Fifty years ago I was finishing my Geography major at the University of Canterbury and expecting to become a lawyer. Four years later, however, I took up a Demonstratorship in the Geography Department of the University of Melbourne, which I held for three years and which started me on an academic track.
The Geography Department then was very small, and disappointing to me in that it had no great strengths in Economic Geography (while the quite separate Department of Economic Geography in the Faculty of Commerce had no particular interests in the emerging paradigm of Economic Geography which was then filtering down from the Northern Hemisphere!).
However, a small Geography Department (in a still-small University) enabled a lot of interaction with the Faculties of Commerce and Agriculture, from which I learned a great deal. It also gave me my first opportunities to lecture and manage field trips, things that today wouldn’t now be expected of ‘Lecturers A’ despite the valuable experiences they provided.
I think of my time at Melbourne as ‘validating’ me as an academic. It served as a springboard for my next move, to the University of Edinburgh, with a Melbourne girl who was kind enough to become my bride, and later back to Australia! It established friendships and interests that have also endured into my much-enjoyed retirement today, for which I am grateful.
Field work has always been the great bonding experience for staff and students in Geography and an important means of understanding what our discipline is about. Half a century ago, when we stayed in church camps and the like and mucked in with the cooking and cleaning, it was important also as part of our social development. The learning experiences were by no means confined to the student body.
When, after an 'unfortunate incident' in Traralgon on the way to Paynesville the staff decided to ban alcohol, it was tough on us too...we had to forgo leisurely drinking over dinner the dozen bottles of a good red that we'd brought with us....until the last night when we relented and allowed a party. That brought its own problems
By that time, the students needed to replenish their supplies and, the punt not operating at night, a dinghy was despatched a dinghy to Paynesville. It was a good party but, on the following day before we left, the staff had to pacify a local land holder who's dinghy had gone missing, to be found perhaps half a kilometre along the shore from where the land holder had left it. Is 'diplomacy' required these days in the job descriptions of academics?