Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - Wanderers, Eels and the story of a university


The sound of the drums drew me. I swung off Argyle Street under the railway towards the town square where I could see the flags waving. It was a bright, warm day and the crowd was celebrating the near victory of The Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australian A-League soccer competition. I know that I am meant to call it football, but there are other football codes!

There was something tribal about the scene. Standing there under a tree, I watched the fans go through their ritual dance, waving flags and rhythmically shaking their arm in the air or clapping their hands above their heads. Nobody had expected the club to make the grand final in its first season, so there was reason to celebrate. 

The formal street parade had yet to begin, so I wandered down Church Street past the University of New England's recently opened Future Campus in the old Parramatta post office. This had been officially opened a few days before with a street party supported by another football code, in this case the Parramatta Eels Rugby League team.

In welcoming the opening, Lord Mayor John Chedid had said in a statement that the city was fortunate to now have two leading universities, referring to the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney.. The Mayor went on; “The establishment of the UNE Future Campus is an opportunity for everyone to experience a new generation of distance learning through the use of cutting-edge technology”.

  The University is one of the Eels' main sponsors. Parramatta Eels Help Launch UNE Future Campus proclaimed the team web site. Players were at the openiOpening Parramattang to provide support and to be photographed with their young fans.

I had reservations about the University's move to sponsor a major Rugby League team far from the home campus, but it's turned out to be a quite effective regional marketing strategy, The University now has over 2,000 students in Western Sydney, including a number of Eels' players. The Future Campus itself, don't you love the modern jargon?, has received a fair bit of national press coverage because its actually a demonstration site for the application of new technology.

Looking around me that lunchtime, I realised that I had solved a problem. I have been struggling to write a 3,600 personal memoir of my memories of UNE to go into book that may be published later in the year. My earliest memories of the University, it was then a university college, are as a very young child. I sort of grew up in the place and still have connection today. I had been struggling to work out just how to compress all this, to explain, to tell a story. I now realised I had my answer. 

I would start the piece in Parramatta with the opening of the Future Campus, then jump back in time to where I already had some words in draft.

"Early in February 1938, a young looking thirty year old lecturer in history and economics arrived to take up his appointment at the newly created New England University College. It would be some weeks before theJ P Belshaw October 1940 3next academic staff member arrived. There were just two students enrolled; Jean Dyce, the Warden’s secretary, promptly tried to enrol him as the third and was disappointed to find that he was only a staff member.

The story had begun some six months before. On the journey back to New Zealand from England after completing his PhD at Manchester, the ship had called at Sydney. The young man left the ship to inquire about job prospects at the University and the banks. It was in the Economics Department at the Bank of New South Wales that he heard vague rumours about a proposed university college to be established in a remote part of the state. Those he talked to were not impressed.

Around December, the first five academic positions at the New England University College were advertised. Without much enthusiasm and with decided reservations, he decided to apply, beating thirty five other applicants for the position.

His reservations did not disappear with his arrival in Armidale, nor was his enthusiasm aroused. The town seemed small; it was dry, brown and dusty, a huge contrast to New Zealand’s green. It seemed to be asleep a great part of the time, or at least very drowsy."

So that gives me by bookends if you like, a personal touch to today and that distant past. Mind you, I wasn't personally present in 1938! Come on, I'm not that old, but certainly I wouldn't exist without that arrival in Armidale.

With my problem solved, I wandered slowly back through the Wanderers' fans. I really had to get back to the office and get some work done.  

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