Peter Norgard interview, 12 June 2013 and 26 June 2013

Dublin Core


Peter Norgard interview, 12 June 2013 and 26 June 2013


Electrical Engineering


This is an interview with Peter Norgard, recorded on 12 and 26 June 2013. Peter Norgard worked as a Technical Officer in Electrical Engineering from 1958 to 2007.


Norgard, Peter


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Peter Norgard


Subiaco, W.A.


Interview 1: 33 minutes, 28 seconds
Interview 2: 50 minutes, 14 seconds
Total: 1 hour, 23 minutes, 42 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1: Wednesday 12 June 2013

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 1958 – Peter is aged 17. Applies for job at UWA. Had junior certificate. Was employed by Telematic Developments – worked on inter communication and recording devices.
01:28 Saw advertisement for lab assistant in Department of Engineering. Called in for interview. A queue of about 10 people waiting to be interviewed. Interviewed by Reader, Keith Taplin.
02:40 Behind him was a large clock. Clunked every 30 seconds. It was a Master Clock.
03:30 Handed to Mr Howard Bundell who took him around the labs. In the workshop he was asked to use a brand new drill to drill a hole in brass. Peter passed the test as he asked to blunt the drill.
04:52 Duly offered the job, had a compulsory X-ray to show he was TB free. Started the job just after Easter in 1958

Track 3
00:00 Original department of engineering was near Shenton House and the dairy was used to house a compressor. Civil, Mechanical and Electrical engineering were all together and housed in buildings that had been used by the US army in the second world war to house the Catalina flying boats.
01:19 Peter’s job was to put out the lab equipment. Lectures were in the morning and labs in the afternoon. The labs used machines that were once used in industry.
02:20 The DC machines came from the Collie coal mines. They were full of coal dust.
02:51 Afternoon tea was taken in the lab and staff and students sat down together while Peter made preparations for the next part of the lab experiments.
03:21 The DC current which was used to power the machines was a generator which came from the Waroona milk factory. They donated it to the university went they went over to AC current. Peter believes the generator is still housed in the basement of the new department of electrical engineering near Fairway.

Track 4
00:00 Peter was treated very well by staff and students. Being the young apprentice he had the menial jobs and tricks played on him
01:04 In his previous job Peter worked at various jobs around town and was not treated that way. People thought it was a ‘black art’. It was a dramatic change to work at UWA where the students were the same age as him. He even knew some of them.
01:41 He joined the Engineers Club and initiated along with all the other first year engineers.
02:02 A wonderful atmosphere – no distinct divide between staff and students. Small student numbers: 9-13.
02:42 The first female electrical engineering students would have joined in the mid-70s. There was no barrier, it just didn’t happen. Women have proved very good at design work.
03:40 The female staff was mainly clerical and administrative. In the 1970s, female lecturing academics joined
04:09 The department has grown hugely. Peter knew about valves and then the semi-conductor was brought into production (a transistor). It rocked his knowledge to the foundations
05:15 The university degree course was more academic but in the early days the practical side was stressed. Students had to spend 3 months of their final year in industry.
06:28 Engineering students had to know a little bit about civil, mechanical and electrical in order to be able to work with each other. Today there are much more specialised. The recent mining boom has put a lot more emphasis on practical skills again.

Track 5
00:00 Peter had to work for other departments. They would pool equipment or machinery. One of Peter’s early jobs was to do the amplification in halls and lecture theatres which didn’t have built in sound systems.
00:54 Peter had to lower down high quality RCA microphones through the ceiling of Winthrop Hall to record symphony concerts.
01:31 It also included functions all over the university inside and outside. There was a sound shell at the Somerville Auditorium. Peter had to climb up the very tall pine trees to put up directional microphones or loud speakers
02:43 George Munns the groundsman was in charge of the grounds and did not appreciate Peter driving his Morris Minor full of sound equipment over his pristine lawns.
03:33 There are still sand buckets in the roof of the old Chemistry Building to put out incendiary bombs during WW2. They were also in the top of Winthrop Hall.
04:20 The new Arts Building had its own built in sound system. From the 1970s there was no need to take equipment into the lecture theatres to record sound.
05:33 Peter was asked to set up the sound for when PM Menzies delivered a talk in the old Ref Building at the official opening. Peter recorded the audio for the UWA archives. At the finish of the lecture the Commonwealth Police confiscated the tape to check it was all bona fide.

Track 6
00:00 Peter also recorded the occasion of the Royal Visit on 25 March 1963 in Winthrop Hall. Security was all vetted before the visit, including background checks on Peter himself.
01:43 Peter was concentrating so hard on making sure that the quality of the audio was good, that he does not remember the content of the Queen’s speech!
02:37 Another occasion was a graduation ceremony in Winthrop Hall. Sir Alex Reid was addressing the gathering. He kept moving the mike to one side of the lectern. Keith Taplin insisted that Peter walk down the aisle in the middle of the ceremony and move the microphone. He had to do this three times during the ceremony!
04:08 The tapes were large 12 inch studio quality reels. The tapes came from Atkins Carlyle who was the representatives for Phillips. The microphones were American – Shaw Brothers. The RCA microphone was like a sausage and was suspended from the ceiling at Winthrop Hall.

