AWA in WA – 1972-Present

The early years

The Australian Water Association (AWA) started life nationally in 1962 under the name of Australian Water and Wastewater Association (AWWA), with state branches in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland. A number of attempts were made in 1960-62 to start a WA branch but for a variety of reasons this proved unsuccessful. There was little happening at the time with respect to the treatment processes in the local water industry, the State was still badly underfunded and what water development was undertaken was dominated by the public sector, mainly the Metropolitan Water Board (MWB).  

The fortunes of WA changed dramatically from the mid 1960’s to the early 1970’s due to the first iron ore and nickel boom which was accompanied for a few years by 5% per annum population growth in Perth. This growth generated an increase in infrastructure including water and sewerage and had encouraged the development of both local and national consulting firms in WA. The need for higher levels of water and wastewater treatment also supported the usefulness of a national body that could cater for all water professionals and directly help with their growing technical needs.

Don Montgomery, then Chief Engineer Sewerage and Drainage at the MWB, called a meeting for May 1st 1972 to form a WA branch of AWWA. Thirty seven attended, agreed to form a branch and appointed an interim committee of:  D.D.T Montgomery, B.S. Sanders, Dr R. Lugg and Dr T. Meagher to get the branch underway. Thirty membership applications were forwarded to Federal Council and at their meeting of May 30th 1972 they approved the WA Branch.

The first AGM was help on September 20th 1972 at the Institution of Engineers, West Perth with 38 members attending. The first official branch committee was elected consisting of: D. Montgomery (President), G.B Hill (Vice President), B. Sanders (Honorary Secretary / Treasurer) T. Meagher, N. Platell, R. Lugg and C. Tucak.  Messrs, Montgomery and Sanders were elected as federal Councillors and attended the November 1972 Council Meeting.

The branch grew steadily throughout the 1970’s with its activities limited to 4-5 technical meetings, the odd site visit and a social event each year. Most technical meetings were held at Engineers Australia in West Perth. In 1975, GB Hill and Partners became WA’s first corporate member. Don Montgomery became the first WA member elected as National president in 1977 and somewhat to everyone’s surprise, persuaded the Federal Council to allocate the 1981 biennial national conference to the new branch.

Throughout the 1970’s individual meetings were advertised to members by circular, but in 1979 Charles Tucak declared these “public service” style documents boring and proposed a new style newsletter. He became editor and after much debate invented the name “Waisted Worters” for his new, one page production.

The 1980’s

Waisted Worters slowly grew and after Rein Loo became editor in 1981 it blossomed as the branch’s official newsletter. This newsletter became a major monthly production and its somewhat challenging style proved very popular with most of the members, while provoking considerable controversy from time to time.

The WA Branch successfully ran its first national Conference in 1981, despite a slow early response to registrations and an airline strike a week before the event! The event was held at the Perth Sheraton Hotel and in the end achieved a then record number of 300 delegates.

While the Federal Council with equal representation from each branch has continued to today with a variety of names, it was the early 1980’s that saw the appointment of an elected national executive to manage day to day affairs.  In more recent years (since 2004) with changes to governance, this executive has become an elected national board. WA members who have served on the national elected Executive/Board include Don Montgomery, Barry Sanders, Rein Loo, Jeff Camkin and Peter Moore.  In 1982 the Association elected Don Montgomery as the first honorary Life Member from WA. 

One very successful initiative from the branch was the introduction of regional weekend seminars. These were aimed at trying to build up regional membership while widening the interests of the Perth based members. Due to the great distances in WA along with associated time and cost issues, these events were confined to reasonable “car distances” in the South-West. For some time these weekends away were very popular and were held annually.

The 1990’s

The branch was allocated the 1991 national biennial conference and this was held at the Sheraton and Langley Hotels with delegates at risk every time they sprinted across Hill Street to attend a different stream of papers!  This was again a most successful conference with the introduction of an exhibition as its claim to fame. There seemed to be no room, despite two hotels, for an exhibition due to multi-streams of papers, a gala dinner and 500+ delegates.  However a very reluctant Sheraton Manager was persuaded to allow the erection of a giant marquee on the flat roof of the Hotel’s swimming pool, and 46 booths were eventually squeezed in. 

