Photo from the University of Newcastle archives of students protesting

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

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

After last year’s majorly successful biggest silent disco in the Southern Hemisphere, the 2023 Autonomy Day celebrations will be kicking off once again on Friday, 11 August!

The celebration marks the declaration of our University 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, the University of Newcastle was not granted autonomy easily or without conflict.

The University of Newcastle 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 spaces, services and heavily restricted conditions with their Technical College colleagues, causing detrimental effects to both students and teaching staff, resulting in poor learning conditions, with 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 the Uni’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 we has come. Not to mention the actions of the passionate students who without which we may still be a small college of UNSW.

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

Feature Image Source: UON Archives

Keep your eyes peeled for information about the 2023 Autonomy Day Party, to be held on Friday 11 August 2023.

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