Building on experience

Many of Australia's early houses, schools, churches, cathedrals and town halls were designed and built along traditional European lines. The colony's first building technology transfers from Europe were initiated by acclaimed architect Francis Greenway who was transported to Australia in 1814 for a forgery offence, and went on to build some of the colony's finest buildings.

Today, among the most notable national landmarks are the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, both of which were considered major construction and engineering achievements. There have, however, been many other important projects, which at the time of their completion, were often record breaking in their proportions.

The largest single engineering project ever undertaken in Australia was the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Spanning an area of 3,200 square kilometres of mountains, some 80 kilometres of aqueducts, more than 140 kilometres of tunnels, 16 large dams, a pumping station, and seven power stations with a total generating capacity of 3,740,000 kilowatts, were constructed between 1949 and 1973. The power stations generate supplementary peak load electricity for the States of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The scheme also provides irrigation water over the Snowy Mountains to the inland.

The Kangaroo Creek Dam completed in 1969, was the first concrete faced compacted rockfill dam in the world where the bulk of the rockfill was a weak rock instead of the conventional hard mineral rock. This successful variation from previous practice paved the way for the economic construction of many more dams of the same type around the world.

Australia's climate has harsh extremes. A river that is dry for several months a year, can carry more water in flood than the Nile as does the Ord River. Bridge engineering technology allowed the crossing of large rivers, gorges and estuaries, that had previously inhibited expansion, literally opening up the huge country with a network of roads and railways. Like their counterparts in other fields, engineers that built these bridges had to rely on their own resourcefulness, the availability of materials and labour. As a result, Australia has some of the most dramatic and advanced bridges in the world.

The Gladesville precast concrete, voussoir arch bridge in New South Wales, was the longest span concrete structural arch bridge in the world when it was completed in 1964, and more recently, in 1988, the Gateway Bridge in Brisbane, Queensland became the world's longest and widest balanced cantilever construction in precast concrete.

Inevitably, the big country necessitated big projects. Moving large amounts of natural resources and agricultural produce, required massive materials handling facilities. The world's largest modern grain handling, storage and shipping complex is the Kwinana terminal in Western Australia, with a capacity of handling up to 5,000 tons of grain per hour. The world's largest sugar loader over a berth construction, which at 5.76 kilometres from shore, also happens to be the farthest offshore connected berth in the world, is the Port of Hinchinbrook at Lucinda Point, Queensland.

These and many other comparatively smaller complex building, construction and civil engineering projects have given an uncommon degree of expertise and experience to the industry in Australia. The lessons of the past have culminated in the development of many new products, processes and technologies, that today are among the best in the world.

There have also been some major innovations in the area of private housing, initially arising from the need to house large numbers of migrants from overseas. At the time gold was discovered in 1851, the population of Australia was just 200,000. The gold rush brought more than 500,000 migrants from China, America and Europe, and by 1876, the population was approaching 2 million. In 1971 population was 13 million with some 2.7 million born overseas.

Despite the fact that early settlers judged the local hardwood timbers to be of little use and not fit for building, today there are more than 600 species of forest timbers available for structural purposes. In fact, Australia is a world leader in timber technology for house frame construction, with unique framing techniques and automated roof truss construction. More than 50% of Australian houses have roof trusses finely engineered by computerised systems.

The prohibitive cost of building solid brick homes, led to the development of brick veneer housing, with a single outer layer of brick supported by a wooden inner frame. Encouraged by the sunny climate, many major developments in solar heating also originated in Australia.

Today, Australia boasts many hundreds of highly innovative products and technologies in building and construction. Many, such as household accessories, are among the best in the world in their design. While the innovations we have reviewed are by no means the only ones, they represent the very best currently commercially available products and technologies from Australia.

World first products and technologies in building and construction

Public Notice: Due to an unresolved dispute with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), who copied and adopted as their own certain material from Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published the material in their Australia Open for Business website, without remorse or recompense, access by Australian Government servers to this online edition has been blocked indefinitely.

Print Edition: ISBN 0646252119 - Paperback - 224 pages - 350 illustrations - $55.00 incl. GST.

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