History Main


The founding document of the University Computer Club, the 1974 constitution, declared that the purpose of the club was 'the advancement of Computer Science'. While this definition has remained unchanged, it has been interpreted in varying ways through the twenty five year history of the Club. Throughout this work I intend to explore the ways the members of the UCC have constructed the business of the Club.

The focus is on the changing roles of the Club, the varying purposes it has served for members. I am particularly interested in the complicated relationship between the definition of the Club as a forum for undertaking projects (constructing hardware or software) and the definition of the Club as a social group (undertaking social activities only loosely related to computing). I will examine the ebb and flow between these two perceptions of the Club.

These understandings of the purpose of the UCC will be set in the background of the wider history of computing at the University of Western Australia over the past twenty five years. Each section examines the history of the UCC within the broader context of computing on campus, and aims to offer a historically grounded analysis of the changing undertakings of the UCC. Consequently, this work is not arranged thematically, with reference only to the internal workings of the Club, but chronologically, with sections dedicated to the history of the computing on campus in each decade.

At this point I am only sketching the history of the UCC. I hope that this tentative work will be revised after it has been viewed at the UCC's twenty fifth anniversary dinner.






The 1970s

In 1974 the UCC owned only one major computer, an IBM 1620, which was kept in temporary storage; by the end of the decade the Club owned an array of machines and had a permanent room on campus. Throughout this period the UCC aggressively acquired computers, lobbied for access to the university's mainframe and gained new members. This was a period of both establishment and rapid expansion for the Club, a process of growth which mirrored the development of computing at the University of Western Australia as a whole.

The UCC was founded to allow members access to computers at a time when there were relatively few computers in Western Australia. In the 1970s this meant using the 'respectability' of the Club to gain time on the university's mainframes, a DEC PDP 10 and a CDC Cyber 72 run by the West Australian Regional Computing Centre (WARCC). In the words of a founding member, Andrew Marriott,

I suppose that it [the UCC] was made up of my "scaly mates" - it was a very informal club and mainly there to help others and to bind us all together. Probably to give us a bit of respectability as well since many of us were well known to [WARCC].

It also meant buying computers and arranging for a central club room in which to use them. In 1974 the UCC's major possession was an enormously heavy IBM 1620 which ran on punch cards and had 16K words of memory, and the other equipment consisted of an IBM 407 printerpunch card machine and a tape reading machine.

One of the first priorities of the Club was, then, acquiring further machines by soliciting donations and fund raising. Members of the UCC actively pursued grants from the Guild, gaining three in 1980 alone. In the same year the UCC was one of six organisations in Western Australian to gain a grant from the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Trust for Young Australians. The trust awarded the Club with $5000 for 'providing students with access to practical experience in computer use and management, promoting community understanding of computer benefits, and providing computer services to service groups who could not otherwise afford them.' This money was immediately spent on more memory, 128K of RAM, and the unofficial correspondence of the time noted the 'need to write a believable reply to this in order to rip more money out of them'!

By the end of the decade, the UCC had acquired a far wider array of machines. Notably, in 1978 members of the Club paid $20,000 (raised by private subscription and a loan) for an Alpha micro-computer 100 which they named Murphy for Murphy's Law. The machine was an AM-100 with 6 serial ports (Am-300 card), 64K of memory, two 8" floppy drives, a converted Baudot teleprinter for hardcopy, and a S100 byte map video board. In the late 1970s, the Club also acquired Edsel, an Altair 8800B with two serial ports, a single 8" hard sectored floppy drive and 32K of memory. In the early 1980s, the Club bought Ben, a two ton IBM 360/40 with a Baudot teleprinter which had originally belonged to the Perth Building Society. Additionally, the Club acquired other, less impressive machines, such as an IBM golfball typewriter, a Computalker CT-100 speech synthesiser board and a magnetic tape controller.

Some of these machines were used mainly for word processing - particularly the IBM golfball typewriter! - since facilities for such work were not widely available on campus. A document written in the late 1970s or early 1980s described the more typical activities of the UCC as

editing and typing of reports... maintenance of personal databases, learning various computer languages (BASIC, LISP, PASCAL, MACRO assembler), and of course the mandatory invention and playing of games.

A great deal of energy was spent on setting up the essentials of the computers. The emphasis was on acquiring machines and getting them to run. To give an example, Murphy did not originally have terminals, a problem which was dealt with successively by borrowing terminals, making cardboard keyboards, using EME-1 boards which could only produce capital letters, building a VRAM display card from Gemini trackings parts, and finally getting a Visual 200 terminal. Since computers were unusual and expensive equipment in the early 1980s, the UCC concentrated on the provision of the basics of computing.

