Ken Hunt

ken hunt

Full Name: Kenneth Henderson Hunt

Original Appointment at Monash: Foundation Chair of Engineering

Date of Application: 11 March 1959

Date of Commencement:13 June 1960

Date of Retirement: 31 December 1985

Kenneth Henderson Hunt was born on 7 June 1920 in Sussex, England. He studied at Oxford University, graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering Science in 1941, and a Master of Engineering in 1945. In 1942, during World War II, Hunt was commissioned in the Royal Engineers, serving in field units in the United Kingdom and Sicily. He was later relocated to the Mechanical Equipment Section in North Africa and Italy. Hunt was also an Instructor and Senior Instructor at army colleges in Italy and Austria. He was discharged from the army at the rank of Major at the end of 1946.

After his army service, Hunt worked as an Engineer in the Research Department of Gas Light and Coke Company in London and then as a Process Design Engineer for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP), also in London.

Cover of Hunt CV
Cover of Hunt's CV

In 1949, Hunt relocated to Melbourne, taking up a lectureship in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne. By the end of the 1950s he had been promoted to Senior Lecturer. Looking for a new challenge, in March 1959, Hunt responded to the advertisement for a Chair of Engineering at the newly established Monash University. It wasn’t until the end of June 1959 that Hunt was advised that he had been shortlisted for the Chair. Then, he had to wait a further seven months until the Staff Sub-Committee reached their unanimous decision to recommend Hunt to the Interim Council for appointment to the Foundation Chair of Engineering. Acting Chair of the Interim Council at Monash University, Sir Walter Bassett commented on Hunt’s referrals, saying ‘he has an excellent reputation as a teacher, is a fluent speaker, goes to great pains in all his teaching work and is deservedly popular with students’.

Vice-Chancellor Louis Matheson was keen for Hunt to start his new post immediately. He applied considerable pressure to the University of Melbourne to release Hunt accordingly. However, they resisted, only releasing Hunt to Monash on the proviso that he see out his teaching commitments, completing his lectures in Mechanical Engineering as well as setting and marking the exam papers. On 11 March 1960 a press release was sent to local and regional newspapers advertising Hunt’s appointment. The soon to be Professor Hunt was 39 years of age at the time of his appointment, and was married with three children. 

hunt telex

Along with Matheson, the Interim Council and the earliest staff appointees, Hunt began to build and shape the new university and the Faculty of Engineering. It was a busy and productive time as Hunt and a steadily growing group of Engineering staff laid the foundations of the Faculty. Finding appropriately qualified staff was a priority for Hunt and Matheson. In order to ensure that the best possible staff were recruited, Hunt travelled overseas – searching in particular for Professors of Chemical Engineering and Fluid Mechanics. He was also invited to attend a conference at Yale, so he planned an around the world trip, visiting universities in California, the Chicago-Michigan area, Boston and New York. So important was his recruiting drive that Hunt’s trip was approved even though it coincided with the official opening of Monash University. 

On 6 July 1961, Hunt was appointed for five years as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. Before this point, while he had been the only Professor in the Faculty, he was not officially its leader. Interestingly, however, Hunt’s deanship was not, at this point, a full time position. Rather, it was a role that he performed in addition to his teaching and research. It wasn’t until 1966 that Hunt became full-time Dean, and was relieved of the majority of his other duties:

Professor K H Hunt, who for the past five years has combined the duties of Professor of Applied Mechanics and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, has accepted the University Council’s invitation to occupy the new position of full-time Dean of that Faculty. Professor Hunt will assume the duties of full-time Deanship on the 20 June 1966. 

By 1966 as well as finally being able to concentrate on being Dean, Hunt’s family had increased by two. Hunt and his wife Marian now had five children: twins Tanya and Elizabeth, John, Hugh and Rosanne. That same year, he was also appointed as a representative to the Victorian Institute of Colleges.

Hunt had a variety of different overseas teaching experiences. From December 1966 until August 1967 he worked at the Georgian Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. From here he visited the UK, then came back to Australia via the Middle East Technical University, near Ankara and the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering in Bangkok.

As well as his role as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Hunt was also acting Vice- Chancellor when the Vice-Chancellor was absent from the University. His longest period in the role was from July 1969 to June 1970.

ken hunt-3
Celebration of 10th birthday of Robert Blackwood Hall. Dean of Engineering Professor Ken Hunt (left) with Lady Chamberlin, Sir Robert Blackwood and Sir Lindesay Clark, 1981.

In November 1973, Hunt wrote an official memo declaring his intention to retire as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering by 31 December 1975. It took all of these intervening years for the Faculty and University to determine a plan for the Foundation Dean’s replaced. After he stepped down as Dean, Hunt became Professor of Mechanism within the Faculty – the first Chair of Mechanism in Australia. In April 1976 Hunt returned to the United Kingdom for six months to spend time in a visiting position at Liverpool Polytechnic, as well as visiting other universities in the UK and attending a conference in Montreal. 

Hunt was involved in various committees. He was invited to become a member of the Victorian State Committee of CSIRO in 1979, as well as becoming involved with the Victorian College of the Arts. He served five years as a Commissioner of the Health Commission of Victoria and Vice President of the Australian Arts Council. Hunt was also an avid music lover. He was twice member of the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne, as well as Vice President of Music Viva Society. He was also a Patron of the Musical Society and the Lieder Society.

Hunt retired from Monash University in 1985, at which point he was bestowed with the title Emeritus Professor. In 1986 a document titled ‘Kenneth Henderson Hunt: An Appreciation’ was tabled at a Professorial Board meeting:

Through his selection of colleagues and associates he has consistently sought excellence, to match his own. Through his administrative and management practices he has invariably built cooperative, lively, productive teams. Through his sensitive, balanced advices he has frequently ensured sanity. Through his oratory he has guided and impressed many. Through all of his erudite endeavours he has deservedly gained the attention and the respect of all. It is the university’s gain that his talents, his presence, his friendship will persist yet.

ken hunt-2
Emeritus Professor Ken Hunt giving an occasional address at a graduation in 1986.

Throughout his career Hunt was the recipient of a number of awards and prizes including: the Proctor & Gambler Prize, American Society of Engineers (1972); Melville Medal, American Society of Engineers (1977); Kernot Memorial Medal, University of Melbourne (1979); A.G.M. Mitchell Medal, Institution of Engineers Australia (1979); Peter Nicol Russell Medal, Institution of Engineers Australia (1983). In 1986 Hunt was awarded the ASME Design Engineering Award, Mechanisms Committee of ASME, which is an honour rarely given to overseas candidates. In 1990 he was made a Fellow of ASME. Hunt was also a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK), the Institution of Engineers (Australia), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences.

Ken Hunt worked tirelessly to establish and build the Faculty of Engineering, insisting on quality research, teaching, industry engagement and the pursuit of academic excellence. At an event organised to honour and farewell Hunt upon his retirement, fellow Faculty of Engineering colleague Peter Darvall penned and recited the poem ‘The Baron Hunt’ – a comical, but affectionate tribute to the Faculty of Engineering’s first Dean. He was an exceptional scholar, teacher and leader, whose legacy is tangible in the Faculty of Engineering today.

audio file  The Baron - poem written and narrated by Peter Darvall (audio)

(Updated Jun 8, 2011) Printed on: