The School of Civil & Environmental Engineering notes with sadness the recent passing of one of our founding academics - Dr Ian James Somervaille.

Dr Somervaille, who taught and researched in numerical and computational methods in structural engineering, was one of UNSW’s longest serving academic staff, working in the School from 1955 to 1997.

Ian had been part of UNSW from its very beginning, graduating with a BE in Mechanical Engineering at UNSW’s very first graduation ceremony in 1952.  Later he undertook his PhD, supervised by Al Kabaila, graduating in 1974. His thesis topic was ‘Dual analysis of flat plates using the finite element method.’

Ian was actively involved in the Staff Association (which acted as a union) from 1960, and was the Association’s President for ten years.  He was passionate about staff rights and working conditions.  He served as executive assistant to the School’s Civil Advisory Committee (three Professors and the Dean) which managed the School in the crucial years of 1964-1968 as UNSW’s largest School transitioned, finally, from Ultimo to Kensington campus.

Professor Stephen Foster, Dean of Engineering recalls, ‘Ian was a great academic and a leader in computational modelling … and a very active unionist.  If my memory is correct, he once got into a bit of strife for jumping on a car at the gate during a protest for improved wages and conditions – this was before Enterprise Bargaining Agreements!’

Scientia Professor Mark Bradford recalled, ‘I used to "knock around" a little with "Slim" when I joined the staff in 1986 as our offices on the 6th floor were close. I recall, after about a week, asking Slim what he did for lunch; he rubbed his hands together and took me to the university staff club [then located in the electrical engineering building]. Somewhat of a ritual "back in the day"; always the same offenders and most of them from the School!’

Associate Professor Mario Attard recalls, ‘I remember Ian very well as he was my co-supervisor. He read everything I gave him and always had brilliant suggestions. He was a real gentleman, quiet and generous.’

When Ian retired in 1997, he was the last serving member of the ‘founding brotherhood’ of the School – pictured below at Ultimo in 1959. (Ian is at the end of the middle row). In 1999 when UNSW celebrated its fiftieth year, he received a medal for being the longest serving academic of the university. 

Ian passed away peacefully June 8, 2023 in the presence of family at St Ann’s Fairlawn in Hobart aged 94 years. He is survived by his partner Pat, his children Andrew, Matthew, Martyn, Rachel and Rebecca, 15 grand-children and 12 great-grand-children.

Academic staff of the School of Civil Engineering in 1959, at the old Ultimo campus. Ian Somervaille is on the far right – middle row UNSW
Clipping from UNSW 50th anniversary staff publication 1999 UNSW

Vale Dr Ian J Somervaille UNSW