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From Ferranti to Faculty: Information Technology at Monash University, 1960 to 1990


This book documents a very important component of the history of computing and information technology in Australia. It covers a time period from the late 1950s until the formation of the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology in 1990. This was an exciting period during which the new discipline of computing was establishing itself. The discipline was changing and developing at a rate arguably faster than any new discipline in the past. This created enormous challenges and difficulties as well as wonderful opportunities.

These opportunities were seized upon by visionary people both at Caulfield Institute of Technology (later Chisholm Institute of Technology) and at Monash University. In many ways this book is about these people and the influence they had on the development of computing in Victoria and the establishment of the Faculty.

I was fortunate to meet many of these people. I only met Trevor Pearcey once, but I remember being impressed by him. He was a person who made such a significant contribution to the early days of computing in Australia and I was particularly pleased when this contribution was recognised both through the establishment of the Pearcey Foundation and the display of CSIRAC at the Melbourne Museum. CSIRAC, the design of which was led by Pearcey in the late 1940s, was one of the first digital computers in the world.

I did spend time while I was a PhD student at Monash undertaking some teaching of COBOL for the wonderful and “larger than life” Maurie Fabrikant at Caulfield Institute. Over the years I have met and worked with Gerry Maynard, John White, Pearl Levin, and many others. Sadly, many of these people are no longer with us, but they all contributed significantly to the establishment of Caulfield/Chisholm Institute as a centre of excellence in computing education.

There were also many people at Monash who made very significant contributions. The late Professor Chris Wallace was the Foundation Professor of Computer Science at Monash and an absolute unsung hero. In 1964 Chris wrote a paper published in the IEE Transactions on Electronic Computing entitled ‘A suggestion for a fast multiplier’. This paper formed the basis of multiplication in almost every microprocessor and computer for many years, but he was never really properly acknowledged. Chris was a scholar and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a brilliant lecturer who never seemed to need notes. He mentored and supported so many people who proceeded to become leaders of the Australian and world computer science community. I have no doubt that without his encouragement I would not have continued on to have a career as an academic.

Perhaps the most significant person in terms of the establishment of the Faculty was the late Professor Cliff Bellamy, a man who dedicated his life to establishing both the discipline of computing and the computing environment at Monash and who was taken from us at far too young an age. I have no doubt that it was Cliff’s vision, determination, influence and focussed energy that resulted in the establishment of the Faculty. His appointment as the Foundation Dean was not without its critics, mainly because he was not a “traditional” academic. However, I remain convinced that he was the only person who could have undertaken the role and the only person who could have established the Faculty and set it on its path to success.

And so we have all of the ingredients for a good novel – a varied and interesting set of characters, a complex and constantly changing setting and a story line. However, this is not a novel; it is a true story. It documents an important history and I am a firm believer that if you do not know where you came from you cannot possibly decide where you want to go. It was for this reason that I commissioned this history a number years ago when I was privileged to be the Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology.

I would like to personally thank all of those people who have contributed to the development of this book, particularly Sarah Rood who undertook the interviews and has brilliantly crafted the text, and Peter Juliff who ensured that the history saw the light of day at a time when it was nearly lost. I couldn’t put the manuscript down once I started reading and I hope that all those who read it enjoy it as much as I did and are inspired by what was achieved.

John Rosenberg
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Deakin University
Dean, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, 1997–2003



© Copyright 2008 John Rosenberg

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From Ferranti to Faculty: Information Technology at Monash University, 1960 to 1990

   by Sarah Rood