Joyce Billings interview, 19 June 2013

Dublin Core


Joyce Billings interview, 19 June 2013


Electrical engineering; mathematics


This is an interview with Joyce Billings. She was born in 1928 at Romford, Essex, and attended Royal Holloway College, University of London, Egham Hill, Surrey (1945-1949). She met Alan Billings in London. Alan (born 1925) lived in Woolwich, London and was studying electrical engineering. Joyce did her PhD in Cambridge under Professor Herman Bondi, completing this in 1953.
Joyce and Alan married in London in 1953. They moved to Bristol in 1954 as Alan obtained a job as Lecturer in Electrical Engineering at the University of Bristol. Joyce worked as a temporary maths teacher. In 1959, the couple and their three small children moved to Perth where Alan took the position of First Chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at UWA. Joyce taught in the Mathematics Department at UWA 1960-1978.


Billings, Joyce


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral history

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Joyce Billings


Swanbourne, W.A.


37 minutes, 55 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Wednesday 19 June 2013
Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Full name Joyce Gertrude Billings (nee Gardiner) born in 1928. Attended a high school for girls. In 6th form Joyce was encouraged to go to London University – Royal Holloway College for women near Windsor forest. Joyce lived on campus and met other women doing all sorts of different subjects.
02:15 After 3 years Joyce stayed on and did another year of research. She was then encouraged to go to Cambridge.
02:37 Joyce won a small amount of money and was able to attend as the food and tuition was almost free.
03:18 During the vacation she did some farming work to get more pocket money. Once a term the ladies might visit London and have tea out.
03:52 There were male lecturers but no male students until right at the end of her time there when some male physics students were admitted.

Track 3
00:00 Joyce went to Girton College in Cambridge and worked with Professor Bondi the astrophysicist for two years. Joyce had met Alan in London and he got a job in Cambridge. They married in 1953 while Joyce was still at Cambridge.
00:49 The couple moved to Bristol in 1954 and Joyce relinquished academia in order to look after her family.
02:38 Alan was a lecturer in electronic engineering at Bristol for about 6 years.
03:16 Alan was looking at two jobs in the Commonwealth – one in Canada and one in Australia. He was offered the job at UWA and took it. They expected to come to Perth for only 2-3 years while the children were small.
04:20 This was all done by correspondence. There was enormous growth in Australian universities at the time. The Electrical Engineering and Electronic section of the engineering department at UWA was developed at the time. Alan saw opportunities here to continue his research as well as lecturing.
05:12 The family arrived by sea. The journey was an adventure. They had places that catered for the children so they were able to have some time on their own.
05:43 The furniture was sent in a large wooden crate on another boat.
06:14 Joyce arrived in October. The heads of department had given them some of idea of what Australia was like but they thought the house in Fremantle looked like English houses. They were struck by the number of bungalows near UWA, the spaciousness and the straight roads and the trees.
07:28 It took them a little time to realise that Perth was the only big city in Western Australia
07:45 The Billings family were put up in a house along Monash Avenue – these houses were especially for new people coming to the university. There was another set of accommodation near the University at Parkway. All the new arrivals made friends with each other as did their children. Joyce got to know the mathematicians because people working in the Maths Department lived on both Monash Avenue and Parkway.
09:07 The newcomers came from overseas and the eastern states. A lot of money was put into the universities to attract overseas staff and develop the university. New staff, new research and new ideas.
09:59 The couple saw the campus on the first day as they were met and driven around. The campus was very small and centred around Winthrop Hall. It was a very short walk to campus from Monash Avenue. New departments were being built and UWA was growing rapidly in the early 60s.

Track 4
00:00 Kings Park was very sandy but it was bush where SCG Hospital is now. The children went to school along the road and Joyce was able to lecture at UWA safe in the knowledge that the children could be looked after by other families along the road if she was going to be late home.
01:00 There were gaps in the Maths Department and Joyce was available so it was easy for her to get part time work when they realised she could teach Applied Mathematics. When she became permanent she was requested to provide a CV and a reference from Cambridge.
02:34 The Mathematics Department had been going for a long time. The first book in Applied Maths that Joyce read was by Professor CE Weatherburn from London who had then moved to Perth. The Department was split into Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics and Statistics.
04:20 Applied Mathematics is more about how things work. There were parallels to Applied Maths and Physics, Chemistry and Engineering. Joyce taught Electrical Engineering students applied mathematics.
06:52 There were 3 women in the maths department. The women were working in the lower levels. The department was very social. Morning and afternoon tea was very social but mathematics was also discussed.
08:49 The engineering men were very well behaved especially as Joyce donned her gown for lectures. Later on staff and students dressed much more informally.
10:06 It was mainly male students. Alan Billings allowed girls in as students and appointed women staff. There was a bit of resistance to allowing women to progress at one stage.
10:50 Maths was in the administration building where the Vice Chancellor is housed today (2013). Then they moved to the Arts Buildings for about 4 years until a purpose built maths building was erected. Joyce enjoyed meeting the arts staff. In the early days, there was enormous interaction between the different faculties and staff as the campus was a lot smaller.

Track 5
00:00 One morning there were vibrations during morning tea and they had to run out of the building. This due to the Meckering earthquake in October 1968.
01:30 Joyce was teaching applied mathematics in the Geology Department during the moon landing in 1969 – she decided to stop the lecturer to watch it with the students on the television.
02:38 The Vietnam War caused some concern on campus. Generally political events did not have any impact on UWA although people would talk about what was going on.
03:41 Joyce and Alan had a marvellous social life with the new arrivals. In the evenings they ate together or had parties. They kept up these friendships.
05:34 They thought that they would only stay for 2 years but they enjoyed it so much that they stayed as they were so happy with the climate and the opportunity.
06:11 Visiting academics would often be home stayed and entertained by staff. Fred Hoyle was treated to a picnic by the river and a party at Joyce’s house. Everyone met him – including the students. Students were invited to parties with the staff. The classes were smaller and the tutorial group was normally no more than 10 students.

Track 6
00:00 Being a woman in the university – married women not considered eligible to teach apart from tutorial teaching. Head of Department encouraged Joyce to apply for a permanent position.
01:16 Becoming a senior lecturer required that you had done some research. The Head of Department pushed this through for Joyce.

Track 7
00:00 Reflections on coming to Australia and working and living around UWA.



Billings, Joyce, “Joyce Billings interview, 19 June 2013,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed April 20, 2024,