Founding Fathers of the Australasian Chapter of IGS (ACigs)

ACigs is starting to announce honorary members at the AGM each year, and this year we announce these names – Fred Gassner, Malek Bouazza and Mike Sadlier all three played a hand in setting up ACigs. The below article takes a look at how these 3 Founding Fathers began the Australasian chapter of the IGS.

1990’s – Origins of ACigs

The Australasian IGS Chapter was formally ratified by IGS in 2002; however, its origins go back to the early 1990’s.  There was a precursor to the Australasian Chapter of IGS led by Manfred Hausmann and loosely based on the members of the Australian Standards Committee CE20.  The Standards committee was quite broad and included manufacturers, distributors, government people and not many academics.  It was focussed on geotextiles but had plans to do more about other geosynthetics, but the development of Standards Australia overtook those plans.  It did produce a glossary of geosynthetic terms which eventually formed the basis on the current IGS Glossary.

The concept of creating ACIGS germinated in late 1990’s with Fred Gassner, Mike Sadlier and Professor A. (Malek) Bouazza.  Fred moved from South Africa to Australia, where he had established the South African Chapter of the IGS.  Malek moved to Australia from Belgium.  Fred took up a position in consulting and Malek joined Monash University.  They brought with them their passion about geosynthetics, and they linked up with Mike, another geosynthetics passionate.  Malek was the first chair of the committee created to make the Australasian IGS (ACIGS) a reality; the committee was initially set up as an interest group, similar to the South African model at that time benefiting from Fred’s previous experience.

Interest in Geosynthetics was growing and this early group of leaders in Australasia arranged an ANZ Environmental Geotechnics conference in Melbourne Australia in November 1997 which was proceeded by two short courses.  One of the courses focused on containment, led by Kerry Rowe and Mario Manassero it made an important contribution to growing interest and momentum in Geosynthetics in Australasia.

2000’s – ACigs Creation

In 2000, there was a one-off event in Melbourne that brought all the geo-disciplines together, the GeoEng 2000.  The event was well attended by geosynthetics experts including past-IGS-president, Professor Colin Jones and Professor Kerry Rowe, IGS-President at that time Professor Richard Bathurst, and IGS council member Professor Jean-Pierre Gourc.  Malek was a member of the GeoEng 2000 Technical Committee and invited these experts amongst others (John Bowders, Ennio Palmeira, Grace Hsuan, John Cowland and Sam Allen) to participate in a one-day geosynthetics seminar before the big event.  The event chaired by Malek was held in Melbourne at Victoria University on Flinders St on 18 November 2000, with the help of Fred, Mike and Dr Kodikara amongst others. Sponsorship for the seminar was provided by Nylex Corporation Pty Ltd and Geofabrics Australasia Pty. Ltd.

Having built a critical mass of membership, the Australian Geosynthetics Interest Group leadership team gained support from the IGS council to form an Australasian IGS chapter.  At this time, Malek was the group President, Fred was the treasurer, and Mike was the Vice-President.  Malek proposed the Australasian Chapter in writing to the IGS Council Meeting in Kyoto 2001 with Mike, who was then a co-opted IGS council member at the meeting in support.  The chapter by-laws were created with Fred’s experience from the South African chapter and advice from Mike’s accountant from his golf club who helped to set up ACIGS as a registered not-for-profit entity.  The chapter creation was ratified in 2002 at the IGS council meeting organised in Nice in , and the first formal ACIGS office bearers were President: Prof. A (Malek) Bouazza, Vice-President: Mr Mike Sadlier, Treasurer: Mr Fred Gassner, and Secretary: Mr George Fannelli.

The society also secured seed funding from IGS in 2003, to keep the membership interest momentum, which enabled the society to hold a touring conference in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland with Barry Christopher as the keynote speaker.  The event was a great success reaching a wide audience and promoting awareness of Geosynthetics and increasing chapter membership.

From these early days all three of the Australasian IGS Chapter “founding fathers”, Mike, Fred and Malek, have maintained their enthusiasm for and continued careers in Geosynthetics and have also been active supporting IGS and the Australasian Chapter.

  • Mike served as a council member and other roles with IGS for over 12 years and various roles with the Australasian Chapter. He was the last Technical Committee Chair of the IGS before it was decided to have individual Technical Committees for the different areas of interest.
  • Fred has been an office bearer in various roles of the ACigs from founding, and since then an active member of ACigs.
  • Malek served as IGS council member from 2004 to 2012 where he served in various roles, in particular, he was the chair of the Asian Regional Committee, Co-Chair of the African Regional Committee, member of the Education Committee and member of the team that ran the first “Educate the Educators” program in Asia held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2005. Finally, he was the inaugural chair of the IGS Technical Committee on Barriers created in Guaruja in 2010 and continued in this role until 2012. Besides this he was ACigs office-bearer either as President or Vice President until 2014.