Ten years after their only bridge washed away, a remote Fijian community will soon be able to cross safely over their local river thanks to the design and innovation of an RMIT engineering student.
During his final year of a civil engineering degree, Hamish Currie was nominated to re-design and rebuild the Waivaka pedestrian bridge, which collapsed in 2004 after heavy flooding.
Mr Currie spent most of his final year of the Bachelor of Engineering (Civil and Infrastructure) (Honours)/Bachelor of Business (Management) collecting site data and testing the integrity of the collapsed bridge, in order to develop a new design compatible with the remains of the old bridge.
He has also been resourcing available materials and processes - all while attending to his busy final year schedule.
During his visits to the Waivaka community, Mr Currie said he always received a warm welcome and plenty of assistance from the locals.
“What was supposed to a brief visit to take measurements and inspect the existing structure became much more when the village spokesperson invited me and the other engineers to come to the main hall,” he said.
“When we walked in the whole village was there waiting, and we were welcomed with a traditional ceremony complete with flower garland necklaces, plenty of kava and a large feast.
“It was very humbling and showed how much they appreciated the bridge being reinstated.”
For the project Mr Currie was also in charge of writing reports to support funding applications for submission to the Australian High Commission and Fiji Government.
“I presented the design and report to the Australian High Commissioner, made the calculations and assisted with the design and procurement of various components of the bridge - with a strong focus on efficiency,” he said.
“The Waivaka Bridge Project has definitely inspired me and I can't wait to do some more work in the real world.”
Mr Currie’s design report received a positive response from the review engineer, as well as authorities at the Fiji and Australian governments.
Professor John Mo from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering is supervising Mr Currie on the project.
Professor Mo said the original Waivaka pedestrian bridge was built across a 60m wide river to provide the local population with a safe and efficient pedestrian crossing.
“During a cyclone-related flood in 2004, the bridge deck was destroyed and washed away,” he said.
“Without the bridge, the local villagers have to step on rocks and in water, and young children are particularly vulnerable to the risks in crossing the river.
“This bridge will provide a substantial economic benefit as well a safe passage for young children and elderly to cross the river and reach facilities such as schools and hospitals.”
The bridge’s re-construction began in late 2014 with cables, moulded parts, timber deck, stainless steel screws ordered mostly from Australia.
Many of the parts have already been delivered on site, with the original foundation and two columns at either side of the river re-conditioned. The bridge is expected to be finished by the end of this month.
RMIT has been working with the Centre of Water and Energy Engineering at Fiji National University on a number of projects since a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2014.
The agreement enables the two universities to collaborate on a number of areas including faculty, staff and student exchange, research, and development of engineering programs.