Chapter 40

New career Path – Commonwealth Department of Works [Works and Perks or Works and Jerks?]

A vacancy arose for an Engineer Class 1 in the Engineering Design Section in Brisbane with a commencing salary of 2347 pounds. I applied for the position and was appointed on 1st November, 1965 with a six month probationary period. It was with reluctance that I handed in my notice to Tony Tod because I felt comfortable working there and was continually learning, but I was aware of the constant pressure which never seemed to let up; I left on good terms and joined the Commonwealth Department of Works, Terrica House, 130 Creek Street, Brisbane as Engineer Class 1. This was the starting classification for a qualified engineer in a four tier scale where you progress with experience, but not necessarily so, for when a vacancy arose either through expansion or promotion you could expect promotion to the next level. Class 3 was a supervising section and at Class 4 you were appointed head of the section answering to the Assistant Director of Works.


Terrica House was a three or four storey building at the corner of Creek and Adelaide Streets with Trans Australia Airlines occupying the ground floor and the Commonwealth Department of Works occupied the remainder of the building. This included the Administration, Architectural, Civil, Structural, Mechanical and Electrical Sections and a separate Construction Section. The Structural section was on the second floor overlooking Adelaide Street and the window positions overlooked the Gresham Hotel providing interesting diversions when occupants failed to close their curtains at times. It was the Department’s policy for staff to record attendance by punching a Bundy Clock placed near the lift and this was my first and only experience with punching the clock; we also kept a diary to record times on design etc., The Works Department did practically all the design for Commonwealth instrumentalities and Departments and where they could not handle the work it was contracted out to Consultants.
There was a large program for Department of Defence involving Airforce, Army and Navy. The Post Master General’s Department, PMG, involved telephone exchanges and Post Offices; the Rehabilitation Department involved hospitals; the Department of Civil Aviation, D.C.A. involved airports and runways; the Department of Transport involved lighthouses and beacons; the Bureau of Meteorology involved weather stations and automatic weather reporting stations and then there were government building for the Taxation Department and also for the Reserve Bank. Unlike today when most work is farmed out, in those days it was done ‘in-house’ and there was a constant demand for services of different kinds right throughout the State. In Papua New Guinea it was referred to as Works and Perks, or Works and Jerks, or CDW and the same applied here. In hindsight it was the most under-rated department and the nation owes a lot to its through-put. This was the organisation I now joined, starting as Engineer Class 1, Structural Section. The Supervising Structural Engineer had his office at the end of the sections area which was, in effect, an enclosed verandah without air conditioning.
In the Public Service each officer was entitled to a specific entitlement depending on his classification, for instance a Supervising Engineer had an office of a certain prescribed area with carpet; a Class 3 Engineer had no office, but a larger area with desk and work table and Class 1 and Class 2 Engineer had a set area with a desk, chair, cabinet, drafting machine and stool. I joined with five other Class 1 and Class 2 Engineers and one Draftsman or Technical Officer making a total of nine in the section. It was not unusual for engineers in consulting offices to prepare their own drawings and this was the procedure in Commonwealth Department of Works at the time, the draftsmen helping with any overload. Antony Tod’s office worked differently and I suspect more efficiently for meeting deadlines. We were a multi-national group including one female engineer from Harbin University and another White Russian from Harbin, one Polish Engineer, one Yugoslav and the rest of us were Australian or English; .Russian was the common language for the four from different countries. So now I settled into a new organisation more confident in myself and content with the type of work. Everything was more formalised than before and there was a standard regulation for practically everything, but the place worked. You learnt the rules and complied with them, from ordering a car from the car pool, or booking a plane ticket or collecting travel allowances. The scope of the work was varied and endless, ranging from a small shed to a multi storey building with airfield pavements and lighthouse towers included.
The Head Office was in Melbourne under control of a Director General to whom the First Assistant Director General’s for Architecture and Engineering and Management Services were answerable. Each state or territory was under the control of a Director of Works. The NSW Branch Director was an architect, but all of the other directors were engineers reflecting the origin and background of the Department after World War Two. A large quantity of work was contracted out and the Department still ran a day labour force engaged in minor works and maintenance projects which, for economic or other reasons, were not suitable for execution by contract. For buildings and the like, the Architectural Section usually controlled the projects and we acted as consultants to them. One common problem found with office accommodation, especially in rented premises, was to reconcile the floor loading when heavy safes were relocated or heavy items moved and often the floor layout was changed to suit this. In timber floor buildings like Terrica House you checked the plans with the actual construction if plans were still available and good records were kept. Where cracks appeared in brickwork the Client Department would refer to CDW for a report which meant further investigation.
The expansion of Amberley RAAF Base to accommodate the new F111 fighter bombers on order from U.S.A. involved strengthened and extended concrete runways and numerous new buildings specifically for training and maintenance. Amberley Base provided us with foundation problems for buildings being on highly expansive soil so soil reports were needed for each site and this work was shared between the local geotechnical consultants. Early jobs I remember doing included the guard house to the main gate, the powerhouse extension, battery shop and water tower for battery and electroplating shop. Then came the Engine Test House and the Staff Training Building. The Engine Test House was basically a copy of the American design, a thick walled reinforced concrete box with beams bolted to the ceiling to support the turbine engines to be run under full power. There were suitable baffles for exhaust and noise and an earth bound wall surrounding it. There was no design as such but interpreting the American system was a challenge. The Staff Training Building was another challenge. In this building the rooms were numbered and security was paramount. The foundation investigation showed strip footings could be used. The walls were brick and an extra layer was provided for security. The ceiling had to be sound-proof from the inside and outside and resulted in layers of acoustic sheets with two layers of square mesh reinforcing steel between the sheets all in a steel frame and suspended on silent block flexible mounts. In the centre of the largest room was a large reinforced concrete footing. This was for the simulator but nobody used that word at the time.
Espionage was still a fear then, so after my six months’ probation was up my appointment was confirmed and this was followed by a Security Check, covering addresses for the past ten years, employment history since leaving school, foreign countries visited, details of close relatives, educational qualifications and three referees. This brought back to memory 1953-54 in Papua New Guinea; 1955-56 91 Charlotte Street, Wynnum Central; 1956-57 10 Bailey Street, New Farm; 1957-58 5 MacDonald Street, Potts Point, Sydney; 1958-59 Clam Street, Anglers Paradise, Southport; 1959-60 32 Jane Street, West End, Brisbane; 1960 8 St. James Street, Highgate Hill.
The years went by so quickly. The house was absorbing most of our money as we never seemed to have much left over. Betty was still having lessons with Nora Baird and attending the new Conservatorium of Music. Our circle of friends had expanded into the music and art field. Up to this time I had drawn up plans for Ian for several houses and flats as well as my own house. To think back this started when I drew up the plans for the veranda extension at 55 Henry Street many years back, and a garage for Ralph Woodforth when he was building at Oxley. While at BP I was friendly with the Mechanical Engineer, Bob, who left the company later and started up his own company, a design and construct business. Bob wanted me to come into partnership with him but I was reluctant to give up the security I had especially with a young family and we did not have the finances to cover a lean period. I was also wary of the increasing pressure of work which was the main reason for leaving Tony Todd’s office. Since most of the jobs would be relatively small I agreed to do the structural design and Bob would engage a draftsman. It was a gentleman’s agreement and Bob gave me what the job was worth to him. The arrangement worked well, but the pressure increased and a decision had to be made. I really did not want the worry and was happy with Commonwealth Department of Works so Bob found another partner and this finished my moonlighting.

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