November 2011 Letters

Opinions expressed in the pages of the magazine are those of the signed contributors or the editor and do not necessarily represent the official position of the University of Sydney.

Book Barn Better

Throwing out books is not something that enthuses me. Years ago, in Harvard’s law library, I dug through some law reports of the early 19th century which had been so little read that the shelf had dropped on to them and dust covered my shirt as I read. Yet the cases I read showed the origins of limited liability came from case law on contract, not from Companies Acts.

Another time, at Berkelouw’s in Berrima, I came across the memoir of a press secretary to five Victorian Premiers, which had been thrown out by UNSW Library, perhaps because it had had only one borrowing in 15 years. Yet it was a mine of information on Victorian politics from the ’30s to the ’50s. Not everything is, or will be put or kept, on the internet. Libraries exist to preserve unread treasures as well as today’s academically fashionable tomes. Better to spend money on a barn in the country to store books than just throw them out.

Dr Terry Dwyer (BA ’70 BEc ’74)
Canberra ACT

The University Library has advised that all titles purchased or used in the past five years will remain in the Fisher Library. After academic consultation, all lower use unique titles are being relocated to archival storage and delivered to campus on request. Only a small number of low-use duplicate copies will be removed fom the collection, offered to the University community then sold through the Book Fair. For more information see the Library’s website or contact Acting University Librarian Su Hanfling:

Remember Tom O’Mahony

I have have read with interest the story about Fisher library on page 15 of the July 2011 issue.

I have some personal connection to this Library as my father, also a University of Sydney architecture graduate, was an architect on the project. It was a time of his life he liked to remember, as it was obviously a stimulating and exciting project.

However, over the years the original design architect for the project, Tom O’Mahony, seems to have been written out of the Library’s history. The Sulman Medal, which the building won, was awarded to both Tom and to the Government Architect (represented by Ken Woolley). Tom was in fact the lead designer of the first stage of the design, and responsible for the overall design philosophy of the building.

This is in no way to downplay Ken Woolley’s significant contribution to the project, but I do believe that it is beholden upon the Library to properly acknowledge the role that Tom O’Mahony played in its design. Recent histories focus exclusively on Woolley, without any reference to O’Mahony.

I do need to declare that my father later joined Tom in practice, and worked with him for many years. Tom is now long since dead.
I am probably biased, given my late father’s great affection for it, but I always found Fisher, in terms of its architecture, to be a logical and well thought out building, particularly in comparison to other university libraries such as UNSW or Macquarie.

Richard Neville
(BA ’84 MA ’89)
Mitchell Librarian
State Library of NSW, Sydney NSW

Cudgels At 20 Paces

There it was, staring cheekily back at me from the page. That creeping scourge, the pluralised kilometre designation: kms. I first sighted it on page 26 of the Nov 2010 SAM: a balloon had “climbed to 610m and traveled almost 5kms”. Aghast! The scourge had infected even so erudite a publication as SAM! Leaving aside the matter of the Americanisation of travelled, as any scientist knows, unit abbreviations in the metric system are never pluralised. (The designation “kms” means kilometre seconds, which I’m sure is not what was intended). And apparently the inconsistency of pluralising kilometres but not metres – nor centimetres, elsewhere on the same page – escaped the proofreading stage.

I thought it must be a one-off, but alas, the same error reappeared on the next page. And a couple of additional cases popped up in subsequent pages. Hmmm.

It’s surely time for SAM to take up the cudgels and stamp out this epidemic scourge!

Peter Kruse (BSc (Hons) ’76 PhD ’81)
Second Valley SA

Danger: Teapot

I’ve enjoyed the series of letters relating to belief or non-belief. I accept that an absolute proof of the non-existence of a non-existent entity is unavailable. Yetis, all the gods, leprechauns, Bertrand Russell’s china teapot and many other potential non-existent entities maybe out there.

Using my possibly deluded senses, the lack of objective evidence, reason and logic, leads me to the judgement that the existence of all these entities isn’t plausible and highly improbable.
There is a risk that my judgement maybe proved wrong. While bushwalking, a glowing teapot that has been displaced from its orbit could hit me. As risk-averse as I am, I continue to bushwalk.

