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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale aspired to become 'Cambridge of Australia'

"HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY": Jim Belshaw says that the Creeklands' area contributes to the harmony of Armidale
The opening of the Malpas dam in 1968 was important to the greening of Armidale because it removed water constraints. However, other forces were at play as well.

By 1963, Armidale was in the midst of a building boom that would continue for almost twenty years. By 1974, NSW Government population projections suggested that Armidale’s population would pass that of Tamworth, reaching 40,000 people by the year 2000. Few realised just how vulnerable Armidale had become to downturn because of its now overwhelming dependence on a single industry.

In October 1959, the Hon Lionel Brett, a representative of the British Council and a leading town planner, commented during a visit to that “Armidale appeared as a city which could be greatly improved”. Earlier, in August of that year, J H Shaw from the University of NSW had said that with proper planning, Armidale could become the Cambridge of Australia.

These two ideas of civic improvement and of Armidale as a unique education centre were conjoined and could conflict. Civic improvement included modernization and development, while life style was central to the university city concept. 

In retrospect, the Arboretum debate in the first part of the sixties was something of a turning point. Worried about the rate base relative to servicing costs, Council was split between the subdivision of the open space around the lookout or the open space on South Hill that was the site of the proposed Arboretum. 

A resumed proposal to rezone the Arboretum land for residential purposes again led to protests from a variety of civic groups. For the first time, aldermen found themselves greeted by demonstrators with placards. It was a friendly affair, and in the end the land was maintained for public purposes. The Arboretum itself would not officially open until 1988, but the practical effect was to save open space in the north and south of the city.

In 1966 as part of the continuing interest in beautification, recreation and civic improvement, a recreation and playing fields advisory committee was formed following a public meeting.

There was rapid progress. In Armidale in 1968, there were twelve hectares of recreational land. Ten years later there were 26 hectares, with a further 7 hectares nearing completion plus another 8 hectares allocated for equestrian clubs. A further 59 hectares had been allocated for future open space.

The Creeklands were now emerging as a central unified east-west meander, adding to the harmony of the central city in its valley.

Growth in pupil numbers meant expansion in schools as well as in student numbers, leading to new schools and not always appealing new building. Visually, the sympathetic extensions at TAS were especially important in helping anchor Brown Street, while also starting to create a new eastern visual strip from the Police Paddock to the Creeklands.

The transformation period that we are talking about (1963-83) also saw the beginning of the museum precinct in Kentucky Street with the opening of NERAM in 1983, as well as the revitalisation of Beardy Street.

One can argue about Beardy Street, but that’s a different story. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 February 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited 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.

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