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Highlands to Deserts

The History of 19th Chief Engineer Works

Highlands to Deserts is the story of a small Australian Army engineering unit determined to use more than bricks and bridges to make a difference, not only to Australian Army units but to indigenous communities both within Australia and overseas. The 19th Chief Engineer Works was raised in 1963 as the Army’s premier engineering consultant, its purpose to plan, design and oversee the construction of barracks and training facilities in the New Guinea highlands. However the men of the unit demonstrated vision far beyond their limited brief, reaching into local communities and building relationships with tribesmen that were to prove strong and enduring. From the wilds of New Guinea, the unit extended its reach to the remote communities of outback Australia, designing infrastructure that reflected local needs. The engineers engaged with indigenous townships, cementing relationships as they planned essential infrastructure, their sole aim to make a difference to local lives. The unit’s military remit ranged from designing bridges and wharfs to training facilities and even churches. The story of the 19th Chief Engineer Works, its people and its achievements, deserves to be far better known and Highlands to Deserts provides rich portrayals of the characters and the trials and tribulations that signpost their history. These are men and women who have invested in communities, large and small, near and far, seeking to improve the daily lives of soldiers and indigenous peoples. Having worked quietly in the background for 55 years, it is now time to tell the story of the 19th Chief Engineer Works.

Doctor Michael Tyquin is a consulting historian based in Tasmania. He has published extensively in the areas of Australian social, medical and military history. He is a serving member of the Australian Army Reserve which he joined as a medical assistant with the 4/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse. He is the official historian of the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps and a former Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health.