Paterson's Bill Cummins pays tribute to professor mate with giant, maths-inspired artworks

Steel work: Bill Cummins with the five pieces which will be on display at Professor Jon Borwein's commemoration. Picture: Lachlan Leeming.

Steel work: Bill Cummins with the five pieces which will be on display at Professor Jon Borwein's commemoration. Picture: Lachlan Leeming.

Bill Cummins knows he doesn’t look like your typical mathematical science lecturer. 

The self proclaimed “bloke from up the bush" may be more at home working with great slabs of metal than presenting to professors, but a chance meeting with the University of Newcastle’s head of mathematics several years ago changed that. 

Bill, a qualified boilermaker with a long career in metal fabrication, has sculpted steel for the last 20 years.  

His artworks line his Paterson property and include a 6m tyrannosaurus rex and a 2m velicoraptor.

It’s these giant pieces that first caught the eye of late head of mathematics at Newcastle university, laureate professor Jon Borwein.

Bill and Prof Borwein struck up a friendship, built on the pair’s shared interest in maths and geometry. 

“We were friendly cause of the art and the mutual appreciation of mathematics,” Bill explained. It led to Prof Borwein inviting Bill to guest lecture professors from around the country on effective visualization on mathematical science at a 2012 workshop in Newcastle. 

Bill smiled as he recalled the intellectual types “fascinated with giving this grotty old boiler-maker from up the bush a (go at a) lecture”.

Prof Borwein passed away last year, with a commemorative conference kicking off this week at the Newcastle Convervatorium for the world-renowned maths professor. Bill was approached to display some of his art at the commemoration, given Prof Borwein’s appreciation of them. 

“I was asked to display some work, but I said I’d make a new special tribute to Jon,” he said. He set to work crafting a set of the five platonic solids – a shape that is identical in shape and size on every side – a criteria fulfilled by the tetrahedron, cube octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron.

Interwoven in the steel is Bill’s artwork, including a tribute to the region’s dark history with the Catholic Church.

Bill said it was “probably the most exhausted I’ve ever been” putting the pieces together, but it was worth doing for a mate. 

“It was a hell of a lot of hard work, but it was worth it,” he said. 

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