The 50th anniversary of when the University formally commenced (on March 8 1967) was recently celebrated. And what a great occasion it was in 1967 when we (the then staff) were chuffed to secure the attendance at the service of many dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, the Victorian Premier, the Victorian Governor, the Minister for Education, as well as the Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of the Univeristy of Melbourne and Monash University.
Fortunately, the weather on that day was very pleasant, although a little windy. There was a ‘Plan B’ in case of inclement weather, but it would have been very difficult to accommodate the large number of invited guests in to the Glenn College dining hall. (Only two buildings existed at that time, most of Glenn College and the first stage of the Library.) In the week prior to the opening, all the mature elm trees you see now in that area were planted, they were about 3m tall and created an ‘instant’ forest!
A list of the staff members who worked at 474 St Kilda Rd in 1965 as featured in 25 Years On at La Trobe University
Having been heavily involved in the planning and organising of the ceremony, (in which I played a minor role), I felt a little nostalgic when recently I stood on the spot where the stage had been, those many years ago. Although the opening of the University will now be regarded as the starting date of the University (lectures actually commenced on 13 March ‘67), to have reached this point was the result of a great deal of hard work by a large group of dedicated people, particularly the members of the ‘Third University Committee’ (T.U.C.) which held its first meeting on June 2 1964. (Some people would regard that date as when the University came into being, although the La Trobe University Act was not passed until December 9 1964.) Early in the T.U.C.’s deliberations, some reservations were expressed whether the March 8 1967 date could be met. However, when it was noted that Monash University had worked with the same time frame (June ‘58 to March ’61), the T.U.C. forged ahead, as it had a similar time frame.
Simon, La Trobe’s Head Gardner, and Simon’s daughter planting a tree during the early days at La Trobe University
Of course, accommodation for staff was an urgent early requirement and it was fortuitous that the offices of the Australian Universities Commission became available in May 1964. It was interesting to note however that;
“The floor coverings in several rooms at the University offices at 474 St Kilda Road were the property of the Commonwealth Government and were removed when the Australian Universities Commission (A.U.C.) vacated the premises. A good second-hand carpet and underfelt has been purchased and laid in six rooms at a cost of 248.10.0 (Pounds and shillings)!” It seems that the Commonwealth Government was also short of funds in those days! Although the T.U.C. had been unable to secure the A.U.C. carpets, it did secure the services of a senior staff member of the A.U.C., and appointed Mr Frank Barnes as the Executive Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor.
Mr Barnes offered me a job as his assistant in July 1965, and I and another administrator resigned from the University of Melbourne and I commenced my long employment with La Trobe. By the end of 1965, 31 people had been appointed (mainly Library staff) and by the end of 1966 the total staff appointments (general, academic, and Library) was about 135.
Simon’s daughter by the tree on her graduation day in 1984
There was a good cooperative working atmosphere at the St Kilda Rd offices, and many staff were keenly aware of being involved in the unique experience of helping to establish a new university. A staff BBQ/tree planting day held on November 20 ‘65 on site was attended by almost all staff and their families, including the Vice-Chancellor.
In the note that I circulated to staff, it was mentioned that ‘After planting the trees, people can pass the time of the day as they desire but are asked to vacate the site by 4.30 p.m. as the main gate has to be locked!’ (Milking cows were still on the site!)
Shortly before this event, members of the Interim Council had also been on the site to plant trees in the same area between the cemetery and the Main Oval. Nearly all trees from that time have survived and are now healthy 52-year-old gum trees. With the planned sports grounds redevelopment they may not survive, which would be a pity because of the history.
Simon’s daughter on her graduation day
It is probably not appropriate in this short note to detail the massive amount of work required to get to the point of enrolling the first cohort of students, although it is worth mentioning that P.A. Management Consultants appointed in April 1965 helped a lot with their detailed critical path schedule on the design and implementation of administrative procedures, i.e. to make sure everyone knew what had to be done in sufficient time to ensure we were in fact able to enrol students in 1967.
Although work pressures were considerable, there were some light moments from time to time. Shortly before Christmas in ‘65 I had purchased a tricycle for my daughter and stored it in my office. Frank Barnes saw it and commenced riding it up and down the very wide passage in the flat, much to the hilarity of staff. (Frank was about 6’ 8”and heavily built!)Frank Barnes was an amazing person and some years later become the first CEO of the Sydney Opera house.
Simon by the tree in recent times
On April 1 1966, the new Registrar commenced and I transferred from business administration to academic administration. The staff transfer from St Kilda Rd to Bundoora took place on February 17 1965 and, from this date those, of us in administration commenced the real admin work i.e. providing support for academic staff to do their job, i.e. teaching and research.
In the 29 years at La Trobe I held a number of different positions and elected to take early retirement in 1994. It has been a great experience!