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Newstead, Gordon Henry (1917–1987)

by J. H. Brodie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Gordon Henry Newstead (1917-1987), electrical engineer, was born on 1 July 1917 in Cairo, eldest of three children of Sydney-born Julius Leonard Neustadt, sergeant in the Australian Imperial Force, and his wife Eleanor Sarah, née Culmer, an English-born nurse whom he had met and married while on active service.  The family came to Australia late in 1917 and changed its surname to Newstead.  Gordon was educated in Melbourne, at Adwalton Preparatory School, Malvern, Melbourne High School and the University of Melbourne (BEE, 1940; MEE, 1945) where, in 1940, he was a senior demonstrator in electrical engineering.  In 1941-44 he worked as an engineer in the Department of Civil Aviation.  On 2 March 1944 at St Peter’s Church of England, Brighton Beach, he married Betty McCarthy (d.1986).

Appointed lecturer in electrical engineering at the University of Tasmania in 1944, Newstead was promoted to senior lecturer in 1949.  He became foundation professor of electrical engineering there in 1957, after a brief stint the previous year as reader at the University of Adelaide.  His appointment completed the 'splitting' of the faculty; his counterpart, A. R. Oliver, was named professor of civil engineering.  Newstead set the course of electrical engineering studies in Tasmania for the next nine years.  His research was in the fields of circuit theory and the application of electronics to seismic problems.  As well as reviewed papers, he published a Methuen monograph, General Circuit Theory (1959).  He carried a heavy teaching load and served for several terms as dean of engineering.  He found university politics difficult.  An associate-commissioner (1959-84) of the Hydro-Electric Commission, he was possibly the first to promote the idea of a power cable across Bass Strait.  He was president (1963) of the Tasmanian division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and a federal councillor; he was also an overseas representative on the council of Britain’s Institution of Electrical Engineers.

In 1965, at Professor J. C. Jaeger’s suggestion, Newstead was engaged as a consultant by the Research School of Physical Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, to advise on future directions for the homopolar generator project, the engineering aspects of which had been experiencing severe difficulties.  He recommended that the generator, with certain modifications, should be retained.  That year he was appointed professor and head of the department of engineering physics in the research school.  Due to his expertise the generator was soon operational and, according to a history of ANU, became 'a powerful tool for a variety of research projects'.  Newstead collaborated with Jaeger to produce the third edition of Jaeger’s classic monograph An Introduction to the Laplace Transformation with Engineering Application (1969), which dealt with the behaviour of electrical circuits subject to transient inputs.  In 1965-69 he was deputy-master of University House.

A dynamic figure, Newstead was good at both teaching and research.  He had not only advanced mathematical knowledge but also practical engineering skills.  Retiring in 1970 as emeritus professor, he returned to Hobart where he maintained his interest in education, becoming a council-member of the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education (1972-76) and of the Tertiary Education Commission’s Advanced Education Council (1977-85).  He was a member of many technical committees and, from 1979, chairman of the Tasmania Energy Research Committee.  For recreation he enjoyed carpentry and surfing.  In 1985 he was appointed OBE.  Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 1 November 1987 at his Hobart home and was buried in South Arm cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • S. G. Foster and M. M. Varghese, The Making of the Australian National University 1946-1996 (1996)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12 May 1965, p 5, 5 November 1987, p 20
  • private information
  • personal knowledge

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Citation details

J. H. Brodie, 'Newstead, Gordon Henry (1917–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/newstead-gordon-henry-14979/text26168, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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