Cumberland’s Coming

Cumberland correspondent Alexandros Tsathas discusses what the campus shift will mean.

Cumberland correspondent Alexandros Tsathas discusses what the campus shift will mean.

In 1990, a gross act of academic debauchery took place. The University of Sydney bedded the Cumberland College of Health Sciences and an estranged love child was conceived. Enter the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS).

Not really a cash cow and perhaps lacking the pomp of other faculties, the University has played father-when-it-is-convenient to its needy son. The FHS was abandoned at birth to (literally) the wrong side of the tracks. It is situated opposite a freight rail terminal (and a cemetery). For twenty-five years, no real impetus has hastened the University to shift the FHS from the Lidcombe “lust-pit”.

Cumberland’s geographic isolation has left scores of allied health students with less-than-holistic university experiences. Once you cross Cumberland county lines, your Access card counts for nothing. “Ain’t there be no societies round here! And we ain’t got no re-vues either!”. The nearest licenced venue (or non-residential structure for that matter) is several kilometres away—Dooleys Catholic Club. It’s as about exciting as it sounds. The current Dean of the FHS, Dr. Kathryn Refshauge, tells it like it is. “Students are pretty much uniformly disappointed to come to Cumberland”. I’m so glad she said it before I did.

Stepping into Dean Refshauge’s office, she apologizes for the air-conditioning. We are in a wooden demountable building at the far end of Science Road (Camperdown Campus)—the interim headquarters of the FHS, shared with the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. Apparently, the split-system air-conditioners in “The Demountable Village” lack climate control, so the Dean must compromise. She falls back on thermoreceptors and manually toggling the on-off switch. It seems a predicament totally unbefitting a Dean, but as she explains, “Charles Perkins Centre Heights” is only a temporary solution to help facilitate the long-awaited FHS relocation.

For as long as the FHS has existed, so too have rumours claiming that the move to main campus was imminent. I put this to Dean Refshauge and she laughs: “It’s actually true…we are moving”. Closure. At long last. Unfortunately, most current students will not benefit from the move. “The building will be finished 2017 and we’ll start teaching 2018”.

I learn that the entire FHS will be moving to main campus. It will be accompanied by Sydney Nursing School. The concept is “a whole health precinct”, with learning spaces to be shared by all health-related disciplines: physiotherapy, nursing, medicine, pharmacy. The Dean’s pace increases, similarly the amplitude of her gesticulations, as she describes plans for grand cross-discipline anatomy labs, an RPA-linked clinic and the possibility of shared classes between dentists and speech pathologists. “The vision is huge”, she surmises. Indeed.

So to where will the FHS move? “A new building…They’re pulling down Bosch and The Glasshouse and Cobblestone. Blackburn will go, but not yet, not in Stage 1. [In] Stage 2”.

But why has the University decided to reclaim the FHS after all these years? Why now? “The rumours have always been there, but they didn’t really have a plan for where we’d go. A few years ago we got a new director of campus infrastructure services. When he came, he did a 10-year plan for infrastructure for the university. This really hadn’t existed before. In that plan were all the new buildings that we needed to build and how to finance them… and Sydney City Council has actually approved the whole 10-year plan, which has neeever happened before. That doesn’t happen! So it’s real and it’s funded!”.

I suspect that’s the condensed version, but we’ll take it and run; particularly when the Dean reveals other potential sites for the FHS relocation: “They talked about Eveleigh [Carriageworks], they talked about Harold Park, Olympic Park”. Olympic Park? Seriously? Dean Refshauge “couldn’t see the point, to tell you the truth”. Hallelujah.

I’m curious as to what the new building will look like. We run through the spate of new faculty buildings with edgy designs. There’s our own Charles Perkins Centre, UNSW’s Tyree Energy Technologies Building, and of course UTS’ “squashed brown paper bag” (Chau Chak Wing Building). The Dean assures me that the FHS’s new building “is going to be beautiful… the education spaces are going to be better than anything existing now”. Various user groups have been formed, so that all disciplines’ needs will be accommodated. The building’s design will be dictated by the teaching (“and the research!”) that will take place. Seems sensible, but what about objectionable design features? I suggest an outer structural framework resembling a 4-wheelie-frame and a drainage system that pays homage to catheter tubing and leg bags. It’s a resounding “Yep! Tick!” from the Dean.

And the old Cumberland site? “It’s not ours, so we can’t say”. Apparently, Cumberland belongs to the State Government. Rumours have been circulating about the sale of the site to The University of Western Sydney, but the Dean can provide no confirmation—“We’ve thought the thought”. She notes the site “would be a great high school”. Please, no. Way too close to home.

The student response to the move will be overwhelmingly positive. University will actually feel like university and not just high school for grown-ups. How does the Dean feel about the move and what are the sentiments of academics? Without the Dean wanting to state it explicitly, I deduce much the same as the students—“At Cumberland you can’t get coffee after three, it is just ridiculous. So it will be wayyyeee better for that.”. She also realises the greater potential for inter-disciplinary learning that closer geographical proximity brings. I am reminded that this is the future of health and that “it’s part of our brief that we have to do it”.

What will be missed about Cumberland? Students will miss the Cumberland paradox—FHS students are drawn closer together by their geographical isolation. Friendship groups are smaller but tighter. The Dean will miss the autonomy—“[at Cumberland] we made the space how we wanted it. When we move, we’ll be one building. When we go outside the door, it’s not our campus to say ‘we’ll put these murals here, we’ll do this, that or the other’. It’s not a power thing—it’s seeing a good thing and being able to just do it”.

The cogs are in motion then. University will finally feel like university for the FHS’ 5,000-odd students. As little as most of us care about inter-disciplinary learning, the move will undoubtedly facilitate this, which is a good thing. I advise graded exposure to short-shorts and gym leggings so that the 2018 onslaught will not be as-confronting.

Cumbo’s a comin’!