LOOKING BACK: BOB BAADE
Bob Baade looks back on a career in civil engineering spanning more than 50 years and shares some of his stories with Moya Stevens
Bairnsdale born, Bob Baade was encouraged into an engineering degree by his father who worked for Vic Roads.
“My early years in Bairnsale were really great – swimming and sailing,” Bob explained, “although the weather was pretty dreadful.”
After completing his engineering qualifications in Bendigo in 1961, Bob followed in his father’s footsteps, working for Vic Roads in Bairnsdale.
“At that time, the country was screaming for engineers as most the of roads still needed serious work after the war,” Bob said.
In 1965 Bob, now married with a family, took on an appointment in Suva, Fiji, as an adviser to the king.
Bob taught the locals a diploma course in engineering and said that when organising gangs to work on the roads, two of the 30 people employed were responsible for serving kava to the workers.
In 1968, with Fiji’s independence imminent, the Baade family moved to Darwin (as Deputy City Engineer), then decided to escape the tropics by returning to Victoria in 1970.
“After finding Darwin too hot we now found ourselves not handling the cold of Victoria, so after three years I took the position of shire engineer at Calliope,” Bob said.
“When I left I heard they had named a park after me in Tannum Sands,” he laughed.
The family, now with four children, made its last move in 1976 to the Douglas Shire. Bob was the first engineer to be appointed to the Council.
“There was no Parks and Gardens section – the cane farmers just wanted Council to build roads.
“Port Douglas was just a little tin pot place of about 300 residents,” he explained, “with no sewerage so I had plan drawn up for that.
“It was a pretty traumatic time for the Port Douglas residents with all the beautiful vegetation which had to be dug up for the sewerage system to be installed.
“During the wet season the place look like a third world country,” Bob said, “and the water table was almost at ground level causing effluent to flow into the streets.
“I would get a least one complaint a day during that project, but once we had finished in a street and re-landscaped their gardens we were all friends again.”
It was the need to propagate the replacement plants to reinstate the residents’ gardens that instigated the establishment of the Council nursery at the South Mossman depot.
“We also drew water straight from Rex Creek for the Shire, so with the Health Department on our backs, I arranged a filtration system for our water supply.”
By the late ’70s Bob’s marriage came to an end however, after a chance meeting at a pub, a few years later he married Jean Cowe, a local Mossman lady who had three children.
“We lived in an old house Council provided which was pretty dreadful,” Bob said, “and, as I had three of my four children and Jean had her three, it was untenable.”
The Council made efforts to improve the Baade’s living conditions by painting and updating the flooring.
In 1983 the Douglas Shire Council, with the backing of the state government, finalised the plan to construct and seal the Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield track.
“I was to supervise the pro- ject and as we know, there was considerable opposition to the project which included a blockade by protesters,” Bob said.
“As we were unable to access the road from the south due to the blockade, we commenced construction from the north, and I was choppered in to the site weekly.”
Protesters made life difficult for the Baade family with harassment and abuse aimed not only at Bob, but sadly also at his wife and children.
“We would get abusive phone calls in the middle of the night, our home was graffitied and our dogs would be let out of the yard,” Bob recalls. The road was opened in 1984.
The Shire had 32 timber bridges when Bob started at Council and many of these were in a poor state. “I convinced Council we should replace a bridge every two years with pre-stressed reinforced concrete bridges and when I retired in 2012 we were on target.”
Bob continued to update and expand his qualifications which served him well.
In 2008 the Douglas Shire Council amalgamated with Cairns City Council.
“From my experience, after working with Cairns Regional Council, the de-amalgamation of Douglas Shire was certainly the correct decision,” Bob said.
In recent years Bob has undertaken various civil engineering project management contracts. He and his wife, Jean, moved to Julatten 16 years ago but are now planning to downsize and relocate to Port Douglas.
“I’m always building and constructing something around our five acres, so my next project is a new house,” he said.
Bob Baade has left a positive legacy in Douglas and the community reaps the benefits of his vision and dedication to engineering on a daily basis.
It was a pretty traumatic time for the Port Douglas residents with all the beautiful vegetation which had to be dug up for the sewerage system to be installed.
At his home with its fine garden in Julatten. Inset: In younger days