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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Contributing to Northern Life

Shirley Mckechnie at the UNE dance summer school. Under Peggy Van Praagh and Ms Mckechnie, the summer schools assisted the evolution of Australian dance. This  is the twelth in the story of the Pacific Belshaws, the seventh on the early days of the New England University College, University of New England

At the end of the Second World War, Jim Belshaw as Acting Warden had spoken of the New England University College as the powerhouse of the North. This view was shared by the College’s founders and the new Advisory Council.

This part of the College’s role s was seen in fairly broad terms; one part was the education of the young; a second economic development and especially the role that agriculture might play in that development; a third the contribution that the College might make to broader Northern life

Belshaw took up the regional development cause. In 1944, he combined with geology lecturer Alan Voisey to launch the New England University College Regional Research Bureau. This was more name than substance, the main print output appears to have been a pamphlet based on a series of articles originally published in the Northern Daily Leader, but it provided a platform for a new movement, the regional council movement.

Belshaw travelled the North, arguing for the creation of regional councils with real powers that could facilitate development, a cause taken up by a number of local councils. As it became clear that the Government in Sydney would not grant the new regional councils the power they needed to be effective, the regional councils movement turned into a resurgent New England New State Movement.

In parallel, Belshaw and his colleagues focused their research and writing on different aspects of the North. This output would peak in the early 1980s and then decline sharply as the University changed direction.

Appointed as Warden in February 1947, Robert Madgwick shared the vision but added to it high level administrative skills along with a profound belief in liberal and adult education.

After founding the Australian Army Education Service,  Madgwick played a major part in establishing the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. He also sat (1943-46) on two inter-departmental committees which set out the future role of the Commonwealth government in education.

Madgwick constantly championed the cause of adult education. When his claims for a Commonwealth-funded national system were thwarted by lack of political support, he chose to leave Canberra and come to the College as a way of putting his ideas into practice in a direct way.

In June 1948, A W (Arnold) Eberle was appointed to head adult education. Eberle died suddenly in January 1954 and was replaced in 1955 by AJA (Arch) Nelson.

Under Eberle and then Nelson, the role played by the College/University in adult and then external education gave it regional reach and national prestige.

Speaking just of the dance summer schools, the Curator of Dance at the National Library Michelle Potter spoke of the excitement generated where creativity was fostered, where some of Australia’s most prominent artists made contributions, and where the talents of aspiring choreographers, dancers, writers and historians were nurtured.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 April 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 

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