Women have long been viewed as the guardians of tunnels – dating all the way back to the 1600s when underground miners prayed to Saint Barbara for protection.
In fact, a tunnel boring machine (TBM) must be given a female name before it can be used, ensuring good luck for the project ahead.
Carrying on the tradition, “Marlene” was chosen as the name of the fourth and final TBM for the transformative Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport project at a launch ceremony at the Orchard Hills Station site on 15 August.
Students from six local schools participated in a competition to name the new TBM, won by students from Claremont Meadows Public School, who nominated Marlene Kanga as a female engineering hero.
“This is an unusual accolade but nonetheless an honour as it provides an opportunity to talk about engineering and the impact of the work of engineers,” Kanga told create.
The aim of the competition was to help the students learn more about the metro line – spanning 23 kilometres from St Marys to the Aerotropolis – that will revitalise travel in their communities.
Now that TBM Marlene is underground, she will bore 4.3 kilometres – chiselling out the metro tunnel from Orchard Hills to St Marys with TBM Catherine.
Weighing in at a mammoth 900 t, TBM Marlene will excavate around 120 metres per week to reach the St Marys metro station site in mid-2024.
With all four TMBs, including Peggy and Eileen, now in operation, the mega project is one step closer to completion. Once launched, the metro line will connect local communities and travellers with the new airport, putting Western Sydney firmly on the map.
Along with involving students in the large-scale infrastructure project, the competition also gave them the opportunity to explore the achievements of inspiring female leaders as they nominated candidates for the mighty TBM.
As the only woman to become both National President of Engineers Australia and Global President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations – which has more than 100 national, continental and international members, representing over 30 million engineers – Kanga was an apt choice.
The prominent chemical engineer has held numerous executive roles in the oil, gas and chemical industry over the years.
These days, Kanga serves as director of AI-based video analytic organisation iOmniscient, and Rux Energy, which commercialises new materials for hydrogen storage. She is also a board member and non-executive director of some of the largest utility, transport and innovation organisations in Australia, including Endeavour Energy and, previously, Sydney Water Corporation, which provides essential electricity and water services to western Sydney.
Throughout her career, Kanga has always leveraged her leadership positions to advocate for more women in STEM, including as a founding member of the Sydney Division Women in Engineering Group.
“As former Deputy Chair of the National Committee for Women in Engineering in  2008–2009 and a member of the Engineers Australia National Council, I advocated for many policy changes to support women in engineering,” she said.
“This includes the Career Breaks Policy to support engineers on career breaks to maintain their chartered status, a world first later adopted by the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland. I also advocated for women to be nominated to every Engineers Australia College Board in 2008.”
During her term as Engineers Australia National President in 2013, Kanga increased the visibility of women in engineering – doubling the number of female Fellows from 49 to 99.
“As a founding member of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations Committee for Women in Engineering, and a former WFEO President, I increased the participation of women in WFEO committees and at conferences as speakers, and initiated a global award for women. I also advocate for more women in STEM at the highest levels of the United Nations and the UN Commission on the Status of Women,” she added.
All this led to Kanga being named among the top 10 women engineers in Australia, with a 2023 Officer of the Order of Australia “for distinguished service to engineering as a global leader and role model to women”. 
Through her newest accolade as a TBM namesake, Kanga hopes the students gained a better understanding of the role of engineering in our modern society. 
“The Sydney Metro will reduce travel times to school, work and leisure and improve the quality of their lives,” Kanga said. “This is the impact of engineering. It improves people’s lives and makes a better world.”
In her acceptance speech, she encouraged students interested in changing the world to consider a future career in engineering.
“I said, ‘Boys and girls, if you want to have a fun career where the work is always creative and ever changing – become an engineer. It is the best career you can ever have’.”
Chloe Hava is a Sydney-based freelance journalist. She writes for various publications across a number of different industries, including pharmacy, human resources and the small business sector.
Very cool mate great work ?
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