ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection

HMSS 0269 Engineering Heritage Canberra Oral History Program Professional Career Series

Scope and Content Notes

Call Number  HMSS 0269 Box 1-2 
Collection   Engineering Heritage Canberra Oral History Program Professional Career Series 
Date Range  1915+ 
Quantity  0.30m (1 manuscript box) 
Access Conditions  open 
Copying conditions  with attribution 
Related Collections  HMSS 0269 Engineering Heritage Canberra Oral History Program 

HMSS 0269 ... Kingston Powerhouse Project  

HMSS 0269 ... Queanbeyan Age Project 

HMSS 0269 ... Cotter Water Supply Project 

The Institution of Engineers is actively engaged in documenting the history of engineering in the Australian Capital Territory.

The Profession Career Series of oral history recordings is an ongoing project to interview professional engineers involved in projects in the Australian Capital Territory.  Subject matter is wide ranging and is not confined to work in the ACT. The interviewing historian is Dr Margaret Park.

This collection includes tapes, interview tape log with summaries and name indexes, transcripts, biographical and background material.

Background material may include publications, transcripts of oral histories made in other states or territories, correspondence, employment histories, appointments and lectureships, and documents relating to the Department of Housing and Construction and the Department of Works. It also includes publications on the four Canberra wastewater treatment plants, on which some of the engineers worked.











Charles Bubb





3:30 total (approx.)

Permission form (special conditions apply); timed summary


Mervyn Cole





3:00 total (approx)

Biographical notes; Permission form (used with permission of interviewee only); Interview summary; timed summary; copy of newscutting; curriculum vitae; photographic portrait taken on day of interview


Ken Gillespie






5:00 total (approx)

Biographical notes; timed summary; (printable pdf); Interview summary; Permission form


Reginald Goldfinch





3:30 total

Biographical notes; Curriculum Vitae; Permission form; Interview summary; timed summary


Bill Hickson





3:08 total

Biographical notes; Permission form; Interview summary;
timed summary


Graeme Kelleher




Byrne Kenny





1:30 total total (approx)

Permission form; Interview summary; timed summary


Tom Lawrence




John Lessels



Creating body and Mr Lessels unable to locate recordings as at 26 August 2014.

Ross McIntyre


19/04/2004; 13/01/2005




5:40 total
1:30 total (approx)

Biographical notes; timed summary
(printable pdf - 2004 interview); permission form;
Interview summary; typescript autobiography


Bob Nairn






5:45 total (approx)

Biographical notes; timed summary; (printable pdf); Interview summary; Permission form


Brian O'Keeffe





Biographical notes; Timed Summary; (printable pdf); Permission form;interview summary; publications - Tamara Johnson. 'Father of FANS retires after 41 years'. Airspace August 1997 p6-7.

'Life and pioneering times in civil aviation in Australia and the world'. The Order, Summer 2003-2004 p6-7.

Brian O'Keeffe. 'An analysis of the performance of GPS for general aviation operations in Australia'. Monitor June-August 2003 p18-22.

O'Keeffe, Brian. 'The resonant frequency of Hertz's loop antenna'. Monitor December 2002-February 2003 p16-17.

Edwards, Paul. 'What was the resonant length of Hertz's loop antenna?' Monitor June-August 2002 p14.

Gordon, John. 'Canberra Radio Foundation Day 2001 celebrations'. Monitor March-May 2002 p14-16.

'IEAust Notices'. Engineers Australia September 1998 p18.

O'Keeffe, H. B. 'INTERSCAN - The Development and International Acceptance of a New Microwave Landing System for Civil Aviation'. Transactions of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. Electrical Engineering. Vol EE16, no 2, June 1980, p78-81.


George Redmond





2:00 total (approx)

Biographical notes;
Permission form;
Interview summary;
timed summary; transcriptions of interview Northern Territory Archives Services - Oral History Unit Transcripts from George Redmond's Archives

Cyclone Tracy and Department of Works. Recorded September 1993 and June 1994 in Canberra by Dr F. H. (Slim) Bauer. From 4 tapes.
Tape: Series: NTRS 219; Item: TP934
Transcript: Series: NTRS 226; Item: TS734

Works, Housing and Construction 1962-1977. Recorded between 1988 and 1993 in Canberra by Dr F. H. (Slim) Bauer. From 13 tapes.
Tape: Series: NTRS 219; Item: TP965
Transcript: Series: NTRS 226; Item: TS764


Keith Rodda






Not recorded. Died prior to interview.


Bruce Sinclair








Norman Sneath





6:00 total (approx)

Biographical notes;
Permission form;
Interview summary;
timed summary;

CD: Failures, Darwin. ACT Head Office.
Photocopies of photographs of load-bearing structures

Department of Housing and Construction: A to Z of Projects; Regional Office Organisation. No date

Mascot Tunnel, Sydney Airport - notes and correspondence. 1968-1998

The Black Mountain Problem; Progress report. No date

Letters of thanks and appreciation, from Norm Sneath's archives donated to Engineering Heritage Australia as part of his oral history interview 2005. 1954-2002

Monash University documents re appointment of Norm Sneath in 1993, and his teaching schedule 1987-1993

Second Hobart Bridge, brochure; Norm Sneath was Deputy Chairman, Chief Structural Engineer. January 1978

Westgate Royal Commission Report: extracts and covering letter from Norm Sneath. 10 October 1971


Lloyd Wrigley





2:00 total (approx)

Permission form;
Interview summary;
timed summary








National Capital Development Commission. Belconnen Sewage Treatment Facilities. Scott and Furphy, 1966. Design drawings.



Weston Creek Sewage Treatment Works, 1967. Bound with Fyshwick Sewage Treatment Works, ca 1967. History, description, specifications, design drawings.

1915 ¨C 1967


Australia. Department of Works. Advanced Waste Water Treatment, 1973/1974. Paper presented at unspecified event.



Department of Housing and Construction. Sewerage Branch. Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre. Technical Brochure. Ca 1979.



Kenneth James Gillespie (1952 -    ), Lieutenant General, Retired

Biographical Notes

Prepared by Dr Margaret Park from the oral history interview conducted on 6 September 2011 for the Engineering Heritage Canberra, from Ken Gillespie’s CV and work history. 12 September 2011.

Birth & Family: 

Born 28 June 1952, Brisbane, Queensland

Ken grew up on a farm on the New South Wales/Queensland border. His father and mother both came from this area but lived in Brisbane when Ken was born. Their farm at Acacia Creek at Killarney, Queensland was a life forming experience for Ken and his family. After seasons of drought the Gillespies moved to a sawmill settlement at Central Koreelah in northern NSW. After his father sustained an injury they returned to Killarney and then back to Brisbane. When Ken joined the Army at age 15, his parents had moved to Toowoomba and ran a service station until their retirement; they now live on Bribie Island.  


Attended several primary schools, including Mountain View State School, a one teacher school where three generations of Gillespies were taught by the same teacher. Ken also attended another small, one teacher school before finishing his schooling years at Inala West State School and Inala State High School in Brisbane. It was during his last year at high school, where he enjoyed his education and sporting activities, when he was accepted for the Army Apprentices School at Balcombe, Victoria. Ken’s long-term dream to join the army came to fruition.  


Army Apprentices  School, Balcombe, Victoria

Officer Cadet School, Portsea, Victoria (graduated 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Australian Engineers Corps)

Army Command and Staff College, Queenscliff, Victoria

Joint Service Staff College, Weston, ACT

Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK


Conspicuous Service Medal, 8 June 1992, for conspicuous service with the Australian Contingent, United Nations Transition Assistance Group, Namibia.

AM, Member of the Order of Australia, 8 June 1998, for exceptional service to the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force, particularly in the development of the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre.  

Distinguished Service Cross, 10 June 2002, for distinguished command and leadership as the Commander Sector West, while deployed on active service with the United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor during Operation.

AO, Office of the Order of Australia, 26 January 2003, for distinguished service to the Australian Defence Force as the Commander Australian Contingent, Operation SLIPPER in the Middle East between October 2001 and March 2002.

Legion of Merit (Commander), 2009, USA.

Meritorious Service Medal (Military – Pingat Jasa Gemilang), 2010, Republic of Singapore.

AC, Companion of the Order of Australia, 26 January 2011, for eminent service to the Australian Defence Force as Vice Chief of the Defence Force/Chief of Joint Operations and Chief of Army.


1968 – 1971: Ken began his army career as an apprentice bricklayer at the Army Apprentices School at Balcombe, Victoria. This three year course provided him with the beginnings of a solid army background, as well as trade skills in accordance with the Victorian Technical Leaving Certificate. His apprenticeship included a one year civil attachment in Sydney.

1972 – 1974: Ken was selected to undertake his officer training in 1972. He attended the Officer Cadet School at Portsea, Victoria graduating as 2nd Lieutenant into the Corps of the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) on 15 December 1972. After initial RAE officer training Ken then experienced troop command at the School of Military Engineering in 1973-74.

1975 – 1979: Extending his engineering and military experience, Ken was posted as a recruit platoon commander to the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka, NSW in 1975, closely followed by an appointment to the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment stationed in Brisbane. Promotions came quickly for Ken, from Lieutenant to Captain in the same year. With promotion came responsibility and he was second-in-command of the Field and Support Squardron from 1976 to 1978. Then in 1979 he was posted to the 5th Field Engineer Regiment in Brisbane as Adjutant.

1980 – 1985: In 1980 Ken returned to the Army Apprentices School as the Works Officer and then appointed as the Commander of an Apprentice Company. Serving at his ‘alma mater’ for two years, in 1982 he was posted to the 1st Construction Regiment at Holsworthy, Sydney as Adjutant. Promoted to Major in 1983, Ken returned to Brisbane as the Operations Officer of the 2nd/3rd Field Engineer Regiment. In 1985 Ken was a student again, this time at the Army Command and Staff College at Queenscliff, Victoria.  

1986 – 1990: Keen to receive an overseas posting at this stage in his career, in 1986 Ken accepted a posting as the Australian Exchange Instructor at the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent, UK. His work there was challenging and rewarding and when he returned to Australia in early 1988 he was given the role of Senior Instructor at the School of Military Engineering. Many overseas postings followed, including being deployed to be second-in-command of the Australian contingent to the United Nations in Namibia in August 1989. Ken was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel at this time. Returning to Australia in March 1990 Ken was appointed to the RAE Corps Directorate in Sydney.

1991 – 1997: For the first six months of 1991 Ken attended the Joint Services Staff College at Weston, Canberra. Returning to Sydney following this course he was the Project Officer at Land Headquarters in Sydney. His next challenge was to raise and command the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment based in Townsville from March 1992. Canberra beckoned in September 1994 and Ken accepted a posting as the Staff Officer Operations to the Chief of the Defence Force. In June 1995 he was promoted to Colonel and posted to Sydney to raise and command the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre, a new and innovative intelligence gathering organisation.

1997 – 2001: Ken returned to London at the end of December 1997 to attend the Royal College of Defence Studies. Back home in Australia for 1999 and promoted to Brigadier, he was appointed as Chief of Staff of Training Command. In September 2000 Ken was placed in command of the United Nations Sector West multi-national brigade in East Timor. He returned to Australia in July 2001 and worked at Army Headquarters in Canberra. Not long after the terrorist’s attacks on the United States in September 2001, Ken was deployed to the United States, then the Middle East as the National Commander of Australia’s contribution to the ‘Coalition of the Willing’s’ Operation Enduring Freedom.

2002 – 2005: Promoted to Major General in June 2002, Ken was appointed as the Head of Strategic Operations – a key strategy and policy position advising the Chief of the Defence Force.  In January 2004 he returned to Sydney as the Land Commander Australia. In this role Ken was responsible for ensuring the Australian Army was combat ready.

2005 – 2008: In July 2005 Ken was promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed as the Vice Chief of the Defence Force as well as the Chief of Joint Operations. As Vice Chief, he was responsible for all Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations, overseas and at home. His dual role was complex and demanding. During his time as Vice Chief he successfully convinced the ADF that he was effectively responsible for two full-time jobs and the first standalone Chief of Joint Operations was appointed.

2008 – present: Considering his future in the Army and not likely to seek an extension of his term as Vice Chief, Ken was offered and accepted the role of Chief of the Australian Army in July 2008. Taking on this senior appointment, at the pinnacle of his army career, Ken sought and received high command support for initiating structural and cultural change within the organisation. Upon reaching his 59th birthday in June 2011, Ken retired from the Army and is currently taking time out, golfing and reading, and relaxing at home in Canberra with his family whilst contemplating his future endeavours.


Interviewee: Kenneth James Gillespie

CDs: 6 = 5 hours, 11 minutes recording time

Interviewer: Dr Margaret Park

Place of Interview: 4 Hann Street, Griffith, ACT

Dates of Interview: 6 September 2011

Restrictions on Use: None - see Interview Release Form

Interview recorded on Sony DAT Recorder TCD D100 professional portable digital recorder


CD1 = 60 minutes




Proper Names & Keywords



Interview introduction. Kenneth (Ken) James Gillespie of 4 Hann Street, Griffith, ACT born in Brisbane, Queensland on 28 June 1952.

Lived in Brisbane, then on a farm on New South Wales, Queensland border – Killarney.

Kenneth James Gillespie

Brisbane, Queensland

Killarney, Queensland


Family Background – details of mother and father. Father was born in Killarney and lived and worked ‘on the land’ in that district before World War II. After the war he worked as a motor-trimmer. Ken describes this now defunct trade. Returned to farming at Acacia Creek, bordered on the border fence between Queensland and New South Wales. Dairy farming. Moved into New South Wales; worked at a sawmill. After a sawmilling accident family returned to Killarney and worked for a coach company. Ran a service station for in Toowoomba until retirement. Retired back to Killarney, now at Bribie Island.

Father: Albert James (Jim) Gillespie

Killarney, Queensland

Acacia Creek

Dairy Farming

Sawmilling, Central Koreelah, NSW

Skinner’s Coaches

Toowoomba, Queensland

Bribie Island, Queensland


Ken relates recent family gathering and reminiscences of the family on the farm. Relates interest in radio program on the army which influenced him. Importance of the radio to country living.

Living on the farm





Family Background continued – mother’s father was a station master, met his father in Killarney. Describes interest in steam trains and visiting his grandparents. Recalls Newmarket, Brisbane and watching the trains go by.

Mother was a bookkeeper before marriage, then a farm wife. Worked at Service Station – a partnership.

Mother: Heather Nola Ross

Steam Trains

Newmarket, Brisbane






Siblings: four boys; Ken’s eldest. Describes growing up on the farm. Talks about closeness to his brothers, in particular, Geoffrey, who also went into the army. Describes Bill and Colin’s careers. Talks about Geoffrey’s army career.



Brothers: Bill, Colin and Geoffrey


Working and living on the farm – difficult times, such as drought and other issues.

Farm life


Attended school over the border fence in Queensland – a two mile walk. Small school, one teacher taught three generations of Gillespie’s = grandmother, father and Ken.

Describes teacher as being ‘Victorian’. Enjoyed school – relates story about a parrot and having to let it go at the border fence. Border fence – tick and rabbit control. Grandfather and father worked along the border fence.

Mountain View State School

Ernest L Shock

Border Fence

Queensland and New South Wales


School mates – many children were related. The Gillespies settled in Warwick/Killarney area from Ireland in mid-1800s.

Opened the Killarney Show before retiring this year.

School Life

Killarney Show 2011


Continues with description of attending primary and high school; finished primary school at Inala West State School, Brisbane and Inala State High School for years 8, 9 & 10, then joined the Army at age 15. Describes the school, its teachers and students. Difficulty with certain teacher and science subjects, especially physics.

Central Koreelah State School

Inala West State School

Inala State High School

George Negus

Wayne Goss


Army Apprentice School. Relates story of sporting event and getting into the School. Joined the Army, travelled to Balcombe on coach to begin army life. Spent three years at the school on Port Phillip Bay. Describes barrack life as ‘rustic’. Enjoyed the boarding type school life. Problems at the school – ‘challenging environment’ – such as ‘bastardisation’. Story about insurance salesmen. Good education with a good start in life.

Army Apprentice School

Balcombe, Victoria


Vietnam war era. Colonel Max Johnson taught them about respect; remembers other father figures including Alec Weaver. Influenced to pursue an officer career. Describes apprenticeship training in bricklaying. Final year in Sydney with a civilian builder then applied for Portsea for officer training; also had a posting order as a sapper bricklayer to Vietnam. This was the end of 1972, Whitlam in government and ended conscription. Relates difficulties for the army and the officers’ cadet school with this decision. Doesn’t regret not going to Vietnam but was shaped by it.

Vietnam War

Colonel Max Johnson

Major Alec Weaver


Portsea, Victoria


Officers training – 12 month course. Relates the different ways to become an officer within the army: Duntroon, Portsea and Skyville (Western Sydney). Portsea produced infantry platoon commanders, also administration, subjects such as logic. A robust course – designed to stress students. Enjoyed the college life (graduated at 20). Describes first marriage to Kathy.




Married Life


Describes civilian attachment to a builder in Sydney for one year. Also relates type of work undertaken by bricklayers in the army – building barracks and other facilities. Now undertaken by contractors. Explains term: sapper = private in the engineers; origins from the medieval period.


