Part and parcel of life: The 1937 swimming carnival at the old baths. College students and their activities became an integral part of Armidale. This, the eighth in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England, concludes the series' first part.
Today it is hard to realise just how important the Armidale Teachers’ College was to the pattern of Armidale life in the middle decades of the twentieth century.
The College was ten years old when the University College was founded. It would be a number of years after that before university students outnumbered college students. Never big enough to dominate city life in a way the University would come too, it complemented and reinforced existing activities, laying the base for new ones.
Visually, the College on the hill dominated a city of generally single story buildings. The students who walked in convoy up the hill in the morning just before nine from Smith House and later the new men’s residences and then again down the hill at five were a familiar part of the streetscape.
The local sporting competitions were strengthened by the TC teams, the church youth groups received new members, while local store keepers found a new source of business. College students performed at local venues, while College facilities from the auditorium to the sporting fields were a valuable addition to local infrastructure.
For the students, the reminiscence of College life that I have been able to find have a number of common features.
The first was the collegiate if sometimes paternalistic nature of College life. To many students away from home for the first time with limited previous opportunities, the College was a new and active social and cultural world. They were encouraged to become involved in College activities that fitted their particular interests.
Sport was obviously important, as was the opportunity to mix with the opposite sex. Then there was the exposure for the first time to drama, writing, music and art.
To Howard Hinton, photo, art was an integral part of life, to be enjoyed. He insisted that the paintings he donated be preserved as a single collection and shown in hallways and lecture theatre so that they formed an integral part of the daily round.
It is clear that he was successful. The paintings might not have been seen by as many as they would have been in, say, the NSW Art Gallery, but they were seen intensively. They became part of internal visual memory for many students.
Another feature of College life was involvement in religious activities at College and in the city. We tend to underestimate today just how important religious beliefs were in daily life.
We also forget the strength of sectarian divides between Roman Catholics and Protestants, between Micks and Prods. One devout Catholic records that this was the first time he had been forced to mix with with, let alone share a room with, a Prod!
From the College students went on to a variety of life paths, some achieving great prominence. I will look at this when I continue the story in a later series of columns.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 May 2017. 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.