In 2002 as a graduate of chemical engineering, Hilary quickly pivoted from pursuing a career in food processing after a fortuitous opportunity to work in the Victorian water industry. As part of a wastewater treatment team, Hilary worked in frontline operations visiting treatment plants, troubleshooting problems and getting involved in industry events.
“Once I found myself in the water industry I really loved it. I enjoyed it because it is a field that benefits the whole community; it’s not private industry or profit driven but rather for public good,” Hilary said.
“I had only been working for 12-18 months when I could see that doing further study to learn water and wastewater treatment processes specifically would be beneficial because I enjoyed the water industry and wanted to stay in it.
“I completed a Masters of Engineering Science which was a specialist course at the University of New South Wales. It gave me a solid technical education which built perfectly on my chemical engineering degree and I could apply my learnings straightaway as a graduate engineer working in the field on treatment plants.”
RMCG Senior Consultant Hilary Hall.
Not one to be complacent, Hilary moved north to Brisbane to join CH2M Hill (now Jacobs) to try her hand at consulting in 2005. This role not only presented an opportunity to work with a highly regarded senior process engineer and wastewater treatment plant designer, but it also allowed Hilary to work on the design and commissioning of the Toowoomba wastewater treatment plant upgrade.
“This was during the Millennium Drought when there was heated public debate about direct and indirect potable reuse of recycled water,” Hilary said.
For two years, Hilary juggled her role as a consulting engineer and member of the Australian Water Association’s Queensland Young Water Professionals Committee in Brisbane. When the state government announced a substantial project to design and install advanced recycled water treatment plants at three of south-east Queensland’s largest wastewater treatment sites, Hilary worked with CH2M Hill’s US-based engineers and consultants to deliver the project.
This led to a transfer to a CH2M Hill office in California where she continued consulting on larger wastewater treatment plant projects, investigating pollutants in wastewater and developing process documentation for clients.
“It was amazing how similar California was to Australia. The opportunity of working on those large treatment plants helped me to fundamentally understand that it takes many different types of expertise to deliver a project and keep a treatment plant operational,” Hilary said.
“Big infrastructure projects are around for a long time and have a lot of history attached to them, so once you experience that you can create your own history with that infrastructure, which has long-term impacts.”
After two years in California, Hilary chose to take an extended career break and return to Bendigo in Victoria with her husband, to start a family.
“We knew we wanted to have three children in close succession. At that stage I felt I couldn’t do two things at once so I decided to step out of the industry entirely and I had eight years at home with my children while they were young. It was nice to spend that time at home and I have no regrets – you can only do that once.”
Hilary (left) facilitating a Biosolids Users Panel session at the ANZBP National Biosolids Conference 2023.
After an extended period of looking after her family, Hilary faced one of the biggest hurdles of her professional career.
“I really didn’t know if I could still call myself an engineer after so long away from the industry but I just had blind hope that I could do it.”
It turns out that she could – Hilary was offered two positions and she chose to join RMCG in 2017.
“It gave me the confidence I needed to have a go. It was amazing to come back after eight years because all my engineering training and experience came back to me when I started working again in the industry,” Hilary said.
“RMCG felt like a good fit, being a Bendigo-based company and offering me a position at a level that I felt comfortable taking on. They also provided many flexibilities in returning to work.”
Hilary has since worked in the resource recovery area of the business and became the group’s Work Area Leader in 2019. She continues to consult in the strategic planning and beneficial use of recycled water and biosolids, wastewater treatment, unregulated contaminants, and environmental regulation.
“The projects at RMCG are interesting – I still like that it’s for public benefit even if it is for an industrial client such as a food processor, as helping them to manage their wastewater and environmental risks still benefits local communities.”
As a woman in engineering, Hilary said International Women’s Day helps to highlight the diversity required in her field to design and deliver wastewater infrastructure that supports our diverse communities.
Her advice to other women who may be starting or developing their careers is simple: “Get involved in industry organisations because it broadens your knowledge of your sector and builds your networks. If you have a better understanding of the work you do and where it all fits in the bigger picture, it makes you more excited to explore the opportunities available.”
As for the future, Hilary is keen to continue delivering high quality projects and supporting the beneficial use of waste resources, as well as enjoying some work-life balance.
“I would like to continue delivering interesting projects that help our clients and developing long-term working relationships with them – and some more Pilates please.”