To be properly used, the UCC's machines needed to be kept in a permanent club room, but between 1974 and 1978 the UCC moved several times and the computers were often stored away from the meeting areas. The UCC began by sharing a room in the Mathematics building with the Weatherburn Mathematics Society, but were asked to leave after they 'filled' the room with computers, rubbish and members, and covered the blackboard with 'computer garbage'. After returning the original clubroom to the beleaguered Mathematics Society, the UCC were given storage room in the old Dolphin theatre and limited accommodation in Room G 38 of the Physics Building and also appropriated one of the discussion rooms in the Physical Science Library. When the old Dolphin theatre was destroyed in 1978, the Guild offered the UCC accommodation in the Guild building and storage space at the Shenton Park facilities. The UCC remained in Room 2.14 of the Guild Building for the next twelve years, and this stability made it easier to collect computers and to undertake computing projects.

The activities of the UCC at this time - especially the zeal with which members collected computers - were quite remarkable. Indeed the undertakings of the UCC in the 1970s appear even more exceptional when contextualised in the history of computing at the university and in Western Australia as a whole at this time.

The first computer had been brought to West Australia in 1962 when the West Australian Regional Computing Centre (WARCC) was established with a single IBM 1620. In 1965 WARCC purchased a DEC PDP 6, a multi- access, time-sharing computer, and became the first organisation in the world to lease time on a computer. By 1972 WARCC had also acquired a DEC PDP 10 and a CDC Cyber 72 and was a semi-autonomous organisation used by the University of Western Australia and by other research institutions. That is to say, when the UCC was founded in 1974 there were only a handful of computers in the entire State, and members of the Club asked for access to these machines.

The University of Western Australia began to experiment with computers in the late 1960s, although the teaching of Computer Science and the use of computers on campus became widespread only in the late 1970s. In 1963 the University offered a one year postgraduate Diploma in Numerical Analysis and Automatic Computation. In 1967 the Mathematics Department ran a four day course on punch card technology. In 1972 the Curriculum Committee approved the proposals of the the Head of Electrical and Electronic Engineering that a subject entitled 'Computer Technology' should be introduced. The students who founded the UCC were presumably the sort of students who were interested in these courses.

Indeed, the founding of the UCC predated the establishment of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Western Australia. Although suggestions for such a department had been put forward as early as 1967, the proposal was not accepted by the Professorial Board until 1970 and the Chair in Computer Science was not advertised until 1972. The position was not filled at this time and it was only in 1976 that Professor Jeff Rohl founded the Department of Computer Science. The department began by offering only one second year unit, but rapidly expanded into a full degree. As early as 1977 there were more than 200 undergraduate students and three Masters students in the department.

Setting the early years of the UCC in this background highlights the exceptional nature of the Club at this time. It is not merely intriguing to know that when the Club was founded the library system of the University of Western Australia did not own a single computer; this context demonstrates how unusual it was to work with computers at this time. The fact that the University of Western Australia spent only $268,029 on computing in 1974 is of more than passing interest; it emphasises the remarkable efforts members of the UCC put into raising money with which to buy computers.

The inception of the UCC was, then, an extraordinary event, and the members of the Club were among the first tertiary students in the State to have access to computers. At the same time, the 1970s were a period of enormous expansion of the field of computing as a whole, and the growth of the UCC reflected the development of computing on campus as a whole. The UCC may be said to have been cresting the wave of computing in the 1970s.

The 1980s

Both the history of the UCC and the broader history of computing on campus were quite different in the 1980s. Computers moved from being rare, odd and futuristic machines, to being everyday tools. This meant that the activities of the UCC were less unconventional, and the increasingly mainstream position of the Club allowed members to begin experimenting with a wider range of technical projects and to develop a new set of social activities.

The Department of Computer Science expanded enormously in the 1980s, growing faster than any other department at the University of Western Australia. In 1980 there were four staff offering two units, but by 1989 there were eleven staff and a full degree in Computer Science was available. By 1989 the department had 22 students enrolled in postgraduate degrees and 212 undergraduates.

An even more striking development in computing on campus was that computers began to be used by non-computer scientists. The personal computer made the use of computers everyday and unexceptional. A history of computing written in 1988 argued:

Twenty five years ago computing was stationary, ponderous, and centralized. Its dominant role was to serve the critical needs and purposes of organizations and the sciences. Today matters are very different. Computation is personal, ubiquitous, and expansive.

As part of this computing revolution, computer laboratories for students were set up throughout the 1980s. In 1978 there were cables for only three terminals in Mathematics; two in Physiology; one in Geography; three for Systems Programmers; and two for the Computer Centre. In the 1980s this changed rapidly as the 'need' for student access to computers was acknowledged. To give a single example, in 1981 the Department of Psychology got a University General Development Grant to set up a first year teaching laboratory, although it was not until 1987 that there were terminals for all the students in that department.

