Archive stories

The Archives are often referred to as UWA’s memory. They document the University’s big stories, our greatest achievements and our most celebrated staff and students.

However, it’s the little stories that provide colour and depth to the grander picture. These are stories of the unexpected, of the thing that didn’t quite go to plan or the accidental discoveries. This exhibition is designed to bring some of our favourite little stories to light, and hopefully to inspire future researchers to uncover some stories of their own.

University Archives thanks and acknowledges funding for this project through the UWA Centenary Grants.

UWA Regiment Bugle

Boogie-Woogie Bugle Ploy?

The archival resources of the University are often used to confirm or disprove a particular fact. However, sometimes a mystery just can’t be solved despite our best efforts. This is one of those mysteries.

In 1998, the University Archives received a donation of a “First World War era” brass bugle complete with attached medallion indicating that it was once owned by UWA’s Army Regiment. Over the next few years, the University Archives were contacted by a number of people from countries as wide spread as the United States, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom who had purchased similar bugles and who were curious to know more about their origin. Most had been informed that the bugles they had bought dated from the First World War. However, research revealed that the University’s Army Regiment was not formed until 1949, and no evidence was found that could confirm the use of these particular bugles.

While this was an unsatisfying result for both the University Archives and the bugle buyers, one theory came to light that may one day prove to be true. The Army unit had once commissioned a supply of regimental cap badges from a contact in Pakistan, but the supply was never brought over. Is it possible that a resourceful Pakistani entrepreneur managed to obtain the badges, attach them to some surplus military bugles and then sell them to antique dealers around the world?

If you have a better theory we would love to hear it.

The bogus bugle in question (UWA Archives 61840P)

Close-up of the UWA emblem featured on the bogus bugle (UWA Archives 61838P)
Reflection pond

How many students does it take to dig a hole?

The University Archives are home to all manner of sources that combine to bring stories of the past to life. Documents, photographs and even voices in the form of oral histories can paint a picture of long forgotten dramas, such as the one surrounding the construction of the University’s reflection pond.

It was 1932, and the grand opening of Winthrop Hall was scheduled for 11am on the 13 April. There was just one problem…the University was forced to acknowledge that the reflection pond, designed to showcase the elegant design of the building, would not be ready in time.

It didn’t take long for this information to filter down to the student body. In heroic fashion, these students, predominantly men from the Engineering and Science Faculties, offered up their labour. Frank Gamblen — who was a student at the time — remembers that, under the direction of the Engineers, the students “did all the hard work of digging and laying cement, while the Faculty of Arts, which was composed almost entirely of women, provided us with morning and afternoon refreshments.”

The pond was completed just hours before the opening and was filled with both water (despite the cement still being wet) and water lilies (that may or may not have been ‘borrowed’ from Queens Gardens). Of course it was drained immediately afterwards to allow the cement time to dry, but the grand opening ceremony of UWA’s Crawley Campus was saved!

Students digging the reflection pond in front of Winthrop Hall - 1932 (UWA Archives 4294P, courtesy of West Australian Newspapers Ltd)
Opening of Hackett Memorial Buildings - 15 April 1932 (UWA Archives 1975P, courtesy of West Australian Newspapers Ltd)

Peacocks: Nuisance or Luminous?

Most would agree that the crowning glory of the University’s centenary celebration Luminous Night was the magnificent vision of the peacock projected on Winthrop Hall. For many years the peacocks have been synonymous with UWA grounds, but how did they get here? Sadly, as the records show, the peacocks had a rather inauspicious arrival.

In January 1975, two peacocks and three hens were introduced to UWA Crawley Campus as a gift from Mr & Mrs L C Brodie-Hall. The birds were brought to the campus, caged, fed and released in the Great Court two weeks later. According to the landscape architect at that time, two birds immediately flew over the roof into the Fortune Theatre, one cock ran across the ring road and was killed by a passing car, one hen settled in Hackett Hall and was not seen again and the third hen was seen in Monash Avenue for several weeks and was either disposed of or (we hope) adopted.

While the original birds were eventually replaced they still had a rather rocky reception. Their ‘anti-social’ behaviour, their ‘insupportable’ noise and their ‘fertility’ have been the bane of many a lecturer’s existence. Indeed, it seems that over the years there have been more complaints than compliments. Love them or loathe them, the peacocks have established themselves as an integral part of the UWA experience.

Peacock in the University grounds, c1975 (UWA Archives 7173P)
First computer at UWA

Technology makes its debut

In this age of iPads and Androids it’s hard to believe that there was a time when computers were rare and mysterious commodities.

On the 23 August 1962 UWA’s first computer, an IBM1620 and first of its kind in Western Australia, was installed in the Physics building. Comfortably located in the University’s only air conditioned room, the IBM1620 could store up to 60,000 numbers, read 250 cards and punch 10,000 digits each minute.

Amazingly, that was sufficient processing power to make it highly sought after for use in mathematics, engineering, psychology, agriculture and economic research projects. The IBM1620 was in such demand that it operated up to 168 hours per week and staff had to stagger their hours to gain access, often working well into the night.

