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James Macquarie (Jim) Antill (1912–1994)

by R. Ian Jack

This article was published:

James Macquarie Antill (1912–1994), civil engineer and historian, was born on 10 June 1912 at Artarmon, Sydney, only child of New South Wales-born Horace Sutherland Antill, stock and station agent, and his Victorian-born wife May Adelaide Victoria, formerly Hannan, née Brook. He was a great-grandson of Major Henry Colden Antill (1779–1852), aide-de-camp to Governor Macquarie. Many descendants of Major Antill had Macquarie among their given names. Jim’s parents divorced in 1926 while he was a boarder (1925–27) at All Saints’ College, Bathurst. At the age of fifteen he entered the University of Sydney (BEng, 1932).

Antill began his career as an engineer with the Sydney Metropolitan Water Board in 1932, working on the construction of the Nepean and Woronora dams. After travelling to Europe and England in the mid-1930s to gain experience in construction methods, he worked on the Hawkesbury River Road Bridge, then as a shire engineer. On 17 March 1942, at St Mark’s Church of England, Darling Point, he married Hilda Dowling Whitty, a daughter of a solicitor from Berrigan. Declared medically unfit for active service during World War II, Antill supervised the construction of defence facilities in eastern Australia. In 1947 he was elected chairman of the civil engineering branch in the Sydney division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia.

Working for McDonald Constructions Pty Ltd (1948–55), Antill pioneered tungsten-carbide rock drilling in Australia, introduced stud-welding into construction works at the Balmain Power House, and established a reputation as an expert in the use of prestressed concrete. In 1952 he formed his own company, Stresscrete Constructions Pty Ltd, which in 1953 laid prestressed concrete floors at Footscray, Victoria, a first for Australia. The next year, at Teven in northern New South Wales, Stresscrete built the first bridge in Australia using continuous prestressed concrete over multiple spans. Antill sold the company in 1956 and thereafter practised as a consulting construction engineer.

During the 1960s Antill’s professional reputation grew. He was appointed chairman of three significant bodies: the technical committee on prestressed concrete, established by the Standards Association of Australia; the construction section of the Metric Conversion Board; and the arbitration committee of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. In twenty years as a commercial arbitrator he conducted more than fifty hearings, and he was a foundation member (1975) of the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators, Australia.

Antill also made a significant contribution to engineering education. As a visiting lecturer from the 1950s, he taught engineering students at the University of New South Wales, where he also wrote a thesis on ‘The Use of Network Analysis’ in construction projects (MEng, 1968). From 1973 to 1985 he was visiting professor in the department of engineering construction and management. He was also a part-time lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Sydney for a decade beginning in 1967.

Among civil engineers, Antill’s reputation was confirmed by a growing number of substantial publications. Civil Engineering Construction, co-authored with P. W. S. Ryan, appeared in 1957, with five subsequent editions up to 1988. This was followed in 1965 by Critical Path Methods in Construction Practice, with R. W. Woodhead, which ran to four editions, the last published in 1990. In 1970 Civil Engineering Management appeared; its title changed to Antill’s Engineering Management in 1991. The first of five editions of A Manual for Construction Contracts Administration was published in 1975.

An abiding interest in history was first evident in Antill’s A Short History of the Antill Family of Picton (1944). He contributed a biography of his great-grandfather to the journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) in 1946, and to the first volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography in 1966. He twice revised (1952, 1964) Watson Steel’s The History of All Saints’ College, Bathurst, and contributed seven biographies of engineers to the ADB between 1967 and 1981. Having joined the RAHS in 1945, Antill served three terms as vice-president (1963–1968, 1971–75, 1978) and was known for his ‘special professional knowledge, robust business sense and practicality’ (Whitaker 2001, 62). He contributed articles and reviews to the society’s journal and was elected a fellow in 1977.

Antill’s first marriage had effectively ended by 1958 and the couple divorced in 1966. On 29 July 1966 at the Sydney register office he married Audrey Vivian Baker, née Mockett, a divorcee. Survived by his wife and two stepsons, he died on 28 November 1994 at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, and was cremated. An engineering colleague observed that Antill ‘could be gruff and, at times, appeared confrontationist, but that was just his way’ (Farmer 1994).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Farmer, Brian. ‘Leading Engineer and Educator.’ Australian, 5 December 1994, 18
  • New South Wales State Archives. NRS 13495, 2513/1963
  • Steel, Watson A., and James M. Antill. The History of All Saints’ College, Bathurst, 1873–1963. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1964
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Leading Construction Engineer, Teacher and Contract Arbitrator.’ 3 December 1994, 10
  • Whitaker, Anne-Maree. ‘Biographical Notes on the Fellows of the RAHS.’ Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 87, no. 1 (June 2001): 59–87

Additional Resources

Citation details

R. Ian Jack, 'Antill, James Macquarie (Jim) (1912–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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