Main Menu

Foundation Day Exhibition

In 2007 the University Archives created a Foundation Day exhibition, which was on display in the University Library for six weeks from the end of July.  Organised to coincide with the celebration of Foundation Day 2007 on 2 August, it attempted to capture some of the more memorable moments in the history of this annual student event - from 1961 to the present.  Here is an on-line version of that original exhibition. 
For more information on the history of Foundation Day, please contact the Archives.

Inaugural Foundation Day
The inaugural University of New South Wales Foundation Day was held on Tuesday 4 July 1961. The first Tuesday after the anniversary of the university's foundation was selected as the date for the festivities (the foundation date of the university was 1 July 1949). Students were also given a holiday from lectures.
At that time, UNSW had no real identity in the public mind and some students still had lectures off campus. Students established the concept of Foundation Day because they wanted to impress on the general public that there were two universities in Sydney.
(left)Morning preparation for the first Foundation Day floats on the UNSW campus, 1961.
(Photographer: Tom Jones, UNSW Archives 98A24)
(right)Foundation Day floats proceeding down Oxford Street near the Elizabeth Street corner, 1961.
(Photographer: Pam Bell, UNSW Archives CN1181)
Students instigated a number of Foundation Day pranks including the takeover of a Mosman ferry by "pirates", fixing the skull and crossbones to the ABC-TV tower at Gore Hill, draping a three-storey long banner from the Sydney Morning Herald building advertising the special Sydney Moaning Tharunka edition and - most spectacularly - kidnapping Brian Henderson from a live performance of the TV music show Bandstand.  Students also broke three world records with a bed push, a scooter push and a lawnmower push.
The main event of the morning was a procession of thirty floats through the city. Floats illustrated topics such as traffic fines, Fidel Castro and the US Freedom Riders. The afternoon was taken up with a scavenger hunt and the lower campus soon became littered with naked window dummies, stray dogs and cats, American flags and bus conductors' caps. The day ended with a Foundation Day Ball at the University Union building, which later became known as the Roundhouse.
(left) A team of 20 students pushed a scooter non-stop from Melbourne to Sydney. This was claimed as a world record (the previous record was from Canberra to Sydney), 1961.
(Photographer: G. E. Wood, UNSW Archives CN798)
The celebrations were considered a great success in achieving publicity for the university. The 1961 Foundation Day director was John Niland, then President of the Students Union, and later the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales from 1992 - 2002.
Foundation Day has continued, but it has changed over the years. In 1971, when the university moved to a two session year, the date of celebrations was moved to the last Thursday in July. From 1973 this was changed again to the current date of the second Thursday of Session 2. 1983 was the final year that a parade was held and a Foundation Day holiday given to students. The Tharunka Foundation Day special editions and the scavenger hunt have, however, ensured that Foundation Day has continued into the present day.

^  Back to top  ^

Tug-of-war & Water-skiing on Lower Campus
(left) Tug-of-war & (right) water-skiing, 1963.
(Photographers: Hugh Hyland & C. S. Smith, UNSW Archives 97A246 & CN944/188)
Nicknamed "Lake Bourke" after the then university bursar Joseph Bourke, this "lake" regularly appeared after excessive rain in the area of the current Village Green until 1966, when it was finally filled in.  Students often took part in "water follies" on the lake near Foundation Day when there was enough water available.

Alligator Capture
Taronga Zoo reclaims its property, 1964. 
(UNSW Archives CN1171/84)
One of the most extraordinary Foundation Day stunts was the 1964 kidnap of an alligator from Taronga Park Zoo by students Bernard D'Abrera, John Kepski, John Black and John Kazis.  Eighty students from a Biology class were used as a screen around the alligator pen, while the kidnappers scaled the fence. Most of the alligators responded by diving into their pool, but the slowest was left behind.  Then - as Bernard D'Abrera later described - "Quick as a flash, one of us, John Kazis, sat on his head and tied a rope about his mouth before stuffing him into a cricket bag with tail and mouth poking out one end and half a chicken still locked between its jaws". 
The large group of students was able to provide camouflage for the one holding the bag - taking it through the turnstiles and back to the university.  The kidnappers then called the Zoo to demand a ransom.  Initially Zoo officials found it difficult to believe that an alligator was even missing, but eventually they paid the "ransom" of 100 pounds and collected their animal from Kensington.

