Booloominbah: Early staff and students at the university college lived and studied together in Booloominbah, creating an intense student experience. This post continues the story of the Pacific Belshaws with a shift now to the early days of the New England University College
The first columns in this series explored the early world of the Pacific Belshaws. Our focus now shifts to the early days of the New England University College.
It was a remarkable period, remarkable in the academic results achieved, remarkable in the way that the College delivered on the objectives of the founders. It was also a period of considerable struggle.
Legislation to allow the formation of the new college passed Parliament in December 1937. Then all the machinery issues had to be addressed before building work could commence and staff recruited. There were less than three months between the advertisement for staff and the start of lectures.
There were very particular reasons for this rush. The university college’s main proponents had all been involved in the creation of the Teachers’ College 10 years before. That, too, had been done in a rush and wisely so. Depression hit Australia 12 months after its creation. There were moves to close the college, but the project was too far advanced.
With that lesson in front of them, the university project was pushed hard and again wisely so. Had the opening been delayed even 12 months, the onset of war could well have closed the university college. As it was, it was to be a close fought battle with the army who wanted the site for a convalescent hospital in 1942.
The rush created its own problems. When 30-year-old Jim Belshaw arrived in February 1938, the first of the newly appointed staff, the workmen were still modifying Booloominbah.
There were five in that first academic staff group: Belshaw (economics and history), Duncan Howie (philosophy and psychology), Jack Somerville (mathematics), Ralph Crossley (French and German) and Frank Letters (classics and English).
As the only married staff member, Frank Letters, wife Kathleen and daughters were accommodated in the gatekeeper’s cottage, the Lodge. The four single men joined Warden Edgar Booth, Booth’s secretary Jean Dyce, the matron Sister Green and 15 of 16 full-time students in Booloominbah.
Booloominbah also included administration offices, lecture rooms, a dining room and a common room. The other 12 members of staff including a chef, a laundress, housemaids and gardeners.
The relative isolation and proximity of staff and students created a tight-knit community that studied and lived together. The result was an intense experience reflected in subsequent results.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 28 February 2018. 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, here 2018