A short history of the Australian Groundwater School: 1962 to 2008

Posted 10 February 2012

National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NGCRT)

Updated June 2015.

Established in 1962, the Australian Water Resources Council (AWRC) was established by the Commonwealth and State Governments as a non-statutory body. As all water resources in Australia are vested in the crown and separately administered by individual governments, one of the first actions of the AWRC was to identify the nature and extent of the country's water resources. The document A Review of Australia's Water Resources, 1963 was the outcome of this initiative. This was the first time that the water resources (both surface water and groundwater) of the country had been catalogued and consolidated into one document and openly discussed. The document identified many areas where more attention was required and made recommendations to address them. One of these areas was serious deficiency in groundwater education in Australia. In an endeavour to help overcome this deficiency, the Technical Committee on Underground Water (TCUW) organised and ran the first AWRC Groundwater School in Adelaide in 1965.

This School was convened in haste and the enormous contributions, both in organising and lecturing, made by a few individuals at this School cannot be overlooked. Reg Shepherd, John Holmes, Bill Williamson, Eugene (Dris) O'Driscoll, Bernie Credlin, Chris Bleys, Erik Smith and Gerry Burton were outstanding. The groundwater industry in Australia owes them a great debt.

The first Groundwater School, held in a community hall at the beach at Glenelg, SA, was intended to train groundwater practitioners in the theories and application of techniques to better understand, investigate, assess, develop and manage groundwater resources and to protect them for future generations. The lecturers came mainly from government authorities but also included some from education and research authorities such as universities and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The first school attracted participants from both the public and private sectors. In those days, there were few groundwater consultants in Australia and much water resources development work was actually carried out by the staff of state Geological Surveys, few of whom had formal hydrogeological qualifications. The school was of two weeks’ duration and was very well attended.

Learning from the first School, the Underground Water Committee of the AWRC decided that the School could be improved by inviting a groundwater specialist to provide input on groundwater hydraulics. Consequently Mr Stan Lohman from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was invited to be the principal lecturer at the second School which was to be held in Adelaide in 1967. The School was strongly supported by the USGS.

The contribution made by Stan Lohman was so well received that the Committee decided to follow up with another overseas specialist for the third School in 1970 with Dr John Ferris of the USGS invited to be the principal lecturer.

For the fourth (1973), fifth (1975) and sixth (1978) Schools, the Committee invited Colin Hazel from the Queensland Irrigation and Water Supply Commission to be the principal lecturer. His lectures were consolidated into a volume entitled Groundwater Hydraulics Lecture Notes, 1973 and were metricated for the fifth School in 1975. The Australian Mineral Foundation (AMF) was established in Adelaide to provide specialist services to the Australian mining and petroleum industries. The AMF provided the location for all Schools between 1973 (fourth) and 1987 (ninth).

For many years the cost of running the Schools was met by the Commonwealth and State governments and there was no registration fee for representatives from those contributing organisations. Each organisation was able to send as many participants as it chose. The only limiting factor was the travel costs incurred by those participants from outside of Adelaide.

In 1987 the then Federal Government established two new groundwater centres: The Centre for Groundwater Management and Hydrogeology (CGMH) at the University of New South Wales; and the Centre for Groundwater Studies (CGS) in Adelaide. These two centres were given responsibility to run the Groundwater Schools by the Australian Groundwater Committee. State agencies also stopped subsidising the costs of the Schools and the next School (tenth), presented by the UNSW Centre in Sydney in 1989 and convened by Dr Michael Knight, charged fees for the first time and reduced the duration from 2 weeks to 1 week. A specialist short course was presented in the second week on mine water problems and was led by Don Armstrong and Col Dudgeon. The eleventh School was also held in Sydney in July 1991 and was again organised by the CGMH. The second week in this case was devoted to DPAPL contamination and was led by a panel from the US including Prof Chin-Fu Tsang and Dr Doug MacKay. The ICI contamination problem at Botany in Sydney was very much an issue at the time and the courses were very well attended.

In 1993 the responsibility for running the Schools was assigned to CGS and the twelfth school was held in Adelaide in 1993. Trevor Pillar was in charge of organising the Schools presented by CGS up to 2008. CGS organised the venues, lecturers, content and administrative backup for the Schools but did not provide technical input. CGS liaised closely with the various State Agencies to identify needs and locations for the Schools and to help identify and organise the lecturers. Lecturers were drawn from government, private industry, educational establishments and research authorities to provide the best available input for the participants. The Schools have also been held in different locations throughout Australia.

The number of topics to be covered increased since 1965 and as it is a short course, it was not possible to cover all topics in great depth. The course was meant to be introductory to enable the participants to be aware of and have a reasonable grasp on the fundamentals of groundwater and where problems can and do exist. But of equal importance to the technical input was the contacts made at the School and where to turn if further information or knowledge was required.

Reflecting the changes in our society and its environmental concerns the backgrounds of the participants changed from predominantly engineering and hydrology in the 1960s - 1980s to more than 50% environmental scientists and resource managers in more recent Schools. It should be remembered also that environmental scientists were few and far between for the first twenty years of the Schools. However, a firm understanding of groundwater occurrence, hydrology and groundwater hydraulics was still required if these social concerns were to be addressed adequately.

The CGS and the CGMH both established formal postgraduate course work programs that catered for training at a higher level than was possible in the 2 weeks of the original Groundwater Schools. More advanced short courses are also available through the CGS but the topics covered at the Groundwater Schools were still regarded as prerequisites to such courses and the Schools were still in demand and remained well attended.