The undertakings of the UCC inevitably changed in this quite different environment; the purposes of the Club altered as computers became a much more common feature of the University of Western Australia. So, for example, the constitution was amended in 1980, changing the membership of the Club from 'all bodies of similar aims' to all 'affiliated clubs and individuals who share the aims of the Club'. This slight change in emphasis suggests that there were other computing groups on campus and implies that computer science was becoming an increasingly everyday part of university life.

The story of the UCC's accommodation in the 1980s also suggests that the Club was recognised as a relatively mainstream part of the university. While the UCC had moved frequently in the mid-1970s, from 1978 until 1990 the Club had a permanent room in the Guild building. Throughout the 1980s this was made increasingly more comfortable. For example, in 1980 the UCC received money to deal with the 'overflow of equipment' because they 'need[ed] room for humans in there too'. Later in the decade, the Club "acquired" an air conditioner, a telephone, a sofa ($15 well spent), and (much needed) new carpet. The experiences of the UCC at this time were less about the struggle to establish the Club, and more about its development in a period of prosperity and expansion for computing.

While the UCC continued to aim to provide members with access to computers, the ways in which this was achieved altered. The UCC began fund raising in different ways. Members of the UCC sold their computer expertise by making up mailings lists and storing electronic copies of constitutions for other clubs on campus. Some of the UCC formed Alpha Soft, a computer software company which sold utilities such as PDP 11 disk readers and IBM floppy disk readers.

Alpha Soft was started by Dean Elsner as a way of raising money for the club.... All-up Alpha Soft probably raised about $1,000 a year for the club.

Even more innovatively (and almost unbelievably), members of the UCC worked as bouncers for Guild events in the early 1980s. The UCC handled the security for several events, including Split Enz, Sky Hooks and Angels concerts.

These activities were, of course, in addition to lobbying the Guild for money. The manipulation of the Societies Council through unofficial association with clubs such as the University Software Society and (again, almost incredibly) the Manic Depressives, allowed the UCC to prosper. In this period before voluntary student unionism, money was relatively abundant and grants were readily available.

In the 1980s - particularly after 1985 - personal computers were more widely available and the relative cost of computers dropped significantly which meant that the UCC could buy a better selection of machines. In 1982 the UCC still had only two main computers - the insurance forms for that year listed only Murphy, the Alpha Micro, and Edsel, the Altair 8800B - but the number of computers had expanded rapidly by the end of the decade. The 1992 insurance forms listed ten machines estimated to be worth $25,500.

In the early 1980s the Club briefly acquired an Alpha LS 1, a massive six feet high by two feet wide machine with 64K of RAM which was sold in order to buy further machines such as a Computalker CT-100 speech synthesiser and an image scanner. In 1984 the Club got Marvin, a 'very cool, very powerful' club built NS32 000 series S100 bus computer housed in a cardboard box, which was so popular that access to it was booked with a time sheet. A time sheet was also used to book access to Murphy, even though the machine was increasingly outmoded; in 1981 the UCC was described as being 'afflicted with an Alpha-Micro' and its 'notorious[ly]' unreliable operating system. Murphy eventually died, but in 1988 the Club were given both a MicroMurphy, a MicroVAX II, and a new Murphy (a 'MegaMurphy') which, as a multi-user computer, allowed members to undertake collaborative projects. Likewise, the Unix boxes of this period facilitated group work - Mullet was a VAX 11/750 and Mackerel was a Sun 3/280. David Bennett wrote a letter of thanks to the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering pointing this out.

[T]he VAX 11/750 has been doing very well and has inspired great interest from many of the club's members ranging from hardware projects... to development of new, special purpose programming languages. The VAX 11/750 has given the club a good base to investigate the UNIX environment and various networking solutions to make the most of the new resources.

Further, the Club acquired several smaller machines in the 1980s, finishing the period with Mephistopheles an AT compatible NEC APC IV, Lucifer an XT compatible built by the Club to run the BBS 'so terribly sloooooowly', several Commodore 64s (known as Toads because they were ugly, vaguely green and squatted), and some Macintosh Apple IIs.

By the end of the 1980s the UCC was a relatively well-equipped group with a permanent location in the Guild Building. The 'Publicity Officer's Spiel' for 1988 claimed:

The UCC is a club for people interested in computers.... We are ON campus. We are in the Guild Building. We are on the second floor. We are in 2.14. We are open right now.

