Founder of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) and Australia’s first professor of computer science, John Bennett, passed away on December 9, at the age of 89.
Bennett began the push to establish a national computer society in Australia in 1958. He helped to build and test the EDSAC Computer in Cambridge, UK and returned to Australia to work on SILLIAC in Sydney. The formation of the ACS in 1966 represented a critical step in this journey towards professionalism, providing a vehicle for the development and delivery of standards and the propagation of knowledge.
In statement, ACS President Anthony Wong expressed his condolences and praised the significant contributions Bennett made to the ACS and the development of Australia’s ICT profession.
“We have lost one of our nation’s greatest ICT icons, however John Bennett’s pioneering efforts have given Australia’s ICT professionals and industry countless opportunities and advantages,” Wong said. “John’s talents and knowledge base were recognised by his appointment as Australia's first Professor of Computer Science and his work performing the world’s first structural engineering calculations on an electronic computer.
“Through establishing the ACS, John Bennett created an environment whereby Australian IT professionals could work together to perform to the best of their ability. By doing this, he significantly advanced the professional excellence of Australia’s ICT industry which dramatically increased our nation’s presence on an international level. Today, the Australian Computer Society represents more than 17, 000 ICT professionals and is well recognised around the world - this is one of John’s many legacies and the ICT pioneer will be missed.”
ACS CEO, Bruce Lakin expressed his sadness at the passing of a technology icon and discussed his immense gratitude for the industry leadership John Bennett showed.
“John was a thought leader and one of our nation’s greatest ICT scholars. His dedication and passion was instrumental in the progression of the Australian Computer Society to every state in Australia. He was well respected, not only as a great colleague at the ACS but also he was admired by the industry as a true ICT professional and a gentleman. He will be greatly missed,” Lakin said.
Bennett is survived by his wife Mary, four children and six grandchildren.
- About John Bennett:
- Born 31 July 1921, he was an early computer scientist. His pioneering career included work on early computers such as EDSAC, Ferranti Mark 1* and SILLIAC, and spreading the word about the use of computers through computing courses and associations.
- 1942 until 1946 (during WWII), he served in the RAAF. He worked on a radar unit on the Wessel Islands and later worked in airfield construction. He then returned to the University of Queensland to study electrical and mechanical engineering and mathematics.
- In 1947 he went to Cambridge University to become Maurice Vincent Wilkes' first research student as part of the team working to build EDSAC. This was the world's first practical stored program electronic computer, and the world's first computer in regular operation from 1949. He was responsible for the design, construction and testing of the main control unit and bootstrap facility for EDSAC and carried out the first ever structural engineering calculations on a computer as part of his PhD.
- He worked for Ferranti in Manchester and London as a computer specialist. Here he designed the instruction set for Ferranti Mark 1*, which was the main improvement of that machine over Ferranti Mark 1.
- In 1956, Bennett returned to Australia to become the first professor in computing science at the Basser Laboratory at Sydney University where he led the team that programmed and used SILLIAC, a machine built to a design based on the University of Illinois' ILLIAC machine.
- Until 1958 he taught associated courses in the use of computers. In 1958 he established a Postgraduate Diploma in Numerical Analysis and Computing which was later changed to the Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Science.
- In 1961, he became the Foundation Professor of Computer Science, and in 1972 he became head of the new Basser Department of Computer Science. By his retirement in 1986 aged 65, 2000 students had graduated from Basser, and another 4000 from all disciplines had completed courses there.
- He was very involved with the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) during his tenure and after retirement, continuing his involvement with Sydney University, particularly in post-graduate affairs, and close involvement with the ACS. In recent years, he enjoyed more time at home with his family and with visiting colleagues, having ‘made his mark’.
- Bennett was also the Foundation Chairman of the Australian Committee on Computation and Automatic Control from 1959 to 1963, the President of the New South Wales Computer Society from 1965 to 1966, and the Foundation President of the ACS from 1966 to 1967.
- In 1981 he helped found the Research Foundation for Information Technology at the University. In 1983 he became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).