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Murdoch University 1974-

At the beginning of 1974, I was awarded a Murdoch Studentship to carry out research leading to admission to the degree of Master of Philosophy – which I took up in May, having resigned my job as a schoolteacher.

They spelt my name wrongly four times >

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. If there were, I never 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 native 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 had in 1974 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. It was in Noalimba - which was a migrant reception centre, basically a complex of apartments and a central facility with a cafeteria and whatever. Professor John Frodsham's office was the living-room of one apartment, with his secretary in its kitchen.

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

When my next supervisor, Horst Ruthrof, arrived with his family in 1975, I'm pretty sure they stayed in the hostel as migrants until they got their own place.

It was a small community in 1974. I remember a social meeting of all (nineteen I think it was) postgrad students, 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). Half a dozen professors - and me.

The University was 'inaugurated' by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, on 17 September 1974, a date chosen because it was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Walter Murdoch, foundation professor of English and chancellor of UWA.

This is a photo of people at the inauguration ceremony, as shown on the cover of the 1975 Handbook and Calendar. Unfortunately, I'm not in the photo (though I was there) - but then neither is Sir John Kerr. About one hundred people were there to see the Governor-General turn up (probably 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.

Here is a photo of Kerr, fixing a granite survey mark, with the 'assistance' of - I think - the sculptor, Maris Raudzins, whose sculpture is only a metre or two away (as shown in the image above this one).

I am in this photo, though you'll have to take my word for it (click on it). I've copied it from a 1978 booklet, but I think it was taken earlier than that. I was working one day in my study in the building on the right that used to be called West Academic, when someone came down the corridor looking for someone - anyone - to be in a photo on Bush Court. The photographer was up on a high ladder and needed some figures in his landscape. So I obliged, as did the others in the posed photo. I'm in the middle of the group on the right.

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 (as it looked out on Bush Court) 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 might now be a Faculty of Arts or whatever, but back then there were no old-fashioned terms like Arts: we were in the School of Human Communication, and John Frodsham 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 (not Sciences). He retired young to go surfing.

When the 'first' students rocked up in 1975, I found that I was somewhat at odds with the general 'ethos' - as it was called. I had been a schoolteacher for ten years, notably, for the last four, at two of the most conservative schools in the state, Guildford and Christ Church Grammar Schools. I was used to being called 'Sir' by all of my students. At Murdoch in 1975 there were no Sirs.

The formal photo of me at the graduation ceremony in April 1978. The poor quality colour process has darkened, as shown where under the mask at the top (which I removed for this scan) is much lighter >

I was on the part-time (now 'sessional') staff 1976-1978, and then got full-time jobs at Deakin University Geelong and then at the University of the South Pacific, where I was the Co-ordinator of Course Development for the whole of the South Pacific from Vanuatu in the west to the Cook Islands in the east and down to Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, the main campus, where I worked. But I needed to be back in Perth to look after my aging mother, and was lucky enough in 1985 to be able to get a job in the External Studies Unit back at Murdoch. So I came from the top of the lecturer scale and a key job looking after educational design in a large proportion of the world's surface to the bottom of the lecturer scale in a non-tenurable position as an 'Education Officer' in a para-academic unit, where I was attached to programs which no-one else wanted to service, such as Asian Studies - in which I made some enduring friendships.

In 1992, the University wanted to launch its own Visa card (it was the thing at the time) and needed a single individual to whom to present the 'first' one. So Rob Osborne, the (first?) director of Alumni, was tasked to find someone. He hit upon the idea of giving it to the 'first graduate', and was lucky to find someone right on campus who was available for the photo-op. He looked at the earliest enrolment numbers. Which started with 74 for the year 1974 and ended in 001, 002, 003 and so on. (There's a 9 in the middle. No-one alive knows what that was there for. I asked Andrew Bain in admin early on, and he thought it might have meant 'graduate student') Numbers 1 and 2 never graduated, apparently, and I was there at the first formal graduation ceremony in April 1978 as number 3 – so I got the guernsey as 'first graduate'. I'm still enjoying the status. The Murdoch University history page online has just the one entry for '1977', and it's about moi! (It was 27 October 1977 that my graduate status was officially conferred by Academic Council – the ceremony in 1978 was a formality.)

So here I am in 1992 holding a mockup of the card with the manager of the R&I Bank (now Bankwest, more or less), which used to have an office on campus. I wasn't allowed to keep the prop. Nor, later, was I allowed to keep the card! When it came time to renew it, I had to hand it back to get the replacement. Murdoch News published a page about the event. (I didn't normally wear a tie to work; I thought I'd better smarten up for the photo.)

The University needed its first graduate again for one last photo-op. The occasion was the formal launch of (I think) both the Visa card and the alumni association. Premier Geoff Gallop was studying for a Murdoch research degree at the same time as I was working towards mine, so he was also an early alumnus.

From the left in the photo: the Premier, moi, (possibly) the state manager of the R&I Bank, the Vice-Chancellor Peter Boyce, and Rob Osborne, wearing his MU polo shirt. The VC and I are both wearing our Murdoch ties. He's holding the same prop Visa card I'm holding in the photo above. And I'm holding a presentational bowl which was one of items sold in the Alumni shop as a souvenir. Stuck on one edge it had a small MU shield which soon fell off. The bowl is in my kitchen in 2023 with fruit in it. Photo: Brian Richards, 5 April 1992.

Three years later I was in a Murdoch publication again, this time in what was then called In Touch: Newsletter for the Murdoch University Alumni (the equivalent is now called Murmur). I was at another graduation ceremony in March of that year, being awarded a doctorate. I conceived the idea for the photo myself, and persuaded the university photographer, Brian Richards, to take it on the morning after the ceremony. I had hired the costume just for the night, and, before I gave it back, I went to the university to Brian's studio, and struck the pose - which I thought of as Superman about to emerge in his super gear.

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