Australia Tour 2011-Friday Feb 18 2011

My video blog – Feb, 17th, 2011

Canberra's airport is quite small compared to Melbourne, Perth or Sydney. After the one hour flight from Melbourne we had our bags in about 5 minutes.

There have been a couple of travel days and evening events since we checked out of our Melbourne hotel on Tuesday morning, but also a lot of activity, which I’ve saved for this post.

We arrived in Canberra on Tuesday evening.

I was domiciled at University House, a residence especially for visiting scholars and their families on the grounds of the Australian National University. The grounds are quite lovely, as is most of the ANU campus though there was a fair bit of construction occurring here and there.

grounds of University House at ANU where I stayed the nights of the 15th and 16th Feb. They contain a duck pond in which a former Aussie PM once took a dip.

Wednesday, our only full day in Canberra was very busy indeed. I began it by having breakfast with Prof Anthony Reid, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Southeast Asian history. Tony had helped out as an advisory editor on one of my historiographic projects in the 90s but we’d never met before. As it turned out, he has been to Kingston several times as his cousin is Prof Emeritus of Mathematics Malcolm Griffin. Small world. Academically it was definitely a Southeast Asian day, as my lunch was spent with one of his colleagues, Prof Ann Kumar, who is also an Indonesia specialist, and a current contributor to the Oxford History of Historical Writing project based at Queen’s.

Much of the rest of the day was taken up with visits with several ANU administrators including Darren Brown, the chief international officer,

At the Jackie Chan Science Centre at ANU. The actor's family lives in the area.

and outgoing Vice-chancellor Ian Chubb who in fact leaves his position next week. We had especially useful chats with Mandy Thomas, the Pro- VC for graduate education and research, and with Lawrence Cram, the DVP (= our provost). Lawrence and I swapped views on the relationship between teaching and research, and I heard a good deal about how ANU works, and about the funding model in particular.

ANU is unusual in that it is federally legislated. All Australian universities as noted in earlier blogs are funded by the national government, but report to a state government on their activities and financials. ANU, located in Canberra (which isn’t in a state but in the ‘Australian Capital Territory’ or ACT) actually answers to no state, and moreover gets a block grant from the national government not unlike an endowment. This has facilitated much of its enormous success and reputation in research. Prof Cram is an astronomer, so I also got some handy tips on what to look for in a new set of binoculars!

In the afternoon we had a meeting with Canada’s High Commissioner to Australia, Michael Small, and his staff, including Deputy HC David Mackinnon, a Queen’s MBA grad. (David joined us in Sydney the following night for the alumni reception on which more a bit further down). The discussion mainly concerned how Canada in general can raise its profile as a brand internationally–my November trip to India was used as an example of a concerted effort in this regard by Canadian executive heads. The similarities between Canada and Australia constitutionally and culturally were also discussed, with a particular reference to public policy issues.

dinner out in Canberra with Queen's community

Our last campus meeting of the day was at the ANU’s Centre for Mental Health Research. We met with Prof Helen Christensen, the Director, and her associate Prof Kathy Griffiths (an undergraduate chum of my colleague and travel companion this week Dr Sally Rigden). I informed them about mental health initiatives on our campus, about our work over the past year raising mental health awareness and introducing the Mental Health First Aid program, which was developed initially at ANU, and then exported to Canada. Queen’s imported it last year from the province of Alberta, where my wife Julie was able to use her connections with her former colleagues at the Alberta Mental Health Board to connect our Student Affairs Team with the First Aid program. So it was very nice to close the circle by visiting the unit that began this important program.

The evening was a pleasant, relaxed one at a Thai restaurant with a recent Queen’s grad Mike Roger (now starting a Masters at ANU–Mike’s two younger brothers are currently at Queen’s), with history MA alumnus David Akers (till recently exec officer to VC Ian Chubb at ANU) who had been at Queen’s in the history department during my postdoctoral stint there, and with Jack and Judy Jeswiet. Judy is a retired nurse and Jack is a Queen’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering, in Canberra on sabbatical. I’ve known them for a VERY long time–they were the wardens (as head dons were then called) of Gordon House when I was a resident of Gordon-Brockington in 76-77!

downtown Sydney traffic is really quite amazing.

After this at was back to the residence to sleep for a few hours before a very early trip to Sydney where we arrived at 930 on Thursday morning. We had two sets of meetings, one at the University of New South Wales (where we met among others Queen’s alumnus David Cohen, a scientist in charge of UNSW’s equivalent of our Bio Sci department–David joined us for the alumni reception later that day). UNSW is our largest exchange partner, with about 150 students from each partner having gone back and forth over the years. In the afternoon we wrestled with Sydney traffic

and visited the campus of the rapidly expanding MacQuarie University just outside Sydney. It is like a small town, with its own train station, and will be expanding to about 50,000 students in the next couple of years. Talks at both schools involved increasing our level of faculty and graduate exchange activity.

driving across Sydney Harbour Bridge on our way back from MacQuarie University

The business part of the trip concluded Thursday night at the offices of the Consul-General of Canada in Sydney, Tom McDonald. Tom is another Queen’s History grad, class of 1972, and has been in his current post for 3 years. The view from his rooftop terrace is stunning. Apart from Tom and his wife Susan, an early resident of Victoria Hall, several of his staff are Queen’s grads, including Sharon Pinney and Elaine Callagan.

This was  a terrific event during which I met most of the nearly 100 alumni and guests who turned up, about a quarter of all the alumni in Sydney. After some remarks by Tom and by me, and a door prize draw, we conducted what may well have been the first ever mass Oil Thigh on a Sydney rooftop.  Attending the reception among others was Prof. Harold Messel, Queen’s 1948, one of Australia’s most distinguished nuclear scientists, who came in all the way from his home in Tasmania for the function. Prof Missel is 88 and still going strong. Other guests with whom I chatted included a PhD grad from the  70s who had lived in a Science 44 co-op house on Earl St. Within  a few minutes we realized that the house he was talking about was one that became a private residence in the 1980s–and which Julie and I currently live in!

view from the Canadian consulate roof of Sydney Harbour including the famous opera house Feb 17 2011

I was especially pleased at the reception that we were joined by four current Queen’s students here on exchange at various Australian universities. Chaz Legge, Courtney de Cosimo, Lindsay Fisher and Steffi Regpala mixed with our alumni and helped reinforce my message to them that Queen’s welcomes and needs their continued support.

The reception was to end at 730, but at 830, when I left, there were still people in attendance. It was a great way to end the trip. There is no organized alumni branch in Sydney, but as the evening went on, several different people indicated that they would be very interested in rectifying that.

As I write this, it is Friday morning in Sydney. I fly home tomorrow after a busy but very productive week with lots learned about higher education in a country very similar to Canada, and some very useful contacts either made or strengthened. Back home late Saturday night to the Kingston winter!

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