John Melville Jones interview, 6 September 2012, 27 September 2012 and 11 October 2012

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John Melville Jones interview, 6 September 2012, 27 September 2012 and 11 October 2012


Classics and Ancient History


This is an interview with Professor John Melville Jones. A Cambridge graduate, he joined UWA in 1957, aged 24, as a junior lecturer. He taught in Classics and Ancient History, starting with Ancient Greek history and language, and developing courses in Classical Art and Archaeology. He moved into numismatics and later into Venetian and Byzantine history. From 2012 he held an Honorary Research Fellowship.


Melville Jones, John


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


John Melville Jones


Nedlands, W.A.


Interview 1: 50 minutes, 30 seconds
Interview 2: 55 minutes, 43 seconds
Interview 3: 35 minutes, 53 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 22 minutes, 6 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1: Thursday 6th September 2012
Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 John Richard Melville-Jones. DOB 27/08/1933 Marlow, Buckingham, UK.
00:23 First school was in Rumney, a suburb of Cardiff attended from aged 6. Already knew how to read. Found school boring so he was moved up one form. Only problem was mathematics was not up to speed for 2nd form.
01:59 After 2 terms, his father put him into a better school in Devonshire which was a preparatory school leading towards Public School. He transferred here the next year. This was now 1940 and some of the staff had left to fight in the Second World War but it was nonetheless a good school. The worst teacher was the history teacher. But the language teacher was good. Started doing Latin aged 8 years old. Those who were good were allowed to start Ancient Greek when they were 10 years old.
04:13 This went on until he was 13 when he took a Scholarship examination for the Public School he later attended, Clifton College in Bristol. He became a boarder here.
04:27 Went to Clifton in 1947 and stayed here for 5 years. By this time, he had a good grasp of mathematics. At prep school the master would sometimes give the students question from University examination entry papers. Did some French as well.
05:20 After 2 years at Clifton JMJ took the School Certificate examination. After that, he concentrated on Classics for several years. Finally got a scholarship to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Stayed on at school for another 2 terms and took the Higher certificate a second time in English and Ancient History.
06:49 During the Second World War he remembered the food rationing especially that of sugar and jam. School meals were very basic. Otherwise the war had little impact on his life.
08:15 Saw German airplane jettisoning bombs into the sea that had been made for Plymouth. Paignton was full of US soldiers.
09:46 No idea of future career. Later on, had ideas of working for an oil company.
12:48 3 options – do Post Grad work at Oxford (limited income); librarian or teach in a private preparatory school. He had done this between leaving school and going up to Oxford.
13:55 Booked into Emmanuel College 2 years after leaving school in order to do National Service but he was rejected due to health. Could go up after 1 year, so had to find employment for the gap year. Taught English, History and Geography in prep school in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. 12-15 in the class.
15:54 Taught himself how to ride a motorcycle. Evelyn Waugh had taught in this school and wrote about it in Decline and Fall.
17:18 After University got another job in a Prep School but the college tutor found him a job in a secondary school in Cambridge teaching Classics and Ancient History.
17:45 At the same time, the job came up in WA through the Old Boys Network. One of the teachers from Emmanuel College was from NZ and encouraged young men to go to the Antipodes b keeping an eye of vacancies that were coming up. He told JMJ to apply and wrote him a reference. JMJ sent a two page airmail letter with photo. Referees were consulted and after a while a telegram was sent offering him the position.

Track 3
00:00 Discussion of what JMJ knew about Australia. Australian relatives.
04:28 At the time JMJ arrived, quite a few English migrants had come in.
05:22 JMJ travelled out first class on Himalaya. UWA a State University. Very luxurious.
07:00 Most recent appointees seemed to have come from UK due to need for expansion.
08:00 Met by Professor Austin when he arrived.

