Computing in Melbourne: A Historical Tour

Barbara Ainsworth, Chris Avram, Graham Farr, Judy Sheard
Caulfield School of Information Technology, Monash University, Caulfield East, Victoria 3145, Australia


Contents

Introduction
1. Monash Museum of Computing History
2. Site of Albert Park Barracks and DSD
3. Melbourne's Silicon Mile: St Kilda Road and Fitzroy Street
4. Stanhill
5. Melbourne Observatory: Melbourne's first computer room
6. Victoria Barracks: Australia's first supercomputer
7. St Paul's Cathedral: the Babbage connection
8. National Mutual: Smalltalk-80's Australian debut
9. Site of Australia's first telegraph
10. Lonsdale Exchange
11. State Library of Victoria: Vicnet and Pictoria
12. ICI House
13. Melbourne Museum: CSIRAC
14. Site of Australia's first internet connection
15. Physics Museum, University of Melbourne
16. Old Physics, University of Melbourne: CSIRAC's first Victorian home
Previous organised tours
Acknowledgements
References

All photos by Chris Avram, August 2008


Introduction

Melbourne has several remarkable links to the earliest days of computers. Here we describe a tour that takes in many of these places, and can be done by a combination of walking and tram travel. The tour is a chance to explore another dimension of Melbourne's history and to better understand how computers have changed science, business and society.

From time to time we organise group tours to visit most of the places described here. The tours are free (apart from the cost of tram travel and whatever you may buy at cafes on the way), but bookings are essential as capacity is limited. If you would like to join a future organised tour, please register your interest at https://secure.monash.edu/infotech/about/events/2014/computing-tour-form.html.

Alternatively, you can use this web page to do a self-guided tour. We would like to know how you get on!

The tour is inspired in part by the excellent Mathematics Tour devised by Jill Vincent [15], though the emphasis of that tour is more on mathematical education and exposition than history. There is also a fascinating article on historical sites for Physics in Melbourne by R W Home [8]. Readers may wish to combine elements of the various tours according to taste.

For a list of previous organised tours, see below. Suggestions of further places for such tours are always welcome: please email them.


1. Monash Museum of Computing History

The Monash Museum of Computing History (MMoCH) was established in 2001 by the Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University. The broad aims of the Museum are to establish a collection of historical reference material, create an educational program for students and the general public on the social impact and technological developments in computer history, and collect information on the development and use of information technology at Monash University.

Monash Museum of Computing History: Dr Judy Sheard (Director) with calculator display The Museum has a permanent exhibition in Building B at the Caulfield campus of Monash. This display features both the technological development of computing and the social impact of these developments over the last 50 years. The display has both computing and calculating material and includes a showcase focusing on the achievements of Monash staff connected with computing.

More information about the Museum can be found at http://www.infotech.monash.edu.au/about/museum .

The Ferranti Sirius computer

The most significant piece in the Museum collection is the Ferranti Sirius computer which was purchased by Monash University in 1962 and was the first computer owned by the University. The relocation, reassembly and display of this computer was a major project conducted by the Museum team. The provenance of the computer is the focus of an ongoing research project of the MMoCH.

The Ferranti Sirius: Monash University's first computer There were actually four different Sirius computers on campus at different times over the 1960s. These four computers were located at different sites in 1962 with two Sirius computers at the Melbourne Computer Centre operated by Ferranti Ltd, one at Monash University-Clayton campus and one at a commercial research operation run by ICIANZ, now called ORICA, at Ascot Vale. Through loan, donation and sales all four were used by Monash University.

The English company Ferranti Ltd produced a range of computers in the early 1960s, each named after mythical figures, including Perseus, Pegasus, Sirius, Orion and Atlas. Ferranti developed its own transistorized circuit under Gordon Scarott during the late 1950s which incorporated neuron circuits into a test-bed computer under the code name NEWT. This technology was later used in the development of the new Ferranti computer, the `Sirius'. It was announced to the public in a press release on May 19, 1959. It offered the Sirius as a transistorized desk-sized electronic digital computer. The release claimed that it would be the smallest and most economically priced computer in the European market.

In 1962 Monash University purchased a Ferranti Sirius computer for the new Computer Centre. While it was being manufactured, Ferranti Ltd's Melbourne office placed their Sirius machine on campus. The University's own computer was installed in November 1962. The machine was kept busy with both administrative and academic work. Meanwhile ICIANZ gave the University their Ferranti Sirius in 1967 as they had updated their own equipment. This second Sirius was placed in the Chemistry Department. These two machines were gradually used less and less and were finally decommissioned in 1972. The Computer Centre machine is now in the MMoCH museum display and the ICIANZ machine was given to Museum Victoria in 1975.

Caulfield Technical College (now Caulfield campus, Monash University) also used a Ferranti Sirius from 1963. It was on lease then later purchased outright from the Ferranti Ltd Melbourne office. This machine was a popular exhibit on Open Days. It was replaced about 1969 and its final fate is unknown.

The MMoCH Ferranti Sirius is displayed in a dedicated showcase and includes the 1000 word CPU (where each word is 40 bits, so the amount of RAM is 40,000 bytes) and an additional 3000 word memory cabinet along with a suite of editing equipment. The display is supported by a short film produced in 1963 that explains the operations of the Sirius for a non-academic audience.

Further information is available in a paper by Barbara Ainsworth [1].

To next stop: On leaving the Museum, go to nearby Dandenong Road and catch a tram westwards (heading towards the city, with `University' on the front, on the tracks closest to the campus). These trams come about every 12 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on weekends (during most of the day). Note the number of your tram: it should be 3 or 3a.
For longer tour, visiting the old Albert Park Barracks site (item 2 of this tour):
If your tram from Caulfield is a No. 3, will take about 20 mins to get to St Kilda Junction (Stop 30), where you get off, take the pedestrian underpass towards the Junction Oval and Albert Park. There are a number of footpaths through the parks here. Walk south-west (parallel to Fitzroy St), cross Lakeside Drive, turn right sometime afterwards and the path will take you to the part of the park formerly occupied by the Albert Park Barracks and DSD.
If your tram from Caulfield is a No. 3a, the journey will be longer (about 30 mins), and you detour via The Esplanade, with great views of St Kilda Beach and the bay, before coming up Fitzroy St towards St Kilda Junction. Get off at Stop 132 and walk into Albert Park, keeping Lakeside Drive on your right.
(Note that Fitzroy St itself used to be home to some significant computer companies: IBM, Burroughs, Interdata. See below for more information.)
For shorter tour, straight to Stanhill (item 4):
If your tram from Caulfield is No. 3, the journey from Caulfield should take about 25 mins; if it is No. 3a, the journey should take 35-40 mins. Stay on the tram past St Kilda Junction. Once you pass the Junction, you will also soon pass the former locations of a number of computer companies: see the list at Item 3 for a description of these. (In fact, if you are on a No. 3a tram, you will also see a few such locations in Fitzroy St before you reach St Kilda Junction.) Get off the tram a bit later at Stop 25, where Commercial Road comes in on the right and the Albert Cricket Ground is on the left. Walk in the direction the tram was going until you find Hanna Street on the left. Turn left there and go to the end, where Hanna Street meets Queens Road. On this corner, on your right, you will see Stanhill. (On the other side of Queens Road is part of Albert Park, its public golf course. Somewhere in Albert Park is the former location of Albert Park Barracks.)

First-ever Computing History Tour of Melbourne, 16 August 2008: participants at tram stop at Caulfield campus of Monash


2. Site of Albert Park Barracks and DSD

The Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) used to be located at Albert Park Barracks, which used to be in the south-west part of Albert Park (Melways Refs. 2N K1-K2 and 2P K2-K3). DSD made intensive use of computers and communications equipment to intercept and decrypt foreign communications. There is very little publicly available information about this, but some general historical information is at http://www.dsd.gov.au/sigint/past_present.html .

DSD moved to Victoria Barracks in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, in 1979; see below. It moved to Russell Defence complex, Canberra, in 1993.

The Albert Park Barracks were built in WWII and were demolished after DSD moved to Victoria Barracks. The site is now parkland and includes several sporting fields.

While in the area, if you are interested in the former locations of computer companies, then go to nearby Fitzroy Street and see the sites there that are mentioned below. Then travel by foot or tram to St Kilda Junction, then north (towards the city) along St Kilda Road, where again you can see some former computer company sites on the way (see next item).


3. Melbourne's Silicon Mile: St Kilda Road and Fitzroy Street

In the 1960s and 1970s, many computer companies established offices and service bureaus along the stretch of St Kilda Road between St Kilda Junction and the Shrine of Remembrance, with a few in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, which meets St Kilda Road at the Junction.

We give the locations of many of these, though many of the buildings and companies mentioned no longer exist. If interested, you can spot some of the sites from your tram window, or while walking up St Kilda Road.

Moving from south to north:

We begin in Fitzroy Street, but if you are staying on the tram through St Kilda Junction, then skip to the St Kilda Road addresses below.

161 Fitzroy St: Burroughs, early 1960s. Burroughs had a close working relationship with Monash University Computer Centre which operated a number of Burroughs computers during the 1970s.

173 Fitzroy St: IBM, early 1960s to late 1970s.

217 Fitzroy St: Interdata, late 1970s. Interdata was a division of Perkin Elmer Data and supplied 32-bit minicomputers.

598 St Kilda Rd (corner of Lorne St): Control Data Australia (CDA), 1965-1982. The building still stands. It originally had five storeys. An extra storey was added and converted to apartments in the 1990s. The building is now `Parklake Towers' apartments.

There is a strong community of ex-CDA employees, with an excellent website at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~excda/. The website contains several articles on the history of Control Data and the Australian computer industry. Ex-CDA employees are invited to use the website to help them keep in touch.

574 St Kilda Rd: Unisys, 1980s. This is called the `Unisys Centre' and houses an office of Novell.

568 St Kilda Rd: ICT (later ICL), from 1962.

509 St Kilda Rd: NCR data centre, 1960s.

34 Queens Rd, at corner with Hanna St, on the north side of the Albert Cricket Ground: Ferranti, early 1960s. See next item on Stanhill.

499 St Kilda Rd: General Automation Australia, late 1970s. They sold micro-programmed 16-bit general purpose computers.

493 St Kilda Rd: Control Data Australia, 1982-89. CDA moved here from 598 St Kilda Rd.

474 St Kilda Rd: Control Data Corporation (CDC), early 1960s. The local arm of CDC became CDA. Its Australian Head Office was in Suite 16 (later, 17 and 18 too), Eton Square, at this address. CDA later leased 598 St Kilda Rd.

464 St Kilda Rd (VACC building): Data 100, 1970s. Data 100 produced Remote Batch Terminals for use with various mainframe computers and other terminals.

445 St Kilda Rd: Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), from 1967. DEC introduced the successful PDP-8, generally regarded as the first minicomputer. The building that housed DEC here has long since been demolished.

