THIS year the Perth branch of the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT) celebrates the tenth anniversary of its first meeting, held in the crowded upstairs room of a busy Perth pub.

Speaking with Oil and Gas Australia, society chairperson Ray Farrier said that even from those early days, demand and interest in the group’s activities was high, with the room at Perth’s Rigby’s Bar soon overflowing.

“So we made the decision to hold the meeting outside in the back court area… We got a piece of string and divided the back area off, so we had the paying public who were part of the pub scene on one side, and on the other side of the string we had all these hastily erected banners from the SUT,” he said.

Despite a small beginning, where speakers competed against noisy bar patrons to be heard, much less give a PowerPoint presentation, the Perth SUT has gone from strength to strength, moving into its own office in 2012.

But the main role of the SUT, to promote the further understanding of the underwater environment and to encourage new ideas, development of new techniques and the further education of scientists and technologists, has always been at the forefront of the group’s ambitions.

Teaming up with Subsea UK and Subsea Energy Australia, the SUT has been holding a subsea conference alongside the Australasian Oil and Gas Exhibition and Conference for many years.

The groups still provide the technical content for the subsea portions of the now-merged conference timetable, a fact that Mr Farrier said he was pleased with.

“There is a huge amount of work to be done, and it got to a point where if we didn’t fall into that umbrella so they could take some of that paperwork off us, it was going to be difficult,” he said.

Helping with the conference is only one of the events on the society’s agenda.
“When we look at what we have achieved over the last year, we have held about 14 courses and we have had some technical evenings as well,” Mr Farrier said, with some of those courses attracting upwards of 300 guests.

The SUT’s evening technical meetings can feature up to five speakers and afford attendees valuable networking opportunities with other members.

“When we have our technical meetings, you can actually talk to people who are in your industry … you can be a diver, an ROV operator, you can be an environmental scientist, an engineer with an offshore subsea background – a whole range of those types of disciplines within the industry,” Mr Farrier said.

“We are particular about who can join the SUT as a member … what we have always wanted to do is ensure when we have our functions, like the annual dinner, you can actually talk to people who are in your industry.”

Today, the SUT in Perth has 158 individual members, 125 student members, 30 corporate members and 15 fellows of the society, the two most recent additions being Woodside’s Ian Wilson and Norman O’Rourke from GE Oil & Gas.

Throughout its life, the SUT has had a close association with universities as they train the next generation of subsea industry professionals, working with both Curtin University and the University of Western Australia in developing courses.

It has also awarded 44 scholarships since 2007 – with winners receiving $5,000 as well as the right to attend all of the SUT’s courses.

The SUT had also launched Young Engineers and Scientists, for recent graduates with less than five years experience, to launch events looking at career pathways and other areas relevant to their interests.

But that has not kept the SUT from becoming involved in the basic building blocks of early education, working with others to spark the curiosity of young people.

Working with Woodside, GE Oil & Gas and the WA Museum, the SUT was exhibition partner for Immerse: Exploring the Deep – an exhibition based around the recovery of the HMAS Sydney.

The exhibition, which ran in Perth and Karratha throughout 2012, looked at advancements in deep sea diving technology, looking at ways to understand, explore and ultimately utilise the resources found on and below the sea-bed.

“That got rave reviews – and that was all the companies contributing hardware so the public at large would get to see it all,” Mr Farrier said.

“We get a lot of support in kind from so many people … as long as we cover our overheads, any surplus we make we put back into industry,” he added.