Charlie Strick van Linschoten is a Senior Associate Engineer working in the Brisbane office. Charlie is an RPEQ certified geotechnical engineer with over 20 years’ experience in construction, infrastructure and mining sectors. We discuss the highlights of an engineering career that spans from London to Brisbane working with the world’s biggest engineering companies and on notable projects across Queensland.
Hi Charlie, what are you working on right now?
I joined ATC Williams in August, and I’m working with Lis Boczek on the new design of a 2,500 megalitre water dam for a North Queensland coal mining client looking to increase system Design Storage Allowance flexibility. There are also a few existing tailings dam projects that I have been getting up to speed with as fast as I can.
Other than that, I’m looking forward to undertaking Dam Safety Inspections to assist clients in meeting regulated structure compliance requirements before 1 November 2020.
You started your career in London, tell us about that time
I graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering in 2000 and went into a job with Arup, (well known for their work on the structural design of the Sydney Opera House in 1963, and many projects since). Our team was designing deep foundations for a multi-storey building founded within a cofferdam in the former West India Quay docks. As part of the site investigation, we undertook exploratory magnetometer probing to check for unexploded ordnance dating back to World War II. With a tunnel section of the London Underground directly beneath, we had to do contingency risk planning to assess a hypothetical scenario in which the tunnel became inundated following the inadvertent detonation of a bomb during our marine site investigation of the piling works.
After four years, I moved to Tube Lines as a Senior Geotechnical Engineer. We managed many ageing above-ground assets, having to create solutions in narrow corridors. A lot of the old railway line was built on end-tipped London Clay in which porewater pressures were just starting to equalise after 100 years. We were working under a PPP contract framework that involved milestone incentives, and I gained valuable experience in negotiating trade-offs between stakeholders.
I did a Masters in Soil Mechanics and Business Management in 2004. Then I met my first wife, who is Australian and moved to Brisbane in 2006 into a position with Coffey.
What were your first Australian projects?
One of the first projects at Coffey was the Gateway Bridge Upgrade. Specifically, we had to design a ship arrestor island around both the old and new main river piers to mitigate against ship impact. That, in turn, required the construction of a 150 m long temporary causeway (pictured) over a 30m deep Holocene Clay (read: toothpaste) ground profile. We had easily fifty geotechs on that project, with many recently arrived from Ireland, Canada, and the UK. It was my first experience of an Alliance style contract based on a pain share/gain share model, rather than a more traditional adversarial contract form. The camaraderie was legendary.
I worked on several linear infrastructure projects before an enjoyable two-year hiatus looking after Coffey’s Townsville branch. When we returned to Brisbane, I was ready to expand my career again, so I took a position with Golder. By this time, we had three kids.
Why a move into tailings?
At Golder, I worked on many landmark projects such as the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and Kingsford Smith Drive upgrade, that deepened my understanding of geology and design. Another award-winning project was the Northern Water Treatment Plant in the Western Downs Region. I spent nine months on-site managing the QA/QC for earthworks and liner installation to retain the hot brine from Coal Seam Gas production. I was used to building linear infrastructure projects targeting a 50-100 year design life. This project piqued my interest in similarly designed tailings dams, where we typically design for 10,000 years.
So, in 2018 when a former colleague invited me to join a new niche mining team for Stantec, I took the plunge. There were only five of us at the start, and the local team quickly expanded to 25 people as we managed three tailings dam Engineer of Record commissions. I became Deputy Engineer of Record for a fly ash tailings storage facility in NSW and learned a lot in a short time.
Earlier this year, I took a three-month sabbatical during which I kept hearing about ATC Williams. The opportunity to bring my experience to the tailings team and be mentored by experts in the field seemed like the natural next step. I enjoy mentoring young engineers and like the family-centred culture that ATC Williams encourages.
With the new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management rolling out over the next five years, there is going to be more work than there are engineers available. I’m very excited to be a part of it.
Is there a difference between engineering for projects in the UK and Australia?
The most significant difference in infrastructure projects would have to be the greater appetite for upfront spending for site investigation and in situ load testing that is de rigeur in the UK. Standards over here in the tailings arena have always been high though, with global mining clients pushing Australian practitioners to follow best practices both locally (e.g. ANCOLD Guidelines) as well as internationally (e.g. Canadian CDA/MAC Guidelines). Australian geotechs also grow up on a diet of drilling supervision in their formative years, which is largely foreign to UK practitioners used to dedicated site investigation contractors.
The weather here makes a huge difference too. My dad worked for Shell most of his life, and my brothers and I were sent to boarding school in rainy North Yorkshire for the best part of 10 years. I enjoyed a rugby tour to Australia when I was fifteen, but never dreamed that I would end up living here. My brothers live in Pakistan and Morocco, and I have a lot of extended family in Holland, so I’m still very in touch with global issues. I’m newly engaged and about to create an extended family of five kids. I’m glad to be raising a family here in Brisbane while encouraging them to think and act as global citizens.