Dennis Moore interview, 5 July 2013 and 12 July 2013

Dublin Core


Dennis Moore interview, 5 July 2013 and 12 July 2013


Engineering; History of computing


Dennis Moore was born in Goulburn, New South Wales, on 5 April 1937, he won a scholarship to Kings School, Parramatta. He later won the Broughton and Forrest Exhibition, a scholarship given to ex-students of King's School to qualify to attend Oxford, Cambridge or Durham University. Dennis graduated from New College, University of Oxford, with an honours degree in mathematics. He arrived in Perth in 1962 to become head of the new Computing Centre at UWA. He later became the inaugural director of the Western Australian Regional Computing Centre (WARCC).


Moore, Dennis


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder: University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Dennis Moore


North Perth, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour, 12 minutes, 34 seconds
Interview 2: 33 minutes, 24 seconds
Total: 1 hour, 45 minutes, 58 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Dennis Moore born in country NSW in 1937. Parents encouraged him to take a scholarship and he got a place at Kings School, Parramatta. From there he took the mathematics Tripos at Cambridge. Dennis returned to Australia in 1958.

Track 3
00:00 Returning to Australia aged 21 and needing work, Dennis decided to become an actuary and joined the AMP. Dennis wasn’t there long when he was told that AMP was getting a computer and he was to program it. He spent the next 2 years writing actuarial programs.
02:00 Before the computer they had a room full of young women doing hand calculations. In those days, all office had a comptomotrist who did the accounts by hand.
03:26 The first computer in Australia was built by Trevor Pearcey in about 1947. In the 1950s Sydney University had the SILLIAC computer. Computers were scarce. The first commercial computers in the USA date from about 1953.
04:13 The IBM 650 was used by AMP and MLC insurance companies in Australia. Australia was 4-5 years behind the US. There was a weapons research establishment in South Australia that had a computer as did CSIRO.
04:57 The first electronic computer in the UK was Colossus. It was installed at Bletchley towards the end of the Second World War. Lyons Corner House became the first commercial users of an electric digital computer named LEO in 1951.
06:10 A lot of the early computer manufacturers combined and then gradually disappeared.
06:27 When Dennis was first working the computers were punch cards, tabulators and sorters. The punch card originated in the Jacquard loom in 1801. Herman Hollerith in the 1880s invented the 80 column punch card. This was taken over by IBM. IBM did not get into computing, as such, until the early 1950s. The head of IBM at that time thought that there would only be 10 computers ever built! These would be housed in the major universities. However, the company grew from strength to strength in the computing area.

Track 4
00:00 After 2 years at the AMP, Dennis decided that being an actuary was not for him and he joined the operations research department at Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) in Sydney. He used computers extensively and used the SILLIAC computer at Sydney University. IBM had opened a service centre in Sydney and Dennis was able to use this computer. CSR did not have a computer. The project was to optimise the return to the sugar milling industry.
02:13 By this time Dennis was married. A job was advertised to put in the first computer at UWA (and the State). He applied for this and was interviewed by Don Watts (Chemistry) over a few beers at the Metropole Hotel in Sydney. He was offered the job in 1961 but the computer would not arrive on campus until the following year.
03:58 In the meantime, Dennis worked on an IBM 620 machine at Lucas Heights which was the same model as the one to be installed at UWA.
04:30 Dennis arrived in Perth by plane in May 1962. The airport consisted of wooden shacks and was very small and primitive. The couple and their small baby were put up at the Captain Stirling hotel for 2 weeks before moving into rented accommodation.
06:05 The Computer Centre was to be located in the new Physics building. Dennis was the first tenant. The computer room was the only room with air conditioning on campus at that stage.
06:40 John Ross (Psychology) met the couple at the airport. The official title in his new role was ‘lecturer in charge’. He was officially a member of the Maths Department. The computer was to assist other departments. Crystallographers, in particular, were dependent on computing. To compete with overseas research projects, the Engineering and Science faculties needed to have access to computers. The university administration department was also a big user.
09:00 The computer was used 24/7 and people had to book their time slot. The Busselton Survey was done on this computer and CSIRO used it a lot. Engineers from the public service also used it. Outside people had to pay for their time on it. Internal people had a budget for use of the computer so everyone had to pay for it one way or another.
11:11 Dennis reported to the Computer Policy Committee headed by Burkett-Clews. He had used computer in WW2 for range finding.
11:49 The Commerce department took very little interest in computing.

