UTS Celebrates Neville Quarry: Speech by Graham Jahn AM

11 August 2015

On Tuesday 28 July 2015, UTS friends and alumni gathered to celebrate the life and achievements of Professor Neville Quarry. As Dean and Professor of Architecture, Neville spent more than 20 years at UTS, where his vision, leadership and experience had a lasting influence on many of Australia’s leading architects and planners.

Renowned for his compelling vision for Australian architecture and his global awareness, he became a passionate advocate for the importance of travel and international exposure as part of a student’s education.

During the event, one of Neville’s former students, Graham Jahn AM, spoke warmly of the man, the architect and the educator who so significantly influenced his studies and career.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge the faculty and Professor Desley Luscombe for her tireless work in bringing this travel scholarship to fruition for the students of UTS in memory of Neville Quarry.

Neville was the first architecture Head of School of what I would term ‘the modern era’ at UTS.

His academic contribution is relatively well-known to my generation of graduates but alas that was long ago, well at least for me.

He ran the International Series of talks which brought an array of overseas architects to a far flung audience. But memories can fade as generations change.

To give you a sense of his regard – Neville is one of only two academics to ever receive the RAIA Gold Medal – the other being the first medal recipient, Professor Leslie Wilkinson.

Neville was also the only Australian academic to receive the international UIA Medal for Education and on these occasions, and the occasion of his passing, friends and colleagues gave oral and written testimony to Neville’s qualities and influence.

His own trajectory from the 1960s Melbourne architecture scene to Sydney via half a decade running a remote architecture school in Papua New Guinea was like a space probe catapulted around the moon.

As a first year student in Burton Street Building 5, now part of the National Art School, I met Neville as the new head of the fleetingly named Department of Architecture at the NSW Institute of Technology.

It was the year after he and his wife Peg pulled out of the Lae jungle followed by his Melbourne comrade, Adrian Boddy – who are both here tonight.

To make his mark, he made himself an ex-officio member of all design review panels – he would casually stroll into any design review session under way. In those reviews, ideas and responses were soon more important than proportion and technique.

An endearing yet motley band of lecturers – the likes of Don Woods, Ken Madden, Kevin Gallagher, Jack Greenland, Doug Terry, Michael Davies, Martyn Chapman and of course Adrian, would engage with their students through customary tuition, intuition, questioning or even inquisition.

Neville would usually come late, observe proceedings from the side and then offer what often became the concluding remark, maybe something like…

“Well… I think that what you just said is.…” and this could continue with words like ‘clear’ ‘has insight’ ‘is in juxtaposition’ or on occasion ‘is e.x.t.r.a.o.r.d.i.n.a.r.y’.

And maybe one occasion I recall it was:

“Well, I think that what you just said is… just simply… bullshit!” – and methodically explain why.

At this point there was little more to say – time to move on to the next candidate.

This was the exception, but not the candour. His influence promoted a more urbane, cultural and conversational overlay to what was a work-and-learn education.

He brought an international consciousness and a get-on-with-it enthusiasm.

In saying this, I am looking back 35 years at this new type of professor.

He was formal in mind yet informal in character; an enthusiastic critic but not one-sided, unless in later years it was his beloved Swans – in which case there were simply no other sides. Such was the religion.

He was a commentator but not an ideologue; a charming challenger with stamina.

But it was always a challenge with humour, a laugh and a smile. To many, it mattered what he thought, including me.
And perhaps, relevantly for tonight, he travelled and made others travel, one way or another.

So that is a long winded way of saying what my wife neatly summed this week as… “Yes I remember him… he was a good bloke”.

These recollections were the transitioning years of the long-established yet respected Sydney Technical College merging into the formative years of this university.

It is possibly that the very first classes in architecture by any public institution in Australia were given in 1878 to 23 eager students at the new Sydney Technical College by the City of Sydney Council’s - City Architect, William Sapsford.

And just on this digression, it is an obvious parallel that the most famous travelling scholarship for NSW architect graduates to date, the Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship, also honours the architect Byera Hadley one time lecturer-in-charge at the same Sydney Technical College in Ultimo.

Like Neville, Byera was an influencer and a shaper, but in contrast, a recluse. He prepared the Sydney Technical College architecture course in 1920, to very likely be the first course officially recognised under any Architects Registration Act in Australia.

And this Byera travelling scholarship which I was lucky enough to receive at 23, most probably changed my life… for the better.

So in conclusion, it makes perfect sense for this new travel scholarship to help propel UTS students to conduct a program of work or research abroad and in doing so honour the memory of Neville Quarry.

It will reinforce the importance of a global perspective, of an enquiring mind, of an outward rather than inward focus and the importance of design and creativity in resolving our ever more urbanised existence.

Graham Jahn AM
28 July 2015