Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

TAB Off The Air

The Sporting Globe (Stop Press) 25 October, 1969

“Breakdown of a diesel generator caused a hold-up in TAB betting today.

“As a result, the last race at Moonee Valley was delayed until 4.55 p.m.

“The breakdown caused a loss of power to the TAB computer – CARBINE – and it was off the air for 25 minutes.

“TAB officials said late this afternoon all bets on the second last race had been handled, because the breakdown didn't occur until within a minute or two of closing time of betting.

“He added it was hoped to handle all  investments offering on the last race at the Valley an Adelaide, and generally there was only  slight inconvenience to TAB punters.

“Today was the first time there had been a major breakdown in the TAB operations”.

Editor's Note : When is a breakdown a lucky break? Probably this one – it was Cox Plate and Moonee Valley Cup Day and VicTAB were fortunate that the problem arose just before the last race – a couple of hours earlier, and it would have been a major disaster.  

For the record, the last race was delayed 15 minutes, from 4.40 to 4.55. Percy Punter may have had to be patient, but the 7/2 favourite Leica Court duly lobbed, and due to the delay, The Sporting Globe was somewhat short on post-race details.  

Although there was little said over the years, several of the admittedly few problems of the early computer operations were put down to the failure of the public power network.

Subsequent to the failure, the VicTAB launched an investigation into alternative power generating systems capable of providing a continuous “no break” power supply satisfying the Control Data equipment's voltage and frequency parameters.

Tenders were invited for a turbo-generator and heat recovery plant, later expanded in 1970 to include equipment for refrigeration and hot water circulating equipment.

The successful tender for a series of oil-fired gas turbine powered system came from a conglomerate of U.S. companies, the prime contractor, the Airsearch Manufacturing Company of the U.S.A.  The TAB’s move resulted in something of a political glitch, bypassing as it did the then-Government owned State Electricity Commission who were apparently unable to provide an alternative backup supply and instead the new system based on natural gas from the joint Esso-BHP venture in Bass Strait provided via the Gas and Fuel Corporation.  The TAB in some respects followed the lead of BHP whose new 41-story building constructed between 1969 and 1972 at the corner of William and Bourke streets also had its electricity needs fully supplied by natural gas-driven generators. (Natural gas  was first used for domestic purposes in Melbourne homes in 1969)

Being human as they are, the systems at VicTAB were not infallible, and there were a few grumbles from punters and the press when betting was not available.

I need to check in more depth, but I seem to remember that in in 1974 or possibly 1975 that RIMFIRE crashed towards the end of Derby Day - it didn’t have much impact on the Saturday meeting, but there were many instances of soiled underwear at the TAB with the Big Day of the Melbourne Cup coming up on the Tuesday.

I think the unsung hero of the hour was Charles Thomas who several hours after the shutdown traced the problem to some sort of memory overflow caused by the sheer volume of bets on Derby Day, some 20 percent higher than any previous day record. With appropriate fixes, Cup Day went with any hitches..