Website Banner. John Monash: Engineering enterprise prior to World War 1.

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Overview of Projects.

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Bridges   Tanks and Silos   Buildings   Other Projects

Reinforced Concrete Bridges

The Monier arch bridge was something of a white elephant, but it provided Monash & Anderson with useful experience in design and construction in the years 1898-1903. The Anderson Street (now Morell) Bridge, designed and built by Carter Gummow & Co of Sydney, set them on the path. Arch bridges at Fyansford and Creswick (Wheeler's Bridge) were mainly the work of J. T. N. Anderson, but Monash became closely involved after his return from an arbitration case in Perth, in July 1899. A dispute over payment for extras at Fyansford, and the collapse of King's Bridge Bendigo under test, brought the partnership to the verge of financial ruin in 1902 and Anderson left for New Zealand for a salaried position. The limitations of the Monier arch had now become evident and Monash moved gradually to the design of reinforced concrete slab- and then T-girder bridges using French and German texts initially supplied by W. J. Baltzer of the Sydney firm. Many T-girder bridges of varying sizes were built, under the protection of the Monier licence, and contributed to the increasing financial succes of the Reinforced Concrete and Monier Pipe Construction Company.

A list of reinforced concrete bridges, adapted from Lesley Alves's 'Monash Bridges', is provided in the Bridges Index. The Tooronga Road Bridge (1914) built over Gardiner's Creek and now demolished should be mentioned. This was in a class of its own being a portal frame with curved soffit and haunches and a clear span of 18.3m. Some bridges built by the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Company are mentioned. Monash was a founder of this company and held the official position of Consulting Engineer, though he was really Chief Engineer working through resident engineers trained and mentored by him.

Bridges designed by others, and built by Monash's firms as Contractor, include the Barham-Koondrook lift-bridge across the Murray, a timber bridge across the Tambo at Bruthen, and a number of steel railway bridges around Melbourne.

Tanks and Silos


Elevation of the water tower at Echuca. Line drawing.The structures covered under this heading are reinforced concrete vessels for the containment of water, granular materials, etc. Most are cylindrical in form, but a significant number are rectangular. Some are let into the ground; others elevated on stands of various forms. The most significant for our built environment are the water supply reservoirs. These fall into three main types: large cylinders sitting on the ground whose height is less than their diameter (e.g. Mont Park); tall thin cylinders also on-ground, known to Monash and his colleagues as 'standpipes' (e.g. Wunghnu); and cylindrical tanks supported at considerable height by cylindrical shafts (e.g. Echuca). Several rectangular tanks supported on frames were built to feed fire sprinkler systems in factories; but these have proved hard to trace and are probably gone. A significant number of cylindrical silos were built to hold wheat, malt, and farm silage, and some still stand.

The records of the tank and silo projects are much less detailed than those of the bridges. This has made it possible to provide a roughly chronological account of all projects - built and unbuilt, extant and demolished - in one dossier; and give an impression of the development of Monash's ideas and practice. The first record concerns a detailed design for an elevated water tank for the Victorian Railways. This appears in May 1902 with little clue to its origin. This, and several other proposals, were not taken up; but in August 1903 a contract was obtained for a cylindrical on-ground farm tank at Caldermeade, completed in December, and possibly the first reinforced concrete tank in Victoria. Monash completed his first design for a water tower, of the Echuca type, in September 1904, but it was not built. Then followed contracts for 21 malt tanks at the Carlton Brewery and two large on-ground cylinders: at Gisbourne (since demolished) and Bairnsdale. The first 'standpipe' was built at Wunghnu early in 1906. The first sprinkler tank was completed in 1907 and further silos and standpipes were built.

Throughout this period Monash had been refining his ideas on the design of water towers, drawing on precedents overseas, but adapting them to local geographic and economic conditions. Finally in 1911 he obtained a contract for a water tower at Mildura, completed in June 1912. This was followed by Tatura, Rochester and Echuca.

More detailed overview of tanks & silos.
Index of Tanks & Silos (with links to stories and photos).

Tanks and Silos of the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Company.