Track 4
00:00 Impressions of Perth. Arrived in June and thought it was like an English summer. Started teaching the next week with a 3rd year Ancient Greek class.
00:46 Lived in St Georges College. Meals cooked. Walked to and from classes at University.
01:18 In August he went for a swim at Cottesloe and wondered why he was the only one!
01:53 Hitch hiked to Carnarvon to see more of WA. Meal entirely consisted of lamb.
02:50 Tutorial system in Cambridge was 1 on 1 or 1 on 2. Teaching done in the University. Just had a check list of questions to ask. More pastoral care.
04:36 Dined at High Table with other Academic staff wearing their gowns. Students did not wear gowns to lectures and had not done for some time, although Law Students had only just stopped wearing them. Older teaching staff wore gowns but most wore a jacket and tie.
05:44 Hardly any advice given by Prof Austin. Left to his own devices. The other member of staff was Paul Weaver, an Ancient Historian.
06:51 Arrival of JMJ brought student staff ratio in the department to 11:1. Now 20:1 is considered low.
07:12 Timetable different. Students were mostly part time and lectures were at 4:15pm; 5.15pm or 6pm. Many were teachers. This lasted for many years. There were repeat classes during the day.
08:52 After six months JMJ started his PhD. It would be unusual now for somebody to get a university appointment without having a PhD. It was JMJ’s decision and also the second member of staff, who was ahead of him by 18 months, had been doing a PhD.
10:11 Appointment of Professor Austin who started in 1952. Job originally advertised in 1950 but the person appointed (Mr Daunt from the University of Sydney, who was considered brilliant), had a nervous breakdown and did not turn up.
11:45 The first person appointed to Classics with a PhD arrived 5 years after JMJ, in 1962. Two secondary school teachers who joined after JMJ did their PhD’s after they joined the department.
12:43 In the 1950s and 60s all the Australian universities were expanding at a rapid rate due to the Murray Commission recommendations. This enabled Classics to get a typewriter and then a slide projector.
13:40 1960s expansion. Arts building built in 1963 and occupied in 1964. Previously the Faculty of Arts was accommodated on the upper floors of what is now the West Administration Building
14:02 In 1959, a small annexe was built on Fairway. JMJ moved down there
14:48 Should have submitted PhD in 1960 but had arranged to go back to the UK for a year to do a post graduate diploma in Classical Archaeology. A few days before sailing in August, the PhD was typed with 1 copy and 3 carbon copies and it needed to be collated and bound. He turned his leaving party into a collating party with disastrous results.
16:25 The papers were left in a cardboard box. By the time he returned some additions were necessary. The thesis was on Antigone (the tragedy by Sophocles) comparing 6 examples of this play produced between the 16th-20th centuries. During his time away another Antigone play was produced.
17:44 Busy on return from UK. After doing diploma course and visiting places in Greece and Italy, he had photos and was allowed to start an extra unit in Classical Art and Archaeology.
18:20 It was very easy in those days to start a new unit. Nobody objected and the procedures were minimal. The progressive proliferation of petty processes and procedures.

Track 5
00:00 Conclusion

Interview 2: Thursday 27th September 2012
Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Return from England in 1961. Went to Italy and Sicily and caught the ship from Naples to Perth along with many Italian immigrants. Had become quite proficient in Italian. Not first class travel this time.
01:42 Moved from St George’s College to a ground floor flat in Eric Street, Cottesloe that belonged to a colleague who had gone on study leave.
02:34 Lived here for two years. Remembered being afraid in the second summer due to random shootings. Later discovered to be Eric Cooke. The last man to be hanged in Fremantle Gaol.
03:28 Started teaching things he had learned doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Classical Archaeology (Cantab.) 1961 to Honours students in Ancient History. Then he was allowed to start a full second year unit of Greek and Roman Art and Architecture. This continued until 2011. Designed as background for Ancient History students but also for those who wanted to do the “Grand Tour” of the ancient sites.
04:24 UWA beginning to expand. More money from Commonwealth Government. Enrolments going up and new courses invented. In 1963 UWA got its first computer. It was the size of small caravan. The only computer on campus. Available 24 hours a day.
05:12 A great step forward. Computer got the first air conditioner. UWA was very uncomfortable before air conditioning during the summer months. Many of the staff would migrate to Albany.
06:05 Back to teaching and research. Socialised. Sang in a choir.
06:27 Missed out on the sexual revolution of the 1960s when the world went mad. Dress and hair were very different. Jeans became the uniform.
07:29 Tutor in Philosophy had long caftans, bare feet and long hair and a wife or partner in similar campus. They had a little girl they called Jesus. Administration much smaller. If you wanted more staff you went and asked the Vice Chancellor. One day this went wrong for the Professor of Philosophy who was pleading his cause when the Vice Chancellor happened to look out of the window and see the tutor sitting by the pond with his feet in the water! The Vice Chancellor thus determined that the Philosophy Department were not too overworked!
09:29 UWA booming. 1970s things began to slow down and money became less available. The Whitlam Government abolition of University fees did not make that much difference to UWA as they did not charge for lectures. However, people who might not have thought of going to University began to feel that they could.
11:24 This was particularly true of married women. Many of them realised a potential that they did not realise that they had.
12:43 The Arts particularly attracted more women. Women seem to be better with words. Attitude of women who attend university now is markedly different to those who attended in the 60s and 70s. Many of them were marking time until they found “Mr Right”.
14:28 Women on staff. One lecturer caused a sensation when she didn’t leave her job to look after her husband when she got married. Another lecturer in English claimed some fare money for her husband to accompany her on study leave. This caused quite a shock!
16:20 It was unusual to have married women on the staff. Some of the older women on the staff were unmarried due to a lack of suitors due to the carnage of World War One.
17:10 Things are very different now. Maternity leave, parental leave etc.
17:35 Before he left for England JMJ was accommodated on Fairway away from the rest of the department but it enabled him to have his own office.

