New England's History

Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

First pages of a literary life

1913: Crowd gathered outside the court following the decision in the Lord Alfred Douglas libel case. Arthur, Ivy Ransome, left. This is the first in a new series on the life of English children's writer Arthur Ransome and his Australian connection.  

2020 begins with another New England story, this one about a famous English children’s author, a nineteenth century Australian squatter and prolific painter and a Walcha property with a most unusual name.

Our story will take us from English literary life in the first half of the twentieth century back though the Russian Revolution to the aftermath of the Oscar Wilde Affair. We then travel further back to Sydney Town of the1830s before moving forward following the story of a large English-Australian squatting family.

Arthur Mitchell Ransome was born in Leeds on 18 January 1884, the eldest child of Cyril Ransome and his wife Edith nee Boulton.

This was an academic, intellectual family. Cyril was a history don at Yorkshire College, later Leeds University, while Edith was a talented amateur painter, a love she inherited from her father, Edward. Father and daughter seem to have written to each other regularly, sharing their interest in painting.

Arthur seems to have been a bookish, somewhat withdrawn, child who did not get on well with his schoolmates. I think that he compensated by creating a vivid internal world, one that would appear later in his books.

In 1897, Cyril Ransome died from a bone infection that even a leg amputation had failed to stop.

The relationship between Arthur and his father was complicated. Cyril seems to have been very much the Victorian father, both withdrawn and demanding, sometimes harsh Arthur would regret all his life that his father’s death stopped him getting to know Cyril, when they might have talked as adults and helped Arthur understand.

Upon leaving Rugby in 1901, Arthur Ransome enrolled in science at the Yorkshire College. I have no idea why, for he had already decided to be a full time writer.

Less than a year after enrolling, Arthur obtained a job with a London publisher and began writing for literary magazines. This allowed him to make the jump into full time writing.

Ransome published his first book in 1904, a collection of essays This was followed by a stream of publications, none especially successful apart from Bohemia in London (1907).

In 1908, Ransome fell in love with Ivy Constance Walker. They married in March 1909. It would prove a disastrous marriage for both because Arthur could not give Ivy the love and attention she needed.

In 1913, Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas sued Ransome for libel over a commissioned 1912 piece on Wilde that Ransome had written. Ransome won, bankrupting Douglas in the process.

Ivy stood by Ransome during the trial, indeed she seems to have enjoyed the attention, but Ransome was exhausted and wanted to escape. A few months after the trial, he left for Russia on an extended research and writing trip, starting a new stage in his life.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15 January 2020. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019, here 2020 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Local history groups hold keys to uncovering the past

Speedy Purchase, Quick Return: The small settlement of Kookabookra lay south east of Glen Innes, one of many now vanished country settlements.The records of the Kookabookra Court of Perry Sessions are just one of the records held at the New England Archives and Heritage Centre,

I hope that you had a happy Christmas. May the New Year be peaceful, successful, wet and fire free!

I published my first Express column in December 2009. Since then I have written 474 columns. This year, I hope to take you still deeper into the remarkable tapestry that is our history.

Last year, I wrote a short series on the cultural, social and economic importance of family, local and regional history. This post focuses on some of the historical resources available in Armidale. Later, I will deal with resources outside Armidale.

Armidale has a number of historical societies. The peak societies are the Armidale Family History Group and the Armidale and District Historical Society.

The Family History Group focuses on family history, but can provide broader information to provide an historical context. The Historical Society focuses on history, but can also provide information relevant to particular families. The two societies work closely together, with many common members.

Both maintain growing collections of historical material. Both have reading rooms open to the general public manned by volunteers who can provide advice on the topics you are interested in or direct you to other sources of information.

The Armidale and District Historical Society is located at 114 Faulkner Street, the old Dumaresq Shire Council Chambers. It’s open Monday to Friday, 10.00 to 16.00.

The Family History Group reading rooms in the Kentucky Street museum precinct at the Dangar Street end are open Monday 14.00 to 17.00, Wednesday 10.00 to 16.00, other times by appointment.

Just across the road from the Family History Group in the Newling library building lies the University of New England Archives & Heritage Centre, the jewel in Armidale’s historical resources crown.

The Centre has a large collection of primary and secondary materials relevant to New England’s history and is a great resource for students, locals and family and regional historians. The Centre is open Monday to Friday 9.00-17.00.

Down Kentucky Street from the Heritage Centre you will find the New England Regional Art Museum (open Tuesday-Sunday 10.00-16.00) and the Aboriginal Cultural Centre & Keeping Place (open Monday to Friday 9.00-16.00, Saturday 10.00-14.00).

Two other resources are the Armidale City Library (Rusden Street) and the Dixson Library at the University. Apart from its general material, the City Library has a small local reference section upstairs, while the Dixson is a major library that Includes a specialist collection covering New England.

This post provides just a taste of local resources. Later this year, we hope to release a full resource guide for use by students, teachers, locals and visitors.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 January 2020. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019, here 2020 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Campaign beats loggers and saves Dorrigo National park

Dorrigo National Park today. What we have today is due to the activity of dedicated locals such as Ray Spinaze. This is the fourth and final in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park.

From the beginning, the trustees appointed to oversight the Dorrigo Nature Reserves faced a fundamental problem. They had responsibility, but no money.

The first small reserves had been created in 1901, the bigger Mountain Reserve in 1917. A first government grant of £5 was received in 1920. The next grant of £100 from unemployment relief funds did not come until 1933! It would be 1965 before there was enough money to employ the first ranger.

With the only income coming from the lease for grazing of a small portion of land, there was little that the trustees could do beyond some blackberry control and endeavouring to keep paths clear.

This created real governance problems as trustees lost heart, retired or died. Between 1940 and 1949 it appears that the Trust did not meet at all. Then came another of those energising events. 

There had been problems with illegal logging and shooting for some time.

In 1949, the Thora sawmill lodged an application to log the Park. As local member, Roy Vincent was able to block the application and get the Trust restructured, but in the absence of funding, the Trustees struggled.

In 1954, responsibility for the management of the Park was transferred to the Dorigo Shire Council, passing to the Bellingen Shire Council in 1957 following the forced merger of the Dorrigo and Bellingen Shires. A Management Committee was formed to oversight the Park in the place of the Trustees.

The merger of the two shires created bitter resentment on the Dorrigo Plateau Locals believed that they had little in common with the coast and that the merger would submerge their interests to their cost. This resentment turned into direct action when the Bellingen Shire Council recommended that logging be allowed in the Park.

Local solicitor Ray Spinaze led the Dorrigo response.

Born in 1914, Spinaze was a descendent of the Veneto (Italian) families who had been attracted to the South Pacific by the ill-fated dreams of the Marquis de Rays. When that failed, the survivors established New Italy between Byron Bay and Grafton, now a significant tourist destination.

Spinaze had been dux of Lismore High School and then trained as a solicitor. On the boat to Sydney for exams, much coastal travel was still done by steamer, he met Georgina Cochrane. The couple married in 1941 and then settled in Dorrigo where Spinaze had bought a practice.

Spinaze’s campaign blocked any attempt to log the Park. Because of the tensions between the Park management committee and Council, responsibility for the Park’s management was taken away from the Bellingen Shire Council and given back a newly reconstituted Trust.

The Park as we know it today had been born. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 December 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019  

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The historic fight for Dorrigo National Park continues

 OVERLAP: PA Wright's campaign for the New England Park was supported by Roy Vincent, who led the campaign for Dorrigo. Both are case studies for activism. This is the third in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park.

In researching the history of the Dorrigo National Park I looked at the history of the New England National Park. This deserves a separate story, but I was struck by the way in which the same issues and indeed the same people were involved in the fight for both parks.

In both cases, you had a small number of locals who were prepared to fight to bring the park about.

In both cases, you had local members of Parliament who provided top cover and were prepared to cooperate across electorates to achieve common dreams, the creation of facilities for the North for the benefit of all. They did so despite some local opposition.

In both cases, you had local newspapers that were prepared to support action. I suspect that this was particularly important in Dorrigo where the Don Dorrigo Gazette was edited by Roy Vincent’s brother Reginald.

In both cases, you had common problems that had to be resolved to protect the parks from alienation and to fund development.

In 1923, Roy Vincent as local member had blocked attempts to alienate the Dorrigo Reserves, but he still faced all the problems I have talked about.

In 1927, Vincent tried to have the Dorrigo Mountain Reserves declared a National Park to protect it from alienation.

He was advised that there was no provision to allow this. However, the reserves were declared a fauna as well flora reserve. This, the Minister advised, meant that changes to boundaries would require approval of both houses of the state parliament, thus providing the same protection afforded to the Royal National Park and Ku-ring-gai Chase.  

