4135203528_4bf7130b71_oIn 2015, the University of Newcastle celebrates 50 years.  The university has a rich history and the community has been the mainstay, instrumental in its many achievements and milestones.

Students at the UON were active in radical protests, and the Autonomy Day freedom marches, led by renowned Classics Professor Godfrey Tanner, became another important part of the path to autonomy. Students were active in campaigning for civil rights and environmental issues other issues in the 1960s such as opposition to the Vietnam War. Later Autonomy Day events saw students standing up for rights of Aboriginal people in Australia and their non- representation at universities.  Campaigns for equitable access to education for all had an enduring influence, seen through the University’s history of commitment to equity in education.


Autonomy Day ” We Need An International House” – 19th July 1967. UON Library Cultural Collections. Photograph donated by Katherine MacNeill


Autonomy Day ” We Need An International House” – 19th July 1967. Autonomy Day, UON Library Cultural Collections. Photograph donated by Katherine MacNeill.


Autonomy Day, 19th July 1967. Photograph by Ross Smith, UON Library Cultural Collection .

Godfrey Tanner (1927-2002) came to Newcastle in 1959 aged 32, initially appointed lecturer at the Newcastle University College he was Professor of Classics at UON, however even earlier than this had responded, along with Auchmuty, in realising the need for a traditional university for Newcastle. He introduced students to the traditions of student life, and taught them that the UON had a part to play in the life of Newcastle and Hunter community. Retiring in 1993, in 1994 the University awarded him an Honorary Degree, a Doctor of the University. In 1998 the Godfrey Tanner Scholarship Fund was established.

Mrs. Lorna George and Professor Godfrey Tanner at a sporting event, the University of Newcastle, Australia


Professor Godfrey Tanner, the University of Newcastle, Australia – 1990

12 April 1961 “Freedom march” from Tighes Hill to City Hall led by Godrey Tanner, demanding autonomy and against Baxters who didn’t want to divide the colleges, he supported multi-campus educational institutions.   Many believed that Newcastle University College should continue to operate as a college of the University of NSW, however others pushed for an independent university for Newcastle. On 1 January 1965, the Governor of NSW proclaimed the University of Newcastle Act, marking the University’s foundation as an independent institution & declaring autonomous from the University of NSW.

According to folk legend, our understanding is that autonomy for the University officially began on the 1st January 1965 with a symbolic ceremonial bonfire held at the site of the Great Hall and officiated by the legendary Professor Godfrey Tanner who poured wine libations on the ground to sanctify the land upon which the University rests. The bonfire signified the “the joy of attaining long sought destiny”.

Autonomy day is normally held in early July, and students interpreted it as celebrating the autonomy of the University of Newcastle, from the University of New South Wales.

The date coincided with autonomy of the University of Technology from the Public Service Board control on the 1st July 1954. The students called this day ‘autonomy day’, giving them a sense of the importance of autonomy and were resistive against those on the outside.

The University’s beautiful Grant of Arms is our very own Declaration of Independence. The University of Newcastle was constituted on the 1st January 1965 by a Proclamation of His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales and signed and sealed on the 23rd December 1964 under the provisions of the University of Newcastle Act of that year. This historic document, along with Autonomy Day celebrates the University’s emergence as an autonomous institution in 1965.

The original inspiration for the University’s seahorse design came from Fairbairn’s Book of Crests and was Professor Auchmuty’s favourite design. The coat of arms was based upon that of the Shortland family. Lieutenant John Shortland led the first Colonial Expedition to Newcastle in 1797, and the site upon which the University was built was called Shortland.

The motto adopted for the University ‘I LOOK AHEAD’ was approved by Council in August 1965 and was in keeping with the ambitions of a University and the appearance of the seahorse on the shield. Professor Brin Newton-John is credited with choosing the ‘I look Ahead’ motto and choosing the colours. More information here
More information about Autonomy Day is here.

