John Dunn (1938 – 2013) railway engineer, Bible teacher
You could say that John Dunn had a two-track mind, or rather that his life ran on parallel rails according to design, because the two great passions of his life were trains and the Christian faith. He was one of Australia’s pre-eminent train designers and the historian of Commonwealth Engineering, as well as being a respected Bible teacher and Christian author.
John Charles Dunn was born on November 5, 1938, the youngest of five children to George Dunn and his wife, Edith (nee Hall). In 1956, after finishing school, he began working with Commonwealth Engineering (Granville), a firm founded in 1921 as Smith & Waddington, as an apprentice draughtsman. A neighbour, C. C. Singleton, a founder of the Australian Railway Historical Society, had befriended John as an eager, train-mad teenager and taught him many skills that gave him a head start in his career.
He chose not to seek ordination and returned to Commonwealth Engineering.
Dunn studied mechanical engineering at Sydney Technical College and, later, theology at the Adelaide Bible Institute and Moore Theological College. He chose not to seek ordination and returned to Commonwealth Engineering.
He rose to senior concept engineer in rolling stock design. In the 1970s, Dunn’s design work was involved in the first double-decker electric suburban trains for the Sydney system, designed and built by Commonwealth Engineering. His ideas were also incorporated in the design and construction of XPT trains for the NSW State Rail Authority, described as a quantum leap in the development of modern long-distance passenger trains in Australia.
The firm was flourishing and productive, despite difficulties often caused by political decisions when it was taken over in 1982 by Australian National Industries. After the firm’s closure in 1989, Dunn worked for a decade as a design and production consultant for the new owners of the Dandenong branch, ABB.
When he retired, Dunn continued working on his history of Commonwealth Engineering (the first three volumes published between 2006 and 2010). The books, which cover almost 70 years of Australian industrial history, include Dunn’s photographs along with thousands he rescued from the Commonwealth Engineering archives just hours before the bobcat and tipper trucks moved in to strip the Granville factory site.
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who launched the first volume, said the book was worthy of a much wider audience, for it strikes universal chords and touches on issues such as maintaining Australian research and development and protecting innovations.
From his teens, Dunn was also active in Christian leadership and part of a gifted, enthusiastic group of young people that, in 1961, helped to found a venture called Teen Ranch, a non-profit organisation providing non-denominational Christian adventure camping for young people. Teen Ranch now has many international branches.
Dunn moved to Chatswood in 1972 and belonged to St Paul’s Anglican Church for the rest of his life. Over those years, Dunn, unpaid, was loyally engaged in a program of Bible teaching every Sunday after morning services as well as midweek in homes. He provided and printed teaching notes at his own expense, many of which were later published as books by New Creation Teaching Ministry in South Australia.
He made friends internationally in Christian and railway engineering circles. However, he never married.
Despite his worsening motor neurone disease, with the help of family, church friends and voice recognition computer technology, Dunn completed the last two volumes of the history of Commonwealth Engineering. In recent years, he also wrote and distributed sets of free daily Bible reading notes and, before the end of November, completed December’s notes, covering the last month of the year – and of his life.
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