Grant’s mum was of Scottish decent who arrived in Australia as a teenager, while his father is Aboriginal, growing up pretty roughly on the missions.
Growing up Grant and his dad would have great discussions on politics, law and economics, but this really didn’t interest Grant too much.
He discovered a talent within himself for drawing, sketching and painting. So, he thought to become an architect, but then his dad discovered a summer camp that introduced students to engineering. And his life changed….
engineering can be anything….you can actually do anything through engineering
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: Technology is changing everything, and you’ve got to keep up. It’s particularly important for the Indigenous communities…
making sure that these communities, while still keeping a connection to their culture and their land, not falling behind on that exposure to the technology and seeing how we can potentially assist them.
Advice: Especially for Indigenous children considering engineering, never think you can’t do it, that you’re not smart enough
You find a way to do it, and you find a way to achieve it and you’ll get there
The Sydney Opera House, for a few reasons, but mainly because of his personal connection with it…
it looks amazing and my grandfather worked on it.
While not ‘traditional’ engineers, Grant greatly admires both his Grandfathers
from two complete opposite sides…. they both faced racism and criticism…. they showed passion in what they did. Even against adversity and hardship and everything else.
Grant is a founding Director of Jabin Group Pty Ltd, a 100% Indigenous owned and managed Engineering & Construction Services company. He holds the honour of being the inaugural Chairman of the Indigenous Engineers Group, a Chartered Professional Engineer (Structural/Leadership & Management) and Fellow within Engineers Australia. Grant is a proud descendant of the Gumbaynggirr and Biripi nations of Northern NSW.
Starting out as a Structural Engineer working on aviation, industrial and commercial projects, Grant found his passion in the area of Facades and sustainable design initiatives and has worked for some of the industries largest consulting companies where he has worked to help drive change in the construction industry towards reducing our environmental impact, reduced carbon output and overall material consumption.
In addition to his professional work, Grant helps to mentor young indigenous engineers and looks to develop the Indigenous Engineers Group into a national group that provides support, networking and developmental opportunities for current and future Indigenous Engineers.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 4 Episode 3
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Grant Maher
Grant: [00:00:00] I originally sought out to be an architect, believe it or not, because I liked drawing. I love sketching and painting and things on it. But I was in about year 10, and my dad found a article in a indigenous paper called the Koori Mail. And Dad was actually reading it and found this summer school, an engineering summer school, and it was going to be the first indigenous engineering summer school that was going to be held at Sydney Uni. So he said , this is kind of up your alley. You seem to be really interested in this, what about you I applied for it and i got in and I attended the very first, back in 1998, so I went along to that. Yeah, it was amazing. Spent the whole week sort of learning about what engineering is, you know, going through the United chemical and mechanical, civil or that kind of thing. And I just said to dad, look, I really want to do engineering. I think it’s what I see myself doing , and I’m really interested in it. So dad said, well, you better pull your finger out and study hard. And they were really supportive, even though we lived pretty hard, you know, I had a really supportive family which might be a lot easier.
[00:01:04] Mel: [00:01:04] Oh wow.
[00:01:06] What a great starting story and yeah. Yeah, it’s great that those programs are so important. So, um, you came out of university eventually,
[00:01:18]what was your first project that you worked on?
[00:01:20]Grant: [00:01:20] so when I came out, I was sort of trying to find who suited me best to apply to. And I end up getting it as a structural engineer with Connor Wagner, which is obviously, , Aurecon now.
[00:01:33]they added really good team that all wanted to work for that, working on some really good projects. Thankfully I got accepted through some networks, which is how it is within engineering.
[00:01:45] Yeah. And I got along really well during the interview and everything. So my first big project that I worked on was the expansions to the terminal to Sydney airport.
[00:01:55] Dom: [00:01:55] Oh, okay.
