At the North West’s first ever Allied Health conference at the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health last week, a distinguished visitor from Townsville slipped in almost unnoticed.
He was Bill Tweddell, chancellor of the James Cook University that hosted the event, and he was here to check out JCU’s footprint in the region with visits to the Cloncurry and Mount Isa campus.
Mr Tweddell was elected Chancellor in November 2015 and took up duty in March 2016.
Before that he was a senior diplomat having most recentlu served as the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines from January 2012 till January 2016.
Leading JCU was a bit of a homecoming for him after studying his bachelor of arts at the then University College Townsville from 1968-1971 and then continuing on to complete a Bachelor of Economics in 1975, completing both degrees part-time while working at the University.
He joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and was posted Bangladesh, and later to Athens and New Delhi, where he became Deputy High Commissioner.
“I was later no 2 in London and then ambassador to Vietnam and later the Phillipines,” Mr Tweddell said.
“It was a wonderful career, though not for everyone.”
Mr Tweddell said he always kept in touch with his home town university and in 2009 he did a graduation address where someone said to him he was the right material for chancellor.
“I remember thinking they were just being polite but it lodged in the back of my mind,” he said.
He was unable to take up an opportunity to join the university council in 2013 when he was ambassador in Manila but he put his name forward for chancellor election in 2015 in which he defeated the other candidate.
The North West Star asked what being a chancellor involved.
“The best analogy for what the role involves is chairman of the board,” he said.
“While we are not a business we need to run the university like a business, though we do provide a public good.”
Mr Tweddell leads a board of 22 members for a university with a huge geographical reach.
“We’ve got three major campuses in Townsville, Cairns and Singapore,” he said.
“But the reason I’m here in Mount Isa is that I’m deeply conscious our footprint goes well beyond that.”
Mr Tweddell said he was “blown away” by his tour of the north west and its regional campuses.
“I’ve been really impressed by the standing of James Cook University and the very good people who work for us in Cloncurry and here,” he said.
“This is a really important part of what we offer and perhaps an undersold opportunity.”
Mr Tweddell said JCU would be at its best when it is a ‘go to” resource as a provider of solution to the challenges and problems of society, especially in the tropics.
“So whether it is an engineering problem at Mount Isa Mines or the Port of Townsville, somebody at James Cook might be able to help you solve that,” he said.
“And if they’re not they’ll be networked to somebody else who can – that’s where we need to be.”
When asked what role the North West campuses might play in this, he said that was “the money question”.
“I think it is important we need to be making a very strong contribution in research, through providing as well as we can a workforce for this region, and also as a location for training,” he said.
“These sites in the north west are terrific sites for training up other people.”