William Calder

William Calder (1860 – 1928) engineer
William Calder, first chairman of the Country Roads Board of Victoria, was a devout Presbyterian and member of his church boards of management of Footscray and Armadale. He was a conscientious and methodical worker.

William Calder was born in New Zealand and moved to Victoria. He worked in private engineering and surveying firms. In October 1889 he became assistant town surveyor for the City of Footscray, and in July 1890 town engineer. At night he studied to gain certificates as municipal engineer (1890) and engineer of water-supply (1892). From December 1897 to March 1913, Calder was city engineer and building surveyor to the City of Prahran.

Among his achievements were construction of, allegedly, the first asphalted carpet-road surface and the first refuse destructor in Australia, and the completion of a major drainage project.

By 1912 the appalling condition of Victoria’s rural roads was a major concern to both farmers and motorists. That year a Country Roads Board was set up and Calder was appointed chairman, with W. T. B. McCormack and F. W. Fricke as the other members. In its first two years, the board travelled ceaselessly, inspecting a road system neglected by indigent municipalities since the building of the railways.

A meticulous note-taker and enthusiastic photographer, Calder recorded the board’s progress; his notes were transcribed and used as a basic reference for many years. Maps were published in 1914 and 1915 showing the roads selected for improvement. The board was endlessly tactful in receiving interest groups pressing for various improvements, while insisting on high standards of construction and financial control.

After 1918 there were shortages of money and manpower for road-building. Calder campaigned publicly and privately for more funds, especially for arterial roads, and invariably attained rapport with a succession of ministers. In 1924 he toured Europe and North America; his report, published that year, is widely regarded as a classic of road-construction practice and road-administration.

In it he evaluated the contemporary controversy over the use of cement concrete (the American model) and bituminous pavement (the British); he favoured the latter for Australian conditions. Other recommendations included experiments with new materials and a fuel tax to replace the vehicle tax. Maintenance was to be given high priority, and he also stressed the importance of regulation of motor transport to preserve road surfaces and to raise revenue.

Many of Calder’s recommendations were included in the important Highways and Vehicles Act of 1924, which provided for the declaration of State highways, two-thirds financed by the State government through the C.R.B. This network of highways is perhaps Calder’s main achievement: the road to Bendigo and Mildura was named after him. The board’s organization was copied in other States, New Zealand and Fiji. He long advocated Federal assistance in highway construction, and attended the first meeting of the Federal Aid Roads Board set up under the Act of 1926.

He was a devout Presbyterian and member of his church boards of management of Footscray and Armadale. He retained a pleasant but definite Scots burr all his life. Small, with a pointed beard and a ‘puckish sense of humour’, he was a conscientious and methodical worker, of conservative disposition and unchallenged integrity. He encouraged young engineers with initiative and had close links with Professor Henry Payne of the University of Melbourne.

Survived by his wife, a son and a daughter, he was buried in Cheltenham cemetery after a ceremony at Gardiner Presbyterian Church.

Complete details : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A070529b.htm

The Calder Highway

Henry Payne
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