Track 7
00:00 The department used to put on exhibitions to the public and prospective students. The engineering exhibition was a big affair and they tried to have a spectacle and a theme. One year Peter made a large Tesla coil 6 feet x 18 inches. He got to draw out a large electrical arc.
02:14 Children were given 30 watt fluorescent tubes to carry around. These lit up as they approached the tesla coil.
02:40 Later in the evening, a PMG detection van turned up because the tesla coil was causing chaos to the television reception in Nedlands!

Interview 2: Wednesday 26 June 2013

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Interaction with students. Initiation into Engineering in the old Broadway Picture Theatre
01:08 Socials held in Winthrop Hall – before the organ was installed. The Engineers Ball was held here each year. Also graduation ceremonies.
02:49 The Undercroft was used for bbqs and social gatherings. At one stage it was not enclosed.
03:20 The intake of overseas students caused a shift in culture, food styles and social activities.
04:00 No liquor outlets on campus. Alcohol was banned from the campus but the students managed to get around this!
04:30 Pranks in graduation ceremony when sheep were driven in. Students made ghostly noises through the glass in Winthrop Hall.
06:09 Cacti garden in Engineering Garden turned into “Cacti Nicotini” garden.
07:28 Stolen road roller caused damage and ended up crashed into the Reflection Pool.
08:22 Rivalry between engineers and lawyers. The tug of war.
11:00 The bath tub race on the Swan River was very popular but upset the Swan River Trust when bath tubs sank in the river.
13:26 PROSH is another student tradition. It used to take the form of a parade through Perth.
15:09 The medical students took materials from Robbs Jetty and threw that around. The Engineering truck threw water melons. Peter rode an eccentric wheeled bicycle. One time a medical student hit Peter on his German helmet with a cow bone and knocked him out.

Track 3
00:00 The rural aspect of the campus. It was smaller. Many buildings from WW2. Sheep kept in an enclosure near Shenton House. Along Fairway there was bush and cows. The groundsmen had a stable for their work horse. Rabbits were a huge problem.
03:12 One of Peter’s jobs was to set non-lethal possum traps. They would be released but would find their way back.
03:56 In later years the peacocks were introduced. They would fly around campus and interrupt ceremonies with their loud calls.
05:11 The Engineering building took over most of the bush between James Oval and Fairway. Demand for electricity on campus meant that a substation had to be built on campus.
06:00 Gradually the campus became built up and the bushland disappeared.
06:30 There were workshops situated on the southern end of campus – carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, and a sign writer. The university used to be able to maintain itself.

Track 4
00:00 Research included trying to solve problems such as global warming and pollution and solution such as electric powered motor vehicles, solar cells and wind turbines.
02:42 UWA helped the Museum of WA with their 1910 Brougham electric motor vehicle
03:41 An experimental electric motor was also fitted on a mini van especially with regard to improving the efficiency of acceleration and braking. This project was led by Dr Leary in the mid-1970s.
04:45 These experiments are continuing today with a Lotus sports car
05:59 The department has done experimentation with solar cells that were on the roof to test for efficiency. This project was led by John Livingstone.
06:46 Vertical wind turbines were another project. They were made in the workshops and installed at the switch yard terminals at Ballajura. It was later moved to Buckland Hill and was there until the tail end of a cyclone destroyed it. The horizontal wind turbine has proved to be a better design.

Track 5
00:00 When Peter first came to UWA the department were working on a project to design and build a computer to assist with the simulation of distribution of power in the south west. Howard Bundell and Duncan Steven christened it TAC (Transformer Analogue Computer). The three banks of equipment were as big as a bedroom wardrobe.
02:22 Vacuum tubes were used then semi-conductors. Then printed circuits made possible the reduction in size of electronic equipment. Lasers became very useful in nearly every field.
03:29 Calculators were very simplistic in the early days. The first electronic calculator could only display 3 digits at a time.
04:45 Robotic machinery has become very useful now. All these technological changes have taken place since Peter started work at UWA.
05:35 UWA had a lot of interaction with universities in Australia and around the world. For a small university it has a good reputation in this field.

Track 6
00:00 Retirement in 2007. The retirement booklet with photos of all the staff many holding banners saying “Happy Retirement”. James Wong in the computer section did the cartoons.
02:10 Feels very lucky to have spent his life at UWA. He thought of leaving for a better job with more money several times but the work, the people and the environment at UWA were too good to leave. Towards the end, bureaucracy was starting to creep in and this was a little bit frustrating.
03:25 It was a very social department at times. Peter considers Yianni Attikouzel to have been a very good head of department.



Norgard, Peter, “Peter Norgard interview, 12 June 2013 and 26 June 2013,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,