The object of advancing computer science was met by providing members with computers with which they could undertake hardware and software projects, and supporting such projects. In 1988 Jonathan Quinn described the purpose of the UCC as 'providing computer resources' and 'design[ing] and buil[ding] a number of unique machines'. It was the 'logical' place for those 'fascinated by computers' to congregate, according to Craig Richmond who joined the UCC in 1988.

The projects undertaken in the 1980s were approached with varying levels of enthusiasm and met with differing degrees of success (elements which did not necessarily seem to be correlated!). One of the most celebrated was the robot, built by Graham Mann, Indulis Bernsteins, Bruce Armstrong and Tony de Groot in 1981. At this stage it had a home made Z-80 based microcomputer, running CP/M, an ultrasonic range-finder mounted on a stepper motor, infrared bump sensors and a speech synthesiser. Later in the decade Jonathan Quinn, Peter Lewis and Marcus Jager played with it and reprogrammed it, giving it a new Z-80 based brain, 3 1/2 inch floppy drives and 256K of RAM. It had 'quite cool' hardware, including a Votrax speech synthesiser, a tricycle design (two driven wheels and one caster free wheel), and an umbilical power hookup.

Not content with the newly expanded array of computers, members of the UCC continued with projects intended to build further machines! Between 1988 and 1991 Jonathan Quinn, Peter Lewis and Marcus Jager built a general purpose computer (the ARM), wrote a general systems programming language (Armoda) and adapted a general purpose operating system previously written for Marvin (KAOS 2). While the hardware was completed relatively quickly, the programming took years and was 'a continual source of frustration'.

Throughout the 1980s there were also opportunities to write new games, modify existing games and, of course, play with the games. The decade opened with members adapting games such as Luigi Cantoni's Trek and WarLords, Kevin McCaw's Twonky and LunaLander, and Berndt Felshe and Bernard Langham's Avalon. At the same time, Indulis Bernsteins wrote a Star Wars video game with joy stick controls. Later Jeremy Byrne worked on the UCC game which featured members of the Club, and developed Magic with the (unfulfilled) intention of selling it. In the late 1980s members developed and played in Multi User Dimensions (MUDs). While writing and modifying the games can be considered a form of programming, playing the games probably took up more time and provided as much enjoyment.

There was a flowering of activity in the late 1980s in which several editions of a Club newsletter were produced. Cathy Cupitt co-ordinated these newsletters and in the first volume stated that the project had 'kept to the previous UCC tradition of major procrastination, followed by huge amounts of work shortly after the last possible moment.' As well as providing insight into the technical projects of the Club at this time, they hint at an interesting debate at the end of the decade about the purpose of the UCC.

There was a discussion about whether the UCC was a 'social club' or a 'special interest club', and the debate is worth quoting in some detail. In 1988 David Emrich stressed the role of the Club as a 'haven' for members.

The general purpose of the club is to distract members from the absolutely boring process of coming to Uni, going to lectures.... studying, going home and studying some more. The distractions range from actually doing something to the slothful bliss of complete inactivity.

He added that the Club 'exists mainly for social reasons, but some work does occasionally get done'. His vision of the Club can be contrasted with that of James McParlane who in the same volume stressed the practical work of the UCC, describing the Club as offering opportunities to learn things, get practical experience and work on projects as well as being a forum in which to meet interesting people. Similarly, in 1989 Jonathan Quinn stressed that the UCC was 'a special interest club' and described it as a 'place for people with common interests to gather, discuss and hopefully further their ideas.'

There seems to have been some tension between two different understandings of the purpose of the Club: one which emphasised the UCC as a forum for undertaking projects, and one which defined the UCC as a social group whose activities were only loosely related to computing. The minutes of a UCC meeting in 1988 stressed that 'the aim' of the Club 'has not really changed, just the emphasis has shifted to a more social role.' It was agreed that the 'main aim' of the Club was still '[t]o promote and support an interest and understanding of computers and computers science.' The conflict between the social and the technological aspects of the Club could be reconciled.

The two differing conceptions of the Club articulated in the late 1980s continue to dominate the ways in which past members recall their time in the UCC. In response to a questionnaire, some members from the 1980s used very powerful language to describe the UCC as their spiritual home. It was described a place where the lost could be 'embraced... into the fold', a group which formed a 'social circle of friends', a time which was 'fun and the place to hang out', and as being 'like a homecoming really'. At the same time, there was praise for 'the computer aspect of the club'. Often the same ex-UCCans who emphasised the social life of the Club also stressed the value of access to computers and collaborative work on project.

UCC promised to be a haven for all sorts of delights in my mind (I was an

aspiring computer-geek) and the members were astonishingly well- informed in their special subject.

'I got to learn much more that I ever did in my CS classes.' 'I also enjoyed the computer aspect of the club, they had computers I could use and see which I would not able to do anywhere else.' The UCC 'was a good environment to learn.'