[00:01:56] Grant: [00:01:56] so I started out working as a graduate engineer on that. So that was the redevelopment and extension of the food court at Terminal 2. And also the extensions to the air bridges. So that was quite a big upgrade at the time. so I worked on a pretty small team and about halfway through the lead engineer left. And it was pretty much me and the director , who was semi retired.
[00:02:26]so I ended up taking on quite a lot which was a very steep learning curve.
[00:02:31] Mel: [00:02:31] When you say halfway through, are you talking about a year in or two
[00:02:35] Grant: [00:02:35] years? Yeah, I was about a year and a bit in, so i had only been working a year and a half.
[00:02:42] Dom: [00:02:42] That’s a serious project as well, especially considering all the land side, air side implications and.
[00:02:47] Yeah, all the inter-connections and yeah.. Baptism of fire that one
[00:02:53] Grant: [00:02:53] That was good though. I was pretty lucky that obviously the team was really good. there was a lot of work, obviously long hours and things like that.
[00:03:00]Dom: [00:03:00] So far in your career, is there an interesting project that stands out? Is this something that you’ve been involved in that you’d sort of, say it was a highlight to your career?
[00:03:10] Grant: [00:03:10] There’s probably been a couple that I’ve worked on , probably one of the bigger ones that pushed me into facades a little bit, was, got to work on the Surry Hills Community Center which is just a small project, but it was quite a quite challenging project.
[00:03:25]It became quite a challenge in terms of the client, the builder, the consultant that worked on it. But the design itself was quite an interesting one. Working on the principles of a sustainable design
[00:03:34] so, you know, trying to utilize a, what they called a bio-filter to filtrate the air that flows through the library. Yep. So I’m trying to give this idea of not trying to use passive strategies, things like that. So from that perspective, that’s what I found really interesting. Because it moved away from that standardized design of a building. So that was a really interesting one that showed to me that this is something I really want to focus on learning about.
[00:03:59] Um, The other one was Barrangarru was the most recent one, that was kind of a little bit different cause I worked on the contractor side. So not just in design. I actually worked with the people fabricating and installing. I got to work on site pretty much full time. And just seeing that whole area develope and grow from being a concrete slab to what it is today.
[00:04:25]Dom: [00:04:25] Did you find that that also helped your engineering. Getting the opportunity to work on the other side of the fence rather than just being on the consulting side.
[00:04:33] Grant: [00:04:33] Definitely , it definitely gives you a better insight to what goes on. so you’re not just sitting on one side just doing calculations and maybe seeing from time to time how things work, whereas being on day to day, you learn more about the supply chain and the fabrication side and what actually goes into making facades and how they’re being installed and the teams that work in it and all the little fiddly aspects of each one. Yeah, definitely. improves your engineering, Brian.
[00:05:02] Dom: [00:05:02] I’ve sat in a few building projects meetings where you’ll have the building side go, it looks beautiful, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to build this thing. So it’s not until you actually see that side where you’ve got to put it together, physically put it together and work on that buildability, I think that helps to round everything out from an engineering perspective.
[00:05:21] So where are you working now?
[00:05:23]Grant: [00:05:23] So I’m based in Brisbane now. So I moved back up here about four years ago. And I’ve actually just started my own company.
[00:05:32] Mel: [00:05:32] Congratulations.
[00:05:33] Grant: [00:05:33] Thank you. So it’s called Jabin Group. It’s actually a extension of an existing small company that my business partner.
[00:05:40] So my business partner is another indigenous man , Dennis, he’s from . up near Cairnes. So far North Queensland. We’ve known each other for five or six years.
[00:05:48] Mel: [00:05:48] was it a big leap to go out on your own?
[00:05:50]Grant: [00:05:50] It was kind of, it’s been in the pipeline for a little while. So it didn’t feel as big. but definitely a little bit nerve wracking. And then coinciding with the COVID. So my first week of my new business, coincided with the first week of lockdown.
[00:06:12]But we were pretty lucky we had some contracts already lined up.
