School of Mathematics and Statistics Alumni

FRANK BARRINGTON

BSc (Hons) 1964; GDipEd 1965; MA 1967

Frank played a key role at the reunion and wrote the following piece for guests to read:
The reunion invitation led me to open some old dusty boxes containing my undergraduate lecture notes, and in one of these boxes I came across a 1964 copy of ‘Matrix’, the magazine of the Melbourne University Mathematics Society, run by students but supported by a few enthusiastic staff in the department. About one-third of the contributed articles were from staff or mathematicians with standing (including Tom Cherry, Jim Craggs, Bernard Neumann, Geoff Watterson and Ian Evans) and the remainder from we novices who then did not even have a bachelor’s degree to our names. The list of authors was almost prophetic, including:

Neil Roberts (A. McNeil Roberts) …later at UPNG and more recently at Overnewton School, just retired, so I have heard;
Ken Palmer ...returned to teach in the department for a while (1970s?);
Martin Chalkley …unfortunately, he died young;
John Price …later at ANU;
Solway Love (fourth years honours 1965 I think) …taught at the Secondary Teachers’ College for a few years but later became a music teacher (flautist);
Trevor Stanning …a good friend at the time but I have no idea where he ended up;
Alison Harcourt (nee Doig, on staff in Statistics back then I think) …she is still taking tutorials in mathematics and statistics now, in her eighties;
Roger Eggleton …returned to teach in the department for a while (early seventies) but again we last touch;
Derek Holton (for many years professor of Mathematics at Otago, and now spending his ‘retirement’ working on mathematics education projects in our Faculty of Education).
The editor of the magazine was Terry Speed (in recent times at Walter and Eliza Hall).
Professor Jim Craggs had an inimitable style, and his article in that 1964 magazine was entitled ‘How to Kill a Mathematician’ and began …
‘If every Australian who obtains a Master’s degree in mathematics in the next few years joins the staff of an Australian university, and no university teacher retires or leaves, the universities will still not fill all their vacancies for academic staff’.

But how wrong that statement turned out to be! By the early 1970s PhD graduates in mathematics were finding that first appointment harder to come by. Yet that gloomy snapshot had a positive effect on the morale of fourth year students in the mid-sixties: we were all very confident that we could walk into jobs of our choice, and generally did so.

During 1961-63 I shared classes with, and spent much time in the company of Michael Coulthard and Martin Rubinstein (elder brother of Hyam Rubinstein), both of whom I had known at Melbourne High School. Michael deserted mathematics to become a physicist and then worked for CSIRO, and at the end of 1963, Martin left to continue his studies in the United States. Another Martin, Martin Chalkley, had more aptitude for discrete mathematical topics than I, yet he found topics founded on analysis more difficult, so he and I formed our own tiny ‘study group’ as we weathered third and fourth year (1963, 1964). I also saw much of Neil Roberts, who joined us for some (but not all) lectures in third and fourth year.

Neil Roberts and John Strantzen (fourth year 1963: John spent most of his later academic life at LaTrobe) were obsessively keen members of the Melbourne University Table Tennis Club and we three were research students together in 1966/67. This pair persuaded me to play for the university in a low-grade table tennis team, which turned out to be a huge mistake, for I lost 34 of my 36 matches for that season. ‘As an aside …we were often in trouble with Shirley Flinn, the then secretary in the Mathematics Department, who did not tolerate with any equanimity the many table tennis bats and balls we used to leave in the tearoom.

I must confess that as an undergraduate I was not really over-anxious about my studies, and spent perhaps one-third of my time at university in extra-curricular activities. For me, student life in the nineteen-sixties was much more than the academic program. My friends and I spent an hour or three each day in the Melbourne University Union Building, which was much less crowded in those days. There were separate lounges for men and women, with old-style lounge chairs, providing a comfortable refuge for the occasional hour between lectures. There were ample meeting rooms for students clubs, chess and billiards rooms and voluminous personal lockers in the basement, all of which I frequented or used now and again. None of my acquaintances were engaged in paid work during term-time, as there were ample scholarships and studentships to be taken up, and so we had plenty of time to indulge in non-academic pursuits. My main study time was after dinner at night.

In the 1960s, the University of Melbourne Sports Union clubs were well financed, the support coming from the modest but compulsory student service-fee, so that the minority of students who belonged to one of the sporting clubs therefore were subsidised by those who did not. For example, all of the ammunition used by the Rifle Club members was paid for by the Sports Union. In addition to my Rifle Club obsession, I made frequent use of the on-campus sporting facilities.

During my forty years or so teaching in the Department of Mathematics, I perceived a marked fall-off in the participation of students in extracurricular activities at the university. Against a background of an increasing proportion of Year 12 students proceeding to university and falling governmental financial support for students’ living expenses, part-time work mixed with full-time study became common. Demands for course notes, access to lecturers by e-mail etc. became more intense as the decades rolled by. Back in the 1960s we were more self-sufficient (I think) in hunting down and constructing materials for ourselves, but then we had the time and the leisure, and there were relatively few of us I suppose. In retrospect we may have been undergraduates at the right time!

