Tuesday, 18 October 2011

ALMA MATER


“My alma mater was books, a good library - I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity” - Malcolm X

I was at a meeting at my Alma Mater today. I am an alumnus of the University of Melbourne and I have maintained links with my University over the 25 years since I graduated. Today was rather special as I attended in a special capacity, as a member of a Course Advisory Committee for a new postgraduate degree that that the University will be introducing next year. This is a return to the University where I once was a student, as a professional and as a peer of the academics there. Time has moved on and I have grown, have progressed, have used my knowledge and have built on it with experience (and I hope wisdom!). It was good to be invited to be a member of this Committee and contribute to the scholarly activities of the academics in this preeminent Australian university.

As it was a very pleasant day today I meandered through the University grounds and memories came rushing back to me of my student days there. I had some very good years as a student at the University in both my undergraduate and postgraduate student career. Although there are many changes to the grounds, new buildings erected, some landscaping work and renovations, the core of the university is still the same. Its heart and soul is unchanged and a wave of nostalgia overcame me. This was the place of my awakening mind, where I was guided through my learning journey by talented teachers, inspired educators, world-renowned scientists. This was where I pored over books, journals, reams of notes, explored the libraries and wrote, wrote, wrote…

I saw the place where I felt the first stirrings of passion and the sweet pangs of love, forged the bonds of friendship and made connections with people that influenced my life choices. Even some favourite trees were still there and passing through the old quadrangle, I could swear that if turned around I would see familiar faces of fellow students – young, carefree, smiling. Turn a corner and I would glimpse the stern face of a lecturer well-known for his dry humour, acerbic wit and machine gun delivery of complex material that we could hardly write notes on, much less try and understand while spoke! Open a door and see a favourite lecturer smiling at me and joking with me as was her good-natured habit.

I could not resist going into the library. How that has changed too! The technology has invaded its spaces in a multitude of ways and the space devoted to books has shrunken. However, one place is still sacrosanct and unchanged, bringing back more memories for me: The rare book room where I spent many an hour poring over old editions with hands swathed in white cotton gloves. I remember the delight of being able to leaf through a rare 18th century edition of Matthew Baillie’s classic atlas of pathology (The Morbid Anatomy of the Human Body).

One of my professors of pathology (who had an interest in Medical History and curated the Museum of Medical History at the University) had long discussions with me about Baillie’s description of what is believed to be the famous lexicographer’s Dr. Samuel Johnson’s lung that is in his atlas. There was no illustration of this specimen in the atlas and I was encouraged by the good professor to produce an illustration based on Baillie’s description. I did so to the delight of my professor, paying particular attention to the text and using my own knowledge of the pathology (I was completing my PhD at that time in the Faculty of Medicine).

Ah, memories! Reluctantly I left the grounds of the University and walked back to my office briskly, the campus of the College that I work in now being about a kilometer to the south, in the City. I sat at my desk and meditated for a little. I smiled, pleased with my morning’s activities and excursion back into the past, determined to go walking around the University again, soon, when I had some more free time!

4 comments:

  1. I found this an intensely fascinating read. I can imagine how much more fascinating you must have found the visit. The technology invasion was to be expected - and encouraged - no doubt - but a shame the book space has to shrink.

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  2. I wouldn't have guessed your area had been medicine. Well done.

    Isn't it fantastic going back to Melbourne University after all these years. I was an undergrad in the middle-late 1960s and adored my years there, more for the women's movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests than the library :) Oh and the alcohol!

    You are right about the first stirrings of passion and the sweet pangs of love, forged the bonds of friendship and the connections with people that influenced life choices. Friends made at uni remain friends for life; mentors continue to guide, sometimes from the grave. Prof Margaret Manion, an academic I met later in life, inspires me still.

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  3. This is a beautiful blog entry Nic!!!!!!

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