THEY MAY have been witnessing history in the making but the first students at the University of Newcastle’s Callaghan campus still had to eat.
Unlike today’s students, whose every need is catered for, the students who migrated across from Tighes Hill in 1965 studied in the bare bones of a new institutional setting.
The first building erected at Callaghan was the McMullen building that housed the faculties of arts, economics, commerce and science.
“Compared to the previous three years that I had spent at Tighes Hill, it was like going into nature’s own garden,” says Dr Bernie Curran, who was among the first 300 students at the Callaghan campus.
Before the student union opened in 1968 hungry students stomped through the mud and mosquitoes to a small caravan that sold coffee, pies and hamburgers.
It may have been dubbed a bushland campus, but those early days at Callaghan were a non-stop construction zone.
At its nucleus were the university’s founding fathers, James Auchmuty, Brinley Newton-John and Godfrey Tanner, and they mingled with students on a daily basis.
“There was the opportunity to develop good relationships between students and staff that had started at Tighes Hill,” Dr Curran says.
“Auchmuty used to go down from the McMullen building to the library every day to read the paper and he would talk to students on the way down and on the way back.”
For Professor Auchmuty, who had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, intellectual pursuits were only one part of an individual’s formation.
As a result he decreed that a significant proportion of the campus, which includes No.1 and No.2 ovals and The Forum building, should be dedicated to sport.
To that end, he placed as much importance in establishing university rugby, cricket, athletics and rowing teams as he did in establishing the schools and faculties of learning.
“One of the most significant things about Auchmuty’s legacy is that there are two places named after him,” Dr Curran says.
“One is the Auchmuty Library and the other is the gym, which is still encased in The Forum. There would not be many vice-chancellors who would be responsible for the gym and the library.”
In addition to on-campus activities, the university has always sought to engage with the wider community.
Nothing demonstrates this better than the early Autonomy Days when students ventured into the city to highlight matters that were important to them.
“Auchmuty was very big on the concept of town and gown,” Dr Curran says.
“Autonomy Day was an opportunity to show you were a student, not by protesting, but by designing a float that satirised the issues that were important to you as a student.”
Many of the characteristics and philosophies that define today’s university have their roots in those formative years at the Callaghan campus.
“They really believed Newcastle deserved a traditional university, not a technological or industrial university, but in their words, ‘a real university’. Auchmuty and Newton-
John were the ones who started it off,” Dr Curran says.