Australia Eastern Array

Hidden Engineering Heritage: Tanks, mirrors and graves

Image credit: Graeme Hannigan

We announce the results of our 'Hidden Engineering Heritage' photo competition.

At last, time has come to sum up our ‘Hidden Engineering Heritage’ competition.

It took us the best part of last year to collect the entries and to judge them. Why so long? The answer is in the first part of the competition’s name – ‘Hidden’. Something that has been truly ‘hidden’ takes time to spot, let alone photograph and describe. As is always the case with our competitions, we were after quality rather than quantity, and quality entries take time. That was why we eventually decided to extend the final deadline by a couple of months.

I am pleased to report that our patience was rewarded by numerous quality submissions from all over the world. From the point of view of geography, it was probably the most international E&T competition in my memory, with entries from Australia, South Africa, USA, Norway, Romania, Germany, Ireland and many more, as well as from the UK.

Choosing the best was particularly hard, for most of the submissions were not simply good but excellent, meaning that they corresponded to all the main judging criteria: historical and engineering importance and ingenuity of the featured object(s), as well as their need for restoration and/or protection. Another important requirement was that the object(s) had to be ‘hidden’, i.e. little-known and fairly obscure.

It is on that last point that we had to reject a number of otherwise fascinating entries, such as, for example, that of the world’s first video film camera, which a reader saw and photographed in the Berlin Film and Television Museum, which means it was already on display and hence not at all ‘hidden from the public eye’, as we had requested.

We had to apply the same rule to many otherwise impressive photos and descriptions of some visually prominent objects: old spires, masts, clock towers and other – mostly vertical – structures, which, despite their interesting design, age and rich history, were quite well-known and very visible to the public in their popular locations.

Now to our two winners, both of whom will receive sets of beautiful books and albums, courtesy of Jonglez publishers, and two runners up, who will be rewarded by having their entries published on these pages and on our website.

The main prize – a weighty parcel containing three coffee-table albums from the Jonglez ‘Abandoned’ series – will have to travel across the globe to the Australian state of Victoria, where our overall winner, Graeme Hanigan, lives. His entry is astounding in every way: its engineering significance, its history and its location – the tiny opal-mining village of White Cliffs, population 146 (!), in the remote outback of New South Wales, 300km from the nearest town of Broken Hill.

Australia Eastern Array inline image

Image credit: Graeme Hanigan

The installation, constructed in 1980 by the Australian National University, is arguably the world’s first commercial thermal power station, no less. When operational, it used 14 five-metre mirrored dish heliostats (each with 2,300 mirrors), which automatically tracked the sun and concentrated its thermal energy onto stainless steel coils mounted at the focal points, fed with water via capillary tubes. Shut down and ‘mothballed’ in 2005 after almost 25 years of operation, it is now part of a preservation project, funded by the NSW State Government Office of Heritage. A truly unique engineering heritage object. Very well done, Mr Hanigan!

The second parcel, with a set of Jonglez’s award-winning ‘Secret’ Guides, will travel much closer to E&T’s UK home, journeying to Belfast. Paul McMaster, MIET, who works at Bombardier Aerospace, submitted an entry featuring the surviving remnant of a huge water test tank, located within Bombardier’s Belfast site. The tank was specially built by Short Brothers to carry out fatigue and static strength tests on the Short SC.5 ‘Belfast’ military transport aircraft, developed by the RAF in the 1960s and then the largest aircraft in RAF service. The test tank was originally 152ft long by 28ft wide by 24ft high (46.3x8.5x7.3m), and contained an entire SC.5 fuselage over 130ft (40m) long. Now, substantially reduced in size, it has been repurposed as the reservoir for fire-suppression sprinklers.

Belfast nine plinth

Image credit: Paul McMaster

“I wonder how many Bombardier employees who drive past the structure daily, or passengers landing at City Airport, Belfast, realise the original importance of this unassuming-looking facility which is ‘hidden’ in plain sight,” wrote McMaster.

I am sure that, from now on, thanks to his successful entry, the awareness of that fascinating piece of engineering heritage will increase dramatically. Congratulations to Paul McMaster. 

I am now delighted to introduce our runners up and their entries.

Adrian Ghita from Craiova-town, Romania, submitted photos and descriptions of an analogue TV antenna, still operational in a remote Romanian village, with the following explanation: “In the old times, when DVB-T, DVB-C and satellite receivers were not yet available, the households used a TV antenna to receive the analogue signal. In Romania, they were homemade, based on handwritten sketches. You needed two steel pipes, one arranged vertically of as much as possible height, and one of around half a metre long welded transversally to the previous one.”

Analogue TV antenna, Romania

Image credit: Adrian Ghita

A charming entry. Looking at the photo, I couldn’t help remembering one modern Russian poet comparing old television antennas on house roofs to “crucifixes without Christ”.

This thought about the resemblance to crosses brings us to the second runner up – Andrew Dodd from the UK, who (hopefully, inspired by one of the examples in my issue 1, 2019 feature introducing the competition – that of Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge, UK – allegedly, the world’s brainiest cemetery, with more Nobel Prize winners buried than anywhere else) submitted a photo of the memorial to “one of Great Britain’s scientific superheroes” in the little hamlet of Paton in Dumfries & Galloway.

James Clerk Maxwell's grave

Image credit: Andrew Dodd Humphries

The name of that “superhero”, whose “cultural significance would be known to every electrical engineer and scientist, interested in electro-magnetism”, is James Clerk Maxwell, whom the reader also credits with producing “the mathematical theory to underpin Faraday’s experimental work”. Despite all those achievements, Dodd is confident that most electrical engineers and scientists do not know where Maxwell’s grave is. “I can bet my life savings on it,” he declares. What can I say? From now on, Mr Dodd will need to watch his life savings much more closely.  

Before saying goodbye, I cannot resist drawing your attention to one more reader’s entry, which did not win any prizes but gave my colleagues and me a moment of recognition and joy.

Red telephone box, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Image credit: Nicholas Jennings

Referring to my feature on the new uses of the old telephone kiosks, ‘Life in the Old Box’, in the same February 2019 issue of E&T, reader Nicholas Jennings attached to his email the photo of “a well-maintained K6” phone box, which he took in the harbour of Harstad, Lofoten Islands, Norway, while on holiday in Scandinavia.

It was pleasing to see that iconic piece of British engineering heritage – “happy” and well-kept, despite being so far away, and standing next to the moored boats, as if itself ready to sail back home.  

What can I say? If we do not find our engineering heritage, it will one day find us! I cannot think of a better metaphor to end this competition.  

Thanks to all the participants. And let’s keep our eyes wide-open for more and more engineering treasures!

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