Many organisations deciding to record their nation’s engineering heritage would have to research back through many centuries to achieve a comprehensive history. In Australia, and in the ACT in particular, if we start after the development of the boomerang and the bark canoe, we can assemble a record of our engineering heritage that is reasonably complete within a few generations. In Canberra, we are fortunate that we still have people whose association with the city began in the first formative years of the National Capital. in fact, most of the authors of the chapters of this book have had a long and significant role in developing the ACT.

The book has been written for both the engineer and the general reader. The primary aim has been to record the progressive development of this region from the first visit of Europeans in 1820 to the present, with particular regard to the roles of engineers in that development — roles that cover numerous branches, from construction of the earliest roads and bridges to work in outer space. Basic technical data has been provided with ample references to further information available elsewhere. The human element has not been overlooked, with the inclusion of anecdotes and stories revealing the attitudes and foibles of some of those involved in the planning and development of what are now our heritage items.

In 1977, the Canberra Division of the Institution established a sub-committee to compile a record of the ACT’s engineering heritage, and subsequently it received a grant from National Estate funds administered by the ACT Heritage Committee to publish the manuscript. Unlike older cities where any record must be compiled from the random survivals of the ravages of time whether it be on drawings, photographs, artefacts or structures that might illustrate the heritage of a place, the relative youth of Canberra has allowed our engineers to adopt a planned approach to the project.

The first step was to assemble writers, people with a long association in the various branches of engineering. The second step was the preparation of a record of progressive development in those various branches and the identification of the key heritage items. The third step will be the provision of plans, photographs and models of these items and the preservation of actual components.

This book attempts to complete the first two steps. The third step should follow the publication of this book and lead to a fourth step, the creation of a museum of our engineering heritage. The authors of the Royal Charter of The Institution of Engineers, Australia, appreciated the importance of not only the latest technological developments, but also of the engineering heritage from which the newer developments have emerged. Enshrined among the Institution’s objectives is the intention to “. . . establish museums”. Should this objective be achieved, it will be in no small way due to the interest stimulated by the work of our authors whose research has provided the material for this book and, in particular, to Wal Shellshear, the secretary of the heritage sub-committee, and the author of the chapter on Railways. He is also a Life Member of the Canberra Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society, whose example in establishing a Canberra Railway Museum has set the pattern for the beginnings of a Museum of Science and Technology in the nation’s Capital.

Engineering heritage items, of course, are not necessarily old items, particularly given the rapid rate of technological change today. The world’s international airports are soon to have all aircraft movements controlled by the ‘Interscan’ system conceived in Australia. Future generations will clearly look back on ‘Interscan’ as one of the most significant items in Australia’s technological heritage. We are quite sure that other important achievements of today will become part of tomorrow’s heritage. In the ACT, research won’t be needed to find that heritage because the record is being established at the outset and, hopefully, will be kept up to date.

It hasn’t been possible to publish all the material prepared for this book. Tom Lawrence prepared a fascinating story on the proposed Tuggeranong Arsenal of World War I. Jule Knight prepared a chapter on surveying starting from the earliest work and picking up his own close association with surveying over so many years. Bill Andrews, past Commissioner of NCDC, prepared a record on Roads and Bridges that was outstanding in quality and volume but had to be considerably condensed. Peter Harrison, past Chief Town Planner of NCDC and an authority on Walter Burley Griffin, prepared work and acted as an invaluable consultant.

Several other authors had to have their work condensed, but the original unabridged work of all these people together with their associated papers, will be placed in the library of the Institution of Engineers as a uniform set of volumes that formed the basis of this book.

In concluding this Introduction, I would acknowledge the assistance of the Australian Archives, the National Library, the National Capital Development Commission, Telecom Australia, the ACT Electricity Authority and the Departments of Transport and Construction, Defence, Capital Territory, Science and Technology, Administrative Services and Aviation.

Lastly, may I say that the Canberra Division of the Institution of Engineers and all our authors are very grateful to our general editor and historian, Alan Fitzgerald, whose wise counsel, tactful words, enthusiasm and professional skills have done much to convert a hard-rock engineers’ record of our heritage into a more readable document.

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

Approximate routes of four explorers in the period 1820 to 1824 overlaid on a map of modern Canberra.
previous chapter Previous Chapter Back to Top top Next Chapter next chapter