The Belz Lecture commenced in 1969 when Clem Pratt was the Victorian Branch President of the Statistical Society of Australia. It has become the premier event of the Victorian Branch calendar and is followed by the annual Belz dinner. The Lecture is named in honour of Maurice Belz, the Foundation Professor of Statistics at the University of Melbourne, who was largely responsible for setting up the first autonomous Department of Statistics in Australia. The 1969 meeting notice states:
“The first Maurice H. Belz Lecture, recently inaugurated by the Statistical Society in honour of Professor Maurice Belz for his work in establishing and advancing the science of Statistics in Australia, will be given in the Sisalkraft Lecture Theatre, Architecture School, University of Melbourne, on Tuesday, November 25th, at 7:45 pm.”
See below for a brief biography of Belz.
Initially the Belz Lecturers knew Belz personally. As the supply of prominent statisticians in this category diminished, the criterion for selecting the Belz Lecturer changed. The honour was usually given to a high-level statistician with some association with the University of Melbourne, such as a staff member or former student. Today there is no pretence that the Belz Lecturer necessarily has any association with Belz or the University of Melbourne. The choice of Belz Lecturer is made by the current President of the Victorian Branch, after discussion with the Branch Council. The main criteria are a good reputation as a speaker, and an ability to provide insight on issues of concern to the wider statistical community.
The Belz Lecture is not an academic seminar. It should appeal to a broad range of statisticians, and be at a level accessible to all. A full list of titles of past Belz Lectures follows.
Maurice Belz: A Brief Biography
Maurice Belz was born on the 1 February 1897 at Auburn, Sydney. He was educated at Sydney Boys’ High School and The University of Sydney, from which he graduated with a B.Sc. in 1918. He was awarded the university medal in mathematics. In 1920 he received a Barker travelling scholarship, and completed his M.Sc. at Cambridge in 1922. He worked in the Cavendish Laboratory under Lord Rutherford.
In 1923 Belz took up a lectureship in mathematics at the University of Melbourne. In 1929 he introduced a course on the theory of statistics. With Professor J.H. Michell he published The elements of mathematical analysis(London, 1937). In 1948 the University of Melbourne, at Belz’ instigation, formed the first autonomous Department of Statistics in Australia. Belz, then associate professor, was appointed head, and was promoted to professor in 1955. He retired in 1963.
Many of the initial generation of Australia’s professional statisticians were either trained or taught in Belz’s department. He established a course for graduates of science and industry, and encouraged university researchers and industrial organizations to seek statistical assistance from departmental staff. During visits to Britain (1961, 1964 and 1970-1972) he worked as a consultant to the British Petroleum Company in London, and prepared Statistical Methods for the Process Industries (London, 1973) for publication.
Belz was elected a member of the International Statistical Institute in 1948, and he was made an honorary member of the Statistical Society of Australia in 1970. He was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1954. He died on 28 March 1975.
Adapted from Betty Laby (1993) Maurice Henry Belz (1897-1975). The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, pp. 160-161.