University Education in Newcastle 1951 – 2001

50th Anniversary of University Education in Newcastle
1951 – 2001

Welcome to the online version of the Auchmuty Library Foyer Display celebrating the 50th Anniversary of University Education in Newcastle presented by the Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections Unit. This display was held in 2001.

The 3rd December, 2001, marks the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of University education in Newcastle. Fifty years ago today there began – from small beginnings – a great change in the life of the City.

Newcastle City Orchestra Inaugurates University Education

The University of Newcastle has become the largest and most diverse of Australia’s regional Universities. Today the University affects our lives for the better in many and diverse ways and injects more than half a billion dollars annually into the Hunter economy. This now great University can trace its origins to small beginnings: to a ceremony held on 3rd December, 1951, on the steps of Newcastle Technical College at Tighe’s Hill : the official opening of Newcastle University College.


On this day, fifty years ago, against a background of black ministerial limousines, an impressive procession studded with names like Baxter, Heffron, Premier McGirr, Lord Mayor Purdue, and Catholic Bishop Toohey, filed out of the Technical College’s Engineering Building onto the huge bitumen College forecourt. About 300 Newcastle citizens were sitting on wooden chairs in the College forecourt, formally attired – in felt hats, serge suits, heavy dresses, hats and gloves. The crowd stood in the sunshine as the procession filed across the bleak forecourt.

Guests arranged in chairs

Reaching the dais before the main entrance to the College, politicians, academics and religious leaders arranged themselves behind a wooden table on which was spread one quarter – the Union Jack quarter – of a large Australian flag. (Almost all the Southern Cross had been pushed out of sight, under the table.) Press flashbulbs popped. To the left of the dais, a short bald man, the conductor of a now long-forgotten local orchestra, waved a long baton and the strains of God Save the King floated across the crowd.

McGirr addresses the Crowd

State Premier McGirr addressed the Newcastle citizens, saying prophetically that men from the workshops and factories of Newcastle would pass through the portals of the University College, eventually to aid industry and Australia.

The Education Minister, Heffron, said the professional and lecture staff would be of the highest quality. On them – plus the intelligent and loyal support of the people of Newcastle – depended, he said, the future of the University College.

Some of Newcastle’s citizens were greatly exercised that the University College would be a technological and not an academic institution. The Lord Mayor (Ald. Purdue) said he hoped that not later than 1952 Newcastle would have an academic university. He saw the establishment of the University College was a step towards this.

The next day The Newcastle Morning Herald supported the dissatisfied citizens and the Lord Mayor, editorialising that “the establishment of an academic university would be the coping stone of the education system that the State Government has set up in the North”. The dissatisfied citizens of Newcastle, who had been urging for an academic institution, did not have long to wait. The year 1954 saw the arrival at Newcastle University College of the colourful academic ringmaster and powerbroker, the Irish historian Dr James Auchmuty, who perhaps more than anyone else was responsible for the beginning of academic university traditions and life in the City.

In 1989 the University amalgamated with two other educational institutions, the Hunter Institute of Higher Education and the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music. To represent the history of the University it is necessary to also represent the historical development of these three organisations. Please click below for the three timelines of historical evolution that go into making up the institution that we see today.

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