Military Engineering



Army apprentice school was about ‘building’ and construction techniques; after officer training and at the School of Military Engineering learned more about basic military engineering and civil engineering (parts A & B) including surveying, soils, hydraulics and structures. Learned how to be a combat engineer; building equipment bridges; simple engineering tasks quickly and robustly. Needed to understand the technical engineering skills required in the Engineering Corps but also leadership and combat engineering as well. Engineers as good project managers and leadership of engineers and soldiers.

Military Engineering

Civil Engineering

Royal Australian Engineers (RAE)


Provides an example of leadership with an engineering exercise in Shoalwater Bay – difficulties encountered and resolved by a soldier not the leaders or ‘brains trust’ of the regiment. Explains why this story is significant in problem solving and good leadership.


Engineering exercise

Shoalwater Bay, Queensland

Problem solving


Explains army promotion and ranking; Rivalry between Portsea and Duntroon graduates; opportunities for women in the army. Describes the Womens Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) – officer training at Georges Heights, Sydney. It disbanded in the early 1990s and women joined the Corps affiliated with at that time; now training is same as men. Discusses positive discrimination for women and women against this policy.

Army Promotion



Womens Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC)

Georges Heights, Sydney

Major General Elizabeth Cosson

End of CD 1



CD2 = 54 minutes




School of Military Engineering – Transport Officer, then Troop Commander of sappers. Describes course. Went to Kapooka as recruit platoon commander, then posted to Brisbane for first engineer regiment – 2nd Field Engineer Regiment. Talks about army regiments: engineering and construction tasks. Wanted to be a helicopter pilot – talked out of it. Mentions other possibilities after Portsea graduation – armour or engineer – talked out of armour and steered again towards engineers.

School of Military Engineering

Kapooka, NSW

2nd Field Engineers, Brisbane


Description of work of 2nd Field Engineers. Made Captain and posted as second in command of a field engineers squadron (1976). Large exercise, Kangaroo 2 – built roads, culverts, etc in Shoalwater Bay (new training area). Married with one child at that time. Moved to another squadron – construction. Raised another squadron – combat engineering squadron. Provided important leadership background for future career. Wrote annual reports, each soldier received an annual report/assessment = first test of bravery.

2nd Field Engineers, Brisbane

Kangaroo II Exercises

Shoalwater Bay


Annual Reports



Addressed the problem of alcohol in the military. Immediate post-Vietnam War era; alcohol was the only nightly entertainment. Talks about the arrival of Major Doug George – a civil engineer – operations officer of the regiment. Doug “bucked the trend”. Observed unit gravitating towards Doug’s approach to alcohol. Began to professionalise the organisation and set an example, also during his time in Namibia. Describes issues around alcohol and the army.


Post-Vietnam War

Major Doug George



Under public scrutiny and in public media. Challenges of ethical and moral leadership. Decision to end wearing of berets due to skin cancer – ensuring a safe working environment.

Ethical and Moral Leadership



Occupational Health & Safety


From 1979 spent 12 months with army reserve engineer regiment – the administrator and coordinator for the reservists. Gateway to promotion via a reserve appointment. In 1980, went back to Army Apprentice School at Balcombe, Victoria. Works Officer, in charge of facilities. In charge of Apprentice Company. Marriage failed, separated, two children – talks about children; now has one granddaughter.

Army Reserve Engineer Regiment

Army Apprentice School, Balcombe, Victoria

Apprentice Company Commander

Marriage Failure (Separation)

Children and Grandchild


Differences between an army apprentice and a civilian apprentice. Victorian Technical Leaving Certificate. Army apprentice shaped towards the military. Describes travelling home to family during apprenticeship days in Victoria.

Apprentice system

Victorian Technical Leaving Certificate


Describes trades taught at Army Apprentice School. Describes training of musicians at the school.

Plans to move the school; challenges to keep the old school going. School moved to Albury-Wodonga – first time enrolled women apprentices.

Army Apprentice School

Royal Australian Engineers (RAE)

Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME)


Musician Apprentices

Women Apprentices


Moved to Holsworthy, Sydney – First Construction Regiment as the Adjutant. Describes the headquarters and squadrons and work undertaken. Responsible for administration, operational functions and supporting the Commanding Officer. Relates phone call from Sir Ninian Stephen (Governor-General) and subsequent visit.

Sydney’s second airport discussions – explains why this wasn’t going to happen. Married while at Holsworthy (Stella) – met at Balcombe; lived at Glenfield.

Holsworthy, Sydney

First Construction Regiment

Sir Ninian Stephen

Sydney’s Second Airport

Second marriage


Posted to Brisbane in May 1983 – Operations Officer of 2nd/3rd Field Engineer Regiment and promoted to Major. Planned exercises, supported battalions and brigades, included travel. Went to Germany, first of many overseas postings and trips. Describes postings and opportunities.

2nd/3rd Field Engineer Regiment, Brisbane



Selected for staff college (1985) – required promotion beyond Major. Appointed Exchange Instructor at Royal Military School of Engineering, England. Field Engineer Branch. Describes responsibilities for the British military. Mentions Falklands War.

Staff College, Queenscliff, Victoria

Royal Military School of Engineering, England

Falklands War


First use of computers (Commodore 64). Designed computer program for individual student reports. Returned as Senior Instructor of School of Military Engineering. Responsible for technical content of the school.

Computer Programming

Student Course Reports

School of Military Engineering


Describes difference between British and Australian Military; also American Military. Arrived home (in Dec 1987) much wiser and prouder of “who we were”. Passed promotion board to Lt Colonel, then Namibia posting.

British Military

American Military

Promotion to Lieutenant Colonel


End of CD 2



CD3 = 63 minutes




Royal Military School of Engineering in Chatham, Kent. Describes environment and the school. Involved in events in 1987 to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the granting of the royal charter to the royal engineers. Queen present for the affair. Describes the event orchestrated for Queen to walk over a bridge armed for demolition.

Royal Military School of Engineering, England

Royal Charter event


Returned to Australia as Senior Instructor at School of Military Engineering. Past promotion board and asked to head up as Contingent 2 IC in Namibia. Explains contingents sent to Namibia, rotations and other challenges. Describes the United Nations (UN) involvement, international troops, elections and the local environment encountered. Comments on 1989 and other world events including the release of Nelson Mandela. Speaks about Nelson Mandela.

School of Military Engineering


United Nations

South Africa

South West African Peoples Organisation

Nelson Mandela


Continues with UN and its mission achievements in Namibia. Comments on the UN and his first exposure to this organisation. Differing levels of professionalism encountered. Describes documentary (video) made covering this time in Namibia, narrated by Roger Climpson; video never released but archived at the National Film & Sound Archive. Believes the election was successful because of the Australians; explains why.

United Nations

A Distant Peace

Roger Climpson

National Film & Sound Archive

Namibia Elections

Electoral Monitors


Received the Conspicuous Service Medal for Namibia work.

Conspicuous Service Medal


Returned to the Royal Australian Engineering Corps – the Directorate of Engineers – the technical hub of the Corps. Responsible for the technical well-being of the Corps, the “Institute inside the military”. Army in process of reorganising. Responsible for its re-focus. Discusses performance and expectations amongst army personnel. Change to size of regiments and “shrinking below critical mass”. Needed career path broadening for officers. Approval to raise three engineer regiments with 350 people each. Commander of the Townsville regiment. Describes the experience of raising a regiment and being an inaugural commander.

Royal Australian Engineers (RAE)

Reorganisation of Regiments

3rd Combat Engineer Regiment

Townsville, Queensland


Comments his roles and positions of influence, lessons learned along the way. Continues describing this period within the military. Worldwide events: Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia. Break-up of second marriage.

3rd Combat Engineer Regiment

Townsville, Queensland

World Events

Marriage Failure (Separation)


Attended Joint Services Staff College at Weston Creek, Canberra. A mid-rank career development course on joint warfare with members of navy, air force, army, public service, overseas attendees. Returned to Sydney after finishing course, fill in job at Land Headquarters before returning to the 3rd Combat Regiment. Relates story about meeting Carmel Moira O’Rourke, courtship, marriage and birth of Moira. Talks about Carmel’s work with Qantas.

Joint Services Staff College

Weston Creek, Canberra
Land Headquarters, Sydney

Carmel Moira O’Rourke

Australian War Memorial


Stayed with regiment till 1994 (from July 1992). Comments on promotion board and applying for Colonel, missed out on promotion. Selected to be staff officer to Chief of Defence Force, Admiral Alan Beaumont. Moved family to Canberra.

3rd Combat Engineer Regiment

Admiral Alan Beaumont



Describes working with CDF and with the Deputy Chief, Lt Gen John Baker, later General John Baker, CDF. A reformist and head of Joint Intelligence Organisation in his early career. Involved in shaping modern conflicts. Concerned about intelligence issues and the need to establish a new intelligence organisation specifically for the war fighter not just for Canberra (politicians/government/public servants). Ken advised that a war fighter should be its commander and sought the position (1995-97). Promoted to Colonel on his birthday. Returned to Sydney. Managing family life and work.

General John Baker


Joint Intelligence Centre (JIC)

Promotion to Colonel


Family Life


Sent to War College, London by Army Chief, John Sanderson. Returns to story of buying Canberra home in Hann Street, Griffith. Describes what War College is – formal period of training for employment at senior ranks; living in London. Explains why sent to London. Talks about possible promotion to Brigadier in the future and missing out on postings and promotions.

Lieutenant General John Sanderson

Griffith, Canberra

War College of Defence Studies, London, UK


Made an Order of Australia for time commanding the Joint Intelligence Centre. Invited to return to Australia with promotion to Brigadier and as Chief of Staff of Training Command (1999). But returned to live in Sydney not to Canberra. Training Command headquarters located at Georges Heights. Travelled through America. Worked for Major General Michael Keating, a reformist, Ken an acolyte and believer in his reforms.

Order of Australia (for JIC)

Promotion to Brigadier

Chief of Staff of Training Command

Georges Heights, Middle Harbour, Sydney

Major General Michael Keating


Peter Abigail, Deputy Chief of Army advised Ken on his career and his potential promotions. Encouraged him to take on a brigade command which resulted in assignment to East Timor for 11 months. After East Timor family moved into the Griffith house in Canberra; then September 11, 2001 happened.

Major General Peter Abigail

East Timor

Griffith, Canberra


Explains role and responsibilities in East Timor. Responsible for Sector West. Interaction with Indonesians; commanding a multi-national force brigade; rotation of battalions; undertaking command post exercises.

East Timor

United Nations

Multi-National Brigade


Command Post Exercises


Describes introduction to East Timor operation and takeover from Duncan Lewis. Talks about being a national commander with a larger picture than a brigade commander.

Major General Duncan Lewis

East Timor

Brigade Command


Comments on the East Timor elections and the East Timorese. Relates story about East Timorese feeling insecure to secure – witnessed progress. Some successes, some failures; some difficulties with NGOs. Conducted seminars with Engineers Australia afterwards. “How to bring maximum effort to the problem” – an initiative of Engineers Australia. Purpose of a military force in these operations.

Received Distinguished Service Cross for leadership and performance in conflict situations.

East Timorese

NGOs (non-government organisations)

Engineers Australia

Distinguished Service Cross

End of CD 3



CD4 = 50 minutes




Returned to Canberra and work at Army Headquarters, Director General of Preparedness and Plans, a planning organisation within headquarters. Worked on Australia’s position after events in USA on September 11 (2001). Describes rush to complete new kitchen for Griffith home. Arrived in US on October 11 and began process for getting involved in the coalition of the willing for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Army Headquarters, Canberra

Operation Enduring Freedom


Sent to US as the Contingent Commander based in Tampa, Florida. Launched into the great unknown and the war on terror. Concerned about family back home. Asked for support which included Roger Noble and Derek White. Talks about the mood of Americans at that time, people were worried and concerned.

Operation Enduring Freedom

Tampa, Florida, USA

Lieutenant Colonel Roger Noble (later Brigadier)

Captain Derek White



Describes initial contact with Australian Ambassador in Washington DC, Michael Thawley. Explains problems of communication and intelligence sharing at that time and how they overcame these obstacles. 

Michael Thawley

Australian Ambassador, Washington DC

War on Terror




Reception from Americans – thankful for Australian help and support. Comments on family contact and personal communication. Lack of diaries/letters from previous military operations. Speaks about times overseas, being on operations and being a commander – compartmentalising; issues of support, mentoring, relationships and counselling.

Living in Tampa, Florida

Personal Communication

Counselling and support

Major General Peter Abigail

Rear Admiral Chris Ritchie (later Vice Admiral)

Mentoring and Relationships


Issues of physical health; maintaining physical fitness and optimum health. Long, arduous days in Middle East – issues of different time zones and keeping on top of all issues in all zones. Improving sleeping patterns and maintaining focus and routines.

Health and Fitness

East Timor

Middle East

World Time Zones


Arrived in Tampa in early October and deployed to Middle East in early December 2001. National headquarters in Kuwait with naval ships in the Gulf. Describes locations of forces in the Middle East. Had difficulty securing a base in the Middle East. Diplomacy played significant role.

Middle East deployment


National Commander



Visited Afghanistan and other countries in Middle East; arrived home in April 2002; on leave until end of July. Promoted to Major General and Head of Strategic Operations. Settled back into home in Canberra. Relates                      50th birthday story and being sent to Pentagon for urgent meeting on Iraq. Recalls other promotions.

Promotion to Major General

Head of Strategic Operations


Pentagon Meeting, Washington DC


Talks about Americans and Iraq war planning. Pentagon meeting confirmed what he already knew. Had worked for 12 months with the Americans and was accepted. Was the Defence representative at inter-departmental meetings with DFAT (Department of Finance and Trade), etc. Land Commander at end of 2003 – responsible for training troops and then Vice Chief of Defence Force. Explains putting previous lessons learned into place in senior managerial roles. Talks about the relationship between engineering and undertaking senior command roles in the military. Complex project management issues, similar to building and construction. Many army chiefs have also been engineers.

Iraq War

General Peter Cosgrove

Department of Finance and Trade (DFAT)

Land Commander

Vice Chief of Defence Force

Engineering and Military Command


Pentagon meeting in Washington, then Tampa. Explains the reality of the Iraq War commitment and discussions with the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Pentagon Meeting, Washington DC

Tampa, Florida

John Howard, Prime Minister


Role in Canberra during Iraq War. Describes influence with Americans. Long days from 4:30am to 11:00pm – keeping everyone in touch and informed. Relates story about Iraqi soccer supporters in Tal Afar.

Iraq War

Tal Afar, Iraq

Soccer team


Issues of health and dehydration where temperatures can reach 60°celsius. Living conditions and locations in Baghdad, Iraq including Saddam Hussein’s palace and its opulence.

Dutch coalition forces, NATO partners; constantly travelling at that time in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as flying from between Australia and Europe without stopping overnight in a hotel.

Heat and Dehydration

Baghdad, Iraq

Saddam Hussein’s Palace

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)


International Meetings


Why Australians make good coalition partners.

Intentions and reasons differ, but Australians “willing to get their hands dirty”; Australians are a trusted ally for Americans, explains why. Comments on Americans, respect for them and their commitments; also comments on differences between Australians and New Zealanders.

Coalition Partnerships

American Australian alliance


Comments on whether his position as a multi-national and national commander is unique.

Multi-National and National Command Positions

End of CD 4



CD5 = 60 minutes




Continues with comments whether his position as a multi-national and national commander is unique. What is unique “only person ever to start as a soldier and become the chief of army in our 110 years”

Multi-National and National Command Positions

Chief of Army


Deployed forces to Solomon Islands as Chief of Joint Operations. Keeping a positive work force. Restructuring and fine-tuning the military. Giving people “a voice”.  Frustration when blemishes are portrayed for an ‘exemplar’ organisation. Explains issues around the recent Skype scandal and the media response.

Solomon Islands

Chief of Army

Job Satisfaction


Skype Scandal issue

AAP website commentary


Introduction of Facebook and social media for the Army including ‘contact the chief’ communications. Awareness that the “boss is actually listening”. Describes open talk sessions in Afghanistan and speaking about problems and solutions. Calls for new ‘kit’ – talks about military and fashion (brands).


Social Media

‘Contact the Chief’


Military and Fashion


Describes Vice Chief and Chief of Joint Operations role (from July 2005, promoted to Lieutenant General) = two full time jobs. Able to convince Minister and Chief of Defence, Angus Houston to split the roles and David Hurley made first standalone Chief of Joint Operations. Talks about responsibilities and tasks, including health, logistics, education processes. Issues around Occupational Health & Safety. Resolved issues of parachuting with ComCare.

Vice Chief of Defence

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston

General David Hurley

Chief of Joint Operations

Occupational Health & Safety

Military Parachuting



Appointed to Chief of Army (July 2008) – describes process including considering leaving the army at that stage. Arrived as Chief with a restructure plan approved by the Chief of Defence and the Minister. Talks about achieving this position and pathways getting there.

Chief of Army

Lieutenant General Peter Leahy


Explains Army inherited and restructuring plans. Training and Land Command to be “pushed together”. Changed Army Headquarters structure. Concerned about de-skilling and rectified this situation. Compares “military art” to engineering, medicine, etc. as highly skilled professionals. Comparison between engineering and military. Each requires technical underpinnings and basic fundamentals.

