“It was orchids and gum trees back then, much farmland… a lot of land.”
Sara Bowman attended La Trobe University in 1967. She studied politics. There were only 552 students back in her day.
When Sir Henry Bolt opened the doors to the newest university in the country, on the 8 th of March in 1967, he simultaneously changed the lives of 552 students.
“Everyone who was there in 1967 gave something because they were there”
Ms Sara, walk me through your first week at La Trobe, the area, your college, the agora, the building.
I came to La Trobe in 1967; there were just over 500 of us. We were all so excited and each elated to be on this new ground. It was orchids and gum trees back then, much farmland… a lot of farm land. Plenty road was the main highway. Its still Plenty road, right? I love open space. La Trobe had the sky, the wattle trees. It had birds, songs everywhere. It was beautiful.
You lived on college? What was the experience like back then? What was the space like?
I lived on Glenn College. It was quite an honour to live on campus. Now the college I believe was modelled after Sussex University. Men’s side and women’s side. We had seminar rooms, teaching rooms and tutorials much like there is today. There still exists the grand dining hall. I remember they endeavoured to make us wear gowns to meals. That lasted a good two months, it was never going to work really, and we all knew that.
What was extraordinary about the college was that it was a simply unique structure. The design was superb. Everyone knows they invested a lot of money.
There was native timber in Glenn College. I noticed that. The paintings on the wall were all Australian. I learnt about art from studying those images, in the
hallways, in the lecture rooms, in the seminar rooms. Architecturally, it was perfect.
The Agora, it’s the centre of university today. We have live performances, we eat there, quite frankly, it’s the heart of La Trobe. What was it like back then?
I know the Agora was a very spacious area. There was a lot of space. I remember everyone said hi to everyone. You know, it didn’t matter where anyone was from.
What mattered was that we were all there, and everyone who was there in 1967 gave something because they were there. There were Vietnamese students and
Malaysian students, I remember, I always wondered how they were sponsored to be there because of the war. However, they were, and they gave something too.
We all learnt from each other. I learnt from my peers.
There’s a fear that comes with being the new kid in class. What was it like to be the new kids, all of you, in a brand new university?
Let me put it this way, I said ‘hi’ to four people in my first class. They became my friends for life.
1967, not the easiest of years. There was a war going on. How was life at La Trobe affected by it?
Well it wasn’t. There was such diversity, there always was, and I know to this date that hasn’t changed. There was conscription to go to the war in Vietnam.
There were demonstrations going on. I always felt at home at La Trobe. It was a really interesting time. I mean with all that happening we had music from the
Russian revolution playing. The academics were protective and passionate. The diversity was amazing to me. It was also such a tragic time. At age 16 I remember
hearing on the news “three killed in Vietnam over the weekend” – it was tragic. When la Trobe opened the economy was strong, I know that, Australia was rich.
It was a different time.
Today the moat plays a very interesting role at La Trobe, looking back at the images of the moat back in your time its clear that the water was NOT infected. You swam in it?
We did a lot in the moat. Interesting, I was involved in the making of the ‘Swings and slides club’. We saw to the making of a swing so we could swing across the
moat. That club is no longer there?
Well we pushed for that. We had the moat races. Kids were creative. We tried to do something different.
What are you most proud of?
We helped to lay the foundation, proud of that. It’s a two way street though. Doors opened for me, because I was given opportunity. If I hadn’t gone to la
trobe that would not have happened. So, I’m proud to have helped lay the foundation.
What did La Trobe give you? What opportunities were presented to you?
La Trobe gave us blue sky thinking. I believe we all feel the same. We were given the confidence to pursue anything we wanted. After graduating I went Italy and
London, travelled, La Trobe gave me that backbone, that scope, there was friendship, it was space, to connect to the Land and to the trees. I even had a
friendship with the cleaning lady. She taught me a lot. I liked it. It gave me clarity.
What advice would you give a La Trobe student today? There 36, 000 of us!
I couldn’t possibly give advice, perhaps have great gratitude and develop the treasures of the heart. Smile. Love your life.
Fast-forward 50 years, thirty six thousand students, three thousand staff members, six campuses and one 21 st century mission – to turn education on its head!
From its onset, La Trobe University was set up as a new research institute in the Northern suburbs to challenge the already existing universities.
How are we doing?
Sara and myself believe we’re doing very well. Welcome to La Trobe. Be one with the land!
By Kevin Kapeke interviewing Sara Bowman
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