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Harry Messel

In their own words

Recorded 1972

Harry Messel
Audio: 2 minutes

I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have been born when I was and to have had the opportunity to work at the academic level at the time I did. I feel sorry in a way for young people coming forward today, because I - they will never be able to live through the golden age of science such as I did. In 1951 and ‘52 when I came here to Sydney, radio astronomy was just in its infancy, computing was just something a few people were talking about, there was a couple of electronic computers in the United States, most other people to whom you mentioned it had never heard of it and were thinking you were crazy when you talked about it.

For instance when I mentioned about bringing an electronic computer to Australia in 1952, everybody said I was 20 years ahead of my time. But within a decade we trained over 3,000 people in their use and they have been used all over Australia. But in 1952 when I, when we built SILLIAC here at University of Sydney with the help of STC, Standard Telephone and Cables, this was the fastest computer in the world. We were able to build it because the Americans had given us the blueprint of their first one. And today, when you talk about computers, everybody says ‘Computers? Sure!’ I mean, they’re here to stay, they’re concerned with almost every aspects of our lives. But it’s interesting to think that in 1951-52 they were things which very few people had ever even heard of, not alone actually seen or worked with. Same with radio astronomy. In the field of cosmic rays, that was in its infancy. In the fields of nuclear reactors, that was in its infancy. In the field of thermos-nuclear physics, that was in its infancy. And in the intervening 20 years, I’ve seen each one of these fields reach great maturity. Computers are used by industry, and universities, and in banks and everywhere you can think of in the same way that books are used in the library, almost, they’re part of our daily lives.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Harry Messel is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Related people

Harry Messel AC CBE

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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