Chief of Army

Army Restructuring

Military Training


Fundamental War Fighting


Talks about engineering courses and degrees awarded today (ADFA). Suggests a return to a basic engineering degree followed by specialist training afterwards. Interaction with students.

Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)

Basic Engineering

United Services Institute


Describes the timing and success of the reforms and achievements during the restructuring process. Planning for next era of reform taken over by David Morrison, next Chief of Army. Describes what is Mission Command and issues of problem solving.

Army Restructuring

Lieutenant General David Morrison

Mission Command


Cultural Change

Adaptive Army


Talks about failures: failed to convince the Government to proceed with further restructuring: “army about 1800 people hollow” – provided solution, not enacted upon. Working with the Defence White Paper – “Government’s blueprint for the structure and conduct of Defence over a period of time”.


Government and Policies

Defence White Paper


Dealing with death, war, destruction, famine, etc. = “hardest part as Chief were the 23 who were killed on operations”; but also others lost to road accidents, suicide and ill health. Effects and trauma for families – working through what is important. Meeting families of soldiers, talking with families, attending funerals. Describes funeral in Tasmania and contact with soldier’s mother.

Deaths and Dying


Accidents and Suicides

Family Support


Responds to “what kept you gong”? Belief in people, the Army’s role. Comments on what the Army is and its position within Australian democracy. Proud of being the Chief of Army and its achievements and changes over 40 years.

Army and Democracy




Responds to quote: “leadership is inclusive and motivates people willing to give 110% effort and loyalty” (Gillespie). Sharing ideals; mateship; helps to achieve “beyond your mass”.





Visiting overseas Australian military historical and sacred sites – comments on these experiences as a “learning experience”; spiritual; new understandings. Tells story about the reburial of the five soldiers in Belgium – wattle, blue butterfly and rain.

Kapyong, Korea


Marlena and Mike Jefferys (Gov-Gen)

Belgium (Buttes Cemetery)


Visiting Gallipoli; Fromelles war cemetery – describes this battlefield during World War I and the re-internment of bodies. Story about two brothers and the Commanding Officer. Using DNA for identification. Ceremony held. Visiting Terendak in Malaysia.

Gallipoli, Turkey

Fromelles, France

Terendak, Malaysia

End of CD 5




CD6 = 24 minutes




Returning to Afghanistan – seeing the progress over time. Education of women and children – female politicians.  Hope for a peaceful Afghanistan. Describes the majesty of Afghanistan and its surrounding mountains. Australian troops have been in Afghanistan, Iraq and Middle East over many years, including from World War I.


Kaboul, Afghanistan



Engineering profession – not a member of the Institution (Engineers Australia); engineering ethics/technical aspects.

Engineering Profession

Engineers Australia


Views on engineering and its heritage. Describes some of the heritage buildings lived in: Victoria Barracks, at Duntroon; and structures such as bridges. Impressions of John Monash.

Engineering Heritage

Victoria Barracks, Sydney

Duntroon, Canberra

John Monash


Career and life mentors – including his father and mother. Reminisces about the course of his career.




Comments on how engineering can help to make the world a better place, especially considering the young engineer today.

Young Engineers



Hobbies and sports – golf; returning to reading; doing Sudoku. Writing memoirs, mainly for family

Hobbies and Sports



Talks about retirement – White Ribbon Foundation board; interested in strategy boards and using knowledge gained strategically.


White Ribbon Foundation


Awarded the Companion in the Order of Australia (AC) Final comments on career, with satisfaction; privilege working with young Australians. Hopes for daughter, Moira, and her future happiness.

Companion – Order of Australia

Final comments on Career

Moira Gillespie

End of CD 6

End of Interview



Alexander Ross McIntyre (1923 -    ), Civil Engineer

Biographical Notes

Birth & Family:       

Born 21 March 1923, Private Hospital, Chatswood Sydney. Younger child of Alexander John McIntyre (1886-1954), warehouse manager and Blanche Emily (nee Bonfield) (1888-1976).

Sibling = Alan William (1918-1976).


Attended Roseville Primary School, Sydney NSW (1928-1934), Chatswood Intermediate High School, Chatswood, Sydney NSW (1935), North Sydney-Chatswood Junior High School, North Sydney NSW (1936-1937), North Sydney Boys’ High School, North Sydney, NSW (1938-1939). NSW Leaving Certificate (1939). Attended University of Sydney, Engineering Degree Course (1940-1944). Awarded BE, Civil, University of Sydney (1944). 


Bachelor of Engineering (Civil), Sydney University (1944), Sydney   Technical College Health Inspector Certificate (1948), Certificate of Qualification as Engineer under the Local Government Act (1948), Certificate of Qualification as a Health Inspector under the Local Government Act (1950.


Fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia (FIEAust)                           


The Institution Award (with others) (1964), Hall of Fame, North Sydney Boys’ High School (1970s), Canberra Engineering Hall of Fame (2002)

Work History:        

Joined the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board (1943) as a Professional Officer General Grade while waiting to be called up by the RAAF. Worked in the Design Office on the Warragamba Pipeline project.

In RAAF from December 1943 to December 1945 as an Engineer Officer with No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron engaged on airfield and road construction and maintenance work, erection of large tanks for aviation fuel, construction of water points and associated engineering construction work. Participated in assault landings at Aitape (Papua New Guinea) (1944), Noemfoor Island (Dutch New Guinea) (1944) and Labuan Island, British Borneo) (1945). Carried out airfield and road maintenance at Biak Island (Dutch New Guinea) (1945). Took a detachment to Kuching (British Borneo) (1945) to upgrade airfield to allow aerial evacuation of Allied Prisoners of War.

After the war returned to the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board and worked in the Design Office until resignation in 1946.

Joined the Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation as an Airport Engineer in August 1946. After assisting in a preliminary survey of site for Hobart Airport, carried out compass and pace preliminary surveys and designs for new airports in Country New South Wales as well as checking existing airports for current adequacy in NSW and Norfolk Island. Seconded to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority (SMHEA) in January 1950.

First employed as Plant Procurement Engineer and then Plant Engineer. Selected site and made preliminary survey and design for the aerodrome at Cooma. Joined Major Contracts Group in 1952 and worked on road and camp layouts, tender documents for major contracts and conducting possible tenderers around the work sites. In 1954 spent 10 months in the USA as a trainee with the Bureau of Reclamation in Colorado, California, South Dakota and Kansas. From 1954 to 1958 was Office Engineer (Cabramurra, NSW) administering major contracts. From 1958 to 1961, was Resident Engineer at Tantangara for the construction of a concrete dam on the Murrumbidgee River and a 10 mile tunnel to the Eucumbene River. On completion in 1961, returned to Head Office in charge of construction work associated with the Snowy-Murray diversion. Located in Khancoban, NSW this project involved driving large tunnels, construction of Geehi, Murray 2 and Khancoban dams, civil works for Murray 1 Power Station and excavation for Murray 2 Power Station and pressure pipelines for both power stations.

Terminated secondment to the SMHEA in 1966 and moved to Commonwealth Department of Works in Canberra as the Assistant Director (Construction), later appointed Director in the ACT Region. Works covered design and construction of Corin and Googong Dams, Bendora water pipeline, Telstra Tower, Australian Defence Force Academy, Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre, Calvary and Canberra (Woden) Hospitals, multi-storied and school buildings roads, water, sewerage and drainage systems, quarry, sawmill and cement products factory. Professional, administrative and tradesperson totaled over 2,000.

In 1972 attended a 3 month course at the Administrative College

Retired from the public service at age 61 in 1984

Other Activities:    

Institution of Engineers:

Joined the Institution of Engineers in 1941, Chairman of Canberra Division in 1973. Member of the Heritage Panel since 1985, filled the positions of chairman, secretary and treasurer at various times. Member of the Excellence Committee on two occasions. In 1987 wrote a paper for the Diamond Jubilee of the Division covering the highlights since 1927, later expanded it to 2002. Member of a voluntary four-man group (2003-2004) known as ‘Dad’s Army’ conducting research and reporting work on Canberra’s water supply situation. Report and submission presented to Government.                                

Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority:

Organised the official ceremony for the opening of Cooma Airport and the closing of the gates controlling the Eucumbene Dam entrance to the Eucumbene-Tumut tunnel.   

Planned and coordinated the 3 day visit of HRH Price Philip to the Snowy in 1956 and the later 2 day visit by the Governor General.

Coordinated and edited the section dealing with Sir William Hudson’s career as Commissioner in the biographical work published by the Fellows of the Royal Society.

Initiated and organized annual reunions in Canberra of the former SMHEA for the last 31 years.           


Created a branch of the Returned Services League in Khancoban    and chairman for 1 year.

Secretary of Cabramurra Ski Club for 2 years.

Life member of the Probus Club of Canberra and treasurer             since 1994.

Member of the Federal Golf Club, Canberra, 1967 to 2004.

Member of the Canberra Bowling Club since 1997.

Listed in Who’s Who in Australia,1971.



Interviewee: Alexander Ross McIntyre        

Tape Numbers: IEA EHA: MP 10 to 15, Number of Tapes:  6, Sides A & B

Interviewer: Dr Margaret Park

Place of Interview: 32 Beauchamp Street, Deakin, ACT  2600

Dates of Interview: 14 and 19 May 2004

Restrictions on Use: Subject to checking by R. McIntyre (See Interviewee Release Form)


Log prepared using (make and model of machine): Sony Cassette-Corder TCM-15V;

Tape Conversion Rate: 30 minutes = 420 on counter, i.e. 1 minute = 14 on counter

Interview recorded on Sony DAT Recorder TCD D100 professional portable digital recorder  

Tape: IEA EHA: MP10, Side A




Proper Names & Keywords


Provides full name, date and place of birth.

Alexander Ross McIntyre, born on 21 May 1923 at Chatswood, NSW


Details of family migration to Australia - paternal grandparents settled in Sydney at Paddington with sons. Ross describes family economic situation in late 1880s and improvement over time. McIntyre and Curran, painters and decorators. Ross’s father’s details, commenced work at 12 yrs,10 months, working for a coachbuilder.

James Bilsland McIntyre

Dumbarton, Scotland


Barbara Joan (nee Smith)

McIntyre & Curran

Trocadero Dance Hall

Alexander John McIntyre

Paddingon Superior School

Frank Grimley


Details of maternal grandparents family migration to Australia.

Frederick Bonfield     

Annie Ross



Describes parents: their backgrounds and occupations - mother was a dressmaker, father a coachbuilder. Married in 1914 at Chatswood, Married at the Methodist Church at Chatswood. Moved to home at Roseville. Description of family home – “Cruachan” and locality – Roseville.

Blanche Emily Bonfield

Methodist Church, Chatswood


Shelleys (Builders)

William Atkins


Methods of travel on the north shore, railway, trams, walking, horse and sulky. Home deliveries: milk, grocer (t-ford truck), iceman, newspaperman and motor car, postman (Allen).

Public Transport

Private Transport


Continues with description of family home, mother’s work and household chores, more about deliveries. Includes thoughts on the Great Depression years. Backyard with fruit trees, vegetable garden, fernery and glasshouse

“Dad” tablets

“Ricketts Blue”

Great Depression

“Bubble and Squeak”




End Side A, Tape 10


Tape: IEA EHA: MP10,Side B




Proper Names & Keywords


Continues with description of ‘life at home’ – birds, the parrot.



Schooling - attended Roseville Primary School and Chatswood Intermediate High School for one year and then amalgamated with North Sydney to the North Sydney-Chatswood Junior High School (Greenwood School – near North Sydney Railway Station, now a shopping centre). Enjoyed science: chemistry and physics. Latin lecturer at Chatswood (Ian Idriess’s sister) and bunsen burner story.

Recalls French teacher (Ross spelled it as Duvoisier, but corrected it off the tape as [Dufenznel]     

Roseville Primary School

Chatswood Intermediate High School

North Sydney-Chatswood Junior High School Greenwood School

Miss Idriess (Ian Idriess’s sister)



Great Depression years. Knew of unemployment. An Uncle, Ross’s mother’s brother (a casual at the Telegraph newspaper) lived with McIntyre’s for many years. McIntyre’s had a telephone. Other Uncle set up workshop making items out of celluloid. Brother, Allen, won scholarship to Newington College.

Great Depression

Telegraph newspaper

Newington College

Allen William McIntyre


Recalls the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 from the northside, including the procession. Walked across the Bridge to the south side and back again. Major De Groot’s opening, part of the Depression years and its impact.

Fathers association with a political party, the New Guard.

Mr White’s bus routes closed down by Jack Lang – compares this to current NSW government policy on contract buses.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Major DeGroot

Jack Lang

New Guard

Mr White’s bus route


Activities at home - talks about early toys – a meccano set. Still owns his original set. First radio acquired around first broadcast of a cricket match. Describes the broadcast. House name: “Cruachan” – the war cry of the McIntyre Clan. Mother interested in boxing – enjoyed the dramatics over the radio.

Meccano sets

Radio Broadcasts






Early engineering influences – “The Wonder Book of Engineering Wonders”. Ross describes some of his early inventions – wind vane story. Sleeping out on the verandah – talks about who slept where in the family home.

The Wonder Book of Engineering Wonders

Electrical Engineering



High School years – from Intermediate certificate went to North Sydney Boys High School (not received with open arms). An engineering subject introduced – Mechanics – dynamics of engineering – class of about 7 students. Entered into NS Boys Hall of Fame in the 1970s (about 1976).        

Bob Harvey

North Sydney Boys High School


Hall of Fame


End Side B, Tape 1



Tape: IEA EHA: MP11, Side A



Friends from school days, Graham Keep – best man at Ross’s wedding. Physics teacher influences – received honours in exams. Mentions Bill Waterhouse, racing identity.

Finished high school at the end of 1939

Graham Keep

Bill Waterhouse



Second World War broke out during leaving certificate. Describes feeling of desperation within the community. Father helped out in civilian defence. Describes father’s invention of indoor bomb shelter.


Second World War

Bomb shelters


053- 141        

Attended university – Sydney University Faculty of Engineering, 4 year course from February 1940. Farming on Mary’s farm in between school years. Recalls course, length of day – complete dedication required. First year attended Tech College trade work on Saturdays. Worked on machining, lathes, boiler making, gas welding, pattern making. University fees – difficult time for parents, had to borrow money. Descriptive geometry – perspective drawing, very testing. Construction course – stresses in beams, girders, etc. Also did geology – significant for engineering work. Undertook some civil engineering work as well as mechanical and electrical engineering and astronomy (part of surveying work).


Peter Nichol Russell School of Engineering, Sydney University

Technical College, Ultimo


Lathe Work

Boiler Making

Gas Welding

Pattern Making

Descriptive Geometry

Civil Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Electrical Engineering



Specialised in Civil Engineering in 3rd and 4th years. Undertook some architecture. Talks about work at Canberra office in reference to an architect and design of CSIRO building. Surveying work – one week camp in Penrith area.

Geodesy experts worked on Snowy Scheme in relation to correct location of tunnels. Importance of understanding geology when engineering major construction works, foundation of dams and other structures. Story of St Francis Dam (California) in USA – problems with gypsum and fracturing.

Civil Engineering


CSIRO Building (Canberra)

Surveying Camp – Penrith area


Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme


St Francis Dam, USA


Returns to engineering course – required to pass before moving on to next year, no special requirements. Lived at home with parents until went away during wartime. Journey to and from university. Thoughts on teacher influences – Prof. Miller – proposer for joining Institution of Engineers.

RDF– Radio Detection Finding (Radar), interest in.

No women involved in engineering course. Women were in other courses – vet science, science, etc.

Public Transport


Professor Miller, Dean of Engineering School

Institution of Engineers

Radio Detection Finding (RDF) = Radar


Feelings about going off to war – taken in stride as they were young. Geoff Welch, student at North Sydney Boys, also did engineering, became an Assoc. Prof. of Engineering at University of New South Wales. Nickname = Scottie, Geoff main instigator in naming. Discusses reason for being called Ross, instead of first name, Alexander.

Second World War

Geoff Welch, Assoc. Prof. – University of NSW]

Scottie (nickname)


Describes the impact of the War on an engineering student – lack of tutorials, written notes, practical notes restricted, shortages of equipment and machine samples. IZOD test for steel.

Second World War



End Side A, Tape 11



Tape: IEA EHA: MP11, Side B



Describes surveying gear and damages. Thesis on structural steel failures – equipment problems during wartime. Coal rationing for shipping overseas, inability to fire boilers.

Surveying equipment

Wartime shortages






Professional engineering experience – worked at commercial workshop at St Peters (about 6-8 weeks). Manufactured patterns for castings, lathe work, general engineering workshop – a jobbing shop. End of 2nd year did survey work with his brother, Allen, DMR (Dept of Main Roads). Worked at the Tank Training Range at Singleton. In 3rd year - practical work for 3 months with Main Roads. Worked with Allen in Queensland. In charge of 25 mile section of road south of Charters Towers. Helped to build culverts, working on machinery and general survey work. Helped with future work in Snowy, etc. Completed University in September 1943 and worked with the Water Board until called up in December 1943.

