Downer's foundations were laid down in the 1800s. John Walker & Co and Clyde Engineering were founded in Australia during this time, and the Public Works Department and Electrical Telegraph Department were founded in New Zealand.
The founding companies that now make up some of Downer’s core business divisions today, were founded in the early 1900s. Evans Deakin Industries (EDI) and Roche Brothers were two very important acquisitions for Downer in the late 1900s.
Arnold Downer, born in Victoria and raised in New Zealand, is where the Downer name originates. Arnold Downer was a talented engineer who spent his early days working at the Public Works Department in New Zealand and serving in World War I.
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During the 1940s, construction companies across both Australia and New Zealand felt the demands of war. Downer & Co, Evans Deakin Industries, John Walker & Co and Clyde Engineering were all pulled into large-scale projects to produce machinery required for battle, such as airfields, power stations and rolling stock.
During the 1950s Downer & Co felt a need to expand the business, and did so by undertaking joint projects with overseas partners and merging with William Cable Holdings. The late 1950s also marked Downer & Co’s 25th anniversary.
In the 1960s Arnold Downer retired as Managing Director of the company he had created, his role now taken up by Callum McLean. The 1960s also saw Downer’s first big merger with two New Zealand engineering companies.
The 1970s saw a huge boom in construction projects in New Zealand, including the Wairoa Dam, the Terrace Tunnel, the Rangipo Tunndel and the Waipuna Mine.
In the 1980s Downer celebrated a significant milestone in the Company's history. Shortly after, Arnold Downer passed away in 1984 at the age of 89.
The 1990s saw a number of significant acquisitions. Downer merged with Paul Y.ITC from Hong Kong, Works Civil Construction in New Zealand, mega mining contractor Roche Brothers and roads contractor Technic Group.
The 2000s saw a further increase in mergers and acquisitions, predominately in Australia. Downer acquired Bitumix in New Zealand, merged with Evans Deakin Industries, and also acquired Stork, QCC, Snowden, Emoleum and Excell Corporation.
In recent years, Downer has acquired two very important business; Tenix, a major utility contractor and Hawkins, one of New Zealand’s largest builders. Downer also put forward a takeover offer for Spotless Group, of which they now own 87.8%.
Since 2020, Downer has reshaped its business in line with its strategy to focus on its core Urban Services businesses: Transport, Utilities, Facilities and Asset Services. This includes acquiring 100% ownership of Spotless, completing divestment of its Mining business and establishing Downer Defence.