Growing up in Armidale, the interacting rhythms of town, gown and country set the patterns of my early life.
Town patterns included school and church, the shops, the local play, sport, the events such as the show. Country patterns included the rhythms of pastoral and agricultural life, the regular visits to town by country people, lambing and shearing.
Gown patterns were set by the rhythms of life in the young college and then university; the three terms still carrying their old English names; the examination cycle; the major academic ceremonies; the various university functions including games and fetes; and the academic visitors who had to be entertained and shown the district.
In the university college period in particular, the lives of the wives and growing number of children of the academic staff centered around the college.
If you lived in Sydney, you could choose to live away from the university, to create a separation between family and work. That was not possible in Armidale.
The early academic staff had multiple roles.
Teaching at the college involved far more than the delivery of courses...
They were building a new institution from scratch, creating structures, culture and patterns that mirrored their conception of a university. They were actively engaged in university outreach activities that fitted both their conception of the role of a university and the dreams and aspirations of the college’s founders.
They were trying to maintain their own research.
Most of all, they were trying to educate, although not all were good teachers. Here they had a very particular role.
Today, there is a renewed focus in Australia on bringing university education to those who have not had access to it, who are missing out on the university option. When the college was founded, that was the dominant student body.
At Sydney University, most students came from middle class Sydney backgrounds, many were studying part-time for career reasons.
At the college, students were drawn from across the north. They were generally young, the first in their family to attend university and had had no contact with university life. In many cases and especially for girls, their parents were actually distrustful of university education.
In these circumstances, teaching at the college involved far more than the delivery of courses, of lectures or seminars. It was a total immersion experience intended to give students the broader skills, attitudes and understandings required to succeed in academic life and beyond.
This made for a remarkably powerful university experience.
On average, New England students had lower entry level qualifications than those going to Sydney. On average, they had significantly better examination results.
During the period 1938-1953, the life of the university college, 441 students took their degrees. Of these, 88 graduated with honours, 27 with firsts of whom more than half took out university medals.
Jim Belshaw’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au
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