"I’ve been connected with RMIT for so long, to a lot of people I’m sort of “Mr RMIT”. Synonymous with it in some ways!
When I arrived at RMIT to study engineering in 1951, there was no library – you had to go to the State Library for things, and that’s what we used to do. It was after World War II, as a nation we’d spent all our money on the war so there wasn’t much for education.
It was called the Melbourne Technical College then; it was very much a place of practical knowledge and learning with very limited resources. Later on Jack Ward set up RMIT’s first library by gathering together the smaller libraries that were in each department.
It was certainly a time of great personal development for me; my father died the year that I first arrived. I did have a Commonwealth Scholarship, but it was only 25 pounds – it bought a couple of textbooks. It didn’t give me a living allowance, which would have been handy!
During WWII I believe Building 9 was used as an RAAF training school. The basement is completely shielded with copper because it was going to be a special lab for radio frequencies, but it never had that use. It became the Publishing Department!
Building 9 had steel masts on the roof about 20 metres high – as final year students we got to climb those and do work on the antennas so we could communicate via radio with colleges on the other side of the world. We climbed up there with no safety belts and the wind blowing – it was well before WorkSafe! Great memories.
I worked as a film recording engineer at Channel 9, then as a lecturer in communication engineering back at RMIT and later with Telstra for many years.
My uncle went to WWI and he didn’t come home. He died in Malta from wounds sustained in Gallipoli. So I started playing the bugle for the services at the Shrine. That’s how I came to become a guide at the Shrine – I’ve been doing that for 17 years now.
There are bugle calls for just about everything. In the early days the bugler would march behind the commanding officer and he would sound the call for charge or retreat. So the bugle had a far more significant purpose. Nowadays I have a hard time convincing the commanding officer that I should be walking behind him everywhere!
My wife and I had six children. Later on we fostered about 40 children. Really it was my wife’s thing, I was at home one afternoon and the phone rang. They said, “It’s the St Joseph’s Babies Home here, we’re ringing up about your application for foster parenting.” I had no clue! Many people then ask how long the kids stayed; the answer is any time between one night and three years!
I attend the Retired and Senior Alumni Luncheons and other alumni events. It’s a way of keeping in touch with what’s going on, meeting some of your former colleagues and new friends. I believe that once you graduate you became a part of the whole organisation and you can’t shake loose from it.
I still take part in the graduation parade down Swanston Street each year too. I think it’s important to meet the students and for them to see us keep coming back. It’s something they can live up to!"
Ian Douglas completed a Fellowship Diploma of Communication Engineering in 1956 and an Associateship Diploma in Management in 1972. Ian also lectured in communication engineering at RMIT.
Top and insert: Ian Douglas, pictured in Building 4 on City Campus. Photos by RMIT alumnus Emma Phillips.
Background image: RMIT's Swanston Academic Building.