Sunday, October 17, 2010

New England Story - Cyril Renwick

I completed the old NSW Leaving Certificate at 16, gaining a Commonwealth University Scholarship. Despite this, my parents felt that I was too young to go to University and decided that I shouRenwick1-420x0ld repeat the year.

Peter Brownie, my then geography teacher, was concerned (accurately enough) that I might get bored. "James, he suggested, "why don't you pick up Economics and do honours as well? Doing it in a year shouldn't be a problem." I did this, and managed to score 33rd in the state in the new subject.   

One of the set texts I used was Cyril Renwick and G A J Simpson Lees' The Economic Pattern. I mention this because Professor Renwick died recently.

I do not think that Professor Renwick and I ever met. However, as an outsider, I thought that I might provide a purely personal perspective on the man to supplement the obituary published in the Sydney Morning Herald. You see, Professor Renwick was something of a giant, a man I have known of for much of my life even though we never met.

Just  few facts, first, drawn from Tony Stephen's obituary. 

Charles Cyril Renwick was born in Gosford on May 17, 1920, the youngest of the three children of the Reverend Arthur Renwick and his wife, Alice (Smith). Educated at Gosford High School, he topped the state in English in the 1938 leaving certificate. He then took first-class honours in economics at the University of Sydney before becoming a lecturer in the faculty, then a senior lecturer at 27 and an associate professor at the NSW University of Technology, now the University of NSW, at 33.

At Kensington, Renwick did not get on with the somewhat autocratic VC Professor J. P. Baxter (this was not unique). In 1954 he went on secondment to the Newcastle University College, then a college of UNSW, and ended by staying there the rest of his life.

Just as happened earlier with those such as my father at the University of New England, Professor Renwick faced special challenges at Newcastle as an emerging institution: he had to share an office, could not unpack his 5000 books and was uncomfortable in an old technical college culture (Newcastle University College was based on the old technical college). He also and resented interference from Kensington, just as those at the New England University College had earlier resented Sydney University. 

I have spoken often on this blog about the role that New England's universities have played in preserving the culture and life of the North. The drive to do this, the positive results that follow, do not generally come from those passing through on their way to the next advancement. They come from those who for one reason or another commit to their area and their institutions, often at some personal career cost. Again, both my father and Professor Renwick are examples.  

In Professor Renwick's case, the great Hunter Valley flood of 1955 was something of a catalyst. It damaged the Australian economy, with losses of life, property and productivity. It left the Hunter a shambles. Renwick responded by establishing the Hunter Valley Research Foundation.This played a critical role in the development of subsequent flood mitigation strategies.

However, the Foundation was more than this. It was the first, still one of the few and by the far the most successful, of the region specific research bodies. Neither its establishment, nor its subsequent survival, were easy. Professor Renwick had to lobby, to work constantly, to maintain, let alone build the Foundation. In doing so he became one, if not the, of most effective proponents for Hunter development.    

Like my father, Professor Renwick ended with three main loves: one was his students, the second his institution, the third his region. I am sure he lost in academic or professional terms. I hope his place in our life and history will be some recompense.    

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