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Strategy and vision

Steady guidance as the dust settles

The Heads of School (from the Caulfield and Gippsland campuses that were now part of Monash) and the Heads of Department of the Faculty met in April 1994 to determine a plan for Darvall’s replacement. They agreed that the position of Dean should be advertised as soon as possible. In the interim, Bill Melbourne, long time staff member of the Faculty since 1976 and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (now Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), agreed to take on the position. Melbourne was appointed Dean for a period of six months, from July to December 1994. The understanding was that he would stay in the role until a new, permanent Dean was appointed. During this period Bill Brown continued to be Associate Dean.

When asked about his aims as Dean of Engineering, Bill Melbourne laughingly commented that he ‘had only one objective and that was to find a Dean. I didn't particularly want to stay in the job.’ While a reluctant Dean he may have been, Melbourne’s contribution was hugely significant during the critical period of readjustment that immediately followed the merger years and Darvall’s departure.

Melbourne was already an important figure within the Faculty. He spent his undergraduate years at the University of Adelaide and his postgraduate days at the University of Sydney where he specialised in aeronautical engineering. After some time overseas in London where Melbourne gained his PhD, he began working as an aeronautical engineer at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) in Melbourne. Then, in 1967, Bill Melbourne joined what was then the Department of Mechanical Engineering as a Senior Lecturer in fluid mechanics.

By 1976 he became Head of what is now the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Speaking of Melbourne and his time as Head of Department, colleague John Sheridan commented that Melbourne was an exceptional leader. He had an inclusive and open leadership style, but could be strong, even ‘ruthless’, when necessary. Sheridan commented that over the years as Head of Mechanical Engineering:

He built up a department of quite a diverse group of people, and he knew pretty intimately the strengths and weaknesses of those people, and who to keep an eye on, and who he could let run. It was a very well run department basically; You didn't get the feeling you were involved with the management of the Department, that was clear it was going to be Bill, but at the same time you certainly had a say in what was actually happening in the Department as well. 

In addition to being a talented and strong leader, Melbourne was also a well respected researcher and consultant. He had a strong presence within the University as a result, and had spent various periods as a member of the Monash University Council and on the Academic Board. Bill Melbourne was exactly the kind of leader the Faculty of Engineering needed while it searched for a permanent dean. He was strong, respected and he understood the culture of the Faculty because he had helped to build it. During this key period when a new dean was yet to be appointed and the realities of the tumultuous merger had set in, the leadership that Melbourne provided was critical.