It wasn't just the tropical weather or world-class convention centre that made Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory, a fitting location for a gathering of 580 public works professionals from nine countries over three days of technical sessions and social events. It was the city's history of reliance on, and appreciation of, the valuable contributions of the public works sector to the community. Here's how it unfolded.
Baby saltwater crocodiles drifted placidly through turquoise water behind glass walls, as delegates gathered at Crocosaurus Cove on on a typically balmy Darwin evening to kick off the 2013 IPWEA International Public Works Conference.
Eagerly anticipating the highlight of the evening – seeing IPWEA President Paul Di Iulio dunked in a Perspex cage with resident man-eater, 800kg saltwater crocodile, Chopper – the crowd of public works professionals was addressed by Darwin Lord Mayor, Katrina Fong Lim.
“We have a very close affection for all people who work in the public engineering field,” Mayor Lim said, going on to describe how the city has been rebuilt “from the sewers up” twice in its history – once during World War Two, and again on Christmas Day 1974, when Cyclone Tracy obliterated the then-sleepy, tropical town.
“It was our public works engineers who carried the load of a lot of that work,” she said, adding that, today, Darwin is in fact one of Australia’s most modern cities thanks to these “blessings” in disguise.
It therefore wasn’t just the tropical weather or world-class convention centre that made Darwin a fitting location for a gathering of public works professionals over the following three days of technical sessions and social events. It was the city’s history of reliance on, and appreciation of, the valuable contributions of the public works sector to the community.
This fact was brought home once again during the opening keynote address the following morning.
Associate Professor Carol Boyle, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, was delivering the opening address, themed “Evolving Infrastructure to Meet the Future”, when a slight tremor offered a timely reminder of the continuous and central role of public works professionals in managing and maintaining infrastructure in an often volatile and unpredictable environment.
Covering infrastructure sustainability, including natural hazard resilience, Boyle’s presentation was given a dose of reality when delegates felt a very slight tremor (which caused no damage) at about 10:30am local time, caused by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that had struck Indonesia that morning just north of Darwin.
Work and play balance
New Zealand television personality Pio Terei, there to invite delegates to the 2015 Rotorua conference, later joked “you made us feel so welcome you even organised an earthquake!” – referring to the New Zealand delegates in attendance, following the recent merger of IPWEA with its New Zealand counterpart, INGENIUM, to form the new IPWEA NZ Division.
In the days that followed, six parallel streams of technical sessions offered opportunities for delegates to explore, discuss and debate new concepts and ideas, while the packed exhibitors hall – complete with an impressive centrepiece in the form of a 5.5-tonne Komatsu Pc55 MR3 Mini Excavator – showcased the latest products and innovations in the sector.
The social events then provided a perfect opportunity for delegates to relax and network – and were as important as the technical aspects of the conference, said IPWEA CEO Chris Champion.
“An important part of getting away from work [for a conference] is that people can get out of the day to day, get their mind thinking, get those creative juices flowing,” he said.
“We give heaps of opportunities for people to share their experience and knowledge at the technical sessions, but also network and have a bit of fun at the social functions.”
CEO since 2000, Chris Champion was – much to his surprise – also awarded Emeritus Membership at the conference, along with two other long-term IPWEA members. "That was a real highlight for me on the first morning, to be acknowledged by my peers," he said. Several other members were recognised at the conference awards ceremony for their contributions to the Institute and the broader public works sector. (Read more about the awards here).
IPWEA’s newest Community of Practice, Young IPWEA, was also a focus at the 2013 Conference, not only at a special Crocosaurus Cove function held prior to the Welcome Reception (which saw Paul Di Iulio emerge unscathed from his rendezvous with Chopper), but also with supersessions covering a range of timely and hard-hitting topics, including skills shortages, the recruitment of younger engineers, and a panel session of young, female engineers from rural Australia discussing the challenges they’ve faced starting out in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“To be honest networking is probably one of the biggest elements to success in any career,” said Young IPWEA Chair, Kim Sedgwick, who encouraged managers to consider send their younger or less experienced engineers to events such as the biennial IPWEA Conference. “The way you learn from networking with your peers is just really valuable and I think that needs to be recognised by managers,” she said.
The next IPWEA International Public Works Conference will be held in Rotorua, New Zealand, on 7-11 June 2015. Visit www.ipwea.org/Rotorua2015
More high-resolution photos from the Darwin 2013 Conference are available upon request. Please contact Gemma Black