Peter Darvall AO

peter darvall headshot

Full Name: Peter Le Poer Darvall

Original Appointment at Monash: Lecturer, Civil Engineering

Date of Application: 1970

Date of Commencement: 4 March 1970

Date of Retirement: 2003

Peter Darvall completed his secondary education at Scotch College, Melbourne, matriculating in 1958. He went on to undertake a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne, graduating with Honours in 1963. Darvall then travelled to America where he became a Research Assistant at Ohio State University. It was there that Darvall completed a Master of Science. Darvall then spent three months surveying the Casement Glacier in Alaska. From the United States he travelled to London, where he started working with Freeman Fox & Partners, a group of consulting engineers. In April 1966 Darvall spent four months as a site engineer for Tel F’arin archaeological dig in the Nile Delta, Egypt.

Senator John Button (centre), Professor Ray Martin (right) and Staff Association President Dr Peter Darvall, after address on future of tertiary education and role of universities in society, 1978
Senator John Button (centre), Professor Ray Martin (right) and Staff Association President Dr Peter Darvall, after address on future of tertiary education and role of universities in society, 1978

Between 1966 and 1969 Darvall was once again based in America – at Princeton University, where he completed his Master of Science in Engineering (1967), Master of Arts (1968) and PhD (1969). It was during this period that he began teaching second year engineering students. Despite his time overseas, Darvall was positive that he wanted to return to Australia, and did so at the end of 1969, together with his wife and two children. He began working for Maunsell and Partners, a group of consulting engineers based in Melbourne. He worked with them for several months before applying for the position of Lecturer in Civil Engineering at Monash University. Darvall remembers:

I made enquiries, and went and saw Professor Noel Murray and met some others in the Faculty, and they seemed to be very enthusiastic, gung-ho, going places kinds of people, so it looked good to me. An opportunity to teach structures just sounded wonderful.

On receiving his application, Noel Murray wrote to the Academic Registrar. He reported that five applications were received, but that the department wished to offer the position to Darvall. ‘Dr Darvall has an excellent record and referees reports and his interests and experiences are precisely in the fields where our greatest needs are.’ The Dean, Ken Hunt also wrote to the Academic Registrar stating that he was already familiar with Darvall, having taught him as a student at the University of Melbourne.

Darvall commenced as a lecturer at Monash University on 4 March 1970. By 1974 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer. Then, in 1979 he was elected president of the Federation of Australian University Staff Association (FAUSA). He remained president until 1981. In January 1985 Darvall was promoted to Reader in Civil Engineering. That same year he attended the Second International Conference on Computing in Civil Engineering in China.

New Dean of Engineering, Professor Peter Darvall (centre left) celebrating with faculty members, 1988
New Dean of Engineering, Professor Peter Darvall (centre left) celebrating with faculty members, 1988

In September 1987, Darvall applied for the position of Dean of Engineering. With his long service in the Faculty of Engineering, his highly regarded teaching and research skills, and his leadership experience, the decision was unanimous. The Monash University Council Committee for the Appointment of the Deanship of the Faculty of Engineering recommended that Peter Darvall be offered an appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. A memo from the Committee in 1987 noted:

During his career at Monash, Darvall has been actively involved in the policy, planning, politics and administration associated with tertiary education. He has been a member of Council for several years, serving on many of its committees as well as on faculty and department committees. He has been president of SAMU and of FAUSA, and has in that context been a strong defender of Australian universities, leading a national campaign on research funding and instigating numerous submissions to governments, politicians and industry.

audio file
Julie Fraser on Peter Darvall (audio)

Former staff during Darvall’s early period as Dean recall that he was often in and around the Faculty – talking to students, and academic and general staff. He was highly personable and well regarded. Many have remarked that there was a highly social and convivial atmosphere in the Faculty during this time. 

Darvall was Dean of Engineering during the mergers between Gippsland, Caulfield and Monash. It was a challenging time and Darvall was faced with the difficult task of guiding and even coaxing his staff through the mergers. He recalls:

There was a lot of fear and loathing involved … I can remember standing out in front of a lecture theatre full of academics in the Faculty at Clayton saying why we had to do it, and they all knew that I was not myself convinced.

Dean of Engineering Professor Peter Darvall accepting Institute of Engineers Award from Mrs Hazel Hawke, 1990.
Dean of Engineering Professor Peter Darvall accepting Institution of Engineers Award from Mrs Hazel Hawke, 1990.

His strong and charismatic leadership, however, saw that despite the mergers, Darvall was reappointed Dean for a further term of five years in 1993. In this same year he also began to take on duties for the University. He commenced working for the Vice-Chancellor as a part-time industry liaison, coordinating cooperative education arrangements and continuing education. Initially this was on a fractional, part time basis. However, by July 1993, Darvall had been temporarily appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).

By December 1993 Darvall had been appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development) on a full time basis, signalling the official end of his Deanship. In August 2002 Darvall was appointed Vice-Chancellor, leading the University through a difficult and tumultuous period. He held the high-profile post until his retirement a year later. Darvall was conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) by Monash University in 2004 and was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in 2007.

(Updated Jun 9, 2011) Printed on: