If wishes were horses, beggars would ride (C16 English Proverb)


Please note: The opinions expressed in each of the stories shared by individuals on this website are those of the individual author.

Pictured: Loutrophoros, Marble, Athens, 400-375 BC (86.097)

For many years my long held desire was to attend The University of Queensland as a mature age student in order to complete my Bachelor of Education Degree.  Unfortunately, with a large family, limited time and distance to travel, Griffith University became the only option. Not my wisest choice on reflection, but perversely this has provided the opportunity over more than twenty years to give support to first, the Friends of Antiquity (FOA) and more recently, to Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland (AFUQ) as voluntary Honorary Secretary.

Through both these dedicated and active organisations I gained experience and forged contacts with staff and students within the University.  These contacts became invaluable when it was thought that Classics, most especially the teaching of Greek and Latin Languages, seemed to be under threat at UQ.  This was of great concern to many of the Friends of Antiquity who had watched Monash dismantle their Classics Department, only to find a need to restore this choice to students – a far more difficult exercise.

Battle commenced!  After much discussion with previous Presidents of FOA, it became clear to me that by providing the University with a fund to support Classics, we could encourage the University to provide a name for the Antiquities Museum, something that had been unsuccessfully attempted in the past.  At this time, the Museum was housed on the third floor of the Michie Building, and perhaps lacked an attractive position for the major sponsorship required for naming rights.

My original idea was to set up a Fund to support Classics and Ancient History students in much the same way as The Betty Fletcher Memorial Travelling Scholarship (an annual award given by AFUQ through FOA), which allows one student to travel overseas for research purposes.  In contrast, my suggestion was to bring a well-known Classics and Ancient History Lecturer from Australia or overseas for the benefit of all students, not just one.  The   ultimate aim of the Fund was to fill the vacant Chair in Classics and Ancient History, and provide students with a strong voice at the HPRC (History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics) table.

With the invaluable assistance of Dr Dorothy Watts AM (Associate Professor Watts, at the time, and Head of Classics and Ancient History), we took a dot point plan to the then Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor John Hay AC.  Apart from a few minor changes, the Vice-Chancellor was most receptive and encouraged us to formulate our suggestions and present them to Senate.

The first positive outcome was the naming of the Antiquities Museum as the RD Milns Antiquities Museum.  At the time, I was President of FOA and had the pleasure of playing an active role in the Ceremony.  I particularly enjoyed proving to the unbelievers that things could be done, if one provided the necessary benefits quite simply.  We were on our way!

My original theory of this being for the benefit of all students in Classics and Ancient History at the University was in its infancy, but developing fast.   With approval granted by Senate, the Fund was launched in May 2008, by the University Chancellor, Sir Llew Edwards AC.  Following this, Dr Watts and her Committee forged ahead organising several fund-raising events at the Greek Club. Hard work, but great fun, as we struggled to raise the necessary funds to set up the RD Milns Classics and Ancient History Perpetual Endowment Fund.  A number of large donations assisted in raising over $200,000 in a relatively short time.  This was in part due to our use of Emeritus Professor Robert (Bob) Milns’ name, as we knew he had many contacts and followers in the Brisbane Greek and Italian Communities.

“It’s not my retirement fund” joked a slightly embarrassed Bob.  No-one thought it was, but the name acted as a drawcard for donations; plus the purpose behind the Fund was to save the Greek and Latin languages for future students at UQ. This support also resonated with students and followers of these two ancient languages;  languages that have long been required for effective translation of ancient texts for research and study purposes, as well as a prerequisite for all top universities.

Now after some eight to ten years, it has quite unbelievably become a reality, more so than anyone could have possibly imagined.

The RD Milns Fund has now reached close to $500,000 with only the interest being used to fund the Visiting Scholars on an annual basis; an ongoing process.  The corpus increases annually, as unspent funds are ploughed back in, and further donations are added.

Our ultimate goal was reached much sooner than expected with a magnificent donation to the University from Dr Paul Eliadis.  This resulted in Professor Alastair Blanshard being appointed as the inaugural Chair in Classics in 2014.  It is interesting to note Dr Paul Eliadis is now on the Executive of Friends of Antiquity, and continues to support these all so important ancient languages.

“Eureka!” supposedly cried Archimedes as he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse.  Eureka indeed; it has taken me much of my life to realise a Degree is not enough, and sometimes feel that even a Masters lacks strength these days.  Though my ideas have luckily come to fruition, I believe that a Doctorate is often required for the respect and authority needed to further causes.  Maybe one day, as a very mature age student, I will realise my long held dream of coming to UQ to obtain my Doctorate, but until such time that this might happen, I had better take up horse-riding……or dig for sapphires on the gemfields!


Juliet O’Brien