412 St Kilda Rd (Mayne Nickless building): Univac, late 1970s and 1980s.

400 St Kilda Rd (near Domain Interchange): Honeywell, from 1960s. Honeywell's office included a ground floor computer room with a large glass window facing St Kilda Road. In 1970, that window was destroyed by protesters who stopped outside it during a march against the Vietnam War. John Sheehan (Systems Manager there at the time) recalls that protesters threw Molotov cocktails, and then a shotgun blast hit the CPU of a time-sharing computer, fortunately missing an engineer who was working on it at the time. It took 9-12 months to fix. The targeting of Honeywell may have been due to a combination of its American connections and its location at a convenient mid-way point between the start of the marches at Flinders St and their destination, the US Embassy further down St Kilda Rd. Max Burnet writes that "No company in Melbourne ever built a ground floor computer room again."

You should now be close to Domain Interchange. To go from here to Melbourne Observatory, follow the instructions at the end of Item 4.


4. Stanhill

Stanhill Stanhill is a nine-storey building at 34 Queens Road, Melbourne (on the corner of Hanna St, near the Albert Cricket Ground and not far from Albert Park). It was the site of the Ferranti office in the 1960s, from which Monash University bought its first computer. The history of that computer, and of some of the Ferranti company's activities in Melbourne at the time, is given by Ainsworth [1]. The office housed two Ferranti Sirius computers, making up what they called the Melbourne Computer Centre, and there was one in Ascot Vale run by ICI, making four altogether in Melbourne at the time, from about 20 in all worldwide [1].

The Ferranti Sales Manager who sold this computer to Monash was Barry de Ferranti, who was a member of the Ferranti family although he had only worked for the company since 1958, having previously worked for GEC, the University of Sydney (on SILLIAC) and IBM. Some reminiscences about his career are contained in a profile on the ACS website.

The building is notable for its internationalist architecture. The architect was Frederick Romberg. It was originally built as a block of flats in 1948-50.

To next stop: Go back up Hanna Street to St Kilda Road, and return to the tram stop. Catch any tram in the same direction you were going before, towards the city. This tram journey will take about six minutes. (More of the St Kilda Road sites can be seen on the way: see Item 3 above.) The tram will proceed straight ahead for a while, but as soon as it bends to the left, get off, at Stop 20 (Domain Interchange, at the intersection with Domain Road on the right and Albert Road on the left). You need to cross the road towards the Shrine, and look for the long path towards the Shrine. (The path starts to the left of the MacRobertson Fountain.) When you get near the Shrine, go around it to the right, and you will reach Birdwood Avenue. Cross it at the zebra crossing to reach the grounds of Melbourne Observatory. Depending on the time, you may like to have lunch here, at the Observatory Cafe in the Visitor Centre (the modern glassy building).


5. Melbourne Observatory: Melbourne's first computer room

Old Melbourne Observatory is in Birdwood Avenue, across the road from the Shrine of Remembrance. It was established on this site in 1863, when it moved here from earlier, temporary facilities at Williamstown where it began in 1853. One room of the main building was the Computer Room, but this did not house any computing machines. The computers were people, whose task it was to do astronomical calculations and to make measurements from photographs of parts of the night sky. These computers were required to be unmarried women.

To find the Computer Room, first find the main white building, with the grand-looking entrance, which is at the end of the main driveway (left branch), just before the car park. This was the first building on the site, in 1863. Moving to the right of the entrance, you find a triplet of windows, then a corner, then (further back from the driveway) another window, on its own. You can look through this window into Melbourne's first computer room, built in 1863, where some of these human computers worked. Another computer room was built later, on the other side of the building.

Old Melbourne Observatory: Astrograph House (1889) in background (with dome) The photographs measured by the computers were taken by the astrograph, a telescope designed for astronomical photography. This was housed in the Astrograph House (1889) which is the free-standing building with the dome and with square floor shape. The photographic plates from the astrograph were developed in a darkroom in the ground floor of the Astrograph House. This photographic work was part of an international project, known by the name Carte du Ciel, to compile a photographic atlas of the entire sky. Melbourne Observatory's allocated portion of the sky was the most southern region.

Old Melbourne Observatory became part of the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1997. Information on public Night Sky Tours at the Observatory may be found at the RBG current events website.

To next stop: Cross Birdwood Avenue at the zebra crossing and walk towards the Shrine, going around it to the right. You will find yourself in the parade ground at the front of the Shrine. Enjoy the view northwards along St Kilda Road towards the city. Now walk across the grass towards the main road below (St Kilda Road) until you reach it. Look for a pedestrian crossing: there should be one at a tram safety zone nearby. Cross St Kilda Road. You should be near the south entrance to Victoria Barracks. Walk north (towards the city) until you come to the north entrance.


6. Victoria Barracks: Australia's first supercomputer

DSD moved to Victoria Barracks in 1979. Some general historical information on its time there is at http://www.dsd.gov.au/sigint/past_present.html . It acquired Australia's first supercomputer from Cray Research in 1986. Some information about this is given at http://www.dsd.gov.au/sigint/supercomputers.html . The Cray Supercomputer was housed in the large concrete and glass building you can see down the driveway and on its left.

To next stop: Walk towards the city. You will find a tram stop in a few minutes. Catch any tram, towards the city. Get off at Flinders Street Station. You will see St Paul's Cathedral at this intersection, at the north-east corner. (If you prefer, you can walk all the way from the Barracks to the Cathedral. This should take about 15 minutes.)


7. St Paul's Cathedral: the Babbage connection

St Paul's Cathedral is at the corner of Swanston and Flinder Streets, diagonally opposite Flinders Street station, at the very centre of Melbourne. Its foundation stone was laid in 1880, it was consecrated in 1891, and its spires were built from 1926. The curious connection with computing is that, on the east wall of the Macartney Chapel (to the front right as you walk down the aisle towards the altar), on a list of Deans of Melbourne, can be found the name "Stuart Barton Babbage" of the Dean for the period 1953-1962. This man was a great-great-grandson of the originator of the very concept of the computer.

