Audio Jurij Semkiw remembers Australia's first computer, 2006

TLF ID R8840

This is an edited sound recording of 77-year-old Jurij Semkiw talking about Australia's first computer, known as CSIRAC (pronounced 'sigh-rack'), which ran its first simple program in 1949. Semkiw, who was a maintenance engineer on CSIRAC, describes the excitement of being involved in a completely new technology. He also describes different predictions about the future of computers. The recording was made in September 2006 and lasts for 2 min 8 s.



Educational details

Educational value
  • The recording reveals the extent to which those involved with CSIRAC were pioneers. Semkiw, who worked on CSIRAC during 1955-64, describes how the computer was a training ground for Australia's first generation of computer scientists. When CSIRAC was first built there was no such thing as formal qualifications in computer science, computer engineering or programming. Many of the founders of the Australian software industry trained on CSIRAC.
  • Australians were among the first in the world to use and develop computers. CSIRAC occupied about 40 square m and was the fourth electronic stored-program computer ever developed. It was developed for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and operated in Sydney and Melbourne from 1949 to 1964. It was preceded by the Baby (1948) and EDSAC (1949) computers in Britain and by the BINAC (1949) computer in the USA.
  • The recording reveals the relative simplicity of CSIRAC. Semkiw says that it had no operating system or software and programs had to be loaded into the machine 'from scratch'. Programs and data were fed into CSIRAC on punched paper tape. Calculations were up to 1,000 times faster on CSIRAC than the best mechanical calculators available at the time, but it still took hours, even days, to develop a program and run it through the computer.
  • Semkiw stresses that CSIRAC had very little memory compared with modern computers. CSIRAC's main memory comprised a series of metal tubes containing mercury known as 'acoustic delay lines'. The storage capacity was only about 2,000 bytes compared with 100 billion bytes (100 GB) in many laptops half a century later.
  • In this recording, Semkiw relates how in the early years of computer use there were widely differing views about the future of computers. He says that some people involved with CSIRAC thought Australia might need one or two more large computers. Others, including himself, believed it could be the beginning of phenomenal growth in computer use throughout all sections of society, as has indeed occurred.
  • CSIRAC was the first computer in the world to play music and was also used for simple computer games. Australia's first computer programmer, mathematician Geoff Hill, chose the 'Colonel Bogey march' to be the first tune, with the first public performances in June 1951. One of the first games was called 'The way the ball bounces' and involved a player flicking a switch and CSIRAC trying to predict the next move based on the player's past choices.

Other details

Contributors
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 20 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Remarks: Copyright Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Content provider
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 2006
  • Name: Jurij Semkiw
  • Remarks: speaker
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
Learning resource type
  • Sound
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Operating systems
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Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.

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