Birth and death of university teacher training campus on old Judd's brickworks site

The demolition of the last chimney stacks at Judd's brickworks paved the way for an era of education in southern Sydney that has produced both success and great disappointment.

Fifty pounds (22.6 kilograms) of gelignite brought down the last two stacks behind the Mortdale train sheds in 1973 and the site, where children loved to ride their bikes, play in the remains of old building and explore the tunnels, was cleared.

Later that year, the state government announced a college of advanced education would be built on the site - a move that was welcomed across St George and Sutherland Shire.

In 1980, Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education moved from Paddington to a new campus at Oatley.

More than $10 million was spent on the project which featured excellent, purpose-built teacher education and sports science facilities, including tennis courts, an oval and spacious grounds.

In 1981, architect Colin Still's design received a merit award in the annual Royal Australian Institute of Architects awards.

The judges said it may "may well be one of the last fresh statements in architecture for tertiary institutions" following federal cuts in funding.

The college, which provided a range of courses apart from teacher training, evolved into the St George Campus of the University of NSW.

Being the only university campus in St George and the shire at the time, it was highly valued by the local community.

However, in 1996, the university council dropped a bombshell by deciding, for financial reasons, to close the campus and redistribute the 1000 places for trainee teachers and related courses to other education facilities.

The campus was to be sold or leased, the university council decided.

The move was met with community outrage and one of the biggest protest campaigns ever seen in the southern suburbs.

Opposition grew when it was revealed the campus was to be leased to a private institution, Trinity College.

The four councils covering the area - Kogarah, Rockdale, Hurstville and Sutherland - joined the community, academics and students in trying to stop the closure.

They were concerned at the loss of the only university campus in southern Sydney, a region with a population at the time of more than 500,000.

State and federal MPs gave their support, and an appeal was even made to Prime Minister John Howard.

State Education Minister John Aquilina admitted in Parliament the college had "an enviable record for the quality of its teacher education and, more recently, for the strength of its sports science programs".

While the protests were not able to stop the university moving out, they did prevent the site being handed over to Trinity College.

The state government decided, instead, to establish Georges River College by amalgamating several state high schools in the area.

Georges River College opened in February, 2001.

Associate Pofessor Alan Watson, who headed the St George 2000 Committee, which fought to stop the closure and sale of the campus, later wrote that the university was driven by market forces in dishonouring its obligations, redistributing 1000 funded places out of teacher education and related courses, breaking up strong academic teams built over many years, winding down popular programs and treating students very shoddily in the process.

"Judged on the basis of market forces, the decision seems fully justifiable," Associate Professor Watson said.

"The social status of teaching has declined, e.g, even in a period of teacher surplus, minimum TERs for entry have dropped - in some places to 50.

"No one is likely to pay full fees to go into teaching. It is much better to build up commerce, arts, law.

"But such decisions have implications for the local community and the wider population."

Associate Professor Watson said there had been strong student demand for student places.

"For example, while the total number of first preference applications to Australian universities declined in 1996, the applications for primary teaching at St George Campus (including an Advanced Level program) increased by 27 per cent," he said.

Associate Professor Watson said the university council "created the illusion of consultation", but community leaders who served on a working party soon realised it was "window dressing".

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