George Barlow

George Barlow
George Edgerton Barlow A.M.
22 November 1924 – 07 October 2005


George Barlow, who died recently in Canberra, devoted his whole working life to the service of the Australian Government, initially in the Department of Supply and subsequently in the Department of Defence. Over a period of forty years he made very significant personal contributions to the development and management of Australian science capabilities which are now embodied in the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

George, the only son of Richard and Edith Barlow, was born in Melbourne and obtained his secondary education at Wesley College after which he studied physics at the Melbourne University, graduating in 1944 as a Bachelor of Science and in 1947 as a Master of Science in Physics.

In late 1946 the Australian and United Kingdom Governments signed the Joint Project Agreement to set up the Woomera Rocket Range and the associated base research facilities at Salisbury near Adelaide, South Australia. Although research laboratories were already established in Australia covering aircraft and material sciences, it was apparent that there would be an immediate need to develop in Australia those areas of science and engineering which were related to rocket technology, range instrumentation and computing.

During 1947 applications were invited from Australian graduates in science and engineering to join the Long Range Weapons Establishment (LRWE) at Salisbury for posting to the UK for training in these scientific areas. George was one of the sixteen graduates selected in the first group of such long term attachments, travelling to UK in early 1948 by flying boat and then posted to the Guided Weapons Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire. During the next two years he was a member of a research team concerned with the development and design of analogue computing circuits. Later he spent several months at the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern, Worcestershire and at the Cambridge and Manchester Universities studying digital computer developments. The immediate post-war period was a time of very rapid developments in many fields, notably those associated with aerospace research. It was also a time of reconstruction of much UK civil infrastructure destroyed or damaged during the war. Although rationing of almost all necessities was still in force and was at a level as severe as at anytime during the war, the excitement and the challenge of the work more than compensated for the associated inconvenience.

On his return by sea to LRWE (later the Weapons Research Establishment – WRE) from UK in August 1950, George was initially involved in the design of automatic equipment needed to prepare and launch the first controlled guided missile trials in Australia. He then played leading roles in digital computer design and in developing analogue-to-digital converters and timing systems to transform the range instrumentation data into formats required for digital manipulation and calculation. In the course of this work he made visits to UK and USA to examine their progress in these areas. Later, as the quality and complexity of trials data increased, a larger and more advanced computer was needed and the first IBM 7090 computer to be acquired by Australia was installed at WRE.

At the end of 1957, George was appointed Defence Research and Development Representative at the Australian Embassy in Washington where he spent two and a half years as the focal point for liaison with the US Department of Defense and Services across the whole spectrum of those fields of defence science of interest to Australia. On his return he was put in charge of the team which commissioned the WRE designed Digital Impact Predictor which replaced the earlier equipments essential for the flight safety monitoring of large ballistic rockets.

At the end of 1963 he was transferred to the Systems Assessment Division of WRE, which amongst other matters, was responsible for electronic warfare development and the mathematical modelling of the performance of major UK weapon systems being tested at Woomera. Two years later he was promoted Superintending Scientist and posted to Department of Supply HQ in Melbourne where, for the following three years, he was responsible particularly for collaboration with the Australian Armed Services covering their needs for research and development programs to support their total materiel acquisition processes. In addition, in 1965, he organised the Australian component of the Technical Co-operation Program between the US, UK and Canada into which Australia had just been accepted. Participation in this Program was and still is one of the most important components of the DSTO’s activities.

He was transferred to Canberra in 1968 initially to the position of First Assistant Secretary/Defence Science and, as staff of this area built up, was appointed Superintending Scientist / International Programs and Projects responsible for all international defence science activities in which Australia participated. Later, following the reorganisation of the Departments of Defence and Supply in 1974, he was promoted to Controller Military Studies and Operational Analysis Division in charge of the Central Studies Establishment and also the Scientific Advisers and staff attached to the three Services. Later his responsibilities were expanded to encompass all external relations and all major DSTO projects intended for inclusion in the defence inventory. Several visits were made to the UK and USA to gauge overseas interests in projects such as the Jindalee-over-the-Horizon Radar and the Barra sonobuoy.

From the end of 1980 until his retirement in 1987 he held the position of Deputy Chief Defence Scientist, responsible to the Chief Defence Scientist for developing policies for the programs of work of all DSTO laboratories and facilities and for participation in many international arrangements. George was a member of many senior defence committees and frequently provided high level expert advice directly to the Secretary and Minister of Defence on various quite sensitive matters. As well, throughout his career, he interacted with many bodies outside the DSTO on aspects of defence science, particularly computing developments.

In recognition of his personal contribution to the developments of Australia’s defence science capabilities over many decades he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (A.M.) in the 1987 Australia Day Honours List.

Apart from work, George had a very busy and active life. He played tennis, golf and with his family regularly went skiing. He also was very knowledgeable in music, particularly traditional jazz and possessed a large collection of such material. He was also a very keen stamp collector. He and Helen Heidenreich, then a Computing Assistant at WRE, were married in 1952 and they have a daughter and two sons – Gillian, Tony and Michael and two grandsons. George and Helen were keen travellers and, particularly in his retirement, they made many interesting overseas trips where he could further indulge his love of music, good food, wine and restaurants. Throughout his married life George was a devoted and caring husband and father, laying a foundation to their successful careers. He is sadly missed by them and his many friends and colleagues.

– by Des Barnsley, professional colleague
and friend of 57 years, in collaboration with the Barlow family.


Special thanks to Barbara Barnsley for sharing this text.