Track 5
00:00 A university house on Fairway became available. They had 3 children under four so cheap rent was important. There were many young people from the university houses on Fairway and the social life was very good. They stayed here for 5-6 years. Neighbours included Leonard and Elizabeth Jolley.
02:22 Dennis was equal walking distance to campus, University House, Steve’s and the yacht club.
02:45 Dennis was a one man band and got into trouble at home as he worked such unsocial hours.
03:16 Fairway was called ‘Fertility Flats” as most people were in their 20s or 30s. Behind the buildings was an open paddock with sheep used by the Agriculture Department for research purposes. Agriculture was strong as was Chemistry under Noel Bayliss.
04:38 Campus was small. Only 3000 students. Young staff. Fielded a rugby side against the students. The staff played cricket against Jack Mann’s team in the Middle Swan. Dennis played second grade cricket for the university and rugby.
06:39 The university gardens were a tourist attraction.
07:14 The Computer Centre was next to the old Chemistry building. The library was built in the early 60s while Dennis was there. Physics was one of the first extensions from the old stone buildings. It was designed by the Public Works Department.
08:17 Friday night was very vibrant at University House. The Computer Centre staff played the students at cricket. They had parties. Overseas visitors would be taken to the hills and they would have a barbecue. It was a young and social department.

Track 6
00:00 During the 1970s, Dennis was President of University House at a time when drink driving was 0.08 and the economics of the house started to decline. Dennis pushed for non- academic staff to be made members
01:28 University House was extended and a new dining room was financed with the support of Ken Townsing, the State Under Treasurer who was also on the Senate Finance Committee. Dennis decided to name the new dining room after him which was widely accepted. However, he was rapped over the knuckles for this as decisions of this nature were the province of the University Senate!

Track 7
00:00 Arrival of the IBM 1620. It was the size of a large desk and installed in the Physics Building. It had been shipped from Brazil and the packaging housed lots of cockroaches.
01:08 IBM engineers helped to install it. They also did routine maintenance. It was a fairly reliable machine. They were common machines in universities throughout America.
01:56 At that stage, IBM gave 60% discount to universities. In 1962, the discounted IBM 1620 cost about £30,000. Computers were expensive.
03:43 Dennis recruited his own staff. He employed a key punch operator. There was a printer and a free standing accounting machine. Staffing was required. PhD students were given jobs for special projects. The first programmer recruited full-time was Colin Jarvis. Dennis approached him in the Great Court.
05:27 Not many people were doing computing at that stage. Training started off later on. The Commonwealth Government ran its own PIT courses.
06:32 The computer held 60,000 decimal words in memory. Programming languages are still used today such as Fortran. It was designed for scientific type programming. If you had to conserve space, then you wrote in Assembly language.
07:30 Dennis ran programming courses for the staff and students.
07:52 Pressure for using computers had exploded and there was a new round of Commonwealth government funding in 1967. The IBM 1620 was used from 1962-1967. It was kept after a new computer was bought and was finally given to the Observatory at Bickley.
09:14 Federal money was given for computing and it was decided to buy a computer from a small company in Massachusetts. It was the first commercially produced time sharing machine allowing multiple users. This was the DEC PDP 6. They put out to tender and the Computing User Group talked to the sale people.
12:05 They were able to run research equipment directly into the computer and share that time with other users who had machines hitched to it.
12:34 The power was able to cope with the computer. The 1620 was transistorised. Valves had gone. SILLIAC and the 650 were valve machines as was Colossus.
13:35 Dennis spent a lot of time helping the research students. He co-supervised the first PhD in computing by Colin Jarvis. There was no time to do personal research and the rewards were not there.
15:25 By the mid-60s, UWA had caught up with the rest of the world in the computing age. The PDP 6 gave them a huge fillip.

