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It used to be we talked about weather, car parking and the price of milk. Now there is little chance of avoiding the pandemic; multiple waves, vaccines and the challenges of lockdown versus herd immunity approaches. News of family and friends, both near and far, is precious – but deeply challenging when their wellbeing is being challenged by infection, mental heath issues and extraordinary work/life pressures. These are the daily narratives which demand our attention. Even at UNE the shared stories of staff, students and families often paints a grim picture, but also highlights the amazing resilience and generosity of our communities.
Celebrating UNE Life Clubs & Society Students of 2020
Congratulations to our student cohort have passionately demonstrated how they add to the student experience. Given the right resources and assistance, they shine with incredible agility and strength even in the toughest of times. See some of their 2020 highlights here.
I met with a group of our students this week; one of my first physical engagements in a long time. We all managed the event well and they gave me a lot to think about. Similarly, a lot of one on one catch ups with staff provided another view of the local terrain and the issues that people are concerned about. As ever I gain so much from their willingness to bring ideas to the table and share in the problem solving.  The more the merrier.

It has also been a week rich in discussions and updates about various projects which are running (including the Boilerhouse, the design of the UNE 21+ digital site, UNE Tamworth, UNE Taree, UNE Solar Farm and the development of Yarm Gwanga – to name but a few). Despite the continuing and unfolding pressures of distributed and remote working, each team is progressing so very well and developing new ways of working. The latter is a conversation which is boiling up and over, as the reality of waiting for vaccines and managing ‘place’ converge – we are all cogitating on the design and utility of our various functions and how to progress in a world now governed by 2 or 4 metre engagement squares and an onomatopoeic digital tool kit.

With our best problem-solving hats on, we managed to roll out the Earle Page Politics Lecture with both real and virtual attendees this week. An honoured UNE alumnus, Chris Bowen MP (Shadow Minster for Health) reflected on his time as a student (in Indonesia!), as well as addressing questions about community and health in a COVID affected society. The breadth of his discourse and engagement were very impressive – we expected no less. The fact that Earle Page’s granddaughter joined the event as a virtual guest made it extra special. 

Community and engagement also figured in discussions about the development of the UNE Smart Region Incubator as we consider options to extend out in Armidale and the wider development of UNE Connect as a brand and function to enhance our wider business development options. Building the entrepreneurial muscle of UNE and supporting the wider community in this domain must be a key part of our evolving Town with Gown agenda. 

In the space between all of this, I have played my part in proofreading documents (again!) and trying to get vast amounts of information and data formatted for public use as part of the Time for Change warehouse. The progress of Time for Change is a key part of our future success, as well as a moment to reflect in various ways around how far we have traveled as a University. It is very easy to focus on the problems which beset us but that diminishes the great things UNE has, and will, achieve. Equally, I am very aware that the burden of change falls on the shoulders of our staff and that organising a wider range of support mechanisms is important especially when unplanned delays slow down or impede our ability to move things forward. Yet again colleagues from across UNE have stepped up and are offering their support and guidance in so many different ways and focusing on the needs of their colleagues.

Looking back to enable going forwards has been a bit of a theme this week. For those of a certain age, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ was a musical stepping stone. Its resurgence as a Tok Tik favorite to entertain a new generation of music lovers has been very enjoyable.

Another musical prompt is afforded by the recent award of an Honorary Doctorate to Don Walker. In 1974 the newly formed band Cold Chisel jumped into a van to drive from Adelaide to Armidale so that Don could progress his honours’ year in quantum physics at UNE. Apparently, they lived in shack/house at Kentucky – rehearsing while studying for the whole year. Thanks to my new music advisory team, I can report that the song Flame Trees is one of the iconic Cold Chisel songs of the late seventies and early eighties – it has also been brought back into popular culture at various times with covers (by a school choir) in the indie film Little Fish and more recently by artists Sarah Blasko and Jessica Mauboy. It was apparently inspired by Don returning to visit his home town of Grafton (which is well known for its Jacarandas). 

Enjoy your weekend, stay safe and stay well.