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Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance

Chapter 2: Between Melbourne and Minnesota: 1975–1979

The arrival of Rob Chenhall in 1974 was advance warning that was about to change, and that the children of the 1960s were beginning to make their presence felt in accounting education. These were young, mobile, well-educated people, used to "alternative" approaches to education. More importantly, they were the first generation to have conceived themselves as primarily pursuing a career as accounting academics.

Within days of each other, Graeme Harrison (lecturer), Carrick Martin (senior lecturer), and Ray Hill (tutor) commenced work. In 1974, Dick Tress (who, with Rob Coombes, joined the Department, and so became one of two "excellent Macquarie students and good graduates") was brought on board, along with Gary Bowles. Two years later (in 1977), another bird of passage, Graham Partington stopped for a while on his bicycle tour around the world to put down roots, as did Ian Young (recently returned from California with his doctorate) and (from UNSW) Peter Eddey. Ruth Hines joined the team in 1978, just before the foundational team for the new Macquarie Accounting discipline was completed by Jill McKinnon, who joined in 1979 as a tutor, before being promoted to Senior Tutor the next year.

For the little group who came on staff in the mid-1970s, therefore, it was clear that the discipline needed to mark out its claim, raise its quality and reputation, obtain traction with the industry, and work more coherently as a team. For that, they needed leadership, direction and consistent, patient administration over an extended period of time. They all liked red wine, were pretty similar in age and, thanks to the staffing cap, in status. They were also "all together" in a fledgling University and so empowered by their own defensiveness: "I think it was a case of 'We'll show 'em'". It was an openness to one another that would remain for the core eight or ten of them throughout their time at Macquarie. By the end of 1975, it would not be too much to say, the Department had transitioned from a struggling, unstable service unit to an emerging unit with its own ideas as to where they wanted to go. In their midst, in open collar around the BBQ, a co-conspirator with the wine cask, was their Senior Lecturer, Carrick Martin: "Carrick was not removed at all. He was hands-on with everything—you were just an equal, a friend, a colleague. We were all in it together".

They were in it together for good and for bad. Their conversations were not merely personal ones, but related to their work, the problems of the Department, and where the discipline might go.

The embedding of, first, the professional year of the Institute (ICAA), and then that of the extension course for CPA Australia, in Macquarie-based masters programs provided "educational products" that generated a first wave of growth from the profession. It had been a victory for the Department, and its regular enrolments of 30 or so students in the Institute stream and double that in the CPA extension stream provided not just kudos, but a growing presence on professional committees, and natural pathways into industry for its students. By 1996, when a specialist Master of Accounting was introduced, there were already over 350 students in postgraduate Accounting courses.

Eddey's immediate job was to improve the third year Company Accounting teaching at Macquarie. A complex area, the challenge of which was a delight for Eddey but a source of consternation for some students, it engaged the emerging world of diversified and transnational businesses. With the emerging problems of corporate reporting and probity in the 1980s, it was a program made for the time. In Martin's words:

Peter was one of the real triumphs of the Department. He had a very solid background in financial accounting, and he sorted through that part of the course. I was doing first and third year for quite some time there. So I brought in a syllabus which was not unlike a mixture of Melbourne and Minnesota.

For the first time, many students in accounting courses at Macquarie were suddenly introduced to significantly higher learning standards. "It was fairly tough—we required that assignments be submitted or else, and with fairly testing exams. The result was that quite a large number of students failed." … The approach, however, had its effect. First, the word quickly got around the student grapevine that the first year program was difficult. Those enrolling from 1977 came in either expecting the worst or ready to work … As an institution that was high on the preference list for the motivated and the bright, the women and the children of migrant families who came through the program found Accounting to be a pathway to a new life. "Students used to say, 'Macquarie is easy to get into, but bloody hard to get out of'." When they did get out, however, they were ready to go places.