Track 8
00:00 Staff mainly recruited from amongst the graduate students. There were many female programmers such as Roz Fisher and some Asian students.
01:46 Dennis upset UWA again when he attempted to appoint programmers who had TAFE qualifications but not degrees. He invented a new position called Data Processing Officer.
02:34 Dawn Drysdale was the first key punch operator and the first employee.
03:25 Dawn was a good cricketer. An Oxford professor who visited was treated to a picnic and social cricket match in the National Park. Dawn opened the batting and played a cover drive that might have been the envy of Neil Harvey.

Track 9
00:00 The Computer Policy Committee was persuaded to support the purchase of the PDP 6 by Burkett-Clews. He and Dennis researched the computer in America.
02:00 The computer cost in the regional of $250,000
02:43 IBM were upset that they didn’t win the tender. The General Manager of IBM Australia suggested that Dennis was incompetent and that he should be dismissed. Burkett-Clews paid this absolutely no attention and backed Dennis to the hilt.
05:44 The PDP 6 arrived by air. It took a while to get it going. There was an acceptance period which is similar to the warranty period today. There were odd glitches as it was a new machine.
07:51 This computer was much larger than the IBM 1620– about the size of 4-5 very large fridges in rows. This was installed in a separate room to the IBM 1620.
08:45 The computer came with a high precision display and light panel which enabled them to have graphics for the first time. This was due to a donation from BP in return for the Computer Centre writing some software for their maintenance overhauls.
09:50 James Trevelyan in Engineering wrote a flight simulator on it.
10:04 Brian Horan wrote the software for BP. He was an ex bus driver who later did a PhD in psychology who was employed to do this programming.
12:33 Computers were proven to be a useful tool and were used in administration and the engineering and science faculties. But a Professor in Commerce stated that using computers in business was only a passing phase.
13:19 A big project was done with John Jory in the Classics Department to index the Latin inscriptions. This took 2-3 years to complete and was a world first.
15:33 It opened up the eyes of people in the Arts department to how computers might be used to help their research.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 PDP 6 required more staff. Monte Sala was recruited from the Carnarvon Tracking Station where he was lab manager. He was from Dalmatia. He turned out to natural electronic gifts.
00:51 John Ross was using the graphic display unit in Psychology. He had discovered that moving dots across the screen could be made readable using fewer lights than a traditional display unit. This could be used in advertising or for flight information display in airports. This was named the Betagraph. It was only ever used commercially at the Belmont race track. At the time the university was very naïve in their understanding and practice regarding intellectual property and patent for inventions.
03:07 At the time it was quite novel to have remote terminals linking into the PDP 6. They needed terminals remote from the computer centre to have modems. Sala was able to make modems but he was never able to get Telecom (or the equivalent at that time) to approve this.
03:52 When Dennis was working in government, he mentioned to Sala that he was concerned about security and privacy issues. Sala developed a low cost encryption device supported by the Research Institute of Australia. Dennis went to New York to raise venture capital from Merrill Lynch to get the device developed and marketed. They were placed in the SWIFT network which was the international banking network.
05:14 The major problem with the device was that it was too strong. Pressure was placed on Australia not to allow export of the device. For the time, this device was too strong for the international intelligence agencies.

Track 3
00:00 As smaller computers came along these became connected to the PDP 6. The Centre was very interested in packet switching and built a packet switching network. Bruce Kirkby was the main driver behind this. His packet switching devices went into various government departments.
00:52 Packet switching is the basis of the world wide web. Small packets of information with addresses and headers on them are sent and they are sent around from computer to computer until it finds the computer that is looking for it.
01:28 It was originally developed for some of the early major US universities such as The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The California Institute of Technology where research workers wanted to use each other’s computers. Later on, it was taken up in a big way by the US military.
01:51 If you have direct line connection computers then taking out a major switching centre will destroy the communications but with packet switching, you can switch to a different path. The Apernet helped to push this along. This is what is used today.

