Wednesday, November 28, 2012

History revisited - memories of past lives

In Armidale on my last trip, I watched my column being laid out. It took my mind back, a long way back!

I wonder how many University of New England students, or for that matter other Armidale residents, would remember Neucleus?

Not ring a bell?

Founded in 1947, Neucleus was the University of New England student newspaper. The Neuc in the name stood for the New England University College.

I joined the Neucleus team as a relatively young eighteen year old and, by happenstance, ended up as business manager. A somewhat grandiose title for someone whose primary role was to sell advertising!

I wasn’t very good at it, but actually it wasn’t hard. The Armidale businesses I called in to see already advertised, knew students, and had their material set up. Later, I became co-editor with Winton Bates, the only Neucleus editor whose thundering words feature in Mathew Jordon’s history of the University.

Apart from the excitement of producing a newspaper, Neucleus had one supreme advantage. It had its own dedicated building, the sub-lodge. Fancy having your site on campus to hold parties free of interference!

My attention attracted by the modern Express office, I went searching for material on the history of Neucleus. In doing so, I found a 1960 Australian Archives photo showing then editor Ross Pengelley and Malayan student Khoo Soo-Hay doing the layout of the next Neucleus edition in the printing room of the Armidale Express.

That interested me for several reasons.

One was the physical production process. I cannot remember all details as to how we produced the paper. I do remember that we had to type material out and then physically lay it out on the page. We would fiddle around to get the best fit and the past it to the page. What a change!

The other thing was Khoo Soo-Hay’s presence. In 1960 the White Australia Policy was still formally in place. Yet by then, UNE had a substantial overseas student body, relatively greater than today, who became involved in every aspect of University life. The Overseas Student’s Association was one of the largest student societies on campus, including a number of Australian students as associate members.

These students were brought to Armidale by the Colombo Plan. Born out of a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers held at Colombo in 1950, the Plan aimed to encouraging development in our region. Tens of thousands of Asian students were funded to study in this country, many in Armidale.

Their presence was very visible in the smaller city of that time. And how did Armidale respond? Very well measured by student memories. The two things most often mentioned are hospitality and the cold!

The links endure to this day. Now a noted poet, Khoo Soo-Hay returned to Armidale in 2006 for Wright College’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Photographs show him exploring the campus he once knew so well.

Neucleus is long gone, the parties we held in the sub-lodge a distant memory. Yet there is certain symmetry in that the sub-lodge is now the office of the International Student’s Association.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 November 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

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