DDR’s at home at HMAS Coonawarra

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DDR’s at home at HMAS Coonawarra

DDR Australia continues to increase its considerable presence in the Defence sector. One that commenced in the NT at a Royal Australian Navy base called Coonawarra.

In the beginning

Founded in 2017, the majority Aboriginal-owned DDR Australia has done incredibly well as a business in its first few years and this is in no small part a result of the successful delivery of projects to the Department of Defence.

DDR has worked hard to build relationships with both Defence and the Commonwealth – so much so that the business continues to be re-engaged for Defence projects, not only in the Northern Territory but also across Australia. So how did it all begin? One of DDR’s very first Defence projects was the structural remediation of both wharves at Darwin’s HMAS Coonawarra.

Snapshot of Coonawarra

Located two kilometres from the centre of Darwin, HMAS Coonawarra is a strategically critical Royal Australian Navy (RAN) base thanks to its position at the top of the country. Indeed, it can be considered the gateway to our northern neighbours. The base is home to 12 fleet units of the RAN and comprises two wharf structures.

Remediating Coonawarra


DDR was awarded the $8.9 million contract for the structural remediation for wharves at HMAS Coonawarra in May 2018 and this was a milestone moment for the business.

Scope of works

The project’s initial scope consisted of:

  • Repairs to structural steel
  • Ultra-high pressure (UHP) water blasting
  • Application of protective coatings
  • Removal of marine growth
  • Repairs to concrete-jacketed piles
  • Removal of lead paint
  • Design, fabrication and installation of new stairs




Marine infrastructure projects can be notoriously unpredictable as a result of tides and other environmental factors. This initial HMAS Coonawarra project significantly enhanced DDR’s marine capabilities and has been instrumental in bringing about the agile, open-minded approach the business takes to all new projects.

Working in stages
The remediation works to HMAS Coonawarra were to be completed in stages so as to minimise disruption to the fully operational surrounds. The two wharves were each divided  into three sections with works carried out to each section, one at a time, over six stages.
With access to just one section at a time, DDR encountered some efficiency limitations. HOTO (handover/takeover) for each stage had to be fully signed off before commencing works on the next stage and this sometimes caused minor delays. An ‘early access handover’ mechanism was devised to overcome this issue.
Darwin’s extreme tidal ranges
Darwin’s eight-metre tides inhibited access to the lower levels of the wharves thus works closer to the water were possible for only short periods of time. The tidal changes made it necessary to conduct night works and this resulted in a changed methodology and shift hours to ensure works were performed according to program.
Hazardous materials encountered

Upon commencing works, DDR discovered lead paint in the steel piles and staircases on both wharves. This brought about significant variations to the initial scope, i.e.:

  • Repairs to steel piles contaminated with lead and coal tar epoxy
  • Supply and installation of new staircases




Working on a live, operational site
The wharves were to be fully operational throughout the works which meant that DDR had to be ready to accommodate Defence’s requirements at a moment’s notice.
DDR had to prepare for unplanned training exercises or the unannounced arrival of a boat. Other activities that could have a negative impact on DDR’s works included existing projects nearby, Defence operations and estate maintenance & operations services (EMOS).
To mitigate these potential issues, night works were coordinated to ensure DDR had access to site and to different workfronts. It was important the crew remained flexible to change work stages at short notice.
Working in a marine environment
Working in a marine environment in the Top End comes with its own dangers, such as crocodiles, jellyfish and other less-than-pleasant creatures. Additionally, there are the inherent safety issues that come with operating a boat.
This project allowed DDR to enhance its capabilities in the marine sector and gain valuable experience in working at heights over water. Furthermore, there were minimal safety or environmental incidents.
Stringent environmental controls
The Coonawarra Wharf remediation was an environmentally critical project with no solid waste of any kind to be deposited into the harbour. Strict environmental controls saw DDR’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) undergo a rigorous approval process.
The removal of hazardous materials was to be carried out via blast and paint, which meant contaminated sections of the wharf had to be encapsulated while undergoing the process. Continual monitoring of air and water quality ensured the works didn’t impact negatively on base operations or personnel.
Indigenous engagement
  • DDR maintained an 80 per cent Indigenous engagement level during the first year of
  • the project
  • The final Indigenous engagement on the project was 25 per cent, exceeding DDR’s own internal engagement targets and further highlighting DDR’s commitment to creating long-term employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

A look ahead at HMAS Coonawarra

DDR’s partner Duratec was recently awarded the NCIS-5 (Navy Capability Infrastructure Sub-program) project at HMAS Coonawarra. Through a collaborative approach with DDR, Duratec will gain the following advantages:
  • Already established Indigenous engagement
  • An understanding of wharf operations
  • The potential to reuse procedures developed under the original projects
  • An existing site establishment and compound
DDR values working with Defence and hopes to continue to undertake works at HMAS Coonawarra into the future.
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