Australia plays a unique role in ICT history.
Preamble: The Australian Computer Society was formed 50 years ago, when the various state computer societies joined forces.
To mark the occasion, the ACS has initiated a heritage project to honour the many individuals who have contributed to the growth of the ICT profession in Australia.
At the heart of the project is a history of computing in Australia. It is not just a history of the ACS, but the history of a profession.
Australia has the longest computing history of any country, excepting the US and the UK, and CSIRAC in the Museum of Victoria is the oldest computer still in existence.
Chapter 1 -The start of Australia’s computing history
Computing began in Australia in November 1949 at the University of Sydney, when Trevor Pearcey, aged 30, switched on a computer he had designed and largely built himself. That machine was the CSIR Mark I – later to be renamed CSIRAC. CSIR – the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – was the forerunner to today’s CSIRO.
Pearcey was an Englishman who came to Australia after World War II to work in the CSIR Division of Radiophysics. The Mark I was only the fourth stored program computer ever built. It used 2000 vacuum tubes and delay line storage with 32 metal tubes filled with mercury, each of which was able to hold 16 words. It had a memory capacity of 1,024 20 bit words, or about 2.5 kilobytes of RAM in today’s terminology.
It used a 415 volt three-phase power supply and consumed 30 kW of electricity, and was the size of a garage. It also had a loudspeaker, designed to give early warning of programming errors but which enabled it to create the first ever computer music.
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