Charles Babbage was a nineteenth century computer pioneer, before computers even existed. He designed mechanical computers that were intended to be powered by steam. The first one, the Difference Engine, was a special-purpose computer that was partly built. The second, the Analytical Engine, was essentially a general-purpose programmable computer, making Babbage the real originator of the concept of the computer; however, it was never built. In the end, he was too far ahead of his time: the funds and mechanical precision required for the construction of even the Difference Engine were both too much. A biography and overview of his work is at http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Babbage.html . A working Difference Engine No. 2 was constructed by the Science Museum in London. A remarkable Meccano Difference Engine No. 1 was constructed by Graham Jost (based mainly on a design by Timothy Robinson) and displayed at an exhibition at Monash University in 2004. A Lego Difference Engine No. 1, following Babbage's design on a smaller scale, was constructed by Andrew Carol.

List of Deans of Melbourne in St Paul's Cathedral, including Stuart Barton Babbage Charles Babbage had a son, Benjamin Herschel Babbage (known as Herschel), the name Herschel coming from the astronomer John Herschel who was a colleague of Babbage's and friend from their Cambridge days. Herschel Babbage migrated to South Australia in the 1850s, eventually became a Surveyor-General, and had two sons. One of these, Charles Whitmore Babbage, went to jail and did 10 years hard labour for embezzlement. He speculated disastrously on the stock exchange. After his release, he moved to New Zealand. He had a son ten years after the others, this gap probably linked to the prison term. That son was Stuart's father. Stuart was born in New Zealand but moved to Sydney.

Some time after his time at St Paul's, Stuart Babbage served as Master of New College, University of NSW, 1973-1983: see a short biography in a college leaflet.

While visiting the Cathedral, you may like to take the Ten-Minute Tour, described on a leaflet available near where you entered.

To next stop: Continue up Swanston Street in the same direction, either on foot or on any tram (from the stop where you got off), until you get to Collins St (the next main road), where you need to catch another tram. At this intersection, note the Melbourne Town Hall and the beautiful Manchester Unity Building. Then ...
For longer tour:
catch any tram along Collins St to the west (i.e., to the left, away from the Town Hall). Get off at William Street (Stop 3), where the (former) National Mutual Centre is on the left, with a plaza in front.
For shorter tour:
catch instead a tram along Collins St to the east. Stay on it until Spring St, and then see the further directions at the end of Item 8.


8. National Mutual: Smalltalk-80's Australian debut

The former National Mutual building, now Suncorp For about two decades until 1991, National Mutual had a very active Operations Research Department. Over time it developed an emphasis on the application of computer science as a tool for the solution of business problems. For example, it created some new special-purpose languages which gave many staff the ability to do complex insurance computations which had previously been done only by specialists. One innovation the OR Department pioneered within the organisation was the use of Object-Oriented Programming, which it introduced to NM in 1985. This appears to be the first commercial use of OOP in Australia. In 1987 the Department became the first users in Australia of Smalltalk-80 (buying a licence from ParcPlace), which among all OO languages was arguably the purest, most powerful and most historically influential, although due in part to its price it never became popular. The OR Department promoted OOP in the local IT community and helped to stimulate its introduction to tertiary courses. Three members of the Department ran the first public OO course in Australia in 1988. The Department of Software Development (later merged with other departments into the School of Computer Science and Software Engineering), at the Caulfield campus of Monash University, was one of the first University departments to take up this technology and promote it strongly in undergraduate curricula.

This building, then known as the National Mutual Centre, was built in the 1960s. The plaza includes a statue of John Batman, often described as the founder of Melbourne.

For shorter tour, go to ICI House as follows:
Catch a tram back the way you came up Collins St. Go several city blocks, until you reach Spring Street. At this point you have some options.
(a) For minimum walking, get off the tram, and get on a tram that goes north up Spring St. This will bend to the right up Nicholson Street. Then get off, at Albert St (Stop 10).
(b) For maximum walking, get off the tram and walk the route described in (a).
As you do (a) or (b), note the Windsor Hotel on your left and Parliament House on your right.
(c) Another option with some walking is to stay on the Collins St tram as it crosses Spring St and becomes Macarthur St. Get off just after it crosses Albert St (Stop 11). Note St Patrick's Cathedral. On the opposite corner to St Patrick's, you will see a large mural, which is worth a look before you move on. This is on the south-facing side of the Melbourne Fire Brigade building, and is probably best viewed from the other side of the road. It is `The Legend of Fire' by Harold Freedman, dated 1980-81. The lower left part depicts human applications of fire and, more generally, energy, including a picture of a computer, and also an old telephone. Your next direction is to your left (as you face the mural). Walk along Albert St to the Nicholson St intersection.
Go to ICI House.
For longer tour, go to the next stop as follows:
Go to the nearby intersection of Collins St and William St, cross Collins St and go north along the east side of William St until you reach Little Bourke St. The next site is at the intersection of William St and Little Bourke St. (This is a short walk, less than 5 mins. Instead, you can catch a tram up William St, get off at either Bourke St or Lonsdale St, and then walk the short distance along William St to Little Bourke St.)


9. Site of Australia's first telegraph

At the North-East corner of William St and Little Bourke St, just to the right of an entrance to the Supreme Court building, you will find a plaque. It has a picture of a Morse Code key at the top, and the text reads:

The first telegraph office in the southern hemisphere
opened for business on this site, 3rd March, 1854, for the
transmission of telegrams to and from Williamstown.
Unveiled by
The Hon. Ian Robinson, M.P.,
Assistant Minister to the Postmaster-General.
22nd August, 1972.

