Key 73: Middle Eastern, Indonesian and Oriental Studies: 1945; 1956; 1961; 1975 / International House 1956


As the war ended Australian interest in areas to the north and east, and cultures other than European, intensified and the influx of overseas students, the bulk of them from various parts of Asia and many of them assisted under the Colombo Plan, served to bring these areas even closer. Although no overseas student organisation was affiliated until 1956, the SRC was closely engaged with their welfare, as was much of the student body more generally.

Procession to publicize the International Fair, 1953
Procession to publicize the International Fair to raise funds for the construction of International House, 1953
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-2167]

One very concrete expression of this engagement was the establishment of International House in 1956 as a residential college of the University where Australian and overseas students (roughly half and half) could live and work together.

International House and student group, many of them Colombo Plan students, 1959
International House and student group, many of them Colombo Plan students, 1959
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-1228]

Many staff, most notably in Medicine, Agriculture and Engineering, and individuals in other departments were involved with overseas aid programs and the Arts faculty made concerted efforts to broaden the range of subjects offered and meet ‘The Challenge of Asia’ (as a 1960 report called it) within its limited means. It is a measure of wider community indifference to these endeavours that almost all of them were supported by private endowments and their existence was often precarious. In 1945 Maurice Goldman was appointed to the Lazarus and Abraham Sicree chair of Semitic Studies, succeeded by J Bowman.

Philosophy’s Professor A. Boyce Gibson's interest in Indian culture led to a Department of Indian Studies - made possible by an offer of support in 1959 by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in New Delhi, and the Spalding Trust in Oxford - headed by S. Ray from 1963.

In 1956 History sponsored a small department of Indonesian and Malaysian Studies headed by J.A.C. (Jamie) Mackie from 1958.

By 1960 a lecturer in Islamic studies was included in a renamed department of Middle Eastern Studies and a substantial gift from the Myer Foundation brought Harry F. Simon as foundation professor of Oriental Studies in 1961.

The departments concerned with South East Asian and East Asian languages, politics and culture were later merged.

Professor Harry F. Simon
Professor Harry F. Simon
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Media Photograph Collection, Photograph No 17524]