Throughout history, feats of engineering have occurred that are truly amazing and illustrate how human ingenuity and perseverance can usually overcome even the most daunting of challenges and obstacles (obviously the labour situation helps as well). The engineering marvels that I subsequently list are by no means a complete inventory, as I’ve just selected a few that span history from past to present covering notable achievements of the day, in order to bring together the main thrust of this post. Yes, we all know about the Great Wall of China and it was to keep out the rabbits.
The Pyramids were built as burial tombs for their god kings and are some of the world’s oldest structures of massive size and complexity, overcoming enormous construction obstacles where, even today, no one is entirely certain how they were built. Many suggestions have been put forward and tested, yet none have been proven definitive. Despite all that, the sheer grandeur and immensity of the Pyramids are testament to the engineering capabilities of the ancient Egyptians. No wonder there’s so much mystery about pyramid power.
Roman aqueducts were built to bring a constant flow of water into cities and towns, to supply public baths, latrines, fountains as well as private households. Aqueducts transferred water using gravity and, while most were buried beneath the ground, following the contours of the land; obstructing peaks were circumvented or tunnelled through. Where valleys or lowlands intervened, the conduits were carried on bridgework, or its contents fed into high-pressure lead, ceramic or stone pipes and siphoned across. Nothing seemed to defeat Roman engineering and yet some still ask what have the Romans ever done for us.
The Suez Canal was opened on 17 November 1869, after 10 years of construction, to allow ships to travel between Europe and South Asia without having to navigate the turbulent seas around the Horn of Africa. There are many stories and remnants of ancient canals apparently constructed millennia ago between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and the dream of building a modern canal became a reality in 1856, yet it’s construction was beset with many difficulties. I once travelled through the canal as a child on our way to Europe in the ’60s and, from memory, our ship was one of the last through before its closure.
The Millau Viaduct Bridge from France to Spain is the tallest bridge in the world and has been consistently ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time. The engineering consultation was significant and many ideas were forwarded and rejected until a final plan was approved. There was also significant opposition to the bridge including arguments such as: ‘The technical difficulties were too great and the bridge would be dangerous and unsustainable…’ Pragmatism and ingenuity won out and the bridge has been a resounding success and Top Gear liked it as well.
Which brings me to the nub of this post. There is one engineering challenge that has defeated all-comers in Victoria, for what must be at least 10 years now and very likely much more. It’s a small section of the Mirboo North-Trafalgar Road (just before Trafalgar) where an approximately 20m (yes metre) section of road regularly subsides, requiring repeated filling in with dirt and gravel until it subsides once again and the cycle continues. All engineering efforts appear to have failed to find a solution to this vexing problem. It appears an impossible task to make this section of road like any other and it’s become so bad that permanent 40kmh and other warning signs have now been positioned on either side to slow vehicles down because it is, seemingly, impossible to fix.
I often wonder whether such a problem would have deterred the ancients, or would they have given it some thought and fixed it once and for all? As we advance all the time in some areas, it seems that in others we are utterly defeated.
Update 1. Well it looks like Roman engineers must have been consulted, as the section of road has finally been properly repaired and sealed. Though the technologically challenged have decided to retain the the 40 kmh speed limit along this section for whatever reason, making the repair a bit of a mockery overall, especially as part of that 40 kmh limit includes an overtaking lane that’s now effectively redundant. You really do have to wonder sometimes.