Engineering alumni go back to the future

La Trobe University Bendigo’s past and future converged when engineering alumni from 1968 – when the campus was two or three buildings in a paddock – toured its new state-of-the-art science and engineering precinct.

12 former students met at the Bendigo campus on Thursday 22 November, as part of the group’s 50 year reunion celebrations.

The all-male cohort started their four-year Civil Engineering Diploma at what was then known as the Bendigo Institute of Technology (BIT), on the present-day site of Bendigo TAFE in McCrae Street.

BIT later merged with the Bendigo Teacher’s College to form successor organisations, which eventually became the Bendigo campus of La Trobe University in the 1990s.

Reunion organiser and retired civil engineer, Ian Fisher, said the Flora Hill campus was opened just before the group started their final year in 1968.

“Our building was in the middle of a big paddock. There was very little in the way of student services, and very few courses on offer there,” he said.

When considering how the industry has changed in recent decades, Mr Fisher described his cohort as “the last of the dinosaurs”.

“We used seven-figure log books to do all our calculations, such as working out angles and structural calculations. It was very slow and laborious,” he said.

Computers were gradually introduced to the industry over subsequent years.

“We were always in catch up mode when computers came on the scene – we were the last in the office to feel confident using them,” Mr Fisher said.

“They were amazing for the industry though – there was a really significant improvement in productivity,” he said.

Almost the whole 1968 cohort had successful careers in the engineering industry, including in state and local government, as well as private corporations.

“The course was excellent. None of us had any problem getting a job after we graduated,” Mr Fisher said.

The qualification took the group – almost all originally from regional Victoria – to many and varied locations, including Queensland, Western Australia and Bangkok.

Mr Fisher said the campus changes that had taken place over the last 50 years are remarkable.

“The campus as it is now bears no resemblance to the place where we studied all those years ago,” Mr Fisher said.

Head of Campus, Rob Stephenson, said he enjoyed welcoming the cohort back to campus.

“I talked about ongoing developments, including the nearly complete state-of-the-art engineering and technology building, and the increasingly important role that STEM skills have in preparing students for the jobs of the future,” he said.

“The recent establishment on campus of the Bendigo Tech School provides further opportunities to ensure that regional Victorian students have access to the best possible educational opportunities,” Mr Stephenson said.

The 1968 cohort toured the campus’ new science and engineering precinct, and met current La Trobe University engineering students and staff.