The Australian water industry went through massive change in the 1990’s, with COAG reforms, corporatisation of utilities and a huge effort to produce new national water guidelines to cover 20 areas ranging from drinking water quality rules to managing wastewater overflows.  Many of our WA Branch members were involved in this reform effort, some for much of the decade. The branch was involved in holding a number of public consultation seminars to explain draft guidelines.

Barry Sanders became the 2nd National President from WA in 1991 and Australia’s Board member on IWA in 1993. Professor Jorg Imberger (UWA) won the national AWA Peter Hughes Award and followed this with a win in the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, and Margaret Domurad in becoming WA Branch President in 1996 was the first female president in any AWA branch. 

In 1996 the Branch created the Don Montgomery Award for outstanding service to the WA Branch.

The National Water Environment Merit Award was founded in 1993 and was won by the WA nomination from SKM who cleaned up the pollution from Albany’s fertiliser works. WA was to win this award three more times. In 1994 WA started its Undergraduate Water Prize for final year university students and this event has continued very successfully to the present day, with the award now known as the Student Water Prize. 

Ever since AWA commenced there had been some members who disliked the name “Australian Water and Wastewater Association” and complaints ranged from the use of the word “wastewater” to having the same abbreviation (AWWA) as the American Water Works Association. In 1999, after intense debate around Australia, it was decided to change to the present Australian Water Association.

Into the 21st Century

The past 16 years were dominated by declining rainfall and water resources in all major Australian Cities. This was not a new situation for South-West WA as runoff into dams had declined from 1974. This has lead to heavy dependence on Perth’s groundwater resources, but when the Water Corporation was refused permission to use the South Yarragadee groundwater aquifer as a major new source, the introduction of desalination became inevitable. It is perhaps ironic that other States criticised WA for this initiative, only to follow a few years later to cope with a 10 year drought.

The movement to non climate dependent sources was coupled with a strong demand management campaign by all water utilities. This change of focus in WA along with the mining boom, contributed to the strong growth of the WA AWA Branch as it widened its interests to match those of its members.

This growth was only possible due to the branch appointing its first staff member in 2003. Cath Miller came to AWA as Branch Manager with a background in Civil Engineering and event Management. She immediately increased the tempo with more technical meetings and seminars (about 12 a year from 6 previously), the occasional regional conference and an annual dinner which became the Branch’s marque event and its awards night.  

In 2005 a national undergraduate prize was established and the WA winner took out the national title on 2008. The major national award which had been renamed the “National Infrastructure Innovation Award” was won in both 2011 and 2012 by the WA Branch nominees.

A Young Water Professionals group was established in Perth in 2006, originally as a portfolio for a young member of the branch committee. One of WA’s Young Professionals, Amanda Hazell – Water Corporation, became National Young Professional Vice-President in 2008 and President in 2010.  

WA Branch Presidents

     Don Montgomery    
2.   Gordon Hill 
3.   Jack Katnic
4.   Charles Tucak 
5.   Noel Platell 
6.   Barry Robbins
7.   Rein Loo   
8.    Barry Sanders
9.    Allen Gale  
10.   Rob Goldfinch
11.   Margaret Domurad 
12.   Des Boland
13.   Peter Moore
14.   Trevor  Winton
15.   Jeff Camkin 
16.   Peter Addison 
17.   Noel Lavery
18.   Denis Ericson
19.   Peter McCafferty
20.   Deanne McDonald
21.   Rachel Evans   2018-2020  
22.   Peter Spencer   2020 to present  

Don Montgomery Award 

1996  J Holbrook
1997  C Tucak
1998  P Jack
2004  M Domurad
2006  B Sanders
2007  D Boland
2008  R Loo
2009  D Ericson
2010  D Lord
2011  P Moore
2018  P McCafferty
2019  D Crawford 

Honorary Life Membership (from WA)

D Montgomery
B Sanders
R Loo
D Boland

Exceptional Service Award (Award Patron: George Goffin) (from WA)

2000 B Sanders