NAVIGATION

AFTERWORD


The first edition of this book concluded with an AFTERWORD. Written in 1983, its message and information is still relevant for the reader of the early 1990s, so it is reproduced without amendment.

One of the pleasures of working in the “prosperity” years of the nineteen sixties and early seventies was the opportunity to do things well.

Reasonable finance was available and, unlike in established cities, physical constraints were minimal. Indeed, like its predecessor the Federal Capital Commission, NCDC in the new towns started with the great advantage of having all land owned by the Commonwealth and used mostly for grazing. This greatly facilitated the work of planning, developing and constructing the national capital. While this focussed accountability squarely on the NCDC, engineers also recognised a responsibility to explore new and improved methods. Many innovations were included in the development work; Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, for example, incorporated several design features that were new to major bridges in Australia. In particular, the superstructure comprised the first post tensioned concrete multi-webbed torsion box made of jointed precast segments. The one hundred segments were stressed together in one operation over the full length of deck by 320-m long external tendons. The new type hand- rail lighting of Kings and Commonwealth Avenue bridges has proved more appropriate than later designs elsewhere. The very wide range of investigations carried out prior to construction of Lake Burley Griffin were just as comprehensive as the Environmental Impact Statements introduced ten years later.

The Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre is a state-of-the-art plant built to cope with the wastes of a large inland city discharging into the Murrumbidgee River which sometimes ceases to flow and “can only be found with a shovel”. The plant was designed having regard for its location in the world’s driest habitable continent and recognising the high standards being demanded in a new era of emphasis on environmental quality. Many other cases of innovation could be quoted and some have been mentioned in preceding chapters. These new concepts stimulated the work of engineers and contributed to the high quality of the developing National Capital.

Comment should also be made about the nature of the liaison between organisations and between their engineers in particular. Research into the era of Walter Burley Griffin and the interdepartmental Board reveals some unhappy jealousies. When NCDC began operations in 1958, taking over work then being handled by several departments, the situation was conducive to further friction but this proved to be minimal. Indeed, the authors of this book would pay tribute to the various departments and authorities that worked so well as partners contributing to the very high rate of development work.

Another group of engineers must be mentioned the private consultants. In addition to utilising the engineering skills of the Commonwealth Department of Works, (now called Transport & Construction) NCDC operated on the basis of maintaining a relatively small, but skilled staff directing a wide range of consulting engineers who handled the detailed planning, design and supervision of construction by contractors. Throughout the period of very high annual growth rates, NCDC relied heavily on the integrity of private consultants to certify large progress payments and ensure that all requirements of the plans and specifications were observed and that the contractor was paid for the work he did. Consulting engineers maintained the highest level of integrity and fair judgements in all this work, including the administration of many contracts.

The title of this book ‘Canberra’s Engineering Heritage’ may suggest that the record is all embracing. It is not. The authors have attempted to cover as much as possible of the Capital’s engineering heritage but are conscious of other areas not covered. One example is the operation and maintenance of the engineering infrastructure for which the Department of Transport and Construction currently carries the major responsibility. There is also the work of the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers in Canberra’s buildings. There are 1,300 members of the Canberra Division of the Institution of Engineers and clearly all their activities have not been covered in detail but the major works have been recorded.

Just as no single engineer can implement a major project, similarly, engineers need the associated professions. The story of the development of Canberra is very much a story of the integration of professions.

Firstly we must mention the Town Planners who were more often served by engineers than vice versa. Next there were the geologists such as Dr. Keith Carter and his team from the Bureau of Mineral Resources, whose guidance in foundations, excavations and tunnels helped engineers in their eternal quest for the most economical design.

Not only geologists, but scientists from many fields contributed their highly specialised advice to the investigations of engineers.

Acknowledgement, too, needs to be made of the work of architects, like the late Richard Gray of London, who accept that “form follows function” yet can so shade the engineer’s design that it takes on a quality of elegance as well as economy.

Finally, when the structure is built and the land forms are restored, the engineer appreciates the guidance of the landscape architect in the embellishment of the work.

There have been other associated professions such as the Economists and the Politicians. Irrespective of one’s political persuasions, it must be said that from the mid- nineteen fifties until his retirement in 1966, the new surge in building Australia’s National Capital was due to the leadership and support of the late Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia.

All these professions had their contribution to make, and decisions were made that had regard to the skills of each. The extent to which the development of Canberra has been a success, is the extent to which this principle of teamwork of the several professions has been applied.

The approach of the Bicentenary of European Settlement in Australia in 1988 has generated a growing interest in this nation’s past, which is reflected in the activities of amateur and professional historians, genealogists and various historical societies. This expanding awareness of heritage, both natural and man-made, can only heighten the sense of what it is to be Australian and, perhaps, provide some insight into where the next century may lead us. Canberra’s Engineering Heritage will form part of this mosaic, providing engineers and the general reader with some understanding of the evolution of the National Capital upon the almost treeless Limestone Plains in the past seventy years.

This book, of course, goes further than recording the development of the Capital. It reaches back into the pre- Federation period to the early eighteen hundreds. Reflecting on the work that has been done so far to build our National Capital, there is a feeling of satisfaction in most, but not all areas, that the foundations are well established or under way and capable of further development according to need.

The roads associated with the new and permanent Parliament House are being adjusted to suit that special building. There seems good prospect of having by 1988 the Federal and Barton Highways converted to the much safer dual carriageways. The Monaro and Kings Highways should similarly be converted.

The chapter on Roads and Bridges, by Andrews, rightly points out the need to complete the dual carriageway parkway system flanking the urban areas. His similar message on the spinal inter-town public transport system is repeated by the authors of the chapter on Urban Public Transport.

The single worst section of the Sydney to Melbourne railway is that between Goulburn and Junee. As Shellshear points out in his chapter on Railways, a new alignment is available swinging South of that difficult section — an alignment that would allow the full capacity of XPT trains to be properly exploited and at the same time give a shorter and higher standard connection to Canberra.

The final and perhaps most outstanding need is to provide an airport terminal building worthy of a country’s National Capital. Past uncertainties as to the future airfield for regular public transport have understandably delayed a commitment to proper terminal facilities, but those uncertainties now seem past and it should be possible to build an impressive terminal as the front door to the nation together with a splendidly landscaped dual carriageway parkway into Parkes Way, the City and Parliamentary areas.

Looking back on our heritage from the past, we hand over these batons to the current generation. But we also hand over a record of our major engineering heritage that is up-to-date. We trust that succeeding generations will continue to maintain the record.

A.E. Minty,
Chairman,
Heritage Sub-committee,
Canberra Division,
The Institution of Engineers, Australia
January 1983

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