Engineering Heritage: looking to the past to inform South Australia's future

Understanding engineering heritage has significant benefits for today’s engineers. Engineers Australia’s national and divisional Engineering Heritage Australia groups are working to conserve and recognise engineering heritage works and sites for future generations.
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Original construction of the Sir William Goodman Bridge

Engineering Heritage provides today’s engineers with valuable opportunities to learn what has been done in the past understand our current practice.

These opportunities help drive the National and Divisional Engineering Heritage committees to ensure engineering heritage sites and structures of significance are appropriately recognised, and records used to their full effects.

Nationally the Engineering Heritage Australia group manages several resources and programs to recognise and celebrate engineering heritage, including the Engineering Heritage Australia Magazine, the Engineering Heritage Recognition Program, and two books published during Engineers Australia’s centenary year. 

On a local level, Engineers Australia’s South Australian Division has collaborated with the Adelaide City Council to produce the popular Engineering a City booklet, which shows how engineers have contributed to Adelaide’s development.

South Australia has a significant involvement with Engineering Heritage. The Burra Charter, a set of principles that form a nationally accepted standard for heritage conservation practice in Australia, was first adopted in 1979 in the South Australian country town of Burra.

To be a heritage structural engineer, knowledge of the Burra Charter is of fundamental importance in the same way as AS4100 is to a steel designer or AS3600 is to a concrete designer.

According to Engineering Heritage Australia committee member Richard Muncey, recognition of the context of existing structures and their heritage have major economic, environmental and social benefits.

“This is reflected in the increased need for specialist professional development for practising engineers to specialise in Heritage Engineering as seen in recent years”, said Mr. Muncey.

Mr. Muncey also noted that adaptive reuse, which is increasingly recognised as a preferred option to manage building stock and other structural assets, draws on Engineering Heritage principles. 

“Project teams today are generally cross-disciplinary, which require engineers to have a broader understanding of contextual issues and the implications for engineering construction and maintenance techniques in the restoration of heritage structures. 

“Preserving Engineering Heritage ensures this context is not lost.”

As an example, the Sir William Goodman bridge, Adelaide’s first reinforced concrete bridge, was saved from demolition and returned to service through the understanding of the original structure’s characteristics and application of appropriate engineering restoration techniques. 

South Australian member and 2006 John Connell Gold Medal recipient John Woodside has recently developed a seminar for Engineering Heritage professional development in partnership with a WA colleague, with a view to ultimately developing a National Engineering Register for Heritage Engineers. Engineers Australia’s South Australian team is working towards a local seminar.

The Engineering Heritage Australia – South Australia group has many common interests with other local Engineers Australia groups, and is seeking to increase awareness of its resources and support ongoing professional development of engineers through shared activities.

For more information, or if you have ideas to support the work of Engineering Heritage Australia – South Australia, please contact [email protected].

Image: Original construction of the Sir William Goodman Bridge