Evolution of education: How Southern Cross University began

Fred Goodman (left) NRCAE Director of Planning and Development and Principal Dr Frank Whitebrook(right) together with Dr H S Houston (centre).
Fred Goodman (left) NRCAE Director of Planning and Development and Principal Dr Frank Whitebrook(right) together with Dr H S Houston (centre). contributed

SCU lecturer Dr Rob Garbutt remembers when the white pegs appeared in the grounds of the Savins farm in East Lismore about 1974, signalling the beginning of what would become Southern Cross University.

Rob grew up in Music St, which borders the university's Lismore campus. He and his friend Dave used to climb through the barbed wire fence with their dogs to do what young boys do: running up and down the hills, climbing trees and chasing cows.

Initially they railed against the development that threatened their playground, pulling the pegs out of the ground and forming the Rosella Conservation Society, a rather pretentious name for two boys who just wanted to protect their beloved Rosella trees.

The first stone was laid in 1981 and teaching began in 1982 when the schools of education and science were opened around what is now U-Block. (At the time the buildings were known as GUTSO, General, Union, Theatre, Science and Offices).

The university had carved out a niche for itself by offering courses such as Contemporary Music, Naturopathy, Tourism, Sports Science and Resource Science, these were not offered at the big city universities

According to Brian Griffin, a former staff member who is now on SCU's history committee, another site at Wollongbar was initially picked but the powers-that-be in Lismore used their influence to have the Savins farm selected.

Stage 2 of the campus construction was around 1986-87 with the building of the administration block, where the library is now. Since then the campus has undergone continuous expansion.

Mr Griffin said the university had carved out a niche for itself by offering courses such as Contemporary Music, Naturopathy, Tourism, Sports Science and Resource Science, these were not offered at the big city universities.

He said it had a significant impact on Lismore's economic development.

"It's impacted on the viability of the city as a major regional centre.

"People are always interested to know when the students are coming back after the long summer break - everyone from shopkeepers and taxi drivers to people who provide student accommodation."

Mr Griffin said not only had the university been a major employer in the region, it had provided an opportunity for people growing up in the area a chance to go to university without having to move away.

Rob Garbutt moved to Sydney for his chemistry degree and then worked for Telstra before moving back to Lismore for family reasons.

He secured a job at SCU in 2001 doing desktop publishing and then did his PhD on what it means to be "a local" through the Schools of Arts and Social Science from 2003-2007.

These days he has a very different relationship with the campus site, working behind a desk and in the classroom rather than running up and down the hills.

But he says he's glad the Rosella Conservation Society wasn't successful in their quest to stop the development.

Topics:  southern cross university

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