Professor Brin Newton-John was born in Cardiff in 1914 and studied at Cambridge where he gained a double major in modern languages and history. After graduation he became a teacher and then worked as a RAF pilot during World War II where his knowledge of the German language was especially important and helped him in his top secret intelligence work decoding German communications.He emigrated to Australia in 1954 for a post as Master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne. He relocated to Newcastle in 1959 eventually becoming Vice Chancellor of the newly established institution. He retired in 1974.
Professor Brin Newton-John, the University of Newcastle, Australia - c1990s

Professor Brin Newton-John, the University of Newcastle, Australia – c1990s

Early partners of the UON
University and industry have always worked together very closely. The university has encouraged research and discoveries into new and innovative products and solutions through collaboration with industry, business and government partners.
In 1965 the emergence of the UON opened up new cultural and intellectual opportunities for the city of Newcastle and the Hunter Region. Those who began to build the University had a clear vision. Local and regional businesses gave financial and in kind support for the development of the University, this demonstrated, that industries themselves saw a local university as an asset. Newcastle contained the nation’s largest concentration of heavy industry, Newcastle’s largest employers were BHP and it may have seemed to some a place that did not need a university. The majority of students at the new UON when it opened undertook degrees associated with heavy industry, such as science and engineering. Companies such as BHP were there from the beginning to support the University, a partnership that endured for decades.
In the late 1960s, Newcastle’s largest employers were BHP, Stewarts and Lloyds, Commonwealth Steel and the State Dockyard. Newcastle contained the nation’s largest concentration of heavy industry. The majority of students were apprentices or trainees in heavy industry, and these industries supported science and engineering offering financial and in kind support of the development of the University.

BHP invested in the latest technology and shared its resources with academics.  One example was an IBM1620 computer installed at the works in 1962 which was made available to staff of the Mathematics Department and later relocated to the University.  A commercial arm of the university.

Two gentlemen using IBM1620 data processing system, the University of Newcastle, Australia

Two gentlemen using IBM1620 data processing system, the University of Newcastle, Australia

For industries in the region UON has had a strong research focus from the beginning and the University’s early partners were associated with industry in the region, they included BHP and other heavy industry and the focus of research in the areas of Science and Engineering.  Industry invested in technology and shared resources with academics and the University has always been responsive to industry partners and its students.  A commercial arm of the university known as The University of Newcastle Research Associates Ltd (TUNRA) was set up in 1969 to manage research and consultancies conducted with private funding.  Financial and in kind support from industry of the development of the University demonstrated that the industries themselves saw a local university as an asset.  This close relationship persisted.  BHP invested in the latest technology and shared its resources with academics.

Photo 8

TUNRA display on Open Day, the University of Newcastle, Australia

TUNRA enabled research to be undertaken at the university and be delivered to provide services to business and industry in the region.   Through TUNRA the university provided equipment and knowledge to operate pollution measuring devices to help improve condition of people living in industrial areas. Today the UON’s technology transfer company is named Newcastle Innovation.

NBN 3-University of Newcastle Environment Measurement Unit” (EMU) being driven around their streets. Sophisticated “sniffing” Equipment has been installed in the vehicle, which will be used to obtain data on the quantities of some of the main pollutants in Newcastle’s atmosphere at a range of locations. The service has, in large part, been made possibly by the Newcastle Broadcasting and Television Corporation Limited, which operates a commercial television station, NBN Channel.” MOVABLE POLLUTION TESTING –Gazette April 1972

A Phillips’ technician completing installation of the SO2 monitor in a Kombi van at the University of Newcastle, Australia

A Phillips’ technician completing installation of the SO2 monitor in a Kombi van at the University of Newcastle, Australia

“FIRST THERMAL SCANNER IN AUSTRALIA – A Daedalus (or Thermal) Remote Sensing Scanner has been acquired by the Department of Physics to enable the Department to obtain “heat pictures” of stretch of terrain flown over by aircraft carrying the Scanner. It is the first equipment of this sort to be operated in Australia. Valued at approximately $80,000 the scanner and associated equipment employ infrastructure radiation to reveal interesting data on resources and other features.” Gazette February  1971

Initially the University was involved in fields such as engineering and chemistry, today the university has pushed into areas of energy and the environment, health and medical research as seen in partnerships with Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) in 1998 and Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) in 2010.



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.

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