Another j2 event experience

Thiess John Holland Tunnel Charity Dinner 2012

Portfolio Classification

Conference & Incentives – Special Events

Corporate (Gala, Formal Dinner)


Events of Significance

Major infrastructure

Location Brisbane AirportlinkM7, south bound tunnel,
Bowen Hills portal
Year 2012
Client Thiess John Holland
Quick Facts


550 guests, all bus-shuttled from designated greeting point to underground event site

Function held in unique, underground tunnel located approximately 900 metres from security-check-point arrival and parking area

Event function site covering 240m x 16m x 6m

7 team members for core creative direction and event management

176 event crew for coordination, event build and delivery

Saturday, 7 July 2012 date for event was influenced by construction timetable

Seven week lead-time once date was decided


AirportlinkM7 is Australia's largest infrastructure project and will be the first major motorway linking Brisbane city to the northern suburbs and airport precinct, enabling drivers to avoid up to 18 sets of lights. AirportlinkM7 is a 6.7km toll road, mainly underground, connecting the Clem 7 Tunnel, Inner City Bypass and local road network at Bowen Hills, to the northern arterials of Gympie Road and Stafford Road at Kedron, Sandgate Road and the East West Arterial leading to the airport. In July 2012, after three and a half years of construction, the multi-lane, free-flow toll road was considered complete.

It has become something of an international tradition to hold an event in a major tunnel before opening it to vehicular traffic; not necessarily a 'dinner', but some occasion that marks construction's end. Celebrating the magnitude and boldness of AirportlinkM7 was a key objective for the project's contractor, Thiess John Holland (TJH). Seven weeks out from Saturday, 7 July 2012, TJH embarked upon planning a black-tie gala inside one of the AirportlinkM7 tunnels, in conjunction with not-for-profit beneficiary, The Smith Family. The gala would provide opportunity to showcase the collective achievements of Thiess, John Holland and the Leighton Holdings Group in this internationally significant feat. Stakeholders would be celebrated, prospective clients entertained and triumphantly, $80,000 raised for charity.

Over three years, j2 had delivered two TJH Open Days surrounding Airportlink's construction and two further events that celebrate, reward and motivate the project's team members. As an event solutions provider, j2's background knowledge of AirportlinkM7's scale and complexity was unrivalled. It is because of this, that j2 could appreciate the imagination and boldness that has driven a project of this magnitude, making j2 the best creative direction and event management solutions provider for the TJH Tunnel Charity Dinner 2012.

J2 Services and Solutions

Not for the feint hearted, this 'tunnel dinner' was one of the most creative and logistically- challenged projects j2 director, Joanna Jordan had encountered in her 20+ year event management career. Nonetheless, as a team fuelled by a 'no limits' ethos, j2 orchestrated and delivered 'the goods'.

Core responsibilities of j2 included:

Creative direction

Event management

Stakeholder liaison

Interface with construction team to determine design of event, on-site parameters, restrictions, access, etc

Emergency services liaison

Negotiation of the appointed beneficiary, The Smith Family

Briefing and placement of The Smith Family volunteers

Interface with TJH graphic designer to oversee production of a suite of print materials and audio visual packages

Venue pageantry and theming requiring an extraordinary level of detail spanning through the entire 240m-long x 16m-wide x 6m-high function space

Menu design and selection

Entertainment selection, negotiation and management

Lighting and audiovisual design and management of contractors

Temporary infrastructure coordination and management of contractors

Production and stage management and oversight of event from bump in through bump out

Budget management and cost control

Risk mitigation and management

Detailed Case Notes on J2's Services and Solutions

'Venue' Site Overview

TJH had a particular 'space' in mind – AirportlinkM7's widest section and the largest span of road tunnel in the world – a 4-lane underground straight stretch at Bowen Hills. This section of tunnel brought genuine live event delivery issues: adequate power, lighting, sound, mandatory emissions testing, catering, amenities and even potable water were planning considerations for event partner, j2 ideas & events (j2).

Specialist Skills Required

Recognising critical technical and creative demands and only a short lead time, j2's Managing Director, Joanna Jordan, swiftly assembled a specialist event team to provide essential management surrounding complex rigging, acoustics, projection surfaces and 'look and feel' of the function space. This included bringing in technical manager Paul Bearne and event stylist Sharon Penny.

Budget Forecasting and Control

Parameters gradually revealed along the planning journey made it difficult to project costs and schedule the event build and bump-out. The term "tunnel factor" was bandied, given consistent supplier re-quoting once the site was comprehended and implications understood.

