Life and Times of the University Of Newcastle’s Central Coast Campus

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional Aboriginal owners of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal Nation, Darkinung Nation, Biripai Nation, Worimi Nation, Wonnarua Nation and Eora Nation.


1800 – 1820

Ourimbah is Established – Pre University days- 1800s Establishment of the township of Ourimbah. The name of Ourimbah was universally adopted for the School, Post Office, Railway and Township in the late 1800s, as well as for Ourimbah Creek that skirts the north of the town. Note that the spelling on the parish map is Ourinbah, not Ourimbah.


The Sawmill Industry – Bob Brown’s Sawmill was one of many sawmills that dotted the Ourimbah landscape. The sawmill’s allotment is derived from the land grant of 2,000 acres made to Mary Ann Hall in 1844, at a time when timber getters were entering the Ourimbah Valley. In 1859, brothers in the timber industry, William and Edward Wamsley, purchased land to the east of the sawmills, and in 1870, Edward bought the 2,000 acres that had been Mary Ann Hall’s grant. Robert Brownlee leased Archibald Wamsley’s 15 acre site in August 1913. The mill was well established at that time. Brownlee emigrated from Scotland to New South Wales in 1884, having come from a sawmilling family. Robert’s brother William was the benchman at the mill, and another brother, John, carried logs by horse team from Ourimbah Creek 9km away.


The First Cricket Club – The first cricket club was started in 1858 by Lyall Scott at Ourimbah, the bat was made from blue gum and ironbark, and the ball from gutta percha pipes. The first match was between Ourimbah and Gosford in Harrison’s Paddock, and Gosford won by three wickets. The next match between the same teams was played at Frog Hollow, Gosford again winning. When Ourimbah met Gosford again on the same ground they defeated Gosford by several wickets. The games were generally played for the dinner. The reason all games were played at Gosford was on account of no suitable ground at Ourimbah. On the evening of each match dancing was indulged in and continued until the small hours of the morning after sunrise. The trip to Ourimbah was made on foot, but players were unaccompanied by their sweethearts, as like the sailor, they had one in every town they visited (History of Ourimbah Club, Ourimbah-Lisarow Cricket Club website, accessed 25 March 2021).

Blue Gum Flat Public School – Blue Gum Flat Public School (now Ourimbah Public School), built on the site of the current Railway Station. At the time of the school’s opening in 1863, schools were controlled by the Board of National Education. At the time in country districts, children only attended school for two to three years to aquire all the necessary information and skills to be well educated (Ourimbah Recollections, p26)


Ourimbah Post Office. Courtesy Heritage NSW.

A Post Office is Established – In 1870 the residence felt that the district warranted a Post Office. Edward Walmsley was building a shop across the road from the Blue Gum Flat Public School and offered it as a place from which the school teacher could operate a post office. In 1871 William Walmsley became Ourimbah’s first Post Master (Ourimbah: History of a New South Wales Timber Town to 1930, p33). The post office is listed on the State Heritage Inventory for its’ significant reflection of the development of community infrastructure in the region, with considerable aesthetic significance and is highly valued by the community (Heritage NSW, State Heritage Inventory, accessed 20 April 2021).

1885 – 1887

Construction of the Railway – Ourimbah during the construction of the railway line, circa 1885-1887.

1886 – 1887

Courtesy Central Coast Memories.

Ourimbah Railway Station – Ourimbah Railway Station was built in the same year as the relocation of the school and opened on 15 August 1887, and was the only station other than Narara between Gosford and Wyong at this time.


Ourimbah Public School – The former Blue Gum Flat Public School moved to the opposite side of the road (the current site of the railway station) and a wooden building was constructed.

Tall Timbers Hotel. Tall Timbers Hotel date unknown, possibly late 1800s early 1900s. Courtesy Central Coast Memories.

Tall Timbers Hotel – The Tall Timbers Hotel is the only remaining watering hole in Ourimbah, and has become a popular venue for locals in Ourimbah and the wider Central Coast region.

Bushman’s Inn – The Bushman’s Inn was located at Blue Gum Flat, situated at the southern end of the Ourimbah town centre. The Bushman’s Inn burnt down in 1950 (Ourimbah Collections, p53).


Courtesy Central Coast Memories.

Another Sawmill – McKenzie Sawmill was another sawmill that dotted the Ourimbah landscape.

View of Ourimbah with St Peter’s Church of England in the right foreground of the photo, circa 1909. Central Coast Memories.

View of Ourimbah, circa 1909 – A view of Ourimbah with St Peter’s Church of England in the right foreground of the photo, circa 1909.


John Beattie’s Royal Exchange Hotel, circa 1910.. Courtesy Central Coast Memories.