The pioneer overseeing this marvel was Dennis Moore who was appointed as “Officer in Charge of Computer Installation” on 26 March 1962. His background in mathematics and IBM programming made him the ideal candidate for the position. Before moving to Perth he gained experience with the IBM1620 at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission in Lucas Heights.

Mr Moore went on to become the Director of Western Australian Regional Computing Centre and Chief Executive of Government Computing for Western Australia, and we are grateful to him for helping UWA take its first tentative steps towards technological advancement.

Dennis W. G. Moore, October 1961 (UWA Archives 61813P)

Computer Centre and Physics Building, 1960s (UWA Archives 227P)
Nazi Publications

Nazis Invade Library!

Archives can often reveal unexpected information about the people and attitudes of the past. One simple enquiry uncovered a surprising story involving the University Library, Nazi propaganda and the censorship debate.

Dr Hans Pollak was born in Vienna, Austria in 1885. Because of his Jewish heritage, he was forced to emigrate from Austria in the late 1930s to escape persecution, and became a respected lecturer in the Department of German from 1941–1965.

In 1944, Dr Pollak became aware of a number of books scattered throughout the University Library that had been produced under the Nazi Government, many of which were of “a propagandist nature.” It appears that these books were purchased from a Melbourne bookshop by the Carnegie Foundation which donated them to the University, “evidently under a misapprehension” of their content.

Given his own personal history, one might have expected Dr Pollak to demand the books’ removal. Instead he sought to have the books identified and regrouped so that they would not give students “a false idea of the literature of the period”. The matter was referred to the Library Committee and the Minutes of 19 April 1945 revealed the Committee’s decision that segregation was inappropriate as it may set an “undesirable precedent” for publications deemed offensive by other staff. Instead the Committee resolved to insert an explanatory note into the offending books.

As a postscript, Dr Pollak was conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters in 1970 and passed away in Perth in 1976. To this day, a number of the books remain in the Library’s collection, some still sporting the insert.

Dr Hans Pollak, c1940 (UWA Archives 53883P)
Student protests

SOS: Save Our Students!

As any baby boomer will recall, the late ’60s was a time when students rallied to protest major international events and prevailing conservative attitudes. However, there were also some protests that were directed at situations much closer to home.

In 1967, a 19 year old female student was hit by a car on Stirling Highway and killed. This was the second student fatality in two years, and a number of others had been injured trying to cross the busy road. The students wanted either a bridge or an underpass to prevent future accidents, but lobbying the relevant authorities did not yield a speedy result.

When another student was almost killed under similar circumstances in 1969, the students decided to take direct action. On Friday 28 March 1969, during the afternoon peak hour, students took to Stirling Highway for a “Sit-Down” protest, effectively creating a major roadblock. Some students even took to digging their own tunnel to press their point.

The protest, newspaper articles and supporting letters eventuated in the construction of the underpass which was in use by September 1970 and continues to provide protection to staff and students today.

The interior of the underpass, c1975 (UWA Archives 6156P)

The underpass, c1975 (UWA Archives 7825P)
Holiday Cartoons

Gone but not forgotten

Archival records are often the only evidence that something once existed, making them especially important when that something disappears into thin air.

Long before the organ was installed in Winthrop Hall, the area underneath the Rose Window was home to the Holiday Cartoons. Cartoons acted as proofs for stained glass designs, and these particular cartoons were created by pre-Raphaelite artist Henry Holiday, a contemporary of William Morris. The design was originally produced as a proof for a parish church window in Somerset. Purchased by Professor (later Sir) Walter Murdoch for £100 in 1927, the cartoons consisted of five canvas panels that stood 10 feet high and displayed an allegorical representation of the text, “and there was warfare in heaven.”

In 1963 the cartoons were removed to make way for the organ that graces Winthrop Hall today. A Senate resolution to sell them was deferred given their “historical and sentimental value”. However, in the years that followed, all trace of the cartoons was lost. Were it not for the records and photographs identified and preserved in the University Archives, we might never have known they existed at all.

Thankfully the cartoons were rediscovered by accident in 1999 (a little worse for wear) and painstakingly restored. They now reside in the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery where they will be looked after for many years to come.

The Henry Holiday Cartoons are the backdrop for a Graduation ceremony in Winthrop Hall, c1949 (UWA Archives 4391P, courtesy of West Australian Newspapers Ltd)

View of Hackett Buildings and Winthrop Hall from Great Court, 1932 (UWA Archives 5816P, courtesy of West Australian Newspapers Ltd)
Genealogical research

Desperately Seeking Eva

Sometimes our Archivists receive genealogical enquiries so vague it appears no amount of research will provide an answer. However, with a bit of imagination and a little luck, miracles can occur.

Recently an enquiry was received from a researcher trying to track down information about a relative. All that was known about this woman was that her name was Eva Shell. It was thought that Eva may have worked at the University Library in the late 1940s.