Site Inspections

j2 conducted 1-2 inspections per week, 2-3 hours at a time, bringing multiple suppliers to the event site under TJH's supervision. As components of the tunnel were sequentially commissioned and infrastructure withdrawn, invariably what worked one week (eg two-way and mobile phone systems) wouldn't the following. The team began to understand that much testing would need scheduling the week before, once the tunnel reached the state found at bump-in.

Negotiating Rigging Points for a Truss-Run

Free-standing overhead truss-runs could not be achieved across the wide span of tunnel without putting pillars through the dinner. Rigging points were installed through the tunnel ceiling enabling housing of two parallel 64-metre truss runs for audio, lighting and projection. Norwest designed an audio system that would work across the 240-metre span.

Strategic Creative Direction and Event Styling

Stylistically, the desire was to showcase – not change the look of – the underground function space, including not over-illuminating. The whole creative premise was to highlight the tunnel and its raw bitumen, steel and concrete textures. Specific projectors were procured from TDC to light existing wall panels in place of bringing in screens.

Designed to connect imagery of project construction to finished achievement, theming created a spatial flow that comprised three seamless venues within the 240m-long x 16m-wide x 6m-high area: entrance and pre-dinner (construction), dinner (five-star experience) and after-party (glamour lounge).

Red carpet led guests through a massive entrance arch decorated in abstractly-strewn construction materials. Design then simulated "the purple curtain", a series of pillars at the Bowen Hills entrance to AirportlinkM7 (the gala site). Eight purple pillars featured construction pictures and an audible construction soundscape was created, bringing imagery 'to life'.

Onwards into pre-dinner drinks, guests encountered transition to a lighter mood – a translation of the Toombul AirportlinkM7 section housing a living green wall. Adjoining timber panels featured formatube extrusions and intrusions into the wall, in which texturised inclusions of artificial grass and live green elements alternated with back-lit images of the project's finished achievements.

Strategically, design of the dinner area sought to highlight the sheer length and straightness of the chosen tunnel. A precise alignment of chandeliers were hung along the entire length of function space ceiling and accompanied by crystal candelabras atop three perfectly straight table rows.

Linear arrangement of the sparkling crystal led one's eye to a magnificent white 'tree bar' at the end of the space – the 'after-party' lounge. A slim-line tree structure was surrounded by a thick wire suspension, threaded with white tasselled-draping, spiralling outwards. Intermittently, elongated irregular mirrors were hung amidst the tassels providing lighting bounce-points.

Design and Printing

Theming was consistent across printed invitation and menu. Linear geometric graphic elements in silver and purple holographic foil represented tunnel lanes, vehicles and the chandeliers, which would feature at the dinner to reflect 'high society' and elegance. Watermarked words: imagination, innovation, inspiration conveyed the project itself: one of boldness and considerable magnitude. The menu also depicted the circular-shaped tunnel boring machine cutterhead, once again serving as reminder of work undertaken to facilitate the opportunity.

Catering From an Emergency Exit Passageway

For a five star experience, select high-end caterers were approached, yet some determined the event too challenging. Brisbane caterer Wine 'n Dine 'm braved the contract, operating superbly out of a temporary kitchen in the egress passageway, requiring alternative emergency evacuation planning to be devised.


Guests were navigated along official proceedings (including auctioning of a BMW 320d) by sporting commentator HG Nelson, jestingly touted as "international tunnelling expert". Entertainment included the haunting melodics of four-time ARIA Award-winning songstress, Katie Noonan along with light-hearted numbers from Brisbane band, Phoenix.


Level of Complexity

The 'Construction Site' Event

Working in a construction environment was one of the hardest event experiences j2 had faced. The landscape changes daily. As a manager, your project is also not the most important or exciting thing happening – the very construction project itself is the jewel – not the event that celebrates it. The team really had to be able to adapt to anything.

Workplace Health and Safety

From suppliers to event guests every individual entering the site was inducted. Build and bump-out crew demonstrated correct personal protective equipment. Event guests were inducted en route during their shuttle journey into the underground tunnel site, approximately 900 metres from designated greeting point.

Diesel-Only Vehicles

Unless requiring a vehicle to transport furniture, fixtures, equipment or supplies – in which case the vehicle had to be strictly diesel only – every individual person needed to be bussed to and from the tunnel site. Emissions testing was another underground worksite factor. Generator equipment would be tested once installed.

Shared Road Access in Function Space

Contemplating shared road access inside the tunnel for the first 24 hours bump-in (commencement 1800 hours Thursday) provided further challenge. Until 24 hours out from event, the function space could not exclude construction traffic using one of the four lanes. To plan installation of the 64-metre dual section of truss, theming element-builds and calculating deliveries, the team had to consider the feasibility of three lanes as a working space for crew and equipment, and how TJH and j2 could simultaneously achieve vehicular flow through the event site.

