University anniversaries

75th anniversary, 1927

Exhibition Week, 5 - 9 September 1927

From Monday 5 to Friday 9 September 1927 the University was on exhibition during the afternoon and evening for the purpose of seeing it at work. All Departments were open, and lectures and demonstrations were given in a great many of them, while an array of special exhibits was on view in the Fisher Library and, wherever possible, elsewhere.

10,000 people attended and most of them contributed to the expense of the Exhibition, which was, therefore, no burden on the University, except for the extra work voluntarily undertaken by all grades of the staff.

On Saturday 10 September 1927, the Sports Union held a fete to raise funds, and the money raised was to be set aside for the sports section of the appeal ... details.

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The descriptions below are from articles published in the 'Sydney Morning Herald" during September 1927, courtesy of NLA Newspapers.

The Opening Ceremony on 5 September 1927

A large crowd visited the Great Hall when the Chancellor Sir William Cullen opened the exhibition at 3pm on Monday 5 September 1927.

People, he said, often suggested that the University was not advertised sufficiently. The University's best advertisement was the spectacle of young men, strong in spirit and intellect, setting out to mould the face and the heart of life a little more clearly in the form of their grand and heroic ideal. How little, how astoundingly llttle, people knew of the University's enormous work. He would like an institution of this kind to go quietly on, boasting no word ot its gifts to the people, of its achievements, of Its colossal character-building; but it was good for a community that it should look occasionally upon young men, lifting their faces to life, straightening their shoulders, and lifting off with the light of the stars in their eyes. For a university did not merely try to equip its students for a scholastic or a professional career. It tried to show them the incalculable spiritual value of uprightness, of true dealing, and thoroughness in work. Some things no nation could forget and live, some ideas, some values without which it would deteriorate.

Exhibition Week from 5 to 9 September 1927

Except on Tuesday evening, it will continue every afternoon and evening, about 40 departments being at work. The occasion is historic. It marks the 75th anniversary of the University, which began in 1852, so that people should not have "to send their sons to some British or foreign University, at the distance of half the Globe from al! parental or family control," and the original equipment for a dozen or 15 students cost the equivalent of £2,000,000 In the money of today. It is now one of the great Universities of the Empire, with 10 faculties and 2400 students, and large, though insufficient, resources for study and teaching. No Australian need go out of his own country to learn most of the things that great universities teach. In 1927 – very much more than they ever dreamed of teaching In 1852 – thanks to Sydney University's founders and the 8/- per head of the then population that they invested 75 years ago, so daringly.

The results can be viewed now by any citizen if he cares to go to this University this week and see what is being done in a vast
range of subjects – in anatomy, physiology, midwifery, pathology, the new cancer laboratories (especially on Wednesday), or the testing of engineering materials, the study of petrol engines, water turbines, aircraft, electrical machines, solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels (also especially on Wednesday), or the important research being carried on in physics, with many beautiful and striking experiments in X-ray work, the production of colour and harmony, the detection of sound, and the properties of electrons (this, above all, to-day when the new physics building will be full of activity).

No other University has ever put itself so fully on exhibltlon. The labour and cost involved will be a good investment if Australians,
for whom all the work is being done, go and watch it for a while, in large numbers. The University needs only to be known to be supported. As its founder, W C Wentworth, promised that it would. It offers facilities to "the child of every man, of every class, to become great and useful in the destinies of this country," and it never has done that more or better than in recent years.

– on Monday

The big attractions on Monday were in the laboratories of physics and psychology.