^  Back to top  ^

Foundation Day Floats
(left)Foundation Day float satirising the delays in the building of the Sydney Opera House, 1962.
(Photographer: Don McPhedran, UNSW Archives CN468/56)
(right)Preparing Foundation Day floats on lower campus, 1966
(University Photographer, UNSW Archives CN486/2/12)

Pram Races
Pram Race, 1968.
(Photographer: Hugh Hyland, UNSW Archives 97A246)
Pram races were held from 1968 into the early 1970s as a pre-Foundation Day event .  Run by teams of two - one riding in the pram and the other pushing it - the race took place from Liverpool Street and Circular Quay.  The 1968 race was won with a time of 7 minutes 32 seconds and the winners received a $10 prize.  A $5 prize was also given for the funniest pram.

^  Back to top  ^

Flour & Water Fights
(left)Foundation Day flour fight on the Library Lawn, c. 1970.
(Students Union, UNSW Archives CN375)
(right)A post-Pram Race Foundation Day water fight on the Library Lawn, 1972.
(Photographer: Allan West, UNSW Archives CN486/2/12)

Foundation Day in the City
(left)Students selling Foundation Day Tharunkas in the city, 1973.
(Photographer: Pat Purcell, UNSW Archives CN486/2/12)
(right)Students line up for a Foundation Day "polo match" in Martin Place, 1977.
(Photographer: Allan Taylor, UNSW Archives CN1127/6)

^  Back to top  ^

Chancellor Kidnap

Colin McDonald, Chancellor Gordon Samuels, Nicole Brodie & Geoff Holland, 1981.
(Photographer: Harvey Sher, UNSW Archives CN1127/13)
For Foundation Day 1981 students Colin McDonald, Nicole Brodie, Geoff Holland and Harvey Sher kidnapped Chancellor Gordon Samuels from outside his home and forced him to drive to his chambers in the Supreme Court building.  Fortunately he was freed after ransom demands were met by members of the University Council and senior officers, with the money donated to Foundation Day charities.  Nicole Brodie later commented that "given the fact that it was only his first time as a kidnappee, the Chancellor handled the stress and pressure reasonably well".

Scavenger Hunts
(left)For the 1990 Foundation Day scavenger hunt one group managed to collect 65 points for a train seat from Lismore.
(Photographer: Brad Hall, UNSW Archives 07/204)
(right)The 1995 Foundation Day scavenger hunt offered 50 points per bald head, plus a bonus 500 points if the hair was cut live on stage.  Here is one student collecting his bonus!
(University Union, UNSW Archives 07/184)

^  Back to top  ^

Foundation Day Charities
(left)Every dollar raised for The Prince of Wales Children's Hospital Foundation earned each team 2 points on Foundation Day 1995.
(University Union, UNSW Archives 07/184)
(right)Student Guild organiser Chad Davis (right) and Demtel's Tim Shaw (left) address a crowd in the Commerce Courtyard on Foundation Day 1996, at which $7,000 was raised for the Our Lady of Snows soup kitchen
(University Photographer, UNSW Archives 98A1)

Themed Foundation Days
(left)The 1994 Foundation Day celebrations featured a mediaeval luncheon, with Vice-Chancellor John Niland and Registrar Crystal Condous joining in the festivities.
(University Photographer, UNSW Archives 98A1)
(right)The 2004 Foundation Day Tharunka special edition.  The 2004 event had a Scandinavian theme.
(Student Guild, UNSW Archives V92)

^  Back to top  ^