credit: Hornibrook NGI

Hornibrook NGI, the combination of Hornibrook Construction and NGI Steel formed in 1990, has spent decades as a key partner of the mining and energy sectors in Papua New Guinea.

Managing Director Matthew Lewis says the firm has recently seen an uptick in business from the sector.

“We are noticing a big push at the moment with Kainantu [gold mine in Eastern Highlands Province]. We have been engaged to do quite a decent-sized project up there at the moment, so that is brilliant,” Lewis tells Business Advantage PNG.

Hornibrook’s structure means that any property development can be handled almost exclusively within the company.

“The other one is Simberi [the open-pit mine in the Tabar island chain in New Ireland Province]. With that one, we had a group of highly skilled tradespeople sent up there and they just keep renewing that arrangement.

“Then, last year, we were in talks with Newmont Corporation to send another highly skilled team across to Lihir [gold mine] and again that has the potential to grow as well.”

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Lewis puts this increased business from established mines down to a post-pandemic correction.

“That period of Covid really brought the cogs to a bit of a halt,” Lewis says.

“But now things have opened up and there’s the ease of travel, ease of procurement, all of those strains that every single business in PNG was impacted by, have started to release and things are starting to get back to normal.”

Property development

With an increase in business activity, Lewis says the company is planning a move into property development, – specifically housing.

“We are very fortunate that we have quite large, fixed land assets, and we’re going to start carving them off and selling them to raise capital to fund some of the exciting property development ventures that we have up our sleeve,” he says.

Hornibrook’s Crossroads Hotel. Credit: Hornibrook NGI

One of these is a planned mixed-use housing development at 9 Mile. The idea is to build four apartment buildings, a small supermarket, a shopping mall and a clubhouse for residents. This type of residential complex is becoming common in Port Moresby but will be the first of its kind in Lae.

There is no fixed date to begin development as yet, with Lewis noting the project will be dependent on the long-expected Wafi-Golpu copper-gold project getting the green light. However, once built, the development should provide a sustainable revenue stream for years to come, as well as a guaranteed source of cashflow the next time the mining sector slows.


This would not be Hornibrook’s first foray into property development, given its previous experience with the Crossroads Hotel, also at 9 Mile. Hornibrook’s structure means that any property development can be handled almost exclusively within the company. The group has plant and hire, building and steel fabrication divisions.

“That gives us a strategic advantage,” says Lewis. “For instance, the building division is going to do those buildings and then steel fabrication will produce all the structural steel. And then plant and hire also can be subcontracted to the other divisions.”

However, he acknowledges that there is still a recruitment challenge in PNG, and his focus is to get in younger people and train them.

“An outside architect could actually upskill our guys and give them that experience to be involved in a project of that scale,” he says.

Lewis represents the second generation to run the Hornibrook business, learning the business at the shoulder of his father Mal, who remains board chairman.

“I’ve been very blessed with a top education – school and university in Australia, top business schools in France and the US, but the best education in my life was from my father.”

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