Track 3
00:00 In 1964 the Department moved into the new Arts Building. It was deliberately built to fit in with the original Hackett Buildings.
00:45 By now the Classics Department were all on the same corridor and had its own secretary. They could get together and chat over morning tea in the Common Room.
00:12 Their numbers crept up and peaked in about 1971 when they had 10 teaching staff plus a secretary. Then when people left they weren’t replaced. Today (2012) there are 3.5 staff.
01:46 There is money for part-time assistance. Tutorial numbers are now 20 or more people rather than 10-12.
02:28 Contact hours have been reduced. Classics students used to have elementary language classes 4 hours a week. Then it was cut to 2 hours. Due to the problems this caused, it has recently gone up to 3 hours per week. Two hours a week is not enough to study Latin or Ancient Greek.
03:06 Internet teaching is a new thing. JMJ to attend a public lecture on this. Students can access lots of material online. This would not lead to a degree but perhaps a certificate. This may be an ideal way to study for people who have time or distance constraints.
04:13 JMJ does not think this will work with language studies.
04:22 UWA finished teaching external students in 1972 when Murdoch University was started and they took it over. JMJ would have 5-6 students a year (usually school teachers working outside the Perth metro). A circulating library was set up between them and it worked very well.
06:54 Does not work for language teaching where you need a lot of personal feedback. It might work with Italian which is phonetic.
08:08 Amusing experience of attending a lecture held in 1970s by a visiting Italian in English. He had no knowledge of speaking it. Pronunciation of “through”.
09:13 Discussion of Mandarin and Chinese language system and writing. French and German. English is more difficult.
10:00 JMJ started off teaching all language and literature with an occasional lecture in Ancient History. Later he developed his own unit in Greek and Roman Art and Architecture.
10:24 Taught First Year unit in early Greek history and translation for many years. Poems of Homer translated and studied against the architectural background.
11:31 Course now cancelled due to change of structure in UWA.
11:50 Developed a research interest in coinage and numismatics and ran a course in this subject for Honours students.
12:31 Classics had little contact with the Archaeology Department at UWA as they do prehistoric rather than Classical archaeology. JMJ tried to arrange some links with them when he was Head of Department but it did not work out.
13:05 Classics have had an archaeologist on staff since 1990. He has done work in Jordan. He does not do much digging.

Track 4
00:00 The early library was in a cramped space in the Administration Building. In 1960, the Undercroft in Winthrop Hall was enclosed in glass and the library moved there until the Reid Library was built.
00:51 The librarian, Leonard Jolley had a great deal to do with the planning and design of the building. It fits in very well with the Great Court.
01:24 It has storage problems now. And some things are stored elsewhere.
01:43 It has moved with the times. You can get articles online within 2-3 days of requesting it. Books have to be posted.
02:12 In the 1960s and 1970s, many universities were created. Murdoch was named after the English Professor, Walter Murdoch.
03:20 Murdoch tried to be different from UWA. Developed different subjects.
03:37 Religious studies developed at Murdoch. Professor Austin in Classics had tried to get this going at UWA. Shot down by Leonard Jolley. They also took over external studies.
04:29 Now specialises in veterinary science
04:51 Then three more universities were developed – Curtin, Edith Cowan and Notre Dame.
06:04 Architecturally very interesting university. Conversion of old warehouses.