Milton Pakes (BE ’69)
Normanhurst NSW

A Motley Crew

Nic Angelov (Letters, March ’11) is correct in saying that there is nothing wrong with patriotism and that it belongs neither to the left nor the right but he omitted to describe the sort of country to which patriotic allegiance should be given. Over the years patriotism has been perverted in some countries, and one need only think of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as prime examples of regimes using patriotism to achieve their own objectives and incidentally illustrating Samuel Johnson’s aphorism that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

A useful statement on Australian patriotism is included in Bob Carr’s essay Advance Australia Fair in his book Thoughtlines (2002). He says that there are three elements: “One is our response to the land itself. It is unique and beautiful. The second is the people, a motley people, an immigrant people, as diverse as any in the world. The third element is the unusual society which resulted from the interaction of that land and that people: a working democracy where the rule of law prevails, where the fairness of policies is the essence of the political debate”.

It is not a tight definition of Australian patriotism but I doubt whether that is possible in modern global society. Our vision of the country to which we owe allegiance depends to a large extent on our value systems. I think it is a positive that Australians have never been comfortable with the hands-on-heart demonstrative patriotism of some countries and the violence at Cronulla by young people draped in Australian flags was abhorrent to both left and right.

James Moore (LLB ’55 MA ’72)
Kingsgrove NSW

Transformational Benefaction

In his overview of the history of philanthropic support for the University, Dr. Michael Spence fails to mention the major gift of £50,000 (equivalent to approximately A$2,000,000 in today’s dollars) to the University by Adolph Basser in 1954 to build Australia’s first digital computer. This was the catalyst for the successful design and development of the SILLIAC computer. The Adolph Basser Computing Laboratory was established in the School of Physics in 1956. A generation of Australian scientists and engineers learned the rudiments of machine programming on the SYLLIAC machine and a diploma course in computing was introduced in 1961. We learn from the University’s historians, Connell, Sherrington, Fletcher, Turney and Bygott, that research and teaching in what was then called Computing Science had expanded to such an extent that the laboratory was given departmental status and the Basser Department of Computing Science was created in 1972. This Department moved out of the Physics Building into the Madsen Building in 1979, after it had been vacated by CSIRO.

In 2001, the Basser Department morphed into the present School of Information Technologies to reflect the breadth and depth of computing-related research and teaching undertaken by the School. It is presently housed in the modern glass and steel structure on Cleveland St. and is part of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies.

Basser’s philanthropic act is a good exemplar of the transformational power of generosity.

Prof Joseph G Davis
School of Information Technologies
University of Sydney

Right-Wing Bias Ahoy

Michael Griggs in his prize-winning letter (July ’11) asserted a strong right-wing bias in the Australian media. However, I am intrigued by his example of the Courier Mail, published by News Ltd, that he claims has greatly influenced the voters of Queensland to be anti-ALP.

Certainly, the Courier Mail is by far the dominant newspaper in Queensland but given this it seems strange, with all this right-wing bias being fed daily to its Queensland readers, the Queensland voters have returned an ALP Government for the past 10+ years. Perhaps these brainwashed voters do not vote in State elections?

John Wilson (BScAgr ’58 DSc ’95)
Chapel Hill QLD

Balance is the Thing

Michael Griggs (Letters, July ’11) perceives right-wing bias in the media. On the other hand, I have perceived a left-wing bias. There are a few right-wing journalists, but the great majority of journalists are left-wing in their political outlook and this shows in their writings.

I think that a perception of political bias in the media depends to a great extent on your own viewpoint. The fact that some people complain of right-wing media bias and some complain of left-wing media bias suggests that the media is overall reasonably balanced.

Alan Templeman (BDS ’57)
Wyoming NSW


The article by Karma Tshering (July ’11) was interesting but I nearly choked as I read all about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.

As an activist with Amnesty International, I was long ago alerted to the fact that Bhutan has a dark secret, when I became friends with a Bhutanese refugee. Who knows – or cares – that Bhutan has generated one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world in proportion to its population? Since 1991 over one-sixth of Bhutan’s people have sought asylum in Nepal, India and other countries around the world.

The vast majority of the refugees are Lhotshampas, one of Bhutan’s three main ethnic groups. There is evidence that the expulsion of large numbers of Lhotshampas (who are mainly Hindus) was planned and executed with meticulous attention to detail.

Over 105,000 Bhutanese have spent more than 20 years living in refugee camps established in Nepal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Not much happiness for these forgotten people.

Marie McInnes (PhD ’10)
University of Sydney
Cumberland Campus (Lidcombe)