Gathering to celebrate life of charismatic and original thinker

Published 07 July 2010

birchallA gathering will be held at the University of New England on Saturday 10 July to celebrate the life of one of the University’s most colourful, charismatic and original thinkers: former Senior Lecturer in Philosophy Dr Brian Birchall, who passed away on Friday 2 July.

Brian Birchall (pictured here) came to UNE after gaining a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Newcastle, and (in 1973) a PhD degree in Philosophy from the University of Sydney. He was influenced by the renowned Australian realist philosopher John Anderson, whose ideas he worked with – and beyond – in a philosophical journey that ranged from existentialism to idealism.

Dr Birchall was, in his prime, a vibrant figure on the UNE landscape; students were drawn to him, and he contributed to the University an intellectual vigour and excitement that touched many of his colleagues as well. While his style was often unconventional, he was ready to open the door to anyone who approached him with an interest in thinking itself, and what he called “the life of meaning”.

To hear Dr Birchall engage in discussion was always stimulating, and he had the ability to articulate not simply what was necessary for the argument but what was important. Because Brian preferred to stand with people rather than above them he was particularly accessible to students – not only as a teacher and in person, but through his many thoughtful and provocative contributions to the student newspaper Neucleus and to the literary journals Kangaroo and New England Review.
This was also the case with his public presentations, and he did more than most to “bring gown to town” in well-attended and memorable pub debates with such academic colleagues as former English lecturer Dr Alan Roughly. In seminars it was his approach to make a short presentation then say: “We’ll now have a conversation” – a point from which the topic could be explored more interactively and robustly.

In the academic ranks Dr Birchall was rare not only because of his willingness to engage publicly, like John Anderson, in a wide range of intellectual and cultural areas, but as an authentic thinker and one genuinely capable of articulating the obscure legacy of the philosopher Hegel. He embodied many of the ideals not only of the University but of philosophy itself.

To remember Brian Birchall and to celebrate his life, a gathering will be held in the University Bistro on Saturday 10 July from 12 noon to 3 pm. Drinks and food will be available, and all members of the University and the community are welcome to attend.

For more information on Saturday’s gathering please phone Alex Dunn on 6772 6596 or 0423 721 977.