In a letter sent to Monash in December 1909, four tanks were listed as already completed by SARC. These were 'Magill Tank', 'Pewsey Vale Tank (Lyndoch)', 'Strathalbyn Tank' and 'Tar Tank' (alias Corporation Tar Reservoir?). I have no more information than these four names. In an archive box previously overlooked I found in March 2002 mention of elevated water tanks built by SARC at: Abattoirs, Dry Creek, Adelaide (2 tanks) 1912; Mannum 1912; Tailem Bend 1912; Gladstone 1913; Murray Bridge 1913; Taplan 1914; Noarlunga 1914; Reynella 1914?; Renmark 1914? [record ceases with first consignment of materials]; Islington 1915? [record ceases with winning of contract]

These tanks were of the type developed by Monash in Victoria. They were supported on a thin-walled cylindrical shaft stiffened by horizontal diaphragms, rather than on a framework of braced columns. The diameter of the shaft was smaller than or equal to that of the tank. From 1912 SARC found itself in competition for these projects with The Concrete Steel Contracting Company whose engineer had previously worked for SARC.

A number of on-ground tanks were built, including two for the Wallaroo and Moonta Mining and Smelting Co Ltd which consisted of r.c. walls and clay floors. (The record for these tanks ceases with winning of the contract in 1914).

The SARC Co built a railway water tank at Mile End in 1911, though they did not design it. [Photo.]

More detailed overview of tanks & silos.
Index of Tanks & Silos (with links to stories and photos).



Monash did little engineering work on buildings in the early years of his practice. There was a steel transit shed for the Melbourne Harbor Trust (1892), minor work on two small shops (1895), and strengthening of timber floors in a tobacco factory (1895). ['Buildings Page 1'] A turning point came in January 1903 when J W Baltzer was invited to Melbourne to boost Monash's knowledge of reinforced concrete theory and practice, particularly in regard to buildings [link].

Caution and conservatism meant the majority of architects, builders, prospective owners, and municipal authorities were reluctant to adopt the new technique. Owners and workers concerned with supply and erection of brick, steel, and timber saw their vested interests threatened. Existing city building regulations made no provision for reinforced concrete, so it was necessary to gain permission from a panel of experts, the Building Referees, for each individual city project. (Despite Monash's best efforts the regulations were not revised until after he left for WW1.)

Another problem was Monash's need to preserve his Monier licence, establish and maintain the reputation of the new material for quality, and guard his intellectual property. He therefore insisted that his firm design and carry out all r.c. work, preferably on contract to the building owner and under the direct supervision of the architect, rather than as subcontractor to the master builder. This caused resentment.

Monash started in a small way with commissions from architects to design and build components such as a domestic balcony and roof. His first major project in r.c. consisted of two ribbed floors supported on steel beams in the NMLA Offices in the provincial gold-mining city of Ballarat (designed from March 1904, built May 1905). In June 1904 he promoted the new material by presenting a paper on Reinforced Concrete in Building Construction to the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects.

In mid-1905, his efforts were rewarded by permission from the Referees to build the internal structure of Bank Place Chambers entirely in reinforced concrete. The external walls were still required to be of masonry (brick). Design started about March 1905, and the structure was finished mid-1906. The next major building projects were a substructure for the AMLF Stores in the suburb of Kensington (completed end of 1906) and a 5-storey block of offices for AMLF in the City. These structures were entirely of r.c. except for external walls of masonry. Projects initiated in 1906 were for portions of buildings only: floors, partitions, and stairs. The most interesting was for the Dental Hospital in Melbourne.

An important development in 1906 was the foundation of the SARC, effectively Monash's Adelaide office. In 1907 SARC started calculations for major projects at Kither's Building (mainly r.c. with some structural steel) and the Register Building with r.c. floors on steel columns.

1907 saw a number of significant projects from the Melbourne office. The City Abattoirs in Kensington were designed almost entirely in r.c. (constructed mid-1908). A building for JM's backer, David Mitchell, was completed in Oliver's Lane, in the City of Melbourne, by the end of 1907. It has brick side walls, but the entire internal structure and probably the front and rear facades are of r.c. Design of the Central Telephone Exchange in Melbourne was initiated in May 1907. It was completed early in 1909. An extra floor and r.c. roof were added to the BATC Building. The task of adding r.c. stories on top of conventional buildings became a significant bread-winner. In July 1907 Monash's office started work on the Commercial Bank in Launceston, completed late in 1909.

