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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bumpy beginnings for young teachers

Long trip: The Kempsey-Armidale Road in the 1920s. It wasn't always easy for students to get to Armidale over New England's dreadful roads, and the trip could leave them feeling quite sick. This is the seventh in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. .

To the young seventeen and sometimes sixteen year olds who came to Armidale Teachers’ College and, later, to the University College, it was a path to a new world. 

The College’s catchment extended from Maitland to the Queensland border. North Coast students were especially important, as they would be to the later University. 

In most cases, they were the first in their family to undertake any form of higher education. Many had barely travelled outside their home towns. The great majority were quite religious and came from socially conservative families and communities. 
For writer Shirley Walker, the College was a way of leaving the claustrophobia of home and community.
Many parents had reservations about education and risks, especially for girls. However, teaching was also seen as respectable, a means for social advancement. 

For some such as writer Shirley Walker who studied at the Teachers’ College during the Second World War, the College was a way of leaving the claustrophobia of home and community. For most, I think, the feeling was one of nervous excitement connected with the unknown.

Getting to Armidale could be an issue because of the poor east-west transport links. 

Les Sullivan from Kempsey was awarded a scholarship to the College in 1941. To solve the problem of getting there, his parents booked him onto the twice weekly Woodward and Purkiss coach service to Armidale. 

“Bidding my parents a teary farewell with an admonition from my mother, ‘Don’t do anything you’d be afraid to tell us’, ringing in my ears, I boarded the large open-style stretched tourer (probably a Studebaker or Hudson) for the 120 miles (190 km) gut-churning, dust-eating, corrugated ordeal”. 

“I had always been prone to carsickness so it was not a journey I was looking forward to. I can still see the sign at the bottom of “The Big Hill” warning of 12 miles (17 km) of winding road. I was too sick to enjoy the tea stops at Bellbrook and Jeogla and just prayed for the ordeal to end.”

Coming home was a little easier, for the large number of North Coast students made it possible to book return charters to at least the main destinations. Even so, as late as the 1930s, it was sometimes easier for one North Coast student to return home via rail to Sydney and then steamer to Woolgoolga. There he would be lowered onto the long wharf in a wicker ware basket along with his luggage.

But what type of College did the students find upon arrival? Here we have a 1935 description from the Sydney Morning Herald describing the completed main buildings and initial playing fields. The journalist was totally impressed with the space, the facilities and standard of teaching.

If the aim of the piece was to impress city students that they should consider the College, it would certainly have helped. 

For most of the Northern students, it would have been the largest and most impressive building they had ever seen and by a considerable margin. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 May 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.   


Johnb said...

Kempsey to Armidale remains a beautiful journey but still not for the car sick, hard to imagine a stretched coach dealing with some of the cuttings and bends of today never mind the road of 75 years ago. Intrepid travelers indeed. Gave country teens an option to travelling to the 'Big Smoke of Newcastle and Sydney which many would have welcomed. Les Murray captures the times for a country boy visiting the big city in 'The smell of coal smoke'. https://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/the-daylight-moon-les-murray/clip1/

Jim Belshaw said...

I really like Les's poetry, JohnB, including that one. We talked about it in comments on a post on the New England blog. You remind me that I have to go back to his poetry.

The Big Hill road is one of the last old roads left, partly because it is a secondary track now and difficult to maintain. But it shows what the old transport routes were like until the early sixties. Its a lovely road.

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