Skip to Content

Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance

Chapter 5: Words and Music: 1993–2003

With all the dynamism of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the relative intellectual marginalisation of Accounting in the disciplinary schema, some obvious questions arose. For instance, if there were rising difficulties for a Department that was beginning to fracture along specialist lines, how did its core three-legged shape (resting on the three legs of Accounting, Finance and Business Law) last for so long?

The accession of Graeme Harrison to the headship in 1993 was symbolic of Accounting as a (relatively) low temperature pool in the midst of the surrounding volcano. Harrison was good at detail, warm and humane in relationships, and little interested in the sort of high level politics that attracted larger egos. He was "one of the best human beings you could find. Very loving …" (even, to some staff, already the "father figure" which he would definitively become as an Emeritus). Like many of the best leaders, he had not desired the position, having always thought of himself rather as a "back-room" contributor. … If Frank Clarke's Newcastle focused on accounting history; and Wollongong on critical accounting; Macquarie under Graeme Harrison was marked by a coherent diversity.

The success that followed was not just a matter of skill: it was also a matter of what Reeve later called "the sweet spot". Five years earlier, the Department was still too small to need his organisational skills; five years later, the research-driven agenda and heightened politics of University life would have made the position unapproachable. In 1996, however, he knew and liked all of the senior staff in the Department: over the next few years, Harrison, McKinnon and Eddey would become closer than associates for the dispossessed South African far from family. In their sense of common cause and open possibilities, they became "almost siblings … There were no politics, because I'm not good at politics. If I had come at a time when politics was important, I'd have failed" [R. Reeve]. With Harrison in particular he would create a complementary relationship of great power: Graeme would write the reports, Reeve the systems and numbers. "He would do the words", noted Reeve, "and I would write the music".

While formal sub-units (such as Peter Eddey's Centre for Studies in Professional Accounting) broke up the load into more manageable sections, the acceleration of student numbers was "phenomenal". Between 1995 and 2000, total student load grew from 708 EFTSU to 1,293 EFTSU (without counting a further 261 EFT students in the programs of the Applied Finance Centre), with the following year's projections pointing towards over 11,000 unit enrolments in Accounting alone. Accounting was now "clearly" the largest Department in the University, in the largest School. In the midst of dramatic growth, Reeve and Harrison's systematisation provided calm data-driven responses to the needs of administration, without making "points" from external events. "That was the confidence which Robert and Grocott provided the University's centre", remembered Harrison, "I am pretty sure that there were no other Departments in the University which provided that level of detail ... I just kept on writing reports" [G. Harrison].