Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Newling, Cecil Bede (1883–1975)

by L. A. Gilbert

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Cecil Bede Newling (1883-1975), educationist, was born on 12 July 1883 at Pyrmont, Sydney, eldest of seven children of Arthur John Newling, London-born pharmacist, and his native-born wife Emma Annie, née Day, schoolteacher. He attended public schools at Pyrmont, Leichhardt, Hamilton and Neutral Bay, where in 1898 S. H. Smith was headmaster.

Newling was appointed a pupil-teacher on probation at Albion Street Public School in February 1899. Next year he was transferred to North St Leonards and in 1900-03 took examinations, with mixed results, to earn progressive classifications. He enrolled at Fort Street Training School, with parental help, in January 1904. Despite admiration for individual mentors such as 'the phenomenal J. D. St Clair Maclardy' and P. R. Cole, Newling recorded that life at the school 'rumbled along in the old time university manner, uneventful and dry as dust', while trenchant critics such as Professor (Sir) Francis Anderson attacked the whole system of teacher training.

After six months at St Leonards, in August 1905 Newling was transferred to Fort Street, thence to Blackfriars in March 1906. He undertook evening studies in science at Sydney Technical College, before moving to Adelong in March 1908. There he married with Methodist forms Violet ('Lassie') Molineaux (d.1983) on 18 December 1912. Other appointments followed: Moree (1912), Tamworth (1917), Fort Street Boys' High School (1919), Cootamundra as headmaster (1923), and inspector at Broken Hill (1925) and Yass-Canberra (1927). In March 1919 Newling had enrolled as an evening student at the University of Sydney; he twice graduated with first-class honours in history: B.A. with the Wood prize and University medal in 1923 and, after winning the Venour Nathan prize, M.A. 1925. That year he published an article 'Gold-Diggers' in the Royal Australian Historical Society Journal.

The crowning point of Newling's career was his appointment, after confidential consultations with Smith, now director of education, and D. H. Drummond, as foundation principal of Teachers' College, Armidale, on 1 February 1928. Brisk and energetic, Newling established and administered this first country college with determined efficiency, inspecting sites for buildings, arranging temporary accommodation, ordering equipment, settling the curriculum, and encouraging the head-gardener Frederick Dye to make the grounds a showplace. Despite strongly held opinions of his own on teacher training, he went overseas for a year in 1936 'to view teachers' colleges elsewhere'.

A rather stocky man with a forthright manner, twinkling brown eyes and a broad, closely clipped moustache (through which he was apt to breathe heavily as a sure sign of stress or annoyance), Newling inspired confidence and affection as well as fear, while his phenomenal memory for names and faces caused both admiration and apprehension. His keen sense of justice and strict code of values, like his decisions, were respected if sometimes questioned. A consummate paternalist, Newling secretly rejoiced in his sobriquet, 'Pop'. He combined progressive and enlightened educational theory and practice with traditional social and moral attitudes learned in a Christian home, holding that young teachers 'must cherish hopes and see visions and most important of all they must be taught to face the moral imperative in all its awful majesty'.

Newling's personality, 'like a tidal wave', permeated every aspect of college activity. He encouraged a carefully chosen staff to develop and apply a diversity of interests and skills, and took care to establish close social, cultural, religious and sporting links between the college and the city. With fine command of language, he wrote model letters, delivered impressive exhortations and encouraged drama and debating. Critics of the college were apt to be dubbed 'soured souls pickled in the vinegar of their own disillusionment'. Never blind to the shortcomings of some students, he nevertheless defended them when their exuberance offended local sensitivities; upbraided them when they failed to meet expectations; visited them when they were ill; met them in his Dodge car if they arrived on the midnight train; found them jobs during the Depression; corresponded with them during World War II, consoled parents and virtually put the college into mourning for each casualty.

A wartime duty, in which Newling took great pride, was his secret role as custodian of priceless material from the Mitchell Library and the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, stored for safety deep in the college basement. The magnificent benefactions of his friend Howard Hinton had already made the college a treasure house of Australian art. Retiring in 1947, Newling enjoyed many active years in the service of educational booksellers and meeting former students. In 1955 the University of New England awarded him an honorary D.Litt. 'as one of its founders'. He published his autobiography, The Long Day Wanes, in 1973.

Survived by his wife and three sons, Newling died at Normanhurst, Sydney, on 8 November 1975 and was cremated. A memorial service was held at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Hornsby. A portrait (1934) by Norman Carter is held by Armidale College of Advanced Education. Newling's chief monument will forever be, 'the College on the Hill', which he had 'fought for with the cunning savagery of the tiger and paraded before the world with the pride of the peacock'.

Select Bibliography

  • E. S. Elphick and L. A. Gilbert, Forty-Three and Seven (Armidale, NSW, 1978)
  • Armidale Express, 14 Nov 1975
  • E. S. Elphick, Armidale Teachers' College: Its Background, Foundation and Early Years (Litt.B. thesis, University of New England, 1972)
  • Department of Education (New South Wales) Archives
  • University of New England Archives.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Newling, Cecil Bede (1883–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/newling-cecil-bede-7830/text13595, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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