Armidale Teachers’ College in the New England Tablelands, was an impressive building where we went for courses each day during the week. We trudged up the hill with a group of friends from Smith House, situated in Barney Street near the town centre, to the college at the top.
At the College, we were joined by our male counterparts, who had trudged, similarly to us, from their lodgings at Newling House and in the town, to take part in courses.
Many of us, like Heather, Daphne and me, were from country regions; others were from “the big smoke” of Sydney, like my roommate, Julie.
We were studying to become primary and infants school teachers, or some of us secondary, at the time. A few of us, like myself, left for overseas, as soon as we had completed the obligatory three years, and I did not return to full-time primary school teaching.
But the education we received at ATC will never be forgotten, in some ways not surpassed. And then there were the friends we met, like the young women with me in the photo of us back then, my Smith House companions, known as “The Southall Girls”. We went to a Photo studio in Armidale in 1961, to have our group and individual photos taken. Dianne Short (married name, Gallaghar) was not able to be present, so her photo was superimposed into the photo top left.
We lived in one wing of Smith House called Southall, a Victorian era building with lace trimmings on the balconies. It was actually a separate section joined to the rest of Smith House for convenience sake.
Our names were like our hairdos, a signal of the times: Dianne, Sandy, Heather, Jill, Marnie, Julie, Daphne, Anne and Leonie or Lee.
I recently learnt of a doctor who had lived in our building at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and who had shot himself in one of the bedrooms, accidentally, under strange circumstances. In hindsight, this sent a shiver up my spine. Yes, I’m a little superstitious! I thought back to the seance that we had conducted using an ouiji board in, quite possibly, that very room. I would be interested to know what the name, or first letter, was that we conjured up together that night with our hands on the pointer. The final word that the pointer arrived at was ‘Elysian Fields’. Daphne, in the far right of the photo, above, was a bright, funny girl I’d first met at primary school in Grafton. She claimed later on, that she had forced the pointer to spell out the letters, E-L-Y-S-I-A-N, so we’ll never know if there was a ghost willing to be contacted in that room that night.
Despite the fact that I did not really want to teach children, and despite the strictures placed on us at Smith House, my memory of this time in this group is one that I treasure. We all seemed to complement one another with our different names and personalities, some “bigger”, some “meeker”, like our different hairdos. But all contributed in some way to the group dynamics.
I was shocked that first evening when Miss Dulcie Lindsay, the “head warden”, as she was called, in her mannish grey suits and black shoes, made her first speech, and told us we would have to sign in and out by 9 pm every week night and 11 pm on weekends. She acknowledged that we would want to “try out our wings” which made it worse, for I had had enough of this at home, and I wanted to take off. I found my way to the University of New England the next day, to see if there was any chance of enrolling there. Of course, there wasn’t, and how could I have afforded it, in any case?
Most of us remained immature and innocent during those two years. I remember thinking how “bad” the girls from Sydney were, always climbing in and out of windows and balconies after hours. But they knew how to look after themselves and never got caught!
Lynne says she used to let them in a lot, as she had the room at the front of Smith House. And she, herself, got caught as luck—or misfortune—would have it.
As for us, we made our own fun together, and we had lots of it. Who knows if it would have been better or not to have had more freedom?