Quick Chat with the 2017 Bradfield Award for Practice of Engineering recipient

Wes Johnston was recently recognised by Engineers Australia as the 2017 Bradfield Award for Practice of Engineering recipient.
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Quick Chat with the 2017 Bradfield Award for Practice of Engineering recipient

Wes Johnston commenced his Engineering Degree at the University of Technology, Sydney, and started work with John Holland at the same time. Nearly thirty years later, he's still with John Holland, and has worked across multiple industry sectors, working on large and complex projects covering civil, marine, water, and structural mechanical process projects in various sectors of the industry, in all parts of Australia.

Wes has enjoyed the projects that he's been involved with and the challenges that’s come with them.

Wes was recently recognised by Engineers Australia as the 2017 Bradfield Award for Practice of Engineering recipient.

What is your current job title and function?

Project Manager for John Holland on the Melbourne Metro Early Works. We’re constructing the 50m deep access shafts for the $6 billion Metro Tunnel project in the Melbourne CBD.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?

I grew up on a dairy farm, and if something had to be built, was broken and needed fixing, you found a solution. I can say with confidence, you learn to be very innovative, and really, that’s Engineering. So, pursuing Engineering in the practical sense of Construction seemed like a natural progression to continue doing what I love.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?

I have memories of all the Projects over the years. But if I had to pick one, it would be the Esso West Tuna and Bream B Oil Rigs, back in 1996, in the Casting Basin in Wollongong. This was one of the first Construction Projects I worked on, the first Concrete Gravity Oil Rigs ever built in Australia. The sheer scale of these was immense, West Tuna 90m x 60m in plan, 60m high, a floating concrete mass weighing 320,000t.

The slipforms were controlled by a few Danish, who come off the Troll Platform in Denmark, another Concrete Oil Rig. But it was an incredible 1.5 hectares in plan, 480m high, and 1.2million tons of floating concrete. That made me realise the opportunity and potential of Engineering and Construction in Australia, it was an open book to how challenging and innovative we wanted to be. 

What does winning the 2017 Bradfield Award for Practice of Engineering mean to you?

To be honest, it all happened rather quickly. I’d never thought to be rewarded for what I consider is doing my job, and doing it well. The Bradfield Award, is the pinnacle of Engineering Awards, so to be a recipient, I’m honoured.

I hope in future I can share the experience, and encourage others to challenge conventions, be creative, and have the conviction to back themselves and their ideas in whatever they do, just as I did.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you like to have with you?

Bear Grylls, cause I’m pretty sure I’d make it off the island. His survival skills are awesome, albeit his culinary skills somewhat daunting.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?

NSW and Victoria are experiencing unprecedented levels of Infrastructure works requiring skilled Engineers and Leaders with experience in delivering large and complex projects. With this demand, the competition to secure them grows. There’s a risk we end up with people in leadership roles that have limited real life experience, and this can be problematic. Having worked through the recent boom in QLD and WA, the exact impact this had on projects remains largely silent, as we tend to promote the successes only.

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpower to be?

I would say the ability to part water.
It would be a damn site easier to build things rather than doing it off boats, barges and jetties.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

It might sound strange to many, but spending time at home with the wife and our menagerie of animals. We’ve been together for over 20 years, and most of those I’ve spent working away from home. Construction is a hard industry, but having a stable home base to return to is important for us, and something we both value.

Who is your hero?

My mum and dad. They lived in the Hawkesbury Region of NSW all their life, and ran the dairy farm for 50 years. The traditions and old fashion values, I still treasure. And it was them that taught me to never give up, there’s a solution to everything, you’ve just got to find it, and if you get stuck, get help, find it together.

What makes you laugh?

You can get a laugh out of most things, and I think you need to do that every day, it’s a good thing. But nothing beats, the annual migration to the HOG Rally with my friends. It might be all serious at work, but when we get on our Harleys and head off together on these trips the jokes, jives, and rants is endless.