Armidale, a regional University town, is situated in the northern tableland area of New England, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane with a population of 25,000. In the sixties, when I was a student there, there would have been perhaps half this number of people living there, and even fewer during university and college vacations. My early childhood was spent on a property in the Clarence Valley outside South Grafton, on the Glen Innes Highway that leads to Armidale. Dad chose Armidale Teachers College as the obvious choice for me: “You can always go back to teaching when you have a family.”
There were 600 students and thirty-odd staff members at Teachers College in 1962. Most of us had only just turned sixteen when we started at Armidale, and would be out in front of classes by the time we turned eighteen. At college, we learnt how to teach all the theory subjects, as well as choosing several options seen as being part of our general educational enhancement. It was like an American campus, in that everything took place on site and we were housed in segregated student accommodation colleges within walking distance of the college on the hill. There was little chance of sexual misconduct in those days, as we had to be inside by nine o’clock during the week and eleven on weekends.
One of my options was Philosophy with Miss Margaret Mackie. (See the tiny stockinged figure in the bottom far-right of the student and staff photo). She was a brilliant teacher. An inspirational teacher. She taught me how to think. It was during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet bloc. We discussed issues to do with the atomic bomb that made it less frightening for us. Miss Mackie made me realise that you could have different opinions from the rest of the crowd without feeling like a renegade. She made us all think. I even loved doing her syllogisms. She taught us about Socrates and Plato and regaled me with stories of the Delphic Oracle. Despite having studied with other fantastic lecturers in universities both here and overseas, no-one surpassed Margaret Mackie for sheer pedagogical brilliance.
The women I shared sections of Smith House with, especially in the lovely old terrace called Southall, that was joined to one end of the rest of the building, have remained friends until this day. We had to make our own fun to a great extent, but there were regular dances organised by the College, and sport was an ongoing obligatory activity.
Today the college stands like a monument to the past. It was built in 1929 during the depression years from funds supplied in part by wealthy graziers, as a means of bringing status and employment to the district. The gigantic columns and other traits in the classical style of the Italian Renaissance, are intermixed with fifties art deco features. Situated on a hill, it overlooks the valley in which the town is located, and is surrounded by green lawns and colourful flower beds.
Our recent Reunion, held over three days, was well-organised by a committee of several ex-students, most of whom have retired on the north coast of NSW. On Wednesday was “Meet and Greet” evening at 5pm at the Returned Servicemens’ Club. Name tags had to be picked up and attached to clothing with women’s single names displayed as well. Two hundred people turned up and mingled for this event. Amazing to see so many of us recognising so many friends from the past; or trying to put names to faces, or remembering the names, and trying to dredge up the faces from the distant past. Many stories were recounted, and memories jogged on this very special night. Quite a few couples had met and married during their time at Armidale Teachers College — and were still married after forty-five years!
The next night was the formal dinner and dance during which we sang some of the old songs, including “Gaudeamus Igitur” (Let us Rejoice), and tried to dance some of the old dance numbers. It was a hoot! Daytime activities included golfing and bowls, as well as guided visits to the College and to the residential buildings.
One of the highlights for me was a guided tour of the Hinton Collection of art works. Howard Hinton (1867-1948) came to Australia from England at the turn of the century. He lived in a small room in a boarding house in Cremorne. Between 1929 and his death in 1948, Hinton sent over a thousand works of art to the Armidale Teachers College to adorn its walls. This was for the cultural benefit of the students who would later teach pupils in the schools of New South Wales. We all remember being enthralled by these beautiful works of art as we walked the corridors of the College between classes and rooms. Today they are stored in an art gallery not far from the college, and are lent our for regional exhibitions. The collection includes paintings by William Dobell, Adrian Feint, Elioth Gruner, Hans Heysen, J.J. Hilder, Gladys Owen, Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Tom Roberts, Ethel Spowers, Arthur Streeton and the Lindsay family.