The 1960s were interesting politically. I do remember Tony Staley, Gareth Evans and others being active on campus then, but as an undergraduate I tried to ignore most of it. However, I confess to participating in one of the anti-Vietnam marches in the early 1970s, along with John Ryan (then a reader in the department) and others.

Departmental politics were different back in the 1960s. It is perhaps unkind to apply the term ‘god professor’ to the likes of Tom Cherry, Russell Love and Jim Craggs, given that they all helped me on my way. But the professors then were in no doubt that they were expected to give academic leadership, and that they did, generally not to be argued with. In those days, the professors addressed we students by our surnames, after the old English tradition. Of course (now using their surnames in payback) Cherry and Love completed their postgraduate degrees in Cambridge, and Craggs was from Southhampton.

As an eighteen-year-old, I thought Professor Russell Love to be a severe stern sort of person who knew all there was to know about mathematics, but late in the year he sat down next to me one day, in a ‘practice class’, and he recalled that he had taught my father some years before. During the following year (1963) I came to know him a little better, and I must say that his lectures on functions of a complex variable were the clearest of any that I attended during my undergraduate days, and his correction of our homework the most meticulous imaginable. I gradually came to understand that he was ‘integrity incarnate’. When he was head of department, he used to check every detail of every examination paper set by his staff, and I remember (in 1969) being the much-embarrassed beneficiary of his checking one of mine!
I was later to work in the department under Russell Love’s direction, and many decades later he took tutorial classes for me long after he had formally retired. It is fair to say that it took me nearly forty years to get to know him. I never could bring myself to address him as Russell, always to his face addressing him as Professor Love (though Martin Chalkley and I referred to him as ‘Prof’ in private).

Though I attended his lectures in a small third-year honours class in 1963, I did not get to know Professor Tom Cherry well. He lectured us in a chalk-covered black academic gown, almost never referring to his notes that for the most part remained in a closed manila folder on the front bench of the room. He was seldom animated, and there was always (metaphorically speaking) some distance between him and us, as third-year students were not of great consequence I suppose. Yet he had a good sense of humour. It must have been 1965, I think, after he was knighted: one day I saw him in the corridor of the department (then in Babel) and he gave me his usual curt nod. I cheekily said “good morning Sir Thomas” in a loud voice so that all around could hear. He looked astonished then broke into a broad grin. After that, he always said hello to me. Sadly, he died a year or two later after getting lost on a bush walk.

Professor Jim Craggs was our fourth year applied mathematics lecturer and was later my supervisor for my master’s thesis. He was a good listener, though asserted himself when decisions had to be made. Quite unlike Russell Love and Tom Cherry, he had a little bit of the larrikin about him, and was clearly more interested in mathematics than the duties of head of department. He was temporarily head (in Russell Love’s absence on sabbatical leave) and one afternoon he was helping me with an intractable system of differential equations associated with a problem in elasticity. Shirley Flinn (the departmental secretary) knocked on the door of his office and came in with a bundle of papers ‘from the faculty’. She impressed upon Jim Craggs the urgency of the matter within these papers and he replied calmly that he understood. When she left, he picked up the bundle and dumped it in the waste-paper basket, turned to me and said: ‘now where were we?’. I presume that he retrieved the bundle later and dealt with it. As I recall, Jim Craggs only stayed in Melbourne for about three or four years, returning to Southampton early in 1967.

The late 1960s saw the beginnings of the (national) Applied Mathematics Conferences, with Bill Wood (my PhD supervisor) and Roger Grimshaw being heavily involved. This was a time of considerable applied mathematical activity in the department, particularly in fluid mechanics, and ties were established with like-minded mathematicians at Monash and CSIRO. Paradoxically the department languished without an applied mathematics professor for many years. There are probably machinations to be told about that era, of which I was largely ignorant, being a very junior member of staff at that time.
Most of my lecturers were good communicators. I am moved to mention some of whom I hold fond memories:

Ian Evans (first and second year Pure Mathematics 1961, 1962);
John Ryan (first year Applied Mathematics 1961);
Tom O’Donnell (first year Physical Chemistry 1961);
Bill Wignall (second year Physics 1962);
Russell Love (second and third year Pure Mathematics 1962, 1963);
John Barton (second year Applied Mathematics 1962);
Tom Cherry (third year Applied Mathematics 1963);
Bruce Craven (fourth year Pure Mathematics 1964) and
Jim Craggs (fourth year Applied Mathematics 1964).
Note that there is not a single female in the list - the department really was predominantly male in those days! There were two ladies (parlance of the day) on the lecturing staff (Meg Lester and Elizabeth Pownall) with whom I had no professional contact as an undergraduate. In 1965 (during which year I took time out to complete Dip Ed), Elizabeth was responsible for procuring for me my first teaching job, and in 1966 Meg and I were deeply involved together in constructing exercises for Jim Craggs’ ‘new applied mathematics course’ – continuum mechanics in first year!

Enough for now! I can of course tell many stories, some of which should never be put in print!

Cheers, Frank Barrington


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