Stewart eager to light the flame of success for CQU's construction apprentices

24 August 2022

Not many construction tradespeople can say they played a part in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics' which is why' many decades later' CQUniversity Acting Head of Construction Stewart Larsson is determined to light the flame of success for the industry's future workforce.

Stewart' who recently took on the role of Acting Head of Course for Construction at CQU TAFE in Mackay' has revealed how he was part of a team of tradesman who helped build the burner Cathy Freeman lit at the opening ceremony.

Stewart was working for the Industrial and Commercial Gas division of AGL in the Sydney region when he was approached to work on the burner.

"I was involved with lots of large industry projects and was asked if I was interested in pushing myself to do something a little different'" he said.

"(I helped) install systems involved with the control and ignition of the large quantity of burner nozzles in the ring of fire.

"I manufactured and modified one off components to assemble it all together' set-up multiple hydrogen and LPG fuel sources and piping systems on the 'handle'' which was the fulcrum component that lifted the ring out of the water and LPG on the ring itself.

"The reason for the dual fuel is that hydrogen can ignite and stabilise underwater for the initial effect of the water on fire. The LPG took over after this point as it has much more luminous flame characteristics."

He said the team also helped create the air curtain and mist nozzles to protect the operator as well as the emergency 'dousing' system in case of emergencies that was built onto the standing area.

In the end' Stewart and the other two members of the team' completed between 2000-3000 hours of work on the project' which was sworn to secrecy at the time.

To say Stewart was proud watching the opening ceremony is an understatement.

"I was overwhelmed with pride'" he said.

"It was always an argument as to who it was going to be' but as soon as I saw (Cathy) in the suit being passed the torch I knew and honestly' who better to represent Australia on the world stage at the time."

It was indeed a highlight of his career' which began with his apprenticeship at AGL in 1994' but Stewart is also excited to help other apprentices be their best.

"After nearly 30 years in the trade and 16 years of self-employment' my priorities changed in a way that I wanted to be more present with my family' while giving back to the industry that has given me so much'" he said.

"I moved from the trade to teaching at CQUniversity in October 2020.

"We as trade-based educators are open and honest about our good' bad and indifferent experiences within the industry'" Stewart said.

"We bring dynamic real-world experience to the students' simulating all facets of the trade they have chosen.

"Our dedication to the students continues post-apprenticeship with guidance available to former students who may be going onto further studies. I also directly help current employers and students with guidance on projects or difficult situations that require some extra brain power."

Stewart said being a tradesman was about imparting knowledge.

"Imparting knowledge I have acquired is one thing' but I consider it more a mentoring role to try to empower our apprentices to achieve their best'" he said.

"Seeing an apprentice giving 100 per cent effort to a task and standing proudly in front of a compliant assessment saying' 'I'm happy with that!'' is all I can ask.

"The metamorphosis of an apprentice from a 'green' first year to a professional person at the conclusion of their training is very rewarding."

Stewart said there were still challenges within the industry.

"Residential construction is still on the upswing with materials and skills shortages. In the coming few years I would say there will be a slight downturn if there are no government incentives for private building'" he said.

"Civil construction will then be able to regain some of the workforce they have lost to residential.

"Construction has always benefited from having varied areas within the sector that always seem to cover each other in a downturn. You can always factor in public housing as well."

He said the mental health of the workforce was also vital.

"I encourage our apprentices to talk freely about mental health. We really are at a crossroads with some of our students being at a crucial stage' gaining responsibilities and the stresses that can come with that'" he said.

"I think if we can change perceptions regarding the stigmas to talking about personal issues and showing vulnerabilities' we can save lives."

For more information on CQU's Construction courses visit

Watch the 2000 Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony below (Credit: Channel 7)