An electrical telegraph sends messages coded as electrical signals over a wire, and a telegram is a message so sent. Electrical telegraphy began in the early 19th century.

The Melbourne-Willamstown telegraph line was constructed by Samuel McGowan, who was born in Ireland and educated in Canada where he was taught by Samuel Morse, after whom Morse code is named.

Later in 1854, the line was extended to Geelong.

Although communication and computation have been regarded as separate subjects for much of their history, they have converged in recent decades and are now seen as closely related parts of the same broad discipline.

To next stop: Go north along William St, past the front of the Supreme Court Building, to Lonsdale St. You will be turning right here, but for better views, cross Lonsdale St first and then turn right, walking along the north side of the street. Around the middle of this block, on the south side of the road, is the next site.


10. Lonsdale Exchange

The top floor of the Lonsdale Exchange, at 447 Lonsdale St, was home to some of Melbourne's earliest uses of packet switching and to a precursor of modern email.

In 1970, the Postmaster-General's Department (ancestor of Telstra) started building its Common User Data Network (CUDN). Its first site was at the Haymarket Exchange in Sydney that year, and the Lonsdale Exchange site was installed in 1972. CUDN used packet switching, in which data is divided into "packets" which are then routed independently through the network and reassembled at their destination. In those days, packet switching was a relatively new technology. In earlier networks (e.g., Telex), information was routed by circuit switching, in which the route for the entire message is determined --- and all the required electrical connections switched into place --- before sending it. Packet switching is now the standard for transmitting information over the internet. The CUDN could send messages using the store-and-forward technique, in which information is stored on disk at each intermediate node and later forwarded on, possibly to another intermediate node, on the way to its destination. The sender and receiver could both be at a terminal (i.e., a device normally used by a computer to read or display data, but here connected to the CUDN). This messaging facility may be regarded as a precursor of email.

The CUDN also has a faster method for shorter, more urgent messages, but with no guarantee of delivery. This was similar to the Internet Protocol (IP) on which the Internet is based.

CUDN was the first commercial packet-switched network in Melbourne, though its services were only available to large organisations. It was not quite the first packet-switched network of any kind here, since from about 1971 the Civil Aviation Authority had a local node of a worldwide network run by the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA). In fact the messaging facility of CUDN was based on that of the SITA network, and both were built by Univac (later Unisys).

The CUDN did not realise its full potential, due to long delays in constructing its software.

You probably will not need to spend long admiring the architecture of the Lonsdale Exchange. The appearance of its west side has been likened to Ned Kelly.

To next stop: Continue walking east along Lonsdale St, to Swanston St. Cross Swanston St at the lights there, then turn left and walk north up Swanston St until you come to the State Library of Victoria on your right, set back from the street and with a square in front.
Alternatively, from Lonsdale Exchange, walk east to the next intersection, with Queen St. Turn left there, and walk north to La Trobe St. Catch any tram eastwards, and get off at Swanston St, where you will see the State Library and the square in front of it.


11. State Library of Victoria: Vicnet and Pictoria

Libraries are about collecting, storing, maintaining and providing access to information. Traditionally this information was in printed form, but electronic representations of information now play a huge part in the activities and services of most libraries. Public libraries have a vital role in maximising community participation in our `Information Age'.

The State Library of Victoria (SLV) was founded in 1854 and opened in 1856. This was during the chaotic times of the goldrush, and it was expected that such an institution would help to strengthen and improve society.

We mention two of the State Library's innovations in using computers to improve information access.

Vicnet was a pioneering initiative to provide internet access for community organisations, starting at SLV in 1994. This worked in two directions: such groups could access information on the internet, and also make information of their own available to the internet through Vicnet. Providing this latter capability was a significant new step for libraries, and was important in trying to bridge the "digital divide" [13].

Vicnet was launched in May 1995 by the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett. It became one of Australia's first Internet Service Providers. Its website was once one of the top ten in Australia, and it hosted the first online edition of The Age [7]. Vicnet connected every library in Victoria to the internet, provided relevant training to community organisations, led the country in providing multilingual internet access, and provided computer access to the visually impaired. It is recognised as one of the first and most influential community networks --- i.e., networks of computers supporting community organisations --- in the world. It also set up a social networking site, My Connected Communities, in 2001 (following a pilot project in 2000). The idea for Vicnet originated with Gary Hardy (its first General Manager), then at RMIT Library, and was strongly supported by Don Schauder, then RMIT Librarian, and Derek Whitehead, Deputy State Librarian from 1995, and whose responsibilities included Vicnet. For more information on the history of Vicnet, see [7, 12].

Pictoria was an SLV project to capture electronically its large collection of historical pictures, beginning in 1989. Initially, pictures were copied onto a videodisc, which was then digitised in 1994 and made available over the web from 1996. The SLV was the first library in Australia and one of the first in the world to do this. The process of digitising images and making them more accessible online continues at SLV (though the name Pictoria is no longer used) and has been a core task there since the mid-1990s. The original Pictoria project produced over 104,000 digitised pictures. Many more have been added since, and the work has expanded to include pamphlets and maps. Now, around 310,000 digitised items are available through the library's Main Catalogue.

The famous Domed Reading Room --- now the La Trobe Reading Room --- was opened in 1913, and now houses the Australiana collection. When visiting, it is worth comparing the more traditional impression of a library given here, with the modern Trescowthick Information Centre directly below.

