Keith Baker

FIEAust CPEng (Ret)

Electrical Engineer

Organisation

Keith studied engineering at the Bendigo Institute of Technology prior to obtaining a cadetship with the Commonwealth Department of Works and completing his Bachelor of Engineering (electrical) at Melbourne University.

In 1967 Keith was employed by the Commonwealth Department of Works, initially in the Victorian region, while completing a Fellowship Diploma of Management at RMIT. He worked on the design and construction of electrical services in Commonwealth facilities with periods in Port Moresby and Adelaide and Central Office in Hawthorn. Keith later relocated to Canberra in 1982 to take on a broader management role in asset management.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
Well over 40 years. I joined around the time I graduated, being strongly influenced by Prof Charles Moorhouse who had been National President.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I had always been interested in making things and working out how things functioned. A technical education followed, including a year 7 science project of building a telephone system, making most of the components from scratch. Later undertaking a diploma in electrical engineering was a fairly seamless progression.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
Two of the major projects I worked on in Victoria remain as significant infrastructure within that state. The first is Melbourne Tullamarine Airport which was a greenfield project at the beginning of the jet age of passenger transport. While it has been substantially expanded, it is still recognisably the same place. The second project was the modernisation of Williamstown Naval Dockyard that enabled shipbuilding to be expanded for a time in Victoria.

After the Department I worked for was privatised, I took a break to study cultural heritage management. I then made a career change into heritage and energy management. I like to think that the work I subsequently did in the Australian Heritage Commission, the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Environment Department in promoting the uptake of renewable energy in Australia and overseas has helped Australia to be on a more sustainable path, where the past is also valued.

In semi-retirement I continue to apply my energy to engineering heritage and to support for people with disabilities.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
In an engineering design sense, the Williamstown Dockyard redevelopment was both interesting and challenging for a young engineer. It was on a confined historical site with aging infrastructure and a continuing naval workforce occupying it. The project Involved high voltage and medium voltage reticulation and lighting and power to workshops; piers building berths and an office block, with standby power, frequency conversion for ship to shore connection and extensive cranage for materials handling and shipbuilding. The project allowed me to extend much of what I had learned during Tullamarine construction to a totally different design application.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
I think the engineering profession will be increasingly called upon to solve the problems of a sustainable future for the world. The call will be necessary as politicians find it too difficult to make hard decisions in a timely way to head off foreseeable problems related to climate change, land use, water allocation and inequality. This greater engagement is more likely to happen if the engineering profession gains and maintains greater community respect. This should enable engineers to overcome the vested interests of greed and power that distort progress for the good of all.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
The rapid technological progress being made in biomedical, communications, transport, robotics and energy management are exciting. They have social consequences however, that need to be foreseen and managed. Blindly relying on the market seems to be a recipe for increasing social problems and the profession needs to have strong voice in discussions of meaningful planning and the related ethics and equity.

Who is your engineering hero?
Along with many engineers, I have a great respect for Sir John Monash. I respect the way he triumphed over prejudice to show that logical planning and concern for his troops counted for much more than presumed class superiority and status. My interest in Monash was heightened when I was unexpectedly awarded the John Monash Medal for service to engineering heritage.

Now, as a long term Canberran, I have an equal respect for Sir John Butters. In his short term as Federal Capital Commissioner he promoted our profession in the community and brought together disparate organisations. He also transformed industrial relations by valuing his workforce and improving their conditions, while getting the job done for the transfer of parliament.

Image: courtesy of Keith Baker.