Greg McTaggart

Greg McTaggart

Bachelor of Civil Engineering (1981)

Civil Engineer and sustainability advocate

When Greg McTaggart was an 18-year-old civil engineering student he had no idea that he would one day help deliver major engineering projects for the 2000 Sydney Olympics or that he would be the caretaker of one of the world’s most recognised arts and tourism structures – the World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House. Meet this passionate champion for environmental sustainability.

An Unexpected Career for one of Australia's Engineering National Treasures

When Greg McTaggart was a young UTS engineering student, he wanted to design dams.

Back then, he had no idea that he would one day play a pivotal role in the planning, construction and operation of venues for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, proclaimed by then International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch as “the best Olympic Games ever”. It might also have been a shock to Greg’s young self to learn that future Greg was to be the recipient of the ‘Golden Rings’ award by the International Olympic Committee for his services to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Equally, McTaggart had no way of foreseeing that he would also eventually become the Director of Building for Australia’s most recognised, beloved and architecturally controversial World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House, and that this year he would be awarded the Public Service Medal in the 2017 Australia Day Honours List for outstanding public service for the iconic landmark’s maintenance and conservation.

“That was unimaginable,” Greg admits.

While 18-year-old McTaggart could not predict where his career would take him, he always knew he wanted to build things.

“Engineering is a true passion and throughout my career I have never thought about doing anything else. As a schoolboy I was very interested in machinery and large structures and was particularly inspired by childhood visits to the various construction sites in the Snowy Mountains Scheme during the 1960's and early 1970's. I have found that engineering as a career offers a great diversity in the type of work available and I have consistently been involved in interesting and challenging projects.”

McTaggart was a member of UTS’s first graduating year of the Bachelor of Civil Engineering in 1981.

“In the 1970s the course at UTS/NSWIT [the NSW Institute of Technology – one of UTS’s antecedent institutions] was highly regarded in the industry because the degree was highly practical as well as theoretical. In first year I was already doing some fairly sophisticated drawing. This put me and my cohort ahead of students at other institutions.”

Location was also a plus.

“Being located in the city for both work and study made life a lot easier!”

In the early days of his degree, McTaggart attended lectures just up the road from today’s Ultimo campus in the CBD’s George Street, in what was essentially an old department store partitioned into lecture spaces and classrooms. Later, his classes were moved into the newly built and now iconic UTS Tower Building.
He also took surveying classes at Gore Hill and remembers the interesting conversations and fiery debates with fellow students back and forth on the train from Central.

“Quite a few of my classmates were mature-aged students and many were working while studying. There were also quite a few young guns. Both groups were highly motivated to do well and everyone worked hard.”

"Engineering is a true passion and throughout my career I have never thought about doing anything else. As a schoolboy I ... was particularly inspired by childhood visits to the various construction sites in the Snowy Mountains Scheme during the 1960s and early 1970s"

In his spare time McTaggart was a member of the UTS Student Civil Engineering Society and dropped in on the occasional UTS Motorcycle Club gathering.

After graduation McTaggart worked in roles in the NSW state government, broadening his skill set and knowledge base during his various rotations. During his subsequent forty-year career, Greg has worked on a remarkably wide variety of public infrastructure and building projects including schools and hospitals, water supply and sewerage infrastructure.

One of his favourite projects was the Port Kembla Grain Terminal project.

“It my most rewarding job because it was a large and technically complex project that I worked on for six years, from design through construction and commissioning. It involved extensive heavy structural engineering work together with sophisticated mechanical and electrical engineering installations. It was done at a time when the NSW Public Works Department was very ‘hands on’ in the development of government infrastructure projects and this allowed me to utilise many of the skills and engineering knowledge that I was taught at university.”

“The location on the Inner Harbour at Port Kembla was an exciting place to work and I was lucky to work in an extremely friendly, supportive and talented project team. I worked on the project in my late 20s through to mid-30s, and the experience and confidence that I gained really set me up for success in the subsequent stages of my career.”

In the 1990s, with the spectre of Sydney Olympics bid approaching, McTaggart went to work for the Olympic Coordination Authority.

For more than a decade he worked on planning, construction and operational activities associated with the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, delivering major sporting venues including ANZ Stadium (then known as Stadium Australia), the Sydney Athletic and Aquatic Centres and the Regatta Centre at Penrith Lakes. During the Olympics and Paralympics, McTaggart was part of the Operations team charged with overseeing the smooth running of the facilities during one of the most watched and most successful Games in history.

After the Games, he stayed on for an additional three years to reconfigure the grounds for ongoing broader community use. Good post-Games planning has also left a positive economic legacy in the area.

“The former Olympic grounds are a highly usable space for industry and community and there’s a good buzz in the precinct.”

In 2003 McTaggart went to work at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House, and eventually became the Director of Building. He was responsible for the planning and delivery of major construction projects including the Utzon Room, the Western Colonnade, the Western Foyers and the Opera Theatre Renewal Concept Design Study, the external lighting, and the new underground loading dock,  housing the venue’s Vehicle Access and Pedestrian Safety project.

McTaggart’s remit was exceptionally broad, responsible for the building’s security, maintenance, conservation, emergency planning, design and development for future capital works projects, and environmental sustainability, for which the Opera House has received significant accolades.

After officially retiring in 2016, McTaggart remains involved in an advisory capacity as a member of the Sydney Opera House Conservation Council.

Meanwhile, his engineering legacy also continues via his eldest son Stuart.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Stuart McTaggart also studied engineering at UTS, in a combined degree with business. Stuart achieved first class honours in engineering and was the recipient of the University Medal in 2007. He is now a senior engineer with AECOM, based in London.

Greg takes pains to give Stuart’s successes credit where it’s due.

“It’s because of all the times I dragged him along with me to work sites during his formative years at school.”

UTS can also claim other members of the McTaggart family among its science community. Greg’s other son Lachlan is also a UTS alumnus, with an Honours degree in Environmental Science, and one of Greg’s daughters, Kaylie, is a current UTS Health student.

Meanwhile, Greg’s other daughter Annabelle is pursuing her science studies with the University of Wollongong – “the black sheep of the family,” Greg notes proudly with a smile.

In February this year, Greg and Stuart recently attended UTS’s 50th anniversary celebration of the School of Civil and Structural Engineering on campus in the new faculty’s new engineering facility. Greg was delighted to see the striking Faculty of Engineering and IT building for the very first time, and enjoyed reconnecting with former teachers and tutors, hearing more about how today’s students study engineering, and noticing the differences since his time there.

“The technology is very different for one thing, as well as the fact that when I was studying, there were no female students in my group.” These days, women represent roughly 18% of the UTS engineering alumni community.

Looking back, McTaggart says that UTS gave him a great head start.

“UTS had a reputation of marrying the practical with the theory and producing graduates who were much more able and ready to enter the workplace than some of the other Sydney based institutions. The workplace component was compulsory for students and they were therefore highly prized in industry. It is a source of pride for me that UTS is still regarded well in industry in this way.”

Looking forward now, and if money were no option, Greg would love to solve some of biggest issues.

“Locally, I’d want to fix the problem of housing affordability. Globally, it’s water and sewerage.

I’d like to see everyone on the planet have access to a clean and healthy environment.”

Story by Jacqueline Robson

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