Sydney Morning Herald, August 3, 2001
David Mustard
Mathematician, mountaineer, aesthete

When David Mustard was born in London, Britain was
deep into the Great Depression. In India, Gandhi and the
Indian National Congress were pressing for
independence. Born of his English mother Lucy, Mustard
was forever drawn to the India of his father, N.R.

Lucy Mustard, tall, striking and adventurous - but, some
say, also feckless and improvident - had travelled to India
and fallen in love with Deo, as he was called, in the heat
and dust of Madras. There were obstacles enough to such
a union in 1920s British India. To add to them, Deo, a
doctor and son of a Brahmin school principal in
Amravati, was active in the independence movement and
often on the move - and several times jailed by the

By the time Mustard was seven, when his mother went
back to India, taking him to join his father, he had been to
five schools in three countries - Britain, Australia and
New Zealand.

After an all too brief time together in New Delhi - when
David Mustard was Gopal Deobhankar - the family was
broken again by the exigencies of Deo's political
activities. Mustard's longest continuous spell of
schooling, and the happiest, was at Woodstock, an
American school at Mussoorie in the foothills of the

In 1947, when he was 16 and India was about to gain
independence, he set off for New Zealand, as the best
place to further his education. The ship was delayed in
Sydney and he decided to stay.

He grew up in the Sydney of the late 1940s, quickly and
alone, though his mother eventually followed him to
Australia. He worked as an office boy by day, attended
night school to qualify as a radio operator but in 1949
won a Commonwealth scholarship which enabled him to
enter the University of Sydney. He graduated in science
with honours in 1953 and worked as a physicist before
turning to mathematics.

David Mustard was very much part of postwar artistic life
in Sydney, and for a while the expatriate Australian scene
in Britain in the 1960s. He had a child, Tara. Then, with
his first wife Judith, he had two children, Trinka and
Jonathan. From 1973 he was husband to Barbara Spode
and stepfather to her daughter India.

For one with such a disrupted childhood, Mustard was
remarkably calm and composed in his mind. He once said
he was a socialist in his head but an anarchist in his heart.
He was an atheist who found both peace and excitement
in the life of the mind.

When he said he was a citizen of all countries, and of
none (though happy to have ended up in Australia), there
was no pretence. He was a great cook (vegetarian), lover
of music and art (especially Indian, both), a gifted linguist
and amateur potter. He was a natural aesthete without

He is remembered by the generations of students he
taught at the University of NSW over 35 years until his
retirement in 1995. He was much loved and highly
regarded as a teacher and, by the end of his life, had
contributed significantly as a scholar, on his own and
helping others.

"Typically," Professor Ian Sloan said at Mustard's
funeral, "in recent years David took great pleasure in
helping the Turkish mathematician Ozaktas and his
colleagues in the writing of their book on fractional
Fourier transforms. He drew great satisfaction from
receiving an early copy of the book just before he died."

But his enduring passion was India, to which he returned
frequently, often to trek and climb, especially in the
Himalayas of happy schooldays memory. In 1980 he and
Barbara made a four-month, 1,500 kilometre trek, alone
and unassisted, from Kashmir, through Ladakh to

On retirement, Mustard had time to seek out his Indian
family. Sadly, it was too late to meet the father he had not
seen since childhood, but his cousins in Bombay and
Nagpur embraced him warmly, and a circle was closed.

Mustard died of cancer. He is survived by Barbara and
her daughter India, and his children by his first marriage,
Trinka and Jonathan and grandchildren Miles and Milan
Ring and Lucy, India and Anna Mustard.

John Slee