These two conceptions of the purpose of the UCC were, of course, compatible. The UCC could be viewed as a social group which shared a common interest in computing or as a computing group which had an active social life. The President's welcome to the 1989 fifteenth anniversary dinner pulled these two themes together:

But in all this merriment let us not forget the purpose of the Club - to concentrate the student computing resources (both physical and intellectual) into one room and allow ideas to be generated and spread. Over the years I think we have done much towards this aim and our other main aim - to have a good time doing it.

In some ways both these visions of the UCC's purpose had always existed, but it is striking that this debate was articulated at this particular point in time. I suspect this discussion about the role of the UCC arose partly because of changing status of computers. As computers became more accessible, the Club no longer had to struggle to provide the essentials; it instead became a support group for the further exploration of an established field. The debate about the purpose of the Club probably also stemmed from the enormous diversification of the activities of the UCC in the late 1980s. In addition to the newsletters, it was at this time that weekly pizza nights, ice skating trips, and group holidays were instituted. Shay Telfer, who joined the UCC in 1989, suggests that this period of the UCC's history should be memorialised as 'large stacks of pizza'.

The diverse range of social activities and projects undertaken by members of the UCC was possible only because of the increasingly comfortable position of the Club. By the end of the 1980s the UCC had gained a set of machines which was positively dazzling in comparison with the motley collection held by the Club in the 1970s. This growth mirrored the enormous development of the field of computer science in the 1980s, as computers became ubiquitous, increasingly powerful and relatively cheaper. For the UCC the 1980s were a period of expansion.

The 1990s

In the 1990s the focus of the UCC seems to have been on interaction with other computing bodies. The UCC was more involved in computing on campus as a whole, and also established networks for communication with outside computing groups.

The decade opened with the UCC involved in discussions with the Guild about running a general computer lounge. In 1990 the Guild had decided to build a computer laboratory in Cameron Hall to deal with 'the inadequate numbers of computers' by providing 'general student access to computer facilities'. It was proposed that the UCC would run the computer lounge for a fixed fee per annum, and so in 1990 the UCC moved to Cameron Hall hoping to reap the profits of administering the proposed Undergraduate Computer Lounge (or, as it was put at the time, hoping to bring 'unprecedented huge amounts of money... kicking and screaming into the club').

This move meant accepting a smaller room, and for two years the UCC existed in extremely cramped quarters and regularly stored machines in the corridors of Cameron Hall. As a result in 1991 members of the UCC were sternly (and tersely) warned that

[in the] new room, rule is bags in corridor, not in room; abuse people who don't oblige.

The opening of the computer lounge was delayed and then the Guild decided that they did not want a university club running the lounge. Although they hired individual members of the UCC to work in the lounge, the Club as an entity was not paid to run the computer lounge. Instead in 1992 the UCC moved into a specially constructed room in Cameron Hall. A part of the hall was walled up for the club room, and a 1992 newsletter gleefully recorded that '[t]his room will be the largest room the UCC has had as its home in all of its dark and mysterious history.'

While the UCC's involvement with the Guild's computer lounge was ultimately fruitless, it does highlight the increasing importance of computing on campus. By the 1990s computing had become an accepted and everyday part of university life. University Computing Services (UCS) was established in 1991 to provide 'computing and communications infrastructure and services' which were by that time seen as 'essential'. The UCC had, of course, always focussed on these issues and fitted comfortably into this new computing regime at the University of Western Australia.

As a result the Club had profitable relations with other university computing bodies, receiving several welcome donations at a time when the Guild was less able to give grants to university clubs. There were small donations of a printer and an Apple II from Administration and the Faculty of Engineering in 1993. The Centre for Water Research donated Starfish, a Star 910/VP with 128 MB of memory, to the Club in 1995, and Marron, a Sun 3/60 in 1996. Mudskipper, a Unix Micro VAX 2, was donated by the Physics Department, and Mullett, a VAX 11/750, came from Electronic Engineering. These donations should be noted because they did more than supplement the purchase of an Amiga 500, a 386-33 motherboard and a 486-33 running UNIX. Some of these donations were facilitated by past members, highlighting the links the UCC had forged over the years with other university bodies using computers.

Communication with outside computing groups was emphasised in UCC projects in the 1990s, as the majority of the projects used the Internet. The UCC set up MUDs in the late 1980s and Flame in 1991, activities which were possible only after the UCC got Internet connections through its association with the computer lounge. The UCC had email connections by 1990, and some current members signalled that this technology motivated them to join the UCC. Simon Fryers, who became a member in 1995, explained that he joined the Club because it 'had internet access, [and] also the write up in the guild literature just grabbed my attention and said I must join.' Michael Deegan, another 1995 member, wrote that the UCC 'appeared to provide an environment that appealed to me (hardware, knowhow, etc). There were also side-effects such as a stable email address'. David Basden, a 1993 member, stated that he was partially motived at join by the fact that the UCC 'had live internet access.... To be able to actually telnet to places and access real-time services... was like a dream.'