Twelve Schools were held between 1965 and 1993. From 1995 to 2007 inclusive, twenty four Schools have been conducted by CGS. The School locations are shown in the Table below.

Table 1: Australian Groundwater Schools 1965-2008.


While acknowledging the heavy involvement by individuals in the early days of the Schools it is also important to acknowledge the contributions made in recent years. Since 1995 more than 150 people have provided input to the Schools by way of lectures, field trips and demonstrations and by chairing sessions or complete Schools. However, there has been heavy involvement by a few during this period and it would be remiss not to mention them because without them the Schools would not be what they are today. Apart from Trevor Pillar and his efficient staff and the government authorities who give him valuable assistance in running the Schools in each State, Ian Acworth, Don Armstrong, Chris Barber, Phil Commander, Greg Davis, Robert Ellis, Richard Evans, Colin Hazel, Andrew Herczeg, Tony Laws, Charles Lawrence, Andrew Love, Simon Toze and Michael Williams have all contributed very long hours of their valuable time to ensure that the knowledge and understanding of groundwater is properly imparted to our young practitioners. The content of the Schools changed and evolved with the years and was variably influenced by the numerous different presenters that had been involved. At each School, a comprehensive set of notes was given to attendees. The notes were prepared by a large number of presenters with the result that their structure had become a little loose by 2005. It was recognised that a reorganisation of the material was required with standardisation of terminology and the elimination of repetition. This has been recognised by the National Water Commission and funds made available to the CGS in 2007 to carry out a rewrite of the notes.

A list of past presenters is given below in alphabetic order:
Ian Acworth, Jim Alvey, Stephen Appleyard, Don Armstrong, Peter Baker, Chris Barber, Steve Barnett, John Barton, Elise Bekele, Volmer Berens, Chris Bleysase, Tamara Boyd, John Bradd, Anthony Brinkley, Keith Brown, Gerry Burton, Ian Cartwright, Francis Chiew, Des Cleary, Craig Clifton, Peter Cochrane, Ron Colman, Phil Commander, Peter Cook, Jim Cox, Randall Cox, Ron Cox, Bernie Credlin, Richard Cresswell, Jim Cull, Greg Davis, Jenny Deakin, Kevin Dennis, Peter Dillon, Colin Dudgeon, Peter Dundon, Joe Duran, Robert Ellis, Ray Evans, Richard Evans, Howard Fallowfield, John Ferris, Simon Fitzgerald, Peter Franzmann, David Free, Rob Freeman, George Gates, Richard George, Mat Gilfedder, Bruce Gill, Ian Gordon, Iain Hair, Robert Hammond, Karen Hansen, John Harbison, Glenn Harrington, Bryan Harris, Rod Harwood, Tom Hatton, Greg Hausler, Colin Hazel, Graham Heinson, St John Herbert, Andrew Herczeg, Tony Hill, Clem Hill, John Hillier, John Holmes, Greg Hoxley, John Hutson, Bill Huxley, David Ife, Trevor Ingram, Paul Jackson, Julianne James-Smith, Jerzy Jankowski, Ian Jolly, Neil Jones, Phillip Kalaitzis, Frans Kalf, Bryce Kelly, John Kobelke, Michael Knight, Robert Kuzelka, Anthony Lane, Miladin Latinovic, Charles Lawrence, Tony Laws, Corinne Le Gal La Salle, Leon Leach, Fred Leaney, John Leonard, Lazarus Leonhard, Don Locke, Stan Lohman, Andrew Love, Barry Mann, Russell Martin, Kevin Masterton, John McAvan, Don McCarthy, Sandie McHugh, Andy McIntyre, Gerard McMahon, Noel Merrick, Hugh Middlemis, William Milne-Home, Joe Odins, Eugene (Driss) O'Drisscoll, Claus Otto, Stephen Parsons, Bruce Pearce, Geoff Pettifer, David Pilgrim, Trevor Pillar, Jason Plumb, Daniel Pollock, Neil Power, John Radcliffe, David Reynolds, Stuart Richardson, Virginia Riches, Chris Robson, John B Ross, Matt Scaddan, Ludovic Schmidt, Robert Scott, Richard Sheldrake, Reg Shepherd, Zac Sibenaler, Jatinder Sidhu, Mark Silburn, Craig Simmons, Anthony Smith, Erik Smith, Chris Smitt, Fred Stadter, Matthew Stenson, Darryl Strudwick, Baskaran Sundaram, Lindsay Thomas, David Thomas, Lloyd Townley, Simon Toze, Brian Traeger, Jeffrey Turner, Bradley Van Blomestein, Jason Van Den Akker, Harry Ventriss, Ryan Vogwill, Ray Volker, Stuart Wade, Glen Walker, Kieth Watson, Tamie Weaver, Adrian Werner, Phillip Wharton, Michael Williams, Bill Williamson, Vernon Wilson, Peter Woods and Don Woolley.

This short history of the Australian Groundwater School was compiled by the Editorial team that took on the job of rewriting the Groundwater School Notes. This team comprised Ian Acworth (Editor), Colin Hazell, Tony Laws, Charles Lawrence and Trevor Pillar. If you have been left out - it is entirely unintentional! Please let Ian Acworth know!

Thanks to John Waterhouse for additional updates, June 2015.

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