Adikari family atop Mount Arapiles, Western Victoria 2005
A passion for learning
Born in Sri Lanka in the 1950s to parents who were teachers, education was a priority for Gamini during his formative years. He surpassed thousands of students to be selected for a Bachelor of Civil Engineering at the University of Ceylon, Sri Lanka, graduating with honours in 1975.
Gamini then had the opportunity to work on his first dam construction project, diverting the largest river in the country from east to north for irrigation and hydropower.
Visiting Hoover Dam as a tourist.
“I was drawn to these dam projects because of their sheer scale. I was fascinated with how they were built and the fact they have such long lives. There are dams in Sri Lanka that are 3,000 years old and it just fascinated me. They also have incredible, positive impact for communities – creating water security, irrigation and recreation.”
Following this, Gamini completed a Masters Degree in Geotechnical Engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand in 1977. He was then offered a scholarship to study a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph D) degree in Dams Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne.
During his Ph D research, Gamini worked on the Snowy Scheme dams, which are some of the largest dams in Australia. His research studied instrumentation data and performance over the life of a dam, specifically predicting how a dam would respond and behave, during and after construction, depending on the variations of its design, materials and construction.
“This was my first introduction to SMEC, working on the Snowy Scheme dams. I met some great people who worked at SMEC and Snowy Hydro, who I respected and stayed in touch with after the Ph D research project.”
After completing his studies in 1981, Gamini took a position as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Monash University and applied his Ph D research findings to study Dartmouth Dam in northeast Victoria, the largest earth and rockfill dam in the southern hemisphere.
Following his Ph D and research work at Monash University, Gamini joined State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in 1982, where he supported an extensive dam development program for the Victorian Government.
“I could have gone into an academic and research career at a university at that point, but I decided to go into industry. I wanted to be a part of the dam construction program of the Victorian Government, that saw 100+ dams and irrigation structures built from the 1940s to the 1980s. I was involved in the last few dams constructed, before my focus changed to dam safety.”
Gamini was involved in an array of projects from dam investigations, numerical modelling, design and construction, to leading safety management programs and dam upgrade projects across Victoria.
Owen Falls Dam in Uganda, the largest dam in Uganda which supplies electricity to Uganda and parts of neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania. Gamini was instrumental in developing the dam safety regulatory framework for managing all of Uganda’s dams for the Government of Uganda in 2005, a SMEC project funded by the World Bank.
Delivering dam safety around the world
In 1986, Gamini took another post-doctoral fellowship position at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute in Oslo, Norway to study the behaviour of the 90m high Storvatn Dam, on secondment from the Victorian Government.
“The 18 months I spent in Norway were really interesting. Their dam design and construction practices are so different, because of the climate. They were using asphalt concrete, a flexible material, to build the core of the dam in an innovative technique. I looked at ways we could try this technique in Australia, but so far it hasn’t been viable.”
In 1995, the Victorian state government decided to break up State Rivers & Water Supply Commission and SMEC bought the dams team.
Over the next few years, Gamini joined SMEC on some of their World Bank projects across Asia and Africa. He was instrumental in the development of dam safety policies, programs, systems and legislation in countries including Uganda, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
“Personally for me, international projects exposed me to different practices and cultures that I really liked. It was particularly special to return to Sri Lanka, in the early 2000s, on a World Bank project that brought significant benefits to the community.”
Gamini lists his work on the inaugural Alpine Resorts Geotechnical Stability Review from 1998 to 2000, as one he is most proud of. It was a multi-disciplinary project that involved slope stability risk assessment, safety review and preparation of development guidelines for all Victorian Alpine Resorts on behalf of the Victorian Government.
Dartmouth Dam in North Eastern Victoria – the highest earth & rockfill dam in Australia. Gamini has undertaken studies, reviews, inspections and reporting on the behaviour of this dam since 1981.
Scrivener Dam in Canberra, a gated concrete gravity dam which forms the Lake Burley Griffin – Gamini has been the Dam Safety Engineer for this dam on behalf of the National Capital Authority since 2010.
“We looked at about 700 different sites across Victoria, looking for potential failure risks, and provided a 1-metre wide series of reports to government. The catalyst was the Thredbo disaster, so the work felt very significant. We moved from resort to resort over six months, with a portable office to do site work during the day and input the data into computers at night. I feel it was a landmark project and will help to ensure the safety of our mountain communities.”
Over the years of his career, Gamini developed a strong, respected reputation. With long involvement with the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) and the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), Gamini was made Secretary of ANCOLD from 2000 to 2003.
Darwin River Dam in Northern Territory, which supplies 80% of Darwin’s water. Over a 6-year period Gamini was the Project Manager and the Lead Dams Engineer for raising and upgrading this dam which comprised investigations, risk assessment, design and construction works of the dam embankment, spillway and the outlet works, while maintaining water supply to Darwin throughout the construction period. The project won an Engineers Australia Award in 2012.
The next generation
In the later years of his career, Gamini has focused on supporting young engineers through involvement in universities, but also mentoring his colleagues. He has worked with various universities across Australia, such as Monash University and RMIT, on their civil engineering programs and shared his incredible knowledge across the entire industry.
“Gamini has made an enormous contribution to SMEC and the industry,” said Trevor Sullivan, Director of Infrastructure Australia and New Zealand at SMEC. “His expertise in global dams and dam safety is internationally recognised. We’re incredibly proud to call Gamini Adikari one of our own.”Reflecting on his career and experiences, Gamini has said, “I am thankful to those who placed their trust in me by giving me the opportunities (and the challenges that came with them) that made this journey meaningful and unforgettable.”
Looking to the future, Gamini believes the new role of dam engineers is to ensure the safety and efficient operation of existing dams, with less focus on the building of new dams.
“Looking at seismic activity impacts, climate change impacts such as floods, and advances in design standards and practices, there is a lot that needs to be done in upgrading existing dams, such as retrofitting anchors into concrete dams, filters into embankment dams, and providing additional spillway capacity, for most dams constructed prior to the 1970’s.”
For young engineers at the beginning of their careers, Gamini’s advice is:
Gamini has made an exceptional contribution, not only to the engineering industry, but to the communities the projects he has delivered serve. As Gamini transitions to formal retirement, we thank him for the outstanding legacy he has built. Industry leaders, like Gamini are invaluable and we have been privileged to learn from his experience over the past 46 years.
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