I was asked recently by a tradesman who came to my home to fix an electrical fault how it was that I knew so much more than he did about computers when “You are if you don’t mind me saying a lot older than me?” I am a grandmother with ten grandchildren but had been working on developing a database which would keep track of the sire and dams and grand sires and grand dams of a Wagyu beef herd. My reply was that I was in the right places at the right times.
The first place I was in at the right time was Teesside in the north east of England. The first computer I ever saw was in 1966 when I was 21. My first husband Tom was working for Teesside Survey and Plan which was a transportation study on Teesside to work out the best development of the road and rail network in the area. There were lots of traffic surveys and data had to be analysed and the best way to do that was by computer. Computers were in their infancy in the mid 60’s. Developments had taken place during the second world war when they were used to help in doing the myriad calculations needed to trace the trajectories of rockets. Teesside Survey and Plan did not have a computer. Very few businesses did then. They hired computer time on the large main frame computer at ICI Billingham.
Time on computers was much in demand and sometimes TSSP could only get one or two hours in the middle of the night. The computer itself was enormous filling a whole large room and was not as powerful as my laptop is now. Information was put into the computer on punched cards. There were quite a few punch card operators in those days. It must have been a boring job punching holes into a card. The holes and not holes represented binary code. TSSP employed its own punch card operators and information collected in the surveys was punched into cards and there were hundreds if not thousands of cards which had to be punched and fed in the right order to the computer. I occasionally went with Tom to ICI in Billingham in the middle of the night. I was working at Billingham Campus School and we were living in a flat in Middlesbrough within a stone’s throw of Ayresome Park where Middlesbrough FC played from 1903 to 1995.
There were many hitches to running programs and the output was on long continuous computer paper with perforations at the side to hold it firm in the printer. It was not unknown for the run to come to an abrupt halt with the message “Program aborted due to error.” Back to the drawing board. On one occasion I remember a member of the team, an American called Ernie had been rushing into the ICi building to make sure he got the full hour paid for when he tripped and dropped his box of punch cards which went everywhere so no run that night. Tom was sent on training courses to IBM in London to learn Fortran a computer programming language and became very interested in computing and used them a little in his work as a Town Planner in London and Lancashire after TSSP finished.
The next time I was in the right place at the right time was in Port Moresby Papua New Guinea in 1980. I was Staff Development Officer at Police Headquarters in Konedobu. My job was to see that civilian staff in the Police Department got the necessary training. Computers were being used more and more in business and the academic world. The University of Papua New Guinea began to advertise computer courses and one of the research staff attended a course in learning BASIC programming. She told me the lecturer had said that it would not be long before people had their own home computers which seemed an amazing concept at that time especially when I thought of the huge ICI computer back in Billingham. I was in charge of the secretarial staff at Police HQ and we were approached by the WANG company about buying WANG word processors which were demonstrated to us. This was the first time I had seen a word processor where text was typed via a keyboard onto a screen and the document produced could be edited and changed. This was a great development for the administrative world.
When we left PNG to come to Australia in 1981, Tom who was starting his own consulting business decided we should get a WANG computer which we did and set it up on and close to the dining table in our home in Tolga. The monochrome monitor and keyboard were on the table and the WANG was set up on the floor close to the table. The WANG was the size of one of the old tower PC’s. The difference with the WANG was that it had no hard drive. It had two 5 and a quarter inch drives and the system disc went in one and the data disk in the other. It seems very primitive now but at the time to produce save and print documents and edit them was an inspiration. I worked on the WANG for three years and then we got ambitious and decided to move onto a new computer. Tom wanted to be able to do spreadsheets and databases for his town planning consultancy work.
He did some research and decided on an IBM computer which we went to see demonstrated at System Services in Cairns. We committed ourselves to buying it there and then. It cost over $10 000 dollars which was a huge amount and compared to what one can buy a computer for now is amazing. This was the first time I came across Microsoft Programs and learnt Word word processing and Multiplan spreadsheets. Tom was involved in Home Ownership Schemes for Papua New Guineans. I developed quite a sophisticated spreadsheet for calculating the viability of home ownership loans linking the applicant’s salary to the interest rate on mortgage offered by his bank. There were five or six banks offering mortgages and the macro I developed looked up the name of the bank and inserted the interest rate and then calculated repayments. No one was allowed to spend more than 25% of their disposable income on repaying the loan. This is unlike the situation in the US which caused the Global Financial Crisis when people were allowed to borrow far more than they could pay back. I also developed a database of the home ownership blocks of land using Dbase 111 Plus and also developed an accounting package using the same database program. So again I was in the right place at the right time and had a practical use for the computer software I learned to use.
