Laurence Stonard moved to Australia from the UK in 1988, the day before UTS was born out of the New South Wales Institute of Technology (NSWIT). A year later, he entered the Tower to be interviewed by John Grove for a lab craftsman role in the engineering workshop. Twenty-nine years later, John is now retired, Laurence has taken over his role and they’re both still friends.
I remember reading Laurence’s application, putting it aside and thinking, ‘any guy that can do all that is gold’.
He’d worked in English and German companies (even though he doesn’t speak German) and had skills across electronics and toolmaking.
On the day of his interview he came in late and was casually dressed. All the other applicants wore suits. The others on the panel didn’t think Laurence was interested, but I knew what it took to work the tools so I convinced them to hire him.
I’d been around since 1972 when it was still NSWIT (we pronounced it ‘new-suite’). I worked in building 51, which was an old air raid shelter on Quay Street – like a concrete bunker. By the time Laurence joined us in 1989, the workshop had moved into the bowels of building 1.
Even back in the 70s, the first thing I noticed about UTS was the difference in people. I couldn't believe a place like UTS existed. Here, you worked ‘with’ people rather than working ‘for’ them. When I served my apprenticeship at another organisation, management had absolute power and nobody had a say in anything.
This taught me both sides of management. I guess I chose the UTS way. I wanted all of the workshop staff to take themselves as far as possible, upskilling and attending TAFE courses – which Laurence took full advantage of, to his credit!
Our workshop was born out of student projects. Students would do the drawings under the guidance of the academic staff, and we’d manufacture the project, while showing them the engineering processes it went through.
This led to us taking part in some really notable projects with brilliant UTS engineers and students, such as APACE. This project brought sustainable electricity to 11 villages in the Solomon Islands that couldn’t afford fuel for the generators.
The project developed a series of micro-hydro schemes. They’re like the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme, but much smaller.
It spanned 27 years, from 1978 to 2005. My workshop team helped manufacture the parts and trained four young men from the Solomon Island villages so they could maintain it. Sometimes we’d stay back after work to get it done – especially after Laurence had left the workshop for another job at UTS!
Since Laurence has been the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) workshop manager, by sheer determination and expertise, he’s achieved a dramatic impact and moved it into the computer-driven technology age. He's invested in Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines to keep up with the industry, student projects and external contract demands, and importantly, he's upskilled his staff too. The workshop now also runs classes with lecturers and students for their production engineering courses.
But of course, he continues to partner on student projects – that’s the real soul of the workshop. Now the workshop assists with things like manufacturing mechanical parts for robotic technologies and even electric cars!
Laurence and I still catch up from time to time. Working at UTS, it wasn't just a job, it was a way of life.
I walked through the door for the interview. I was late.
The interview room was hidden in the old building 2. It was impossible to find! I thought, ‘I've already blown it', so I was fairly relaxed.
But, by the time I cycled back to Botany where I worked, John had already called my boss for a reference check and offered me the job! This was 1989, when UTS was only a year old.
A few weeks later I met John by the glass doors in the Tower building. The civil and mechanical engineering workshop, now known as the FEIT workshop, was down a rabbit warren of staircases.
I was a craftsman on a number of student projects and industry contracts, like APACE. I also tutored the students and demonstrated during lectures – that was a highlight for me.
I’m a toolmaker by trade, like John. I did my apprenticeship back in the United Kingdom and John did his in Sydney. At my apprenticeship, you couldn’t sit, talk or even listen to the radio. But for both of us UTS was a different world; a family.
I remember being at UTS for only three weeks when John asked me what superfund I was with (I wasn’t with any!). He promptly made me join one. That was his first piece of advice.
The second was to pursue my interests. For me that was electronics. So, I went across the road to TAFE and ended up studying there for 16 years! I can’t even count the number of trades I have now; I like to feed my brain.
John recommended me for jobs around the university that I might be interested in. I’ve worked in hydraulics, electronics and headed up the Civil Engineering Materials Laboratory. That’s where we officially test claims by industries. For example, we do a non-destructive or destructive test to test the materials and the design to see if they are safe enough.
I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the FEIT workshop manager in 2010. John had been retired for 11 years by then. There I was, 21 years later going back to the workshop but this time as the manager! And that’s where I am now.
It’s changed a lot. When I started, I worked on the tools as a craftsman with other guys in the workshop. Then, building 2 was demolished and the workshop was halved. I navigated that with my team.
In the old days, you'd make everything in the workshop. But now the pace has picked up, and there's no point in reinventing the wheel. We take a look through online catalogues and ship components from Germany or China to build our systems.
With the multi-faculty ProtoSpace now open and the Botany Tech lab opening soon, the future looks bright. There’s a lot more visibility across the faculty for potential collaborations.