The usual searches on the family name revealed nothing so, on a hunch, our intrepid Archivist retrieved a Library staff photo from 1950 and discovered that the group photograph contained a woman identified as Malvina Evalyn Wood. The unusual spelling of the middle name led our Archivist to contact the researcher. Was it possible that Eva was the middle name and her surname was actually Wood? This clue led the researcher to pursue another line of enquiry which revealed that this was indeed the case. Eva’s father had legally changed the family name to Wood, although why he did this was unclear.

Once this information was confirmed, the University Archives were able to uncover Eva’s long history with UWA. Recipient of a BA in 1927 and an MA in 1943, Eva worked in the Library from 1927–1959 as the University Librarian. As a result, the University Archives were able to send the lucky researcher information from Eva’s student file, staff file and of course the image that turned out to be the key to the puzzle.

Back row (L to R) — Pat Elliott (nee Gaynor; slightly off-frame), Margaret Watson (nee Gibson), Fay Goodlet (nee Wanke), Val Jackson (nee Johnston), Nat Sugden, Nat McConnell (nee Dianta), Jackie Elliott (nee Hanrahan). Front Row (L to R) — Peg Smith (Finlayson), Miss H Kathleen Edmiston, Miss Malvina Wood, Mrs Edith M Child (nee Edmiston; slightly off-frame). (UWA Archives 26899P)
Coat of Arms

Fish and fowl? It's all Greek to me

The creation of a Coat of Arms for the first free University in the Commonwealth was a serious business. The motto, images and meaning needed to set exactly the right tone. However, it took us a little while to get there.

The University Archives hold an early outline drawing of a crest but the creator and date have not been established. The first formally recognized Coat of Arms was designed by Rodney Alsop and Wilson Dobbs in 1928. At this stage, the image of the books contained only illegible lines and the swan, at least according to the then Vice Chancellor Professor Whitfeld, could have stood some improvement.

In 1929 Professor Whitfeld arranged for George Kruger Gray to design a better version. The task was to retain the motto “Seek Wisdom” but improve the design of the swan. George Gray replaced the illegible lines on the book with a collection of Greek letters and used the centenary swan in his proposed design. However, Whitfeld returned the sketches to Gray explaining, “we like the fire and emery of this bird very much. The only criticism which I have heard is that the drop in the belly is somewhat reminiscent of a fat goose”. So the fat goose had an immediate but painless banishment into obscurity.

In 1963, Gordon Stephenson was asked to redesign the crest for the Golden Jubilee. The major addition to the design was the inclusion of two hake fish on top of the lamp of learning. Sir John Hackett (son of Sir Winthrop Hackett) suggested that the hake fish would be suitable symbol to represent the family, the hake being a (rather subtle) pun on the name of Hackett.

Stephenson also replaced Gray’s Greek letters, which had caused some argument between scholars over their translation, with Latin phrases. The book on the right represented the sciences, “Nature is only mastered by obedience to her laws” and the book on the left represented the arts, “the literature that makes man more civilized and humane.” It was this design that was registered with the College of Arms in London in 1972. Interestingly, the Letters Patent registering the Coat of Arms was only recently rediscovered after being misplaced for many years. It now hangs in the University Archives office.

There have been slight changes from that day to this and today our Coat of Arms is synonymous with world-class education and Nobel prize-winning research. However, it is worth remembering that its origins contained untranslatable Greek letters, a fat fowl and a dubious fish pun.

George Kruger Gray design, 1929 (UWA Archives 2913P)

Gordon Stephenson design, 1963 (UWA Archives 61397P)
Catalina Flying Boats

Flying Boats for sale?

If you were in the market for a second hand WWII flying boat, it’s a safe bet that the University of Western Australia’s Archives office would not be the first place you’d call.

However, that was exactly what the UWA Centenary Planning committee did, and there’s a reason why.

The enquiry is less surprising when you realize that the US Navy used various sections of the University during the period from March 1942 to February 1945.

The United States Navy relocated the Catalina Patrol Wing Number Ten (10) to Matilda Bay. They brought with them approximately 60 to 70 Catalina flying boats and 1200 Americans, including both members of the Navy and their support personnel.

The Swan River became their base and training ground between missions that took them as far north as Colombo and the then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

It was a very different looking University during the base’s occupation. They acquired the boat shed for their headquarters and the Catalinas rested in the Bay when not out on missions. The officers’ quarters were built on the site where University Hall is now situated.

The photography lab, responsible for all photo-work from aerial reconnaissance, took up a large portion of the Engineering Building, now the Guild Tavern, and Riley Oval was often used as a parade ground.

The pilots even put the roofs of Winthrop and Hackett Halls to good use. Made of red terracotta tiles they apparently acted as very good markers to guide the Catalina pilots back to their base.

Sadly, while we were able to locate many records relating to the Catalinas in the Archives, we were not able to locate an actual flying boat!

United States Navy Personnel loading a Catalina with bombs, Matilda Bay Catalina Base — 1942 (UWA Archives 26932P)

United States Navy Fleet Airwing Camp — parade on Riley Oval, 1943 (UWA Archives 5199P, photograph by L T Wiegand)

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