It began more than 160 years ago, the first mutterings in the Hunter community pushing for a university to call its own.
The dream fl ickered and faded, but it did not go away.
In 1912, Novocastrians again agitated for a local university.
Again the bid was unsuccessful.
World War I and the Depression meant the idea lay dormant for many years, but in 1940, with Australia at war, a Newcastle committee was formed to again pursue the establishment of a university.
Support came from an unexpected source, the Trades Hall and unions, and by 1943 unionists were donating anything from a shilling to a pound to help establish a university library.
Again the struggle came to nothing and in 1948 the university committee disbanded after eight years attempting to get the government to provide some facilities.
But in 1950-51 things started to fall into place – facilities were provided on the technical college campus at Tighes Hill to operate under the title Newcastle University College, run by the University of Technology in Sydney.
The road to the present University of Newcastle had begun, but its struggle for autonomy would continue against a stormy background, a lengthy story of continual local agitation against academic and political opposition that over the years was broken down to reluctance, then to grudging acquiesence and in most cases even to support.
The first intake of university college students was in March 1952, when the college was organised into seven schools – applied chemistry, chemical engineering and metallurgy, civil engineering, applied physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering and mining engineering.
When courses began there were only fi ve full-time students.
Public pressure soon brought about the introduction of an arts course in which 95 students enrolled in 1954.
Since the University of Technology had no arts facility the supervision of these courses was entrusted to the University of New England. The Department of Arts was established under Dr J. J. Auchmuty, later warden of Newcastle University College and then vice-chancellor of the university.
Things were also happening on the national front, and late in 1955 the prime minister, Robert Menzies, appointed a committee to report on Australian universities which visited Newcastle several times, the fi rst in 1957, and its report was helpful to the Newcastle cause.
The Australian Universities Commission was set up in May, 1959, and it visited Newcastle in 1959, 1962 and 1965, including visits to the Shortland site.
Things were coming together and the college was also slowly gaining more freedom.
In 1959 the association with New England ended when the University of Technology became the University of NSW, widening its scope with the creation of faculties of arts and medicine.
By that year the Newcastle college had 961 students and the shortage of accommodation was becoming acute.
A report predicted that student numbers would reach 1800 by 1965.
The same report called for an immediate decision to transfer to a site at Shortland.
In 1960 the administrations of the university and the technical college were separated and the same year the Universities Commission report provided a very modest capital development grant of £18,000 for the university.
In 1963 a university council was established for Newcastle, and in the same 12 months the Universities Commission accepted the need to begin development at Shortland.
By 1964 it was accepted that autonomy would be granted early in 1965, until a commission recommendation to the Commonwealth that autonomy be stalled until 1967.
This raised a storm of protest and a month later the Commonwealth overruled the commission and advanced the date for autonomy to January 1, 1965.
This broke the university away from the administrative control of the University of NSW, the end of a successful campaign supported by the Hunter community, leaders of business and industry, committed individuals and academics.
The university now had the right to grant its own degrees and determine its own destiny.
The moment was celebrated on January 1 that year by Michael Nelson, a well-known student leader, and famed classics scholar Godfrey Tanner, who lit a bonfire not far from the site of the present Great Hall to celebrate the birth, a symbolic gesture to farewell the past and welcome the new era.
A year earlier work had begun on building the first stage of the university at Shortland when a contract was awarded to the Newcastle fi rm of Arthur E Davis (Building) Pty Ltd for £644,000 for the development’s first buildings.
The fi rst stage was planned to provide accommodation for arts and commerce, administration, mathematics and physics and fi rst year chemistry, plus a large lecture room and temporary library premises.
The university began moving to Shortland in 1966 and completed the move in 1970.
In late 1989 it amalgamated with the Hunter Institute of Higher Education (formerly the College of Advanced Education) and the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music, and it has since opened a smaller campus at Ourimbah, one at Port Macquarie, Singapore and Sydney CBD.
Fifty years is not a long history in the life of a university, but in that time the University of Newcastle has become an acknowledged and important part of the Hunter Valley community, and a world leader in many specialist fields.