Royal Exchange Hotel – The Royal Exchange Hotel was owned by John Beattie and his family in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

E. D. Burns Store, circa 1910s. It operated as a general store. Courtesy Central Coast Memories.

F. D. Burns Store – The Burns Store operated as a general store from the late 1800s. The Store was located opposite the railway station and was the largest store in Ourimbah. The original building burnt down in 1916 and was rebuilt in 1917 (Ourimbah Collection, p62).


Ourimbah Local Sporting Clubs – It is unclear when the Ourimbah Rugby League Club was established in Ourimbah, but likely to be in the late 1800s or very early 1900s.

1914 – 1918

The First World War –  Ourimbah, like most towns across New South Wales and Australia answered the call for King and Country by enlisting in the First Australian Imperial Force. The Ourimbah Light Horse Troop was part of the First Light Horse Regiment. It came to Ourimbah in 1929 after re-organisation of Light Horse Regiments in NSW. In 1936 another re-organisation of the Regiment occured, coverting them to motorised Machine Gun Regiments. The Ourimbah Troop lost their horses and became Vickers Machine Gunners, mounted to trucks. The new name of the Regiment was the First Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment (Royal NSW Lancers)(Ourimbah Collections, p88).

1919 – 1920

Remembering the Ourimbah Soldiers of the First World War – The memorial consists of a large beam resting on two stone pillars to form an arch. The dates 1914 and 1918 appear on the north face of the beam. On the north face of each pillar is a plaque inscribed with a list of those from the area who served in the First World War. At the top of each plaque is the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) emblem. The original scrolls were unveiled in a ceremony on Sunday, 19 November 1922. The plaques mounted on the pillars were unveiled on Sunday, 1 May 1938, at which time Anzac Day was also commemorated. The honour of performing the unveiling was given to Mr L.A. Robb, C.M.G., State President, Returned Soldiers’ League (Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 2 May 1938). The memorial is located south of the Ourimbah train station entrance, and adjacent to the north side of the Pacific Highway (accessed 13 April 2021; Ourimbah First World War Memorial Arch | NSW War Memorials Register)

Coffee Palace was run by Mrs A.J. Jones in the early 1920s. It burnt down around 1926. Courtesy Central Coast Memories.

Ourimbah’s First Café – Coffee Palace was run by Mrs A.J. Jones in the early 1920s. It burnt down around 1926.


Modernisation of the Tall Timbers Hotel – Things had certainly changed since the Tall Timbers Hotel was orginally built in the late 1800s.


Tall Timbers Hotel, circa 1950s. Bullock team and Bullocky outside Tall Timbers Hotel. Courtesy Central Coast Memories.


More modernisation of the Tall Timbers Hotel – By 1973, cars had changed and the main road, Pacific Highway had been sealed. Even the change of electricity is noticeable. It also appears that the hotel had been extend since the 1950s, at least on the southern end of the building.


View of Ourimbah, 1978 – Pacific Highway looking south to St. Peter’s Church of England in 1978. The Rev. Alfred Glennie was the Rector for St. Peter’s between 1850 and 1865, and had a parish that covered Gosford, Kincumber, Erina, Blue Gum Flats, Woy Woy, Wyong, Mangrove Creek, Yarramalong, Cooranbong, St. Albans, and Wisemans Ferry (Ourimbah Collections, p82). On the 9th December 1959, St. Peter’s celebrated its Golden Jubilee (Ourimbah Collections, p83). Between 1975 and 1994, St Peter’s Church along with All Saints Narara and St John’s Lisarow were either sold or demolished. The Church of England or Anglican congregation in Ourimbah now worship at Holy Family Wyoming (History – Wyomging Anglican, accessed 7 April 2021).


Tertiary Education Invades Ourimbah – The 1980s brought considerable change to The University of Newcastle, with internal restructure and expansion to other sites. With the ongoing discussions of amalgamation through the Federal Government, simultaneously the New South Wales Government developed the notion of networking its tertiary education institutions and had in the early 1970s purchased approximately 80 hectares of bushland at Ourimbah. As a result of the State Governments notion, the University of Newcastle, in co-operation with TAFE. Though the introduction of postgraduate studies and the Open Foundation Course had occurred in the early 1980s, it was not until 1989 that work began on the University campus with the Commonwealth giving seeding funds for the new Central Coast campus (Looking Forward: A History of the University of Newcastle, p ). Early days on campus required a pioneer attitude with only plathways between classrooms, but not from the carpark to the classrooms (Ourimbah Collections, p.127).

Central Coast Campus during pre-construction –  By the mid to late 1980s, construction had commenced on the site that was to become the Central Coast Campus of the University of Newcastle. In September 1990, Tony Corkill Architects and David Wilson from the Government Architect’s office were appointed as joint Campus Master Planners for the Ourimbah precinct . In 1991, a Development Application was submitted to Wyong Council for building and site works at the campus (Ourimbah Collection, pp127-8). There was a four stage building plan developed for construction between 1993 and 2005 (Ourimbah Collections, p128). Over the many early years of the campus, degrees and other courses on offer also grew with the physical development of the campus.


