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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Education in another era

This is the first of a new series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England.  1935. Armidale Teachers' College staff and students. Students entered the college at 17, sometimes 16, and began teaching two years later.

Over coming columns, I thought that I would share with you a few stories about the early days of the Armidale Teachers’ and New England University Colleges with a special focus on people and life. This column sets the scene.

The past is indeed a far country. We are blinded to this because we think that what we think now, our experiences, our beliefs. can be used to interpret or understand the past.

The reality is very different. The Armidale Teachers’ College was founded in 1928, the University College in 1938. That’s not all that long ago and yet it was a totally different world. To a degree, what we believe today is tangential to what was.

The establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College (ATC) was due to a confluence of political circumstances made possible because the small city was already an educational centre.

Armidale had five boarding schools, a boarding hostel and one state high school when the ATC was established in 1928. While many boarders came from Northern NSW, the boarding catchment extended from far North Queensland to Sydney and beyond.

The pupils were drawn to Armidale because of the city’s and schools’ reputations, because the city’s cold climate was seen as healthy. 

Boarding conditions were spartan, austere, unacceptable by today’s standards.  
TAS dormitory 1913 illustrates the spartan conditions at Armidale's boarding schools.
 The schools set part of the pattern of Armidale life, busy during term time, deserted during holidays.

The departure of the boarding school trains, the end-term mail trains south and north, were a scene of bustle. At each small stop during the night, pupils were dropped off to be collected by family.

Glen Innes Mail. Werris Creek. As term ended, the Brisbane and Glen Innes Mails became boarding school trains returning borders home. Some traveled for as much as 30 hours. 
Queensland country borders in particular had long journeys. They had to change at Wallangarra, in Brisbane and then perhaps again later for the appropriate country line train. It might be more than thirty hours before the train disgorged the now tired and grubby student into the arms of its parents.

Mind you, these long trips were not necessarily seen as a hardship. They were often fun.

Our attitudes towards education and age have also changed. Most students left school at the Intermediate Certificate, year ten in today’s money, some much earlier. The proportion going on to the Leaving Certificate (Year 11) was relatively small, the proportion going to teachers’ college or university smaller still.

The average starting age at college or university was 17, some were still 16. The normal teachers’ college course was two years for primary school teachers, the basic BA or BSc three years, four if you did honours or a Diploma of Education.

The college graduate would be in the class room as early as 18, more normally 19 or 20. The university student would be at work or in postgraduate study at 21, in some cases as early as 20.

It was a different world, but these were not the only differences. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 22  March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.  

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