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October 22, 2022
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November 24, 2022

History and Culture Around Campus

This post was contributed by Sareeta Zaid

The University of Sydney stands on the unceded land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. For tens of thousands of years this land was cared for and continues to be cared for by the traditional custodians of this area. The university was established in 1850 as the first university in Australia, and the story of the University of Sydney continues to be influenced by and entangled with the stories of Indigenous Australians and people from cultures all around the world. While at ASCILITE 2022, take some time to explore the history and culture around campus.

The Quadrangle

One of the most iconic buildings on the University of Sydney campus, the Quadrangle was built over a period of more than one hundred years, with the most recent section added in the 1960s. Modelled after the prestigious British universities of Cambridge and Oxford, the Quadrangle is built from local Sydney Basin Hawkesbury Sandstone. This sandstone occurs throughout Sydney, often in the form of rock shelters where Indigenous rock carvings have been found. An etching of two wallabies opposite the Quadrangle at the Chau Chak Wing Museum entrance recreates a rock engraving in Westleigh on the north shore of Sydney and was developed in consultation with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and acknowledges the Gadigal use of this land as a hunting ground for kangaroo and wallaby. Embracing the Australian fauna, there is even a grotesque in the shape of a kangaroo under the bell tower on the outer façade of the Quadrangle.

Dr Charles Perkins and the Freedom Rides 

The Great Hall in the northwest corner and oldest section of the Quadrangle was the first teaching space at the university and has been the venue for countless graduation ceremonies. A plaque outside the Great Hall commemorates the achievements of Dr Charles Perkins who, in 1966, was the first Aboriginal man to graduate from a university in Australia. Dr Perkins was an influential civil rights activist and in 1965 organised a bus tour known as the Freedom Rides across New South Wales with a group of University of Sydney students to highlight the living conditions of Aboriginal people and the racism they experienced. In 1987 Dr Perkins was awarded an Order of Australia Medal. The Charles Perkins Centre on the university campus draws its name from Dr Perkins and aims to promote collaboration and inclusivity in medical research. Every year the university hosts the Dr Charles Perkins Oration and Memorial Prize to recognise and celebrate the contributions made by Dr Perkins and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Australian community, country and society.  

Chau Chak Wing Museum

The Chau Chak Wing Museum is an interdisciplinary institution combining the university’s art, science, history and archaeology collections. Opening in late 2020, the museum is open daily with free entry. The opening exhibit on the entry floor, Object / Art / Specimen integrates objects throughout the university collections, grouping them thematically to highlight both their diversity and commonalities. 

The Nicholson archaeological collection, established by University Provost Sir Charles Nicholson in 1860, has grown over the many years since its foundation. This collection combines artefacts from across the ancient world, from Rome and Greece to Egypt, the Near East, and Central Asia and has the largest collection of antiquities in the southern hemisphere. This collection was housed in the Nicholson Museum in the southern Quadrangle and is now displayed throughout galleries on the first and second floors of the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Visit the Egyptian galleries on the second floor to see Egyptian mummies and learn about funerary practices, and the first floor Near Eastern gallery where some of the earliest examples of writing and ancestor worship ritual are displayed. 

The Ambassadors collection is displayed across the first, second and third levels of the museum, introducing ‘ambassadors’ from eight regions of Aboriginal Australia. These exhibitions have been curated through engagement with Aboriginal knowledge frameworks and include rich cultural artefacts from across Australia from diverse locations in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. 

Walanga Wingara Mura Design Principles

The University of Sydney’s Walanga Wingara Mura Design Principles represent collaboration between the University, community of practice, industry and Aboriginal stakeholders to define the ongoing and future design of the university and its campus through reflection and connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Country. This is seen in the native flora that has been planted on campus, from the Gadi tree from which the name Gadigal is derived, to other native plants, shrubs and grasses. The intention of these plantings is to evoke Aboriginal gathering places and original natural environments, with the Transient Garden in the centre of the Camperdown campus on Fisher Road designed as a space for deep listening, sharing and learning.  

The Garabara artwork by Robert Andrew on the new Social Sciences Building on Science Road acknowledges the Gadi people of this land through display of the Sydney language word for corroboree or dance, while Dale Harding’s Spine sandstone sculpture series represents the Sydney sandstone of the region. The dilly bag sculpture outside the new Susan Wakil Health Building by Judy Watson represents the Aboriginal women who gathered food and resources for their communities. Through these design principles, the university embraces the values and principles of the rich, long-standing Aboriginal cultures of Sydney and across Australia. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get out and explore the University of Sydney campus!

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