Engineers Australia – International Heritage Marker for the Julius Totalisator
Speech delivered as Administrator of the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia:
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thank you for inviting me to unveil this plaque and Engineering Heritage International Marker awarded by Engineers Australia to the Julius Totalisator. This Marker acknowledges the invention by Sir George Julius in Australia, in 1913, of the world’s first automatic totalisator.
As Governor of Queensland I am very pleased to learn it was Eagle Farm Racecourse in Brisbane which had the foresight to install, in 1917, what was then, the third of Sir George’s mechanical automatic totalisators.
The machine we see today, an electromechanical version, is a descendant of the original, and was installed here in 1948.
The gamble by Queensland racing authorities to acquire their innovative machine proved to be a winner.
By 1970, with very few exceptions, every racing centre in the world used totalisators manufactured by Sir George’s Automatic Totalisator company.
Sir George’s invention, initially designed for use in elections, was soon adapted for use in the racing industry and his electromechanical totalisators were not replaced by more modern electronic versions until the 1970s.
It is difficult to comprehend what a significant impact the automatic totalisator had on a country which has been horse racing obsessed since the first race was run in Sydney’s Hyde Park in October 1810. Today the horse racing industry generates more than six billion dollars annually in revenue for Australia.
In this day and age, sophisticated computers track and analyse every aspect of the racing industry.
These computers have their genesis in the machine Sir George invented just after the turn of the twentieth century.
Indeed Doron Swade, a specialist in computer history at the London Science Museum, acknowledged this in the New Scientist magazine in 1987 when he wrote, “The Julius Totalisator with its automatic odds machine is the earliest on line real time data processing and computation systems that the Curators of the London Science Museum have identified so far.”
Sir George Julius was a remarkable man – an engineer and businessman who was also first Chairman of Australia’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (which later became the CSIRO) – an appropriate appointment for an exceptional inventor.
Another, more recent, fitting honour for Sir George was his induction, in 2013, into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to shortly unveil this latest honour to Sir George.