For shorter tour, go to Melbourne Museum as follows:
(a) For minimum walking (but it may actually take more time): Catch any tram east along La Trobe St, and get off at Stop 10. Then catch tram 95 or 96 north along Nicholson St, and get off at Stop 12 or 13. Melbourne Musem is the modern building north of the old Exhibition Building. You will see the long sloping outside roofs: head towards their lowest point, just outside the main entrance.
(b) For medium walking (5-10 mins): Catch any tram eastwards along La Trobe St, and get off at Stop 8 (Exhibition St). Then walk north up Rathdowne St, and enjoy the sight of the Exhibition Building on your right. Past it on your right is the Melbourne Museum, a great architectural contrast and easily identified by its long sloping outdoor roofs outside the main entrance.
(c) For maximum walking (10-15 mins): Walk along La Trobe St to Exhibition St, then turn left and go up Rathdowne St and follow the directions given in (b) above.
Go to Melbourne Museum.
For longer tour:
Catch any tram eastwards along La Trobe St, and get off at Stop 10. Then walk south along Nicholson St to its intersection with Albert St. As you do so, you'll see ICI House on your left.


12. ICI House

ICI House, now Orica House, is a 20-storey office building at 4 Nicholson Street, East Melbourne. It was originally the head office of the local arm of the British company, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). Some of the calculations done in its design (using pre-computer methods) were used to check the work of building frame analysis programs that were run on CSIRAC. (This is mentioned briefly in a radio interview at http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/stories/s68879.htm, although it does not seem that CSIRAC was used in the design of ICI House itself.) The building was completed in November 1958 and for over two years was the tallest building in Australia. Information on its history and architecture is at http://www.walkingmelbourne.com/building229_ici-house.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICI_House .

ICI also made use of computers in their own work. In 1961, an ICT 555 computer was installed in the 16th floor of this building. It was lifted up, outside the building, by a crane, and entered the 16th floor through a window. On 25 October 1964 it was removed by the same route, in reverse, and replaced by an IBM 1440 computer.

ICI also bought a Ferranti Sirius for their research facility in Ascot Vale, in 1962.

Both the ICT 555 and Ferranti Sirius were replaced by an IBM System 360 after July 1966. The Ferranti Sirius was given to Monash University in 1967 and was located in the Department of Chemistry (see above).

To next stop: You should be at the corner of Nicholson St and Albert St. At the tram stop there, catch tram 95 or 96 away from the city. You will soon see the Exhibition Gardens on your left, and the large domed Exhibition Building within it. Get off at Stop 13 (though Stop 12 is ok if your tram goes no further), and look for Melbourne Museum to the north (or right, as you face the gardens) of the Exhibition Building. Alternatively, you could walk most or all of the way to the Museum, through the Exhibition Gardens. This should take about 15 minutes.


13. Melbourne Museum: CSIRAC

CSIRAC, in Melbourne Museum CSIRAC was Australia's first computer and is one of Australia's greatest technological achievements. CSIRAC (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Automatic Computer) was the fourth stored-program computer in the world to run a program and is now the oldest remaining of these first generation computers. Dr Trevor Pearcey, a former Dean of Technology at Caulfield Institute of Technology (now Monash University), was a leader of the team that designed, constructed and operated CSIRAC. Maston Beard designed the electrical and electronic aspects of the machine.

CSIRAC was designed and built at the Radiophysics Laboratory in Sydney. It ran its first program in November 1949, so it will be 60 years old in November 2009. It was originally called CSIR Mark I (where CSIR stands for Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which became CSIRO in 1949). In 1955 it was transported to the Physics Department at the University of Melbourne. After re-assembly there, it was officially opened on 14 June 1956 and given its new name, CSIRAC. For eight years it provided computing services for university staff and students, CSIRO and other goverment departments and industry. It was also used extensively for demonstrations for students and the general public. CSIRAC executed many different types of programs including scientific, engineering and commercial applications. It played the world's first computer music in 1951, and was also programmed to play computer games. On 24 November 1964 CSIRAC executed its final program. It was then donated to the (now) Museum of Victoria. From 1980 to 1992 it was displayed at the Caulfield campus of Monash University.

CSIRAC: rear part CSIRAC is now on display at the Melbourne Museum and is described on a web site there. The reassembly and restoration of CSIRAC was conducted by a team led by Peter Thorne. Information on CSIRAC may be found in the CSIRAC web site at Melbourne Museum, the CSIRAC web pages at the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, University of Melbourne, and the book by McCann and Thorne [10]. There is also a good introduction to the machine and its history in Alistair Moffat's history of computing at the University of Melbourne [11], written for the 50th anniversary celebration, on 16 June 2006, of the recommissioning of CSIRAC at the University of Melbourne in 1956.

McCann and Thorne's book [10] is normally available in the Museum Shop, as is a delightful children's book by David Demant which tells the story of the first computer "mouse" and features CSIRAC [6].

A plaque at the display records the fact that CSIRAC has been classified as a National Engineering Landmark by Engineers Australia.

In July 2009, CSIRAC (hardware and archive) was recommended for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register.

The reassembled CSIRAC represents the earliest days of the `Information Age' that has transformed the world over the last six decades. It is the only complete first-generation computer still in existence. It is a national treasure, and one of the most important artefacts of our scientific and social history.

It is important that the Melbourne Museum is aware of public interest in this display. You are encouraged to complete an evaluation form before you leave the Museum. These can be obtained near where you get your ticket for museum entry, and after completion can be left in a white box nearby (though this point can only be reached if you buy a ticket and go into the main part of the Museum, which you don't need to do if you only want to visit CSIRAC). The Museum also has a web page where you can contact them.

Computing History tour guides: Graham Farr, Barbara Ainsworth, Judy Sheard, Chris Avram, with CSIRAC in background

To next stop: On leaving through the main Museum entrance, turn right (to the west) and walk to Rathdowne Street. Your destination lies north-west, near the corner of Swanston St and Faraday St, near a large tram stop (which serves as the final destination for trams heading to `University').

