Recollections 1961-64: The Tranquil Years

Animal Husbandry Prac., Ag III, Queensland Agricultural College, Gatton, 1963. See below for more details.

I commenced my Agricultural Science degree in 1961. Along with many “freshers”, I travelled by Council bus from North Quay to St. Lucia for the start of Orientation Week. I still remember the reaction when the sandstone buildings of the UQ campus first came into view: A shout of “There it is” arose spontaneously from the bus, followed by everyone standing up to get a better look.

Not only was it an exciting event for a new school leaver to commence tertiary studies at UQ, but also a privilege; only 0.3% of the Australian population attended university in 1961. There was also a gender imbalance, as only 1/3 of undergraduates were female. In first year Ag, there were four girls in our class of 66. I believe the first female undergraduate to enrol in Engineering did so in 1962.

Student dress code was “smart casual”—although at least one professional Faculty required students to wear a tie to lectures. For girls to wear slacks would have been a courageous move.

In 1961, the only universities in Queensland were UQ and the University College of Townsville (later to become James Cook University), which officially opened that year with 105 students. Entry to university was based on three-hour, 100% closed book, state-wide public examinations for subjects studied over Years 11-12; and complying with the strict UQ Faculty pre-requisites for matriculation.[i] Most students undertook six subjects. The exams were held in November at the end of the Year 12 (“Senior”) school year. Our results were published in the “Courier Mail” for all to see!

University tuition was funded through scholarships—based on merit in the Queensland Senior Examination—or through fees. Around ¾ of undergraduates held scholarships. Commonwealth [Government] scholarships were the major source of student assistance. They paid student tuition fees and provided a means-tested living allowance. The Queensland Government (QG) also offered State scholarships to students enrolled in Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry, Agriculture, and Veterinary Science. The scholarship paid tuition fees, a book allowance, and a generous living allowance. But there was one condition. As a new graduate, you were bonded to work for QG for one year longer than your degree program—in the “bush”, rather than Brisbane.  For many new graduates, the bonded period would prove to be the formative period of their professional lives.

QG’s Education Department also offered scholarships to students undertaking a BA or BSc, as a springboard to pursue a teaching career in secondary schools. Private entry to UQ through fee payment was available for those who had matriculated through the Senior Exam, but were unsuccessful in receiving a scholarship.

As most students held scholarships, the pressure on them to combine their tertiary studies with part-time work during the three teaching terms each year did not apply anywhere near the extent it does today, following the introduction of HECS in 1989. So, in the 1960s, a student had opportunities to take part in the many and varied extra-curricular activities on offer at UQ, and to restrict paid employment to the long summer vacation at the end of the university year.

A highlight of the UQ university year was “Commemoration Week” held in May each year. The week culminated in the annual student procession through the city streets of Brisbane on the Friday morning, then a Commem. Ball at Cloudland that night (Cloudland was demolished overnight in November 1982). The floats assembled in the grounds of QUT (then the Brisbane Technical College), close to the river. The procession made its way out of QUT’s front gates along George Street, down Elizabeth Street, along Albert Street, then up Alice Street and back to the starting point. The signage and displays on each float featured creative student satire, political comment, and sharp humour—some, certainly not politically correct. Large crowds came to watch and to applaud and laugh as the procession wended its way through the city. The Student Union published a “Songbook” called “Whack-ho” for Commem. Week. It sold out rapidly on the morning of the procession.

Following the Commem. Procession, all roads led to the nearest city pub to the Botanic Gardens for the annual “Boat Races”—beer sculling competitions. Bear in mind, in the 1960s, the legal drinking age in Queensland was 21, which was greater than the average undergraduate’s age! Teams competed as “fours”, “eights”, or “single sculls”. Races were rerun when “spillage”—as adjudged by those crammed into the pub—occurred.

I remember one year a warning was given that police were about to arrive at the pub where the Boat Races were being held. Instantly, the pub’s doors were locked from the inside, barring entry. This situation remained until an intrepid policeman shinned up a corner-post/drain pipe of the pub’s veranda to reach the first floor and then came downstairs to unlock the public bar’s doors…

I also remember the 1964 Commem. Procession, when scramble crossings were first introduced for the main corners in the city—a time when trams ran along Queen Street in both directions. Following the procession, students made their way uptown to these crossings—their numbers caused delays for the public to cross—and then a piglet was released at the Queen/Albert Street corner. The outcome, “disarray”… Because of “downtown” pressure, all Commem. Week activities were subsequently transferred to UQ’s St. Lucia campus, in (I believe) 1965. The tradition of the Commem. Week procession in the city so ended.

The Student Union also published the UQ student newspaper “Semper Floreat.” One of its articles in the early 1960s identified the best student pranks during Commem. Week. One of the best was when some students told BCC road maintenance workers that UQ students, dressed as police, would be coming along to stop them doing their road work. Police were then informed that UQ students in the guise of BCC workers were doing unauthorised road maintenance work…

I played rugby for UQ in 1961, the year the Under 19 competition (later called “Colts”) commenced in Queensland. Two of this team went on to play for the Wallabies: Dick Marks and John Wolfe. To play for UQ, you had to be a UQ student (Brothers, GPS, and Teachers [Training College] had similar requirements to play for them). Teams trained on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5.30-7pm on the Main Oval. Inter-Faculty Rugby was very strong and the Final, played on a mid-week afternoon on the Main Oval, always drew a huge crowd. One year at the UQ rugby team trials, my Chemistry tutor asked me whether he could borrow my football boots to “try out” for selection. As an ex-Churchie student, he had been the GPS athletics sprint champion. He went on to become a Wallaby that year.

Ted Christie: First appointment/new graduate with QG at Blackall,
Central-Western Qld.

No account of the past could ever do justice to describing the shock of your very first swot vac commencing in late October. Every waking hour over the ten days was spent studying for 100% exams—generally, the sole assessment for passing/failing the year. The student’s mantra at that time of “50% was a pass and 51% was wasted effort” did little to calm and offset the periods of stress, anxiety, and hopelessness experienced during swot vac…

The tranquil existence we experienced at UQ from 1961-64 was shattered by The National Service scheme (“compulsory conscription”) introduced by the Menzies Government in November 1964. New legislative powers in May 1965 resulted in national servicemen being sent for ‘special overseas service’; this included combat duties in Vietnam. The birthday ballot of twenty-year-old men commenced in 1965; it continued until the change of Federal Government in December 1972. Over this period, UQ students became actively involved in demonstrating against conscription and the war in Vietnam. 

Ted Christie B.Agr.Sc (Qld) 1965, M.Agr.Sc (Qld) 1971, Ph.D (Macquarie) 1974. Admitted to Legal Practice as a Barrister 1988. Fulbright Professional Scholar (Practising Lawyer) 1994. Centenary Medallist.



Main PhotographAnimal Husbandry Prac., Ag III, Queensland Agricultural College, Gatton, 1963. Our pracs. at Gatton were a far cry from what we experienced in lab. pracs. in Chemistry, Physics and every branch of the Biological Sciences during the previous two years at UQ, St. Lucia. The compulsory third year of the UQ Ag Degree spent at Gatton ended in the late 1960s.[Photograph: J E Barnes B.Agr.Sc (Qld) 1965, B.Econ (Qld) 1979]

[i] Endnote: For students who matriculated in the Senior Exam, the third year of the UQ Ag Degree was undertaken, in residence, at QAC, Gatton. The UQ Ag III year at Gatton ended in the late 1960s as QAC moved to become a College of Advanced Education in 1971 and offered degrees.