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Guiding hand in technical studies




30-3-1930 3-1-2012


DR WILLIAM Roebuck, a distinguished engineer, consultant and educationist whose contributions to technical education were significant, has died at a residential care facility in Camberwell, aged 81.

Born in Sydney, he left school at 16 to become an apprentice at Qantas. His professional education began with a part-time diploma in electrical engineering at Sydney Technical College.

From 1953 to 1957 he continued further part-time studies at the University of New South Wales for bachelor and then master of engineering degrees.

He moved from Qantas to the Department of Civil Aviation in about 1957, and was a senior airworthiness engineer in Melbourne covering electronic systems, including instrumentation and automatic pilots for all aircraft on the Australian register by the time he made another move. During his time with the DCA, he was sent on a number of study visits to Britain, France and the United States, covering the Boeing B-727 and B-747 and the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner, as well as automatic landing systems.

He was also an active member of the RAAF Reserve from 1965 to 1985, starting with training apprentices and tradesmen on operational aircraft and equipment standards. His enthusiasm was unstinting, and he reached the rank of squadron leader, the highest rank available to reservists. His work over 20 years was recognised with the Australian Defence Medal, the National Medal and the Reserve Force Decoration.

A career change in 1971 brought him to the Victorian Education Department as an inspector of technical schools, when new approaches were needed in para-professional education following the elevation of the original technical colleges into colleges of advanced education.

With responsibilities for the electrical industry, Roebuck understood well the specific needs as he organised advisory committees for development of new para-professional certificate of technology courses. His interests also broadened into apprenticeship training, as technical and further education concentrated on developing various effective educational provisions for youths and mature-age people.

Colleagues privileged to work with Roebuck during those years learned what it was that made him so effective: he understood industry, his agile mind had a large capacity for work, and he willingly continued to learn as he gained a masters in education in 1978 at Monash.

Concurrent with his duties in the Education Department, he was appointed deputy president of the Industrial Training Commission, and contributed to developments in trade training in Victoria. Then, as the organisation of TAFE evolved out of the department, he became special projects officer with the Education Ministry until 1986, when he took a retirement package.

Roebuck then joined with colleagues Brian Lloyd and Michael Rice, a former airworthiness engineer, to form the EPM Consulting Group, along with other colleagues Eric Stokes and John Stradling. They began consulting and delivering three-day intensive management courses for professional engineers in public-sector organisations. Roebuck also spent time at Monash University to gain a doctor of philosophy in 1988.

In 1989, he contributed to a significant consultancy with the Victorian Education Foundation. The upshot was the book New Pathways in Engineering Education (by the obituarist and others), defining principles for segmented education for mature-age people, and the new workforce category of engineering technologist, requiring the introduction of new, three-year bachelor of technology degrees.

In late 1989, Roebuck started working in Sydney and as a fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, joined the Australasian Association for Engineering Education, based in the school of electrical engineering at Sydney University. Working with Dr Zenon Pudlowski, he served on the executive committee until 1994, publishing conference papers and journal articles.

In 1991, he became chief education services officer to the electrical engineering education research group at Sydney University, to work on a research project that was funded by the New South Wales Education Foundation.

Returning to Melbourne, he lectured and mentored in avionics in undergraduate programs at Swinburne University of Technology, and contributed to the development of postgraduate programs.

His varied contributions were recognised by the award of the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to education through technical industrial training programs and apprenticeships, and to the community.

Throughout the different pathways of his working life he remained a loyal and dedicated collaborator and an unforgettable friend who enriched many lives.

He is survived by his wife Jean Marie, daughter Anne, sons Robert, Iain and David, stepdaughter Elizabeth, several grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Dr Brian Lloyd was assisted by Dr Zenon Pudlowski and Elizabeth Roebuck-Jones.

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