From the Vice-Chancellor
I was about to go into an Alumni and Benefactors Breakfast in Kuala Lumpur when my mobile phone rang. It was Professor Neville Marsh, whose main duty as Acting Vice-Chancellor, as I had told him before I flew out a couple of days before, was to "make sure the place doesn't burn down." I was hoping he was joking when he said "But you didn't say anything about a flood!" Thank heavens for the gift of humour, for we're going to need a good deal of patience as we recover from the damage arising from a broken fire main on the morning of March 11.
Let there be no mistake, this was a major emergency, with more than 60 emergency services workers involved in an incident that affected nine densely populated buildings. Huge quantities of water flooded parts of the Hughes and Plaza buildings, and the southern part of the Library, causing a lot of property damage, and making the areas unsafe for some time.
I hope I did not appear too distracted during breakfast, but a few more telephone calls confirmed that there was no immediate risk, and that everyone had been safely evacuated. This came as a relief, but in the course of the day that relief turned to admiration and pride as stories of extraordinary generosity and dedication on the part of our staff and students came filtering through.
Without a single exception, the instructions of fire wardens and others were followed to the letter. People patiently waited to be allowed into affected areas, and a call for volunteers to assist in the immediate clean-up was met with an unstinting and enthusiastic response. More than 80 staff and 100 contractors worked all weekend to restore services, and it's nothing short of a miracle that all timetabled lectures, practicals, tutorials and lab sessions were able to resume within the week.
There will be some hard work in the weeks and months ahead to restore and maintain safe working conditions in some of the worst affected areas, but the loyalty and dedication of our staff and students, about which I have spoken again and again, ensured that the first and biggest hurdles were overcome. Action speaks louder than words, and we have seen a remarkable demonstration that the University is indeed a community, while the assistance that was offered from others demonstrated a strong commitment to us.
That commitment extends far beyond Adelaide into Asia and further afield. The news of the water damage was met with immediate and heart-felt expressions of concern and support by many of our former students in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Wherever our graduates are, whether in Australia or far away, their engagement with the University of Adelaide is clearly a commitment for life.
JAMES A. McWHA