[00:06:16] Mel: [00:06:16] So it’s really new, new
[00:06:18] Grant: [00:06:18] Yeah, about 6 or 7 weeks
[00:06:22] Mel: [00:06:22] Wow. Okay.
[00:06:24] Dom: [00:06:24] Yeah. It’s always fun when that stuff happens. The business I’ve started with, my brother was about three or four weeks before the global financial crisis hit. So I left the company I was with and sort of walked in and we thought we had all these projects and then overnight, all these jobs just disappeared and kind of gone Great! What have we done!
[00:06:43]you get through. It’s amazing once you sort of get through it all to the, to be able to sort of stand back and see what you’ve done. It’s awesome. It’s a great accomplishment. So
[00:06:52] Mel: [00:06:52] Are you still in facades?
[00:06:54]Grant: [00:06:54] I’m still doing a bit of consulting.
[00:06:57] But obviously with the facade side of things. So I’d do some design management cause I did it quite a bit of design management role and I worked as a contractor. so just assisting businesses and that sort of thing. Procure management , design engineering. Yeah. So there’s that kind of thing.
[00:07:11] Dom: [00:07:11] Are you mainly in Queensland or do you do work across Australia? Are you
[00:07:16] Grant: [00:07:16] doing my recent jobs? It’s just been in Sydney, so I’m helping out a facade contractor do some design and procurement work for Randwick Hospital building down there.
[00:07:30]yeah. Talking to a lot of people at the moment, they’re pretty interested in what we’re doing. And particularly , we’re pretty specialist in w e ‘re a hundred percent indigenous owned and managed. yeah, we’re both pretty high level professionals, qualified professionals as well .
[00:07:45] I think blurs across the engineering field in general in terms of attracting talent to come and work as engineers and or study and work within the engineering field. And on the indigenous side of things, a lot of indigenous people are very focused in the law and health side of things. There’s a good reason for that. And it’s generally because of upbringing. You know your brought up and you, you’ve always got people around you that have pretty heavily involved in politics for one law and health. And that is generally because of, they see that as a way to help their families, their communities.
[00:08:23] Mel: [00:08:23] They’re the ones that have the main contact with their communities. That’s right. The visual
[00:08:27] Grant: [00:08:27] contact. yeah, particularly if you’ve come from a pretty hard background and you see that as a way to obviously help yourself because you’re getting an education, but you see that as a way that it’s not just you, you’re helping a lot of other people. So engineering and you don’t really get that sort of exposure around that industry. Well, obviously my role with EA and there’s a lot of bright upcoming indigenous engineers coming through now, we’re really trying to get out there to get that exposure to indigenous kids who might find that they’re not really interested in law or health.
[00:08:58] They might be exceptionally bright and might be stuck in a bit of a rut. Don’t want to do, or they might see that there’s no direction or something, and then that might see that engineering is a way that, as you know, engineering can be anything, you know, you’re not stuck to the standard sort of idea of what an engineer is. And I think that’s been quite an issue, particularly in regional and remote areas where people have this idea of an engineer is still that idea of a train driver or something like that
[00:09:30] Mel: [00:09:30] exactly the, the those old English types of the train engineer and things like that. I find it very interesting what you were saying how they’re not seeing an engineer at work so much in their community so that they’re not even conscious that this is a decision that they can make for their career. Whereas they are seeing the legal and all those other ones that you were saying.
[00:09:51]Is that a case where once you’re aware of it as a career, you might start seeing it a bit more? Cause I know of some people who have gone out to remote regions because they’re building roads or doing it, putting things out there or whatever , but it might be a case cause they only come out for a short amount of time and then they go away, it’s not as embedded.
[00:10:10]Grant: [00:10:10] I think it comes down
[00:10:11] to also
[00:10:11] understanding of what the term engineer means. If you actually go by what an engineer does and what they do you know, indigenous people have been engineers for thousands of years, so it’s making them aware that actually we’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long, long time. And you’re trying to bring a newer way to tell the story about what they can achieve. Yeah, I know myself. You might not see yourself as smart enough to become an engineer, but there’s other ways to get into that area.
