AGY-3082 | Department of Public Works [II]

NSW State Archives Collection
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On 2 June 1941, the Department of Works and Local Government was abolished and the Department of Public Works [II] and the Department of Local Government and Housing were established to perform its functions.(1)

The major responsibilities of the Department of Public Works included: electricity supply; architectural services (including the construction and maintenance of public buildings); water supply and sewerage; stormwater and swamp drainage; harbours and rivers administration; administration of the state industrial undertakings; and supervision of local government engineering.

The period after the Second World War was one of intense activity for the Department of Public Works due to the demand for public utilities. This activity included construction and expansion of services such as electricity production, water supply and sewerage, hospitals, housing (including the conversion of former military camps) and shipbuilding. During this period, in addition to the usual construction and supervision of works and the maintenance of public buildings, the Department’s activities were directed towards the development of the Southern Electricity Supply, the State Dockyard at Newcastle, the State Brickworks at Homebush Bay, and the establishment of an undertaking for the manufacture of terra cotta tiles at Blacktown.(2)

The Department’s functions changed little over time and by 1968 the Department’s responsibilities included:
(i) investigation, planning, construction, and maintenance for all maritime works outside the ports of Sydney, Botany Bay, and Newcastle;
(ii) technical and administrative activities associated with the works of water supply, sewerage and stormwater drainage throughout the state with the exception of the areas under the control of the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in Sydney, the Hunter District Water Board in Newcastle, and the Broken Hill Water Board;
(iii) preliminary investigations, design, and preparation of plans and specifications for the construction and equipment of all State Government public buildings; construction, maintenance, and renovation of public buildings;
(iv) annual allocations for rural road construction and supervision of work undertaken by local governments;
(v) State Dockyard;
(vi) State Brickworks;
(vii) Government Motor Garage. (3)

In 1984 the Department celebrated 125 years of Public Works. The Department then comprised: the Civil Engineering Division; the Government Architect's Branch; an Administrative and Clerical Division; 10 District and Construction Offices; and 13 Building Maintenance Depots under the Building Construction and Maintenance Branch. (4)

From January 1987 a major restructure of the Department took place. Five country regions were established during August and September 1987 and four metropolitan regions during February 1988. The Government Motor Services was transferred to the Department of Administrative Services. At 30 June 1988 the Department was comprised of the Architectural Division, the Construction Division, the Engineering Division, the Corporate Services Division, the Commercial Operations Division and the Regional Operations Division. The decision was taken by the government in 1987/88 to sell the State Brickworks. (5)

At 30 June 1990 the Department was comprised of: the Architectural Division, the Commercial Division (until 1989 Commercial Operations Division, changed to reflect the Department's commitment to commercial principles), the Construction Division, the Corporate Services Division, the Engineering Division, and the Regional Operations Division.  (6)

A total restructure of the Department at the end of 1991 occurred as a result of an extensive review of Public Works. The restructure replaced the traditional discipline-based divisional structure with the following divisions: Policy, Government Programs, Client Service, Operations, State Projects, and Corporate Support.(7)

The Policy Division was responsible for increasing Public Works’ productivity and for developing policies, standards, and procedures to improve and facilitate management of the relationship between Government Agencies and industry. The Government Programs Division managed the development and delivery of engineering programs including water supply and sewerage projects to country towns, estuary management, coastline hazards, floodplain management, waterways infrastructure development, fishing and Government facilities, and natural disasters assistance. The Client Service Division was responsible for pursuing new markets and clients; and for assisting clients to develop, manage, and conserve their assets. The Operations Division was responsible for the overall management and administration of regional and major projects. The State Projects Division was created as a consequence of the Department’s new charter and was the professional consulting arm of Public Works. The Corporate Support Division provided financial, personnel, information systems, strategic, executive, and administrative support to the Divisions and the Director-General. (8)

On 5 April 1995, the Department of Public Works was abolished and a majority of the Department’s branches were transferred to the newly created Department of Public Works and Services.(9) Branches not transferred to the new Department included the Office of Ports and Marine Safety which was transferred to the Department of Business and Regional Development, the Water Services Policy Division was transferred to the Department of Land and Water Conservation, and the staff attached to the Olympic Construction Authority were transferred to the Olympic Co-ordination Agency.(10)

1. Report of the Department of Local Government for the period 1st July 1940 to 30th June 1951, in the Parliamentary Papers 1950-51-52 Vol. 3 page 113.
2. Report of the Department of Public Works for the year ended 30 June 1948, in the Parliamentary Papers, 1948-49-50, vol.1, p.1345.
3. Report of the Department of Public Works for the year ended 30 June 1968, in the Parliamentary Papers, 1968-69, vol.4, pp.611-696.
4. Report of the Department of Public Works for the year ended 30 June 1984, p.10.
5. Report of the Department of Public Works for the year ended 30 June 1988, pp.5-10.
6. Report of the Department of PUblic Works for the year ended 30 June 1989, pp.12-13; ibid., 1990, pp.11-13.
7. Annual Report of Public Works for the year ended 30 June 1992, p.11.
8. loc. cit.
9. Abolition of Departments and Administrative Offices and transfer of branches, NSW Government Gazette Special Supplement, 5 April 1995, p.1860.
10. loc. cit.

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