Open discussion on the evolution of Australian and New Zealand Thought

Friday, 16 November 2007

Philosophy at Melbourne University

When it come to philosophy in Australia, Sydney had often made a lot of noise (think of John Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University for some thirty years, and, it's said, the inspiration behind the Sydney Push): Adelaide has been a site of innovation (birthplace of a view of the nature of the mind that came to be known internationally as Australian materialism) and Canberra has been a centre of solid, analytical professionalism. But what about Melbourne? Alan Saunders, The
Philosopher's Zone
, ABC Radio National.

This quote comes from the introduction by Alan Saunders to a talk by Tony Coady from the University of Melbourne on the history of philosophy in Australia with a special focus on Melbourne. You will find the transcript plus audio here.

Tony's talk provides an interesting introduction to another thread in the evolution of Australian thought.


In a comment, Rafe noted that Jim Franklin had published a remarkably researched history of philosophy in Australia. You will find Rafe's earlier review of the book here.

I have not read this book, but the reference made we wonder how all this compared with philosophy at New England. Here I did Philosophy 1 in 1963 and then, later, Ted Tapp's Philosophy of History course. Both had a major influence on my thinking.

Looking back, Philosophy 1 was quite rigorous. From the mists of the past, it also seems to have had a different flavour certainly from that holding at Sydney, UNE's previous parent, and perhaps from that holding elsewhere in Australia.

The course included an introduction to philosophy that started with the Greeks and worked forward. There were also distinct ethics and logic sections. In logic, we looked at both Aristotle and symbolic logic. I found the symbolic logic very useful later in understanding computers and computing.

I found the references in Tony and Rafe's material to Professor Orr interesting because of what it says about shifts in Australian attitudes. My perceptions of the Orr matter were formed growing up in an academic household at a time when the imbroglio was still current. The central issue as seen then was one of academic freedom.

I mention this because I found the comments on Professor Orr jarring.

I had not thought about this case for a long time, so my own core views on it are really as previously formed. There appears to be a clear gap between those views and current perceptions.

Now that the Orr case is vanishing in the mists of time, it might be interesting to look at it at some point simply because of the way in which it might highlight changing perceptions.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The University of New England's contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition - early threads 1

Your primary purpose, of course, is to study for a degree, otherwise you will waste a great valuable time, your own and your lecturers, much public money, and in these days of restricted entry deprive some other student of a coveted place. University study does not consist in the passive absorption of information but in the dynamic pursuit of knowledge which arises from the clash of informed minds and the unrelenting refusal to accept first appearances as final truths.. You are entering a community of scholars where your own contributions will be accepted. It is surprising how often your teachers can be stimulated by a brilliant idea or an illuminating phrase from a first year student. Ean M Fraser, Orientation Week Handbook, University of New England, 1963.

The establishment of a university college in Armidale in 1938 did not just happen. This was not just the first regional university college, but the first new university institution established in Australia for a long while.

Once established, it provided the precedent for the establishment of new institutions. But New England itself owed its own creation to a very particular juxtaposition of circumstances.

The early history of the Country Party has been well outlined by writers including Ulrich Ellis, Bruce Graham and Don Aitken.

Ellis himself was unique at the time he wrote and indeed is still unusual. A journalist, political agitator and propagandist and a long standing staffer to Earle Page, Ellis used his pen as a weapon. One output was his histories of the of the NSW and Federal Country Parties. As a player, Ellis's works were partisan, but his writings were also informed by direct knowledge and experience.

Don Aitken himself forms part of the New England intellectual tradition, a tradition set somewhat outside the bounds set by what I, as someone who also belongs to the New England intellectual tradition, would call the metro conventions.

Don's early writings explored the way in which the NSW Country Party formed.

Central to Don's analysis was the emergence of the idea of countrymindedness, the way in which local needs such as education, the idea of city oppression, long held ideas about the virtues of country life, all combined to create a political mix of sufficient strength to overcome (to some degree at least) deeply held local rivalries.

Bruce looked more broadly, at the early history of the Australian country parties. His writing brought out a different point, the differences between the parties. The Victorian party with its radical populist small farm base, its requirement that parliamentarians sign a pledge of compliance with party policy similar to that required in the Labor Party, was a very different beast from the NSW party.

Like Victoria, the new country party movement in NSW appealed to and drew support from small farmers. However, in NSW the party also attracted support from the more conservative grazing interests. Further, in Northern New South Wales and in Northern NSW alone, the movement managed to combine not just rural but also town interests, in so doing becoming the dominant political force outside Newcastle and the lower Hunter where the Labor tradition remained dominant.

The distinguishing feature in Northern NSW was the parallel rise of a movement dedicated to the achievement of self government, statehood, for Northern NSW. While drawing from many of the same well springs as the country party movement, new statism appealed especially to town dwellers and the town elites. The two movements were different. However, the Progressive Party as the NSW Country Party was then called, was able to capture the new state feeling, giving it a base that extended across geographical and economic divides.


