College family: January 8, 1945. Edna, first college librarian and eldest daughter of college founder David Drummond, marries first staff member and now acting Warden Jim Belshaw. This is the tenth in the story of the Pacific Belshaws, the fifth on the early days of the New England University College, University of New England
The 1940s were a difficult time for the New England University College as it fought to establish itself with limited funds. However, there were some advances.
In January 1943, the Commonwealth Government established the Department of Post-War Reconstruction under the leadership of H C (Nugget) Coombs to plan and coordinate Australia's transition from a war economy with the goal of achieving and maintaining full employment.
One result was the first direct Commonwealth financial support to the university sector via the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme (CRTS). Student numbers increased from 180 in 1945 to 246 in 1948, partly as a consequence of ex-service personnel enrolling under the CRTS.
In 1946, the University also received a Commonwealth grant of £33,000 under CRTS to build a temporary laboratory block, the Belshaw Block, which finally opened in 1949. The new building may have been, as University librarian Edith Tattersall said, “a bleak, ugly, two-story barn”, but it was still a God send to the Faculty of Science
There were also some new staff appointments, including two ex-students, Paul Barratt (Psychology) and Alwyn Horadam (Mathematics). Barratt had been the first student enrolled at the new University College in 1938 and would later become Professor of Psychology
Despite this growth, the efforts progress the autonomy issue failed completely. Possible Commonwealth funding was drained by the creation of the Australian National University in 1946, an action vigorously promoted by H C Coombs. In New South Wales, the Government transformed the Sydney Technical College into an Institute of Technology and then in 1949, with much fanfare, into the New South Wales University of Technology, now the University of New South Wales.
This was a bitter outcome from a New England perspective: “the University of Sydney is being financially starved”, Drummond said, and “its offspring, the New England University College, is even more starved” Staff bitterness lingered for years.
In February 1947, Jim Belshaw as acting Warden had been replaced by Robert Madgwick. It had been a busy and productive time for Belshaw.
In addition to his duties as acting Warden, he had continued teaching, played a major role in creating the institutions that the College required and had become actively involved in the promotion of Northern development. He had also found the time to marry.
“I wonder”, he had written in his diary in 1938, “whether I shall ever have a wife and children?” Now his new bride was Edna Drummond, David Drummond’s oldest daughter.
Edna’s sisters were a little surprised at the news because she had not always been complimentary about Doctor Belshaw. In fact, it’s not so surprising. Edna had established the College library so they worked together, while Belshaw and Drummond had worked closely on College and Northern Development matters.
In February 1945 their first son, James, was born.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 21 March 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