Friday, August 05, 2011

UNE Passings - death of Anne Harris

I saw from a story in the Armidale Express by James Bell that Anne Harris had died. Sadly,the story is not on-line.

Anne's death marks another step in the progressive but inevitable sundering in the links between the University of New England and its past. For that reason, I thought that I should write a short personal memoir dedicated to Anne. It's not a full obituary, nor have I been able to find the photos that I wanted to illustrate the story. Think of it as a personal note, remembering someone who was interconnected with my family and life.

Anne's grandfather, Thomas Richard Forster, was born in Melbourne on 13 January 1862. After finishing schooling at The Kings School in Sydney, he joined the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and then in 1887 was posted to Armidale. There he met Kate Sarah White  (1864-1949), eldest daughter of Frederick and Sarah White.

The Whites were a big pastoral family with extensive interests from the Hunter north. Australian writer Patrick White was another member of this family. Kate grew up in the large houses of her family in the Hunter valley, was educated in Sydney, travelled extensively in Britain Booloominbahin 1884-85 and moved in 1888 into the huge new mansion, Booloominbah, designed by Horbury Hunt on the outskirts of Armidale.

On 31 January 1891TRF and Kate were married. F. R. White bought the 40,000-acre (16,000 ha) property, Abington, near Bundarra, and settled it in trust on his daughter and son-in-law. TRF resigned from the bank and devoted himself to improving the property. He also began to play a key role in local activities, including a long period on the council of The Armidale School (TAS).

The couple's first son, Frederick Richmond Foster, was born in 1892 followed by Norman in 1893, Geoffrey in 1896 and then Dorothy in 1904. Frederick as eldest son was destined to take over the property.

Frederick went to TAS followed by Norman and Geoffrey. At TAS Norman was already showing signs of the lameness that would afflict him from infantile paralysis, dragging his leg even when playing football. All the boys spent time from school at Booloominbah, and Geoffrey in particular was very fond of the place.

After leaving school, Frederick worked first for Harold F. White at Guyra and then on Abington with his father. After the outbreakFrederick White of the First World War he sailed to England to enlist, joining as a gunner in February 1916. Booloominbah itself was turned into a Red Cross Convalescent Hospital.

In May 1917 Geoffrey sailed for England to also join the Artillery. At the end of August 1917 Frederick was badly wounded, dying in hospital, but not before his brother saw him. It was a major blow to the whole family.

After the war the boys settled down on the property. Geoffrey took over management of the stock work, while Norman took charge of the sheep stud. Too help him get around - Norman was finding movement increasingly difficult -  TRF provided him with a car and a driver.

Late in May 1922, Geoffrey married Ethel Burnett who had been working at Armidale accountants W S Forsyth.

Anne was born in 1924. Some of her earliest memories were of riding around the property with her father, at first on a pony and then on a more stylish mount. She also spent time at Booloominbah, maintained by Sarah after F R White's death in 1903.

Now I need to digress a little.

Moves to create a new state in Northern New south Wales began in the 1850s. After a break, new state agitation burst out again in Grafton in 1915 and then in a more sustained way at the end of the First World war.

In 1920 the first full New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, had put a key problem facing the North in this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area.

From 1924 moves began in Armidale to try to get a university for the North, supported by David Drummond as local member of Parliament. Drummond, along with other Northern Parliamentarians including Mick Bruxner, was a strong new stater. In 1928 as the new NSW Minister for Public Instruction he was able to found the Armidale Teachers College as both the first country tertiary institution  and an initial step towards the creation of a Northern university. The university movement stalled during the depression, but then resumed.

In September 1933 Sarah White had died at the age of 91. In 1935 T R Forster sounded out Country Party Leader and NSW Deputy Premier Mick Bruxner on a proposal he had in mind. If he purchased Booloominbah from the White Estate and donated it to form the nucleus of a new university college, would the offer be accepted?

Drummond accepted the offer with alacrity. There were still hurdles to cross, but TRF's offer was critical to the final success in gaining the new university college that opened its doors in 1938. Drummond himself, while often and accurately described as the founder of the New England University College, was quite clear on the matter. Without Forster, there would have been no College.

Families and history link and interlink in New England.

James Belshaw was the first staff member to arrive at the new University College. There he met and married Drummond's eldest daughter Edna who was the first librarian. So Anne and I are both grandchildren of key players in the foundation of the New England University College, both of us have tried to keep the faith alive.

While the events that I am describing were proceeding, Anne was educated first by governesses and then at the New England Girls School (NEGS) where she was captain. Them she studied at the University of Sydney where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology. She then worked at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children as a psychologist before establishing a private practice focusing on remedial reading and learning difficulties for children.

