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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 6

I Construction During The Settlement Years

II The Use Of Timber As A Structural Material

III Structural Steel

IV Concrete Technology

V Housing

VI Industrialised Pre-cast Concrete Housing

VII Ports And Harbours

VIII Roads

IX Heavy Foundations

X Bridges

XI Sewerage

XII Water Engineering

XIII Railways

XIV Major Buildings

XV Airports

XVI Thermal Power Stations

XVII Materials Handling

XVIII Oil Industry

XIX The Snowy Mountains Scheme

XX The Sydney Opera House

XXI The Sydney Harbour Bridge

XXII Hamersley Iron

XXIII North West Shelf

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Construction During The Settlement Years (continued)

In the early days, suitable roofing materials were scarce, but it was found that shingles could be readily made from cabbage tree palms growing close to the settlement in Sydney. While they were easy to work, these shingles were not very durable and soon gave way to thatching with reeds and the use of layers of bark tied down with battens. Following the discovery of a suitable clay soon after settlement, brickmaking was begun, using equipment brought out with the First Fleet. The skill to use it was supplied by a convict called Bloodsworth, an experienced brickmaker who, in addition to bricks, at the same plant burned clay roof tiles, which gave greatly improved water tightness, durability and dignity to the burgeoning public buildings. Corrugated iron appeared on the scene in the early part of the 19th century and while it was a relatively inexpensive and simple way of providing effective protection against the elements, its wide and often careless application and maintenance has left rust-stained and dented scars from one end of Australia to the other.

The roles of the engineers and architects during settlement were similar to the roles played in the settled communities of Europe and other developed parts of the world. In particular, they were called upon to provide shelter for the community; to plan the towns and cities and provide suitable premises for administration and commerce; to establish water supply systems which were adequate and safe; roads, tracks and bridges for communication; to establish the means of producing food; to develop the ports; to establish navigation aids; to develop forts for defence; and to establish sources of energy and facilities for the manufacturing processes on which the community would depend. These roles could be encapsulated in the following words -moulding the materials and harnessing the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.

Australia's first engineer and surveyor was Captain Theodore Henry Alt of the Royal Engineers, whose first important task was to lay out the town of Sydney, on which task he worked closely with Governor Phillip, who also had some previous engineering and surveying experience. What was one of the best sites in the world for a model city called out for intelligent planning and had the original liberal policy of 61 metres wide for main streets been maintained, with a pattern of rectangular blocks, the city would not have suffered the inconvenience and disfigurement caused by such numerous irregular blocks and narrow streets as exist today.

Alt was followed as Surveyor-General by Charles Grimes, who, in addition to his work in Sydney, led an expedition to Victoria in 1803, during which he traversed what was then known as the Salt Water Creek, now the Maribyrnong River, which flows into the Yarra not far from the Westgate Bridge. On his return, Grimes reported to Governor King that the area around the mouth of the Yarra would not be suitable as a site for settlement.

John Batman had a different opinion from Grimes and soon after he and Fawkner had each made their controversial contributions to the settlements of Melbourne in 1835, Hoddle was sent down to lay out the town. He was originally the Surveyor on Sydney's first water supply tunnel, Busby's Bore. Learning from the mistakes of Sydney, he gave Melbourne's citizens a regular rectangular pattern of wide major streets and narrow secondary streets. The benefits for construction, administration, installation of services and traffic flow were enormous. Not only were city streets well planned, but also incorporated in the plan were the impressive boulevards such as St. Kilda Road and Royal Parade, and a generous allocation of land for the many public parks which are a feature of Melbourne today.

People in Bright Sparcs - Alt, Capt. Theodore Henry; Batman, John; Bloodsworth, James; Fawkner, John Pascoe; Grimes, Charles; Hoddle, Robert; Holland, Sir John

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 313 - 314, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher