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

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

History Revisited - Eric Dunlop never wearied of teaching

INSPIRING GENERATIONS: Eric Dunlop was a a lecturer in history st the Armidale Teachers' College and a pioneer of the museum movement. He was originally a student at Fort Street Boys High School where he was inspired by C B Newling, first head of the Teachers' College, after whom the campus is named.
Today’s column explores the life of one man, Eric Dunlop, who played such a major role in the development of Armidale’s museums.

In writing about local and regional history, I am often frustrated because of the lack of biographical data. Fortunately, in Eric’s case we have the work of Nicole McLennan to draw from.

Eric Dunlop was born on 17 May 1910, the son of Alexander, a journalist, and his wife Jane. Dunlop did his secondary education at Fort Street Boys High School where he was taught history by C B Newling, later first principal of the Armidale Teachers' College. McLennan records that Newling reputedly fired Dunlop's interest in museums by setting he and another student a project to examine and report on the Australian Museum's Captain Cook artefacts.

In 1933, Dunlop graduated from Sydney University with a Master of Arts with first class honours in history and began teaching. .The following year at the young age of 24, Newling recruited him as lecturer in history at Armidale Teachers' College.

After two years at the College, Dunlop decided to return to teaching, taking advice that this would broaden his experience and accelerate promotion. He became frustrated at the limitations in the school system, realised that he had found his true vocation at the College and sought to return. Twelve years and one war later, he returned to Armidale in February 1949.

Three things should be remembered in considering the events that followed.

Dunlop was influenced by the ideas of what was called the 'New Education', with its emphasis on putting 'the school into contact with "real life", the need to develop all the powers of the child, the value of "learning by doing" and "activity", and "self-expression"'.

This ‘New Education’ focus fitted with another thread, Dunlop’s interest in the country and in the local and regional experience, a thread that meshed perfectly with local concerns. Local state member and former Education Minister David Drummond, for example, was both an exponent of the ‘New Education’ and of the Northern and Country causes of which Armidale was part and also major beneficiary.

Finally, Dunlop had both energy and perseverance, necessary conditions if you are to drive things through.

In 1949, just eight months after his return to Armidale, Dunlop formally proposed his '"Old Time One-Teacher School" project' to Dr G W Bassett, then principal of the College. This involved the reconstruction of a bush school on the college fields, authentically furnished and equipped, paying 'attention to minute details'.

The building was to be set up as a museum, catering to school groups and tourists. It would also be a research centre, housing a collection of materials on educational practice and facilities for the use of students at the College. Through the project, Dunlop hoped to 'awaken a deeper consciousness of the intrinsic interest of our early history' via the preservation and display of historic objects.

In my next column, I will tell you a little more of the story of Eric Dunlop and the history of Armidale’s museum movements.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 30 March 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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