Work Experience

W B Eastaway

Jobbing Shop

Department of Main Roads (DMR) (with Allen McIntyre)

Tank Training Range – Singleton

Charters Towers, Queensland

Water Board



War Service from December 1943. Applied to join Air Force, had medical at the Palladium at Wooloomooloo. Work at the Water Board (NSW) Central office – water supply group and design. Worked on the Warragamba Pipeline. Attestation date = 6 December 1943. Discusses why choice of RAAF – always interested in aircraft. Trained at the School of Administration at Melbourne University, Aircraftman Class 1 – describes courses and activities. Shared with Bruce Morrison, another NS Boys High School student. Describes polishing, cleaning accommodation.

Royal Australian Air Force

Palladium, Wooloomooloo

Water Board (NSW)

Warragamba Pipeline

RAAF training

Aircraftman Class 1

Bruce Morrison


Appointed a Pilot Officer on completion and posted to Melbourne Headquarters, office work in St Kilda and training work at Lara. Describes introduction to ‘submission’ work. Posted to No 5 Mobile Works Squadron – reforming at Melbourne Cricket Ground, Ramsford.

Pilot Officer

Lara Training Ground

St Kilda

No 5 Mobile Works Squadron

Ramsford (Melbourne Cricket Ground)



Trained and bivouacked at Liverpool, Sydney, awaiting for vessel to Islands. Departed Sydney, March 1944, disembarked in Lae, Papua New Guinea, remained there until Aitape. 500 personnel in the Squadron and a Commanding Officer (Squadron leader), describes different officers. Ross was a Construction Officer. Story about Ed Tull, powder monkey, and Anzac Day march in Canberra.

Liverpool, Sydney

No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (ACS)

Lae, Papua New Guinea

Aitape, Papua New Guinea

Construction Officer

Ed Tull


Unit support at Noemfoor fighter strip, other Construction units including his brother Allen’s – No 1. Describes meeting up with his brother, Allen at Labuan (British Borneo) and Ralph Biddulph. Death of Allen’s wife.

No 1 Airfield Construction Squadron


Allen McIntyre

Ralph Biddulph

Roseville District Cricket Club


End Side B, Tape 11






Tape: IEA EHA: MP12, Side A



Assault landing at Aitape as described by, Sydney Kildea, Chairman of the 5ACS (Flying Shovels) group.

Speaks about feelings about war and its effects on young soldiers and engineers.

Sydney Kildea

5 ACS (Flying Shovels) Group

Aitape, Papua New Guinea

Aitape Assault Landing


Talks about preparations for construction work. Use of LST (Landing Ships Tank). Difficulties getting equipment through to the aerodrome. Discusses materials and methods used to build the airstrips.

Landing Ships Tank

Airstrip Construction

Pierced Steel Planks (PSP)


Noemfoor Island, a coral island, quarried the coral and used it for the bomber airstrip. Clearing of coconut trees slowed down the construction of the airstrip. Worked 24 hour shifts until the strips were serviceable. Talks about regular bombing by Japanese. Airstrip was 10,000 feet long by 100 foot wide made with crushed coral surface. Describes regrading work at night using Army searchlights. Story about wiring home for sunglasses.

Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea

Airstrip Construction

Coral Quarrying

Coconut Tree Plantations



Operations on the islands organised by Americans, provided transport, rations, etc. Describes differences in rations. Describes the crater of a Daisy Cutter Bomb – 50 feet in diameter. Safety concerns.



Daisy Cutter Bomb


Description of Americans base, including PX Shop (post exchange) at Biak. No 5 ACS worked on airstrip maintenance, describes type of work. Talks about the level of noise and how it affected hearing. Later diagnosed by Veterans Affairs as deaf.

American Base

PX Shop

Biak, Dutch New Guinea


Morotai  Island,

Dutch New Guinea


End side A, Tape 12



Tape: IEA EHA: MP12, Side B



Describes meeting with brother, Allen McIntyre, No 1 ASC, on way to Labuan Island. Part of convoy near large Japanese bases and near Philippines. Air cover night and day. Landed at Labuan, difficulties with getting airstrip serviceable.

Labuan Island,

British Borneo

Airstrip Construction



Decisions on airstrip locations – intelligence reports.

Describes squadrons reporting to Wing Headquarters – design group would provide advice as to prevailing winds and materials available.


Intelligence Reports

Airstrip Locations


Wing Headquarters


Volunteered to take plant operators and equipment to Kuching to service the aerodrome to bring in DC3s to carry out the POWs. Describes journey by mother ship of torpedo boats. Story about locating the aerodrome with help of a rickshaw driver and meeting armed Japanese soldiers.

Story of unscheduled arrival of Japanese plane with senior soldiers on board, guarded them until Military Police arrived.

Kuching, British Borneo

Prisoners of War (POWs)


Japanese Soldiers




Discharged as a Flying Officer at end of 1945. Returned to Australia via Dutch Catalina Flying Boat – 8 hour trips each day. Describes health upon return as well as general health and nutritional issues in wartime.

Flying Officer

Catalina Flying Boat

Health Issues

Food Provisions


Describes feelings about war in general and the war in the Pacific. Discusses work experience acquired during wartime and effects upon future career. Settling back at home – living with parents. Story about SPAM.

War in the Pacific

War Experiences

Returning Home



Returned to work at the Water Board (Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board), same position, same desk as Professional Officer General Scale (£397 per year). Began to look for other work mid 1946.


Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board (Water Board)

Professional Officer General Scale


Additional qualifications gained via correspondence in the local government area, completed the health inspector’s course after the war.

Local Government

Health Inspector’s Course


End side B, Tape 12



Tape: IEA EHA: MP13, Side A



Local government work continued. Gained a local government shire engineers ticket. Describes meat inspection aspect of the course (health inspector). Applied for a job at Nundle Shire (NW of Newcastle). Allen worked as shire engineer at Patrick Plains (Singleton).

Local Government

Shire Engineer

Health Inspector’s Course

Nundle Shire


Applied for work at the Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation in August 1946. First job in C’wealth Public Service. Work entailed aerodromes, runway locations, etc. carried on from wartime service to civil service. Position as an Airport Engineer, located in Central Office, Melbourne. Boarded with Mac Beavis (Works Head Office), university colleague at Hawthorne.

Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation, Melbourne (DCA)

Airport Engineer

Mac Beavis

Hawthorne, Melbourne


Describes organisation of the DCA. Director-General located at Head Office in Little Collins Street. Worked under Chief Aerodrome Engineer. First task at Hobart – planning a new airport. Surveying pine forest for Hobart airport.


Little Collins Street

Hobart Airport



Work in New South Wales on country aerodromes – constructing new aerodromes in country towns. Investigated appropriate sites. Describes use of his compass and pace method. Sent to Norfolk Island re: condition of airstrip.

New South Wales

Country Aerodromes

Compass and Pace Surveys

DC3 aircraft

Norfolk Island

St Barnabas Church


Describes story behind meeting his wife, Mary Elizabeth McLeod, includes memories of school holidays on the property. Became engaged in 1949, married in 1951.

Describes Mary’s wedding dress and wedding party.

Honeymooned – train to Sydney and plane to Southport (Goldcoast).

Mary Elizabeth McLeod Cullinga, NSW

Ross Memorial Presbyterian Church

Murrumburrah, NSW

Southport, Qld (Goldcoast)


Seconded to Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Had worked at DCA for 4 years and wanted to ‘do better’. Snowy offered this opportunity. Discusses story of secondment to Snowy Authority (1950) and ‘unwritten’ arrangement between Department secretaries re: staffing. Left DCA as Class 3 Engineer, downgraded to a Class 2 at Snowy. Lived at Roseville, NSW, traveled to work at Alexandria, worked in Design office, mainly road design. Purchase of plant equipment for Guthega and tunnel.

Snowy Mountains Hydro electic-Authority

Roseville, NSW

Alexandria, NSW

Guthega, NSW




End Side A, Tape 13



Tape: IEA EHA: MP13, Side B



Continues with Snowy Mountains Authority and decision to go with contract staff instead of day labour. Commissioner Sir William Hudson, head of the Authority. Describes feelings about working with the Authority and the lifestyle it provided.

Descriptions of the types of houses constructed (Italian builder, Pasotti)


Snowy Mountains Hydro electic-Authority

Comissioner Sir William Hudson

Pasotti House (builder)

Cabramurra, NSW

Tantangara, NSW

Cooma, NSW

Khancoban, NSW





Impressions of Sir William Hudson – a man of impeccable integrity, very approachable and friendly.

Children at school and descriptions of class sizes.

Sir William Hudson


Heather McIntyre

Joy McIntyre

Dugal McIntyre


Community relations, social interactions at the Snowy. Formation of groups – little theatre group, baking group; Cabramurra and Khancoban tennis courts; Mary’s involvement with Country Womens Association (CWA); men’s group = Toreadors (speaking group).       

The Snowy Community

Country Womens Association (CWA)

Toreador Speakers Group


Describes changes of job positions at the Snowy, began as Class 2 Engineer to Plant Engineer (1951) . More interested in building dams – joined major projects group. Sent to USA for training = Colorado, California, Kansas and South Dakota. Learned how to organise work programs via contracts. Worked with the Bureau of Reclamation for 10 months. On return was sent to Cabramurra as Office Engineer. Spent 4 years in Cabramurra. Position involved administration of the contracts of tunnels and power station.          

Class 2 Engineer

Plant Engineer

Dam construction

United States of America

Bureau of Reclamation

Office Engineer

Eucumbene to Tumut Pond Tunnel

Tumut Pond Dam

Tumut 1 Power Station


Talks about use of immigrant labour at the Snowy, also the use of land rovers. Sir William Hudson invited Ross to organise an airport at Cooma and the opening ceremony. Ceremony for the closing of the gates at Eucumbene/Tumut tunnel and the 3-day tour by the Duke of Edinburgh (1956).

2 day tour by the Govenor General. Working relations with Sir William Hudson. Introduction of the use of seat belts at the Snowy. Telephone system at the Snowy. Invited all Members of Parliament to the Snowy at one time.

Immigration and the Snowy Mountains Scheme

Land Rovers

Cooma Airport

Eucumbene/Tumut tunnel gate closing ceremony

Duke of Edinburgh visit

Govenor General tunnel

Seat Belts

Telephone system

Members of Parliament

Sir William Hudson


Reported to the Chief Engineer, Major Contracts who was responsible to the Assistant Commissioner, Tom Lang. Spent 10 months in Cooma and worked as Acting Chief Engineer.

Tom Lang

Acting Chief Engineer



End side B, Tape 13



Tape: IEA EHA: MP14, Side A



Continues with work at Snowy Mountains Authority. Describes his family’s reactions to living/growing up in the Snowy community.

Snowy Mountains community life


Describes engineering and organisational skills learned at the Snowy.

Work and Skills experience


Career move to Canberra (1966) for family reasons and Snowy was drawing to a close. Ross was Senior Engineer at Khancoban and majority of work near completion. Applied for Assistant Director of Works in Canberra. Discusses difficulties with appeals against his appointment. Notional position at Port Moresby, Class 5 Engineer. Director was Aldo Ferrari.


Commonwealth Department of Works – Canberra (1966)

Assistant Director

Port Moresby

Aldo Ferrari


Feelings about arriving at the Canberra office. Difficulties continued for many years due to position appointed to and appeals. First task was Corin Dam, preparing the foundation (earth and rock fill dam). Worked with engineer, Graham Kelleher. Later involved in environmental work, won a Churchill Scholarship

Commonwealth Department of Works – Canberra

Corin Dam

Graham Kelleher


In charge of multi-storey buildings, such as Canberra Hospital, Woden Hospital, roads, schools and houses, as well as suburb development. Also in charge of an industrial undertaking section consisting of a sawmill, a quarry and a hot-mix plant and cements product factory.

Canberra Hospital

Woden Hospital



Suburb Development

Industrial Section


The Mugga Quarry (side of Mt Mugga) supplied top class rock for the Tidbinbilla 72ft. dish foundation base.

Mugga Quarry


Graham Kelleher


Government developed the Kingston Sawmill, the quarry and the cement products group to manufacture timber, paving materials, concrete, etc. to build the suburbs of Canberra. Government Committee (under Peacock) reviewed undertakings and industries sold to private enterprise.

Kingston Sawmill

Cement Products Group

Andrew Peacock, MP


Contractors constructed the multi-storey buildings, no longer day labourers. Day labourers undertook the maintenance work on houses and roads. Also in charge of Canberra Brickworks, Yarralumla, also located at Mitchell In the 1960s.


Day Labour

Road Construction

Canberra Brickworks




Describes liaison role with the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC, instituted in 1958), an organisation similar to Snowy Mountains Authority. Liaised with Bill Andrews (was in same Squadron during the war), one of the staff at the NCDC. Talks about the relationship between NCDC and the Department of Works.

National Capital Development Commission


Bill Andrews

Sir John Overall

Gordon Shannon

Malcolm Latham


Interaction of Canberra Department of Works with other Departments. Attracting engineers to Canberra, many came from tropical climate work, such as Papua New Guinea. Ross offered to take all available prepared to move to Canberra.

Works and other Commonwealth Government Departments


Acton Hostel Accommodation



Talks about investigative work in relation to Contractor’s claims at the Rona Power Station, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Moved into Deakin house in 1966, describes the search for the house.

Rona Power Station

Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea

Deakin, Canberra


End Side A, Tape 14



Tape: IEA EHA: MP14, Side B




Continues with changes in Canberra. Describes neighbour’s opposition to Black Mountain Tower. Formed a special group to construct Telstra Tower, NCDC didn’t want the Tower, opposed to the last, nor did environmentalists. Head Office architects involved. Design was done in conjunction with Telstra, discusses difficulties with the site and the politics.

Discusses other projects = ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy). Worked with Head Office architects. Talks about expansion plans and the redesign to develop building outwards.

Black Mountain Tower

PMG’s Department

Telecom/Telstra Tower

Rear Admiral Davis

Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) (mid 1970s)



Describes attending the Administrative Staff College and breadth of course. Describes the arrangement of the Commonwealth Department of Works. Introduction of project management – formation of special committee, met in Sydney – forced responsibilities downwards, duty statements.

Administrative Staff College

Alan Reiher

Commonwealth Department of Works

Project Management

Duty Statements


2000 Admin. professionals and tradesmen in the ACT located in a variety of offices. Regional office in Woden. Depots in Belconnen (building), Dickson (building), Fyshwick (laboratory, building section and plant). ‘Barton barns – 2 storey offices (opposite Anglican theological college)

Staffing in ACT

Depot locations

Woden, ACT

Barton Barns


Effects of green bans on construction work, union representations, strikes, etc.

Trade Unions


Budgeting for the region. Women became more involved in the 1970s. Students were brought in for work experience, including the Director General’s son.


Student work experience


Working as an engineer ‘hands on’. Googong Dam overtopped twice in 3 days. Describes meshing work to secure the Dam.

Googong Dam


Bendoora Pipeline under construction when Ross arrived at Canberra works. Describes reasons for construction. Describes the terrain between Bendoora Dam and Stromlo – steep and rugged – a battle to get the pipes in. Design, construction and management of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre (sewage treatment plant). Describes workings of the plant.

Bendoora Pipeline

Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre

Sewage Treatment Plant

Gas line


Changes in the public service and Ross’s reasons for retirement in 1984 at the age of 61. Alan Reiher moved out of Director General’s position replaced by a non-professional.

Public Service

Alan Reiher


End Side B, Tape 14



Tape: IEA EHA: MP15, Side A




Acted as Director in Brisbane for 3 months in 1983. Ross asked to take position on permanently but refused. Upon return worked in Head Office for approx. 6 months and then retired.

Queensland Regional Office

Head Office


Describes feelings about changes that took place in the Department. Speaks about importance of corporate knowledge of specialists. Use of computers and effects of email on the lack of recording of information.

Departmental Change

Corporate Knowledge




Member of Institution of Engineers for 63 years. Talks about reasons for joining and significance of the Institution and how it has changed. Also discusses how the profession itself has changed, e.g. designing concrete beams from scratch.

Reasons for becoming involved with Heritage Panel; mentions Bill Minty (formerly of NCDC) and his work on Canberra’s Engineering Heritage. Held all positions at various times on the Heritage Panel in Canberra.

Institution of Engineers

Professsional changes

Heritage Panel (Canberra)

Bill Minty

Canberra’s Engineering Heritage Book



Describes work of the Heritage Panel = Heritage Week activities, open up Cotter Pumping Station, etc. Commemoration heritage work = plaques.

Heritage Panel (Canberra)

Cotter Pumping Station

Kingston Power Station

Heritage Plaques

Rob Breen


Describes the volunteer group, Dad’s Army, a group of retired engineers (formed in 2003) at an Institution meeting. Discussion around water restrictions and a population of 350,000. Research conducted and presentations made. Dad’s Army have spoken with ACTEWAGL and lodged a report with the Government in December 2003. Also lodged a subsequent submission in February 2004. Raises the issue of environmental flows and the Cotter.

Dad’s Army (2003)

Reg Goldfinch

Ken Johnson

Charles Speldewinde

Water Restrictions


Googong Dam

Cotter Dam


Concerns for practicing engineers and the issue of insurance costs and professional indemnity. Offers advice for young engineers today. Changes in work styles, dual incomes, relocations and lifestyle expectations.

Engineering Profession





Describes story of his mother’s twin sister (Eva) and the refusal of the family to attend her wedding due to a perceived scandal. Family never reconciled and Ross never met his Aunt Eva. Events which took place over 90 years ago.

