I started at La Trobe in 1968, so I was not what my colleagues call a foundation member – for that you had to come in ’67 or before, but I was still fairly early!
There was a huge increase in the student population in Australia after WWII, and a lot of us went onto postgraduate work and, as was very common in those days, we headed off overseas to work in universities and see the world. So there was a very large number of high-quality Australian graduates scattered all over the world who were looking to come home. So when a place like La Trobe started, it was very exciting. La Trobe appealed to us because you were given the chance to be involved in the founding of a new place. Getting things up and running, for a scientist, was not easy. But the challenge was exciting. The research was exciting too – you had the chance to do something new. We all came to the University with different research backgrounds, but we were able to come together to form research teams which wasn’t as common then as it is now. It was very successful.
Originally the University proposed quite a radical academic structure, and a radical student college structure. So we were fascinated to see how that would work out. Some of it collapsed very quickly, but the place was exciting. It was just a great place to be.
The first intake of students were very much like the staff. They were high-quality students who came because they thought it was going to be interesting and exciting. Don Watson, for example, a very notable Australian commentator and author, talks about coming to La Trobe in the first year, and how exciting it was. He was a country boy coming to the city, living in Glenn College, which was all brand new and mind-boggling for him. And, in addition to that, the place had some kind of buzz about it that he found particularly attractive. He still talks about it very fondly, and he’s just one example. I think if you talked to my colleagues, they would all say that that first intake of students were really rather special. They set a culture that was very attractive and the staff enjoyed it.
I think it’s fair to say my generation is sad by what students are doing and not doing these days. Because of the fees, they’re having to spend many hours off campus working, and the social life on campus isn’t the same. When I think about the 50th Anniversary of La Trobe, I remember what we now see as the good old days, even though we didn’t realise they were at the time.