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Murdoch (University) and Me

In the third year of my first BA degree at the University of Western Australia (in 1963), the Reader in the Department of English suggested that I consider going on to Honours. At that time I thought that schoolteaching would be a good career for me and I just wanted to get out of the university and go to work. Big mistake.

hughTen years later, I was back at UWA doing what started out as an MA but was able to be turned into Hons. During the last year of the course, 1973, I heard about a new university that was soon to open south of the river. I think it might have been my fellow-student Hugh Webb who put the idea into my mind of applying for a scholarship for post-graduate study at the new place.

I scraped though Honours (I was also teaching fulltime at CCGS) and got an interview with Foundation Professor John Frodsham, and subsequently was awarded a Murdoch Studentship, which was enough to live on.

The new university wasn't easy to find. There was said to be a library collection getting started somewhere, maybe on the UWA campus, and there might have been an office in Stirling Highway Nedlands. I don't think I ever found either.

At some point I made my way to the new campus in the middle of a pine plantation. On a particular rise there were no pines, just some of the original natural vegetation. A couple of areas had been cleared and levelled, but no building had begun. I was looking at the space now known as Bush Court.

The university now had some accommodation for the offices of the foundation professors and their secretaries, which also gave them somewhere to meet the graduate students they were supervising. Noalimba was a migrant reception centre, basically a complex of apartments and a central facility with a cafeteria and whatever. John Frodsham's office in 1974 was the livingroom of one apartment, with his secretary in its kitchen.

Noalimba was pretty much on the south side of South St where the Kwinana Freeway now crosses it, and so no longer exists. To get to the new university from the city it was necessary to take a complicated route through Applecross streets.

It was a small community in 1974. I remember a social meeting of all postgrads when I met a guy who was doing his research on lampreys. When the books arrived from wherever they had been collected, random people, including me, helped to carry some of them them into the library. The university wanted to have student representation on all committees, and as there were no undergraduates, the positions were divvied up among us postgrads. And I got to sit on the Board of Part II Studies (which ceased to exist a long time ago).

The inauguration was in September 1974, when about a hundred people were there to see John Kerr turn up (perhaps in his top hat, tho to be honest I can't remember) and say a few words. An unfortunate choice for a radical university, given what he was about to do on 11 November the following year.

Three buildings were pretty much ready for occupancy when Murdoch University opened for the admission of undergraduate students in 1975. Back then, books were still regarded as essential for learning, and the Library was the central building. On its left was Arts, with Sciences on its right. But as it was a radical university, they weren't called that, but disguised as West and East Academic. There is now a School of Arts, but back then there were no old-fashioned terms like Arts: we were in the School of Human Communication, and John was the Professor of World Literature, not just English. Another Western-side professor, an American, John Raser, was in charge of the School of Social Inquiry. He retired young to go surfing.

Garry Gillard | New: 9 November, 2016 | Now: 20 December, 2018