The Bankstown campus was originally Department of Education land, part of which was the original Milperra Public School, and part of which were market gardens. For some time, the gardening staff (Neil Walker and Ken Hardy) worked to level out the site, and rid it of house foundations and garden beds. The gardens later won regional gardening awards for the site’s floral displays, particularly for the beds of roses and pansies. In 1973, the Bull Swanson Report commissioned by Gough Whitlam’s new government recommended the extension of higher education offerings into the Southwest.
The apparent continuing need for teacher education led NSW government to agree to Federal funding for a new College of Advanced Education (CAE) in the area. The first principal, Ian Smith, had been head of teacher education in the Department before the formation of the CAEs, and he gathered around him a team of experienced staff, mainly from the old teachers colleges to teach the initial intake of 270 students. The brick primary school building on Bullecourt Ave was converted into administration and staff offices. Until the general purpose Building 1 was opened in 1976 to cater for expanded student numbers, much of the teaching was done in the demountables, old school rooms and even out under the trees. Rapid Public Works construction left much to be fitted out, often on a ‘do it yourself’ basis by staff. Staff on-site at the time, however, report that the connected central building block — originally built around a central courtyard -- produced a close sense of community. It’s long, common fascia was painted in the MCAE colours, ‘buttercup and chocolate’ (or yellow and brown, depending on one’s aesthetics), while in less OH&S conscious days children (on school holiday) could be spied running along the outside ledges of the upper storey.
Original plans were to grow a teachers college of close to 2,500 students. Almost immediately, however, NSW Department of Education modelling projected an oversupply of teachers with the peak of the baby boom, throwing the future of the College into doubt. Staff scrambled to find alternative student intakes, pushing the College to introduce liberal arts (Des Crawley), social welfare (Frank Hayes) and the like, to the original teacher education program under Doug McNally. This changed the demand on the built structure, causing internal structures to be extensively refitted. These changes became yet sharper when the campus was absorbed into UWS in 1989 – there was no longer the time in a standard university program for the extensive practical elements which had informed the teaching and other professional programs. This eventually meant the phasing out of the large, dedicated practical areas which had developed under Des Crawley’s oversight as Dean – the pottery kilns, photography, and some of the specialised artistic centres. A specialised art gallery was later built along the western side of the campus’s major open space, catering for the some of the large numbers of local school students who came to the campus for exhibitions. As some of the only dedicated artistic space in the LGA, the closure of the arts on the Bankstown campus was felt sharply by some locals.
For some time the campus’ future fell under doubt because of parking and development restrictions. With the extension of the M5 Motorway, however, Bankstown was suddenly closer to the CBD than it had practically been, making it a campus of first choice in a way not previously the case. A primary concern after 1989 was the level of library underservicing on the site. With only 350 square metres available for student use, Milperra catered for only 25% of the carrel space needed for existing student numbers. A new Library extension was thus essential (and built onto Building 1), as was room for Psychology. Unfortunately, the lecture hall originally designed was still not complete at the opening of the College, and first lectures were held in a ‘circus tent’. The last inhabitants of the demountables were the print shop and a space for Aboriginal students (who derisively called the space ‘the mission’). Of the original Milperra CAE refitted buildings, one long, thin building -- which made staff feel they were like horses in stalls -- quickly drew the name ‘The Stables’, while another received the title ‘The Swamp’, due to its tendency to draw moisture and elicit asthmatic responses from staff. The top of the stairs in Building 1 (west), housed the offices of the Dean of Education, surrounded by some of the longer-serving staff: naturally, it became known as ‘The Citadel’. A long, skinny staff room in Building 1 became the effective ‘clock on’ location – morning tea after January holidays marked the beginning of the year’s cycle, in the days when staff shared a common timetable and could still all meet in the same room.
Later developments included a student bar (now Building 19), a sports hall (Building 2), and staff offices (Building 4, constructed in the 1990s). With the extension of Business and Marketing onto the campus in the 2000s; however, the sports hall was retasked as lecture space, while student control of facilities collapsed in the run-up to the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism in 2005. The presence of Complementary Medicine on the campus led to the decorative architecture of the pathway down from P7. Due to the desire not to exacerbate complaints from local residents, the demand for student residences was satisfied by the ‘14B’ developments along Ashford Ave. Traffic, parking and the growth of student numbers remained a perpetual problem on the site. Bounded by the unmovable presence of roads and the Mount Saint Joseph Girls School (founded in 1960), the only available development land now lies on the sporting fields, and in the nature reserve on the corner of Bullecourt Ave and Horsley Road. Long the site of staff BBQs, it was kept in the knowledge that it was one of the few remaining stands of native vegetation in the area. Though problematic for campus security, it remains a memory marker for the Cumberland Plain was it once was.