In 1908 there were again many projects involving portions of buildings: floors for steel frames; encasement of steel beams and columns; additional storeys. The only certain exception in Melbourne was a second building for David Mitchell. In Adelaide, SARC started design of a major project at Bowman's Building in King William Street. A significant event in 1908 was Monash's tender for extensions to the Melbourne Public Library, including the domed Reading Room. RCMPC's tender for r.c. work was accepted by the architect prior to the calling of the general tender. This brought JM's conflict with the Master Builders Association to a head, and they successfully lobbied to have the arrangement overturned in February 1909.

Larger projects initiated by RCMPC in 1909 were Albany Chambers, Stuart's Warehouse and additions to McCracken's Brewery. The first two had masonry external walls, but McCracken's included at least some walls in reinforced concrete. Architects were now beginning to ask RCMPC to quote for buildings in which the r.c. work had been designed by them or their consultants. In April 1909, JM was obliged to assert his patent against his architect/engineer colleague Charles D'Ebro [link].

The Monier patent covering in situ r.c. construction expired in February 1910. Not many building projects were initiated in that year, perhaps because Monash made a six-month sabbatical world tour. SARC started work on Jackman's Cafe in Adelaide, probably almost entirely in r.c., while RCMPC started design of Collins House. They seem to have acted as master builders for the central building block, which was also entirely in r.c. The only other significant building projects in 1910 were Ackman's Warehouse (r.c. internal structure within masonry walls) and extensions to the City Abattoirs.

In 1911 RCMPC initiated more building projects than in any other year prior to the war. Many were small-to-medium portions, alterations or additions. Notable buildings in Melbourne were the GNCS Offices and Stores, the Centre Way Arcade, Queensland House and Francis's Pharmacy. Other large contracts formed part of the Savings Bank, additions to the BATC factory, and warehouses for Patterson Laing & Bruce. Building projects initiated by SARC in Adelaide included offices for Dr Verco and an internal structure for Fowler's warehouse. In November of this year, Monash intervened to improve the drafting of the South Australian Building Act. Growing competition was exemplified by the construction of a r.c. Wool Store in Geelong by Stone & Siddeley.

In complete contrast, 1912 saw only portions, alterations or additions initiated. The largest project was for horizontal surfaces, stairs, and encasement of steel members at Watson's Building. Two large r.c. rafts were laid for the Central Cool Stores. Design commenced on the Hylands Building in Melbourne and Professional Chambers in Adelaide.

In 1913 the major project initiated was the Melbourne Wool Exchange. Its internal structure was largely of r.c., but the external walls were of masonry. RCMPC seems to have acted as master builder. Two smaller buildings in Melbourne were Roughton's and Wardrop's, both entirely in r.c. In Adelaide a start was made on design of a second building for Verco and another for Moore. JM found it necessary to make further representations about the latest version of the draft SA Building Act.

Two major projects initiated by RCMPC in 1914 were extensions to Collins House, and a new eight-storey building: Elizabeth House. In both cases RCMPC was general contractor. Smaller projects included Denyer's Building (entirely in r.c.), Dunkling House (RCMPC apparently working to architect's drawings for r.c.), and the Coates Building, a thin tower block probably with infill masonry external walls, where RCMPC provided specialist design-and-construct services to the builder. In a last effort at promoting r.c. in April 1914, Monash used his Presidential Address to the Victorian Institute of Engineers to argue that steel building frames were uneconomic in the local context compared with r.c. [link].


Other projects.

Water-supply and drainage.

