By the end of the 1980s, Transfield realised that it had outgrown the local market and that, if it wanted to expand further, the Company had to look for projects overseas. Building bridges for and with Asia made good political as well as business sense.



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One of the hundreds of steel bridges built by Transfield and Trans-Bakrie in Indonesia.

Chapter One

At the time of industrial, financial, business and political instability experienced by Australia in 1975, during the constitutional crisis that brought down the Whitlam Government, Transfield decided to search for other markets and for new opportunities.

A valuable asset of the Company was its cosmopolitan, young and unattached workforce that favoured mobility and sudden transfer to distant project locations, even overseas.


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Bridge built by Transfield in Cambodia for the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau.

Chapter Two

One of the first jobs won by Transfield abroad was in 1976, in Taiwan, the construction and erection of two giant container cranes. Transfield prefabricated the parts in Sydney and they were shipped to Taiwan every month. The following year Transavia started building Airtruk parts in Taipei, which were shipped back to Seven Hills for assembly.



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Seven Hills, 1986. Panoramic view of the workshop fabricating bridges for Indonesia.

Chapter Three

In 1977, Transfield received its first commission from Malaysia, the supply of 100 metres of steel truss bridges to Sarawak.

During the following nineteen years, until the 1996 split between Belgiorno-Nettis and Salteri, Transfield continued to expand into the Asia-Pacific region. It undertook major projects in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Taiwan, India, Kuwait, New Zealand, New Guinea, Israel and Japan. 


Video: Construction of the Tha Ngon Bridge.

Chapter Four

In 1989, ten per cent of Transfield's business was offshore, and by 1995 it was almost 30 per cent. On the eve of the 1996 split between its partners, the Company was on the brink of becoming the biggest Australian private company and the largest construction and engineering firm in South East Asia, with offices in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila, Taipei, Hanoi, Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon, and workshops in Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.



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Seven Hills workshop, 1986. Transfield’s automatic manufacture of welded beams for Indonesian bridges.

Chapter Five

Under a series of AusAid programmes, between 1983 and 1990, Transfield used more than 100,000 tonnes of steel to build over 2,500 bridges in Indonesia, almost twice the amount of steel used to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This was an enormous contribution by Australia to the development of Indonesia.

During those years, bridge construction went on unabated: in 1992, 27 bridges were supplied to Malaysia and six to Cambodia; in 1996, four bridges were built in the Khmer Republic.  

Video: Minister Neal Blewett visits the Seven Hills factory.

Chapter Six

Perhaps the most interesting bridge constructed by Transfield was the US$4 million Tha Ngon Bridge, officially opened on 18 June 1994, a joint venture between Transfield and the Lao Democratic Republic, with Transfield as the sole sponsor. Tolls would be paid for 15 years, when ownership would revert to the Lao Government.

Also in 1994, Transfield, in joint venture with Delta (Brunei), undertook the construction of two major mosques in Brunei. Each of the two buildings, valued at B$25 million, was able to accommodate 2,500 worshippers.

Video: Brunei Mosques under construction from Transfield.

Chapter Seven

At the same time, Transfield built another landmark building, the A$5 million border control facility on the Thai-Lao border. The complex, adjacent to the new, John Holland-built, Don Gazzard-designed Friendship Bridge on the Mekong River, linking the two countries, was officially opened on 6 April 1994 by Prime Minister Keating and by Lao Prime Minister Khamtay in the presence of Franco Belgiorno-Nettis.



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The Border Control Complex between Laos and Thailand, built by Transfield opened by April 1994. 1994. Franco, Prime Minister Paul Keating and the Lao Prime Minister, opening the Border Control Complex.

Chapter Eight

Supply and erection of transmission lines was also in great demand. In 1985, Transfield built four transmission lines in Sabah, for a total of 184 towers. By 1995, the Company had laid some 600 kilometres of transmission lines throughout Malaysia and Thailand, as well as securing the contract, worth $150 million, for the development of the new Kuching port, in Sarawak. By 1996, transmission line work won in Malaysia totalled more than $150 million.

Beside Sabemo's excellent construction record in Vietnam, Transfield contributed heavily to the infrastructure of Asia's expanding economies. In 1991, Thailand commissioned the construction of six conveyors at the Mae Moh lignite mine, and in September 1993 a conveyor system capable of carrying 1,800 tonnes per hour was completed for the Chinese government on the fringes of the Gobi Desert. Transfield also built a 1,200 tonnes per hour cement and clinker shiploader at Tong Ling, in Shanghai.    


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Transfield’s powerline workers at Lampang, Thailand. Franco Belgiorno-Nettis at the site of a transmission tower in Sarawak.

Chapter Nine

In Taiwan, Transfield was awarded, in February 1993, the largest construction contract ever won by an Australian company, an A$51 million coal loading system for the Taichung power station. In Indonesia, the company completed an A$23 million conveyor and shiploader in South Sumatra.

The most controversial project, commenced in February 1997, was undoubtedly the construction of the hydro-electric power project on the Bakun River on the island of Luzon, in the Philippines. On 14 April 1998, a typhoon hit the area, during which one metre of rain fell on the site. A landslide killed 14 workers, the injured were evacuated by Army helicopters and many survivors were given trauma counselling.  


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1999. The power station site of the Bakun Hydro-Electric Project, Philippines.

Chapter Ten

Unexpectedly, in mid-1997, a severe currency crisis hit South East Asia. Most local currencies were weakened, sharply diminishing their purchasing power. The Malaysian economy dropped its annual growth rate from about 8 to 2 per cent. The aspirations of many foreign contractors, including Transfield's, were thwarted, and most curtailed their presence in the region.

In the final analysis, Transfield learnt a salutary lesson from its foray in Asia. As Luca Belgiorno-Nettis put it, it was a success insofar "we did attempt to do something in South East Asia. Had we not done it, we would have felt we missed an opportunity. We learnt it was not a golden egg. Now we understand what are the pitfalls".

Video: Trans-Bakrie Factory, Indonesia.