Celebrating a Collector

Engineering and IT Collection

This small, unprepossessing object has a story to tell. It has only survived because of the collecting instincts of John McCutchan, Senior Lecturer and former head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, who died in August this year.

In the 1930s, Senior Lecturer in electrical engineering E.B. Brown had undertaken research on tachometer generators, which generate a voltage proportional to their shaft speed and can be used to measure the speed of engines.

In 1940, Brown and his colleague Frank Sublet established the Synchrotac Instrument Co, to build and supply tachometers for the war effort. Sublet was seconded from the University by the Commonwealth Department of Supply to manage the company. Production was initially directed to making quadrature tachometers for all multi-engine aircraft built in Australia, including for the aircraft factories at Fishermans Bend. After the war, Synchrotac continued to manufacture tachometers for ‘the workshop, factory, farm, boat, garage, laboratory etc.’

John McCutchan joined the power group in 1958, and he rescued many items when they were about to be discarded, stashing them in the power labs. When he retired, he built an extension to his garage to store them. The tachometer and other important instruments, images and records rescued by John were returned to the FEIT collection over the past several years.

John McCutchan made many contributions to education and research in his discipline and Department over 37 years at the University. As well as his influence on his profession and generations of electrical engineers, he has left a continuing presence on campus, in the design and layout of the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Building, and in the electrical engineering section of the FEIT Cultural Collection