Newcastle College of Advance Education – Report to the Principle  The Instructional Project Committee of the Newcastle College of Advance Education at the University of Newcastle were charged with investigating the feasibility of established a higher education learning centre on the Central Coast in cooperation with the university. Out of the report, the committee recommendations involved that the university use land that the Higher Education Board owned at Ourimbah for the establishment of a Central Coast Campus, a joint venture in course offerings between the University of Newcastle and Kuringai CAE, the establishment of an “electronic classroom” for the delivery of courses across multiple sites, and the provision of external support services from various NSW Institutions (Eastcott and Carter Papers, UON Archives B14225).


Letter from the NSW Higher Education Board – As a result of a Higher Education Board survey taken following a meeting on 17 March 1987, a decision was taken that the Ourimbah site should be managed by a single entity for the planning and early development of higher education at the site, including a consortium of the Newcastle College of Advanced Education and The University of Newcastle be given first opportunity to fill the “parenting role” (Eastcott and Carter Papers, UON Archives B14225).

Letter from Vice-Chancellor Morgan to Mr Perry – A letter from The University of Newcastle’s Vice-Chancellor on 2 September 1987 acknowledged the invitation for the Newcastle College of Advanced Education and The University of Newcastle to be the joint single manager of the Ourimbah site as a higher education precinct, of which the both were happy to accept (Eastcott and Carter Papers, UON Archive B14225).

Central Coast Tertiary College Action Committee –  It was noted in a letter to NSW Premier Barry Unsworth of the high necessity of a higher education facility on the Central Coast for a number of reasons; 1. the population in the area at that time was about 212,000 making it the largest group in Australia without access to localised higher education facilities; 2. that as a result of a survey taken in 1987 approximately 1,600 of students attending one of the 14 universities and colleges of advance education in NSW listed the Central Coast as their home address, resulting in students to travel extensive hours or study under difficulty as external students or live away from home, and that the importance of a higher education facility on the Central Coast would help to eliminate many potential students being lost to higher education (Eastcott and Carter Papers, UON Archive B14225).


First Turning of the Soil Ceremony -13 March 1989, University of Newcastle’s Vice-Chancellor KJ Morgan accepted an invitation to attend the First Turning of the Soil Ceremony at Ourimbah, remarking “This public demonstration of the new developments in tertiary education on the Central Coast and the establishment there of a new campus of the University of Newcastle is an occasion of some significance.” On 22 March 1989 at 8:55 am on the corner of Brush Road (now Shirley Street) and Ourimbah Street (opposite the Ourimbah Oval) the First Turning of the Soil Ceremony, marking the commencement of the Ourimbah College of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and the Central Coast Campus of The University of Newcastle took place (Eastcott and Carter Papers, UON Archive B14225).

Classes Commence – The first classes commenced 19 July 1989 using three demountable buildings owned by the Community College and the existing brick cottages on site.


First Student Cohort – First group of students commenced studies at the Central Coast Campus on 19 July 1989.

First Campus Warden – Associate Professor Michael Ewan was appointed Warden of the Central Coast in October 1989. He was also Co-ordinator of Humanities, and much of the interdisciplinary academic focus that subsequently developed derives from his vision (Central Coast Campus: A Pictorial History, p1.

First Campus Staff – Some of the Campus staff in 1990, Dale Miller, Rob Nuesink, Elaine McRae, Sandra Delaney, Ingrid Feather, Michael Ewans and Cliff Ellyett.

Frank Lowy Donates to UoNCCC – In a letter from Frank Lowy, dated 28 September 1990, owner of Westfield Holdings to Mr John Dawson, Shire Clerk of Wyong Shire Council, Mr Lowy was pleased to advise that Westfield Holdings would donate the sum of $100,000 over the next five years (1991-1995) in the establishment of the University Campus on the Central Coast, and remarked of the enormous benefit a University Campus would be in helping to realise the potential of the Central Coast area (Eastcott and Carter Papers, UON Archive B14225).

Letter from Acting Vice-Chancellor Prof. Carter to Mr Daniels -At a meeting in late October, Professor Carter advised those in attendance of the University of Newcastle’s enthusiastic role in responding to the demand for higher education on the Central Coast. Professor Carter, further in his letter to Mr Daniels emphasised that the University of Newcastle would not commit any further resources to the Central Coast past 1992, if the Federal and State governments did not commit resources to the venture as part of a long-term plan, and that the university would review its involvement beyond 1992. The letter from Professor Carter to Mr Daniels was also copied to the relevant Federal and State Ministers.


First Graduation of the Campus – The First Student Graduation from the Central Coast Campus was in 1993. The initial graduating class graduated in a ceremony held at the Callaghan campus of the University. The graduates were from Business and Education.


