(Reprinted from Uninews Issue No.1 March 1998, p.10)
The dilemma of naming the University's $20million sports and aquatic centre is symbolic of the difficulties being experienced in juggling its role as the University's gymnasium with that of commercial fitness centre.
Chairman of the centre's Board of Directors, Bernie Curran, made light of the debate in his speech at the opening ceremony last month.
"Let me put to one side the original suggestion of NU-FIT…Its early popularity suffered…when a certain Mayor of Lake Macquarie thought it referred to a University bra factory".
But a more serious note crept into the speech as Bernie, a classicist, began to relate the discussions around the original name, the Auchmuty gymnasium, which has been refurbished and retained as a section of the new centre.
The word gymnasium originally referred to a place of education, Bernie said, which reinforced the ideal of James Auchmuty, the University's foundation vice-chancellor, that the University should be a place for all-round education.
The ancient gymnasia nurtured the ideals of excellence, beauty and nobility of mind, body and soul, ideals central to the ancient Olympics and inspirational to Baron de Coubertin, who resurrected the Olympics in 1896, Bernie explained.
The word gymnasium, however, failed to win over the creators of the new sports centre, being "synonymous with the smell of sweaty, hairy, pumped up bodies". And so the Forum entered discussions. With its original Roman purpose as a meeting place, perhaps our own Forum could become a place to bring together the diverse interests represented by the academic and recreational life of the University community and the wider Hunter community, which it is hoped will help sustain the centre financially.
Centre manager Stuart Allen, who began his work last October, explains why the name appealed to him.
"We needed a name that would find a middle ground between it being the University gymnasium and a purely commercial operation," Stuart said. "While we do want a strong link to the University, I see my role as taking the University to the people and we needed a name that would say 'come and use me' to the community".
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