Engineering is more than creating the physical infrastructure of modern society to Greg Blaze OAM.
It is about serving community through the construction of bridges, buildings and roads. It's about standing in a space, be it in the Manning, Mogadishu or Maitland, and knowing that years of civil engineering experience will enable him to deliver projects that will transform lives, communities and economies. In Mogadishu his service involved the construction of a warehouse and accommodation compound for the United Nations World Food Program - Somalia, the salvage of four sunken vessels in the Port of Mogadishu and construction of a marine tower. In Maitland it was the management of a $20 million makeover of the city's central business district; the award-winning project, The Levee.
That's a snapshot of Greg's work for about the last 10 years, but it does not give the full picture of the man who is a recipient of the Queen's Birthday Order of Australian Medal (OAM) for service to civil engineering. Greg also served the Manning Valley community for around 15 years in Greater Taree City Council, with six years as its director of engineering, a position that was responsible for a budget of $20 million and a workforce of around 150 people; and during that time he also produced 10 papers for the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia.
The OAM is an accolade Greg did not expect, thinks "it's a bit odd" and prefers to see it as recognition of the contribution of engineers in communities, through local government. He seeks to shift the spotlight from the person to the profession.
It's a recognition for people who do work for community, whether it's your local community in Maitland or Mogadishu, as an engineer you can use your skills to help community, and to me that is really important.Greg Blaze OAM
"In your local government it's engineers and construction workers who build the roads that you drive on, the bridges that cross your waterways.
“It's engineers who build your water and sewer, all of the services and utilities that you have. They provide the parks and the sports grounds that your kids play on, and the local buildings, like art galleries and swimming pools, they manage the building and maintenance of all the infrastructure and utilities that we enjoy in our communities.
"I always try to impress upon the young engineers that I work with that they should be proud of what they are doing. They are making a difference ... some of them get it, but a lot are a bit embarrassed about working for councils."
The 15 years at Greater Taree City Council created a breadth of experience that enabled Greg to confidently sign on the dotted line for numerous United Nations World Food Program contracts over five years; and he was able to successfully work in a country "afflicted by decades of war, run by strong-arm warlords and mujahideen, and plagued by pirates and kidnappers."
He says the work in Mogadishu stretched him mentally and emotionally, and the desire to share the diverse and dangerous experiences saw him author, "There are no waves in Mogadishu".
Old Bar and the surf break - Standing Tall - is home to Greg. His choice to work in Mogadishu meant time away from his family and the waves; there was an ocean, but no waves in Mogadishu. Even now, his work takes him from family and sees him commute to Maitland on Monday and "return to paradise on Friday."
Greg repeatedly cites "an extremely supportive family" as playing an integral role in his success.
He is a father to three adult children, Jess, Mike and Dan, and it is his wife, who "is reluctant to be in the news" - and who also goes without name in the book - who consistently says, "why don't you?", when Greg proposes a personal or professional adventure.
Greg says he is "married to a social conscience", and shares that his wife spent time working with unmarried mothers and orphans in Sri Lanka.
"She would lament over the suffering of the less fortunate in the world, and often commented when observing the tragic suffering in third world countries where drought and war ravaged communities, 'we should be doing something about this'." Her words and her example played a part in Greg's desire to do humanitarian work.
Greg's weekly commute to Maitland will soon stop; his work on The Levee done. At the end of July he will again step from local government engineering projects to humanitarian projects.
This time Greg will stand in Jerusalem and in a space that is home to Palestian refugees. He will use his engineering skills to work with the ‘United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east’ to build schools and hospitals. It is a six-month contract, it's the next chapter in his life story and the good news is, there are waves near Jerusalem.