ANU start day

Having a coffee before my first Earth sciences lecture, I watch some workman cutting up bike racks with a battery powered angle grinder and hacksaw. The sulphry burnt smell of the blade cutting through steel reminds me of dad’s workshop and the pipe saw, a strangely pleasant smoke I have inhaled since earliest memory, awash now in nostalgia. I remember that Dad (and uncle Tom) laid some of the concrete around Union Court back in the 70’s, as well as large areas of pavement and hot water conduits at the then Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra).

Later, crossing Sullivan’s creek on stepping stones I wonder how often my grandad (Andy Watt) tramped over those same stones. He ran the ANU maintenance office for many years, and dad has lots of stories of visits to the uni at odd times of night to fix broken drains and things. In once accident, someone had walked through a glass wall or door at Bruce Hall and the floor was awash with huge quantities of blood which had to be mopped up. He was friendly with the academics and was always amazed at their dedication, working late and through christmas day. He loved the equipment in the physics workshop particularly a huge lathe which came from the Krupps armaments factory after the war.

Grandad brought home all sorts of interesting things from the ANU, I think we have the original gates to Canberra house rusting out in the paddock at home, and a ladder and a solidly built hand cranked winch from the maintenance depot. Many of the poplars around the creek are a very late turning variety, surplus from some researchers breeding experiment, and many of the elms around the farm are ANU stock. Whenever I see the fish ponds at University house or the Chancellery I also think of Andy as he bred goldfish and we had lots of ponds with fish around the farm. In fact the last instruction he ever gave me was to make sure I remembered to feed the fish and clean their tank. I wonder if the fish at ANU are still Andy’s fish (we still have generations of his fish in the pond at home too).

Anyway I’m the first of us to come here as a student, and all this resonates with me now. Only the chances of time brought us here to do different things – in another 20 years I wonder if I would be able to get in on my slightly marginal high school scores, or if it would be at all affordable to do so. But I enjoyed the nice moment of continuity in familiar echoes – amongst a day of new things this morning – starting my BA/BSc degree.