Arts graduates find common cause for celebration

23 May 2003

Celebrating 50 years of the Arts Association
Celebrating 50 years of the Arts Association

By Alison Handmer

Arts graduates from across seven decades gathered in MacLaurin Hall to celebrate the contribution of the humanities to public life, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Sydney University Arts Association.

Among the high profile speakers representing each decade were The Lucky Country author, lecturer and academic Donald Horne, who said his first year in Arts in the 1930s revealed to him, over cups of foul coffee in the Union refectory, "the value of pursuing things for their own sake and not always for the sake of the economy". While he revelled in discoveries, he found after the end of year examinations that he hadn't done enough of "the work you get marks for". He attributes to his Arts degree at Sydney his ability to maintain a spirit of criticism.

Company of Heralds author, historian and journalist Gavin Souter, from the 1940s, said his Arts degree was "the getting of knowledge". He added: "It made me read, write and think more than I might otherwise have done," while providing "a sense of direction in libraries, a taste for research and an interest in the past - more than enough to be grateful for".

Edmund Campion, priest, writer, editor, literary judge and academic, representing Arts in the 1950s, said: "The lines of my life are run in the present place, and no more so than in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney." The most important thing he learnt was respect for other points of view, he said.

Academic, literary editor and critic Andrew Riemer, representing the 1960s, said it was a time for reading, talking, and exploring all sorts of issues. "It provided a matrix for one's later life." He praised his liberal education which allowed "enough leisure for the mind to flourish and the spirit to soar", contrasting it with the experience of frazzled students queuing for books to complete endless assessment tasks to please bean counters. He questioned whether the University could escape "the dun-coloured mediocrity which is the time in which we live".

Journalist and writer Susan Wyndham, representing the 1970s, light-heartedly revealed that her first year in Arts introduced her to "American literature, cappuccinos and people from the Western Suburbs". The University was culturally vibrant at that time, she said, and she made many friends and professional contacts she continues to value highly.

Theatre director Marion Potts, representing the 1980s, saw the University as "a thoroughly inspiring place". She said: "Being among a group of talented and like-minded people allowed me to articulate my aspirations."

In the present political and economic climate she said she hoped "we can safeguard this sense of the collegial and our respect for knowledge, and keep this a repository of knowledge and expertise".

Jack Manning Bancroft, a first-year Arts student and holder of the inaugural ANZ indigenous scholarship, representing the present generation of Arts students, said: "I am really enjoying the challenge of learning new concepts and ideas." He stressed the importance of challenging people's concepts and values.

Koori Centre deputy director Mrs Michelle Blanchard acknowledged and paid respect to the traditional owners of the land on which the University stands, the Cadigal people of the Eora nations, saying she felt honoured and privileged to be among people who shared her passion for words.

"The right words can move us on a physical, emotional and spiritual level, and may we continue to choose them with care," she said.

Event organiser and Arts Association president, Emeritus Professor Angus Martin, said the need to promote the interests of the Arts faculty and the relevance of a humanist tradition in an increasingly diverse and competitive tertiary sector resonated even more strongly now than in 1953 when the association was formed.

Graduates and current students are invited to participate in a project "articulating a sense of identity and community in the Faculty of Arts". Those interested should contact Dr Marie-Therese Barbaux on 9351 7511 or, or Ms Cherie Kennaugh on 9036 9313 or

Address any comments, quoting the headline of this story, to: