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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New England University College fights to stay open.

Booloominbah, army convalescent hospital First World War: In 1942, the army's desire to use the mansion in the same way could have closed the New England University College for good. This  is the ninth in the story of the Pacific Belshaws, the fourth on the early days of the New England University College, University of New England 

Those who had fought so hard to establish the New England University College had always seen it as a first step towards the creation of a full university for the North. This view would shared by the newly formed Advisory Council and staff.

The outbreak of war affected students and staff, bringing progress to a standstill. At first it seemed that the College itself might close. In 1942, the Army sought to requisition Booloominbah as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, a role that it had played during the First World War.

These were difficult hours. Despite opposition from College supporters, Sydney University VC Robert Wallace advised NEUC Warden Edgar Booth in May 1942 that the Army requisition was mandatory and that immediate action was required.

Now desperate, Booth visited Canberra to see the Minister for the Army and Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde to put the College’s case. He was persuasive. Forde immediately revoked the decision, adding that proposed requisition was “neither essential nor in the best interests of the Commonwealth.”

This was a real-payback for the earlier speed in establishing the College and the subsequent work of the first staff and students. Without it, the College could well have closed, perhaps never to re-open.

By the middle of 1943, the College felt sufficiently settled to again pursue the autonomy question.

In July 1943, the Council submitted a memorandum to the Sydney University Senate suggesting that the time had come to prepare the College for independence. This was followed by a similar petition to NSW Premier William McKell in February 1944. In both cases, the appointment of full professors was seen as a central step.

Booth as College Warden pursued the autonomy cause with vigour. In May 1945, the Sydney University Senate agreed that the College should be prepared for autonomy and that its subsidy should be increased to allow the appointment of professors.

Satisfied that autonomy was in sight, Booth resigned in July 1945. He had played a crucial role in the successful establishment of the College and in the creation of its character and ethos.

Jim Belshaw as Deputy Warden became Acting Warden, a position he would hold until February 1947. when Robert Madwick was appointed Warden.

Belshaw continued to press the autonomy cause with the NSW Government, but to no avail. In late 1946, he was forced to report to the Advisory Council that “the replies being received were still of the same nature – the matter was still under consideration and the Government had not yet determined its final policy in relation to the decentralisation of university education.”
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 March 2018. 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 


Hels said...

At that early stage, when we only had one university in each capital city, it was a huge step seeing the University College becoming a full university for the North. I remember when Monash opened - even in the 1960s parents were very wary about whether it would be a university equal to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide etc.

Was there any other full university in the North back then?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Hels. Not when UNE gained autonomy. Newcastle began as a university college in 1951 and gained autonomy in 1965.