Track 4
00:00 In 1968, Dennis was due for sabbatical leave. At the time UWA was servicing more and more government departments and it became obvious that the PDP 6 was not going to be powerful enough to service the community.
00:40 Dennis wanted to experience large computers. Control Data had computers in the CSIRO and they were the ones producing the large computers at this time. Dennis contacted them and he was offered a research position in Palo Alto in California. He worked on developing an online communication program for Stanton Pause between brokers and purchasers of shares to be in some sort of pseudo English. It was enjoyable work.
02:17 The side benefit was that he was working on Stanford Industrial Park and had contact with Stanford Mathematics Department which was then the computing department. He observed the close relationship between a large technological industrial park next to a university and the resulting interaction. The Stanford Research Institute was also in close proximity.
03:07 This area later became Silicon Valley. Dennis was able to play cricket on weekends all over Northern California. At the time, America was suffering heavy losses in Vietnam; Martin Luther King was shot dead as was Robert F Kennedy.
03:58 While Dennis was away the Federal Government had decided to put more money into computing in universities. Large computing centres were to be set up in the cities to service CSIRO and the universities. WA received funding to expand the Computer Centre. At that time, Perth was small enough for people to talk to each but big enough for things to happen.
06:08 Dennis helped to negotiate to buy a large cyber computer. A new wing was built onto the Physics Department to house the new computer and the air conditioning requirements.
07:04 Large remote batch terminals were introduced. By this time, student numbers had increased. The Graduate Diploma was introduced which was the first computer qualification in WA.
08:01 Main Roads, Hospitals, Universities and the Department of Agriculture were all serviced by this Regional Computer Centre [see hand drawn plan]. In time these people got batch terminals and then smaller computers themselves until they installed their own computer systems.
08:43 At this time, hacking was unknown and it was probably almost impossible to get into each other’s systems.
09:50 The economies of scale were workable – compared to the eastern states, UWA’s costs were 50% and they were able to meet the demand. It was run as an almost independent business.
10:41 The two major hospitals (RPH and SCGH) were major users of the computers. It soon became clear that they needed more computer power. They bought their own cyber computers. These were put in with the other computer. They also needed their own programming staff. A deal was negotiated where another wing of the Physics building would be constructed which would be paid for by UWA. This would be leased back for 30 years to the Health Department, after which the building would revert to the university.
12:09 The field of health computing was ripe for new developments in computer technology. In Western Australia every patient had a single number which was the patient master index enabling them to be identified in the WA medical system. This was in the days before Medicare. It was decided to install smaller computers in the hospitals that would have direct online access to the bigger computer. Control Data engineers could not link the smaller computers to the large cyber computer. E-health is still not a reality.

Track 5
00:00 Dennis was seconded to the Lands Department for 3 months. They were using computers to help draw maps. There was enormous potential for integrating land information systems but the technology was not well enough developed to move forward.
02:07 Dennis thought that Japan would be the next big centre of computer technology. He studied Japanese for 2 years before taking a Sabbatical in Tokyo (1977-78). He realised that the Japanese computer industry was imitative rather than novel.
04:30 On returning to Australia, Denis realised that computing was changing and the Regional Computer Centre would eventually decline as agencies became independent.
05:44 Dennis got a secondment to Government Computing for 3 years and then decided to become permanent and he resigned from UWA in 1978. He was also frustrated by the fact that UWA told him that he was not allowed to do any research. Dennis feels that UWA did not fully appreciate some of the unique things the University Computer Centre was doing at the time.
06:50 Don Watts and Dennis had been keen to set up a Technology Park in Perth. Perth was not a place that was driven by technological development and even UWA placed more emphasis on agriculture rather than technology. Don Watts became director of WAIT when Dennis was working in Treasury. Technology Park was developed in the pine forest opposite Curtin.



Moore, Dennis, “Dennis Moore interview, 5 July 2013 and 12 July 2013,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed May 30, 2024,