‘Nobody can deny that the course demands hard work’, wrote Foundation Dean Ken Hunt in 1967 about engineering at Monash. Engineering students have always had some of the highest number of contact hours of all university students. ‘It was not overwhelming but it was certainly hard work’, comments Alan Finkel, reflecting on his days as an engineering undergraduate at Monash University in the early 1970s. John Bertrand, another undergraduate student from this era, similarly remembered the demands placed on him as a student. He reflected, ‘I certainly worked my tail off the whole time … unlike perhaps the Arts students who seemed to have more time to be able to do stuff that we read about but weren’t really involved in’.
Several decades later the situation remained the same – course loads and expectations had not decreased. Dariel de Sousa, an undergraduate during the 1980s, remembers:
Tuesday mornings which were basically back to back … we started at eight o’clock and finished at one o’clock – one lecture after another in the same room … no breaks in between so that was pretty full on.
It was almost like a work day, comments Clive Weeks, another former undergraduate. ‘You’d arrive at the university and your first lecture would be nine o’clock, and often you didn’t finish prac until after five o’clock.’ A quick glance at the timetable for engineering students confirms that the engineering degree was one of the more demanding of undergraduate courses at Monash. It was expected that students would spend around 25 contact hours at the University a week.
During the hours between lectures and laboratory classes or pracs, students were encouraged to study in the library. John Bertrand remembers spending long hours in the library ‘endeavouring to figure out what the hell was going on with my course’. ‘Occasionally’, however, remembers Clive Weeks, ‘we sneaked off to a pub at lunchtime and played a bit of pool or sat in the Hargrave Café’. Peter Rogers, one of the foundation students in engineering, remembers the Hargrave Cafeteria was ‘“the” cafeteria at the time … so that provided a hub and no doubt a lot of things happened in the caf’. Clive Weeks agreed, recalling that:
The Hargrave Café was smoke-filled, there was always people in it. When people weren’t at lectures or tutes, they would I guess migrate to the Hargrave Café and have a cup of coffee, play cards. It really was a central meeting place for Engineering and Science students.
Many past graduates remember the lectures themselves as being ‘pretty unexciting’. ‘In those days [it was] a pretty conservative Engineering School’, remarked John Bertrand; there was ‘very little communication in many cases between lecturer and student’. ‘You sat there’, says Gary Codner, ‘the lecturer wrote on the blackboard and you copied it down’. ‘It was chalk and talk type of didactic teaching’, Alan Finkel remembers. ‘The lectures were pretty long and extensive’, recalled Bertrand, ‘the ways of teaching in those days was pretty basic’.
However, not all recall lectures and lecturers in this way. Some former students fondly recall that many of the lecturers were memorable and left a lasting impression. ‘We had very good lecturers’, Finkel remembers. ‘The absolute stand-out [for me] was Douglas Lampard.’ He described one instance in which the usual lecturer did not appear. Lampard, after walking past and seeing the lecture theatre unattended and becoming increasingly disordered, stepped up and spontaneously started lecturing. ‘He just started writing equations and functions and special conditions, and delivered an absolutely eloquent lecture on this complex piece of mathematics.’ For Bertrand, Bill Melbourne was a particularly memorable teacher. ‘A lot of it was a pretty bland type of lecturer until you came across people like Bill Melbourne who was animated and obviously passionately involved, and the classes lit up.’