Camber of the Tunnel Road

The camber of the road necessitated levelling of every single table – all 51 of them. The revolve of the BMW stage (auction item) could not be determined to work until tested at bump-in.

Tunnel Ventilation System

Velocity of the tunnel's ventilation system (suited for vehicular traffic) was too strong for the static pedestrian-based situation and created dust circulation. TJH devised a way of ventilating the tunnel to the precise amount of air per second enabling deactivation of the 'jet' fans above the event location.

Cleaning of Tunnel

Once dust circulation was controlled and before bump-in could start, a full clean of 240 metres of wall panels either side had to be facilitated.

Completely Non-Smoking Event

No one could smoke inside the tunnel. The whole event was smoke free – for workers and event guests, which may have been a challenge for some individuals. The nearest designated smoking area would have been up to 1km from the function site, back near the security-check-point area.

Lighting Challenges

With a black ceiling, six wall projections to consider, a brief to highlight the tunnel (not overshadow it) and budget limitations that did not allow the running of overhead truss all the way through the 240-metre site (note dual 64-metre hanging truss-runs), illumination of the event space was a challenge.

So the team considered other ways to enhance and light the space, incorporating chandeliers, candelabras, and illuminated furniture, bars and installations into the design of the event.

Awaiting a Delicate Shipment

Crystal candelabras were imported from the Czech-Republic. Additionally, chandeliers were shipped from Sydney to achieve the ideal effect. There was some resulting nervousness around whether both shipments would arrive on time and intact. The outcome: yes to both.


The English proverb "hope for the best but prepare for the worst" springs to mind in the case of hiring heaters for the Tunnel Charity Dinner. It was advised that during the July evening event (winter in Brisbane) the tunnel would be cold for event guests. However, the function space was actually warm and so hired gas heaters were not used.

Key Achievements

Although one of the most creative and logistically challenging projects ever encountered by the event professionals involved, j2 ideas & events achieved the desired experience – maximum astonishment – within budget and without incident.

j2 Managing Director, Joanna Jordan admits to uncharacteristically attaching a personal agenda to this project – wanting to achieve "something quite magnificent" and so she drove a certain pressure upon herself and called for everything the team could muster in order to deliver the spectacle witnessed by TJH and The Smith Family's guests.

The resulting theming was ideal visual contrast. Soft, spherical duo-tone floral arrangements and exquisite crystal was illuminated against the harshness of bitumen, concrete, steel and black ceiling. Simply breathtaking!

The project team triumphed over a quantum of complexities and challenges, not the least of these being legislated conditions imposed within a construction site, which the tunnel remained to be until opened to traffic. Initially fearing production may be hampered by site confines, in reality the relationship with TJH surfaced as one of the most positive event experiences. TJH's team, allocated to overseeing the event crews, were enormously supportive and interested. Their collaborative approach was an outright success driver.

j2 and a number of the suppliers to the Tunnel Charity Dinner would back-up the gala on 7 July 2012 with a highly successful AirportlinkM7 Bridge and Tunnel Experience (community open day) for up to 20,000 people the following weekend on Sunday, 15 July 2012.

Stakeholder Feedback

"The theming and design of the event developed by your team captured and showcased all of the things that we are so proud to have achieved on Airport Link, as well as highlighting the tunnel itself and the many unique aspects of the project."

Gordon Ralph – Project Director, Airport Link, Northern Busway (Windsor to Kedron) & Airport Roundabout Upgrade Projects, Thiess John Holland

"I just wanted to put in writing a huge thanks for Saturday night. I know you have thrown much bigger events than this, but given the time and budget constraints that we faced (not to mention working in a tunnel!), I really think that you did an amazing job. The tunnel looks spectacular and we have had nothing but compliments from our guests… Thanks for bearing with me as we sorted all the logistics out."

Nicola Mitchell – Stakeholder Relations Manager, Airport Link, Northern Busway (Windsor to Kedron) & Airport Roundabout Upgrade Projects, Thiess John Holland

"Spectacular! I would rate it as the best event I've ever seen delivered in my experience."

Craig Fox – Director, Wine 'n Dine 'm

"I wanted to say a huge congratulations for such a great event. Everyone had such a good time and it was so beautiful – well done! And the money raised was fantastic, upwards of $80k which I wanted you to know will enable us to put 160 kids on scholarship which is huge!"

Rosie Simpson – Head of Strategic Development, The Smith Family