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1949 - 1959

This webpage covers some of the events and items of historical interest that occurred at the New South Wales University of Technology / University of New South Wales from 1949 - 1959.

For further information, please contact the Archives.


The New South Wales University of Technology Council's first meeting, 6 July 1949.
(Government Printer, UNSW Archives CN366/30/135)

On 1 July 1949 the Technical Education and New South Wales University of Technology Act was proclaimed and the New South Wales University of Technology officially came into being. Arthur Denning was appointed Director and Wallace Wurth President of the new institution. The university Council met for the first time on 6 July 1949.

Although the university was only formally established at this time, the first students had commenced their studies the year before, with forty-six enrolling in courses in civil, electrical, mechanical and mining engineering in March 1948.

Mechanical Engineering student Allan Cox, 1948.
(UNSW Archives CN122/207)
Electrical Engineering student James Strong, 1948.
(UNSW Archives CN122/208)


The Hon J. J. McGirr unveiling the tablet commemorating the incorporation of the New South Wales University of Technology Act during the Foundation Stone ceremony, 25 February 1950.
(Government Printer, UNSW Archives CN944/6) 

On 25 February 1950 the foundation stone for the first permanent building - now known as the "Old Main Building" - constructed on the university's Kensington campus was laid by the NSW governor, Lt-General Sir John Northcott. Over 1000 people attended this first public ceremony of the new university. The establishment of the university itself was also observed at this event, as the NSW Premier, the Hon J. J. McGirr, unveiled a tablet commemorating the previous year's incorporation of the university by Act of Parliament.

On 8 May 1950 the Council established the first three faculties of the university - Architecture, Engineering and Science. They were headed respectively by deans Professor Frederick Towndrow, Professor Harold Brown and Professor Philip Baxter.

Professor Frederick Towndrow, 1950s.
(UNSW Archives CN449)
Professor Harold Brown, 1950s.
(UNSW Archives CN449)
Professor Philip Baxter, 1950s.
(UNSW Archives CN449)

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Official opening of Newcastle University College by (left) the Hon R. J. Heffron, Minister for Education, 3 December 1951.
(UNSW Archives CN122/955)

On 10 September 1951 the Council resolved to take the steps required to establish a College branch of the university at Newcastle. Officially opened on 3 December 1951 under its first warden Mr Ralph Basden, Newcastle University College became autonomous as the University of Newcastle from 1 January 1965.


Civil Engineering graduates Paul Fekete, Bill Page, Kevin Quinlan, John Murray and Lance Spencer with (at centre) Professor Crawford Munro, 1952.
(Lance Spencer, UNSW Archives CN1034) 

On 15 March 1952 the university's first graduation ceremony was held at the University of Sydney's Great Hall. Fifty-seven degrees of Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Science, as well as three honorary degrees, were awarded at the ceremony.

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(UNSW Archives S394)
(UNSW Archives, S394)
(UNSW Archives, S394)

In March 1953 the first issue of Tharunka was published. The journal of the then recently formed Students' Union, the name Tharunka was chosen as an Aboriginal word meaning "message stick". Its first editors were Harold Spies and Sid Dunk. The number of issues released each year has varied widely - in 1953, four issues were published, while for much of the 1960s and 1970s it appeared on a weekly basis during session. From 1961 a special Foundation Day issue with a satirical take on a current publication has also been circulated each year as a key part of the day's celebrations. Money raised through the sale of the special Foundation Day issues went to charitable causes. Controversy has often followed Tharunka, particularly in 1964 and 1970, when its creators were taken to court, charged with publishing an obscene publication.

From 1993 the Students' Union was re-named the Student Guild. In 2007, following the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), the Student Guild merged with the University Union and the COFA Students' Association to form Arc. Tharunka has continued to be produced under the auspices of Arc.

(UNSW Archives S394)
(UNSW Archives S394)
(UNSW Archives S394)


From 1 July 1954, with the end of the provisions of section 33 of the Technical Education and New South Wales University of Technology Act, the complete control of the university was vested in its Council. Known as the "Appointed Day", this signified that the discharge of the functions previously held by the NSW Public Service Board, including staff appointments, building upkeep and other services, were now the sole responsibility of the university.

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First Graduation Ceremony on the Kensington campus, 16 April 1955.
(Keith Bowling, UNSW Archives 04/6/6)

On 16 April 1955 the Main Building was officially opened by the NSW Governor, Lt-General Sir John Northcott. In a joint ceremony the university held its first graduation ceremony on the Kensington campus, which included the award of Doctor of Philosophy (PhDs) to seven students, the first to be conferred by the university.

Mechanical Engineering graduates Arvi Vainomae, Guntars Saiva and John Cady, 16 April 1955.
(Arvi Vainomae, UNSW Archives 96A93)
Chemical Engineering graduates Keith Bowling PhD and Bob Robins MSc, 16 April 1955.
(Keith Bowling, UNSW Archives 04/6/8)


English Electric Company and University personnel with UTECOM, 27 March 1957.
(Visatone, UNSW Archives CN157/2)

On 11 September 1956 the NSW Premier J. J. Cahill switched on the university's first digital computer, UTECOM (University of Technology Electronic Computer). The computer was installed in a special basement in the Main Building and was under the care of the staff of the School of Electrical Engineering, headed by Professor Rex Vowels. UTECOM was an English Electric DEUCE, the only one of its kind to be imported into Australia.

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Fire in the Main Building, 5 October 1957.
(C. J. Milner, UNSW Archives CN1198)

On 5 October 1957 an early morning fire broke out in the Applied Physics research laboratories on the second floor of the Main Building. The fire destroyed the J. I. Carroll research laboratory and its X-ray spectrometer, as well as other equipment and research papers. Although no one was seriously hurt and the necessary repairs were complete by the end of 1958, the damage to research and property was a significant setback for the university at that time.


On 7 October 1958 the University of New South Wales Act was passed, which changed the name of the university to the University of New South Wales. The Act also allowed for the extension of the university's ambit to include Medicine and the Arts. The changes to the Act were the result of the Murray Report, presented to the Commonwealth Government in September 1957, and were a significant shift in the university's focus from science and technology.

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The first Manager of Unisearch, Mr John S. Fraser, c. 1950s.
(UNSW Archives, CN449) 
Load-deformation tests on a double deck aluminium railway trailer carriage for Tulloch's Ltd undertaken by the School of Civil Engineering via Unisearch Ltd, c. 1964.
(UNSW Archives CN945/18)

On 1 April 1959 Unisearch Ltd was incorporated. Its aim was to make available specialised service and advice to industry and commerce, as well as to administer patents taken out on inventions developed at the university. A wholly owned subsidiary of UNSW, it was the first organisation of its kind in Australia, although similar organisations were already in existence in American universities.

In 1999 the work of Unisearch Ltd was split into two parts, with NewSouth Global taking on the educational role and Unisearch Ltd continuing as the consulting and commercialisation arm. In 2005 Unisearch was renamed NewSouth Innovations and its consulting services function moved to NewSouth Global, which in 2007 became UNSW Global.

continue to 1960s

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