This month we were saddened to hear of the passing of Ted Brennan on the 13 April 2014.
Edward (Ted) Brennan was born on 30 November 1935, and during his years at the Newcastle University College (precursor to the University of Newcastle) in the early 1950s, was one of its key student leaders and activists.He was a also a core member of the Newcastle University College Students Association (NUCSA), first appearing in the official minutes as one of two ‘guests’ on the 22 July 1954. By the next meeting on the 21 August 1954 he was an active mover of NUCSA business. He would later to be made an Honorary Life Member.
He campaigned among the mining workers right across the Hunter district urging them to support autonomy for the University of Newcastle in the early 1960s. This was probably enabled through the networks of his father, Michael (Mickey) Brennan, a prominent coalfields trade unionist during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
According to Don Wright’s Looking Back A History of the University of Newcastle (1994) p.78:
“On the night of 12 April 1961 they held a freedom march from the Tighes Hill site to the City Hall (about five kilometres) to take part in a public meeting organised by the Lord Mayors Committee. Estimates of the numbers involved vary from fifty to 200. Led by the mercurial Godfrey Tanner, later Professor of Classics, they marched the distance shouting, cheering, waving flaming torches and banners carrying slogans like Burn Baxters Empire, Big Baxter is Watching You, Baxters Bargain Basement, Let Newcastle Fiddle while Baxter Burns. Outside the City Hall, they set alight their banners and tossed them into a blazing heap before moving inside to join 250 of Newcastles more sober citizens in a public meeting to demand immediate autonomy.”
Wright continues on p.79:
“Ted Brennan and the other student leaders argued their case to the workers of the district, addressing pit-head meetings and otherwise trying to convince workers to support autonomy in the interests of their children. In July (1961) the students took their protest to Sydney. One hundred Newcastle students and their Sydney supporters marched along Macquarie Street to present to the Minister for Education, Ern Wetherell, a petition in favour of autonomy signed by 32,000 Newcastle citizens. Wetherell told them that autonomy was ‘everyone’s ultimate aim’ but the timing could not be decided until the Price Committee had reported, nor could it come before the move to Shortland. Work could not begin there until 1964 for financial reasons.”
Edward Brennan graduated on Friday 13 April 1962 with a Bachelor of Engineering from the Department of Applied Geology, Newcastle University College, under the auspices, at the time, of the University of New South Wales.
Autonomy was santified with a bonfire described in Don Wright’s Looking Back A History of the University of Newcastle (1994) p.89:
“On 1 January 1965 there was a bonfire on the Shortland site, about where the Great Hall now stands. It was presided over by Mike Nelson, a well-respected student, and by Godfrey Tanner, forever totally immersed in the affairs of the collegium. The joint presidency of the event was a symbol of the well-attested camaraderie of staff and students throughout their days of struggle and adversity, while the flames of the fire symbolised both the joy in the attainment of a long sought destiny and also that confidence in the future which Auchmuty had communicated as he taught all to believe that they were privileged to lay the foundations for a centre of learning whose enduring influence would increase with the passing generations.”
We contacted Ted Brennan back in 2002, because we were very interested in getting his side of the University’s history. This would include his recollections of the early history of the University College up to the gaining of Autonomy in 1965. He was very interested in recording his knowledge of the early history, since, in his opinion, much that had been written was “a fictional version dream’t up by (Professor J.J. ) Auchmunty aimed at enhancing his own stature.”
He believed that there were extensive records dating back to NUCSA (i.e., The Newcastle University College Students’ Association) foundation in 1954 but that since 1964, most had been destroyed in the move to the Shortland SRC Office. (Email correspondence 2002). Fortunately, contrary to that belief, the NUCSA Council Minutes did survive, and are very comprehensive, dating from its first annual meeting held on the 29th April 1953.
Unfortunately by 2012, Ted’s health had deteriorated to such an extent that he couldn’t be too far away from his local hospital, making a trip down to Newcastle an impossibility. Our plan B in attempting to fly a researcher up to Queensland to interview him also fell through. So, our hope to record everything he had wanted to tell us about the student role in the gaining of autonomy and the establishment of the University of Newcastle never came to fruition.
We contacted Dr Bernie Curran to relay the sad news. Over the phone he began telling us all about Ted; his involvement in the making of the Blood and Bandages A History of the University of Newcastle Sports Union 1996; being a student leader; his close association with Godfrey Tanner; his playing the ‘pretend’ piano with a ‘pretend’ band on one of the makeshift rafts in the Throsby regatta, (much before his time), and, how wonderful it is that the Godfrey Tanner Bar, the Brennan Room and the Derkenne Courtyard are all in close proximity to one another within the physical architectural space of the UON Student Union. It is a lasting remembrance and acknowledgement of the legacy of these three men and their services to enhance the quality of life of the future students of the University of Newcastle.
If you have any recollections, thoughts or comments that you wish to share, please do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
On behalf of the University of Newcastle, we wish to convey our sincere condolences to Ted Brennan’s wife, Pam Brennan, and to his family, friends and colleagues. We also thank Adrian Nelmes for taking the time to notify us of his passing.
Gionni Di Gravio