Sir Manuel Hornibrook (MR), a giant of a man, learnt from the lessons of early hardship in life to become a giant of the Australian construction industry.
One of seven children, his early years spent on his parents’ farm in the Obi Obi Valley profoundly influenced his later life and success. Having lost his father when he was nine, MR entered the building industry as an apprentice at the age of 13 then established his own business by the time he was 19. This was to become a family business, progressively involving four of his brothers, each of whom contributed significantly to the company’s success over many decades.
The business quickly moved into civil engineering contracting, excavating the State’s first open cut coal mine at Blair Athol in 1923. The William Jolly bridge built from 1930-1932 became MR’s all-time favourite project because of the aesthetic appeal of the bridge and the pioneering use of the sand island method of pier construction. This was one of the many construction innovations he was able to generate through the company during its life time.
Construction of the Hornibrook Highway toll bridge between 1932 and 1935, was the fulfilment of a long held dream which not only provided much needed depression-time employment but produced the longest viaduct in the Southern Hemisphere and the longest footbridge in the world. It changed the character and fortunes of the Redcliffe Peninsula forever.
These were two of more than 100 bridges MR constructed during his lifetime including the Breakfast Creek Bridge, the new Victoria Bridge and the landmark Story Bridge, built in partnership with Evans Deakin and the Northbridge and Iron Cove Bridge in Sydney.
The company’s growth allowed it to deliver an increasingly wide diversity of projects including, abattoirs, dams, power stations and wharves. His crowning achievement, unquestionably, was the successful completion in the 1960s of the superstructure and world famous sails of the Sydney Opera House.
A lifelong learner, MR was a robust leader who commanded immense loyalty from a workforce which reached 4000 and provided lifelong employment for many. The Hornibrook business became Australia’s number 1 construction company in the 1950s and 1960s before being acquired by the British Wood Hall group in 1964, later becoming known as Baulderstone Hornibrook.
Despite his visionary and distinguished national achievements which continue to benefit millions of Australians daily, MR (1893-1970) remained throughout his life a self-made and proud Queenslander.