Chapter 7: Wizards of Oz

Australian computers?        
           
The original radio series provoked many emails along the lines of “why didn’t you cover ….?” And in most cases it was something I had considered but in the end there were only 4 episodes to play with and there were good reasons to prefer the choices I made. But one message from John Deane really made me think. He told me about the early Australian computers including the gloriously named SILLIAC, and he explained how the CSIRAC was one of the first 4 or 5 stored-program computers to run in the world.
           
 Legendary Sydney cartoonist Emile Mercier was quick to spot the comic potential of the "SILLIAC" name (reproduced by courtesy of Mrs Mercier)
 
           
It's all that John Deane's fault      
           
So when it came to writing the book, I knew there had to be an Australian chapter. And the more I read what was available, and e-conversed with John Deane, the more sure I was that here was another good human story with more than a little insight into the society of the time. CSIRAC encapsulated the development of computing as a world-wide process, with the leader Trevor Pearcey bringing his British wartime experience, post-war travels in the US and his assistant’s Aussie wartime experience together to bring the project to fruition.
           
Harry Messel -- "a force of nature"    
           
The interview with Harry Messel was a joy. “He’s a fundamental force of nature” says Deane and so he is, even in his 80s and communicating by phone halfway round the world. This is a guy still working much harder in his retirement than most work at the peak of their careers, now working for the environment and above all the preservation of the crocodile. A guy who volunteered for war service in WW2, became a Para and volunteered again for the intended paratroops raid on Tokyo that would have spearheaded the final invasion in early 1946 had Japan not surrendered before then. A guy who left the army and promptly enrolled for two degrees simultaneously, studying one during the day and the other in the evenings.
           
Regrets? I've had a few      
           
My only regret about the Aussie chapter is that the absence of any need to record broadcast quality interviews meant there was no need to go to that country and I did all the recordings over the phone. I may yet rectify that omission.


           
Actually that is not my only regret – the other one is that John Deane, who alerted me to his country’s proud computer heritage and helped me unstintingly has yet to confirm publication of his own detailed history of the SILLIAC. I hope very much to be able to update these pages soon with a publisher and launch date, and I’ll be heading the queue to buy my copy.
           
          last update 21/3/05