Bob O’Malley, ANZIAM and ICIAM – a personal reflection

Bob O’Malley, ANZIAM and ICIAM – a personal reflection


Ian H Sloan, UNSW Sydney

I remember Bob O’Malley as a larger-then-life character, who had a little-known but profound effect on the development of ANZIAM (which stands for Australia and New Zealand Industrial and Applied Mathematics), and on its involvement  with ICIAM – a subsequent involvement large enough to include a Congress (the Sydney Congress in 2003) and an Australian President.

Bob came to Australia (perhaps more than once) in the late 1980s, as part of a review committee for some part of Australian mathematics.  I remember him talking to me in perhaps the year 1990 about ICIAM: at that date the first International Conference (not yet a Congress!) for Industrial and Applied Mathematics had been held three years earlier in Paris. The thing that sticks in my mind is that Bob suggested that Australia should become part of CICIAM – the Committee for ICIAM.  I am rather sure that I did not initially know what he was talking about.  At that stage the Committee was very small, perhaps consisting on little more than the four founding societies, GAMM, IMA, SIAM and SMAI.  I thought that was a new and exciting idea, and was gratified that he had sufficient respect for Australian applied mathematics to suggest it,  but to me it raised  a challenging question, namely: what would be the name and shape of the Australian member society?  At that time I was Chair of the Division of Applied Mathematics of the Australian Mathematical Society – an effective organisation, but with an impossible mouthful of a name, and no simple acronym.

For me that started a lengthy process of sifting the possibilities.  Should we establish a new organisation (a “shell company”) with co-membership but a better name?  That seemed a possible but clumsy solution.  Another consideration was that the growing closeness between applied mathematicians from Australia and New Zealand needed to be recognised.  In the end I had an epiphany: guided by what so often happens in the corporate world, all that was needed was a branding change; in short a change of name!  And so after some mis-steps (ANZAM was my first idea – what, no industry?) ANZIAM came into reality sometime around 1993.  And in due course ANZIAM was accepted by ICIAM as a medium-sized full member.  

ANZIAM is fundamentally still as it always was, but it is thriving under this title,  with the ANZIAM brand on the ANZIAM Journal and the annual ANZIAM Conference, with ANZIAM having members from both Australia and New Zealand,  and with the ANZIAM conferences often held in New Zealand. And among the member societies of  ICIAM, ANZIAM leads alphabetically!  

 I doubt that Bob O’Malley ever realised the extent of his influence on applied mathematics at the other end of the world.  All it took was a few words.  Years later, as ICIAM Treasurer he was very helpful  to ANZIAM in securing the right to hold the 2003 Congress, and as told to me by Noel Barton, the Sydney 2003 Congress Director, Bob O’Malley was also very supportive in addressing the many problems he faced along the way.  He deserves a special place in the annals of ANZIAM.






Ian H Sloan

Ian Sloan chaired the International Program Committee for ICIAM2003 in Sydney, and was President of ICIAM from 2003 to 2007. He is an Australian numerical analyst, with current interests in high dimensional numerical integration and approximation.