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

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Creating the building blocks of education

Laying the foundation stone of the Armidale Teachers' College, October 29, 1929, Drummond was determined  that a "Country College for Country Students ...should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney." It was a time of hope and speeches.  This is the fifth in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 

As lectures got underway in temporary premises in March 1928, planning for permanent premises for the new Armidale Teachers’ College had begun.

The best building site in Armidale consisted of eight acres of crown land on South Hill with commanding views over the city. This was occupied by an old goal set in gardens gone to wilderness. The previous Labor Government had considered re-opening the goal to hold sexual offenders, something that had created panic in the city. Mayor Morgan Stephens saw the old goal as a blot on the landscape: he had “done all in his power – except carting away the bricks and mortar – to remove it”.

In December 1927, Smith had obtained approval for the transfer of the goal site to his Department once the buildings had been demolished. At first, the Government Architect proposed to utilise the old goal buildings, something vehemently opposed by the College’s protagonists. Drummond set out the case quite clearly in words that guided his overall approach throughout the project: “if the Armidale Teachers’ College were to be a Country College for Country Students then the Government should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney.”

On 10 February 1928, the decision was taken to demolish the goal. Drummond wanted the new buildings constructed as soon as possible. He called for sketch plans early in 1928, then on 5 April he wrote to the Departmental architect asking him to arrange for the Chief Architect to take the plans of “Sydney Teachers College to Armidale for personal discussions with Mr Newling to see what changes might need to be made to accommodate 250 students, taking local conditions into account.”

With plans complete, tenders for the new building were called. On 1 March 1929, a contract was let to the Public Works Department providing for completion within eighteen months at a cost of £81,200. Drummond had wanted an iconic building and the plans provided for that. Externally, the style was free treatment of Italian Renaissance with meticulous attention to detail. Internally, there was the same attention to detail

Construction began on 8 April 1929, with Drummond closely monitoring the whole project. In October 1929, for example, Smith recorded that the Minister had decided to proceed with the whole central section of the building comprising the gymnasium and Assembly Hall as originally envisaged. The gymnasium was constructed with special care, based on the then best models. It featured a floor specially mounted on elliptical springs to cushion impacts.

On 29 November 1929 with construction underway, a large crowd gathered to watch the laying of two foundation stones, one by NSW Premier Thomas Bavin, the second by Drummond. It was a festive ceremony meticulously planned by Drummond down to the last detail, including the supply of flags and bunting.

It was a time of hope and speeches looking forward to further decentralisation of education, including a Teachers’ College at Wagga Wagga and a possible University College in Armidale, However, storm clouds were gathering that would threaten not just the building, but the new College itself.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 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.  


Johnb said...

Government Chief Architect, contract awarded to the Public Works Department, a world away from current process Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

Indeed, John. It's interesting. The time to decision on the Teacher's College was very quick, that for the University College obviously less so. But in both cases, the speed from decision to commencement of teaching was remarkably quick, a few months. In both cases, building work was just getting underway, focused initially on the few things required to allow teaching to start, with other things coming later. But the building works themselves were implemented quite quickly.

We seem to have lost the ability to do things quickly in the absence of a war or total emergency. I suspect that part of this is due to outsourcing.

Johnb said...

My reflections are that Australians generally at hat time had a focus on Nation building which led to a 'will to find a way' along with an acceptance by those involved that they were taking their part in that process. Hence the acceptance by both staff and students to start delivering function before form had been completed. Some where along the way the national focus appears to have shifted to wealth extraction by the most expedient methods. I also suspect that some where along the way I have become somewhat fossilized by age.

Jim Belshaw said...

Oh, John. I did laugh at your last sentence!

You may be right on nation building, that was a strong ethos at the time. There were also different expectations.processes. I'm not sure re wealth extraction. Today we worry much more about that than then!