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

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Building university into a regional power house

Colonel Robert B Madgwick, Director of Army Education at work, Toorak Melbourne.This  is the eleventh in the story of the Pacific Belshaws, the sixth on the early days of the New England University College, University of New England 

In February 1947, Robert Madgwick had been appointed as new Warden of the New England University College, replacing Belshaw as Acting Warden. He proved to be a good choice.

Belshaw had previously articulated a vision for the future university. In this he spoke of the College’s already considerable significance in political, social and economic arenas, of its great future, of its heavy obligation to research and extension work. To Belshaw, a third function of the university would be its role as the “power house” for its region.

Madgwick shared these views. Like Belshaw, he also believed in the role of education as a tool for economic and social advancement. However, he also brought a broader experience that would help form the character of the place.

Robert Bowden Madgwick was born in North Sydney on 10 May 1905, the second of three sons of Richard Charlton Madgwick and Annie Jane Elston. His father was a tram-driver in Sydney, his mother a dressmaker. Both were active members of the Anglican Church.. Madgwick stated later that his parents taught him that, "all men and women were sacred, and poverty and injustice were in some way contrary to God's teaching."

After attending Naremburn Public and North Sydney Boys' High schools, Madgwick entered the University of Sydney on a Teachers' College scholarship, graduating in 1927 with the first university medal in economics, an award shared with (Sir) Herman Black.

After teaching, for a period, Madgwick was appointed in 1929 to a temporary lectureship in economics at the University of Sydney. There he completed his Masters and then in 1933 was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship. This allowed him to complete a D Phil at Balliol College, Oxford, later published as Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851.

Madgwick returned to the University of Sydney in 1936 as a lecturer in economic history. There on .19 May 1937 he married Ailsa Margaret Aspinall. The couple would have three daughters.

At Sydney, Madgwick had become involved in adult education as secretary of the University Extension Board. Now the War gave him an opportunity to put his evolving ideas on adult education into large scale practice when he became involved in planning an army education scheme.

In July 1943 he was appointed temporary colonel and given the title of director of army education, becoming head of what would be known as the Australian Army Education Service (AAES).

The AAES aimed: to build morale, to educate for citizenship, to provide a diversion from forward or staging-area tedium, and to prepare servicemen and women for demobilization. This was a large scale activity, with (among other things) some 10 million attending AAES classes.

I will continue this story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 28 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 

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