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7 amazing civil engineering projects in Australia

13 April 2022

This Aussie infrastructure has helped to connect the country, provide clean water and energy, attract tourism, among many other positive effects.

7 amazing civil engineering projects in Australia
The Sydney Opera House is acknowledged as one of the 20th century's most famous and distinctive buildings. Image credit: Brett S/Pexels

Australia fascinates many of us for its diversity of landscapes, climates, flora and fauna.

Home to deserts, rainforests and mountain ranges, the country is filled with species that are unique to Aussieland. Platypus, dingoes, kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, the list goes on.

And yet, Australia is not only home to these fascinating species but also to some civil engineering marvels we think you should know about.

In no particular order, here are seven examples:

1. Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House. Image credit: Ben M/Pexels

Opened in 1973, the Sydney Opera House is acknowledged as one of the 20th century's most famous and distinctive buildings. So much so that it became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007.

Despite its name, the building isn't a single venue. As well as a 2,679-seat concert hall, it also has 3 main theatres: the Joan Sutherland theatre (1,507 seats), the Drama theatre (544 seats) and the Playhouse (398 seats). There's also a studio theatre with 280 fixed seats.

The opera house sees over 1,500 performances every year, attended by more than 1.2 million people.

In addition, more than 8 million people visit the building annually with 350,000 taking a guided tour of the building.

Sydney Opera House's distinctive shell structure was a major challenge for engineers working on the scheme.

Indeed, the work saw some of the earliest use of computers for building design, as engineers worked out the complex forces the shells would have to cope with.

2. Kalgoorlie Super Pit

Kalgoorlie Super Pit
Kalgoorlie Super Pit. Image credit: imagevixen/Shutterstock

Also known as the Fimiston open pit, this rectangular open pit gold mine is in Kalgoorlie, western Australia.

It’s approximately 3.5km long, 1.5km wide and 600m deep. The structure is big enough to be seen from space.

Open mining on site stopped in 2019, but stockpiles of lower grade will continue to be processed until 2029.

Until 2019, the Super Pit produced around 800,000 ounces of gold a year – around 8% of Australia’s total gold output.

Australia is currently the second biggest gold producer in the world – China is the first.

3. Sydney metro

Sydney metro
Sydney metro. Image credit: haireena/Shutterstock

Sydney Metro is Australia's biggest public transport project.

Currently under construction, it will add 113km of new metro rail by 2030, with 46 metro stations along the way.

The Northwest portion of the railway opened in 2019, while City & Southwest will open in 2024.

This fully automated railway system will have a target capacity of 40,000 passengers an hour, increasing passenger capacity by 60% when it's completed in 2024.

The network will have real-time train information at stations and a range of connected phone apps and other technology to help passengers plan their journeys.

The ultimate goal for the network is to run a train through the centre of Sydney in both directions every 2 minutes – a frequency of service not yet seen on the city's commuter railways.

4. Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge. Image credit: Valeriia M/Pexels

Nicknamed ‘the Coat Hanger’, the 1,149m-long, 48.8m-wide structure is the world’s tallest steel arch bridge – measuring 134m from the top to the water below.

Built in 1932, it carries road and rail traffic, as well as pedestrians, from Sydney’s central business district to the north shore and vice versa.

Chief engineer on the scheme, John Bradfield, got the idea for the structure’s design after a trip to America in 1921 – drawing up outline plans for a crossing based on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York.

The bridge was opened by New South Wales prime minister Jack Lang on 19 March 1932. A crowd of around 1m people turned up for the event.

Just as the prime minister was about to cut the ribbon, Francis de Groot of right-wing group the New Guard, slashed it in half with a sword.

De Groot was protesting as he believed that a member of the British royal family should open the bridge.

5. Snowy Mountains hydro scheme

Snowy hydroscheme
Snowy Mountains hydro scheme. Image credit: Colin Henein (licensed)

Also known as Snowy, this hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in southeast Australia is the country’s largest engineering project.

Built between 1949 and 1974, the project consists of 16 major dams, 7 power stations, 2 pumping stations and 225km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts.

It collects water from melting snow and rain in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales and diverts water from the Snowy and Tumut rivers.

The water is stored in reservoirs to create electricity and then diverted into the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers via tunnels through the mountains.

Snowy provides renewable energy to eastern Australia – benefiting cities such as Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane.

The project was rated as one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world in 1967 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

6. Goldfields Water Supply Scheme

Goldfields Water Supply SchemeGoldfields Water Supply Scheme. Public domain image.

The gold rush in Australia in the late 19th century led to a population explosion in a dry and barren desert region.

Lack of water in the area meant poor sanitation, with diseases such as typhoid becoming common.

The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme brought water to these new and expanding towns.

It stretches 560km from Perth to Kalgoorlie. It’s the longest water supply pipeline in the world!

In fact, when it was built, the amount of steel used in construction was greater than any other steel structure.

7. Adelaide to Darwin railway

Adelaide to Darwin railway
Adelaide to Darwin railway. Image credit: Mandy C/Shutterstock

The Adelaide to Darwin railway is a 2,979km south-north transcontinental railway in Australia that runs between the cities of Adelaide and Darwin.

It’s regarded as a milestone in the economic and social history of Australia.

Construction of the link started in 1878 and continued in stages into the 20th century.

The scheme was dogged by a series of financial and political difficulties over its 126-year history.

It was finally completed in 2004 with the opening of the 1,420km section from Alice Springs to Darwin.

Since then, more than 500,000 people and 10m tonnes of minerals and other freight have travelled the railway.

It now takes 54 hours for the Ghan – the line’s passenger service – to travel the full length of the rail link.

Do you agree with our list? What other projects would you add?

  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE