group looking over Shortland grounds In 2015, the University of Newcastle celebrates 50 years.  The university has a rich history and the community has been the mainstay, instrumental in the many achievements and milestones. IDEA FOR A UNIVERSITY William Tyrrell, the first Anglican Bishop of Newcastle envisaged tertiary institutions in the Hunter region. On 31 January 1849 Tyrrell was installed at the Newcastle Pro-Cathedral. Although he lived at Morpeth, Christ Church in Newcastle was in his diocese and he advocated strongly for education and established the Church of England grammar school at Newcastle and other secondary schools. Tyrrell envisaged tertiary institutions in the Hunter region.

Bishop Tyrell

Bishop Tyrrell (1807-1879). Courtesy UON Library Cultural Collections


Newcastle Christ Church(1870s). Courtesy Hunter Photobank.

To invest in his dream he transported with him to New South Wales an extensive collection of books from England. This formed part of a collection of some 2,700 volumes from St. John’s College Morpeth, generously donated by the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle to the University, and includes editions of major theological and philosophical works printed in the 16th-18th centuries, named the Morpeth Collection. At least half the Collection originally belonged to William Tyrrell, the first Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, who was appointed to the Diocese in 1847. The oldest book held in the Library is found in this collection, namely, Eusebius’ Ecclesiasticae Historiae printed in Paris in 1544. The University of Newcastle is really older than 50 years. The origins of the University of Newcastle can be traced back to the establishment of the Newcastle University College at the Newcastle Technical College site on 3 December 1951 and the Newcastle Teachers’ College, which started in 1949.  Tyrrell’s vision for a University did not come to fruition during the nineteenth century. It was not until the 1930s that the idea of a university north of Sydney was debated, and the discussion was mostly around where in rural NSW it should be built.  The favoured option was Armidale and the New England University College was established in 1938. During this time it was also recommended that the status of technical colleges in Sydney and Newcastle be raised to become Institutes of Technology.  A small group in Newcastle were in support of an Institute of Technology and lobbied government officials, however there were some, such as the Newcastle University Committee who were threatened by this, one of its members the Medical Superintendent of the Newcastle Hospital Dr McCaffrey spoke out about the need for a medical school in Newcastle, believing that a university could be created on the renowned Newcastle Hospital. There were several attempts by the University of Technology to have technical classes in Newcastle, however these failed during the early 1950s. What did succeed was the establishment of the Newcastle Teacher’s College.  Some continued to lobby authorities for a new university to be built, teaching mostly ‘liberal’ subjects. Several decades past trying to sort out Newcastle’s educational ‘problems’, with many people still firm on the idea of a tertiary institution that was an institute of technology.

staff teachers college 1957

Newcastle University College, 1957, Department of Arts. Courtesy UON Library Cultural Collections.

ASPIRATIONS FOR A UNIVERSITY Early 1951 Harry Eddy from Sydney University supported locals, including Mabel Whiley, Tom Farrell, Reginald Ellis, Griffith Duncan and Max Pilgram to form a group to further advance the idea of a university in Newcastle.  This group kept the momentum going until the Newcastle University Establishment Group (NUEG) was formed. Many members of the former group become part of NUEG, others involved were H Hollis and HV Jackson, as well as Anglican Bishop of Newcastle F de Witt Batty and Alderman Frank Purdue. Ellis was President of the NUEG, having a strong sense of community and resisting political pressure. He remained committed to the cause.  The NUEG worked hard to convince the wider community that a university at Newcastle was a positive move.   The group handed a petition to government officials showing support for a university, the response was a request for plans to be submitted. This required support of the professional architects and the Master Builders association and other local architects came to the rescue to produce properly drawn plans. In 1951 the University of Technology resolved to open a Newcastle Branch using the existing Newcastle Technical College.  The Newcastle College of the New South Wales University of Technology was opened at a ceremony, the beginning of tertiary education in the Hunter region. The college was established under the authority of the then New South Wales University of Technology, which is now known as the University of New South Wales. In 1951 the Newcastle University College at the Newcastle Technical College offered limited degrees.


Newcastle Technical College, Tighe’s Hill, NSW, Australia. Courtesy UON Library Cultural Collections.

