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Eddy, William Henry Charles (Harry) (1913–1973)

by Lorraine Barlow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

William Henry Charles (Harry) Eddy (1913-1973), educationist, was born on 15 September 1913 at Maryborough, Queensland, son of native-born parents William Eddy, blacksmith, and his wife Dorothy, née Bower. Harry moved with his family to Newcastle when he was 6 and remained proud of being a Novocastrian. Educated at Newcastle (Boys') High School, he entered Moore Theological College and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1934; M.A., 1936) with the intention of becoming a priest of the Church of England. While studying philosophy—'to discover proofs of God's existence'—he was deeply influenced by Professor John Anderson. After an intense personal struggle, Eddy abandoned his religious vocation and adopted Anderson's atheistic philosophy. Graduating during the Depression with first-class honours in philosophy, he found work tutoring in the Newcastle district.

In 1936 Eddy took up a scholarship at Teachers' College, Sydney (Dip.Ed., 1938). At the district registrar's office, North Sydney, on 14 May 1938 he married Madge Leonie Chick, a fellow schoolteacher. Eddy taught at high schools at Liverpool and Randwick until 1945 when he was appointed senior staff tutor of the university's Department of Tutorial Classes at Newcastle. His dual role of adult education teacher and council-member of the Workers' Educational Association of New South Wales continued until his death. For ten years Eddy was active in the intellectual and cultural life of the Newcastle district. He reinvigorated the adult education movement, helped to ensure some measure of financial independence for the W.E.A., founded the Newcastle branch of the Australasian Association of Psychology and Philosophy (later State president), worked for the establishment of the city's cultural centre and headed a campaign for an autonomous university of Newcastle.

Elected president of the W.E.A. in 1954, Eddy moved to Sydney next year as senior lecturer in philosophy with the Department of Tutorial Classes at the University of Sydney. He was co-founder and first president of the Sydney Philosophy Club, and a member of the editorial committee of the Current Affairs Bulletin for twenty years. A staunch anti-communist, he studied Marxist theory and practice in order to refute them, and wrote several lengthy articles on the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

While Eddy published many articles on adult education, current affairs and politics, his major and most widely known work, Orr (1961), was a long and detailed analysis of Sydney Sparkes Orr's dismissal from the chair of philosophy at the University of Tasmania. Eddy's involvement stemmed from his belief that Orr's sacking posed a threat to the freedom of academic institutions. He soon became personally acquainted with Orr who, in 1961, took refuge with Eddy in his family home at Henley. The book, written in close collaboration with Orr, made the issue a cause célèbre. Angus (Lord) Maude, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, commented: 'Mr Eddy says that he has tried hard to set down facts objectively and dispassionately. It must be said that he has not succeeded'. Yet Eddy's version became commonly accepted. Thirty-two years were to pass before a revisionist account of the case was published.

Eddy was content to remain an orthodox Andersonian. A scholar and activist, he had a temperament which required a system of beliefs that satisfied his intellect and enabled him to work for the improvement of society. Throughout his career at the university he fought to preserve classical liberal studies as the focus of adult education. He had an excellent reputation as a tutor and devised methods for encouraging students to do written work. Eddy was a dominating figure in adult education for almost three decades. His Andersonian ideas on the character and requirements of liberal education had a profound influence on the W.E.A. which provided the organizational structure through which he channelled his missionary zeal for liberal democracy.

Physically a big man, with a forceful mind and personality to match, Eddy made an impact on all who met him. Although his vigorous intellectual style antagonized many, his friends found him warm, courteous and loyal, with a sense of fun. Driven by a concept of duty, he worked excessively and rarely took holidays. His main form of relaxation was canoeing on the Parramatta River near his home. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease on 9 December 1973 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • O. Harries (ed), Liberty and Politics (Syd, 1976)
  • C. Pybus, Gross Moral Turpitude (Melb, 1993)
  • Quadrant, Feb 1974, p 72
  • W.E.A. News, Mar 1974, p 1
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 24 Apr 1950, 16 July 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1961
  • C. F. Bentley and W. H. C. Eddy, International Biography on Adult Education (typescript, privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lorraine Barlow, 'Eddy, William Henry Charles (Harry) (1913–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/eddy-william-henry-charles-harry-10094/text17813, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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