Brisbane’s Cross River Rail has named one of its massive tunnel boring machines after pioneering engineer Else Shepherd AM Hon FIEAust.
Shepherd, an honorary fellow of Engineers Australia and inductee to its Queensland Hall of Fame, said she was honoured to be considered a groundbreaker.
“By being a female engineer when there weren’t many of us, I hope I’ve given other women the courage to do what they want to do — there’s nothing stopping us,” she said.
Shepherd added that she enjoyed meeting female engineers and staff working on the Cross River Rail project, a new rail line underneath Brisbane River in the centre of the city.
Pioneering feminist Merle Thornton AM was recognised alongside Shepherd. At the unveiling of the machines, Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said Shepherd and Thornton had helped to create a better future.
“Professor Shepherd has blazed the way for women entering fields such as engineering, while Mrs Thornton has been at the forefront of women’s rights and social justice issues in Queensland,” he said.
The first tunnel boring machines were invented in the 1800s. However, in a tradition dating back to the 1500s, a female name is traditionally chosen for the giant drills. This is because historically, underground workers looked to Saint Barbara for protection. She is the patron saint of military engineers, miners and others who work underground.
A storied career
After a career that could be described as anything but ‘boring’, Shepherd was named the 2000 Queensland Professional Engineer of the Year, and received Engineers Australia’s Peter Nicol Russell Medal in 2007.
Yet when she joined the Institution of Engineers Australia in the 1960s, she was unable to attend its meetings as they were held at the local men’s only club.
As a child, Shepherd said she loved maths and physics, and went on to study engineering at the University of Queensland. In 1965, she was one of the first two women in Queensland to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering.
Shepherd served as chair of Powerlink Queensland for 17 years, founded two high-tech engineering companies, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Queensland in 2011 for her work as a role model for women in non-traditional fields.
She is currently Adjunct Professor and CEO in Residence at Queensland University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Faculty.