Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

Issue 454, 26 April, 1983

21 Years On : The End of an Era


In 1962, an unusual desk was imported from the USA and installed in the offices of CDC's Australian distributors, E. L. Heymanson and Co. That desk was a Control Data Corporation 160-A computer system which included a transistorised central processor, paper tape reader and punch - and is believed to be the first true "mini" computer installed in Australia.

Since then, the 160-A has had several homes, including the Bureau of Census and Statistics in Canberra (where it was used to transfer 20-plus years of punch card data to magnetic tape), the Aeronautical Research Laboratory at Fishermen's Bend, Melbourne, and finally to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Adelaide.

Now, after a decade quietly humming away in Adelaide and more than 21 years total service, the 160-A has been decommissioned from the ABS, and will go on display in our Melbourne office shortly - testimony to the genius of Seymour Cray, the designer, the extraordinary standard of our manufacture, and the quality of our Engineering Services".

Ed. Despite the suggestion of the 160-A (almost certainly only the console) being installed at 493 as a display in the reception area, no-one seems to remember it! Maybe it was as inconspicuous as a desk after all!

This wonderful little machine should have left a diary, because further research suggests that the history is not quite correct!

There was a 160A installed in Heymanson’s offices in Bank Place as a data centre and demonstration machine in 1962, later transferred to CDA’s office Flat 16 at Eton Square.  It featured at the ‘63 A.C.S. Conference at Melbourne University, but apparently was not the 160A installed at the Bureau of Census and Statistics.

After much pondering, Ron Bird recalls this was a machine directly shipped from the U.S. with all new peripherals and installed by n engineer from Minneapolis who gave the local guys a crash course therein - there is no trace of an order being placed and it may well have been that the temporary installation as Census was a “sweetener” attached to the multi-million 3600/3200 order.

It then appears to have been transferred to the A.R.L. around the middle of 1964, a Commonwealth Government Gazette of June showing a contract for “Hire and maintenance of computer” (with no details given) at £23,806; and a couple of months later for hire and maintenance of a line printer £3,750 - unfortunately the main contract came a couple of months prior to the introduction of The Australian computer page.

It is believed to to have remained in service with A.R.L. for 12-18 months - the Gazette of January, 1966 reveals the purchase of CDC 160-A computer for £9,400, again without specifying a Department, but is believed to have the same 160-A after refurbishment (probably then around four years old) and this appears to be the contract that saw it transferred to the A.B.S. in Adelaide before its de-commissioning. The November issue has a contract of $473 “Relocate 160A computer system”(the FLASH suggestion of  “a decade quietly humming away in Adelaide” appears to have been seriously understated).

(The 160-A while at A.R.L. was located at the L. P. Coombes Computer Centre, named after Lawrence Percival Coomber, first Chief Superintendent of the Aeronautical Research Laboratories 1938 - 1940)

The demonstration machine was later shipped to Sydney where it was installed in the shop-front at 77 Pacific Highway underneath the sydney office of the time - it was used to demonstrate point-to-point communications between itself and the P.M.G. Research Laboratory machine in Melbourne during the 1966 A.C.S. Conference in Canberra and later for testing BATE terminals ultimately installed at the Victorian TAB.

It was then returned to Melbourne and stored at 598, the 405/177 card reader installed as part of the Data Services Marc II customer terminal


Ron Bird with an old friend, the 405/177 on its “retirement” in 1975(?) “… reputed to be the first card reader off the CDC production line … incidentally, the 160A in the background has historical significance - it was the first piece of CDC equipment to come to Australia. It was brought in by the then CDC agents in Australia, E. L. Heymanson”.

The ultimate fate of the 405 and indeed the original Heymanson machine remains unknown