ICT Pioneers and Leaders



SILLIAC, the first automatic computer built in Australia within an Australian university, was a copy of ILLIAC, the first automatic computer built at the University of Illinois, USA. Sir Adolph Basser donated 50 000 pounds in February 1954 (later doubled to 100 000 pounds) to the then Nuclear Research Foundation, founded by Professor Harry Messel, to enable the Australian version to be built. The computer was constructed in the School of Physics and at Standard Telephones and Cables Pty Ltd (now Alcatel Australia), Sydney, during 1955 and 1956. The first successful scientific calculation on the machine was performed on 4 July 1956 with SILLIAC officially opened by Sir John Northcott, Governor of NSW and Administrator of the Commonwealth of Australia, on 12 September 1956.

At the time of SILLIAC’s construction only one other computer was already in operation in Australia. This first computer CSIR Mk1 was designed and constructed by staff at the CSIRO Radiophysics Laboratory from 1945 to 1949 when the Laboratory was located in what is now the Madsen Building on the University of Sydney campus. This computer was dismantled in 1955 and reassembled at the University of Melbourne. It was renamed CSIRAC and the Laboratory in which it was housed was opened on 14 June 1956. CSIRAC is now on display at the Museum of Victoria.

Why did CSIRAC move to Melbourne rather that relocate to one of the two universities in Sydney? Planning for SILLIAC and another computer, UTECOM, was well advanced and it was realised that a further computer was not required at a university in Sydney. The computer UTECOM was bought "off the shelf" from the UK company, English Electric.