In 1952 Anne married an Armidale lad, Richard Laylor Harris who was then an honorary physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.  Born on 4 July 1915, Richard was son of Dr Walter E Harris. Dr Harris came to Armidale in, I think, 1902.

Searching around, I found this photo taken in Armidale of Dr Harris apparently with Alfred Deakin in c.1911.

walter harris and Alfred Deakin Just from a purely Armidale perspective, Lindsay House named after Edith Dulce Lindsay was built in 1917 by Dr Harris.

Dr Harris was school doctor at TAS and NEGS and also a close friend of T R Forster, so that it's presumably through through this linkage the couple met.  

Dr Harris died in 1924 when Richard was young. However, his wife continued living in Armidale, so that Anne and Richard and the children spent time on breaks both on Abington and with Mrs Harris. Now here I think that there is another link with with my family, but not one that I have been able to confirm.

Peg Harris was one of my mother's oldest friends. Either she or sister Pam were in the 1939 intake at the New England University College. I say either because the index to Keith Leopold's book with the photo says Pamela, while the photo says Peg! The photo includes Mum. Peg went on to work at UNE for many years.

Each Christmas Eve for year after year, both Peg and Pam would come to our place for drinks. My recollection is, I stand to be corrected, that they were Richard's sisters.

Richard Harris died in 1970 aged just 55, then Geoffrey Forster died in 1975. Anne returned to the property in 1976 with her sons James, Michael and Anthony, throwing herself into local activities. This included membership of the University Council.  She also began to research local history with a special focus on Abington and the Gwydir Valley.

It was through this history link that I met Anne. Prior to that, I knew who she was, but the age difference meant that she was more a contact of my parents than mine. Now in 1981 and 1982 we were both part of the local and regional history Australian group at UNE.

This was quite a large group, over thirty of us, with a special focus on New England. Anne was researching her book on the history of Abington published in 1982. I remember her as a very tall, bright, charming and interesting woman. Abington itself is a well written book that brings the history of the property and its people alive. I have it in front of me as I write; it is a major source for this piece.

The management of the property was taken over by son James. Anne's other two boys went into medicine. James played an active role in community activities, including treasurer of the Save New England Action Group, which fought successfully to stop the acquisition of land by the Department of Defence for use as an artillery range. I still have sloppy joes with Save New England on the front, No big guns on New England on the back. I get some very strange looks today when I wear them!

James went on to join the University of New England Council in 1994, becoming Deputy Chancellor in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate, retiring from Council the following year.

This is a long post that has taken me a long time to write. I hope that it gives a feel for Anne as a person, but also a little of the family and context that helped form her and her life. I also hope that it gives you a feel as to why so many of us are passionate about the University of New England at a time when tradition and history can be thrust aside in the name of the great gods efficiency and effectiveness.

You see, UNE does not exist, nor does it survive, because it is efficient and effective, although I hope that it is both.  It is there because people have cared. Despite Governments, it will survive so long as people continue to care.     


Marg said...

Thank you for this glimpse of Anne Harris. I have been writing up some memories left by my mother-in-law Hazel Young nee Ridgewell, who grew up on Abington as the daughter of Amos Ridgewell and Christina Smith.
The book "Abington" by Anne Harris details quite a lot of the history of both Amos and Christina's families and for this I am very grateful to Anne. Hazel's memories add another - and personal- layer in the lives of the Abington community. I was hoping to contact Anne regarding her research of the Abington families; sadly your tribute to Anne informs me this will not be possible - at least by normal means.

Jim Belshaw said...

It's difficult, Marg. We think that we have time and then we find that we don't! Is it possible to get a copy of the memories as you write them?

Bill Dixon said...

Jim, I was so shocked to hear about the death of Anne Harris. I was involved with Richard and Antony (2 sons of Dr. W E Harris) and their mother at 128 Faulkner Street . I was with Tony Harris when he passed away in about 1962. His nephews, sons of Dick and Anne, as pre-teenagers played around the building in the period 1958-1963.
Family tradition was that the sons of W E Haris should become doctors, Richard did, but Tony changed his studies in Sydney University from medicine to Architecture. I am pleased to see that there were 2 doctors in the next generation. Bill Dixon 14.4.14.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Bill. Sorry for the slow response to your comment. It becomes hard when the people we have known die. The world shrinks. We know that its inevitable, but that doesn't make it easier.

I can't record all the passings, but Anne was special.

Interesting, too, to read your memories of the family.