At the time of its establishment the Newcastle University College had just five full-time students and study was restricted to engineering, mathematics and science.The first graduates were Class of 1953 – James Carr, Ernest Walpole and James Mackie. The first graduates of the Newcastle University College’s Department of Chemical Engineering. The UON also had early links with the University of New England, established in 1938, because when it was granted autonomy from the UNSW the New England University College was allowed to provide external studies in NSW, such external studies were taken up in Newcastle. James Auchmuty who later became Vice Chancellor of the UON asserted the right of Newcastle to undertake work under the agreement between Universities of Technology and New England, and that universities of technology should award their own Arts degree, even if students took examinations at the university at New England.  The Arts were eventually offered at the Newcastle University College and the relationship between New England and Newcastle ended after 1958. With the university presence secured and the demand from students established, the next push was for autonomy from what became in 1958 the University of NSW.  Supported by the Lord Mayor’s Committee for the Establishment of an Autonomous University of Newcastle, Auchmuty built up senior staff and facilities to demonstrate readiness for autonomy. In 1957 the first degrees in Arts were awarded, in 1958 the University of Technology changed its name to the University of New South Wales, and in 1962 the Council of Newcastle University College was established. Before autonomy was to take place, preparations and planning took place to secure a site of a new university for Newcastle. CALLAGHAN CAMPUS Callaghan campus was formally known as Shortland campus. Callaghan campus has a rich natural environment, which, together with its Indigenous heritage, has shaped the built environment and layout of the buildings over 140 hectares of natural bushland. Land for the proposed university at Shortland come from BHP in 1949, and was selected as the preferred site, with its proximity to BHP’s Central Research Labs seen as an asset.   Prior to this the area was part of a land grant of 2000 acres belonging to John Platt during in the 1820s. The first people on the land where the University of Newcastle was built belonged to the Pambalong clan of the Awabakal nation. Their country is known as Barrahineban “a bright place to live”, and the spirit of Birabahn the eaglehawk is the primary totem of the Awabakal people. There are extensive eucalyptus trees and wetlands in the area and to the Hunter River and Ash Island.

“The Pambalong including all the clans comprising the Awabakal people lived in a virtual paradise of plenty. They had the added rich resources of the swamp and wetland areas within their clan territory. Their already rich diet of the marine and marsupial variety was supplemented with mud-crabs, wild duck, waterfowl and an endless variety of other bird life. As already emphasised the Newcastle area is extremely fortunate with its written records and accounts of Awabakal cultural lifestyle. This is also significant with the Pambalong. Threlkeld gave written account of the Pambalong highlighting their numbers, various leaders and lifestyle.”  John Maynard ‘Whose Traditional Land’.

Here two tertiary education institutions would be built, the Newcastle College of Advanced Education and University of Newcastle. There were few building on or surrounding the site. By the 1960s moves to have a university campus established were well underway. The area was mostly bush land with a few humpies and sheds, probably left from the Depression years. A 93 year old gentleman describes the site where the university campus would be built :-

“I really didn’t think they’d do anything with that lantana-covered patch between the garbage dump and the swamps. But I suppose they just had to build a Uni there. It was such a waste to have Newcastle’s best pub stuck way out here with no-one to keep it open all night. Whoopee!… Some people don’t like the idea of knocking down all those trees and lantana bushes that screen us from swamp mosquitoes and city garbage dump smells, but I don’t suppose they’ll get used to it. I’m sure you study hardened Uni kids won’t mind a few mossies or swamp smells of abattoir sights. It’s worth it to have a pub and golf course next door” Local Resident speaks” – OPUS 1962

sketch of hut at Shortland

From Opus Magazine 1962. “Mud, Mush and Mosquitoes”. Sketch of hut at Shortland from original photograph by Paul Danks. Courtesy UON Library Cultural Collections.

During the early 1960s the community continued to fight for their own university. It was a time of freedom marches and campaigns on issues such as equal right, there was much anticipation for an autonomous university for Newcastle. Sources Maynard, J. Whose Traditional Land? Wright, D. (1992) Looking Back : A History of the University of Newcastle. The University of Newcastle: Callaghan. Our Univer-city: Recasting the city of Newcastle as a knowledge hub. http://www.newcastle.edu.au/about-uon/our-university/celebrate-50-years/our-univer-city Adapted from Cushing, N., Quinn, K., and McMillen, I.C. “Recasting the City of Newcastle as a Univer-city: The Journey from ‘Olde’ Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the New Silk Road”. In Teo, A.S.C. (Ed.). (2014). Univer-Cities volume II. Manuscript in preparation. University Archives held at UON Auchmuty Library Cultural Collections. UON Flicker https://www.flickr.com/photos/uon Information compiled by Dr Ann Hardy for the C50 Project on behalf of UON Library Cultural Collections June 2015. Also see Noble, Rod, ‘Trades Hall backed University’, Newcastle Herald, 19 June 2015.


  1. Pingback: C50-PART 2 -AUTONOMY & EARLY PARTNERS | Cultural Collections, UON Library

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