Aunt Eva Bonfield


Ross talks about his career highlights – Snowy Mountains work, gives thanks for Mary’s support. Didn’t feel as close to workers in Canberra due to his position, but gained much satisfaction from his work in ACT – a very busy time.

Career Highlights:

Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority



A busy retirement (retired in 1984).




End Side A, Tape 15



Tape: IEA EHA: MP15, Side B




Continues with retirement activities, including genealogy,  (Ross has prepared his family history in a written document), gardening, Probus Club, recent ill health (late 2003) but recovering. Involved in organising the annual reunion of the staff of the Snowy Mountains Authority (32nd Reunion in November 2004 – always held on the 1st Sunday in November) held in Corroboree Park, Ainslie. Assisted by his former ACT Works Secretary, Pauline Rootes, also worked at the Snowy. Describes the event proceedings.




Probus Club of Canberra

Snowy Mountains Authority Reunion

Corroboree Park, Ainslie

Pauline Rootes


End of Interview session on 14 May 2004



Additional interview session on 19 May 2004


Tape continues at


Speaks about his induction into the Canberra Engineering Hall of Fame, an initiative marking the Canberra Division’s 75th anniversary. Talks about the engineers inducted and the occasion to mark the anniversary and Hall of Fame in November 2002. Certificates presented by representative of the ACT Government. The Hall of Fame consists of photograph and a brief statement to be placed on the National Headquarters in Canberra. Thanks his family for their support in his long-term career, especially his wife Mary.

Canberra Engineering Hall of Fame

Canberra Division – 75th anniversary (2002)

Allan Jones

Colonel Owen

Sir John Butters

George Redmond
Professor Brian O’Keeffe


Raises the issue of the work of the engineer in the  community - needs to be acknowledged.

Engineering Profession



The ‘Red R System’ – an ongoing volunteer engineering service in Africa/Asia.

Volunteer Engineers –



Describes the working boat depot at East Basin and its services. A new work boat was acquired in the mid-1970s and christened it the Marion Mahoney, the wife of Walter Burley Griffen. Describes the Scrivener Dam and its gate system which was serviced by the Marion Mahoney, and the use of floating gates during the service. Also used to inspect structures and walls around the Lake.

Department of Works

Boat Depot, East Basin

Marion Mahoney – working boat

Scrivener Dam

Floating Gates





End Side B, Tape 15

End of interview session on 19 May 2004



Robert J Nairn (1936 -    ), Civil Engineer

Biographical Notes

Prepared by Dr Margaret Park from the oral history interview conducted on 20 July 2011 for the Engineering Heritage Canberra, from Bob Nairn’s CV and work history. 5 August 2011

Birth & Family: 

Born 11 January 1936, Morgan, South Australia

Bob grew up in a small village on the Murray River. His mother, Marie Louise Nairn nee Adam, was born in London, England and came to Australia with her mother and sister about 1910. She lived in South Australia on a farming property. His father, Robert Alexander Nairn, lived in Morgan, South Australian and was an electrician. His parents met at a ball in Haslam, a local farming centre, during the Depression.


Attended the local primary school in Morgan until ten when sent to boarding school in Adelaide (St Peters College). Bob then enrolled in an engineering degree at Adelaide University with the assistance of a Commonwealth Scholarship. Bob completed his engineering degree in 1959 and ten years later an economics degree.


Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) University of Adelaide 1959

Bachelor of Economics (Public Finance, Sociology) University of Adelaide 1969    


Fellow, Engineers Australia

Life Fellow, Institute of Transportation Engineers

Work History:

Jan 1957 – Dec 1969: Bob worked with the South Australian Highways Department on the design, construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. He also worked on Metropolitan Adelaide Transportation Plan. Prior to completing his engineering degree Bob worked in the engineering laboratory at the University of Adelaide and then with the Highways Department.

Jan 1962 – Oct 1963: Bob wanted to extend his engineering experience and took up a position with the Foundation Engineering Corporation in Toronto, Canada. He worked as consultant designing freeway interchanges and gained valuable experience in transport planning and engineering. Upon his return to Australia Bob took up his former position with the Highways Department of South Australia.

Jan 1969 – Dec 1970: Appointed to the South Australian Minister of Transport’s Office as a Technical Advisor.

Jan 1971 - Dec 1972: After completing his economics degree Bob ventured into a more managerial role with the consultancy group, Kinnaird Hill de Rohan and Young Pty Ltd. He became their Feasibility Group Leader and had a primary responsibility of managing the firm’s promotional activities and land development projects.

Jan 1973 - Mar 1976: Bob had a previous working relationship with the American transport planning engineers, De Leuw Cather and was asked to joined De Leuw Cather of Australia Pty. Ltd. to open up a new Canberra office. During this busy time in Canberra and for regional Australia, Bob was Director responsible for the Company’s ACT operations and a variety of multi-disciplinary transport planning operations in Australia.

Mar 1976 - Sep 1999: Deciding to open up his own consultancy, Bob established R.J. Nairn and Partners Pty. Ltd based in Canberra. His firm specialised in traffic engineering and transport planning and economics and carried out projects Australia-wide and in thirty overseas countries.

Oct 1999 – Nov 2003: When Bob decided to wind up R J Nairn and Partners, the firm was purchased by Scott Wilson Pty Ltd, a British engineering firm. Bob’s contractual arrangement was to stay on for four years. During this period he was the Managing Director of Scott Wilson Nairn Pty. Ltd. and was responsible to its Board for all operations of the Company. They provided traffic and transport consulting services to the Scott Wilson Asia-Pacific Group and operated extensively in China and Korea.

Nov 2003 – Present: Completing his obligatory four years with Scott Wilson Nairn, Bob set himself up as a sole operator consulting company, Bob Nairn Consultant Pty. Ltd. He works on project-based contract work in Australia and overseas.


Interviewee: Robert J Nairn

CDs: 6 = 5 hours, 38 minutes recording time

Interviewer: Dr Margaret Park

Place of Interview: 13 Tanumbirini Street, Hawker, ACT

Dates of Interview: 20 July 2011

Restrictions on Use: None - see Interview Release Form

Interview recorded on Sony DAT Recorder TCD D100 professional portable digital recorder

CD1 = 58 minutes




Proper Names & Keywords



Interview introduction. Robert J Nairn of 13 Tanumbirini Street, Hawker, ACT, born in Morgan, South Australia on 11 January 1936.

Morgan, South Australia


Family Background – details of mother and father and grandparents on both sides. Father – Robert Alexander Nairn, born in Broken Hill, New South Wales, an electrician by trade, operated a service station and road house in Morgan. Mother - Marie Louise Adam, born in London, England. Came to Australia in about 1910/12, first in Hobart then adopted to a farming family in Haslam, (Streakey Bay) in South Australia. Describes father’s work during Depression years and where he met his wife. Described what they did during the Depression and what it was like during those years.

Father: Robert Alexander Nairn

Mother: Marie Louise Adam


Haslam, South Australia

Streakey Bay, South Australia




Grandparents on his father’s side – where they were born, where they met and their lives and work.      

Kapunda, South Australia

Duncan (grandmother’s maiden name)


Grandparents on his mother’s side – grandfather was a Russian diplomat; grandmother and children came out to Australia but returned to England after WW1, left her daughters in Australia. Talks about his mother and her sister’s adoption.


Adams (English family)

World War 1

World War 2

Forgotten Australians


Great-grandparents and Nairn family description. Alexander Nairn was a mathematician and wanted to prove Einstein’s theory – big challenge of early 1900s. He travelled to China to view an eclipse for this purpose – caught up in the Boxer Rebellion. Accepted to Royal Society for his writings on his travels on horseback from Canton to Shanghai.

Nairn Family History


Alexander Nairn


Royal Society


Scottish family were business people. Describes family – 13 in grandmother’s family. Some dentists and farmers. Describes small village of Morgan in South Australia. Uncle Dave became the village undertaker; Uncle Colin ran the dry cleaning store.

Nairn Family continued

Morgan, South Australia


Family life during the war years (WW2) in Morgan. Describes his first cousins as brothers and sisters. Nairn family arrived in Australia about mid 1850s.Talks about ship voyages at that time and infant mortality rates.

World War 2

Ship Passages (19th Century)

Infant Mortality



The Russian family connection – still a mystery. Traced link back to Russia via National Archives, London. Great-grandmother published short stories.

Russian/Austrian Family Connection

National Archives, London

Adam (grandmother’s surname)


Earliest memory – hearing Menzies declaring war [Sept 1939]. Describes growing up in Morgan = going to school, fishing and swimming in the Murray River, fossil hunting, finding Aboriginal burials. Mentions Charles Sturt in 1844 recorded Aboriginal deaths from imported diseases ‘which travelled down the river before any white man came’. Recalls reenactment of Sturt’s visit, followed by an evening ball.

World War 2

Morgan, South Australia

School years

Murray River

Aboriginal Burials

Charles Sturt

Morgan Hall


The life of the Murray River – Murray River Cod and other fish including description of Murray River catfish. Catching a Carp. Weather and other conditions around Morgan and the River.

Murray River

Murray River Cod



Conditions in Morgan and vicinity. Grandfather had a mill as Morgan produced wheat at this time. He ran a general store and had a paddle steamer. Also set up electricity supply for the town and how Bob’s father became an electrician. Describes signal to town to go to bed as switching to low power. Early home refrigeration.

Morgan, South Australia


General Store

Paddle Steamer

Electricity (diesel powered)

Home Refrigeration


Young Australia League – youth organisation for young males and females. Father went to Europe and came back with coins. This started Bob’s coin collection. Schools days during War time – slit trenches, air raid drills, aircraft identification. Recalled spitfire crash. Collecting metal for war effort. Playing on wheat stacks. Morgan was a busy place during the war – petrol rationing and gas producers. Local butcher, his racehorses and horseracing. Father was secretary of the local racing association.

Young Australia League

Collecting Coins

World War 2


Morgan, South Australia

Horse Racing


Growing up with cousins as an only child. Talks about schooling – parading, marching, singing the national anthem; limited schools in local area; at 10 was sent to boarding school in Adelaide

Schooling continued

Boarding School

Adelaide, South Australia


Describes attending boarding school in Adelaide at one of the oldest schools in Adelaide – St Peters. Subjects and teachers. Traditions of education – if rural ‘eldest gets the farm’; ‘if good at maths you did engineering’; ‘if you were reasonable enough at school but not good at anything then you went into the army’. Thoughts of an army career, keen on cadets and followed up with CMF and National Service.

Schooling continued

Boarding School


St Peters College

Education and Careers




Beginning studies for engineering career. After St Peters went to St Marks at Adelaide University. Attended the engineering school. Describes working in its laboratory and working with the honours students; describes courses and studies. Learned to understanding the first principles of engineering. Learned directness – as an engineer ‘you had to find a solution’. Commonwealth Scholarship and small income for his laboratory work.

Adelaide University

Engineering Degree

Commonwealth Scholarship

Laboratory Work



Work experience, first at the university laboratories, then with the South Australia Highways Department during university studies. Worked in the Bridge section learning drafting, then moved into design and detailing project work. Stayed on after graduation. Influenced by his uncle, Frank Jackman, the Commissioner of Highways. His cadetship, working hours, studies and engineering environment. Describes length and breadth of engineering course, included geology in his engineering studies.

Work Experience

Laboratory Work

Highways Department, South Australia

Frank Jackman

Engineering Course


End of CD 1



CD2 = 60 minutes




Continued with engineering course work including importance of understanding geology. Using this in his work in Canada. Different to Australian geology.

Geology and Engineering


Australian Geology


Project based work with the Highways Department, SA. Talks about his final year at Adelaide University including research on Parsons and turbine engine. Another research exercise: assessing digital versus analogue computers. Major project: build an analogue computer to analyse multi-cell box culvert structures; conducted tests.

Highways Department, South Australia

Adelaide University


Turbine Engine


Box Culverts


After graduation continued work with the Highways Department. Describes working there and some of the staff.

Bachelor of Engineering

Highways Department, South Australia


Frank Jackman – a gentleman and an engineer. Describes his Aunt and Uncle Jackman. Adelaide Society. Continued with Highways Department.

Frank Jackman

Adelaide, South Australia


Country project work and conducting rotations within the Department and in country areas. Worked in the field four days then back to the office on Friday. Work involved reporting to a foreman and checking on materials and machinery. Describes the details of this work and living and working on site. Problems with material theft.

Yorke Peninsula

Bridge and Road Construction/Maintenance


Negotiating with land owners – describes process involved.

Research project to test the grid roller and build roads with the resulting material. Mentions project in Whyalla and Aboriginal cultural issues. Tested a nuclear density meter.

Land Ownership and Road Construction

Grid Roller testing


Aboriginal Culture

Nuclear Density Meter


Opportunity to test the meter when newly constructed road was damaged by BHP equipment following a rail derailment and lifting engine back onto track.

Nuclear Density Meter



Describes meeting Jennifer Ann Marr on a blind date arranged by Pam Dryden, daughter of Jules Dryden, Chief Engineer for South Australia. Jenny was a nurse at a nearby hospital. Engaged for two years. Married in the hospital chapel on 6 January 1962. Jenny’s family background            (Adelaide).

Jennifer Ann Marr (Jenny)

Jules Dryden

Pam Dryden

Eudunda, South Australia

Adelaide, South Australia



Moved to Canada to live and work. Describes applying for jobs and getting a job on the first day. Planned on arrival in Canada in early March when engineering jobs became available. Prior to Canada, spent short time in England visited Jenny’s sister, then New York. Had to break service in Highways Department

Toronto, Canada

Foundation Engineering Corporation (FENCO)


Asked for permission to break service in the South Australia

Highways Department. Relates story about an opportunity to meet the Ontario Highways Commissioner.

Ontario Highways Commissioner

Highway 401


Describes working in overpass construction and interchanges. One with 16 bridges and 10 lanes in one direction and 6 in other direction. Responsibility for the geometrics. Had team of surveyors to work with undertaking all the calculations. Introduced to computer print-out for testing accuracy of computers on this project.

Bridge and Overpass Construction

Interchange Construction


Geometric Calculations


Frederick R Harris


Transport planning work in Canada. Describes projects – new bridge in Nova Scotia. Difference between former work in Highways Department in South Australia and working in a Canadian company, especially in concrete design work. Checking and managing tasks and first principle issues. Planned a freeway underneath Casa Loma in Toronto and subsequent public reaction and protest stopped the construction of this freeway. Changed perspective on the way an engineer worked in society.

Transport Planning

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Concrete Design

Freeway Planning

Casa Loma, Toronto

Public Participation



Describes other work and projects during Canadian period.

Served with Royal Canadian Engineers – lectured civilians on nuclear survival practices during Cold War period. Concerned over Cuban Missile Crisis. Prime target was hydro-electricity plant at Niagara Falls. Decided it was time to go home to Australia and took on a second job to raise sufficient funds to travel home.


Royal Canadian Engineers

Cold War

Nuclear Survival Practices

Cuban Missile Crisis



Jenny and Bob had one child, Robert, at this time. Both had planned to work but Jenny was pregnant on ship to Canada and had Robert in Toronto. Left Toronto in October 1963. Travelled during summer months every weekend. Toured to places such as New York, Washington DC, Detroit, Ottawa and Montreal

Toronto, Canada

Family Life



Travelling home to Australia. Drove to Vancouver via the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Met President Kennedy in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (shook hands at the airport). Then onto Yellowstone National Park and Seattle before arriving at Vancouver. Sold car and returned to Australia via ship. Sailed into Sydney Harbour, picked up by parents and travelled back to SA via Canberra.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

President J F Kennedy

Yellowstone National Park

Seattle, Washington, USA

Sydney Harbour, Sydney, Australia

Canberra, ACT

End of CD 2



CD3 = 58 minutes




Parents met them in New Zealand on the way home to Australia. Returned to work at the Highways Department in Adelaide and posted to Whyalla, provided with a house and set up house and garden. Described the town and BHP’s role in the town. Joined the Freemasonry Lodge. Joined other clubs and organisations.

Highways Department, South Australia

Whyalla, South Australia





Part-time lecturer at South Australian Institute of Mines. Lectured in structural engineering and surveying. Also was the examiner and conducted a course in structure for naval architects and mine engineers. Enjoyed working with the students and lecturing. Important to provide certainty and ‘the first principles’.

South Australian Institute of Mines

Structural Engineering


Naval Architecture

Mine Engineering



Learning to fly light aircraft. Describes first experience with CMF and viewing trenches from the air. Used aircraft to fly to find missing grader. Learned to fly on a Cesna.






Working with Aboriginal people at Whyalla and understanding Aboriginal culture. Relates story about bone pointing.

Aboriginal Culture

Whyalla, South Australia

23.05         -25.45

Returned to Adelaide to live and worked in the planning section of the Highways Department. Enrolled in an economics course. Used economics in engineering via the planning process for engineering projects. Investigated benefits of road-building/maintenance/construction. Talks about federal grants road scheme and planning five years ahead.

University of Adelaide

Economics Degree

Planning and Engineering

Planning Department, South Australia



Worked as a liaison with the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads (CBR) and the Roads Grant Act of 1968. Describes formulas and funding sources for roads. Recalls Norm Fisher, economist with the CBR in Melbourne, and later head of CIT in Canberra. As liaison officer had to be innovative and examine all the issues.

