Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

History revisited - if you want something, build it fast

At the end of my last column I suggested that Drummond, Smith, Hicks and Newling proved an irresistible combination when it came to the establishment of the Armidale Teacher’s College.

The pace of events was truly remarkable. Drummond was sworn in as Minister in October 1927. The College opened for business in February 1928 using temporary buildings. Each man played a different role over those few frantic months. .

Smith marshaled the Department’s resources to support his Minister’s dream. Hicks provided critical on-ground logistics and other support. As new Principal, Newling dealt with the myriad practical details required to create a new institution from scratch.

Drummond was determined that his new baby would be healthy with every chance in life. He also wanted the College to be seen as a college of the North, not just Armidale. An activist minister, his ministerial letter books are full of instructions, suggestions and requests as he looked for resources for the new College.

He also worked behind the scenes to marshal broader Northern support. This College, he told Armidale Mayor Morgan Stephens, must be seen as the College of the North, not just Armidale.

The new state campaigns of the early 1920s had been led by key Northern pressmen. Drummond knew the editors and proprietors; he was now a newspaper man himself, so gaining friendly newspaper coverage was not hard.

With the College open, Drummond turned his attention to ensuring that it was properly housed in a building befitting its Northern status. He paid attention to every detail. Later he would be criticised for this, for extravagance, but his approach proved to be wise.

None of the players in those hectic days in 1928 and early 1929 realised that a cataclysm, the Great Depression, was about to break. As it hit, state revenues declined and cuts had to be made, including the number of student teachers. Student intakes dropped and dropped again.

The halls of the new College echoed to the sound of fewer and fewer footsteps. The College became known as Drummond’s White Elephant, There were demands to close it.

Drummond was unrepentant, although he had a sneaking sympathy for William Davies, his successor as Minister in the Lang Labor Government. Davies came to visit and the College was saved. The project was really too far advanced to cancel.

I will finish the early story of Armidale’s two colleges in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 31 July 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013.

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