Engineers Australia

Citation for John Vincent Simmons for the AGS Practitioner’s Award


Dr John Simmons has worked in the area of open cut coal mine geotechnical engineering for over 25 years. He obtained a first class honours degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Queensland, before completing an MSc at the University of Alberta in1974 and a PhD at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Professor Norbert Morgenstern in 1981.

In his early career, he worked briefly for the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission in Brisbane, and Golder Associates in Canada, before teaching Civil Engineering and Geomechanics, and researching tropical soils at James Cook University, North Queensland. In 1990 he joined BHP Engineering in Brisbane where he was responsible for all geotechnical activities of their Queensland-based operations. In 1995 he became an independent consultant through his company of Sherwood Geotechnical and Research Services, which provides geotechnical services to most of the bigger mining companies operating in Australia and he is one of a handful of high level geotechnical consultants who provide advice on the most difficult problems that arise in that industry.

John Simmons is a specialist geotechnical and civil engineer with wide experience in applied geology, materials testing, analysis, and design. He has dealt with soft clays and coastal sediments, stiff fissured clays, sands and tailings, mine waste dumps, residual soils, and rocks, and has fieldwork, laboratory testing, and computer modelling expertise, and he has worked in Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, Algeria, and India.

John has published around 50 technical papers and he co-authored 3 chapters of the book “Mechanics of Residual Soils”. He has also conducted workshops, many through the Bowen Basin Symposia, in which he has shared his knowledge in practical ways. Documentation of geological observations, careful laboratory testing and back analyses of failures have underpinned his approach to his work. This has resulted in the establishment of standard methods of analysis for open cut coal mining and the geotechnical characterisation of materials that are encountered in coal mines in the Bowen Basin and Hunter Valley. John’s insistence on engineering rigour underpinned by geological understanding in the geotechnical assessment of open cut coal mines has contributed to safer and more productive mines within the Bowen Basin and beyond.

He has been a NATA Assessor in Soil and Concrete Testing since 1987. From 1990 to 1999 John was a committee member for the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Geomechanics Society including terms as chair and as national committee representative. He has served as an external auditor for the Queensland State Government and the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland.

John has devoted much of his time in recent years to the mentorship of junior geotechnical professionals in the mining industry. He is a founder and avid patron of the Bowen Basin and Hunter Open Pit Geotechnical Society, to encourage information exchange and excellence amongst geotechnical engineers in the mining industry, and a lot of his time is given to advising and supporting the core of young geotechnical engineers who are carrying on this initiative. He has been involved in organising and delivering professional development courses including Slope Stability Modelling using Galena, Coal Mining Geotechnics (for geologists and non-geotechnical engineers) and Geotechnical Risk Management. He is also currently co-supervisor for two PhD projects on large waste dumps and washery rejects disposal through his conjoint academic status with the University of Newcastle.

John is highly respected for his technical excellence, his practical approach and his ethical principles. He believes that there is a value in educating professionals in the mining industry to be better at what they do, rather than simply benefiting from providing expert advice on request. He also contributes a significant amount of his time to research aimed at improving the state-of-the-art for the benefit of practitioners and consultants alike. John distinguishes himself amongst practitioners and academics and he is a worthy recipient of the AGS Practitioners Award.