Commonwealth Bureau of Roads

Roads Grant Act of 1968

Norm Fisher


Transport Studies work. Seconded to Metro Adelaide Transport Study (MATS) run by US company – De Leuw Cather. Appointed to Minister of Transport’s Office as a public service appointment as a technical adviser.

Metro Adelaide Transport Study (MATS)

 De Leuw Cather

Transport Ministry


Highways Department was commissioned by Minister to explain MATS to the public. Sent to a public speaking course to give talks to clubs, societies, organisations, local government. Involved in process of public consultation as it was then. Describes talk given to the Communist Party, South Australia, as part of this process. Talk to Rotary Club involved TV interview awaiting Cabinet decision on MATS.

Public Speaking

Public Consultation

Communist Party, South Australia

Rotary Club

Television appearance


No decision made – Dunstan government now in power. Conducted a further review. Asked to attend Committee meetings and report back – beginning of a ‘true consultation process’. Describes meeting people with causes, such as protesting against aircraft noise.

Dunstan Government

Public Consultation


Premier Dunstan brought over a US transport planning consultant, Bruening, to conduct a review. Seconded to arrange his itinerary in South Australia and introduce him and his team.

Premier Dunstan

Bruening, US Transport Planner


Describes involvement with transport modelling and computers. Fortran computer language. Did an economic evaluation study on computer. Mentions Wilbur Smith & Co’s software package. Later known as TRIPS. Describes punch cards and working with CSIRO computer in Canberra. Later controlled by computer in Maths Department at Adelaide University.

Computers - Fortran

Transport Modelling

Wilbur Smith & Co

TRIPS (software package)

De Leuw Cather

CSIRO computer - Canberra


De Leuw Cather’s software called TRANPLAN. Commissioned by DOT [Department of Transport] in Washington, US and eventually used in Australia.

De Leuw Cather




Continued with work in Minister’s Department but wanted more technical involvement; interested in undertaking consultancy work. Public Service becoming too political. Began to submit CV to companies. Relates connection to Malcolm Kinnaird, a classmate at university, and invitation to join firm. Describes his role as Development Manager. Talks about Malcolm Kinnaird being a visionary and his style, including being a yachtsman.

Consultancy Work

Kinnaird Hill de Rohan & Young

Malcolm Kinnaird

America’s Cup Yacht Race

Jim Hardy


End of CD 3



CD4 = 59.35 minutes




Continues talking about role as Development Manager for Kinnaird. Monitored every block of land in Adelaide CBD [central business district]. Also conducted an economic evaluation of Western Australia mine. Involved in major planning exercises, including a new oval for Adelaide. Looked at reuse of the West Terrace Cemetery.

Development Manager

Kinnaird Hill de Rohan & Young


Western Australia

Mining Boom

West Lakes Oval, Adelaide

West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide


Involved in planning West Lakes centre and housing development. Returned to reviewing adjacent area for a new oval. Doubted whether parking/people movement and access in and out would be adequate.

West Lakes, Adelaide


Major project at Ayers Rock (Uluru) 1970-71. Talks about the Aboriginal groups living the in area. Describes the project and the various government departments and organisations consulted with. Engineering works included roads, accommodation, infrastructure – undertook computer modelling. Investigated flora and fauna. Problems with damage to Aboriginal rock paintings. Researched information on Aboriginal history, art, culture and customs. Reviewed all preservation issues to achieve balance. Talks about land rights issues.

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory

Aboriginal Culture

Charles Mountford



Had worked with Larry Dondanville (De Leuw Cather) who left an open invitation to join them. Concerned with Kinnaird’s ambition Returned to talking about time with Kinnaird Hill de Rohan & Young; worked with critical path planning – innovative planning management tool. Project: Darwin abattoirs.

De Leuw Cather

Larry Dondanville

Malcolm Kinnaird

Kinnaird Hill de Rohan & Young

Critical Path Planning

Darwin Abattoirs


Presented with an opportunity to move to Canberra and establish an office for De Leuw Cather in January 1973. Previously living in Melbourne. Firm had road design, management and construction work in Tuggeranong, ACT. Office had a regional role, not just Canberra based. Described its ‘champions’ role. Hired landscape architects which were required for Canberra’s development work. Also employed graphic designers. Took on the planning and construction role. An exciting time to be a planner in Canberra. Worked with NCDC and DURD. Also involved with Albury-Wodonga and Bathurst-Orange regions as transport planners. Describes Canberra in early 1970s and its state of development and construction. Liaised regularly with NCDC engineers. Talks about the NCDC style of management – as a multi-disciplinary operation.

De Leuw Cather

Tuggeranong, ACT

National Capital Development Commission (NCDC)

Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD)

Transport Planning


Location of office – first in Woden, then when firm grew moved to 221 Northbourne Avenue. 1976 was a recession year – talks about issues of management at that time, e.g. sacking staff. Difficulty of explaining leave loading to US head office of De Leuw Cather. Restrictions on capital expenses – difficult times. Husband and wives couldn’t work in the same office – had to ask someone to leave as a result. Describes other management problems.

De Leuw Cather

Woden, Phillip, ACT

221 Northbourne Avenue (Qantas House)

Management Issues



Length of time running Canberra office = 1973 – 1976. Describes major projects undertaken for De Leuw Cather, including the major arterial roads in Tuggeranong, development along the Left Bank in Tuggeranong – planning graphically the views drivers would see along the route. Describes process of this task as innovative.

De Leuw Cather

Tuggeranong, ACT


Site Planning


Landscape Architects

Left Bank – Tuggeranong, ACT


Describes working with government minister – Tom Uren and his style and influence. Highlights of career and meeting people – mentions working with AusAid in Western Samoa.

Belconnen Town Centre planning – describes interaction on traffic engineering. Describes conference in the attic of Old Parliament House.

Tom Uren


Western Samoa

Belconnen Town Centre

Traffic Engineering


ACT Legislative Assembly

Federal Government

Old Parliament House


Thoughts on the national capital idea. Conducted a study of ‘what the national capital should have in it’. Main issues: centre of Canberra was the national triangle and Belconnen and Woden were planned as local. The National Capital Plan was viewed in its national context – Canberra to grow to 500,000 and over the NSW border.

Canberra as the national capital

National Capital Plan




Family of small businessmen - working for oneself rather than government or someone else. Patrick Pak Poy – friend from Highways Department days asked him to work with him. Contacted him regularly re: running a consultancy. Found some frustrations working for De Leuw Cather including an unfulfilled desire to work overseas. Wanted to go out alone, especially as it was a recession year (1976) and a good time to start when the market was low.

Patrick Pak Poy

De Leuw Cather

Larry Dondanville

End of CD 4



CD5 = 59 minutes




Continues story of the establishment of consultancy firm, the mechanics of this, research undertaken. Received support from Jenny. De Leuw Cather maintained office – continued a work relationship, but office didn’t last long. Three years afterwards Larry Dondanville sent to Australia to sell its Australian arm of the business. Sold to a Queensland Company, Cameron McNamara.

Private Practice – R J Nairn & Partners

De Leuw Cather - Canberra

Cameron McNamara


Relationship with Landscape Branch at NCDC. Talks about staff from De Leuw Cather’s Canberra office. 20 staff, mainly dealt with roads and transport issues.


Richard Clough

De Leuw Cather – Canberra

Bill Bohnhof

Nick Lyons


First light rail study with De Leuw Cather Canberra. Probably about five studies since then. Explains why light rail hasn’t been constructed yet – ‘not highly attracted to private enterprise’; also problem with three year term governments and decision making. Infrastructure Australia bids;’ dial a ride’ concept.

De Leuw Cather – Canberra

Light Rail – Canberra

Public Transport

Dial a Ride


Looked into computer-controlled ‘dial a ride’ public transport system in Germany; ‘dial a ride’ for Shellharbour Council, NSW. Explains operation and benefits. Looked at computer software packages for bus systems.

Dial a Ride


Shellharbour, NSW

Computers and Public Transport


Explains type of work undertaken by R J Nairn & Partners: traffic signals in Canberra; traffic planning/traffic engineering; some construction – exclusive bus lane (no longer there). Describes the make-up of the company – eventually had three partners – as a small, specialist company. An international practice. Staff – up to 16, but didn’t want it to grow too large. Extended offices to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Set a premium on research and development.

R J Nairn & Partners

Traffic Planning

Traffic Engineering





First office was at home in Hawker. Jenny also worked for the firm. Moved to MTIA House, Northbourne Avenue, expanded office space. Office was close to NCDC office. Working in the Philippines with AusAid – describes visitors to office. Shows an artwork in dining room which was a gift from their Embassy.

R J Nairn & Partners


MTIA House


Philippines and AusAid



Describes transport planning and software packages available; role of computers in developing new clients, such as local government. AusAid became a major client re: transport and roads; also World Bank and other international aid organisations.

Transport Planning


World Bank


Explains software packages in transport planning including TRANPLAN (De Leuw Cather software). Developing technology and transport planning systems. Albury-Wodonga kick-started this type of planning. TRANSTEP was converted and amended to run on desktop computers. Involved writing of the software.

Transport Planning


De Leuw Cather

Montreal University




Worked with this package in Manila. Travelled regularly to Manila – relates story re: meeting up with a Japanese consultant and ensuing working relationship. Describes Tokyo’s subway transport system. Asked to devise software to integrate the transport systems. During mid-1980s spent more time overseas. Four children by then, all in high school. Jenny still working with the firm.

Manila, Phillippines

Transport Planning Software Development

Working with Japanese planners


Tokyo, Japan


Returned to talk about Canberra – thoughts on self-government and how this affected R J Nairn & Partners. A turning point as it wasn’t as easy to work with DCT (Department of Capital Territory) as with NCDC. As they were strict, formatted, not the multi-disciplinary style of the NCDC.

National Capital Planning Authority (NCPA)

National Capital Authority (NCA)


Company project highlights – diverse range of projects. In particular, working in Shanghai – first Chinese project – a challenging one. Worked with the bus company – traffic control systems and to assist in rationalisation. Describes work entailed. Thoughts on Shanghai and changes taking place. Planning subway system

Shanghai, China

Transport Planning


Involved in bid for Maglev train in Australia between Sydney and Canberra; went to Germany. Other Maglev projects. Explains why the project didn’t go ahead, political issues and reluctance to ‘be the first’. Issues re: freight – couldn’t carry heavy freight.

Maglev Train


Winding down R J Nairn & Partners [1999]. Had hoped other partners would carry on but they left for other positions/jobs. Scott Wilson made approaches to purchase consultancy. Describes the sale process. Stayed on for four years and firm became Scott Wilson Nairn. Exchange of staff between England and Australia.

R J Nairn & Partners

Scott Wilson Nairn

End of CD 5



CD6 = 46 minutes




Scott Wilson Nairn work – more conservative firm. Talks about developing own software and its advances as opposed to commercially available packages. Different work habits and getting the best out of your staff. Being innovative and an asset.

Scott Wilson Nairn


Highlights include: working in Korea with Macquarie Industries as a result of the country’s economic stimulus and major infrastructure development programs. Projects included subways and toll roads. Explains the process of funding the projects. Describes working with Koreans and gaining an appreciation of their culture. Supported by PhD students from Seoul University Transport Planning Group. Overcoming language issues with interpreters.

Scott Wilson Nairn

Macquarie Industries

Seoul, Korea

Seoul University Transport Planning Group


Explains traffic arrangements in Korea. Altered software to incorporate the large number of bus express lanes in peak hour. Describes underground pedestrian tunnels connecting subway stations – too crowded on the streets. Left Scott Wilson Nairn after four years and formed Bob Nairn Consultant in [2003] undertaking local work mainly.

Seoul, Korea

Bob Nairn Consultant



 Member of the Institution of Engineers (Engineers Australia) since university student days. Concerned why only 40% of engineering graduates join when all did in his day. On the transport group for a long time and chaired its committee. Also a President of the Canberra Division (one year). Explains the workings of the Divisions at state and national levels. Was on Congress for six years.

Institution of Engineers

Engineers Australia

Canberra Division


Achievements during term as President. Designated National Year of Women in Engineering during his term. Projects initiated to gain more women engineers – talking to schools to encourage girls to consider engineering as a career. Spoke several times to Canberra Girls Grammar. Inspired by the women who lectured during the year.

National Year of Women in Engineering

Canberra Girls Grammar



Concerned about university courses in engineering. Attempting to reinvigorate University of Canberra’s engineering course. Role of Adjunct Professor at University of Canberra.

University of Canberra



Interested in ethics and engineering started when judging young engineers awards. Asked candidates if they had ethics training in the workplace. Ethics = resolution of problems, understanding loyalty. Prepared a presentation on this topic and provided case studies.

Ethics and Engineering

Code of Ethics


Engineering Heritage issues. Engineering required to get on with the job.

Engineering Heritage


Interests, volunteering, hobbies. Member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) – was Canberra representative. Part of the lobby to Washington on climate change. Engineers Australia has a climate change and energy issues policy. ITE has one also but around  transportation issues.

Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)

Climate Change



Active in the Anglican Church – Synod for Canberra and Goulburn and on the governance group for the reconstruction of Jamieson House. Active in Freemasonry. Coin collecting is a hobby. Member of Probus and others. Represented Adelaide University in five sports. After his bypass found it difficult to return to tennis. Walks as much as possible.

Anglican Church


Coin Collecting



Explains why writing own memoirs. Talks about his eldest son, now living in the US and his interest in his family’s history and his father’s career and parents’ story.



Talks about children and grandchildren – children’s careers and activities. Finishes with plea for engineers to continue to be trained in basic mechanical, basic civil, basic electrical engineering.


End of CD 6

End of Interview



Professor Brian O'Keeffe (1934 -  ), Electrical Engineer

Biographical Notes

Birth & Family: 

Born 1 February 1934, Gympie, Queensland. Youngest son of Cornelius Daniel O’Keeffe and Thelma May O’Keeffe nee Du Rietz

Three siblings = Dan, John and Paul O’Keeffe



Attended St Joseph’s College, Brisbane, Queensland, primary and secondary schooling. Completed high school in 1951 at age 17. Attended University of Queensland undertaking an engineering degree – in electrical engineering, with distinctions in Maths, Control Theory and Electrical Design. Awarded B.E., University of Queensland in 1956



Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical), University of Queensland (1956);

Doctor of Laws honoris causa, Monash University (1998)



Fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia (FIEAust) (1993);

Honorary membership, Royal Institute of Navigation of UK (1994);

 Fellow of the Institute of Navigation, Australia (1997)


Certificate of Commendation from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (1990); Officer in the Order of Australia (1992); Special Medallion of the Air Traffic Control Association of USA (1992); Aviation Week’s Aerospace Laureate in Electronics (1995); CAA Chairman’s Commendation (1995); Special Commendation from the Air Traffic Control Association, USA (1996); Award from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (1997); US FAA’s Award for Distinguished Service (1997); Clifford Burton Medallion from the US Air Traffic Control Association (1997); Hall of Fame, Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian, Washington, USA (1997); US Institute of Navigation’s Capt. PVH Weems Award (1998); Canberra Engineering Hall of Fame (2002); ICAO’s Edward Warner Award (2004)


Uni. Work Exp:

University work experience included: heavy engineering firm of ship builders and repairers, Royal Australian Electrical Mechanical Engineers and the Dept. of Civil Aviation at Eagle Farm airport, Brisbane.

Work History:

Offered position of Engineer Class 1 on graduation from University of Queensland with the Department of Civil Aviation’s (DCA) Regional Office, Brisbane. Commenced work in February 1956 – designed and supervised radio installations, converted WW2 equipment to civil aviation use; lectured in Metallurgy at Central Training College, Brisbane. Seconded to University of Adelaide in 1957 to assist Prof. Willoughby in Navigation Aids research, sponsored by DCA. Began working on designs using transistor technology and working with digital computers.

In 1959 transferred to Melbourne (DCA Head Office) to Navaids Branch as Engineer Class 2. Conducted training courses for engineers, used digital computer at Monash University to analyse ILS (instrument landing system) antennas and designed a new ILS antenna system; also designed ILS monitoring systems and flight calibration systems. Carried out maintenance tasks on ILS Australia-wide and Port Moresby. Appointed Project Engineer to evaluate new ILS-based All Weather Landing Systems. In conjunction with the Air Navigation Group at Sydney University (sponsored by DCA) involved in setting up a unique ILS model range and development of new ILS antennas. Co-developed a high accuracy optical/electrical system for tracking aircraft.

Promoted to Engineer Class 3 in 1965. Began reporting on navigation systems to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), a technical agency of the United Nations located in Montreal, Canada. Subsequently appointed Australian member of ICAO study group to update the manual on Testing of Navaids. Wrote paper proposing the development of a new landing system (later called MLS – Microwave Landing System) for ICAO All Weather Operations Panel in 1967. Promoted to Engineer Class 4. Began experimental work of satellite systems; set up facility at Melbourne Airport; carried out ranging measurements to the ATS-1 experimental satellite (similar to the use of Global Positioning System, GPS today); set up simulations of aircraft, developed new low-cost navigation system and built the prototype instrumentation for the aircraft which was copied into production.

