Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Belshaw's world: keep the past alive as part of the present

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 14 October 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I want to start this column with a simple statistic.

At the last census, 43.5% of the Armidale-Dumaresq population lived at a different address from five years before.

This includes people who simply moved within the LGA. However, many of them are in fact new arrivals. At a rough guess, I would say that around 30% of the people currently living in Armidale-Dumaresq were not there when we moved to Sydney in 1996.

Keep this number in mind.

Friday of last week I went as handbag to Sydney University’s International House International Night. My wife is chair of the IH council. It was a good evening, but it left a bitter sweet taste.

Over the last five years I have been to many IH functions, perhaps six a year. I grew up in an academic environment, so I enjoy this. But it’s sometimes hard.

In case you haven’t already worked it out, I am a fairly one-eyed UNE supporter.

How could it be otherwise?

My grandfather helped found the place, my father was the first staff member to arrive in Armidale at the newly founded New England University College. I was a student at UNE. UNE has been part pf my life since my earliest memories. I care about the place with a passion that is total emotion.

As my wife’s handbag, I go to many Sydney University functions. I chat with its senior people who talk to me as something of an insider simply because of my wife. I am good, and preserve discretion.

A little while back, my wife suggested that I should apply for a senior planning position at Sydney University.

I do not think that I would have got it. My personal decisions over the last ten years have taken me too far outside the loop to make me a good conventional candidate. However, I couldn’t even consider it. Part of my role would have been to keep UNE in its place as a competitor. I couldn’t come at it.

In the Express of Wednesday 30 September, Prof Stanton had am obituary on the death of Frank Rickwood. I was very pleased to see it. I had, in fact, been meaning to write a story on it.

Frank Rickwood was part of a quite remarkable group, the early students of the New England University College. They came from all over New England, from the lower Hunter north. Most were the first generation to go to university.

That group of students achieved success that, in terms of their numbers, no other Australian university has arguably ever achieved. They with the then staff set the real UNE tradition.

I will write a story on this in due course. For the moment, I simply note that the little Armidale, little UNE approach that I have sometimes seen in recent years makes me very sad.

In the early nineties, the university was planning the opening of the T C Lamble building. Jackie Lamble was quite insistent that some of the old guard should be invited. We were, but only after a lot of pressure.

After the opening we gathered in the morning sunshine for a cup of tea. Still in my early fifties, I was the youngest there by a substantial margin. Most of those drinking tea are now dead.

As people talked about the way that the then UNE had abandoned its past, I suddenly felt terribly old, a relic of a past age.

Link this back to my opening point, the way in which perhaps a third of the current Armidale population were not there in 1966.

From time to time I have worried about some of the content in this column, my focus on the past. Surely it is better to talk of current events?

Then I think about the turnover of people in Armidale. They cannot be expected to remember a past, a time of hope and achievement as well as worries, if it is not presented to them.

I think that this is where Prof Stanton, I and others like us come in.

It is our job to make the past live as part of the evolving present.

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