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Former soldier-turned-inventor named Alumnus of the Year


Sharlene King
31 October 2019

Former Australian Army soldier-turned-inventor Neale Robert Sutton has been named Alumnus of the Year at Southern Cross University’s new annual gala awards. His invention is Humanihut, a lightweight yet robust, quick-to-install humanitarian and emergency accommodation solution.

Mr Sutton’s vision, born out of his experiences in East Timor as a Military Observer to the UN Transitional Authority, was a series of huts that, with the addition of power, water and sewerage, could create a small village with a lifespan of 20 years. There are more than 26 million refugees globally, many living in tents that are replaced every six months.

Established in 2013, Humanihut was shortlisted from more than one million global start-up and corporate venture nominations to be listed 63rd the 2016 Disrupt100 list of businesses with the most potential to influence, change or create new global markets.

Humanihut has since been deployed in small numbers to the Middle East, USA and Australia for both natural disaster and refugee situations.

Mr Sutton, Managing Director of Humanihut, was last night named the Alumnus of the Year at Southern Cross University’s inaugural Impact Awards. Created to mark the University’s 25th anniversary, the Impact Awards celebrate the people – both staff and alumni – who push boundaries, create change, and lead the thinking to make a better world.

“I was thrilled to be nominated for this prestigious award in the year which marks Southern Cross University’s 25th year, but humbled in my win when I look at the calibre and achievements of all the finalists,” Mr Sutton said.

“The skills I developed completing my Masters at Southern Cross continue to provide the framework I apply to my professional endeavours and has shaped many of my decisions and solutions to the commercial challenges I face as an entrepreneur.”

Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker said he was very impressed with Neale Sutton’s amazing innovation and invention.

“We pride ourselves as a University which stands for what matters – especially in such areas as emergency resilience and response. There is no better example than Neale’s of achieving this aim in practice.”

The seed for Humanihut was planted in East Timor in 1999 when Mr Sutton was deployed as a Military Observer to the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor. Controlling the repatriation of refugees from West to East Timor, he saw firsthand the issues surrounding refugee housing.

Mr Sutton’s target was to accommodate more than 13,000 people a week, which was the number of displaced Syrians crossing the border into Jordan in February 2013. His design can achieve this in as little as four hours with two establishment teams, each of five personnel and a telehandler.

Humanihut is presently in active negotiations with 32 large government and commercial clients in Australia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The South Australian SES has taken possession of a Humanihut basecamp for deployment when fighting major bushfires or undertaking clean-up operations.

The company has just won preferred supplier status to the Saudi Government to enhance the living conditions of migrant construction workers. It has also won a contract to supply 50 Humanihut basecamps into Siberia for the Russian Emergency Management Agency. Humanihut has also established a joint venture with French company Utili, to jointly supply future clients with a mix of rigid and soft skinned (Utilis) field infrastructure in the Europe and North African region in support of its refugee and emergency management accommodation needs.

Mr Sutton graduated with a Master of Professional Management in 2005. He completed the degree online while working for Minelab, a world leader in metal detecting technology, where he advised the United Nations and 17 foreign countries on the eradication of land mines and unexploded ordnance.

Other alumni winners at the 2019 Impact Awards:


Humanihut model

The basic Humanihut Field Infrastructure System (HFIS), known as a Lot, consists of three specially designed sea containers, two of which each contain eight Humanihuts, and a third storing the fixtures, fittings and furnishings to reconfigure the containers into bathrooms and fit out the 16 Humanihuts. The HFIS has a field life of up to 20 years with minimal maintenance, and can accommodate from four to camps of thousands of people in comfortable emergency accommodation. Each Humanihut can be erected within five minutes by a small team with minimal machinery. The ‘Basecamp’ model sleeps 256 and the containers can be configured for meeting rooms or medical facilities. The ‘Village’ model, most suitable for refugee camps, can house 2500 people and is established with containerised water, power and sewerage services in three days. The HFIS can be delivered with solar power generation and each Humanihut is insulated to about the same standard as an Australian family home to maintain a consistent temperature thus reducing the reliance on electricity and protecting its inhabitants from the elements.