The Purpose Behind the Party – How passionate students secured UON’s autonomy

It’s well known that UON’s annual Festival of Autonomy is one of the largest events on the student calendar.

The week-long celebration marking the declaration of UON as an independent tertiary institution separated from UNSW is packed with various activities, exhibitions and performances all culminating in the legendary extravaganza of Autonomy Party.

Parallel to past international social and political movements, UON was not granted autonomy easily or without conflict.

The University began in 1951 as a college of UNSW located on a small section of land in Tighes Hill alongside a Technical College now known the Hunter’s TAFE campus. The staff and students of the Newcastle University college shared cramped and service restricted conditions with their Technical College colleagues, detrimental to both students and teaching staff which resulted in poorer learning conditions and some lecturers were even forced to use their own cars as office space.

Some lecturers were even forced to use their own cars as office space

Students and staff of the University college along with much of the wider Newcastle community had been desperately seeking local access to tertiary education and had been campaigning for an institution since the early 1940’s.

Although the Newcastle University college provided student access to tertiary education in the region, the community wanted more. Throughout the 1950’s students, staff, and community members tirelessly advocated for UON’s autonomy through the organisation of partitions and protests including regular marches through the campus.

In 1962, the Vice-Chancellor of UNSW finally relented to the mounting pressure from the Newcastle community and work soon began to transform the fledgling college into a fully-functioning university in its own right. On the 1st of January, 1965 the University of Newcastle was declared an independent tertiary institution by the Governor of NSW.

From humble beginnings as a locally-focused college to a world-class independent University with a global outlook – students past, present, and future should remain proud of how far UON has come. Not to mention the actions of the passionate students who without which UON may still be a small college of UNSW.

auto day .jpeg

Students march on Autonomy Day in 1967 (Source: UON Living Histories)

Feature Image Source: UON Archives