Henry Payne was next person to lead the Engineering Faculty, and he arrived in 1910 fresh from building an engineering school in South Africa. Although Payne did not have a university degree, his education and experience was vast, and he was deemed a leader in both Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Payne was apparently quite appalled with what he found in Melbourne, he reported that there was a lack of balance in some existing subjects, an absence of ‘fundamental subjects’ such as Electrical Engineering and Machine Design, and the lack of any experimental or laboratory work in prime movers, mechanical engineering and hydraulics.

Payne presented a comprehensive plan to The University Council, intent on rectifying the above problems, and implementing the recommendations required to gain approval from the Institute of Civil Engineers in London. Payne believed the task was to establish Mechanical and Electrical Engineering on a sound footing, which required three new staff immediately, a new building costed at £29,000 and a further £15,000 for new equipment.

Beyond the University, engineering was becoming quite an appealing profession, as was the value of being a ‘home-bred’ engineer, educated in the natural conditions of Australia. In 1910, the Argus reported that engineering was ‘a profession which contributes immediately to national greatness, especially in a young country where rapid growth of wealth and industry is expected’. The Argus then goes on to say that sooner or later, the ‘inefficiency in the Engineering School at the University will be found to have held Victoria back in comparison with its sister states and with other parts of the world; and thus among all branches of professional education, there is not one which the government should be more anxious to help’. Later that year, the Premier of Victoria agreed that the Engineering School was the ‘principal reproach of the University’ and hastily agreed to provide £30,000 for buildings and equipment.

Payne designed the lecture theatre of the new building himself, and in 1913–14 he secured the new equipment, including three prime movers; a ‘Kerr’ turbine of 60 horsepower, a Bellis and Morcom high-speed two-cylindered compound balanced engine of the same power, and a 40 hp ‘Polar’ diesel oil engine. By 1911, only one year into his term, Payne had succeeded in making a Degree in Electrical Engineering available. By 1914 the new building was open, and Melbourne’s population had reached 670,000, with 108 people enrolled in engineering.

Payne believed all students should have a common foundational knowledge of all branches of engineering, with specialist knowledge of one branch. He altered the curriculum to lighten the load of the first year and incorporated a specialist subject into second year (from there the courses diverged more significantly). The grounding in the basic sciences and mathematics was strong, but only to ensure their better application to real-world engineering problems. Students also took five consecutive weeks of workshop experience between first and second year; surveying experience between second and third year, and appropriate engineering experience between third and fourth year. The subsequent one year of engineering experience after fourth year was also retained.

By the time Payne introduced these changes, engineers in Melbourne with formal education had just begun to outnumber those with vocational training only. This new curriculum and a changing social landscape made it easier to address another long-standing problem, which was the refusal of several key government departments to certify the University’s engineering graduates without further examination. By 1911, reasonable regulations had been negotiated for graduates to become automatically certified with a number of key bodies.

In Payne’s support, the Melbourne University Engineering Society was renewed, and with financial assistance from Payne, it financed The Varsity Engineer from 1910–16. During this period, through substantial networking and a growing kinmanship with the wider engineering community, external practicing professionals began to provide lectures to students on all matters of engineering topics, and students had a weekly schedule of more than 32 hours per week.

By 1914 World War I began. The desperately required and substantial grants promised by the Government in 1914 were diverted to the war effort, along with special research grants. During this time, Melbourne latched the hatches and its citizens buried themselves deep in the wartime effort. Melbourne engineering students were keenly supportive of the effort and quick to volunteer; of 29 students photographed with staff in 1915, 21 out of 29 enlisted, three volunteered and were rejected, and two worked in munitions.

Though the end of the war in 1918 was a relief for everyone, the increase in demands at the University during peacetime brought new problems. In 1918, the Argus reported that the University was ‘over-crowded, ill-ventilated, insanitary, badly lighted, ill-equipped with appliances, under-staffed … a flagrant discredit to the State and to the people … the number of students increasing year by year at a rapid rate while the staff, salaries and accommodation have not been increased for fifteen years’. The postwar surge in enrolment weighed heaviest on the Engineering Faculty, with enrolments increasing threefold between 1919 and 1921. During this time, the Faculty offered degrees in Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and a Certificate of Surveying and a Mining Engineering degree course.

General view from Engineering School tower, Courtesy of University of Melbourne Archives
Engineering and Geology Schools, Courtesy of University of Melbourne Archives
Group of delegates to Engineering conference, Courtesy of University of Melbourne Archives