Promoted to Class 5 Engineer in 1971; DCA became part of the Department of Transport (DOT) in 1973. Led national and international development of MLS and was responsible for managing the DOT’s MLS program. Coordinated the technical resources of DOT, CSIRO, Sydney University, AWA, to design, build, test and report on a complete MLS to ICAO – this involved using “technological diplomacy at the international level”. ICAO adopted the Australian signal format in 1978. Participated in plans and part of the public debate for the Omega Navigation Station in Australia.

Promoted to Senior Assistant Secretary, Planning Research and Development in 1975 (SES Level 2, Branch consisted of 86 professional engineers and a capital works budget of $8m). Appointed to the Government’s Task Force on National Communications Satellite System in 1977. Appointed Study Team Leader for the Domestic Air Transport Policy Review, produced the results in a 450 page report. Acted as Regional Director, NSW Region for two months in 1980.

Appointed First Assistant Secretary Airways Operations Division, Canberra, 1980 (SES Level 3). Responsible for Air Traffic Controllers, Flight Service Officers, Airport Rescue and Fire Fighters, Aviation Security and Aircraft Noise – first case of an engineer appointed to such a position.

In 1982 appointed First Assistant Secretary Airways Division (SES Level 4 of the new Airways Division). Directly responsible for the management of approx. 300 staff in Central Office and 6,000 Airways staff Australia-wide. Became the Australian member of  ICAO’s Special Committee on Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS). Acted as Deputy Secretary in 1987 during transition from Dept. of Aviation to Dept. of Transport and Communications.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in established in 1988, appointed General Manager Advanced Systems Development with greater involvement in international civil aviation systems, including the FANS Committee. Involved in PET (Pacific Engineering Trials) to demonstrate Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS) in collaboration with US and Japan. Developed FANS1 package, certified in 1995. Also involved in Government’s consideration and approval of a 3rd runway for Sydney Airport in 1989. Reorganisation of CAA in 1991, appointed General Manager, Research and Development and ICAO. Air Services Australia formed in 1995, appointed General Manager, International and ICAO. Worked as Special Technical Adviser to new CEO. Retired in mid-1997.

International working career and involvement in ICAO: participated in study groups, panels, committees, regional groups, divisional meetings, special and general assemblies. Established close relationships with staff of civil aviation authorities and aviation industries throughout the world. Nominated in 1984 as the Australian representative of the Special Committee on Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS); elected Vice Chairman in 1985. The FANS Committee developed an integrated communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system; task completed in 1988. Elected in 1988 to lead the interim Committee to take it forward and when ICAO established the Phase 2 Committee was elected its Chairman. System accepted at a worldwide meeting of ICAO in 1991; developed detailed institutional arrangements and the global coordinated plan. Received personal briefing on GPS at a special Pentagon meeting. Completed Phase 2 task in 1993. Participated in ICAO Legal Committee meetings on technical aspects of FANS CNS/ATM. Elected First Vice President of the ICAO General Assembly in 1992. In 1992 became the Australian member of the newly formed Asia/Pacific Air Navigation Planning and Implementation Regional Group.

Since 1992 organised and lectured at annual seminars at the Singapore Aviation Academy.

Elected First Vice Chairman on the Asia/Pacific Regional Air Navigation Meeting in 1993. In 1996 nominated by Australia as technical expert on the ICAO Panel of Legal and Technical Experts to establish a legal framework in relation to GPS. In 1996 became a member of ICAO’s CNS/ATM Implementation Advisory Group; member of the US Government/Industry Free Flight Steering Committee (1995-1998); In 1997 invited to make a presentation on FANS to the US Vice President’s White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. Presented numerous papers on CNS/ATM to worldwide technical organisations.

In 2001 invited to be Patron of the Australian Global Positioning Systems Society Inc.

Other Work


University of Canberra: Appointed Adjunct Professor in Communication Engineering in 1995. Organises lecture series for 2nd and 3rd year students on Engineering Management. Lectures 4th year students on an aviation design project. Participates in research work on satellites and related topics. For the Marconi centenary celebrations in December 2001 reconstructed and demonstrated the apparatus used by Heinrich Hertz in 1887 for the first unambiguous demonstration of the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves.

FANS PLANS P/L Consultancy: Upon retirement from the public service in 1997 established own consultancy to provide high level advice on the planning and implementation of FANS CNS/ATM. Has consulted to a variety of government and industry bodies, such as Honeywell (USA), Airports Fiji Ltd and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Other contracts include: examining the performance of GPS receivers for aviation in Australia for the Government’s Industry Strategic Air Traffic Management Group; still involved in organising and lecturing at CNS/ATM seminars at the Singapore Aviation Academy.



Interviewee: Professor Brian O’Keeffe

Tape Numbers: IEA EHA: MP 16 to 20,  Number of Tapes:  5, Sides A & B

Interviewer: Dr Margaret Park

Place of Interview: 2 Tobermorey Place, Hawker  ACT  2600

Dates of Interview: 17 June 2004

Restrictions on Use:

Log prepared using (make and model of machine): Sony Cassette-Corder TCM-15V;

Tape Conversion Rate: 30 minutes = 420 on counter, i.e. 1 minute = 14 on counter

Interview recorded on Sony DAT Recorder TCD D100 professional portable digital recorder.


Tape: IEA EHA: MP16, Side A




Proper Names & Keywords


Provides full name, date and place of birth. Details family background. Father was a school teacher in Gympie, Queensland and moved to Brisbane in 1935 when Brian was one year old. Grandparents born in Australia, talks about their background – mother’s side = Swedish (Du Rietz, father’s side = Irish. Du Rietz = career background in architecture and engineering. One of the Du Rietz’s designed churches in Australia, including one in Gympie. Contributions to mechanical engineering on dairy machinery. Uncle Du Rietz, an academic in Sweden, studied lichen and mosses. Talks about engineering influences from this side of the family.

Hugo Brian O’Keeffe

1 February 1934

Family name = Du Rietz

Church architecture

Gympie, Queensland

Mechanical engineering – agriculture



Youngest of 4 siblings. Names father and mother and siblings. Father worked in high schools, taught chemistry, maths and physics. Describes father’s influence – ‘a modern renaissance man’ – interests in classical music, spoke fluent French, read Latin, was mechanically inclined as well - ‘very hands on’. Retired in Brisbane but continued involvement in teaching. Worked on a science program for girls’ schools in late 1940s/50s. Mother was a housewife. Parents invested in children’s education.

Corneilius Daniel O’Keeffe

Thelma May O’Keeffe nee Du Rietz

Science teaching



Talks about siblings and their backgrounds. Dan, the eldest, most influenced Brian’s education. Apprenticed to the City Electric Light Co. Dan joined Navy during the war and was selected for Prof. Bailey’s radar course at Sydney University. Australian War Memorial has a small exhibition on the ‘Bailey Boys’. Continued as a RAN radar officer during War. Returned to university under Post War Reconstruction Scheme, completed his electrical engineering degree. Dan helped in Brian’s transition from university to work with Civil Aviation. John was in the Army during War. Stayed on as a civilian after the war. Paul attended university on a Main Roads scholarship.

Dan, John and Paul O’Keeffe

City Electric Light Co.

Second World War

Royal Australian Navy (RAN)

University of Sydney

Professor Bailey


Bailey Boys

Australian War Memorial

Post War Reconstruction Scheme


Main Roads Commissioner



Describes growing up in Brisbane during the War. Lived close to river, Americans tested submarines ‘fascinating to a small boy’. Father (a First World War veteran) volunteered as a commissioned officer and taught air force personnel during the War. Describes family home at Hawthorne, a typical wood Queenslander house and activities at home. Recalls Robert Menzies on the radio and father keeping track of battles on maps. Father served in France during First World War, spent time in Ireland visiting O’Keeffe relatives. Explains spelling of O’Keeffe and its origins.


American submarines

First World War

Hawthorne, Brisbane

Robert Menzies




O’Keeffe name


Attended St Joseph’s College in Brisbane from Grade 3 through to high school. Likes and dislikes during school – played a bit of cricket, handball, preferred maths, physics and chemistry, studied latin. Talks about early engineering influences and beginnings of interest in electronics, gadgets and transistors. Describes range of certificates and scholarships available. Extra subject at high school – geometrically drawing and perspective on Saturdays. Teachers and their influences – preparation for university work. Completed high school in 1951 at 17.

St Joseph’s College, Brisbane



Army Disposal Store

High School Certificate



Attended University of Queensland. Engineering course dominated by electrical engineering. Talks about difficulty of interest in electronics. Combined mechanical and electronics in final thesis project – control of a gas turbine jet engine.

Describes Prof. Prentice’s lightning data collection work.

University of Queensland

Engineering Degree

Electrical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering


Professor Prentice

Lightning Detection

Brisbane Valley Thunderstorms


End Side A, Tape 16


Tape: IEA EHA: MP16, Side B


Continues with lightning detection work with Prof. Prentice. Roy Hinkley, war-time electronics officer – taught all electronics at the University. Limited course work at University of Queensland in electronics or antennas.

Professor Prentice

Roy Hinkley

University of Queensland


Describes university work experience – required to work in an engineering firm and write a report as part of training. First year worked in a heavy engineering company in Brisbane – shipbuilders and repairers. Joined regular army reserves in second year as part of the University regiment. Placed in charge of electronics – radios, telephones, etc. Work experience with Royal Australian Electrical Mechanical Engineers. Third year work experience with Dept. of Civil Aviation at Eagle Farm Airport. Interest firmed in electronics. Invited by Ian Fowler to work at DCA depending on exam results. Finished university and began work at DCA on 1 February 1956.

University work experience

Evans Anderson Phelan


University of Queensland Regiment

Royal Australian Electrical Mechanical Engineers

Dept. of Civil Aviation (DCA)

Eagle Farm

Ian Fowler



One woman enrolled in civil engineering at university during Brian’s time. Students from post-war reconstruction scheme, most completed by end 1951/52. Effects of Second World War on Brians’ work at university and future career.

University students

University Drawing Office

Post War Reconstruction Scheme

Second World War and Aviation


Institution of Engineers mainly a civil/mechanical body. Electronic engineers joined the Institution of Radio Engineers, member since 1956, was treasurer of the Brisbane Division. Still a member of the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers – USA. IRE now a college within the Institution of Engineers.

Institution of Engineers

Institution of Radio Engineers (IRE)



Offered position base grade engineer (now Class 1 engineer) with DCA’s regional office, Brisbane at the airport. Worked on design of radio installations – converting surplus Second World War equipment (out of a bomber) for use in a control tower. Describes the national organisation of the DCA. Recalls the story of putting the Brisbane control tower off air and driving a car in front of a landing aircraft.

Dept of Civil Aviation (DCA)

Radio installations

Second World War Bombers

Control Towers

Brisbane Control Tower

Brisbane Airport


Lectured for a year in metallurgy at the Central Training College, technical college in Brisbane.


Central Training College, Brisbane


Discusses reasons behind move to Adelaide and interest in extending education. While at DCA applied for a commonwealth scholarship to attend MIT, in USA. Harold White (senior engineer) suggested Brian as Prof. Willoughby’s research assistant at University of Adelaide. Describes Prof. Willoughby, his work and influences on Brian. Took part in classes and learned about design of aerials for broadcasting, low and high frequencies; Mr Pawsey taught transmission lines; at this time learned a great deal about transistors and solid-state physics. The Weapons Research establishment was near Adelaide.

Harold White

Commonwealth Scholarships

Professor Willoughby, University of Adelaide

Mr Pawsey


Weapons Research Centre,

South Australia


End Side B, Tape 16



Tape: IEA EHA: MP17, Side A



First work with computers in Adelaide solving electronic problems. Describes a hand-cranked calculator. Undertook a course in nuclear engineering at University of Adelaide.




Nuclear engineering


Recalls viewing Sputnik in 1957 and its benefits for future civil aviation. At the time, a maths and physics tutor at the University and lived at Aquinas College (run by the Jesuits). Advantage of being with one employer for 50 years – able to see projects through to fruition. (slight pause)

Sputnik (October 1957)

Aquinas College



Recalls meeting future wife, Bridget through instigation of Mrs Brennan, matron of the College. Bridget grew up in Adelaide and did law at University of Adelaide. Practised law in Adelaide; after marriage and the move to Melbourne, continued with law work. Also became a lecturer on probate, wills and wrote a text book on the subject. Became involved with the Red Cross Tracing Bureau in Melbourne. Bridget retired when moved to Canberra and continued with Red Cross work, currently President of the ACT Red Cross. Received a Member of the Order of Australia award for her services.

Rita Bridget Rhys North Lawyer, Adelaide and Melbourne

Red Cross, Melbourne

Red Cross, ACT

Member of Order of Australia (1997)



Married in 1961 in the College Chapel, University of Adelaide, then transferred to Melbourne. Promoted to Engineer Class 2. Due to work in Adelaide on instrument landing systems (ILS) in Adelaide gave training courses to engineers from all over Australia. Explains ILS, its origins and uses. Brian’s job included the maintenance of the equipment at 16 locations around Australia and New Guinea. Required flight testing; used DC3s. Recalls story of Frank Partridge on one of these tests.

Marriage (1961)


ILS (Instrument Landing Systems)


Frank Partridge

Fokker F27

Fokker F28


Designed a new ILS antenna and monitoring systems –finding faults in seconds: ‘an art as well as a science’. Published technical papers on design of antenna systems. Began using computers in design work. Made contact with friend at CSIRO, also in the maths department at Melbourne University. Talks about use of CSIRAC, fourth working general computer in the world (currently in the Science Museum, Melbourne). At this time, two in USA, one in Manchester, UK. CSIRAC came into service in 1949.  

ILS Antenna

Monitoring systems design


CSIRAC (1949)


Melbourne University

Science Museum, Melbourne

Prof. Frank Hertz

Geoff Hill


Wrote technical papers on monitoring and antenna design for the Institution of Radio and Electronics Engineers (IREE). Delivered papers at meetings. Involved in public speaking throughout career.

Institution of Radio and Electronics Engineers (IREE)

Public speaking


Describes process of achieving instrument landing in all weather conditions. Used Monash University computer and established simulation of ground signals and aircraft (Boeing 707) systems. Measured instrument landing systems using precision flying (one hour after dawn), tested in Melbourne and also in Sydney. Results of analysis presented in a paper to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation).

All weather landings

Monash University

Boeing 707

ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation)



End Side A, Tape 17



Tape: IEA EHA: MP17, Side B



Continues with description of ICAO, its tasks and activities. Member states invited to join panels – Brian invited to join the All Weather Operations Panel as a technical adviser. First overseas trip in 1965 – 3 months around the world, first ICAO meeting attended in 1967. ICAO predated United Nations, formed in 1944 as the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation.


PICAO (Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation 1944)


All Weather Operations Panel


Set up the Air Navigation Group in association with University of Sydney under Prof. Christiansen. Brian appointed Departmental Manager from Head Office. Describes the process of designing an all electronic system, method of testing system and patenting the system. US patent office at first refused system concluding ‘this has already been done, not novel’. Pursued patent application with via US patent attorney. Finally advised they had re-invented the guidance system of the Trident Nuclear Missile. Patent was finally accepted as they had ‘improved on the original patent’ and granted a ‘patent of improvement’. (mid-1960s) DCA sold a system to US, New Zealand and built three to four in Australia.

Air Navigation Group

University of Sydney

Prof. Christiansen

Frank Partridge

Keith Farmer

US Patent

Trident Nuclear Missile

Guidance System


Government asked to be part of worldwide Omega Navigation System = 8 transmitters omitting low frequency signals around the world. The Minister, Peter Nixon, wanted it in his electorate, Gippsland. Many protests at the time (Cold War). A team from Department of Transport (DCA was part of DOT by this time) including Brian set out to explain the system and its uses at public meetings throughout southern Australia. Story about Russian delegation and the Leningrad badge gift. (slight pause)

Omega Navigation transmitter installed outside Orbost, Gippsland, replaced in the early 1990s by GPS (Global Positioning System).

Omega Navigation System

The Cold War

Peter Nixon

Orbost, Gippsland

Department of Transport (DOT)

Public Meetings

Albert Langer


Robert Hawke

Russian Delegation

GPS (Global Positioning System)


Brian presented paper to ICAO in 1967 on the limited life of ILS. First worldwide paper on a new instrument landing system in civil aviation field. By 1969/70 ICAO decided to get involved in a new system. CSIRO and Brian’s Department developed Interscan – a complete microwave landing system. Part of it can be seen today at Melbourne airport. There is a working Interscan at Canberra Airport today. Prepared Cabinet submission ($3.5m) for funding Microwave Landing System for the Labor Government (1972). Placed in charge of the Departmental Microwave Landing System Program – coordination of all agencies involved. Learned ‘technical diplomacy at the international level’.

Microwave Landing System



Melbourne Airport

Canberra Airport

Labor Government (1972)


University of Sydney Group





Met with Bendix, AWA, CSIRO, at AWA complex in Sydney and developed a plan of action.

United States of America


FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)




End Side B, Tape 17



Tape: IEA EHA: MP18, Side A



Continues with microwave landing system demonstration in USA. System set up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, assisted by Bendix. Mounted a receiver in FAA airplane for flight testing. The USA picked the system and began a joint US-Australia program, Russians on board, and Germans. Accepted by ICAO and is in use today. One at Canberra airport, five at Heathrow.