One route is to cross Rathdowne Street and walk west along Pelham Street, and continue in this direction across Argyle Square. As you walk across Argyle Square, notice the Piazza Italia on your right, with its wonderful sundial. If you have time, do your bit for timekeeping and take your turn as the gnomon! Continue across Argyle Square to the next segment of Pelham St, and continue west along Pelham St to Swanston St.

There, you can walk north (away from the city) along Swanston St, crossing Grattan St, until you reach an intersection with Monash Rd on the left, Faraday St on the right, and a large tram stop nearby

If you prefer, you can catch a tram up Swanston St. If you do this, get off at Stop 1.

At this intersection (Swanston St and Monash Rd), look for the Richard Berry building a short distance along Monash Rd on the left. This building occupies the north-west corner of this intersection, and it is the side of this building nearest Swanston St that we look at next.


14. Site of Australia's first Internet connection

Australia first connected to the Internet on the night of 23 June 1989, through a device in the Richard Berry building at the University of Melbourne.

This statement needs some background and explanation.

The first computers were standalone machines, working in isolation from each other. Later, beginning in the 1960s, they were connected into networks. Such a network consists of nodes (the computers themselves) and links (the wires and cables used to carry data from one computer to another).

The number and size of these networks grew rapidly in the 1970s. They operated in many different ways, depending on the type of equipment used within them. Communication between these diverse networks also occurred, for movement of data including email. But this heterogeneous collection of networks was not yet the Internet, as we use the term today.

Networks use protocols to direct their traffic. These are rules which the devices at the nodes use to determine what to do with the information they receive (where to send it next, what format to use, etc). Until 1983, the protocols used varied across organisations, regions and countries. At that time, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) were introduced in the US and some other countries. These protocols directed the addressing, transmission and delivery of data through the network, and were intended to introduce a new level of consistency and reliability across the various interconnected networks around the world. Interaction between computers, especially those on different networks, became much easier and less dependent on the details of the underlying technology. The term Internet came into use, to describe the interconnected networks of computers around the world that used a particular set of protocols, most notably the TCP and IP. The result of the broad adoption of these protocols was very rapid growth in network size, connectivity, traffic, and applications.

Australia participated in international computer networking, initially through university Computer Science departments, before the Internet. But we were slow to join the Internet (in this strict sense of the term), mainly because the costs and benefits were not initially compelling. Our first permanent connection to the Internet was made in 1989.

This first Australian connection took place through a Proteon P4100 router (a device for directing traffic between computers) in the "machine room" (long since lost to internal renovations) near the east end of the ground floor of the Richard Berry building. All internet traffic between Australia and the rest of the world had to pass through that router. From there, outgoing data was sent via Telstra's network (using a voice-sized "lane" in the data network's "highway") to Sydney, where it left Australia --- and, temporarily, the planet --- at the Oxford Falls Earth Station. It was sent by radio signals to a geostationary satellite (made by Intelsat), then back down to earth again at Hawaii. Data coming into Australia followed this path in reverse.

Note that there is a distinction between (a) the Australian internet connection, which took place via this router in Melbourne, and (b) the place where the signals were sent and received from the US, which was in Sydney. This reflects the distinction between the various layers of a computer network. At a low level, the physical link to the rest of the world was in Sydney, where the signals carrying the data departed, or arrived at, Australia. But at the higher level of network protocols, which is really the level at which the Internet is defined, our link to the rest of the world was here, in the building you now see. The reason things were set up this way --- internet link from Melbourne, but physical link from Sydney --- related to how the connection to Hawaii was charged for.

At this higher level, the details of how the signals move from Melbourne to Sydney to satellite etc are invisible, and the data is seen as going directly to the US. In fact, even internet traffic from Sydney had to be routed through Melbourne, even though it then came back to Sydney (physically, but invisibly to the Internet protocols) before heading overseas.

This first link, in 1989, carried data at 56kbps (kilobits per second). This is the same bandwidth as a simple dial-up (non-broadband) internet link today. Such a link is considered very slow even for a single personal computer today, yet in 1989 had to carry all internet traffic for the entire country! It was soon upgraded to give faster connections.

The people involved in setting up this first connection included Robert Elz (Computer Science, University of Melbourne), Geoff Huston (first Technical Manager of the Australian Academic Research Network (AARNET)), Milo Medin (NASA Ames) and Torben Nielsen (University of Hawaii).

Universities and the CSIRO were the first organisations in Australia to connect to the Internet. Libraries were also quick to take up this new technology and use it to enable new methods of information access.

The World Wide Web may be regarded as another, higher layer, on top of the Internet as described here. It was created in 1990 and experienced huge growth from 1994. But that is another story.

For further information on the history of the Internet in Australia, see [9].


For shorter tour, go to Old Physics (CSIRAC's first Victorian home) as follows:
Go west across the campus towards Union House. Just south of Union House is the Natural Philosophy building (Melways ref. 571F7, bldg 143).
Go to Old Physics: CSIRAC's first Victorian home.
For longer tour:
Continue north along Swanston St. You will see a large footbridge ahead, which is near the intersection with Faraday St. Before you reach that bridge, you should find the School of Physics on your left. Alternatively, you can catch a northbound tram (No. 1 or 8) and get off at Stop 11 (just round the corner in Faraday St).


15. Physics Museum, University of Melbourne

The Physics Museum, University of Melbourne has a number of old calculators in its large collection of old scientific instruments and devices. It is open on weekdays, 9am-5pm, while the University is open. It can be found on Level 2 of the School of Physics building at the corner of Swanston and Elgin Streets.

Note that this is the current location of the School of Physics in the University of Melbourne. However, in the days of CSIRAC, it was located elsewhere on campus. This is where we go next.

