Since they gathered together in 1997 to save The Old Teachers’ College from being mothballed, a very dedicated group of Friends has worked tirelessly to bring it back to life as a centre for education and cultural activities. Gwenda Shannon explains how the historic building is preserving the past while creating inspiration for the future.
> What persuaded you to step in and take on the responsibility of the Old Armidale Teachers’ College? Who was involved?
Twelve years ago, Friends of the Old Teachers’ College, Armidale, was formed to do whatever was necessary to save that beautiful building from being mothballed. Judy Grieve, Christine Thomas and I became involved from the beginning. Judy and I are still involved – so is Jenny Crew, although she had to keep in the background, as she was then on the University Council (which was the Trustee of the building).
Many other people have since been involved, but as time went on some dropped out and others stepped in. We now we have an active committee of twelve – some of whom are past staff or students of the College.
> Tell us some of the activities you have initiated over the past 12 years.
For most of those years the university allowed us to occupy office space in the building, manage and rent College rooms and use that income for improvements.
We also organised fundraising events and re-enacted special highlights in the life of the College, to ensure that the importance of the Armidale Teachers’ College was brought to the attention of the Armidale community in an entertaining way.
The 70th and 75th anniversaries of the College, of course, were especially highlighted.
> You’ve been very successful in securing grants and other funding to make improvements. How has this helped?
Yes, we have been very successful, although from time to time we have had our disappointments. Over the 12 years we have received grants totaling around $300,000. The grants we received paid for the complete fire protection of the building, the restoration of the auditorium, which is now a place of public entertainment, the setting up of a College History Room in the former Deputy Principal’s office, the framing of photographs of session groups, the provision of the Honour Board in the upstairs War Memorial area, and for the protection of this area with UV curtains, plus the provision of framed information and names for the most important rooms in the College.
We also received a grant to copy the first painting, ‘The Loch Gates’, given to the College by Howard Hinton. This painting now hangs beside a copy of the portrait of this wonderful benefactor, thus creating the Howard Hinton Corner.
> What ongoing plans do you have now, and reflecting back, what have been some of the highlights of your time as custodians of one of Armidale’s most significant buildings?
Our most recent grants include those for the restoration of the sprung floor in the gymnasium, and to restore the steps at the front of the building.
Our future projects include a lift for the building, and to restore the front door and the parquetry in the foyer area.
There are two projects of which we are particularly proud. The first is that we successfully gained the licence for public use of the auditorium, after we had been told we could never achieve this. Well, we did … simply by finding out what exactly had to be done and then applying successfully for grants to do the work. I will not tell you our thoughts when, having achieved our first grant, the powers-that-be expected us to use this to employ a consultant!
The second is that, thanks to Judy’s dedicated research, and grants, we fulfilled a promise made by the first Principal, C.B.Newling, to acknowledge everyone from the College who participated in World War II. All 584 names are now recorded on the Honour Board and books display information about each of those who served from time to time we find these books opened, and a spray of flowers is sometimes left there. This moves us greatly. This complements the Book of Remembrance, which records the names and details of those who were killed during the war.
> What is the role of the Committee now?
Our role now is to obtain and maintain memorabilia and collect information for Personality Files to add to the College History Room, to keep in touch by way of newsletters with all our members, and continue to apply for grants for work which will improve the building.
We can also arrange for photo opportunities and weddings in the grounds. The rates are very reasonable and are used for the benefit of the building. Just ring Helen Ogden to make arrangements (Ph 6772 0554).
What we want to do now is to encourage all members of the Armidale community to visit the College. So, may we suggest you come up to the site and enter the grounds through the War Memorial Gates. Walk up the driveway under the elm trees which lined the entrance to the old gaol (est. 1953), pass the new memorial rosemary hedge to the main steps – the ones past students were never allowed to climb. Read the History of the Site on the western pillar and look for the foundation stones, one on each side of the steps.
(There are not too many buildings which have two foundation stones!) Now, climb those steps. At the top, under the clock – which mysteriously stopped at 9.05am, never to go again on the day the college was amalgamated with the university (or so it is said), turn around and admire the spectacular view over the gardens and the city to Mount Duval.
Enter the building through the massive wooden doors and the College History Room is on your right (manned each weekday from 2 until 4 by a dedicated band of volunteers).
In this room you can sit at the founding Principal C.B. ‘Pop’ Newling’s desk, touch the keys of the piano on which the college anthem was composed, watch a DVD which shows a brief history of the gaol on the foundations of which the college was built, and look at the various displays of books and photographs.
After that you can wander around the corridors, see the session photographs, view the beautiful stained glass windows, and then go up the grand staircase under the watchful eyes of former principals of the College, to arrive at the War Memorial area with its Book of Remembrance, Honour Boards and display cases filled with College memorabilia. To the left is the Howard Hinton corner, in remembrance of that wonderful benefactor whose gifts of artwork, which used to hang in the corridors and lecture rooms, are now housed in the New England Art Museum.
Walking around the corridors is definitely best done during the day. In the evening, when everyone has gone home and all is quiet, they suddenly seem longer – with many shadows and feeling a tad lonely.
With moonlight streaming through the windows of the open common room on the ground floor, a sensitive person could easily imagine the ghost of a former inmate of the gaol flitting around! Then, with a map of the grounds (which you have picked up outside the History Room) you can explore the beautiful grounds with camera at the ready.
Exploring the building is possible during weekdays, but the gardens are always there for your pleasure.
> Current Committee
President – Gwenda Shannon OAM
Vice President – Graham Wilson OAM
Secretary – Judy Grieve
Treasurer – Jenny Crew OAM
> Committee Members
Lorraine McNamara, Ros Townsend, Helen Ogden, Kim Porter, Bev Korsch, Karen Marshall, Jenny Richards, Bev Roobol
We would be glad to hear from anyone interested in our activities or willing to assist. Readers can contact us on 6771 2295, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax us on 6773 6449
> Thank you Gwenda.