The other major UCC projects of the 1990s used the World Wide Web systematically. In 1992 the UCC set up a coke machine on the web, the second group in the world to do so. Inspired by news that Carnegie- Mellon University had set up a vending machine on the Internet, in 1992 the UCC arranged for a loan of an old machine from CocaCola Amatil. A 68000 based board and power supply was bolted to the inside of the machine, and software was written which connected the machine to the Internet via the UCC's Sun. The Coke vending machine became 'one of the world's most famous Internet gadgets for several years' and the web site was visited by 'truly initiated Netsurfer[s]', but in 1995 CocaCola Amatil asked for the site to be terminated. This seems to have been motivated by fear of the possibility that a small portion of the company's sales information would indirectly be accessible, but the company eventually decided to allow the UCC to maintain the machine. In 1995 the machine was sold to the UCC for $200 and the Coke machine on the Web has continued very successfully.

This project was so impressive that later members of the UCC expanded on this idea. In 1993 an electronic door sensor was linked to the web so that members could tell if the room was open or not without having to physically enter Cameron Hall. In 1995 the Club's 'highest priorities' were improving the computers and getting a chocolate vending machine to set up on the World Wide Web. After an unsuccessful experiment with a twenty five year old vending machine in 1996, the UCC got a more suitable machine early in 1999 and are currently working on linking it to the Internet.

While the UCC also undertook hardware projects at this time - such as developing a second robot and a frame grabbing camera - the majority of the projects in the 1990s were oriented towards the World Wide Web. Using the Internet allowed the UCC to truly participate in a world wide computing culture. The emphasis was on interaction with outside computer users.

It is striking that at the same time that the UCC moved in this direction, the debate about the social and technological aspects of the UCC seems to have died down. Judging by the questionnaire responses, members of the UCC from the 1990s seem to have combined the social and the project oriented aspects of the UCC with greater ease than members in the late 1980s. While it may be that there were fewer social undertakings in the 1990s, it is also possible that the focus on communications technology made it easier to integrate the technical projects with the social life of the Club.

The questionnaire responses from 1990s members stressed both the technological and the social aspects of the Club. Some members focussed on the practical side of the UCC: it was a place to 'learn more about unix/linux' and an environment which supported those 'interested in hardware'.

It looked like the closest thing I could see to a good place to learn the things I didn't know. It looked a bit too geeky, but in the end I decided to take the plunge and join.

At the same time, many of the respondents stressed the social life of the UCC: they noted the 'highly successful pizza/video/whatever nights... at [the] UCC' which 'waned and waxed in size, but many of them [were] a lot of fun.' Suggestively, electronic forms of communication were occasionally detailed as part of the attraction of the Club. Flame, which started as a dial-in BBS in 1989 but developed in the 1990s, was described as 'a major social activity'. Similarly, in 1995 the 'social' aspects of MUDs were praised in the on-line newsletter. Perhaps the emphasis on this kind of communications technology made the combination of the social and project oriented aspects of the UCC in the 1990s smoother and reduced the tension between the two understandings of the Club.

The dominant note in the history of the UCC in the 1990s was interaction and communication with outside groups. The 1990 Freshers' Welcome noted, 'As well as the computers themselves, we offer contacts in the computer world'. As computing became an established part of campus life, the UCC set up a series of networks with university bodies which meant that fairly regular donations of old computers were made to the Club. While the attempt to co-ordinate the Guild's computer lounge was unsuccessful, the move highlighted the everyday nature of computing on campus and pointed to the links between the UCC and the other computing bodies at the University of Western Australia. 'Computing is inextricably and ubiquitously woven into the fabric of modern life.'

At the same time, the UCC's projects were oriented towards contact with computing bodies off-campus. Email, MUDs, Flame and access to the World Wide Web all allowed UCCans to move into a wider world of computing. Linking machines which were physically located in the club room to the Internet symbolically moved the UCC into a global computing community.


This overview of the UCC suggests that the objectives of the Club have been interpreted in different ways over the past twenty five years. The membership of the Club, the projects and the understandings of the purposes of the Club have all changed over time, just as the nature of computing on campus changed between the 1970s and the late 1990s.

