Electrical Engineering graduate Lyndon Frearson concedes that he was not exactly a star pupil during his years at the Melbourne School of Engineering.
However, Mr Frearson has gone on to play a leading role in Australian humanitarian engineering. In 2007 he helped establish a company, CAT Projects, a Northern Territory based engineering consultancy specialising in project management and energy and power systems engineering that is wholly owned by the indigenous NGO, the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT Inc).
CAT Projects has recently expanded its reach to provide much-needed electricity to isolated townships in rural India.
This all culminated last year, when Mr Frearson and his team received one of the most prestigious honours in Australian engineering, the Sir William Hudson Award from Engineers Australia, presented at Parliament House in November.
Mr Frearson said he enjoyed his time immensely at The Melbourne School of Engineering.
“Possibly more than I should have at times!”
However Mr Frearson said he struggled with the idea of what he was going to do post-graduation. As such, his studies suffered.
“There were several times where, arguably, if it weren’t for people sticking their necks out for me, I should have been asked to leave.”
In spite of this, he graduated successfully and managed to secure one of just a few graduate roles at Ford.
After progressing in his career at Ford, his wife was offered an opportunity in Alice Springs working with remote aboriginal communities. Mr Frearson took leave of absence from Ford and took on a new job as an electrical engineer CAT Inc working on the fledgling Bushlight Project, which was deploying renewable energy systems for Aboriginal communities.
“I didn’t know much about Aboriginal people or about renewable energy – but I learnt a lot about that very quickly.”
“We came up for a year and ended up staying nearly two.”
He said that after the initial contract finished, he returned to Ford and continued on his career path.
“But I guess that it sparked something inside me, and I wondered whether this was actually what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
He was eventually offered a senior production management role at Ford in 2007. But at the same time, with his wife pregnant with their first child, Mr Frearson received a call from Alice Springs, saying the opportunity had come up to set up a new company and with a view to applying the knowledge and capability developed on the Bushlight Project beyond aboriginal communities. CAT Projects was founded.
“We took a pay cut to go back up there, but had the opportunity to start something from scratch.”
He said the work he has done since has been hugely rewarding, and has seen him camping on secluded beaches, building some of the largest solar power plants in Australia, travelling to islands in the Bengal Delta to meet with villagers and speaking at major conferences.
“It’s beyond my expectations of what I’d get out of my career thus far.”
In 2008, CAT Projects commenced development of the Bushlight India Model, which builds on the Northern Territory framework, aiming to supply energy services to remote Indian villages.
Mr Frearson said the project was already having a noticeable impact on the local economies in the Indian villages.
He said villagers had already made use of the arrival of electricity to the town, starting new businesses. A group of women had purchased a sewing machine to make disposable banana leaf plates, which they sold in the marketplace.
Another local man had bought a second-hand photocopier and was now operating his own print shop from out of his home. The shop also provided much-needed learning materials for the school.
“You can actually build livelihoods for people, and the provision of energy is a key enabler of that.”
As a result, CAT Projects and the Bushlight India Model was awarded Engineers Australia’s top award, the Sir William Hudson Award. They were up against 50 excellent projects from around Australia.
“That night, standing there with my team to receive that award is without doubt the career highlight for me,” Mr Frearson said.
“For a little engineering firm based in the centre of Australia, owned by an Aboriginal organisation, to end up with this acknowledgement was just truly and profoundly humbling.”
For further information about CAT Projects and Bushlight, visit http://www.catprojects.com.au