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The rise of a tertiary institution in the Northern Rivers


Sharlene King
1 March 2012
Kombis, artwork and innovative education are some of the highlights of a new exhibition documenting the first 30 years of the development of Southern Cross University that will open in Lismore today (March 1).

'Genesis: The First Thirty Years 1970-2000’ is a chronological display that includes film, photographs, documents, student magazines, sports uniforms, theatre company programs and a wide range of memorabilia, alongside a timeline of significant events in the history of the tertiary institutions that make up Southern Cross University.

The University’s family tree includes Lismore Teachers College (1970–1973) Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education (1974–1989), University of New England-Northern Rivers (1989-93), The Hotel School, Sydney (1989- ), and UNE Coffs Harbour Centre (1989-93), before de-amalgamation saw Southern Cross University begin operating in 1994.

“Southern Cross University has a fantastic history. It really is a vibrant institution,” said SCU History Project archivist Sandra Warner who has spent the past 12 months cataloguing the items in the exhibition.

“For example, in the 80s the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education (NRCAE) was one of the most popular colleges of advanced education in the country. At one point they had 4000 students applying for 1000 places in teaching and business studies. NRCAE ran the first small business studies course in Australia and it was a phenomenal success.”

Academics and professional staff came together a few years ago to form the History Project Working Group (HPWG).

“Many former staff members held personal copies of historical material and expressed concern for its longer term preservation,” said University lecturer and HPWG member Dr Robert Smith.

“Over the past 40 years a great deal of memorabilia and other material had been lost because of the lack of a formal process for acquisition. Much of the archival material on display has been donated by former staff and students or current staff with a sense of history.

“The display showcases a fascinating range of material,” Dr Smith said.

Among the more valuable finds is a short film about student life in the 1970s found unmarked in library archives.

“We made the decision to get it digitised without knowing what was on it,” said Ms Warner.

“It turns out to be a promotional film made by students and staff of Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education located in Keen Street. So you’ve got the kombi van and the little country cottage with a young female student making bread and a baby in a high chair. Then she’s joined by some other students and they all pile into the kombi van and go down to Byron Bay for a surf.”

Ms Warner said the history of Southern Cross University coincides with the cultural shift in the Northern Rivers that followed in the wake of the Aquarius Festival at Nimbin in 1973.

“People who had a university education and moved to Nimbin and the region, those sorts of people were going to demand a better level of education for themselves and their children.”

Ms Warner said: “The establishment of Australia’s first truly regional university is the story of a deserving community’s struggle for state and federal funding to service the educational needs of its region.

“Southern Cross University’s history is full of firsts. It has been very innovative, especially in vocational education and taking leaps like developing naturopathy and contemporary music courses.”

Australian alternative rock band Grinspoon emerged from SCU’s contemporary music course.

“And key characters, like Rod Treyvaud, the principal of Northern Rivers CAE, still live in people’s memories. Professor Treyvaud’s famous take on education was ‘educational entrepreneurism’. He forged strong relationships with industry, guaranteeing usually 100 per cent employment for graduating students in the 80s,” she said.
Event: ‘Genesis: The First 30 years 1970-2000’ will be officially opened by Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee on Thursday, March 1 at 3.30pm in the University Library at the Lismore campus. Guest speaker is Malcolm Marshall, Executive Director, Corporate Services, who retires in March after a 28-year career with Southern Cross University. Exhibition: ‘Genesis: The First Thirty Years 1970-2000’ runs until March 31 in the University Library at the Lismore campus located on Military Road, East Lismore. Photo: Sandra Warner hanging the University’s first piece of artwork, a John Coburn screenprint called ‘Siesta’ that was collected by Lismore Teachers College in 1970.