Horne and Sherington have produced a solidly researched and often affectionate portrait of Australia’s first university, the University of Sydney. William Charles Wentworth, one of its founders, hoped that anyone, irrespective of faith or race, could enter the university. That aspiration took some time to achieve, but the history of the University of Sydney reflects how an institution began to open its doors to a more diverse student population; the admission of women was probably the first breakthrough in that regard. Although an institutional history, it is clear from this book that the university saw itself as more than an institution: it was a community. The nature of that community expanded and changed over time and sometimes this community became involved in public matters outside its cloistered halls. The reach of the university to the general community included public lectures, a role in raising education standards, broadening curriculum and in the education of women. The university as a community is also reflected in the analysis of its various clubs and societies: men’s sporting clubs, which seemed impervious to change; debating, religious and political societies; and women’s societies, where decorous afternoon teas gave way to questioning the status of women and political activism.
This book is more than simply a history of an institution which existed as an enclosed, perhaps privileged, community. The University of Sydney produced leaders in worlds as diverse as politics, law and the arts; became involved with the broader community; and had its internal troubles and dissensions. In this sense, this history is a microcosm of the changing role of, and expectations placed upon, the nation’s public universities since their foundation. Roderic Campbell’s photographic texts capture, in images and extended captions, the changing life of the university, neatly rounding out the book.