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


This history has been a long time in the making – both in terms of the events that unfolded and the process of weaving them into the narrative that follows. Researching and writing this history has been a long and involved journey and there are many people to thank.

The idea of putting together a history of the Faculty of Information Technology was first suggested at the end of 2001, at the launch of ‘A Digital Evolution’, an exhibition of computing history created by Monash academic Judy Sheard. At the launch of this exhibition, it was suggested that a history of the Faculty of Information Technology be undertaken. First thanks must go to Judy Sheard for drawing attention to this important, but extremely young history, and to Professor John Rosenberg, then dean of the faculty, for seeing the value in telling this unique story and for acting on the suggestion.

While the faculty itself is relatively young, the history that it rests on is rich, complex and reaches back to the beginnings of computing technology in Australia. In commissioning this history, Professor Rosenberg has enabled this remarkable history to be brought to life.

Immediately after the history was commissioned, a steering committee was established to guide the direction of the project. The History Project Steering Committee, was chaired by Professor Peter Juliff, and initially comprised the late Professor Chris Wallace, Professor John Crossley, Dr Judy Sheard and Dr Seamus O’Hanlon. In more recent times the committee was joined by Chris Avram, Professor Phil Steele and Andrew Parbury. The many tasks of the steering committee have included discussions about the parameters of the history, compilation of a list of interviewees, chapter review and editing, as well as providing general support and direction. I would like to thank the members of the steering committee for their ongoing support and dedication to this project.

A major component of this history was a series of oral history interviews. Just over forty individuals who were directly involved in computing and computer science at Monash University and Chisholm Institute of Technology were interviewed about their personal experiences and recollections. A full list of interviewees appears at the end of the text but I would like to thank all of the interviewees. As well as providing important information about events and occurrences, these personal accounts and memories have brought a personal element to this history. A note of thanks also to Ben Rood for his patience and accuracy in the written summaries of these interviews. The oral histories and their written summaries have been placed in the Monash University Archives – a valuable resource for future research.

Historical research can be like detective work. It involves sifting through meeting agendas, minutes, letters, and memorandums to piece together a picture of events and uncover an underlying narrative. Monash University Archives has a comprehensive and rich collection of all sorts of treasures that allow this to happen. However, without archivists this information would be inaccessible. For this reason, I am indebted to Monash University archivists Jan Getson and Lyn Maloney. Deepest thanks to you both for your assistance, persistence, patience and willingness to assist. Thank you most importantly, for your good humour and company at various times over the last seven years. You have both helped to tell this story.

Many thanks to Seamus O’Hanlon who has been an encouraging, supportive and astoundingly confident teacher and mentor during this long process.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has played a large role in the history and development of computing in this country. It is fitting that support from the ACS via the Pearcey Foundation has allowed this project to be completed. Without the generous support of the ACS this history would have remained an incomplete manuscript and a story half told. Sincere thanks to Professor Ron Weber, Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology, and Professors Rob Willis and Phil Steele for facilitating the publication of this history. On that note, I would also like to thank Michele Sabto and Joanne Mullins from Monash ePress. Working with you both and with ePress has been an absolute pleasure.

To Peter Juliff, chair of the History Project Steering Committee, this book exists because of your dedication and commitment to telling this story. Your efforts have extended above and beyond the duties of a committee chair and your persistence has been remarkable. It is because of you that this book is complete. Thank you for your dedication to the project, your administrative and organisational support, your creative approach to problems, and particularly for your sense of humour along the way.

There are also some important thankyous on a personal level. Firstly, to Marguerite Jones-Roberts who suggested that I undertake this history. I am eternally grateful for your faith in me and for the gentle but firm push you gave me into a career that I had only dreamed of. While much has changed, a deep thank you to Joshua Wolf for your belief and support in those early days. To my family and friends who have been so supportive along the way and who somehow knew when to ask and when not to, thank you for your interest and for your enthusiasm.

To Katherine Sheedy, the other half of Way Back When – Consulting Historians, and dear friend, who has been there throughout this entire process, sincere thanks for your support, advice, encouragement, keen editing eye and kindness.

Lastly, there would be nothing to read on these pages if it were not for those who had been involved in the history of computing and computer science at Monash University. To the many whose stories are found within these pages, thank you.

Sarah Rood
Way Back When – Consulting Historians



© Copyright 2008 Sarah Rood

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

   by Sarah Rood