Again I was fortunate that in the early 1990’s computer courses were being offered to the public but there were few people with the knowledge to teach computing. I was appointed by Johnstone College of TAFE to teach computer subjects first in Ravenshoe and then Atherton, Mareeba and Cairns. TAFE were hoping to establish themselves in Ravenshoe and a Business Administration Certificate III course was offered to take place in the classrooms of what had been St Barnabas Boarding School. The computers were old monochrome models donated to Ravenshoe by Atherton Skillshare who had got new computers. These machines had WordPerfect word processing, Lotus spreadsheets and Dbase !!! plus. In the days before Microsoft cornered the office market, this meant each of the programs we used was very different in appearance whereas with the office suite of programs the menus and screens are quite similar. After a couple of years TAFE installed new computers in Ravenshoe. They were 486 computers with colour monitors and had the Microsoft Suite of Programs and I began to teach Word, Excel, Access and Publisher.
The next time I was in the right place at the right time was in 1995 when there were the beginnings of the Internet and Computerised Bookkeeping packages. My daughter Catherine moved back to the Tablelands in 1995 and set up a Computer Business in Robert Street, Atherton. I went into business with her and when we needed an accounting package we bought MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) and I learnt this along with Catherine. The Internet was also developing at this time and I was taught a lot about it by my daughter who had a computing degree from James Cook University in Townsville. Towards the end of the decade there was a demand for people to teach accounting packages and introduction to the Internet courses and again I was well placed and taught evening and day classes at both TAFE and Outcomes in Atherton.
In 2000 Australia introduced the Goods and Services Tax. I was working full time for Outcomes as a Training Consultant and we were asked to participate in FarmBiz. This was to introduce local farmers to the concept of computers to help them in their business and to organise courses to introduce them to computerised bookkeeping to help them in record keeping and making their GST returns. Again I was in the right place at the right time. I spent two years running courses and visiting farms. I taught MYOB, Quickbooks and Quicken for GST purposes as well as the Tax Office’s own spreadsheet program. I did two trips to Karumba with Farm Biz clients being visited in Mount Surprise, Forsayth, Croydon, Normanton and Karumba. There were some very interesting businesses and characters. Near Forsayth I visited an alluvial gold miner. On his gate was the sign “Trespassers will be shot! Survivors will be prosecuted!” He could only use his computer in the afternoon when he started his generator.
I worked for Outcomes, the Training people until 2010. I was in charge of computers and the computer room. We were allowed a lot of latitude to develop our ideas and I was able to produce a website for Outcomes using Dreamweaver. I could also work at home a lot and upload documents to the main server which allowed our staff in Cairns to access all documents and software which meant another big learning curve for me but gave me more confidence in computers.
Shortly after I retired in 2010 I bought an IPAD. A friend of mine had been one of the first to buy an IPAD and when he demonstrated it for me, I had to have one. I was soon in the world of talking books on long car journeys, playing bridge and doing Sudoku. In 2011 my youngest granddaughter Abby was born and I and my second husband Leif looked after her a lot so that my daughter could work. Her company was a delight and she loved the IPAD.
She started using the IPAD when she was four months old. The app on the screen is the first one we got for her. When she tapped on the flowers the petals moved. When she tapped on the apples on the tree they fell to the ground. The bee buzzed around and a flock of birds flew past. It was intuitive for her to use the tablet. As she got older she did jigsaws and puzzles and learnt all her letters and numbers from Sesame Street and Peppa Pig apps.
A couple of years ago Catherine decided she would like to learn how to produce apps and asked me to be part of this new business. We both got Mac computers as these are the only machines where you can develop xcode projects which you need to do apps. Cath has gone on to do much more advances app development whereas I have concentrated more on graphics and writing. I have learned to use Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Animator. I have written books which I have published as e-books and they are available on ITunes and Amazon. Cath has written quite a few apps some both for Android and IPAD and IPhone.
I wrote a book for Abby about the time a carpet snake fell down my chimney. It was largely illustrated by photographs which I had turned into drawings using Photoshop. The book is available as an e-book. Cath decided to use the book as a basis for an activity book. This is now available in the App Store. There are jigsaws and crosswords, word searches and spot the difference. Abby loves it but then it is about her. The first app we produced was an Australian Matching Game and we got Abby to say the words for the images. It is lovely now to hear her three-year-old voice saying “Echidna”.
Computers have been part of my life for a long time and I have got so much from them as well as many frustrations but they have kept me active in the work force for so long and I feel I still have something to contribute and being able to work with my daughter and grandchildren in this endeavour is wonderful.