Sunday, 10 February 2013

Geologists at the University of New England

The first geology class at UNE 1939 (from Voisey 1964)
L to R: Mary Hindmarsh, Catherine Miller, Rae Anthony,
Frank Wickwood, Sylvia Willoughby & Joan Bates.
Rae Anthony and Joan Bates became the first geology graduates in 1943

I obtained a copy of an interesting publication about the first 25 years of the geology department at the University of New England (UNE), (Voisey 1964) from a fellow member of the Geological Society of Australia. This book was published back in 1964 by Alan Voisey who was then head of the department. Voisey (1964) mentioned many names that are now synonymous with UNE geology, for instance, Bruce Chappell, Barrie McKelvey, Raymond Binns, J Wilkinson and others. In addition, I was surprised to find a wonderful picture of the first 'Geology I' class from 1939. It may surprise many others too that in 1939 the first geology class has only one man in it and five women. in 1940 the class was neatly balanced with four women and four men.

While I'm on the subject of the history of the UNE geology department I came across this interview with one of UNEs most well known geologists, Dr Richard Stanton. It is an interesting read as it demonstrates how little we knew of much of our geological history until relatively recently. In paricular the interview demonstrates how even the concepts that we now take for granted as geologists were only developed in the last generation or so. This includes such fundamental concepts such as plate tectonics and the ideas that arrived from it. The interview can be found on the Australian Academy of Sciences page here. Dr Stanton obtained his undergraduate geology degree from UNE and is still an Emeritus Professor there.

Recently I've also been in contact with a couple of undergraduate geology students and some of my fellow students from UNE which reminded me of the awesome geology alumni that UNE has and what seems a bright future with dedicated students with a love of the subject. I'm so pleased that the department still has excellent staff including Dr Nancy Vickery who with her collegues has recently demonstrated that the 'Basalts' of the Inverell and Glen Innes area are quite different or Dr. John Paterson who has made some incredible palaeontological discoveries in South Australia and Associate Professor Paul Ashley with an inexhaustible knowledge of  geochemistry and metallic mineral deposits. There is a couple of other geology staff now at UNE who I've not met but given the history of the department I'm sure they will continue be a great source of research into our region and examples to their students.

While I'm still on the topic it is worth mentioning that some geologists from UNE have gone to become important drivers of political change such as Professor Peter Flood, or some controversial ones such as Professor Ian Plimer.


Voisey, A.H. 1964. Twenty Years of Geology in New England - The first twenty-five years of geology in he New England University College and in the University of New England. L.A. Cotton School of Geology, University of New England, Armidale, NSW.


  1. Interesting post, Rod, and a reminder of hoe young a discipline geology really is. I was delighted to see the females had the balance on their side in 1939, and that the first two graduates were two of them :-).

    1. Given the date I was very surprised too. I used to think that at that time the science world was solely the domain of males, in reflection that was probably a bit too much of a pessimistic view. Indeed the most famous Australian Palaeontologist was a lady by the name of Dorothy Hill and the most famous geochemist was Germaine Joplin, another woman.

  2. UNE has always been a great University. I enjoyed my time there and was taught by some amazing people in the Arts Dept.

    1. I din't know you went to UNE too. It is good to hear that you found the Arts Department good too. What was your area of study?

    2. Hi Rod
      I have enjoyed your blogs, grew up in northern rivers and completed honours degree at UNE in 1973. My field study area was East of Glen Innes, to Red Range and down to Glencoe. Fondly remember my time in this area. Studied much of New England Batholith. Hope to keep in touch.
      Rodney Want

    3. Hi Rodney,

      The Glencoe area is one of my favourite places in New England. I would be very interested to discuss this more. so when time permits I'll send you an email. In the mean time have a look at this post which is just to the west of where your study was.