[00:10:42] You know, a lot of people might feel a little bit dis-heartened because they’re not doing well at school at the time, and then sort of fall into a hole. I can’t achieve that. I can’t do that. We want to say, Look yeah, maybe you are good enough, you just don’t realize it.
[00:10:55]So you might not be good at designing a building, but you might find that you’re fantastic at computers or designing apps. Who knows? just trying to get that idea out there and get that exposure to really know that, look, you can actually do anything through engineering. You’re not pigeonholed into one particular area
[00:11:11] Dom: [00:11:11] Because if we can get more kids that are going to the programs like you had the opportunity to do, then hopefully that’ll get more and more people into the engineering profession, particularly when they understand what it’s about actually, what it means and sort of what the options are.
[00:11:27] Cause it sounds like a great thing that you got to do where it was a case that they went, this is chemical, this is mechanical. it’s something that I wasn’t even really aware of even when I went through my degree I didn’t really understand all the ins and outs of all the other disciplines.
[00:11:41] And it’s not until you start working that then, do you understand that through the practicalities, but if that could have been introduced earlier in the piece, then it gives you more opportunity, I suppose, and more choices that you can make in regards to what you want to do.
[00:11:57]Mel: [00:11:57] Just because you’re in that bucket doesn’t mean you stay in that bucket forever. There’s that evolution that you can have within your career.
[00:12:03]Dom: [00:12:03] Yeah. Very true. Cause there’s so many nuances, so many niches in regards to every festive engineering that you can specialize and move into certain areas that interest you as well.
[00:12:16]Grant: [00:12:16] Yeah. There’s an example of a, of a woman that actually went through the first summer school with, and she’s actually helps me out a lot on my comittee within engineers Australia. She started out doing biomedical engineering and now she’s doing a PhD in research for indigenous health. So it’s, yeah, that’s kind of
[00:12:37] Mel: [00:12:37] once you’re in there, go where you want. just touching on what Don was saying a little bit there is that whole drive that’s quite high up in the consciousness at the moment, that we need kids to take engineering full stop irrespective of where they come from. just in general, this is a big issue.
[00:12:54] Grant: [00:12:54] Yeah. I think that’s why it could be applicable to everybody that’s not just an indigenous issue.
[00:12:59]but that’s kind of a, you know, you touched on the point before that like getting the opportunity to have these kids exposed to what engineering is, you know, I was lucky, I got to see it. I suppose that’s one thing with the development of the group and once we sort of get up and running, we really want to try and utilize current indigenous engineers too connect with their community and show people this is what engineering is. This is where I came from . And sort of do it through a process where people feel, particularly, indigenous people feel a bit more comfortable . And then they say, Oh, well he came from here, why can’t I do that?
[00:13:36] Mel: [00:13:36] kind of the key to that program that you were talking about in that I came from this group, so I go back to that same group, or is it a case where you go to different groups as well?
[00:13:47]Grant: [00:13:47] Uh, it’ll be kind of shared around. It’s It’s one of our main points that we want to try and do and deliver with a group like EA because of their reached we’ve got a really good opportunity in there to help get people interested. But that’s one sort of aspect.
[00:14:03] Mel: [00:14:03] Yes. I was about to say what other components are there? So there’s showing the community where you’ve come from, that this is something that you can do.
[00:14:11] How else are you exposing these communities to engineering?
[00:14:16]Grant: [00:14:16] So another kind of way is we’re starting to do events to get indigenous engineers out there, I suppose, a support network. so sort of understanding how many of us are out there, what we’re doing, where we’re from, and then once we can build that, network together, then we can start to really use our numbers to go, okay, now we can go and maybe set up training exercises or community development days, or go visit some remote schools or, or something like that effect. I wanted to be quite supportive, in its nature and we will only get that through understanding where we all fit and what we do.