Growing the Campus – During 1994, further construction occurred at the Central Coast Campus, giving an impression of what the campus looks like today.


The Campus Officially Makes Its Mark -On September 1st, 1995 the official opening of the Central Coast Campus took place, nearly six years after the campus commenced operations. The campus was officially opened by the Governor-General, His Excellency the Honourable William (Bill) Hayden, AC; and was accompanied Chancellor Ric Charlton; the Hon. Michael Lee; the Hon. John Aquilina; Gaye Hart; Professor Raoul Mortley; Ron Diplock; Professor L R Eastcott; the Most Reverend Bishop Patrick Murphy (Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay); Wyong mayor, Councillor Tony Sheridan.


Continued Growth – Lecture Theatres and Beyond – A university and its campuses are a forever changing environment, not only in the physical buildings but the ever changing world of academia.


Ground Floor of the Ourimbah Campus Library
Students hard at work in the Central Coast Campus Library, 1995.


Open Day 1996 -Open days are a common practice at universities in the lead-up to the commencement of semester. Its’ an opportunity for future students to enquire about degrees and other courses on offer, and what university life can be.

The Friendly Student Guide -Student Guides are an introduction guide to university life for commencing students. They cover everything from academic integrity, student code of conduct, polices and many other aspects that students need to familiarise themselves with while studying at university. There have been countless student guides over The University of Newcastle life.


Commencement Ceremony – A university Commencement Ceremony occurs annually at the beginning of each academic year, a formal recognition of a new year in the academic life of the university and its’ campus.


Open Day 1998 – Open days are a common practice at universities in the lead-up to the commencement of semester. Its’ an opportunity for future students to enquire about degrees and other courses on offer, and what university life can be.

First On-Campus Graduation – The first on campus graduation ceremony at the Central Coast campus occurred in April 1998. Since then, graduations have been held on campus and quickly became an important part of the yearly ceremonial of campus and university life.

First On-Campus Graduation – The presentation of testamurs is the alternate achievement in a university student’s academic life.

First PhD Graduate – Dr Granville Pillar was the first PhD graduate from the Central Coast campus with a thesis in the field of applied linguistics.

Christmas On Campus – While a university and its’ campuses are a place of academic learning, there is still time for everyone to have some down time. Here staff let their hair down at the Christmas party in 1998 held in the baronial Building and Construction facility.


The Graduations Keep On Coming – Tossing one’s cap following the awarding of a degree at the Graduation Ceremony is not only a tradition, but a rite of passage.


A New Century And A New Academic Year – Commencement Ceremony 2000 -Not even the Y2K bug that threatened the world could impact a new century and new academic year at the Campus.

Open Day 2000 – Open days are a common practice at universities in the lead-up to the commencement of semester. Its’ an opportunity for future students to enquire about degrees and other courses on offer, and what university life can be.

Commencement Ceremony 2001 -A university Commencement Ceremony occurs annually at the beginning of each academic year, a formal recognition of a new year in the academic life of the university and its’ campus. Nothing has changed since the first Commencement Ceremony occurred on Campus, even in a new century.


Open Day 2002 -Open days are a common practice at universities in the lead-up to the commencement of semester. Its’ an opportunity for future students to enquire about degrees and other courses on offer, and what university life can be.


Formalities of the Graduation Ceremony -Graduation Ceremony books are not just a formality of the ceremony. They are an historic record of the graduation ceremony and an important memory and keep-sake for the graduations whose names appear in them.


25th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Central Coast Campus – Jane McWilliam Interview – To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the University of Newcastle (UON) Central Coast delivering education excellence, and helping to transform the futures of the region’s residents through higher education, is the aim of the Showcasing Student Success series. Through a weekly conversation with one of the profiled alumni, the ABC Central Coast is helping to share the inspirational stories of the profiled alumni, who together with the more than 11,600 graduates of the UON Central Coast, have used higher education as a catalyst to transform their lives for the better.


Impact of COVID19 -COVID19 had a profound impact on the University Of Newcastle across all it’s campus. Online remote teaching and learning became the norm for semester 1. Semester 2 saw some face-to-face normality return, but online remote learn still remained for some.


To The Future and Beyond…… – What is in stall for the next 30 plus years for the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast Campus? Only time will tell.

Jeffrey Freeman
Work Integrated Learning student
School of Humanities and Social Science
University of Newcastle (Australia)


One thought on “Life and Times of the University Of Newcastle’s Central Coast Campus

  1. The photo of Blue Gum Flat Public School (1863 – 1887 name change to Ourimbah) shows a slab hut in the background. It is possible this may have been the 1863 first school building as under the National Schools system the community had to raise 50% of the cost of establishing the school. Many of these including two of the first four schools in NSW in 1848 were slab huts, one at Largs and the other at Hinton Public Schools.

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