The university student – 1967

Recently Sinc put up a post to challenge the people who pine for the mythical golden age of universities in times past when the misty-eyed and doddering old farts were students.

Speaking with the confidence of a scholar in the prime of life I draw attention to a piece written in 1967 which was the year that I drove my Vauxhall Viva 1963 packed with most my worldly goods from Irishtown Tasmania (via the Princess of Tasmania or POT) to Adelaide for postgraduate study at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute.

It was a different universe and there is a lot too be said for it. The University of Tasmania had 2000 students and 130 staff. In the Agriculture faculty the staff outnumbered the first batch of 6 graduates who emerged at the end of 1966. I had to do Soil Science II by myself in the Oxbridge manner, reading and meeting the lecturer for a chat twice a week. And in Adelaide the man who supervised my research introduced me to The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper.

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30 Responses to The university student – 1967

  1. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    We were driving through Irishtown a couple of years ago, Rafe.
    I doubt it had changed much then from when you lived there. A tiny village, fields, a few houses.
    I loved the old-style fibro community hall named as some sort of Irish meeting place.
    I’d have to hunt out the photo to tell you what though.
    Utas has changed from your day. Well-positioned campus and pleasant enough, lots of o/s students.
    I went there with Hairy and walked around while he had a meeting.

  2. entropy

    I took Master Entropy to a tertiary educations options day at the ekka last year.

    Engineering:the seminar was chokka; told only the best get in, BE grades are the most sought after etc.etc
    Business schools: standing room only. QUT falling over themselves explaining that they do three semesters a year, as many classes at night as possible, all so you can fit uni around work. They will even help you find a job while at QUT.
    Dragged him to the UQ ag science presentation: Those present were told if you worked more than five hours a week in a job you would probably fail the course. High contact hours, a lot of study, compulsory field work in holidays, four years. Did I say how many were present? Three counting Master Entropy, there because his dad made him. One of the others was there because they wanted to work in a zoo with, by the look of her, fluffy animals, and the other confessed she was there by mistake.

  3. It was a different universe and there is a lot too be said for it.

    Apparently English grammar was not on your elective list.

  4. Rafe Champion

    Well done Lizzie! In my youth Irishtown had a railway station, a garage, a haberdashery, a post office and two general stores. Now the road is sealed to Smithton only six miles away and they are down to a corner store in Irishtown. Beautiful country but.
    At least Irishtown still exists, some little farming/timber villages further inland like Lialea and Trowatta were gutted by the Greens opposition to the timber industry.
    Tas uni has an unbeatable location on the bayside, over the road from the Casino. Ag Sci was in war surplus army huts at the bottom of the hill waiting for the Life Sciences building. In fairness, for two years we did not need our own digs because we did Chem, Physics, Botany, Zoology, Geology and only Introduction to Agriculture which was special.

  5. Rafe Champion

    Yes it wasn’t although we did Ag Economics, Ag Engineering, Ag Extension Ag Biochemistry and a lot of other things like Insects and Plant Pathology in addition to the foundational three – Soils, Agronomy and Animal Production.

    Curse you mv I am going to toss and turn all night wondering what is wrong with that small sentence.

  6. duncanm

    Poke a comma in there and is/was

  7. Nelson Kidd-Fridges

    There you go. I also used to get around in a Viva…

  8. Curse you mv I am going to toss and turn all night wondering what is wrong with that small sentence.

    Don’t sweat it Rafe, I actually enjoy your posts, including this one. However, when it comes to oldies of my generation, I have higher standards in the English department. How can I go on bemoaning the falling standards in education amongst the young, when oldies are making the same mistakes?

    Check out to, and too.

  9. dauf

    Entropy…good to hear from you via such an unexpected venue… you told me that amusing/sad story at our Ag reunion. I had some experiences a bit like Rafe in 1985 in soil and water chemistry at UQ; just two students and an international expert as a lecturer. If only we knew how lucky we were back then. The system has changed

  10. 132andBush

    A noble pursuit/learning.
    Big interest of mine as well.

  11. blind freddy

    Thanks for the memories

    misty-eyed and doddering old fart

  12. Yohan

    Rafe had two burdens as a young student, he was Tasmanian AND a follower of Karl Popper

  13. Tintarella di Luna

    Did I say how many were present? Three counting Master Entropy, there because his dad made him.

    I suppose everyone else is doing gender studies, arts or law — where they can just google it in. Law degrees these days are a joke, and those who gain them are barely literate dolts. My god I am glad I am as old as I am the Law in years to come will be a travesty.

