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Bill Melbourne

Bill Melbourne head shot

Full Name: William Melbourne

Original Appointment at Monash: Senior Lecturer, Mechanical Engineering

Date of Commencement: 1967

Date of Retirement: 1999

Bill Melbourne was born on 8 November 1934 and grew up in Adelaide with a fascination for aeroplanes. By the time he was 17, Melbourne had gained his pilot’s licenses and was fixed on becoming an engineer. He spent two years at the University of Adelaide before moving to Sydney to finish his degree at the University of Sydney – as it was the only place you could do aeronautical engineering at the time.

After graduating from his undergraduate degree, Melbourne began working at the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury and Woomera. A year later, he set off overseas. He travelled to England and began working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. It wasn’t long before Melbourne had enrolled in a PhD at Imperial College London. He comments that his time overseas was:

A huge excuse for nothing else than to go climbing and mountaineering. My objective was nothing to do with engineering whatsoever. I was at the Imperial College for three or four years, of which half the time I was on mountaineering expeditions to the Andes and other places, and spent ten months travelling down through Africa and South America, and overland trips and things like that …

audio file
Interview with Bill Melbourne (audio)

Despite his emphasis on extra-curricular activities, Melbourne successfully completed his PhD and then, in 1961, he returned to Australia and began working as an aeronautical engineer at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne. It had long been Melbourne’s ambition to design aeroplanes – and it was exactly this that occupied him at ARL. He was involved in the redesign of the Jindivick, an unmanned aerial vehicle, and then the design of the Victa Aircruiser and Airtourer. It was at this time that funding cuts were forcing a decrease in the number of aeroplane designers in Australia. When the Victa Aircruiser program that Melbourne had been working closely on was cut, he decided it was time to look elsewhere.

Melbourne recalls:

I first heard about Monash University in probably the middle '60s … I was working at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Fisherman's Bend, I was an aeronautical engineer in those days. Of course I was associated with the University of Melbourne, and Ormond College, tutoring, and also, because we were technically involved with anything to do with fluid mechanics, we were associated with the university there at Melbourne, and then subsequently at Monash, and that's of course how I eventually came to come to Monash, which was in 1967.

melbourne application letter
Application letter

Ron Barden, then Head of Mechanical Engineering at Monash, approached Melbourne directly.

Melbourne joined Monash as a Senior Lecturer teaching Fluid Mechanics in 1967. For Melbourne, the transition to academia from industry was relatively smooth, as had been directly involved in research throughout his time at ARL. Initially he taught subjects on fluid mechanics and solid mechanics. Gradually his research interests moved from aeronautical engineering to wind engineering. Melbourne was instrumental in establishing the Wind Tunnel testing and research facility for which Monash Engineering is renowned. The Wind Tunnel is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and is used by students, staff and industry partners for aeronautical and wind engineering research and testing.

In February 1975 Bill Melbourne became the Chair of Fluid Mechanics.  Just over a year later, in 1976, Melbourne took over from John Crisp as Head of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He remained Head of the Department almost consistently for the next 25 years. Melbourne was then made Acting Dean from July 1994 when Peter Darvall left to take up the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor. He remained Dean until the appointment of Michael Brisk in early 1995.

Melbourne offer of Chair

While he was working at Monash, Melbourne, like many of his colleagues, was involved in a number of consulting and research projects for industry. Based on his consulting experience at Monash, Melbourne started his own company, MEL Consultants – a wind engineering consultancy specialising in determining the wind effects on buildings, structures and the environment.

In order to spend more time in his consultancy, Bill Melbourne retired from Monash University in 1999, and was bestowed with the title Emeritus Professor.

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