The changes in the membership of the UCC are tied to the trends in computing at the University of Western Australia over the decades. Although the membership lists from the 1970s have not survived, something of the nature of the early membership may, perhaps, be inferred from the descriptions of Computer Science students in the 1970s (since the UCC 'traditionally' 'mainly' drew members from the Faculties of Science and Engineering). In 1979 Computer Science students had, on the whole, done better in their Tertiary Admittance Exams (TAEs) than most other students in the Faculty of Science - they had an average score of 394 compared with a faculty wide average of 376. The 1979 description of these students also states that they overwhelmingly had a background in pure mathematics. What this description did not say - but what was almost certainly the case - was that most of these bright, mathematically inclined Computer Science students were male. There are no departmental figures for this period, but the normative student was described as 'he' in the 1970s. It is very probable that the membership of the UCC also fitted this profile.

The membership of the UCC has always been largely male, but this is not to underestimate the small but fairly steady presence of women in the Club since the early 1980s. Julie Trott was Vice-President in 1981, Julie Freeman was Secretary in 1982, Cathy Cupitt was on committee in 1989 (running on a campaign of 'recruiting members (specifically female members) into the Club'), Jeanette Campbell was Treasurer between 1990 and 1992, Sophie Divlaev was Secretary in 1995, Simone Collins was Treasurer in 1997 and 1998, and in 1999 Melissa Challenor was elected Vice-President, Tamara Fehlberg became Fresher Representative and Sam Bentink became an Ordinary Committee Member. Strikingly, this is the highest ever number of women on committee, and it comes at a time of relatively high female memberships in the UCC. The 1999 membership records list 96 men and 20 women. This may be compared with the 1991 membership list which has survived by chance and which lists 117 members; of the 102 members whose gender can be identified, 10 were women. This suggests a steady though not overwhelming increase in the number of female members through the 1990s.

The changes in the UCC's membership are probably linked to the changes in enrolments in Computer Science and Engineering, the courses which UCCans are most likely to pursue. Engineering has traditionally been an enclave of masculinity: the first female student graduated only in 1970 and even in 1998 there were still only 346 women among the 1713 students in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Western Australia. Computer Science, on the other hand, has come closer to achieving gender parity: there were 37 male and 26 female final year students majoring in Computer Science in 1995. The slight shift in the UCC's membership must be read in this context; the move from an all male world in the 1970s to a more diverse culture in the 1990s reflects the changes in worldwide computing cultures.

The purposes of the UCC have changed over time, reflecting the development of computing at the University of Western Australia. The 'advancement of Computer Science' is an objective which has been interpreted in various ways. While this was originally met by providing students with the Club's limited computing facilities and arranging access to the university's more impressive machines, by the 1980s it involved providing support for hardware and software projects. Justin von Perger described this change in some detail in 1985:

The University Computer Club was formed in 1974 by a group of students wanting to get into computing. Over the years, the club has evolved into an organisation dedicated to providing free access to the club's computers for its members.... Over the last few years, coinciding with the introduction of the home computer, the need for such a service has become much reduced. As a result the Club has decided to turn towards the hardware aspects of computing, giving members the opportunity to design and build projects of their own.

In the late 1980s part of the business of the UCC was also the social life of the Club, a development which highlighted the degree to which the UCC had become comfortably established on campus. By the late 1990s the tension between the understanding of the UCC as a social club and as a special interest club seemed to have been resolved, perhaps because the UCC began stressing projects involving electronic communication.

The projects undertaken by members of the UCC were, of course, determined by these different understandings of the purpose of the Club. In the 1970s when very little was spent on computing - only 1.01% of the University of Western Australia's budget went on computing in 1976 - the UCC concentrated on acquiring computers. Phil Sutherland, who joined the Club in the late 1970s wrote that he joined the UCC because it

[w]as only place I could get my hands on real live computers and do what I wanted to do with them though all hours of day and night. It all seemed important and interesting - come to that it still does.

In the 1980s when computers were much more readily available and the environment was changing to make the need for computers in tertiary education 'more and more evident', the UCC emphasised to a greater extent the provision of support for hardware and software projects. In 1985 Justin von Perger argued that the 'introduction of the home computer' meant that the UCC had begun to concentrate on the 'hardware aspects of computing'.

We feel that the Club would then have something special to offer - a group environment in which members could write cross-assemblers and debug hardware using the Club's computers.

Finally, in the 1990s when computing and electronic communication were so ubiquitous that even the university library's card catalogue was destroyed, the UCC began to emphasise linking up to the Internet and communicating with other computing bodies. Although there were overlaps, the trend appears to be a move from hardware projects to the development of software and from software projects to the use of the Internet.

These varying visions of the purpose of the UCC can, like the changing membership, be set in the context of the history of computing at the University of Western Australia in the past twenty five years. There have been quite major developments in the UCC, mirroring those in the computing community as a whole. There have also been some continuing themes. There is continuity in knowing that in 1980 the UCC club room was 'used for approximately twenty hours per day... for the home base of the dreaded UCC', and that in 1991 the Club was officially advised that it was 'not intended that students shall use Cameron Hall as a residence'. A love of computing and of the UCC seems to be the common link.


