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Canberra man awarded national medal for recording engineering heritage

A man who was recognised this month for recording Canberra's industrial history says more needs to be done to conserve the city's built heritage.

Engineers Australia awarded Keith Baker the 2016 John Monash Medal for his "outstanding contribution in raising awareness and conservation of the ACT's heritage, and providing national leadership in the promotion of engineering heritage".

Mr Baker authored A Century of Canberra Engineering in 2013.

He's a chartered professional electrical engineer with post-graduate qualifications in cultural heritage management.

He cited the closure of the Canberra Railway Museum and uncertainty over the former naval transmitter site in Lawson as issues of concern.

"That's been fenced off and was only saved because of the native grasslands; it [the transmitter] was nationally important for Australia's war effort during the Second World War," Mr Baker said.

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"I don't know what's gone on inside the fence since they took the antennas down.

"There was some magnificent old valve equipment in there. Whether it still is, I don't know. I'd like to think there could be an opportunity for enthusiasts to be involved in its conservation."

Mr Baker said the composition of the Heritage Council lacked balance.

"It would be nice if the people appointed to the Heritage Council were as representative of the conservation community as they are of people who are more aligned to developers," he said.

The medal he will receive perpetuates the memory of Sir John Monash as Australia's greatest military commander, and an exceptional engineer.

Mr Baker said he was honoured and delighted.

"It's so easy for industrial heritage to become lost or degraded," he said.

"It's not as pretty as some things regarded as 'real' heritage.

"To my mind, engineering has so much to do with everything that goes on in daily life, that to not record the engineering that goes into things is to only get part of the story.

"I'm not denigrating the conservation of architecture, but a lot of architects tend to only see the architecture and dismiss the engineering as something that can be cleared out so the shell of the building is a bit cleaner."

Mr Baker said the Kingston Powerhouse and Old Parliament House were examples of important sites for engineering heritage in Canberra.

"Old Parliament House had the first lifts in Canberra, the first air conditioning, the first ducted vacuum and things like that," he said.

"The importance of engineering heritage is part and parcel of giving the public an understanding of how things developed.

"Some of it's exciting for people, like steam locomotives, and people put a lot of work into conserving them.

"The Kingston Powerhouse could easily have been lost if it hadn't fitted in with the new development, but fortunately it had been listed.

"It's unique in Australia for being a building of this age with some of the equipment still there and a successful adaptive reuse which has preserved the building in a way that's compatible with its heritage. It seems to be a pretty good fit."

Next on the agenda for Mr Baker is to help record the engineering history of Mount Stromlo Observatory, which was established in 1924.

He's preparing a nomination for the site as a place of significant engineering heritage, not just astronomical and scientific heritage.

He's also coordinating a paper for a book that will commemorate the centenary of Engineers Australia in 2019.

The book will feature 100 places of engineering significance to Australia, including Mount Stromlo Observatory.