Rather more depressing and terrifying even than those of a bacteriologist are the disclosures a psychologist can make. He shows the visitor a few apparently simple, commonplace instruments, measurements taken by which reveal the cubic capacity of the skull. Uncomfortably in the dark, the visitor takes hold of an instrument, on which he is induced to attempt the apparently straight-forward task of tracing the outline of a star. Straightforward! No sooner has he put his pencil to the paper than his hand refused to move in any but the wrong direction. This demonstrates that he is not facile in performing a habitual act in a new way. After a while the visitor ceases to touch these seemingly harmless instruments. They tell one too much about oneself. A line of dots rushing round a cylinder tests the visitor's capacity for attention. A series of small holes in a piece of metal into which he is asked to fit a pin in rapid succession possibly demonstrates his aptitude for a position as switch attendant, for example. After trying out a few of these terrible contrivances, the visitor feels inclined to slink from the laboratory convinced that he is bound to be a failure in life, that he could not make a success of any trade or profession whatever. He is shocked with himself.

Laboratory of Psychology showing experimental apparatus for conducting mental tests

Laboratory of Psychology showing experimental apparatus for conducting mental tests, photo from the 'Sydney Morning Herald', 6 September 1927, courtesy NLA Newspapers.

The physics laboratory, showing the secrets of the elements, the tortured convulsions of gases under the spectroscope and the devastating effect of various rays on colour, is a relief after one has seen so much of oneself mirrored in the experiments of the psychologists. Here simple people will be astounded to discover that the wireless wave is really a wave, with a crest than can be determined. The most popular exhibit is the mirage – at least, as real as any mirage can be. A table of sand, heated by burners reproduces the conditions of the desert, and an electric light masquerades as the sun. Half way down the plate a small group of palms is reproduced.

A section of the Physics Laboratory

A section of the Physics Laboratory showing the instruments by which the crest of a radio wave is determined, photo, 'Sydney Morning Herald', 6 September 1927, courtesy NLA Newspapers

– on Tuesday

Arts and economics and architecture have chosen the short day, Tuesday (when the University closes at 5pm) for their special shows.

– on Wednesday

The largest crowd that has visited the University since its exhibition was opened flooded the School of Medicine on Wednesday, and it was a fascinating though rather moving and often depresslng display, they saw there. In a certain laboratory one became closely acquainted with a rancor, upon which a man was demonstrating how the operation for the disease was performed. He showed how the old method of cutting a section and preparing a slide to verify the diagnosis was improved by a new machine, which, saving time in the preparation of a specimen for the microscope, renders neccesary only one operation instead of two. Bacteriologists demonstrated the procedure by which they examined a throat swabbing from a patient suspected to be suffering from diphtheria, and revealed under microscope the activity of hydatids, worms and various germs.

– on Thursday

Thursday is the day for veterinary science and agriculture, which will show work vital to the primary industries of Australia, and actually now the cause of great increase of our national wealth.

All the mysteries of agriculture – from wheat breeding to parasitology and the pursuit of vitamins – were revealed to large audiences at the university's exhibition on Thursday. They saw the effect of fertilisers, of sterilised soils, of plant diseases. They saw how milk was treated, how fungi were destroyed, how food was analysed to provide a balanced diet, how troublesome bacteria were tracked down and destroyed; how, in short, science helped the farmer to lead a moderately happy life despite the files, wasps, rusts, diseases, droughts, and thousand and one other things that make farming anything but an Arcadian diversion. The most active demonstrator was the man who controlled the exhibit showing how beer is manufactured. A large crowd surrounded him throughout the day, and occasionally he allowed visitors to moisten their tongues with minute drops of amber liquid, which was a refreshing change from the diet of corn husks, japanese seaweed, and grains of wheat offered by other experimenters as a sample of their product.

Agriculture students testing samples of milk

Agriculture students testing samples of milk, photo, 'Sydney Morning Herald', 9 September 1927, courtesy NLA Newspapers.

The veterinary scientists also had a day out with specimens and dissections and the surprising skeletons of pigeons, horses, cows and bisons.

– on Friday

On Friday, the other scientific departments will be specially active. Geography will explain the building of mountains and the form of our own Blue Mountains and the Sydney region generally, with all sorts of old and new map making. Chemistry will reveal the artificial manufacture and industrial importance of many products that could once be obtained only from natural sources. Geology and zoology have most interesting and economically valuable researches into minerals and animal and insect life to explain.

