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Barker, Gary
Oral history research - public works department of Tasmania
16th Engineering Heritage Australia Conference: Conserving Our Heritage - Make a Difference!
Engineers Australia, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, 2011, pp. 232-238

The Public Works Department of Tasmania commenced with the appointment of Captain Alexander Cheyne as the Director of Public Works in 1838 and lasted until 1977 when it was split into the Department of Main Roads and the Department of Construction. Within twenty years the two new departments were closed by the Tasmanian Government as a part of the process of outsourcing to the civil sector. The PWD unlike some mainland namesakes was capable of design, construction and maintenance, including all the main transport systems, water supply, and buildings. The department was a self contained engineering organisation with professional staff, construction personnel, a day labour force along with plant and equipment. It also operated tramways and water craft including barges. There are very few publications on the PWD, the best known possibly being Convicts and Carriageways that was commissioned by the Department of Main Roads and published in 1988. The book, while detailed, concentrates on roads and has little on the actual development of the Department. Wanting to rectify this situation the author commenced a self funded oral history program that has been given significant publicity by ABC Radio Hobart. As a result, over 100 people have volunteered to be interviewed. These people include ex PWD employees of all grades, family members and those who have an interest in the PWD but never worked for the department. The interviews completed so far, dating back to 1915, provide a fascinating insight into the PWD and reflect a pride of making Tasmania a better place. The intention is to compile the information into a book so that the PWD is not forgotten. The paper discusses the oral history process, challenges of trying to obtain support for the initiative from government, and snippets of information passed on by people who were there.

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