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

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

New England's built landscape - the remarkable story of builder and philanthropist George F Nott Part 1

University of New England graduation. In April 1936, opponents to its establishment had the numbers in the NSW Cabinet to strike it down. They would have succeeded without instant financial support for the proposed College from builder, industrialist and philanthropist George F Nott. This, the thirteenth in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture, is the first of four columns on the remarkable life of George Nott.  

Next post. Building a place in history - the remarkable story of builder and philanthropist George F Nott Part 2

The built landscape we have to today reflects the combined effort of owners, architects, trades people and their supporting workers and the builders who coordinated the construction process. Of those builders, George Frederick Nott was arguably the most important as a builder and as a philanthropist.

It is late April 1936. Fund raising for the proposed New England University College is lagging, opposition to the concept increasing. The NSW Stevens-Bruxner Government is being affected by internal rivalries within the United Australia (now Liberal) Party as Deputy UAP Leader Eric Spooner begins to move against Premier Bertram Stevens.

At a Cabinet meeting, a minister suddenly moves out of the blue “that the item – a University College for Armidale – be struck off the Cabinet list”. We do not know who the minister was, but it seems probable that it was Spooner.

The College’s main protagonist, Education Minister and member for Armidale David Drummond, had been ambushed. Stevens was on leave with Country Party Leader Bruxner acting as Premier. Bruxner was in a difficult position trying to manage the increasing factional divides within the UAP, as well as relations between the UAP and Country Party.

Recognising that if the motion succeeded the university college proposal was dead, Drummond desperately talked out time until the lunch break. But what to do?

Knowing that George Nott was in town, Drummond went to him for help. If this resolution is carried, Drummond pleaded, “not only Armidale, but the whole of the north would lose the greatest opportunity it had ever had.

Nott’s reaction was swift and generous. “Is £1,000 any good to you? I will give you £500 in cash, and another £500 in bricks the day the job is started.”

When Cabinet resumed, Drummond’s colleague took up his papers with an air of finality, and said, “Well, Mr Chairman, I think we had better settle this matter now”.

“Pardon me”, Drummond interposed, “but within fifteen minutes of leaving this room I raised £1000. If the Government will give a firm undertaking to go ahead, the northern people will do their part. I am sure we can get the rest of the £10,000”.

Battles still lay ahead, there would be other threats, but the day had been won.

While critical to the final establishment of the New England University College, George F Nott’s quick and generous reaction was only part of his contribution to New England life, including its built architecture. That contribution was truly remarkable.

Over the next few columns, I will take the life of George F Nott as an entry point to further explore New England’s built landscape and architecture and the life that created it.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 29 November 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.   

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