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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Armidale Teachers' College opens for business, March 1928

FIRST INTAKE: Armidale Teachers' College pioneer group. There were 33 women, 30 men in that first intake, Primary teaching was one profession open to women.  This is the fourth in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England.: 

Those involved in the establishment of the new Armidale Teachers’ College had just three months from Cabinet’s approval of the proposal until the first scheduled intake of students in March 1928 to make the whole thing possible.

Good staff were critical if the project were to overcome the increasing number of detractors and prove a success.

Part of the reason for the College’s establishment had lain in the tensions between Sydney Teachers’ College Principal Alexander Mackie and S H Smith as head of the Education Department, between Mackie’s focus on the academic and Smith’s focus on vocational education.

Smith had begun his career as a pupil teacher, a scheme in which prospective teachers began their training while at school and then were sent out to teach after school, gaining their formal qualifications later. He knew what it was like to find yourself at 18 in sole charge of a country school with anything from 20 to 40 pupils in classes ranging from 1st to 6th.

Smith and C B Newling, the ATC’s new principal, wanted two things in the new College’s staff. They must be well qualified to overcome the type of prejudice exemplified by Mackie’s views. Then too and most important, they had to be good teachers in their own right.

Smith and Newling were successful in recruiting the required staff. While they were doing so, work continued on the nuts and bolts issues associated with the establishment of the new institution.

It was physically impossible to get everything in place by the due date. ‘Girrahween’, now Smith House, may have been purchased as a main centre, but the required modifications would not be completed until later in 1928. Interim arrangements were required.

What came to be called ‘Siberia’, a new two room building used for manual arts training at the renamed Armidale Demonstration School, was appropriated for initial lectures. Older Armidale residents will remember ‘Siberia’ because the building was still being used when they went to what we called Armidale Dem.

‘Whare-Koa’ provided accommodation for 24 women under the supervision of Matron Bell. Arrangements were made to accommodate remaining students in private board.

Lectures began in March as scheduled for the initial enrollment of 63 (30 men and 33 women). As would happen ten years later with the University College, everything was in short supply. Again as would happen ten years later, the standard of the staff and their teaching made the difference.

On 9 March 1928, the official inauguration ceremony for the new college took place, followed by a complimentary dinner in the Armidale Town Hall for David Drummond and S H Smith. This was a gala occasion attended by around 230 people. Sadly, illness prevented Smith attending.

The inauguration, Drummond said, was an historic occasion, a departure in the educational history not only of New South Wales, but of Australia itself.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 April 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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