To next stop: Go west across the campus towards Union House. Just south of Union House is the Natural Philosophy building (Melways ref. 571F7, bldg 143).


16. Old Physics, University of Melbourne: CSIRAC's first Victorian home

When CSIRAC was moved to the University of Melbourne in 1956, it was housed in the Department of Physics, in a building now known as Natural Philosophy [10], next to the Old Physics building and the Professors' Walk. (The department is now elsewhere on campus.) CSIRAC's recommissioning was accompanied by the creation of the organisational unit in which it sat: the Computation Laboratory, later called the Computation Department, which split in the late 1960s into the Computer Centre and the Department of Information Science (renamed to Computer Science in 1976).

CSIRAC was located in a large room in the north-west of the building, on the ground floor, where air from the one-metre space under the floor was used to cool the computer.


Previous Organised Tours

The first-ever Computing History Tour of Melbourne tour took place on Saturday 16 August 2008, when a group of 21 Monash staff, students, alumni and friends visited sites 1, 4-8, 12, 13, over about 6½ hours including lunch. The second such group tour, which was a Monash 50th Anniversary event, was on Sunday 9 November 2008, when a larger group (32) visited sites 1, 4-7, 12-13, 15-16, over about eight hours. Subsequent tours have been held on: 16 May, 31 May, 25 July, 23 August 2009; 1 May, 15 May, 18 July 2010; 23 July, 23 October 2011; 1 December 2012 (part of Alan Turing Year 2012; also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Monash's first computer).


Acknowledgements

Thanks to: Jim Breen, for information on Albert Park Barracks and the Lonsdale Exchange; Ron Bird and Max Burnet, for information about computer companies in St Kilda Rd; Rev Dr Mark Burton, Canon Barry Smith and the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne for assistance with visits to St Paul's Cathedral; Don Schauder, for information on Vicnet and Pictoria at the State Library of Victoria; Gary Hardy, Graeme Johanson and Derek Whitehead, for information on Vicnet; Anne Beaumont and Olga Tsara, of the SLV, for information on Pictoria; David Demant and Melbourne Museum, for assistance with visits to CSIRAC; Robert Elz and Geoff Huston, for information on Australia's first Internet connection; Nick Nicola and the School of Physics, University of Melbourne, for assistance with visits to the Physics Museum; John Sheehan, for recollections of the protests at Honeywell; Peter Thorne, for information on CSIRAC.


References

[1] A B Ainsworth, Monash University's First Computer: The Ferranti Sirius computer at Monash University, 30pp, August 2008. http://www.infotech.monash.edu.au/about/museum/papers/first-computer-at-monash-university-v4.pdf
[2] A B Ainsworth, J Sheard and C Avram, The Monash Museum of Computing History: Part 1, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin inroads 40 (2) (June 2008) 31-34.
[3] A B Ainsworth, J Sheard and C Avram, The Monash Museum of Computing History: Part 2, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin inroads, 40 (4) (December 2008) 31-34.
[4] A G Bromley, Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, 1838, Annals of the History of Computing 4 (1982) 196-217. Republished as: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 20 (1998) 29-45.
[5] A G Bromley, Babbage's Analytical Engine Plans 28 and 28a. The programmer's interface, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 22 (2000) 5-19.
[6] D Demant, The First Computer Mouse, Museum Victoria, 2001.
[7] G Hardy, S Hall, A Bates and I Kurzeme, VICNET and the web in the wider Victorian community, in: R S Debreceny and A E Ellis (eds.), AusWeb95 -- Proceedings of the First Australian World Wide Web Conference (Ballina, NSW, 30 April -- 2 May 1995), Norsearch Publishing, Lismore, NSW, 1995. http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw95/libraries/hardy/index.html
[8] R W Home, The Physical Tourist: Physics in Melbourne, Physics in Perspective 7 (2005) 473-490.
[9] G Korporaal, AARNeT - 20 Years of the Internet in Australia, AARNet, 2009.
[10] D McCann and P Thorne, The Last of the First: CSIRAC: Australia's First Computer, Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, University of Melbourne, 2000.
[11] A Moffat, Fifty Years of Computing at the University of Melbourne, Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering and Department of Information Systems, University of Melbourne, 2006 (14pp). http://www.cs.mu.oz.au/~alistair/fifty-years/mof06history.pdf
[12] S Rood, From Ferranti to Faculty: Information Technology at Monash University, 1960-1990, Monash University ePress, 2008. See flyer.
[13] D Schauder, L Stillman and G Johanson, Sustaining a community network: the information continuum, e-democracy and the case of VICNET, Journal of Community Informatics 1 (2005) 79-102. (PDF: http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/239/204)
[14] G J Tee, The heritage of Charles Babbage in Australasia, Annals of the History of Computing 5 (1983) 45-60.
[15] J Vincent, Shrine to University: A Geometry journey along St. Kilda Road and Swanston Street, Mathematical Association of Victoria, Brunswick, Victoria, Australia, 1999. A later edition , which includes Federation Square but omits the Shrine and University sites, is available as a PDF file from the MAV website, at http://www.mav.vic.edu.au/studact/im/IM_06.pdf. Information on purchasing the book is at https://www.mav.vic.edu.au/cgi-bin/csv/search/nonmember-csvsearch.pl?search=shrine&method=exact.

Media coverage: The Age, 14 May 2009, p24 (back pg.); The Dominion Post (Wellington, NZ), 27 Dec 2008, pB3; The Age (Green Guide), 1 Dec 2011; radio – 774 ABC Melbourne, 22 Aug 2009.

Monash Memo article: 22 April 2009


Created 30 July 2008;
Last updated 24 July 2011.
Please send comments and corrections to
Graham.Farr@monash.edu