Senior Technician Graeme Warburton never planned to work at UWA for very long. In 1982, while visiting from Sydney, he turned down a two-year contract working on an automated sheep shearing machine. However, after accepting a shorter six-month contract in the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, he was hooked – and 36 years later, he’s still at UWA.
It’s been quite the journey and in that time, he’s worked in civil engineering, botany, and physics, before moving to architecture (now the School of Design) in 2000.
“I’ve been lucky to work on a series of fascinating projects – including developing an electric car, building a camera to photograph supernovae and constructing a gravity gradiometer for the Gravity Discovery Centre in Gingin. But it is the people who have kept me here,” he says.
“Today, I supervise and guide the architecture students in the workshops. They’re young and full of ideas – and they give me a different challenge every day. Some of the biggest student projects have included bronze casting of statues, the building of bus shelters on Stirling Highway and constructing shade shelters for primary schools.
“When we worked on the bronze casting, the characters were based on the history of Rottnest Island, including surveyors, doctors and gaol keepers. We did the mould work here, before doing the bronze casting at a local workshop. The four-meter sculpture is currently on exhibition in the old Salt Store located on Rottnest Island.”
His guidance is highly valued by students and staff alike. In 2004 he won two university-wide awards for his contribution to student learning and to safety. In 2014 he was nominated in the Guild student choice awards, and this year, he received a School of Design, high commendation for his contribution to student learning.
“The thank you cards I receive from students are among my most treasured possessions. It means a lot to know that I’ve helped a student finish an assignment and move towards a career in design,” Graeme says.
“I’m heavily involved in the set-up of the School of Design’s end of semester student exhibitions and for me – as well as the students - opening night is one of the highlights of the semester.”
Given the twists and turns of his career it’s no surprise that Graeme’s sense of adventure isn’t limited to his life at UWA. Since 1982, he has travelled around all parts of Australia, which would total around four years if you tallied the time Graeme’s spent on the road.
He’s also built his own power boat to compete in the Avon Descent (placing seventh of 151 entrants), represented Australia in underwater hockey (winning the 1992 championships), and still competes in offshore yacht racing.
His three children have inherited his technical aptitude. “My daughter has just finished her mechanical fitter apprenticeship, and my younger son is in the middle of a refrigeration and air conditioning apprenticeship,” he says.
It’s full circle for Graeme, who undertook his own apprenticeship at Willow Ware in Sydney, manufacturing dies and moulds for the production of metal and plastic kitchenware products. Now, he has more than a few tricks up his sleeve to pass on to the next generation, helping them build their skills in design and construction.
The School of Design end-of-semester student exhibition is currently open at the Cullity Gallery.