With an engineering diploma under his belt, William ‘Bill’ Hickson FIEAust CPEng (Ret) made the journey from working class London boy to working on some of Australia’s most prominent buildings and projects.
Hickson’s passion for the profession saw him dedicate his life to engineering, including recently leaving a bequest of $1.58 million to Engineers Australia.
In accordance with his wishes, Engineers Australia will invest this bequest and use the income to fund scholarships for its members in the fields of mechanical engineering and automatic control of mechanical devices.
Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans said the organisation was grateful for Hickson’s generous contribution.
“I want to personally thank Mr Hickson and his family for this endowment that will support further education in the field of mechanical engineering,” she said.
“The establishment of this fund will help Engineers Australia members for generations to come.”
Born in London in 1924, Hickson grew up in a working class area as one of six children. After leaving school at 16, he began a science degree at London University while working part-time as a laboratory assistant at a sugar refinery to help support his family.
He then became an assistant in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, where he worked on the British atomic bomb project. When the lead scientists left for the United States (where their research would contribute to the Manhattan Project), Hickson was awarded a War Office Scholarship and switched to studying a diploma of engineering full time at Dartford Technical College.
After gaining his diploma, 21-year-old Hickson joined the British Army as a commissioned officer, gaining the rank of Captain within five months. His military service was spent in Egypt, where he played an important role in the large-scale British evacuation of its Middle Eastern Headquarters.
In 1947, Hickson emigrated to Australia, followed by his wife Marion. He embarked on a journey that involved stops in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Singapore, Perth and Melbourne, before landing in Sydney, where he took a job with EMAIL (Electricity Meter and Allied Industries Ltd) working as a design engineer.
After five years at EMAIL, Hickson moved to the Commonwealth Department of Works, where he spent 17 years between the department’s Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra offices.
In Adelaide, Hickson worked on weapons research at Woomera military testing range, as well as on various air conditioning and refrigeration projects for buildings at the site.
In 1959, Hickson, Marion and their three children — Ken, Pamela and Lynette — moved to Canberra, where Hickson was promoted to Principal Mechanical Engineer. His work in Canberra was extensive and featured projects at the Cotter Pumping Station, Old Parliament House and CSIRO, as well as the Australian Pavilion for EXPO 1967 in Montreal, Canada.
By 1969, Hickson had been headhunted to leave the public service and join a private firm. He went into partnership with D Rudd and Partners, where he helped develop a successful consultancy practice.
A passion for the profession
Hickson was an engaged member of the engineering community throughout his career. He became an Associate Member of Engineers Australia in 1951, before becoming a Fellow in 1980.
After his retirement in 1983, Hickson was an active member of Engineering Heritage Canberra. He relinquished his CPEng in 2011 as he was no longer able to comply with the practice and CPD requirements, but remained a member of Engineers Australia until his death in 2018.
Engineers Australia’s Evans said the organisation would use his bequest to promote the mechanical engineering discipline Hickson was so passionate about.
“Engineers Australia is proud to be the custodian of this generous endowment that recognises the transformative power of education not only for individuals, but for the community that benefits from a deeper understanding into this important area of engineering,” she said.
It’s not only through his bequest that Hickson’s engineering legacy lives on — one of his grandchildren is following in his footsteps, having studied engineering at Australian National University.
When asked his best advice for his grandson and other young engineers during an interview in 2009, Hickson had some wise words to share: “Get stuck into engineering and get your hands dirty.”