Microwave landing system




Canberra Airport

Heathrow Airport


Describes role with ICAO, involved with selling of system to ICAO and the selection process for about eight years. 1978 (project started in 1967) when ICAO adopted the signal structure. Liaised with opposite number with Frank Frisbie of FAA. Initially was the Australian nominated member of study group to rewrite the testing of navigation aids. Brian wrote several chapters of a new manual (from 1965, 1967 appointed as technical adviser). Talks about multi-lingual aspect of ICAO meetings. Speaks of political influences within ICAO and also developing countries vs developed powers.


Frank Frisbie

All Weathers Operation Panel

Satellite Panel, ICAO

Jan Smit


First opportunity to work with a satellite system in 1969/1970. Worked with George Fiege (designed receivers). Developed a new ranging technique largely used by GPS. Also on the Astra Panel of ICAO at this time. Undertook an experiment with a Qantas aircraft flying the Pacific route.


ATS – 1

George Fiege


Qantas aircraft


Involved with simulation/design of a simple aircraft navigation system using ‘distance measuring equipment’ = DME. Using Monash computer built proto-type instrumentation at home in garage in Melbourne, installed in simulator, AWA copied proto-type instrument. Promoted in 1971 to Engineer Class 5, top of engineering range and 1973 DCA became part of the Department of Transport. Charlie Jones, Minister in Whitlam Labor Government. Speaks of changes to the Department.

Charles Halten, Head of Department (recruited by G. Whitlam from Canada).

DME (Distance measuring equipment)


Engineer Class 5 1971

Department of Transport 1973

Charlie Jones, Minister for Transport

Whitlam Government

Charles Halten


In charge of research and development on navigation aids with about five staff. Young engineers from universities. Moved to Executive Level with staff of 86 professional engineers and a budget of $8m for capital works.

Department of Transport

Research and Development

Executive Level



Charles Halten appointed Brian to lead study team for Domestic Air Transport Policy Review (two airline policy review). Speaks about Government/airline expectations, the Steering Group and recommendations, including deregulating freight and ticketing. Produced a two volume report. Subsequent team established for implementation plan.

Charles Halten

Domestic Air Transport Policy Review

Two-Airline Policy

Bureau of Transport Economics

Air Freight



Peter Abeles

East West Airlines


Placed on the Government Task Force on National Communications Satellite System in 1977, running the same time as the Air Transport Policy Review. Kerry Packer proposed a satellite system for television broadcasting throughout Australia. Task Force was represented by Government Departments including Finance, Telecom, Transport.

Government Task Force on National Communications Satellite System
Kerry Packer

Television Broadcasting




End side A, Tape 18



Tape: IEA EHA: MP18, Side B



Continues with Task Force on satellite communications. Harold White, Chairman of the Task Force. Describes the ‘east coast’ based radar system – J curve. Proposal to reduce the six air traffic control centres to three, preferred only two. Users of system: ABC, Department of Transport. Talks about requiring ‘two transponders in each of two satellites for redundancy – new thought for broadcasters’. Outlines final proposal including two satellites, two dishes, two transmitters and two control centres (Brisbane and Melbourne). Plan implemented in the early 1980s, put in 100 ground stations, some solar powered.

Satellite owned by Aussat (combination of Australia and satellite), sold off to Optus.

Government Task Force on National Communications Satellite System

Harold White

Radar ‘J Curve’

Air Traffic Control Centres

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission)

Australia’s air space

Solar Power

Kim Beazley
Peter Morris




First to tell Minister (Peter Morris) of Fijian Coup. During the first coup in Fiji they pulled plug on telephone exchanges, unaware that aviation had own teleprinter links for filing flight plans. Brian received a teleprinter message from Fijian air traffic control.

Peter Morris

Fijian Coup


Discusses effects of changes of government.

Acted as a regional director in New South Wales for two months (1980). Ended float planes operated on Middle Harbour.



Acting Regional Director, NSW

Float Planes

Middle Harbour, Sydney



Appointed Head of Airways Operations Division (1980). Central Office moved to Canberra. Responsible for air traffic controllers, flight service officers, airport firemen and aviation security and aircraft noise, highly political. Received delegation to issue dispensations against the airport curfews operations at Sydney Airport and others.

Airways Operations Division


Airport Curfews



Tells the story about phone request to lift the airport curfew for Adelaide for such things as a ‘missing buffalo’. Had this responsible for ten years.

Airport Curfews

Adelaide Airport



Appointed as First Assistant Secretary in 1982 when Department was reorganised to create a new Airways Division, comprising former Airways Operations Division plus Airways Engineering – over 6,000 staff, 300 reported directly. Describes Departmental responsibilities and tasks. Wal Fife was Minister under Liberal Government. Discusses study of options for the future of the airways systems. Became Australian member on ICAO’s special committee for Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS).

Airways Division

Airways Operations Division

Airways Engineering

First Assistant Secretary

Wal Fife

Liberal Government

Third Runway for Sydney

Hawke Government

Henry Bosch


FANS (Future Air Navigation Systems)


Acted as Deputy Secretary of the Department for about nine months, Peter Wilenski was Departmental Secretary. Describes role as Deputy Secretary and his method of keeping in touch with engineers and projects.

Peter Wilenski

Deputy Secretary


Feelings about moving to Canberra - always a possibility and advised of such a move as much as 20 years before. First in a flat in Reid, off Ainslie Avenue (for six months), then to current house in Hawker, moved in winter of 1981. Still a member of Institution of Radio and Electronic Engineers. Became involved with Institution of Engineers when merged. Member of American Institutions due to output of papers and stimulation of ideas and learning from overseas experiences.




Institution of Radio and Electronic Engineers

Institution of Engineers


Beginning of ten year involvement with FANS (Future Air Navigation Systems). Describes why and how FANS developed. Lyn Helms, administrator with FAA, visited President of ICAO, Assad Kotaite, to discuss a new navigation system in about 1981. Decided to establish a new high level committee to examine existing problems, propose new system and undertake a cost benefit analysis.


FANS (Future Air Navigation Systems)

Lyn Helms

FAA (Federal Aviation Authority)


Dr Assad Kotaite



End side B, Tape 18



Tape: IEA EHA: MP19, Side A



Continues with the evolution of the FANS committee. Expertise required in satellites, navigation and communications systems, from organisations such as IATA, INMARSAT, airline industry and unions. Chairman was Jan Smit, Brian nominated as Vice Chairman. Explains the task of the committee, reviewing existing systems, agreed on using best of existing systems and incorporating the use of satellite communications. 40 countries/organisations on the committee, 150 people to each meeting and ran for three weeks. Committee reported directly to the Council of ICAO. Brian involved in ‘institutional aspects’ and process of change. Prepared a global cost benefit analysis. Completed first FANS committee with a report – shortcomings, technical design of the new system plus the cost benefit analysis. Recommended the development of a global plan to migrate from the old system to the new. Formed an interim committee to begin development. Brian was approached as Chairman.

FANS Committee

IATA (International Air Transport Association)

Trade Unions

Airline Industry

Jan Smit

Council of ICAO

Dr Assad Kotaite

Cost Benefit Analysis





Work of the FANS interim committee described. First meeting in London. Formed sub-committees on research and development, operations, conferences, design. Also met in Paris.

FANS interim committee


Ron North




Talks about the reason for ICAO meeting in Paris, the Russian representatives, including Tatyana Anodina, Russian GPS called GLONASS. Russians continued to deny the existence of any system. At final meeting in May 1988 Tatyana arranged for Moscow experts to explain about GLONAS. US and Russians signed memorandum of agreement to pursue development of satellite systems. Another meeting in Ottowa and FANS 2 committee established – phase 2 committee to coordinate implementation of FANS. Brian elected Chairman of FANS 2, coincided with formation of Civil Aviation Authority in Australia and Brian placed in charge of research and development and ICAO representative. (slight pause)




Tatyana Anodina

Ronald Reagan


Victor Kuranov


FANS 2 committee

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

Col Freeland




Describes role of ICAO in committee work, large meetings, involvement of ICAO’s legal committee. Legal aspects of FANS placed on the agenda for the ICAO legal committee. Brian attended these meetings as technical adviser.

ICAO legal committee


Tells the story of getting FANS off the ground. Directors-General of Aviation meeting (Asia-Pacific region), held in Los Angeles in mid-1993, hosted by FAA, David Hinson, administrator. Ran trials – PET (Pacific Engineering Trials). Representatives from Australian, Fiji, US, New Zealand, including the airlines. Cycle was broken by presentation of paper by Doug Roser, CAA head, saying that Australia was developing new air traffic system and incorporating FANS in it. Dick Peel from Boeing agreed to develop system, by mid-1995 the air borne system was certificated.


David Hinson

PET trials

Doug Roser


Dick Peel




Describes certification process in Australia. First certification done by FAA outside the USA. Boeing was coordinating authority, Qantas (VH - OJQ) provided the aircraft, INMARSAT provided the satellite and ARINC and SITA (communication service providers) provided ground linking. CAA (later Air Services Australia) collected and processed the data to demonstrate the system. Took about six months to gather the data, an international effort, coordinated in Canberra at the office of CAA. FAA certificated the system for the Boeing 747-400. Boeing also incorporated FANS into Boeing 777.








Qantas (VH - OJQ)


Boeing 747-400

Boeing 777


Describes benefits of FANS to airlines – greater efficiencies but also extended range of aircraft – now able to fly direct from Los Angeles to Melbourne, previously only to Sydney.


Air Route extensions



End Side A, Tape 19



Tape: IEA EHA: MP19, Side B



Explains PET (Pacific Engineering Trials) and countries involved, a forerunner to FANS.

PET (Pacific Engineering Trials)


Global consolidated plan for FANS. ICAO dissolved. Describes work in Australia with Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) (c1989), including Sydney airport debate and the third runway. Brian briefed the Prime Minister and Treasurer on noise impacts. Received a personal commendation from the Department for this work.


Sydney Airport Third Runway

Aircraft Noise

Graham Evans

Department of Transport

Federal Airports Corporation

Prime Minister, Bob Hawke



Re-organisation of CAA in 1991 under new CEO. Still heavily involved with ICAO, but also General Manager, research and development. Travelled every three years to ICAO’s General Assembly for meeting of member states (about 180 then, now about 200), headquarters in Montreal. Regional offices: Paris, Cairo, Nairobi, Dakar, Bankgok, Mexico City and Lima.

At the 1992 meeting, elected First Vice-President of the ICAO General Assembly.


General Manager, Research and Development

General Assembly, ICAO






Mexico City



Air Services Australia formed in 1995, former CAA. CASA became the regulatory arm. Air Services = air traffic control, engineering and fire services. Brian remained in job, instead of research and development, now responsible for international aspects and ICAO. After a new CEO was appointed, Bill Pollard, Brian appointed as his Special Technical Adviser. Brian retired in mid-1997

Air Services Australia


Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)

Bill Pollard



 In 1992 made Australian member of regional group re: implementation of FANS. Meeting in Bangkok, Asia-Pacific office. Brian elected Chairman of a sub-group, continued in that role until retirement. Produced detailed implementation plans for the Pacific region.

FANS regional planning sub-group


Explains bottle-neck problems over India and Bay of Bengal – Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur to London route. Precision of new navigation system allowed Qantas to fly ‘the silk route’ and avoid the bottle-neck. Included this route in regional plans, Asia to Europe traveling north of Himalayas.


Silk route to London






Brian elaborates on several world-wide speaking engagements including FANS seminars.



Solomon Islands



Involvement with the Singapore Aviation Academy. Bong Kim Pin suggested course at the Academy (c1992) and Brian coordinated from Australia. Continues to coordinate course annually, lasts four to five days. Outlines content of the course to be held in June 2004. 

Singapore Aviation Academy

Bong Kim Pin

Aircraft Surveillance

Greg Dunstone



End side B, Tape 19



Tape: IEA EHA: MP20, Side A



Explains involvement with ICAO’s legal committee. Objections were raised to FANS, technical and legal. Brian attended legal committee and made presentations. Discusses liaison work with Dr Guldimann, of Switzerland. George Paulson, UK committee member, arranged for a meeting in base of control tower at Heathrow Airport. Residual problems with legal framework in regard to global satellite navigation system. In 1996 Air Services Australia nominated Brian as the technical expert to serve on panel of legal and technical experts.

FANS committee

ICAO Legal committee

Dr Guldimann

George Paulson


Heathrow Airport

Air Services Australia





Discusses regional air routes and need for seamless FANS implementation. ICAO established CNS/ATM (Communication Navigation Surveillance Air Traffic Management). Brian invited to be a member of group until his retirement. Describes role of CNS/ATM group.


CNS/ATM (Communication Navigation Surveillance Air Traffic Management)


Invited by Boeing to be a member of US Government’s Industry Free Flight Steering Committee from 1995 to 1998. Only two non-US members – other: Val Eggers from Europe.

Free Flight Steering Committee, USA

Val Eggers


Explains European air space navigation system.



In 1997 invited to present FANS to US Vice President’s (Al Gore) White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, held at George Washington University. Explains aviation safety and security, including high-jacking.


Al Gore, US Vice President

White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security

George Washington University


Brian speaks about his involvement with GPS since early days of FANS committee. President Reagan made GPS available for civil use. Brian one of the first to have a civil GPS. Tested his GPS at Greenwich Observatory meridian line. Tells story about using GPS at Dakar. Explains US government adding errors into the GPS released for civil use. Errors finally taken out during President Bill Clinton’s office (2000). Approached by Australian Global Positioning Systems Society to be their Patron.


Greenwich Observatory



President Bill Clinton

Australian Global Positioning Systems Society


As FANS PLANS P/L contracted in 2002 to CASA to evaluate GPS and Australia’s use of it. Provided a large report and evaluating new receivers. Describes the ‘Tobermorey Place tracking station’, the use of the roof of the University of Canberra and the Department of Defence’s computer facilties at South Australia.



Tobermorey Place

University of Canberra

Defence Science and Technology Organisation,

Edinburgh, South Australia



Appointed Adjunct Professor in Communications Engineering, University of Canberra in 1995 while working with Air Services. Organises lecture series for 3rd and 4th year students in engineering management. Invites professional engineers to speak with the students. Also lectures the 4th year students on an aviation design.

Adjunct Professor

Communications Engineering

University of Canberra


Describes the Marconi centenary celebrations in 2001 and the reconstruction and demonstration of the Hertz Loop (the first demonstration of electromagnetic propagation of radio waves – a spark transmitter and a loop antenna receiver) by Heinrich Hertz in Germany in 1887. Brian describes the demonstration at the Marconi Centenary dinner.

Marconi Centenary 2001

Heinrich Hertz

The Hertz Loop

University of Rochester, USA


Retired from Air Services Australia in 1997. Received many gifts and presentations, including the FAA flag.

Retirement (1997)

FAA Flag


End Side A, Tape 20



Tape: IEA EHA: MP20, Side B



Continues with retirement gifts and presentations. Boeing presented Brian with a model of the Boeing 777 (the first to fully incorporate FANS). Began consultancy, FANS PLANS P/L immediately after retiring. Consulted to Honeywell for two years, also for Airports Fiji Ltd, also incorporating FANS.

Retirement (1997)

Boeing 777




Phoenix, Arizona

Minneapolis, Minesota


Quote from former colleague, John Royes, upon Brian’s retirement saying that his ‘influence was worldwide”.

John Royes

Air Services Australia


Outlines awards received for services to civil aviation in Australia and internationally beginning with the Certificate of Commendation from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1990; made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1992; a Fellow of Institution of Engineers in 1993. Other awards include: Honorary membership of the Royal Institute of Navigation, UK; Aviation Week (1995) made Brian ‘Aviation Laureate’ in electronics field and inducted into Hall of Fame, Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian; Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (1997) award; conferred with Doctor of Laws honoris causa by Monash University; US Institute of Navigation’s Capt. PVH Weems Award “recognizing continuing contributions to the art and science of navigation”. Relates story of transporting the heavy bronze image of Capt. Weems through airport security; Canberra’s Engineering Hall of Fame induction in 2002; ICAO bestowing highest award in civil aviation – the Edward Warner Award in September 2004.

Awards include:

FAA Certificate of Commendation

Officer, Order of Australia

Institution of Engineers Fellow

Smithsonian Hall of Fame

Air Traffic Control Association, USA

Singapore Civil Aviation Authority

Monash University

Doctor of Laws honoris causa

Canberra Engineering Hall of Fame

ICAO’s Edward Warner Award.


Speaks about activities planned for retirement.



Provides advice for young engineers at University of Canberra – “possible to make a difference”. Speaks about his current female engineering students – in computer engineering and software. Michelle Robertson, Air Services, lectures students; also invites his nephew Leo O’Keeffe (son of brother, Dan O”Keeffe), Deputy Commissioner of Patents to lecture his students. Other nephew is a mechanical engineer and brother Paul’s eldest son is also an engineer.

Engineering students

Michelle Robertson

Leo O’Keeffe

O’Keeffe family engineers


Thoughts on the engineering profession today – heading away from the detail. Speaks about difficulties of professional indemnity.

Engineering profession

Professional indemnity



End Side B, Tape 20



End of interview session on 17 June 2004