Civil

CDP inclinometers along a concrete beam designed to aid work of Professor Peter Darvall
CDP inclinometers along a concrete beam designed to aid work of Professor Peter Darvall

One of Foundation Dean Professor Ken Hunt’s first academic staff appointments in the Faculty of Engineering was civil engineer Noel Murray, a PhD student and close colleague of Vice-Chancellor Louis Matheson who asked Murray to come to Monash. He was appointed by Hunt in 1961 as a specialist staff member of the then department-less Faculty of Engineering. Murray had graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Adelaide, before embarking on a PhD at the University of Manchester. When, in 1963, four separate departments were established within the Faculty of Engineering, Noel Murray became the Foundation Chairman and Professor of the Department of Civil Engineering. Murray was influential in the department’s rapid expansion.

In 1964, the Department of Civil Engineering academic staff list looked as follows:

Civil Engineering

 Professor: Noel William Murray
 Senior lecturers: Ian Boyd Donald
  Reginald McPherson
  George Ivan Nicholas Rozvany
Lecturers: Harvey McClelland Dickson
  Claus Gloe

According to the undergraduate handbook in 1964, nearly a third of all Engineering students were specialising in Civil Engineering. Almost from the beginning Murray began to focus the department into four areas of civil engineering: structures, geomechanics, water and transport. Murray insisted that if the department was to maintain a strong focus in each of these four areas of civil engineering, at least three academic staff members were required in each area. This minimum-three-staff-per-group recruitment policy was enacted by the mid-1970s with great success.

Portions of Westgate Bridge, used as teaching aid in Civil Engineering
Portions of Westgate Bridge, used as teaching aid in Civil Engineering

Clive Weeks joined Monash University as a block exemption student just as the Department of Civil Engineering was being established. Thinking back to his time as an undergraduate, Weeks reflected, ‘one of the things I think that set Monash apart at that stage was the staff were young and dynamic and wanting to build something’.

By the mid-1970s the Department of Civil Engineering had well over 200 students and more than twenty academic staff members, and had successfully established specialist groups addressing four areas of civil engineering; structures, geomechanics, water and transport. It is these sub-groups or sub-specialties that make Civil Engineering at Monash University so successful. Civil Engineering taught at other universities has often focused mainly on structural engineering or fluid mechanics. Monash University’s approach to Civil Engineering with these four focus areas meant that students were able to get a broader education. Chris Powell, currently resources manager within the department, recalls during the earlier days when technical staff numbers almost mirrored academic staff numbers, providing great support and assistance with teaching and research. While the numbers today are not as balanced as they were, technical staff in the department continue to provide a high level of teaching and research support and assistance. As undergraduates, Clive Weeks, Roger Olds and Gary Codner all remember Engineering being very much a 9–5 course and Engineering students as being very dedicated. ‘Oh sometimes there was a bit of larrikinism, but it was all good fun and I think most people were really there to learn.’ The course was based on pass by years so a level of camaraderie between students and staff was developed during the program. 

Civil Engineering laboratories
Civil Engineering laboratories

Peter Darvall recalls being thrown into the deep end when starting as a lecturer in the department in 1970. Teaching a first year Mechanics and Structures course for the entire first year Engineering student body, he ‘became used to large lecture theatres full of boisterous young people’. ‘The lecture theatres in those days were full of paper aeroplanes, that was just standard’, reflects Gary Codner. In late 1970, the Department of Civil Engineering reported to the full Faculty a major change to the course structure in Civil which was the introduction of two streams in the final year – structurally oriented stream and an environmental engineering stream. This streaming ended in the 1980s with the unitisation of the program and the self selection of electives in the four key research areas by students. The 1980s also saw the introduction of combined degrees with Economics, Science, Law and Arts, and Civil Engineering.

As well as shaping the department into four groups of Civil Engineering, while he was head, Noel Murray also instigated international collaborations between the Department of Civil Engineering and various international academics. He instituted a program whereby talented young academics from overseas, mostly Europe, were invited to work within the department for a year. When the amalgamation between Monash University and Chisholm Institute of Technology occurred, the Department of Civil Engineering was particularly affected, because for a short time, separate undergraduate courses in Civil Engineering were run both at the Clayton campus and the Caulfield campus. It was not until 1998 that the Faculty of Engineering established a common first year across all of its campuses. All staff and students in Civil Engineering moved to the  Clayton campus by 2002, with Bill Young moving from Head of the Caulfield Division to Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. Like Caulfield, the Gippsland campus also altered its course to complement the Clayton course. By 2003 a new Bachelor of Civil and Environmental Engineering program was set up at Gippsland under the guidance of William Young. The School of Applied Science and Engineering took over administration of this program.

Bridge building competition for civil engineering students
Bridge building competition for civil engineering students

Engineering at Monash has been fairly autonomous and industry focused from the beginning; and the Department of Civil Engineering is no exception. The department’s involvement during the investigation into the collapse of the West Gate Bridge in the 1970s was arguably responsible for bringing Monash into the foreground of academic and industrial partnerships. While perhaps the most prominent, this was by no means the only industrial connection within the Department of Civil Engineering. The establishment of the four specialist groups within the department gave rise to various other industrial collaborations and workshops.


The Department of Civil Engineering continues to be one of the biggest departments in Engineering, and the initial four area focus established by Murray gives Civil Engineering at Monash a unique and dynamic multi-focus. In 2011, the department has over 37 academic and research staff, 25 administrative and technical staff, 20 associates and 100 postgraduate students. The department also has strong associations with a number of different institutions and organisations outside of the University, including the Institute of Sustainable Water Resources (ISWR), Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CWSC), Cooperative Research Centre eWater, Institute of Transport Studies, and the Management and Prediction of Pipe Bursts (MAPPS). 


(Updated Jun 15, 2011) Printed on: