From the very beginning, philanthropy has played a crucial role at the University of Wollongong.
The University was founded on the donations of people from the Illawarra and South Coast – from industry and business to community groups, social clubs and private citizens – all of whom shared a vision of a brighter future for the region.
On Thursday 15 November, Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE hosted an afternoon tea on the Duck Pond Lawn to celebrate the many donors, past and present, who have made valuable contributions to the University through their philanthropy.
The celebration included the commemorative unveiling of the sculpture “Genesis” by Gaby Porter, generously donated to the University of Wollongong Art Collection by the artist.
The event marks the 40th anniversary of the unveiling of the Founding Donors Memorial Bench in 1978. The Memorial Bench pays tribute to the people and organisations whose donations led to the establishment in 1961 of Wollongong University College, which in 1975 became the University of Wollongong.
Many of the region’s leading industries made generous contributions to the cause, with large companies like BHP, Lysaghts, Australian Iron & Steel, the Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co, and Metal Manufactures raising a collective £138,000 (the equivalent of almost $4 million in today’s terms) to establish the College.
But it wasn’t just the big end of town who recognised the value of Wollongong having its own university campus.
A Mayoral Appeal Fund for the University College showed the depth and breadth of community support. It drew donations from individuals, school parents and citizens associations, service clubs, the Country Women’s Association, trade unions, businesses large and small, a mothers’ group and a hairdressing salon, among others, and raised £50,000 (the equivalent of $1.4 million today).
Professor Paul Wellings said philanthropy is and always has been the backbone of the University.
“The University of Wollongong was founded by a philanthropic vision. It was a vision that inspired hundreds of residents and businesses to become founding donors,” Professor Wellings said.
“Every student who has studied at UOW, every staff member who has worked here, every researcher who has sought solutions to important issues has benefitted from philanthropy.
“If the founding donors were here today, they may not recognise some aspects of the University. We have grown from a provincial feeder college of 300 students to an international university of more than 34,000 students with two campuses in Wollongong, three in Sydney, four in the South Coast and Southern Highlands and four overseas locations.
“I am certain, however, that they would be proud to see that we are still guided by that founding vision of seeking new ways for a better future.”
One those Founding Donors was leading Illawarra law firm Russell McLelland Brown Lawyers (now RMB Lawyers). Like many of the founding donors, it has maintained its philanthropic relationship with the University.
RMB Lawyers managing partner Mr Craig Osborne spoke at the event on behalf of all founding donors.
“I am very proud that my forebears at Russell McLelland Brown Lawyers were one of the many founding donors in 1959 whose efforts led to the establishment of the Wollongong University College in 1961, and of the University of Wollongong under its own council in 1975,” Mr Osborne said.
“The founding donors saw what a university might mean to our city and what it might become. UOW is now a world-renowned international university. It has exceeded the expectations and visions of its founding donors.
“Like so many other donors we choose to continue to donate to the University. We do so because it is able to drive our philanthropic dollar much further than we could alone. And it can do this through so many avenues, including its UOW Global Challenges program, its major research facilities and its ongoing continuous drive to change the world for the better.”