The global perception of Australia is typically not one of innovation and entrepreneurship. When the world thinks of Australia, what comes to mind are beautiful beaches, shrimp on the barbie (it’s prawns, thank you!), and a culture of friendly ‘larrikins’ or ‘bogans’, who, beyond a love of beer and obsession with sport don’t offer too much substance.
Whilst some of this is true, Australia is also a land of immense innovation and entrepreneurship, being home to some of the world's most structurally complicated and sophisticated buildings and technology innovation that has truly changed the world.
There is no better reminder of this than Australia’s soon to be new ‘hi-tech’ city being named after the engineer famous for shaping Sydney, John Bradfield. He is known as the chief proponent of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for which he oversaw the design and construction a feat of engineering and human ingenuity.
The city centre will be built on the doorstep of the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport. It will grow into Sydney’s third city, to take its place alongside the other city centres of Sydney and Parramatta.
The future aerotropolis is being donned Australia’s first 22nd Century City, providing key economic growth and will deliver over 200,000 jobs. 'Bradfield’ (it is hoped by government planners & politicians) will be home to advanced manufacturing, research, science and education.
Western Sydney Minister Stuart Ayres said plans were underway for local roads, parks and transport, with the first building under construction by 2023. Eighteen organisations including Suez, Siemens, Hitachi, Sydney Water and Northrup Grumman have confirmed their commitment alongside the government in establishing their business in the city.
As we look forward to the development of Sydney’s third city centre, let’s look back at Australia’s top five inventions and buildings that proved Australia is a nation of innovation.
1. The Sydney Harbour Bridge
You can’t think of Australia without thinking of the iconic harbour bridge, and of course a product of John Bradfield.
Bradfield in 1932 standing on steam engine cab approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Source: A tribute to influential Australian Christian.
Construction began in July 1923 using the labour of 1,400 workers and was completed in eight years. But Bradfield’s active promotion and supervision of the construction spanned over 30 years.
The Bridge is only a part of his grand vision for the electrification of Sydney’s railway network, including a new electric train terminal at Central Station and the city’s underground railway.
Construction involved six million hand-driven rivets, 53,000 tonnes of steel and 272,000 tonnes of paint. This iconic structure was a pivotal development of modern Sydney and a considerable engineering achievement, especially being built in the depths of the great depression. Nearly 100 years later, it remains the widest long-span bridge anywhere in the world.
Yes, that is right. Wi-Fi is actually an Australian technology invention.
O'Sullivan and his colleagues with their Test Bed prototype in 1992, which was fundamental to the development of Wi-Fi. Source: The Canberra Times.
John O’Sullivan was a young Australian electrical engineer working in radio astrology in the 1970s analysing hundreds of cosmic radio signal recordings.
Being frustrated with the monotony of the work, he invented what would become one of the keys to cracking wireless communication – A Fast Transform (FTT) Computer Chip.
O’Sullivan’s story of Wi-Fi tells us that innovation can come from unexpected sources. He is quoted as saying “I guess I’m inherently lazy, but I was starting to think: there must be a better way of doing this”. The world thanks you John! Today it would be hard to imagine a world without Wi-Fi.
3. Dr Victor Chang’s work in heart transformation
Dr Victor Chang was hailed as being one of the most prominent doctors in the world during the 1980s, and of course, one of Australia’s great citizens.
Source: The Asian Executive.
Born in Shanghai to Australian born Chinese parents, Victor Peter Chang lost his mother to breast cancer at the age of 12. He vowed to become a doctor and dedicate his life to healing the sick. In 1972 he returned to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney after two years working in the United States, joining the cardiothoracic team under Dr Harry Windsor who had performed Australia’s first heart transplant in 1968.
Unable to put up with the fact that heart transplant means taking the life of one human to save another, Dr Chang pulled together a team of scientists and engineers to design an artificial heart valve. History was made on 23rd February 1984 when Victor Chang first successfully transplanted a heart on a 39-year-old man, and later on 8th April when 14-year-old Fiona Coote became Australia’s youngest successful heart transplant patient.
It will be forever remembered as a national tragedy that his life was taken in senseless act of greed by two pathetic criminals looking to extort the doctor. But the contribution he gave to modern medicine in his short life was immense.
His legacies are still ‘beating’ until now, one of which is the National Heart Transplant Program at St Vincent’s hospital, which has since carried out thousands of transplants.
4. The Sydney Opera House
Ah the Sydney Opera House, the jewel of the Harbour. One can’t cast gaze on Sydney’s terrific harbour without being simply awestruck by this feat of modern engineering and its unique architectural design.
The Sydney Opera House under construction in 1966. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.
The Sydney Opera House is the youngest structure in the world to be included on the World Heritage List and shares the titles with the likes of the Taj Mahal, the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China as one of the most outstanding places on Earth.
The structure includes over 6000 metres of made-to-order glass from France and 650 kilometres of cabling for electricity and electronics throughout.
The Opera House fostered many building and design innovations, including the pioneering of computer aided reinforced concrete design, and the development of unique construction techniques to build the curved roofs in concrete. The architectural forms were completely unprecedented at that time and required a fertile innovative environment from architects and construction engineers alike.
5. Construction tech
The total cost of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above was approximately 6.25 million Australian pounds ($A13.5 million), and was only paid off after almost 60 years, in 1988. Imagine having real-time, data-driven tools to assist Bradfield in overseeing capital allocation and keep track of all contracts and payments.
The truth is, we don’t have to imagine anymore.
Australia is considered the Silicon Valley of construction technology. Being an isolated island at the opposite end of the world from most of its nearing neighbours and trading partners, Australia must be smart and innovative with the resources and workforce labour.
Construction companies in Australia tend to be relatively innovative and agile and are early adopters of technology. Australia is a global leader in construction productivity, developing disruptive delivery structures, such as design/construct approaches and public private partnerships, and has built sophisticated global material supply chains. The industry has led the way in the use of project collaboration platforms, site mobility applications and Building Information Modelling (BIM).
This has led to breakthrough construction solutions such as Aconex, and more recently Mastt. Mastt provides project owners with an overview across progress, cost and risks of complex programs and portfolios. That means it is now easier to detect surprise costs, schedule delays, and keep track of all transactions with stakeholders with real time updates.
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