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Allan Knight

Allan Knight (AOT, PH30/1/3598)

Allan Walton Knight (1910–98), one of Australia's outstanding engineers. Born in Launceston, a brilliant student who excelled at sport, he graduated from the University of Tasmania in Science and Engineering and later developed a highly successful composite beam for bridges, a bridge type still widely used today. In 1932 Knight joined the Public Works Department and undertook the construction of several major bridges, notably designing and supervising the building of the floating bridge across the River Derwent (1943).

In 1946 Knight was appointed Commissioner of the Hydro-Electric Commission. He surrounded himself with capable staff and employed many migrants to work on his new developments. Knight became one of the nation's big spenders and the Commission won international recognition for enormous advances in the technology of dam and power station design and construction. Under Knight's leadership (1946–1977) the Commission's installed capacity grew from 172 to 1515 megawatts and its workforce from 1000 to over 5000. His plans were not without controversy: the proposal to flood Lake Pedder was strongly opposed and led to Tasmania's first true environmental battle, which the Hydro eventually won.

After the Tasman Bridge disaster in 1975, Knight supervised reconstruction which, he said, was probably the biggest challenge of his professional life. Knight was presented with many honours and was created a Knight Bachelor in 1970. His sporting achievements were also impressive and he excelled in rowing, tennis and real tennis. An exceptional engineer of world standing, Knight had great vision and organising ability and made a major impact on Tasmania's development.

Further reading: 'Champions of the Hydro', Turning point supplement, Mercury, 30 June 1998; 'Obituary. Sir Allan Knight, Kt., CMG, FIE Aust', Engineering Tasmania, July 1998; A Knight, 'Reminiscences', THRAPP 45/4, 1998.

Robert R Shepherd