I want to get this up. I will add references later.

Return to introductory post.

Friday, 9 November 2007

University of Newcastle, Cyril Renwick and the Hunter Valley Research Foundation

Musing, I was preparing some very basic historical material on Newcastle University, just a few dates really. However, this got me thinking on some broader issues.

I have begun a series on the University of New England and its contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition. But what about Newcastle?

The roots of this university date back into Australian industrialisation during and after the First World War. This is a university established in a truly industrial centre. How did this affect it?

Like New England, it had an extension and development role in its immediate environment. Professor Renwick and the Hunter Valley Research Foundation are the classic example. But beyond this?

Still on Professor Renwick, school text books can tell us a lot about thought at the time the book was published. Books are linked to curriculum determined by education authorities as well as the author's own views.

Professor Renwick's 1958 book The Economic Pattern An Elementary Text-book for Australian Readers (Longmans Green and Co) was the NSW economics text book for a number of years.

I remember this book. Modern readers would, for example, find its discussion on the institutional role of the union movement strange. It is a snapshot into a different, more polite, Australia.

None of this is very profound. But I would be interested in hearing from readers who can extend the Newcastle story.

Monday, 5 November 2007

The University of New England's contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition - introduction

Our society is unique among Australian universities in the residential system, and only though your full participation in college, social, club and other activities will you realise completely your part in it.

By all means work - you have enrolled principally for academic reasons, but a university is not merely a degree factory - academic success is not synonymous with education in the fullest sense of the word. We hope you will keep this in mind and join wholeheartedly in extracurricular as well as in academic aspects of university life. Orientation Week Handbook, University of New England, 1963.

Each Australian or New Zealand university has a different tradition. Each has been formed in part through interaction with its immediate world, as well as the broader academic world. Each has contributed in different ways to community life, as well as the development of thought in the two countries.

You can see hints of this on this blog even at this early stage in its evolution. One example is the series on the transmission of ideas and the New Zealand Worker's Educational Association. Part of this story lay in the influence of Canterbury College. Then again, why were the followers of Leavis more successful at Melbourne than in Sydney?

The University of New England has its own particular place in this mix.

At the time of the Orientation Handbook from which this quote was drawn, New England was still the only fully autonomous Australian university outside a capital city. While the University had already pioneered distance education, it was also almost entirely a residential university so far as its full time students were concerned.

The student mix itself was very different. Apart from the relatively large Colombo Plan cohort, nearly all the students were drawn from farms, villages and towns across Northern NSW. For many, this was the first ever family contact with university life. To the University, a core part of its role lay in giving these students access to the academic, intellectual and cultural traditions of the University world.

This was the only University in the country where the majority of students and staff voted Country Party. The students were, by Australian standards, unusually religious - the various Christian groups on campus collectively formed a very major presence.

Yet it was also a very tolerant University with close integration between overseas and local students. With a brief exception when the University of New England New State Society became the largest society in membership terms, the Overseas Students Association with its local affiliate members was the largest student society on campus.

When Russell Ward's appointment to a post at the University of New South Wales was vetoed by its VC on the grounds of his perceived Communist Party affiliations, New England's Council with its strong Country Party connections approved his appointment to a post in history at New England, an irony not lost on Professor Ward.

The University was both international and intensely regional.

International, because many of its staff had overseas qualifications; because they and the University saw the University as part of an international academic tradition; because New England people could already be found in dozens of countries round the world; because the University was already involved in a range of international activities. Intensely regional because the University had been established to serve the people of Northern New South Wales and saw this as a living mission.

In 1963, the University was just entering a period of major change, although this was not recognised at a the time.

Within fifteen years, the emergence of mass University education together with the Vietnam War and the social and economic changes of the 1960s and 1970s, would sweep away some of its special features, including the green gowns that all undergraduates had to wear to lectures and formal functions. Today UNE is very different, but despite all the changes it does still retain some of the special features and traditions of its past.

Against this background, I thought that it might be interesting to explore some of the University's history and traditions. In doing so, I do not intend to write a history of the University. Rather, I want to provide a snap shot of another part of the Australian and New Zealand intellectual tradition.

Posts in this series

11 November 2007, The University of New England's contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition - early threads 1

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sam Goldberg, F R Leavis and English at Sydney University

Interesting post on Neil Whitfield's blog, Old teachers never die, on Sam Goldberg, Challis Professor of English at Sydney University. The post has links to other posts Neil has written about Professor Goldberg.

An inspiring teacher, Professor Goldberg was part of the Leavisite wave. Whereas this group established a strong base at Melbourne University, Sydney proved more resistant. Neil's post provides an insight into the story.