Primary Sources

(I) Materials held by the UCC

UCC Publications

University Computer Club: The Ultimate Newsletter, 1.1 (1988).

University Computer Club: The Ultimate Newsletter, 1.2 (1988).

University Computer Club: The Ultimate Newsletter, 2.1 (1989).

University Computer Club: The Ultimate Newsletter, 3 (1990).

Murphy's Lore: The Journal of the University Computer Club, 4.2 (1992).

Murphy's Lore: The Journal of the University Computer Club, 5.1 (1992).

Murphy's Law: Newsletter of the University Computer Club,4.1 (1995). http://www.ucc.gu.uwa.edu.au/infobase/newsltrs/vol4iss1/, downloaded 14/4/1999.

Miscellaneous Papers

Miscellaneous Correspondence, Historical Correspondence, Agendas. (Mostly early 1990s).

The UCC Papers: An unofficial history of a remarkable organisation, compiled by those who wish to conceal the truth, from documents intended to reveal all, for the inspiration of those who follow A souvenir from the University Computer Club's Tenth Anniversary Dinner, September 1984.

The UCC Papers: An unofficial history of a remarkable organisation, compiled by those who wish to conceal the truth, from documents intended to reveal all, for the inspiration of those who follow A souvenir from the University Computer Club's Fifteenth Anniversary Dinner, September 1989.

Financial Records

Miscellaneous Receipt Books, 1980s - 1990s.

Membership Records

Miscellaneous Membership Records, 1980s - 1990s.


Minutes, Miscellaneous Papers 1988 - 1992.

Minute Book, 1993 - 1995.

Minute Book, 1998 - 1999.

(II) Materials held by the University Archives


UWAA 1502 University Clubs and Societies

UWAA 1503/1 University Clubs, General

UWAA 1503/2 University Clubs, General

UWAA 2412 Computing Centre, Policy Committee

UWAA 3106/1A Computer Facilities with the University

UWAA 3106/4 Computer Facilities with the University

UWAA 3106/5 Computer Facilities with the University

UWAA 3106/6 Computer Facilities with the University

UWAA 3106/7 Computer Facilities with the University

UWAA 3905/1 Computer Science

UWAA 3905/2 Computer Science


Executive Committee Minutes of the Faculty of Science, 1975 - 1984. (Miscellaneous).

Faculty of Engineering Minutes, 1975 - 1998. (Miscellaneous).

(III) Private Collections

Jonathan Quinn, Notes taken at the 1989 Fifteenth Anniversary Dinner.

Phil Sutherland, Assorted correspondence.

Weatherburn Mathematics Society, After Math: A Publication of the Weatherburn Society, 4.1 (1976).

Andrew Williams, Copies of the UCC On-line Discussions, 1993 - 1999.

(IV) Materials held by the Guild


University Computer Club Constitutions 1974, 1978, 1980, 1996.


Miscellaneous Correspondence, Historical Correspondence (mostly 1980s and 1990s).

(V) Interviews

David Emrich, 15th April 1999.

Phil Sutherland, 23rd April 1999.

Secondary Sources

Allen-Williams, David. 'Engineering' in Campus in the Community: The University of Western Australia, 1963 - 1987. Ed. B.K. deGaris. Perth: University of Western Australia Press, 1988. 293-304.

deGaris, Brian. 'Teaching and Research - an Overview' in Campus in the Community: The University of Western Australia, 1963 - 1987. 1988. 179-94.

Eames, Charles and Ray Eames. A Computer Perspective: Background to the Computer Age. London: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Glass, Robert L. (Ed.). In the Beginning: Recollections of Software Pioneers. California: IEEE Computer Society, 1998.

Goldberg, Adele (Ed.). A History of Personal Workstations. New York: ACM Press, 1988.

Hartmanis, Juris and Herbert Lin (Eds). Computing the Future: A Broader Agenda for Computer Science and Engineering. Washington: National Academy Press, 1992.

Nash, Stephen G. (Ed.). A History of Scientific Computing. New York: ACM Press, 1990.

Rose, Heather. 'Support Service: Hands and Feet of the University' in Campus in the Community: The University of Western Australia, 1963 - 1987. 1988. 133-50.

Sullivan, Bob. 'Science' in Campus in the Community: The University of Western Australia, 1963 - 1987. 1988. 337-64.

Ward Schofield, Janet. Computers and Classroom Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wilkes, Maurice V. Computing Perspectives. California: Morgan Kaufman, 1995.