Thursday, 3 August 2017

Jottings of interest: August 2017

The Sabbath Sentinel published a slightly different version of my article ‘The Seventh Day Men Part 1: The Sabbath under James I & Charles I under the title ‘The Seventh Day Men’ in their May-June 2017 edition, pp17-19.  I’m hoping they may publish all three in due course. The magazine is published by the Bible Sabbath Association, a non-denominational organisation, whose main purpose is to promote cooperation between Sabbath-keepers from a number of groups.


Victor Perton, the energetic Editor of the Australian Leadership Project, published a short interview with me in June, based on my reflections about leadership. The only error in the piece is that he described my previous employer as my current – I don’t know who would be more offended.


Speaking of La Trobe, the University… 

I’ve now read From the Paddock to the Agora – Fifty Years of La Trobe University, spruiked as featuring ‘candid essays from six commissioned authors, as well as a collection of iconic photos and images’. The line-up is impressive; author and speechwriter Don Watson; historian, author and broadcaster Clare Wright; public intellectual Robert Manne; writer and political commentator Dennis Altman; scientist Marilyn Anderson; and Bendigo Honorary Associate Penny Davies.

I had been expecting a follow-up to Building La Trobe University: reflections on the first 25 years, 1964-1989, a thoughtful anthology published by La Trobe University Press in 1989, but was disappointed.

You’ll notice a slight difference in chronology here. Building starts from ‘conception’ in 1964 when the La Trobe University Act was passed by the Victorian Parliament whereas From the Paddock counts 50 years from the ‘birth’ on 8 March 1967. The cows had gone by 1967, but not the paddock.

From the Paddock is an easy, one-sitting, read with Don Watson’s item resonating most. He is the only author to also feature in Building La Trobe and clearly did some research for the current book. I learned that Kathleen Fitzpatrick was a member of ‘The Third University Committee’, and the person who proposed naming the new university after Victoria’s first Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe. Nice to know that she taught 17th Century English history too - not enough people do now.

The book is reminiscences rather than history and in one place seems to rake over internal disputes perhaps better left forgotten. (Some of my reminiscences, with no raking, are in earlier blog items.)

I wondered why some of the authors were chosen until Clare Wright’s piece indicated that she and most of the others were part of The Age top 20 Australian intellectuals in April 2005. The missing authors were Inga Clendennin (who passed away in 2016) and Tim Flannery – made me wonder what his memories would be.

Watson’s reflective descriptions of student life also gave a better view of the ‘radical days’ than some other two-dimensional views of ‘radical’. The experience was a maturing one and thoughtful staff recognised it as such. La Trobe was for me a marketplace of ideas – an Agora for the mind.

The opposite end of the student spectrum was taken by the late Andrew Armstrong (d 2008) who enjoyed being seen as radical for being conservative. I got to know him when he was a Convocation member of the University Council. See his item LURC Early History - my part in your being.  

An interesting item would be to compare the formal portraits of successive Vice-Chancellors (and Chancellors) with their characters. Johnson blends into the environment with his coffee, Osborne is lonely, Scott is penetrating and thoughtful and a happy Myers clouded in the smoke of his pipe. 

The lack of captions for the photos was also a disappointment. I wonder whether the inclusion of a picture of John Scott and his wife is an accident or a recognition that his decision to go ahead with the amalgamation with the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences was a significant turning point for La Trobe. Professor Peter Karmel had advised that not to do it may mean the end of the University. 

It’s a pity that there hasn’t been something written with a historical perspective to describe and assess the changes over the last 28 years and perhaps reassess the developments of the earlier period. Themes would include the Lincoln amalgamation and how it changed the University, engaging with TAFE and vocational teaching, more reflection on the University's rural mission and the challenges of a multi-campus institution, the role of international activities (there from day one but with ever-increasing significance), the change in academic mix including the loss of some areas such as music or geology and the balance between being inward-looking and outward looking.

From the Paddock is not quite a coffee-table book – indeed it might be a ‘coffee-table book lite’ or an ‘instant-coffee table book’.


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