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Pioneers create building blocks of next industrial revolution

By Jim Durack - posted Tuesday, 15 May 2001

I am a fourth-generation Australian. The story of the first two generations of my family in Australia has been told by my aunt Dame Mary Durack, in her book Kings in Grass Castles.

That story told of discovery, hardship, creativity and perseverance in bringing cattle to Western Queensland and to the Kimberley in the north-west of Western Australia. The grasslands their cattle grazed had only recently been discovered by the early European explorers. It proved a very different environment from the lands that they had left. They had much to learn, much to create and many problems to solve.

Like other pioneering families the early Duracks worked within the context of the values of their time. It is easy to criticise and point to the mistakes they made as well as to their achievements.


My uncle Kim Durack was one of the first to recognise some of these mistakes. Trained as an agricultural scientist he saw the environmental degradation that could result from large scale cattle grazing.

In the 1940s he established the Ord River Experimental Station in the Kimberley in an attempt to better understand how the land could be farmed sustainably rather than ‘using up’ the land and moving on to fresh pastures.

I am a structural engineer and my brother Michael Durack is an architect. We have followed different careers from our pioneering ancestors but there are some parallels. Michael studied architecture at the University of Queensland during the heady days of the 1960’s. His passion has been to challenge the frontiers and extend the boundaries of his profession.

Conventional building construction has achieved much but has also made mistakes.

My uncle Kim recognised the unsustainable nature of some agricultural practices 50 years ago. It is only in recent years that the unsustainable nature of building construction has been recognised.

When I decided to study engineering I shared some of the idealism of 1960s. I wanted not only to make a good living but also to contribute to developments that would enhance quality of life.


It was with some disappointment that I found a profession that was largely a service industry to ‘big business’. The priority was short-term financial return on investment. I am proud to say that this is now changing.

But buildings are still made from virgin natural resources cut from forests and extracted from mines. When a building is demolished the ‘used up’ materials are dumped as landfill. This process is not sustainable. Like the grasslands that my forefathers used up, there is a limit to what we can take from the environment and to how much ‘rubbish’ we can dump.

The book Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken et al has been hailed by Bill Clinton among others as a rational basis for sustainable development. It supports the acknowledged importance of ‘triple bottom line’ accounting and marketing that measures and judges a company’s social and environmental performance alongside its financial performance.

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About the Author

Jim Durack is Director of Engineering Research at Ultimate Masonry Australia.

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