Happy 50th, Victoria!

Damjan Vukcevic & Ian Gordon
11 May 2014

The year was 1964.

As The Australian first went to print, and The Beatles held the top six spots on the Australian record charts, a group of statisticians gathered in Melbourne to form the Victorian Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia.

The inaugural meeting, held on 2 April 1964, attracted a diverse group of 77 people. They came from a remarkably wide range of organisations, including many government departments, both federal (aviation, postal, traffic, military) and state (electricity, water, forestry, roads), a range of industries (insurance, banking, chemicals, manufacturing, automotive, architecture), as well as many university departments (statistics, mathematics, economics, chemistry, education, dentistry) and CSIRO research divisions.

Prof. Evan Williams, elected as the first president of the Branch, presented a talk at this meeting on ‘The Future of Statistical Practice’. His thesis was that the standing of the profession depends on the quality of its practice, and that this can be best advanced by thoroughly training the practitioners. He suggested that such training should include:

  • A grounding in mathematical and statistical theory
  • Experience working on practical problems with a team of experienced practitioners
  • The inculcation of ‘research-mindedness’, the ability to identify and solve new problems and develop them to the point of practical application.

This April, the Victorian Branch commemorated its 50th year. To honour the occasion, we were privileged to hear from Prof. Terry Speed, who was one of the attendees at the inaugural meeting in 1964 and is today one of our most respected members. Terry talked about ‘big data’ and the role of statisticians, a topic of much interest and concern for our profession.

The lecture attracted more than 130 people, leaving standing room only and most likely setting an all-time record for a Victorian Branch event!

A cocktail party followed the lecture, giving us an opportunity to mingle, talk with Terry, and also meet two other distinguished guests: Alison Harcourt (née Doig) and Geoff Watterson, who were both members of the first Branch Council. We were delighted they could make it to the celebration. Terry, Alison, Geoff and two other guests, Jane Matthews and Clem Pratt, made a total of five attendees who were among those at the 1964 gathering.

Special guests at the 50th anniversary celebrations
Special guests at the 50th anniversary celebrations: (from left) Geoff Watterson, Alison Harcourt, Lyle Gurrin (current president, SSA Vic), Terry Speed, Jane Matthews, Clem Pratt

Earlier on the same day, a new lecture theatre named in honour of Evan Williams was officially opened at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne. This was a fitting and timely tribute for our first Branch president. In 1964, Evan had just been appointed as the Professor of Statistics (at the University of Melbourne), succeeding Professor Maurice Belz. Evan made contributions to regression analysis, the design of experiments, multivariate analysis, and the foundations of inference. He was a generous servant to the Society, in the role of president of the Victorian Branch twice (1964 and 1979-1980), as national president 1973-1975, and editor of the Australian Journal of Statistics from 1978-1983. He was awarded an honorary life membership in 1981, and received the Pitman medal in 1993.

We acknowledge the assistance of the Archives of the University of Melbourne, where early records of the Victorian Branch are stored.

A version of this article was published in the June 2014 issue of the SSAI Newsletter.