Australian ICT stalwart and ACS Fellow Barry de Ferranti has passed away, aged 90.

De Ferranti was an Australian computing pioneer in the truest sense, involved in the engineering team that built SILLIAC, Australia’s first high-speed computer at the University of Sydney in the 1950s.

“It was an exciting and demanding time,” he told a University of Sydney publication in 2006.

“We were a team and we worked hard. My intended bride would stand outside the window and ask when I was coming home.”

The supercomputer, which occupied an entire room in the university physics department, introduced computing to business and paved the way for the computing science department, which opened in 1961.

“SILLIAC and the people around it were able to introduce problem solving as the key use of a computer as opposed to the whizbangery of giant electronic brains, the concept at the time.”

Also working on the project was ACS’ founding President, John Bennett.

De Ferranti once credited the SILLIAC with launching Australia’s IT revolution, as government and industry began looking to computers to solve the problems they faced.

The supercomputer ran until 1968, when the university replaced it with an updated model. Pieces of the computer can still be found on display in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

He also worked alongside ACS Canberra founder Barry Smith – who passed away in 2018 – on three publications, including ‘The present and future use of computers in Australia and employment implications’ in 1976.

Barry de Ferranti working on the SILLIAC computer. Source: ABC

In his time with ACS, de Ferranti was actively involved, convening the Careers and Training Committee.

He was also a contributor to the work of the Community Affairs Board and the Professional Standards Board throughout his time.

During the 1960s, de Ferranti led the Melbourne division of British computing company Ferranti Ltd, where he sold computers to the likes of Monash University.

Prior to this he had worked for IBM and Ferranti Ltd in England.

Tribute from Former ACS CEO, Dennis Furini

“As one of the pioneers in the Australian ICT industry, I really enjoyed his stories about the early days of computing in Australia. Particularly those about SILLIAC and the industry pioneers working on it, where he was employed as a young graduate before joining IBM in the mid to late 50’s.

“Barry was indeed a computer industry pioneer and character who was passionate about its history and its future. He will be missed. RIP Barry.”

Tribute from Dr Mike Bowern, FACS

"I was sad to read that Barry de Ferranti has died. I knew him in the early part of this century when he was advising me on aspects of computer ethics for pieces in Information Age. RIP Barry."