[00:14:50]Mel: [00:14:50] And are you driving it in your role at EA?
[00:14:53]Grant: [00:14:53] Yeah, so the group has been around for a couple of years now. We’ve been slowly building it. we’re starting to get these events happening, get that exposure, see what the group can do.
[00:15:04]even getting industry input into help . Yeah, it’s a great initiative. We want to get involved. What can we do to help? So that all the assists in what we’re trying to achieve, which is just to get out there and get engineering in general exposed to the greater community, that’s really what we want to do
[00:15:21] Dom: [00:15:21] So what are your thoughts on the future of engineering?
[00:15:23]Grant: [00:15:23] Well, the good thing about engineering, it’s ever changing, it doesn’t really stay stagnant. You know, you’ve got to change with the times, otherwise you kind of get left behind a bit. and obviously with current happenings in the world the need for engineers is going to be even more so. Now we’re all leaning on technology, the days are gone where he used to just gather on a site, and do whatever is needed. Things are going to change and yeah, you end up it. The technology is going to be a huge driver, it already has been, but they’ve been more sides. And obviously where that links into what we’re doing is making sure that these communities, while still keeping a connection to their culture and their land, not falling behind on that exposure to the technology and seeing how we can potentially assist them.
[00:16:05]Yeah. As my dad always says, you’re still gonna have that connection to your community cause that’s what we need. You know, we don’t want to lose that connection to our culture, to our community, to our land. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop and grow and mature and become technologically connected to everybody else.
[00:16:21] So I think that’s going to be a big thing moving forward and how we can attract engineers to become the future of where we need to go.
[00:16:30]Mel: [00:16:30] When you were saying that you can be in your community, but also advancing as well. I really liked what you say. I just had this picture of you standing one foot in the community and one foot in society. And you are connected to your community as well?
[00:16:44]Grant: [00:16:44] Yeah, obviously, probably not as direct, cause I’m not physically there but I always still connect with my Aunties and cousins whenever I can. I’ve always tried to help. Probably not as much as I would like, purely because if I live thousand K’s away, but, I try to as much as I can and always sort of talk to dads and my Aunties, and not to say how they’re going and make sure they’re not playing up too much and is still, um, yeah. And wherever I can help , I’ll always try to do something there.
[00:17:12] Mel: [00:17:12] And so what would you say to people that are just starting out in engineering.
[00:17:16]Grant: [00:17:16] You know, probably you gotta stick with it. It’s hard but it’s rewarding. There’s a reason why things are hard, and. Obviously it becomes easier over time or when you really interested in something. I know just personally speaking I’ve had some of my best friends in engineering and I was still keeping very close contact with. Yeah. 20 years later, you have three. From, from a first year of uni, I was still very much friends with a lot of people that I. I just graduated with a, we still work together, you know, sometimes we’re competitive, but yeah, yeah.
[00:17:47] You’ll have a, a heated discussion in a design meeting and then you come at it and you have a lock and you got to have a coffee or a beer. You know, it’s, it’s that kind of thing where you can do that , which can be a little bit different to a lot of other careers, so. Yeah, that’s probably the biggest thing is you gotta really find what you’re passionate about because you’ll be able to do something around that.
[00:18:12] And in engineering, the good thing about it is you can do anything, so stick with it.
[00:18:16] Mel: [00:18:16] Would you have something to say to indigenous children out there thinking about engineering.
[00:18:23] Cause this podcast can get in the ears of just about anyone. So is there any particular message specifically for that group?
[00:18:30]Grant: [00:18:30] Yeah. Never think you’re not good enough to do it. you’ll always come across people who will, for whatever reason, find something to say about you and what you can and can’t do. And the thing is you don’t listen to them, Yeah. If you’re already really passionate about something and you really want to do it, and you see that it’s a benefit to you, your family and community, and you really want to push for that, then that’s all you need. You find a way to do it, and you find a way to achieve it and you’ll get there. Yeah.
[00:18:58]Dom: [00:18:58] It’s so true cause it’s one of those situations where it’s very easy for people to tell you not to do something. and you can just go, ah, okay, no, Oh well I won’t do it. But more often than not they’re usually stopping you for the wrong reasons as well. if you can break through that and just do what you really want to do, then it’s going to be the most rewarding thing that you can do in the long run. No, no matter what.
[00:19:22] Grant: [00:19:22] I think that the difference between today and 20 years ago, 30 years ago, there’s such a larger support network now this type of thing. there’s always someone to reach out to and have a chat. that’s the whole point of what we’re trying to establish, is a support network where people could reach out and chat to people that have come from a similar background to them.
[00:19:45]Mel: [00:19:45] within that EA body, do you have a specialist mentoring program to help capture the kids coming out of uni and
[00:19:51] Grant: [00:19:51] not as yet? Not It is definitely within something you want to do. I do a lot of work with Engineering Aid, which is the group that set up the very first indigenous summer school back in 98.
[00:20:04] Mel: [00:20:04] The one you went with?
[00:20:07] Grant: [00:20:07] Yeah, they’re still running it. They’re still been running it. So that’s 20, 22, 23 years later. so I still attend their functions. I still go to their networking. I still go to their events to talk to the kids whenever I can. I see that they gave me an opportunity and now I help them give other kids some time opportunity. I try to mentor, help out whenever I can on those other things. So, yeah. Yeah. Coming off the back of that, I’d love to see something similar to that within EA. obviously we’re a pretty young group, I’m sure that will be in the pipeline somewhere.
[00:20:40] Mel: [00:20:40] So just to wrap up, I’d love to hear what’s a piece of engineering that impresses you?
[00:20:46]Grant: [00:20:46] it’s always an old one, there’s a particular reason for it and that would be like the opera house. it looks amazing and my grandfather worked on it. So, um, yeah, it’s something that’s kind of, you’ll never see something to that effect, I don’e believe, ever built again, considering what happened with it.
[00:21:09] Um, so it’s, uh, yeah, that’s pretty impressive. I like to see anything out of the ordinary rather than the stock standard things you have said is if someone’s actually, yeah. taken the time to think outside the box for whatever reason. And it doesn’t have to necessarily be some fancy looking thing, it could be a standard house, but yeah, I might be a carbon zero house or know fully sustainable house or something like that. Something that’s taken a little bit more thought then your every day shoebox.
[00:21:39] Dom: [00:21:39] I think that’s when engineers are at their happiest when they, they’re actually working on a project that’s challenging and actually is out of the ordinary
[00:21:47] Mel: [00:21:47] creating the impossible
[00:21:48] Dom: [00:21:48] when if you’re doing something like that requires problem solving, then , you never see engineers more happy than when they’re doing that. Yeah. So just to wrap up, do you have an engineer that you admire?
[00:22:01]Grant: [00:22:01] Not a particular engineer. I think one is, I have mine now more so that I’ve got a bit older is my two grandfathers, cause I didn’t really know that they worked in that industry until I got much older. And then, you know, you see the industry that they worked in and what they have to go through, how hard it was back then. and from two complete opposite sides, one Scottish, one Aboriginal. Both in Australia and they both paced racism and criticism and everything. So, and you see them still battle through and yeah. They’re not engineers as such, but I think what they did in that space, I think that’s a really driving point is they showed passionate in what they did. Even against adversity and hardship and everything else. yeah, there two people that I really admire from, from that side of things within the engineering sphere.
[00:22:55] Mel: [00:22:55] That’s wonderful. I love it when it always comes back to family and the grandparents or father’s inspired, like that’s, I love those things. It gives me a little soft spot in the heart.
[00:23:05] So thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:23:08] Dom: [00:23:08] It was great speaking with you. Thanks
[00:23:09] Grant: [00:23:09] No problem. Thank you for inviting me. It was really good.
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