Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 24 March 2010. 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 for 2009, here for 2010.
Today another of my rambles, this one on my return to Armidale after a gap of several years. I apologise for not contacting people, but I had things that I needed to do. I also wanted to look at the city afresh, as an outsider.
I was quite excited as I drove up. Past Gloucester, the country along Thunderbolt’s Way was absolutely beautiful; lush green highlighted in the late afternoon sun.
Past Walcha I stopped at the Kentucky turn-off for a smoke.
The last time I was there was after Aunt Kay’s death. The extended Drummond family had formed a convoy to visit Glenroy for the last time. There was an air of sadness. It wasn’t just Kay’s death, but the knowledge that we would never again gather as a family in the country that we had all known and loved.
Driving into Armidale in the late afternoon, my first reaction was annoyance at the 50k speed limit along the old highway.
It may sound petty, but instead of looking around me, I had to focus on keeping my speed down. Still, I was reminded of Constable Montgomery on his motor bike who used to exert stern discipline on errant drivers!
Thursday morning I got up early and just drove around town, finishing up at the look out. Armidale is now a remarkably beautiful city. I stood there in the morning light looking out over the town, thinking of Alwyn Jones and his supporters who had played such a role in the tree planting that gave Armidale so much of its grace.
You see, when Dad arrived here in 1938 as the first lecturer at the new University College, Armidale had few trees; it was drought, with red dust blowing in from the plains. He almost caught the first train back!
I got back into the car and decided to check out the University, since I had to be there later that morning.
Talk about culture shock. The traffic was amazing. Yes, I know that I am now living in Sydney, but wending my way along Armidale roads with multiple speed limits, with walkers and bikers, made me feel like a country boy coming to the city!
Thursday morning I spent at the University sorting out things like a University email address, library borrowing etc. This meant walking all over campus, a task made much easier by the help I received from Shirley Rickard in the School, Kim Harris at the Library and the remarkably helpful girl at UNE IT.
Also for the first time, I began to feel that I still belonged in Armidale as I started to meet people that I knew.
Thursday afternoon I spent at the Heritage Centre and Archives.
What remarkable facility this has become! While Archivist Bill Oates collected material for me, I mused on Alan Wilkes and the old archives. I also met fellow researchers including Lionel Gilbert. This led to a dinner invitation with P and J, both of whom I have known for many years.
As we talked local politics, watching the wallabies and the lights of Armidale beyond, I started to fill in the gaps in my local language.
Friday morning was my paper.
One of the first people I saw was cousin Arnold Goode. We were almost ridiculously pleased to see each other!
Arnold told me that a book in his honour was to be launched in Uralla. I thought how well deserved that was.
After the talk, Wendy Beck took me across to the Archaeology Department to look at the thesis library.
In my paper I had spoken of the early days of prehistory at UNE. Now as I looked at the Department, I thought how far the Department had come. Yet I also felt sad that the tides of fashion had taken UNE away from Isabel McBryde’s regional focus, that there had not been a full prehistory of New England published since Isabel’s 1974 book on the Prehistory of New England.
A little later in the bright New England autumn sun, I walked with John Ryan across to the University Printery to see the book that was to be launched in Arnold Goode’s honour.
Chatting to John, I found that he had come to UNE in 1959 and, fifty-one years later, was still teaching!
I will continue this story in my next column.