Pipe factories in Melbourne and later in Adelaide provided a steady stream of income from the less glamorous business of supplying and sometimes installing concrete pipes. Varying lengths and diameters of pipes were laid in several Melbourne suburbs, and in Elmore, Mildura, Bendigo, Eaglehawk, Colac, and Benalla. A significant amount of work was gained in supplying Monier slabs or shallow arches to cover lengths of previously open drain in the surrounds of Melbourne. Another significant type was the 'inverted syphon' or 'subway' - a sort of tunnel carrying water from an irrigation channel under an intersecting river. An example was the syphon carrying the East Goulburn Channel under Muddy Creek near Moorilim (1908-9). Others were built in the Parishes of Dargalong and Arcadia. Monash insisted on numbering them to avoid confusion, but foremen used the names 'Broken River', 'Castle Creek', and 'Seven Creeks'.

Projects in the mining industry

During the partnership with J. T. N. Anderson there was much involvement in mining projects. The story of the 'aerial ropeway' or conveyor system for the Landys Dream Gold Mining Co. near Walhalla is described in Serle, G. 'John Monash', Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1982, p.122-3. Particularly interesting were three underground pump chambers with Monier arch roof vaults supported on dwarf walls, for the New Havilah, Charlotte Plains, and Junction Deep Leads Mines. An attempt at the Berry Consol Extended mine to line a drive in heaving ground with precast segments was unfortunately unsuccessful.

Dams and Weirs.

Monash designed and built a number of dams and weirs with a reinforced concrete core supported by earth slopes. These included weirs at Mawallock Station near Beaufort and at North Woodlands, Navarre, near Stawell; and a dam for the Koweinguboora Reservoir on the Upper Eastern Moorabool River near Ballan. At Gorrinn Station near Ararat, Monash provided a concrete downstream face for an overflow dam, and was involved in strengthening and raising the weir in the spillway of the Upper Stoney Creek Reservoir, Durdiwarrah.

Marine Structures

Monash designed a number of marine structures [list] but the only contract brought to completion was a wharf 136m long on the Port River at Glanville near Adelaide for Colonial Sugar Refineries [link].

Concrete Pontoon.

In a class of its own is a reinforced concrete pontoon designed and built to an order of A. B. Moncrieff, Chief Engineer of South Australia, for use on the Port River. The pontoon was 15.2m long and 6.7m wide and had a crane mounted at one end. Only one was supplied. Story.


A number of projects involved minor works of an industrial nature, including flues at the Spencer St Power Station in Melbourne and the CSR works at Yarraville. Larger works comprised a Charging Stage and retaining walls to the Coal Pocket at the South Melbourne Gas Works and a basement/foundation to the Ammonia House at the Metropolitan Gas Co.

Wall Structures.

Under this heading I have placed structures which consist of tall walls resisting the overturning pressure of water or earth. Most interesting from a structural engineer's point of view is the free-standing cantilever type, equipped with a horizontal base slab to provide stability. Taller versions also have stiffening ribs at the back of the wall, known as counterforts. The largest such project built was the Preston Reservoir No.2 (1909) whose six-metre walls, backed by an earth bank, enclose 2 hectares (5 acres) of concrete floor. Similar projects for Lovely Banks, near Geelong and for the Cities of Oakleigh and Nhill did not come to fruition. Smaller projects included counterfort retaining walls for bridge abutments and buildings. Simple cantilever retaining walls without counterforts appeared in many projects, including sea walls (non of them adopted), industrial structures and even garden walls.

Retaining walls also featured in designs for swimming pools. Here Monash used an intriguing system in the form of a horizontal fin running behind the wall. No computations have been found to suggest the type of structural action that he envisaged. Pools were built for St Peter's College in Adelaide and for the City of Fitzroy [in Melbourne]. Projects for the Cities of Melbourne and Essendon were fruitless.

For these and other projects involving retaining walls, see Wall Index. (Simple walls, acting as vertical plates to resist horizontal earth pressure, and supported at top and sides by the structural frame appeared of course in many building basements and industrial structures. These have not been discussed under this heading.)


Monash acted as consultant in a number of smaller projects, which included mechanical engineering. He combined his engineering knowledge with his qualification in law as witness in major contract arbitration cases, was himself an arbitrator, and represented clients in a number of actions brought by individuals. Initially he did much work as a patent attorney but his interest waned as he became increasingly dismayed by the travails of patentees.