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Being a DIY infrastructure protagonist

Infrastructure is a risk-taking business
DIY protagonists bring a clear and purposeful deployment of resources to deliver what they perceive as good long-term outcomes for themselves and the communities they serve - they have little tolerance in waiting for government to act.

DIY protagonists come in different forms - individuals, families, small and medium business, corporations and community groups. They have little tolerance in waiting for government to act in the actual provision of infrastructure assets or improvement in services.

Who are DIY protagonists?

Australia is a nation of ideas. These case examples describe people, corporates and communities that are entrepreneurial and innovative. Their restlessness with the status quo brings little allegiance to comply with the rules of the infrastructure game. Each case study is intended to develop insight as to the importance of the DIY infrastructure protagonist to the broader economic and social fabric of the nation.

These are the stories of the infrastructure protagonists that have limited tolerance in waiting for government to act in the actual provision of infrastructure assets or improvement in services.

The following section distils the context and insights about the behaviour and motivation of the DIY infrastructure protagonists. At times they are driven by sheer frustration with bureaucratic inertia and overreach; for others it is more about inspiration coupled with a vision to do things better. Then there are those just concerned with equipping their communities with the right assets (and business models) so they can live healthy and active lives. 

Australian DIY protagonists

Toowoomba, Queensland

The Wagner family's development of the Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba, Queensland is a classic example of entrepreneurial insight and motivation overcoming bureaucratic gaps.

Before Brisbane West Wellcamp was built, no international airport had been developed in Australia in over 40 years; there were no rules or processes in place for guidance; and the government view was that a local developer had no business being in airport development. Read full story.

Pilbara region, Western Australia

Over the last 50 years, the Pilbara has proved to be one of the most successful economic development stories in Australia’s history. The large-scale industrial complex of today’s Pilbara iron ore industry belies the extremely humble beginnings of the region, with one man, Lang Hancock, leading a fight with the state and Australian governments to permit exploration, development and export of iron ore.

Not only did Hancock identify the ore bodies and appreciate their enormous potential, he had the determination to create a new export industry. Read full story.

Sydney, New South Wales

The ability to control risks and costs to deliver infrastructure that is beyond the capability of government features strongly in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel built by Transfield and Kumagai Gumi. Like Wagner and Hancock, Transfield was a strongly entrepreneurial family-centric business controlled by the Belgiorno-Nettis and Saltieri families, with an extraordinarily successful track record in a diverse range of engineering-related industries.

Transfield saw the opportunity to increase cross-harbour traffic capacity from Sydney’s northern suburbs to the CBD that could not be achieved through changes to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Read full story.

Melbourne, Victoria

The concept of community is a critical component of infrastructure planning. Community provides the social licence for the private sector to access state resources, but can also play an active role in planning and procuring its own infrastructure needs.

Members of the Beaumaris Sports Club in Melbourne, Victoria, decided to take its destiny into their own hands. They built a new, combined sports and community facility to provide for their sporting needs and act as a catalyst for enhanced community involvement. Read full story.

Daylesford, Victoria

The residents of Daylesford, Victoria developed their own wind farm as a public statement of their support for progressive climate change energy policies.

By adapting a localised, co-op style project, Daylesford came hard up against one of the real difficulties in economic infrastructure planning and development: the extremely high fixed project development costs required to complete the regulatory approvals process before construction and operation even starts. Read full story.

From all their (protagonists') perspectives, none of them are looking for fancy descriptions or titles but just a sense of satisfaction of just getting the job done – being pragmatic, smarter and empowered.
Garry Bowditch