Looking back, looking forward

“Nostalgia is an unreliable prism.  The lived life is rarely the replica of the remembered life.  But in my memory, those four years at UQ were halcyon days.” i

In recent ‘interesting times’—as many coyly refer to the varying impacts of the current pandemic—I hear concerns about the impact on tertiary students. And suddenly it hit me, my first degree was against the background of some pretty challenging national and local events. Nothing like today’s current situation, but it certainly affected my life at the time. 

But before I touch on my 80s experiences, a little bit about other people’s memories of their UQ connections.

My involvement with the 50 Stories project, part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of UQ’s Alumni Friends, meant I had enjoyed reading many reflections on university life dating back to the 1930s. Glorious tales of connection and celebration, Commem’ Memories  of  Balls ii and Processions, stories of optimism and opportunity, sport and friendship. 

“My memories of UQ are very fond, I enjoyed my time there very much indeed…I have very fond memories of the friends I made there.”  iii

The optimism in the writing of more recent students was palpable, and tertiary education was a consistent and positive theme in the life of every author. Even when writing about… anxiety, getting lost on campus, the difficulties of parking, the challenges of finding your own voice… these are stories sprinkled with memories of dreams, new beginnings, growth and development.

Going to the University of Queensland has certainly helped me develop and blossom in a way that I certainly never thought imaginable. It’s helped me as a person and built me into the human I am today. iv

So, back to the early 1980s. Sheffield, South Yorkshire. A ‘redbrick’, city University. About 250km from home. I wasn’t lucky enough to gain a coveted place in a hall of residence, so I was allocated a shared a room in digs with another student (who I hadn’t met before). A 3km walk to the arts tower. 

If you’d asked me about the things I most remembered about my uni days were: Sheffield was frequently cold and wet; undertaking a dual hons degree meant timetables clashed, requiring a 10-15 minute speed hike between tutorials; maintaining contact with family and friends meant a 5 minute walk to a telephone box (all the while hoping that it didn’t start to rain, particularly if someone got there first); and getting to spend time visiting my much-loved, and now greatly-missed, grandparents—walking miles to see them, to save the 5p bus fare (now about 40c).

What I hadn’t thought about for some time was the arrest of a serial killer only 3km from where we had digs, and 4 months after I started my study. By 1980, the  so-called ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ had turned his attention from sex workers to university students, eventually murdering 13 women and brutally attacking at least 7 more. And then of course there was the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War, with associated debates about how friends would react if there was to be conscription (there wasn’t) and why was the UK at war over land so very far away (technically, apparently it was not actually declared as a war by either side).

At the time, these events had a major impact on our lives. We talked about it all a lot. The news headlines were completely dominated by both stories. And we certainly changed our behaviours—particularly in my first year, when it really was not safe to be on the streets at night. But now it’s not what I now recall most about my time in Sheffield. So is it really true that time is a healer? Is this what Peter Varghese referred to as the prism of nostalgia? Or is it just that I have a bad memory?

Possibly it is because, being the ‘first in family’ to attend University, my focus was drawn back to the routine of study and the challenges of getting a job. I saved. I travelled. I worked hard on my career. I met the love of my life. We moved to Australia. We made some great friends. I studied at UQ.

Just as I look back over many fond memories, so I look forward to again being able to travel and do the more ‘normal’ things in life. And I take time to be grateful for all of the experiences so far—the good, and even the less so.

“…I took the time to appreciate the calm waters shimmering under the orange light of the dozen or so street lamps across the river, and realised that really, I had it pretty good.” v

Tertiary education has provided me with some interesting experiences, and opened up so very many opportunities. Including the chance to luxuriate in reading other people’s fond memories of their connections with UQ. Why not turn to fifty.alumnfriendsuq.com for more… and perhaps reflect on what you will remember most about your time at UQ.

© Dr Catherine A Lawrence, 2020

In addition to those quoted, suggestions for 5 more to read, including our latest story (A Pandemic From The Sidelines).

1.    Joan Cribb, Master of Science 1953, Brisbane (https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/life-as-a-student-in-the-second-half-of-the-forties/)
2.    Michelle Dicinoski https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/fog/
3.    Vincent Hart https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/serendipity-at-work/
4.    Fred D’Agostino https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/always-danger-leaving-people-behind/
5.    Steve Papas https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/a-time-of-tomfoolery/


i “Halcyon Days.” Peter N Varghese AO, BA (Hons), H.DLitt Qld. Chancellor, The University of Queensland, Brisbane (https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/halcyon-days/)
ii ‘Commem’ Memories” Petra (Kip) Jones (nee Skoien), Brisbane.(https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/commem-memories/)
iii “Memories of UQ study, friendship & hockey (1934-36)” Marjorie Godfrey, Bachelor of Arts 1936, Brisbane (https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/memories-of-uq-study-friendship-hockey-1934-36/)
iv Matt Huxley https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/the-mission/
v “The Eleanor Schonell Bridge”Jenna Birbeck, Master of Arts 2016, Brisbane. (https://fifty.alumnifriendsuq.com/jennas-story-2/)