Exhibition in Fisher Library (now Maclaurin Hall)

A most interesting display is the exhibit of rare and valuable books and manuscripts at the Fisher Library, that makes 'bibliophiles become lightheaded with ecstacy'.

From the point of antiquity the most interesting exhibit is a parchment manuscript roll of the Pentateuch given some years go along with other valuable documents by Sir Charles Nicholson. The roll is 72 feet in length and was written in Hebrew character by various hands not later than the 10th century. Its age is not exceeded except by a short period by any similar document in the world. In the same case is a contemporary manuscript on vellum of the Decretils of Pope Gregory IX written some time about 1250 and still beautifully clear and distinct.

Nearby is a beautiful illuminated manuscript, a collection of decretals, probably the labour of love of some monk of the middle ages and written, so far as the experts can determine, in about 1300. The manuscript section includes also a valuable contemporary account of the proceedings in the English Parliament in 1620 and 1621, a beautifully decorated Arabic script of the Koran and many other splendid examples of the art of the mediaeval scribe.

Not so pleasing to the eye but of great interest and value is the commonplace book of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the famous 18th century letter writer, wit and satirist, who introduced into England inoculation against smallpox.

In the printed books section one may see many examples from famous early presses. The press of Jacobus Rubens is represented by a unique book -"The Historia Florenti of Aretino," with which is bound the work on the same subject by Poggio, two of the great scholars of the Italian Renaissance. Issued in 1476, no other copies on large paper are known, nor can any trace be found of one having been offered for sale in England or America. A copy of the "Decretais of Pope Boniface VIII," from the press of Nicolas Jensen at Venice, is dated 1170. These two are the oldest printed books in the Library. In the same case is a splendid example of the work of Aldus Manutius who founded the famous Aldina Press in Venice in the latter part of the 15th century, and who, more than any other man, was responslble for the introduction and spread of Greek literature In Europe.

Another table is devoted to a collection of curious 17th century pamphlets dealing with the Puritan revolutlon and its incidents; still another to accounts of trials of witches and pamphlets dealing with 17th century superstitions.

Also there is a large display of contributions by various members of the University to literature and science, and a table of interesting material on early exploration aud discovery in Australia.

There is also a display of Japanese kimonos lent by members of the Japanese Society. The minute care of the workmanship, the beauty of fine silk and lavish design, the rich arrangement of colour, make these kimonos an alluring introduction to an exhibit at the department of Oriental studies. The great attraction here is a set of armour, a ponderous protection for battle, but a finely decorated piece for a drawing-room or a study. Swords, mounted in silver and shakudo, saddles mounted in gold lacquer, and silver stirrups, and suits of iron, with beautiful trappings, make one imagine that a battle in Japan was a dazzling pageant, not long ago. The Japanese prints and paintings here are very interesting.


Many lectures were given during the day and in the evening, including:

  • 'Aims and Methods in the Study of Man' given by Professor Burkitt
  • 'The Needs of Agriculture' by Professor R D Watt
  • 'The Australian Aboriginals' by Professor A R Radcliffe-Brown
  • 'The Care and Management of Animals in Health and Disease' by Professor J D Stewart
  • 'Tick Paralysis in the Dog' by J Clunies-Ross
  • 'Modern Philosophy' by Professor J Anderson
  • 'Mussolini and Archaeolohy' by Professor F A Todd
  • 'The University's Past' by Professor E R Holme
  • 'The Psychology of the Moving Picture' by Dr A H Martin

Radio broadcast on 6 September 1927

Radio station 2FC broadcast from the Great Hall of the Sydney University a description by Major Booth of the exhibition being held to aid the funds of the University.


A poster by Mr Albert Collins pictured below, as charming as it is effective, depicts the central part of the main building of the University, Edmund Blacket's masterpiece, above which rises the noble tower which is soon to house the Carillon, and to be dedicated as a whole, to the memory of University men who gave their lives in the war. The poster is reproduced on a smaller scale in the form of "stickers".