  14. steve of kenmore

    Fond memories, I started UQ Commerce part-time in 1967, had a red and white 1966 HA Viva and a PS job.
    Different times for sure.

  15. Exit Stage Right

    Hi Rafe, nice trip down memory lane. Good to see someone else owning up to originating from N.W. Tasmania (Gods own country). The metropolis of Wynyard in my case. Had the occasional trip to Irishtown in my yoof, great country as you say.
    Can’t comment on Uni life in the 60’s. Grade 12 was enough for me, back then Uni was for rich kids or students with above average scholastic ability-I didn’t qualify on either score.
    Re your comments at 9.43pm. Surely Trowutta and Lileah?
    Love reading your articles. Keep up the good work.

  16. Herodotus

    What happens when there’s nobody remaining who remembers what universities and other tertiary institutions were like then?
    Reminiscences will become less imbued with the aquatint* of Oxbridge, the calm atmosphere of library and study rooms, and more about selfies, student enviro-activism and looking up stuff on iPads.

    (* h/t Evelyn Waugh)

  17. stackja

    Gough finished off universities like most of Australia.

  18. Rabz

    “extra curricular activities”

    Mine consisted of drinking and chasing skirt, with some minor engagement in student politics (which helped facilitate the first two).

  19. A couple of years ago I attended a launch of a book containing a piece that I had written many years ago. It was the first time I had seen my old professor (indeed, now over 90) in a long time & so we reminisced.

    “Vicki”, he said, “those were the Golden Years… have no idea how it has changed.”

    “What?” said I, “You mean postmodernism?”

    “That is the least of it.” he sighed.

    Having since learned incrementally of the total decline of critical thought and rigorous study (at least in the Humanities) in the universities, I now understand the full nature of his despair. He had perhaps the most insightful mind and genuine humility that I have ever encountered. I can only wonder at the pain the decline in his world has caused him.

    And I missed the worst of it.

  20. johanna

    Nice post, Rafe. Small universities, now only a memory except for third rate regional campuses, were delighful places.

    When I went to the ANU in 1972, there were about 4,000 students. Due to the research focus, half of them were postgrads, many of whom were rarely seen. The campus was acres and acres of rolling parklands and gardens, with the odd building almost hidden in amongst the trees. You quickly got to know most people at least by sight. You even more quickly found friends in the small Union Bar and your residential college, where a big chunk of undergraduates lived. The Deputy Vice Chancellor and senior academics drank in the Union Bar, or they would sign you in to the Staff Club, a converted 1930s house with roaring log fires in winter. It really was idyllic.

    Today it has over 20,000 students, and ugly buildings have proliferated, blighting the landscape. They are in an eternal loop of knocking down and building, as though TV renovation shows have taken over the collective psyche. There is no sense of permanence, either in the physical surroundings or the culture.

    It’s still small compared to the big factories in Sydney and Melbourne, though. Melbourne U has well over 40,000, and Sydney over 50,000, in much smaller areas. And, they all aspire to get bigger.

    These utterly depersonalised degree factories may make sense to the bean counters, but as an environment for learning and growth, not to mention a shared ethos, they might as well build a skyscraper on a city block and call it a university.

    We were lucky.

  21. Minderbinder of QLD

    Gough the Destroyer may have started the irreversible changes, however Halitosis Hawke and Dawkins the Dumb administered the Coup de Grace to Australian Education at every level .
    Australia continues to be destroyed by its supposed politicians who see themselves as our leaders, not as public servants representing the community’s majority values, needs, and aspirations.
    Education at all levels in Australia is an absolute scandalous disgrace, and when one looks at those usurpers in charge, the reason for the shambles is crystal clear.
    As in Journalism, Social Sciences, and Political Science, the source of the fatal infection for educators starts with the University courses, and until these cesspits are disinfected, nothing will change.

  22. Tator

    Spent two years at Flinders Uni doing First year twice in the late 80’s immediately before Hawke brought in HEACs. What I didn’t know then and do now is that I have ADHD and am on the Autism Spectrum. This combined with being a country boy coming to the “big city” of Adelaide, I allowed myself to be distracted by all the common things city people took for granted like TV and bars.
    I did learn a lot about life even if I failed most of my courses. One thing I have noticed in difference between then and now as I have looked at going back to do studies now that I am retired and have the time to properly educate myself in subjects that I have an interest in is the proliferation in different courses now available. Courses like Gender Studies, Journalism, Communications, Criminology, Creative Arts with flavours of fashion, costume design, creative writing, dance, drama, digital media, visual arts, Media Arts, Tourism Management, Sports health and physical activity and Public Administration.
    Back in the 80’s, most of these were the domain of on the job training or specialist Art and performing arts colleges and nursing and teaching were taught at Colleges of Advanced Education and not at University level.
    On top of this, you also have the declining standards of schooling. With Year 12 basically compulsory for most students with school leaving ages at 16 years, the academic rigour of Year 12 has dropped substantially with the number of courses there making up numbers. In the 80’s, only certain core subjects were eligible for generating a Tertiary entry score and they were based around academic subjects like Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geography, English, Australian History and Modern History subjects. Subjects like Physical Education, Outdoor Education, Media Studies, Health, Food and Hospitality, Design and Technology and Agricultural Studies were all ineligible for inclusion in your Year 12 scores when considered by the Universities.
    In addition, only half the students in the 80’s even attempted Year 12 as most left to gain employment after years 10 and 11. Plus with the ongoing Credential-ism that is screaming ahead in our society with basically every job needing a formal certification from either TAFE or higher before you can even set foot on a workplace is creating both a poverty trap for those unable to gain any qualifications and a burgeoning education sector that is basically devaluing all forms of tertiary education by both dumbing down the curriculum and basically being degree factories rather than universities being a place where people are taught to think freely in a critical manner to advance human knowledge.

  23. Phillip

    I was at the University of Tasmania from 1966 doing Economics (started Science but hated the lab work so made the switch), driving there in my 1956 Morris Minor. There were only 8 in my honours year and I was the only one for one of the subjects so it was just a weekly Oxford style tutorial. I was active in student politics and designated as one of the resident crypto-facists by my opponents. I went to ANU in the 70s to complete a Master of Economics. Again relatively small classes run by some of the greats eg Tom Valentine, Peter Swan. I go back to Hobart regularly and have just returned from a school reunion (St Virgils College).

  24. Rafe Champion

    Exit Stage Right
    Grade 12 was enough for me, back then Uni was for rich kids or students with above average scholastic ability-I didn’t qualify on either score.
    Tasmania had Area Schools taking kids to grade 9. There was one at Edith Creek not far from Irishtown. A good idea with a high school in Smithton for the handful of pupils who needed to go further.

    Surely Trowutta and Lileah?
    Thanks for correct spelling!

  25. Viva

    There you go. I also used to get around in a Viva…

    Silly name …. for a car.

  26. Rafe Champion

    Thanks for all the comments, I would really like to send individual mails to build on the replies from several commentators but nothing else would get done in the day.
    There is a story that someone asked an Oxbridge don what he did during the war and the replied that he was what the war was about, as though the war was fought to defend his way of life.
    I have some sympathy with that view but only to a point, at some point we all have to be prepared to go to the walls or the barricades.
    Part of my day is devoted to the culture war and part of it to the contemplation and development of ideas for their own sake, including the relaxed contemplation of where we have come from and where we are going.
    I have two autobiographical essays, The Road from Irishtown and a tribute to my supervisor, Keith Barley which are now published in the collection Australiana for the price of cup of coffee:)

  27. herodotus

    The full quote from Brideshead Revisited:

    “Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint. In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman’s day; her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days – such as that day – when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth. It was this cloistral hush which gave our laughter its resonance, and carried it still, joyously, over the intervening clamour.”

  28. Des Deskperson

    ‘It was a different universe and there is a lot too be said for it. The University of Tasmania had 2000 students and 130 staff. ‘

    I went to a ‘small ‘ university in the early seventies – Latrobe with a student body of 3-4,000. Yet it had all the pathologies we now associate with contemporary tertiary institutions:

    some good but many incoherent and even unintelligible lecturers

    tutors who mostly were all ‘MA prelims’, which I assume meant they didn’t initially have the marks to go straight to MA

    a large body of student activists who occupied buildings and who threatened, shouted down or stopped any discussion that wasn’t orthodoxly Marxist and/or pro-Viet Cong

    a weak and incompetent administration

    academics, at least in the humanities and the social sciences, who were at best awed and fascinated by the student revolutionaries and at worst their enablers and urges

    a syllabus infused with victimology, but based on class rather than colour or gender

    an unofficial but hardly subtle message that, if you wanted to succeed academically, you had to ficus on topics and issues that showed workers and unionist in a good light.

    I often wonder now whether LaTrobe in the 60s and 70s was actually some sort of planned experimental prototype for today’s Australian university.

  29. Rafe Champion

    Whether or not it was planned it was a step in that direction. I am advised by my local Kremlinologist that the Bolsheviks had the western education system in their sights from day one.
    They were also masters of fake news long before the term was invented, as Orwell discovered in Spain.

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