College Days: Living in the ‘70s

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

But I’m strong

The Hollies-He Ain’t Heavy 1969

Day one of college dawned, the girls filled with excitement and trepidation.  Margo and Joanne crossed Mount Ousley Road, walked past some new houses in ‘College View Estate’, through a grassy area intersected by a creek, past a tennis court with a sign saying ‘Whites only must be worn on the tennis court’ and arrived at an interesting sloping structure known as the music auditorium.

Wollongong Teachers College Music Auditorium (Wollongong University Archives)

After a welcome assembly the students poured out into the sunshine and fresh air, eating their cut lunches in the area known as ‘the cloisters’. While the college liked to use traditional English names, and some of the lecturers walked around wearing black gowns, the buildings were very modern. The grey cement block construction was brutalist in design and very different to the sandstone buildings Joanne had envisaged at Sydney Uni. To make matters worse, there was not enough room for all the students so a bus was to run to the Technical College for some of the lectures.

Next to the music auditorium was a double storey lecture block with a flat roof.  A library with an unusual pointed roof sat next to the administration block, where they were to line up for their pay once a fortnight.  They would receive a cheque which they could cash at the National Bank situated half a mile away at the University or in town at David Jones or Anthony Horderns.  The remaining building was a gymnasium, also built in the pointed roof style and the pride of the college.

Wollongong Teachers College official opening 1965 (Wollongong University Archives)

Across grassy fields was the tiny Wollongong branch of the University of NSW.  It consisted of two lecture blocks and specialised in the sciences needed to train employees of the steelworks.

The first week flew by with a barrage of tests; psychology, music, spelling and social statistics.  A barbecue and sock hop on the precious gymnasium floor revealed the distinct shortage of boys but Joanne enjoyed dancing to the music with the other girls. The postal service efficiently delivered Joanne’s swimming costume after a panicked phone call to Annie so that on Friday she and Margo made their way by bus to the Continental Baths to swim laps of the 50 metre pool.

Packing their bags that afternoon, the two girls made their way to Wollongong Station, Margo travelling north to Sydney and Joanne filling in time until the rail motor bound for Moss Vale left at 5.40 pm.  Joanne had been told by her section advisor that she had to have a chest X-ray to test for Tuberculosis.  A mobile clinic was parked in Crown Street but they sent her away, requesting paperwork from the college.

For one hour and forty five minutes Joanne looked out the window as the little rail motor climbed the mountain.  At first she could see Lake Illawarra and the ocean below her.  The train stopped at tiny sidings called Dombarton, Mount Murray and St Anthonys.  At some stops the guard did a ‘staff exchange’ with a railway employee and only then could the rail motor move forward.  Robertson was the first major stop, followed by the end of the line, Moss Vale.  Joanne talked to Annie all the way home and all evening until her throat was sore.

The college had supplied Joanne with a piece of material reminiscent of a tablecloth, with yellow, red and blue stripes screen printed on a white background. It took Joanne all of Saturday to turn it into a gym skirt, to be worn over black leotards. On Sunday everyone at Church wanted to know about college, so that Joanne again found she couldn’t stop talking. On Sunday afternoon they visited an elderly friend in a nursing home who also wanted to hear all the news. A missed train ended Joanne’s weekend and meant Annie had to drive her back down Macquarie Pass on Monday morning.

The gym skirt (Wollongong University archives)

6 thoughts on “College Days: Living in the ‘70s

  1. Joanne must have shared lots of secrets with you about her travels and adventures 🙂 that first year at uni is so formative. I agree that the buildings are a marked difference from the “sandstones”. I don’t recall any of our academics wearing academic dress to lectures.


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