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From Past to Present: The Superheroes of the Australian Construction Industry

Superheroes are always hitting the headlines these days. Whether it’s Black Widow or Thor, we love to see their bravery, resilience and ingenuity, as they defeat every adversary they face. But Australia has its long own history of heroics, although it might not be found in the most obvious place–on the construction site.

From overcoming an unfamiliar climate to bravely attempting new building techniques, for hundreds of years, our builders have performed heroics that rival the most powerful superheroes on the big screen. This blog explores just a few of our construction superheroes.

Governor Philips, or Captain Australia, the First Inventor

If you know Australian history, you’ll recall that it was back in 1788 that New South Wales was first established with the arrival of Governor Arthur Phillips. He immediately recognised the challenges that the new settlement faced, and focused on peace, rather than war.

He aimed to reform the prisoners he brought but unfortunately, the first European buildings were designed more for the British Isles than the Aussie outback.

In an early example of off-site manufacturing, the settlers had brought two prefabricated buildings on their long sea voyage. But these early versions of the Government House and Government Store were made from timber and canvas–and fell down almost immediately.

Faced with a tough climate, low supplies and a shortage of skills, the settlers began a long history of improvising. Government House was completed using bricks made from local clay, imported lime and shellfish from Darling Harbour.

While the town was being established, ordinary settlers opted for more practical homes, made from timber, wattle and daub, or local sandstone for the wealthiest. Eventually, the settlement and local industry flourished, and the buildings that protected the early settlers evolved into the buildings that shape Australia today. Inventiveness and adaptability saved the day.

The “Aquamen” behind Sydney Harbour Bridge

Whether it’s tough weather or using materials sparingly, modern builders face many of the same difficulties as our ancestors but are still succeeding by coming up with innovative solutions to challenging circumstances.

In more recent times, civic leaders and builders grappled with the challenge of creating the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was 1924, and Sydney was just developing an underground railway (you might know it as the City Circle). The town leaders wanted a rail, road and footbridge that would link the commercial centre of Sydney to the north shore, to create the transport infrastructure that would ready the city for the modern age.

Eventually, the contract was awarded to Dorman, Long and Co, recent arrivals from Middlesbrough. The team opted for an arch-based design, rather than a suspension bridge, to save money and bear the huge weights required on the bridge. But incredibly, that meant starting construction on the north and south sides of the bridge independently–then joining them in the middle.

In 1930, after two painstaking years of careful construction, the two halves of the arch touched for the first time, and amazingly the bridge aligned perfectly. Many decades after its opening in 1932, the bridge still handles over 200 trains, 1,650 bikes and 160,000 vehicles every day. Through innovation–and a fair amount of nerve–builders once again reshaped Sydney and laid the foundations for the modern city.

A New Superpower for Construction in Australia

Construction professionals in Australia have retained the bravery and invention of their predecessors. Whether it’s the new Cairns Performing Arts Centre or the country’s largest casino, new building projects continue to push the boundaries of the sector.

But while developing new techniques has always been a strength of Australian construction, today technology–and digital tools especially–have undoubtedly added another superpower to builders’ arsenals. Accessing Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the field, has recently given firms a whole new strength. With PlanGrid BIM, builders can visualise assets in 3D, helping them to create even more complex and ambitious constructions, while retaining the highest quality on every build.

Construction shaped our country, creating the incredible buildings, infrastructure and landscapes that touch our lives every day. The pioneering spirit of the early Australian builders continues to make our industry one of the most ambitious–and innovative–in the world. Despite all the talk about the Avengers, maybe Australian builders are still the biggest superheroes around.

Read about how PlanGrid BIM can superpower your construction firm here.

Adele Bernard

Adele Bernard (@Aadelebe) is APAC Marketing Director at PlanGrid and has spent the last decade as an APAC Tech Road Warrior, presenting to leaders of enterprise organisations and organising corporate events around the region.

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