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Dynamic duo

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HIA’s new National President Alwyn Even and Vice-president Debbie Johnson are renowned for their business acumen but their passion for building.

Kerryn Ramsey

Content Writer
HIA’s new National President and Vice-president have building in their blood as they both found their calling in our industry at a very young age. 

As a teenager, Alwyn Even started working with his dad, a sub-contractor bricklayer, on weekends and school holidays. ‘I loved the freedom of working outdoors, on different sites and in different areas all around Perth and the southwest,’ recalls Alwyn. ‘I knew the building industry would give me great opportunities.’ 

Meanwhile, HIA’s new national vice-president Debbie Johnson, an experienced designer and builder on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, drew inspiration from her father, a bank manager-cum-frustrated architect. ‘Dad spent most of his working life in the bank but on weekends, we explored homes under construction that he was financing,’ recalls Debbie. ‘I loved those outings and appreciated the strength and feel of the hardwood timbers. I particularly loved the smell of timber.’
Little did Alwyn and Debbie know that these experiences were the springboard to their inspirational careers. In 1975, Alwyn took on his first full-time job at Jason Windows, moving up the ranks from window maintenance and service work to sales consultant and eventually into senior management. After a stint as supervisor at Jason Home Improvements, he moved to Webb & Brown-Neaves as a sales consultant. By 1992, not only had Alwyn become the company’s general manager – which continued for 22 years – he also became a registered builder. In 2011, he became the quality and compliance director for ABN, which he still holds today. 

Like Alwyn, Debbie obtained a building licence after developing her diverse industry skills. By the early ’80s, she was working for herself, designing new homes and renovations for several local builders. ‘This was when I really began to understand building,’ she recalls. 

In 1987, Debbie started her own design business, Building Suncoast Green, and a decade later, she completed her medium-rise builder’s licence. She joined HIA at the same time. ‘If I had joined HIA earlier, it would have been of real assistance in working my way through the licensing system,’ she says. 

Since then, her business has continued to grow and encompass construction, town planning, building and landscape design. 
Alwyn Even – HIA’s new National President
'I quickly learnt that you get more back than what you put in,’ says Alwyn

Honing in at HIA

It was when Alwyn and Debbie’s careers were growing and expanding that they discovered the value of HIA. They were both involved in helping members, joining committees, and promotinalwayg industry standards. 

Since 1995, Alywn has been actively involved in the Western Australian arm of the Association, serving as a member of the Regional Executive Committee, chair of the Regional Technical Committee, vice-president and president (2003–’05).’ He was also the chair of the National Technical Committee for six years (2007–’13). In 2013, he was elected to HIA’s National Board of Directors and took up the position of vice-president in 2019.

‘I quickly learnt that you get more back than what you put in,’ says Alwyn, who has taken over Simon Norris’s role as president. ‘It’s been a very rewarding journey.’ 

One of Alwyn’s most memorable achievements as WA state president was introducing the Name and Shame program. ‘This campaign was aimed at reducing site theft,’ he says. ‘We partnered with a private security firm and the WA Police. It’s now called Busted and it’s still a very successful campaign.’

Debbie was appointed as HIA’s Queensland regional president in 2013, joined the National Board in 2017 and is thrilled to take on her new role as National Vice-president ‘The industry is proud of our knowledge, experience and our skills, and the Association will continue to work hard to develop the next generation of building professionals,” she says.

Debbie was integral in establishing HIA’s Building Women awards in Queensland, followed by an expansion of the program nationally. ‘I’ve shared my career journey, speaking at many regional Building Women events over the past five years,’ says Debbie, who is the second female to be elected to this position.
Debbie Johnson – HIA’s new National Vice-President
'The Association will continue to work hard to develop the next generation of building professionals’

Future plans

HIA’s new dynamic duo has enthusiastically embraced their roles. Last year’s unexpected challenges of natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic had significantly impacted on the housing industry.

Debbie says: ‘HIA worked swiftly and closely with government to secure various outcomes that have benefited the housing and building industry more broadly from the outset. The impact of COVID-19 has caused some industries to flourish while others have been devastated. Going forward, our industry is committed to delivering a large number of dwellings throughout Australia. There are constraints with supplies, particularly timber which is a global situation at the moment and access to skilled trades given the current demand. Builders, contractors and suppliers are therefore under a great deal of pressure mentally, physically and financially so we’re working closely with our members to support them.’

According to Alwyn, the HomeBuilder stimulus package ‘has record numbers of sales which need to be built in a very short time. This has resulted in material shortages, trade and general labour shortages and land supply issues.’

As well as addressing these issues, Alwyn is also focusing on the upcoming National Construction Code which will be launched next year. ‘This is a huge piece of work especially in energy provisions, condensation inclusions and the accessibility space,’ he says.

Dream homes

While our president and vice-president are passionate about the building industry, how would they sum up their own homes? Alwyn reveals that he’s looking forward to a sea-change lifestyle in the near future.

‘Having just sold our home in Darlington in the Perth Hills, we’re currently building in Busselton, a southwest tip of Western Australia,’ says our president, who lives with his wife Deidre. ‘Our previous home was luxurious and private with a bush environment. The Busselton home will be on the beach so this is our ultimate sea-change.’

While Debbie is on the other side of the continent, she also embraces the beachside lifestyle, as she lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband, Phil. ‘He’s an electrician who came to fix my washing machine,’ she recalls, laughing. In their home, she has introduced various sustainable and efficient features. ‘Living in a sub-tropical climate, I’m happy to say I’ve never entertained the idea of air-conditioning. I just love salty air and the sound of the sea. If you get the orientation and crossflow ventilation right, you can live comfortably in all seasons.’

With her design background, Debbie has a home that’s been furnished with treasured timber cabinets from her grandparents. ‘They evoke warm childhood memories for me,’ she says. ‘These are covered in cascading plants, beach shells and handmade gifts of love from my own grandchildren. With a comfy pillowy couch and richly woven rug in the middle, I have my dream home.’