75th Appeal flyer by Albert Collins

75th Appeal flyer by Albert Collins, image 24912326, National Library of Australia.

The cover of the programme of Exhibition Week and a bookplate of the same design are also specimens of Mr Collin's art. These are in black and white, and show the Carillon tower flanked, in the foreground, by the foliage of oak and palm.

Mr Norman Carter contributes an excellent series of l8 stamps, each, with one exception, bearing the portrait of a founder
or benefactor or teacher of the University. Here are Wentworth and Nicholson and Merewether, Challis and McCaughey and Watt, Badham and Daiid and MacCallum, and as many more who have helped to make a great University. The one exception is the
stamp commemoratingThomas Fisher, of whom the University has never been able to obtain a portrait. He is represented by
the library which he so munificently endowed.

Those who in response to the appeal become new benefactors of the University, will receive a special souvenir, which bears on
the cover a design in black and white by Mr J L Berry, within which appear the University arms in colours. Within are the
expression of the Vice-Chancellor's thanks, offered on behalf of the University, and a reproduction in colour of a beautiful water
colour drawing by Mr John D Moore, of "The Quadrangle Entrance". Mr Berry and Mr Moore are members of the staff, in Architecture.

The Dean of their Faculty, Professor Wilkinson, is represented by a set of six designs in colour, reproduced in the form of stamps, of which four are of the old main building and tower, and the remaining two are of parts of the newest buildings.

Not least popular among the souvenirs will be the splendid set of 12 postcards of the University and its grounds, from photographs
by Cazneaux. It is superfluous to praise Mr Cazneaux's photography: one need only say that he has never done better than this.

Finally there are buttons and pins and brooches, some in celluloid and others in enamel, designed by Professor Wilkinson, and
bearing the arms of the University, with an appropriate inscription.

Refreshment room at the Medical School

In connection with University Exhibition Week (September 5-10), the medical women undergraduates will conduct a refreshment
room at the Medical School. All the proceeds will be devoted to the University Appeal Fund. Helpers include women students of medicine, dentistry, science, and massage. Afternoon tea will be served each day, and supper each evening, except Tuesday. The hon. secretaries are Miss Alma Macdonald and Miss Willa Rowohl.

"The Tree of Knowledge" film

An attractive feature of the Exhibition Week at the University next week will be the short descriptive moving picture "The Tree of Knowledge," which Mr A Briggs, lecturer in zoology at the University, has produced.

The following are three stills from the film:

film still film still   film still

The picture, which will be exhibited at 2.00 o'clock each afternoon in the Union Hall, provides a short review of the work of students
and the occupations of graduates. Its scenes extend from Glebe to New Guinea; its subjects from agriculture to anthropology.

It opens with a panoramic view of the University and then the camera peeps behind the scenes. The medical students are shown busily engaged in the dissecting rooms, studying anatomy with an almost feverish intensity. Then to a hospital, where the same students, now graduated, are healing the sick and injured. Away swiftly now to New Guinea where anthropologists are seen examining the native life of Australia's young and uncivilised possession. The opportunity is taken to include several entertaining native scenes – a native making a great fish trap, and a tribe preparing to go to sea in outrigger canoes on a fishing cruise.

The association of the University with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and other great works, through its engineering students, is suggested by excellent views of the construction of the bridge, and the film then hastily draws the observer away to a veterinary hospital. Veterinary surgeons are guarding Australia's flocks and herds, explains a caption, and the camera has a peep at an operation being performed upon a horse before hurrying to the country districts, where a group of young botanists is investigating and developing Australia's primary industries.

The zoologists introduce a delightful few minutes into the picture by showing anteaters, native bears and possums in their native haunts. Interesting also are the psychological tests vvhich assist the students to choose their vocations, and the scenes on the playing fields follow some excellent aerial views of the 200 acres that the University building and grounds occupy, and the picture ends with the evening sun setting slowly behind the tower.

View the film from a link on the Archives website.
Read an article about the film by Archivist Tim Robinson, University of Sydney News, November 2009