Graham Wilson OAM. Both University Archivist Gerry Purkis and Graham as Director of the New England Historical Resources Centre resigned over the failure of the networked University of New England to properly address the organisation of regional records.
This is the sixth and final in a short series on the remarkable story of the University of New England's Heritage Centre and Regional Archives.
By 1980 both the Armidale College of Advanced Education with its Museum of Education and New England Historical Resources Centre and the University of New England were providing valuable services to staff, students and the Northern NSW community.
Both institutions had experienced significant growth over the previous decade. Some problems were already apparent, but the future still seemed secure.
Nine years later, both had vanished into the maws of that mess called the networked University of New England, an uncomfortable amalgam of the Armidale College of Advanced Education, the University of New England and the Northern Rivers College of Education. Orange Agricultural College was added a little later.
I will tell you a little of those turbulent years in my next series of columns. It’s a story of Armidale’s rise, fall and then slow recovery. It’s also a story of the way hubris, loss of vision, political divides and complacency reduced the capacity of institutions and community to respond to external threats.
For the moment, the merger of the Armidale College of Advanced Education and University left open the question of what should be done with the Archives, Historical Resources Centre and Museum of Education.
In August 1989, Graham Wilson as Director of the Historical Resources Centre and Gerry Purkis as University Archivist wrote a joint report on future directions. They proposed that the University Archives, the Family History Collection and the Historical Resources Centre should be gathered together at the Mossman Street Campus.
The networked university was already struggling with the integration of ACAE staff and activities into the new institution, as well as broader integration questions across the whole network. In these circumstances, the future of these historical resources was not seen as a high priority.
Gerry Purkis resigned as archivist. His position would remain vacant for three years.
At the end of 1992, a frustrated Graham Wilson also resigned as Director of the Historical Resources Centre. He had been working on a volunteer basis with no relief from teaching load available to accommodate Centre management.
The entire range of regional archival and support services that had been provided since the 1940s was now in effective suspension. One result was a sharp drop in research and publications focused on regional interests including history. A second was loss of community support for the university.
The network university was abolished in 1994 leading to re-establishment of a separate if much diminished independent UNE.
As had been recommended in 1989, UNE now finally decided to use C.B Newling Library building as a central site for the management of U.N.E. Archives, the Historical Resources Centre and the Museum of Education. The Heritage Centre as we know it today had been born.
Note to readers: This post was prepared as a column for the on-line edition of the Armidale Express. 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, here 2019, here 2020, here 2021.