Track 5
00:00 Clouds gathering in the 1980s. Less money and more paperwork and procedures. An application for a job now is much more complicated than when JM applied for his job. Attending a conference is also much more involved: 2-page proposal approved by 2 or 3 people.
01:59 Is it empire building by administrators or the increasingly litigious nature of society?
02:47 More people seem to be engaged in non-academic activity on campus than doing teaching or research. Parkinson’s Law.
04:25 Comparison with 10th or 11th century Byzantium Empire.
05:01 Student numbers have gone up. Cap on numbers controlled by Commonwealth Government.
05:35 Language departments in trouble – the ancient languages particularly. Increase in numbers due to students from other departments such as Botany taking a language as part of a “broadening unit”.
06:40 University education used to be for the upper or middle classes. Perhaps some would be better off learning a trade?
07:59 In India so many people have degrees but can’t find a job.
08:20 The problem of selling an Arts degree including Classics to parents.
10:12 Many Classics students have got jobs in teaching, academic life, tax department, public service, libraries. None seem to have gone into the tourism industry.
11:42 Discussion of tours in 1982. Two weeks in Greece and two in Italy. Stopped after two years. Looking around in Turkey for ideas for another tour but fell asleep at the wheel due to the long distances.
14:19 Somebody also fell sick on the second trip. No insurance. Risky of being sued. Has been suggested again but JMJ feels he is too old now.
15:14 The trip took place outside term time in January.

Track 6
00:00 Conclusion

Interview 3: Thursday 11th October 2012
Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Has not done the same thing at UWA. Have had 5 different careers – Classicist; Greek & Roman Art & Architecture; Numismatics; Byzantium & Venetian studies; Stefano Shipwreck and Australian history. Enjoys the variety of different work.
03:54 Very concerned about proper English grammar.
04:30 Honorary position from 27 July 2012. Taken off the computer system without prior warning. Lack of communication from Human Resources.
07:07 There are other people who have officially retired but want to continue working. No remuneration but the use of the phone and computer is not to be under-valued.
08:20 There is a process. You have to state what you are doing and there is a review every 12 months.
09:01 Input of department into Emeritus Professor but not sure of their role in reviewing honorary positions.
09:55 Called on for help with a translation (from Greek to Latin to English) with lots of information about coins. Has made his reputation as somebody who knows about Ancient Greek and Latin texts referring to ancient coinage.

Track 3
00:00 Dawkins Reforms of the late 1980s. Aim to provide more higher education and encouraged academic research.
02:24 How do you measure research?
03:46 Attempts made to judge things on the number of publications. Evaluation through citations. JMJ cited many times for an article due to a mistake on the dating of a coin!
06:15 Evaluation of journals. Some journals are not ranked well because they are foreign journals.
07:50 Eventually this scheme was junked.
08:00 The effect of the push for institutions to do productive research.
09:18 Discussion of Liberal Arts Colleges which are popular in the US.
10:12 The problem of having promotion linked to performance as a researcher.
11:00 Summary of the effect of the Dawkins Reforms.

Track 4
00:00 Discussion on his book on the buildings of UWA and Hackett bequest.
01:36 Research in the archives and Senate records.
01:54 Discussion of Hackett bequest. Winthrop Hackett died in 1916. The £40,000 distribution did not have to take place at once.
04:18 Interim period and the only building erected on the Crawley site was in 1925 when one was erected in Park Avenue. A plain red brick building. In 1926 the Senate received £425,000. Competition held to pick the architects.
06:58 The site now attracts a lot of questions about the decoration, sculpture and mosaics.
08:15 Discussion on the Aboriginal paintings on the ceiling beams in Winthrop Hall. Referential architecture.
10:09 Stories about things that happened including the joke at the Debutantes ball with Law students pretending to be young women.
12:05 Hopes that the book will be a success. To be published by Hesperian Press.

Track 5
00:32 Conclusion



Melville Jones, John, “John Melville Jones interview, 6 September 2012, 27 September 2012 and 11 October 2012,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,