School of Mathematics and Statistics Alumni

MICHAEL DEAKIN

BSc (Hons) 1961; MSc 1963

I have many fond memories of my years at Melbourne University. I arrived in Melbourne from Tasmania in 1956 and (wisely) undertook a second matriculation year. I might well have floundered otherwise. My 2nd matric. was undertaken at the now defunct St Patrick’s College, East Melbourne. It provided an intellectual atmosphere that I had missed in the island state, even tho’ Mathematics (my field of interest) was perhaps the weakest of their offerings.

The intellectual atmosphere went up a further notch with my entry into the University of Melbourne. In my first year (1957), Pure Maths was taught by Associate Professor Felix Behrend, one of the ‘Dunera Boys’ and a consummate mathematician in the Weierstrassian mold. In those days, Mathematics was seen as an Arts subject, and one needed to have a matric qualification in a language other than English. So my St Pat’s experience meant a forced study of Latin, which was well taught and has continued to stand me in good stead, altho’ I would have preferred to try French, which I already spoke tolerably well.

In subsequent years my teachers included the late Professors Russell Love and Sir Thomas Cherry. Love, in particular, was a superb lecturer. It was said of him that he was a menace because he made his subject seem so straightforward and logical that one missed seeing its difficulties. Cherry was a charismatic departmental head, and a man with a wide range of interests.

When the Honours stream crystallized, there were 11 of us working in Pure & Applied Mathematics, and a 12th (Daryl Daley), who became a Professor at ANU) studying Pure Maths & Statistics. In the class order, the other 11 were:
Ian Sloan, now a well-known numerical analyst, and Brian Kenny, who became an associate professor of Theoretical Physics at UWA until ill-health forced him into early retirement.

Peter Brockwell, who moved into Statistics and has made quite a name for himself.

John McPhee, whom I’d met at St Pat’s and who showed early promise (Behrend saw to it that one of his 2nd year essays made into the Journal of the London Mathematical Society). He died recently.

Peter Gill, who subsequently became head of Applied Mathematics at the University of Adelaide.

Those were the recipients of first-class honours.

Colin Sholl (Sholl) and I topped the seconds. Colin went on to become an emeritus professor of Theoretical Physics at Armidale and I made a career at Monash before ill-health forced my own early retirement.

Charles Osborne and Dieter Rosenthal (later Ross) rounded out the 2A’s. Ross worked at LaTrobe but died young; Osborne continues a research career at Monash.
There was one 2B and this went to Neal Sloane (Neil), who probably has the best international reputation of us all. Thus are early predictors thwarted!
The final place and solitary 3rd went to Laurie Drake, a Jesuit scholastic, who also rose to prominence, becoming the director of Riverview Observatory. He died some years ago, and several papers carried glowing obituaries.

During the undergraduate years of this cohort, Mathematics was moved from the Arts faculty to Science and we were offered the choice of which degree to take. I chose Science.

I went on to study for a Master’s degree under Russell Love, my topic being ‘Systems of Integral Equations’. At this time, I was a part-time tutor sharing an office with Alan Jones, who later moved to Queensland and made great contributions to Australian Mathematics. In 1962, I was appointed senior tutor and for the 1st term of 1963, before I left for the USA, acting lecturer.

The years immediately following mine also saw several names that subsequently became prominent. I recall in particular the late Barrie Milne, Andrew Prentice, John Stillwell, Roger Eggleton and the brilliant if erratic George Rousseau. A colleague of this time was Allen Russell,a protégé of Love’s, who later took up a study of financial Mathematics, which had been a sideline of Love’s.

Outside of Mathematics itself, there was a lively intellectual ferment. The charismatic Vincent Buckley was perhaps at his best during this period. Franz Knopfelmacher was assiduously active, altho’ manipulative and dogmatic in his politics. Other names from this period include two more mathematicians, John Barton and the late John Ryan, but also others such as the biochemist Max Marginson, the student counsellor, Bob Priestley, the lively and committed Barbara Falk, and, of course, ‘PansyWright, to whom I owe a personal debt of gratitude because he very generously wrote in support of my scholarship application in the US. All in all, they were very good years!


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