This was unsatisfactory.

As local Armidale state parliamentarian and Vincent’s friend David Drummond later recorded in the context of the New England National Park, it was just too easy to bring in administrative changes in the final days of a parliamentary session when tired MPs could rubber stamp a change without realizing the implications. Legislation was required that would then force specific legislative action to amend to alienate land.

I haven’t traced through all the history here, but it would be 1967 before specific National Parks legislation was passed through the NSW Parliament by the then Lewis Liberal-Country Party Government.

Meantime, Vincent and the other Park supporters had other problems to deal with. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 December 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019  

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Saving the Dorrigo Park

Roy Vincent's efforts protected the Dorrigo National Park at critical stages in its history.This is the second in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park.
Administrative history can be very boring, a list of dates and changes. Yet when you dig in, you find that those changes tell us much about our history.

You can also find yourself taken in unexpected directions, highlighting aspects of our history that extend far beyond the original question. Both are true of the early history of the Dorrigo National Park.

The 1901 gazettal of the two small reserves intended to protect waterfalls was followed by the 1917 reservation of a larger mountain area that now forms the core of the National Park. Separate trustees were appointed covering the two small reserves and the larger reserve.

The trustees appointed to the larger reserve included brothers Roy Stanley and Reginald Henry Vincent, members of that remarkable Vincent newspaper dynasty that played such a role in the history of the New England press and community life more generally.

In 1910, the brothers had established the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate. Both were active in community life, including the campaigns for Northern development and the creation of a new state in Northern New South Wales. Both were committed to the preservation of the Dorrigo mountain reserve.

While Reginald Henry would remain as editor of the Don Dorrigo Gazette, in 1922 Roy was elected to the NSW Parliament as Member for Oxley. There he joined Michael Bruxner’s “True Blues”, the precursor of the NSW Country Party. 

Roy would remain an MP until 1953. From June 1932 to May 1941 he was Secretary for Mines and Minister for Forests, providing a degree of top cover that was important to the preservation of the Dorrigo reserves.

The new trustees faced problems. They had to deal with the spread of blackberries and other noxious weeds, as well as local pressures to log and develop the land. They also wanted to develop facilities. However, they had no money to do any of this.

These problems came to a head in 1923.

On 18 May 1923, Roy Vincent wrote to the Department of Lands as local member and a trustee seeking approval for the Trust to lease a small portion at the top of the Mountain Reserve for grazing purposes. This would provide the trustees with a small income and also help in blackberry control.

The following month, 8 June, the Secretary of the Trust (W H Jarrett) wrote to the Minister for Lands. Given problems with blackberries and fallen trees, he stated that a meeting of the trustees had decided to ask the Department to send an inspector to visit the reserve with a view to alienating the whole reserve for development.

This move blind-sided Roy Vincent. On 2 July he wrote to the Minister in protest. Had all the trustees been consulted? As a trustee, he was totally opposed to the alienation of a single acre of this magnificent reserve, apart from the previous request to lease a portion for grazing.

Roy Vincent prevailed. Dorrigo was saved, but problems still lay ahead.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 December 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019  

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Reserved for recreation

Hard yakka: Clearing the Dorrigo brush was back-breaking work for the early selectors. The establishment of the Dorrigo Reserves, now National Park, helped preserve some of the original landscape. This is the first in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park

The Dorrigo National Park is rightly seen as one of the small jewels in New England’s crown. I wonder how many know its story or indeed that of the New England National Park, the third oldest in NSW.

According to Howard directed Stanley’s History of the Dorrigo National Park, our story begins on 29 March 1900 when Edward Ebsworth, the District Surveyor at Grafton, directed surveyor H A Evans to determine the position of two waterfalls (now the Sherrard and Newell Falls) near the road.
The Dorrigo Plateau was then being cleared and developed for settlement, creating the cultural landscape we know today. Evans was to “measure an area surrounding each waterfall sufficient to protect it with a view to its reservation from sale.”

Evans reported from his camp on 31 August 1900. He recommended reservation of two areas totaling around 8.1 hectares.

This would give ample room for “sight seers and others to ramble about on these areas and enjoy the scenery of the waterfalls, the pretty pieces of brush and bush and the landscape and seascape generally”.

Ebsworth successfully recommended to his Minister that Evan’s proposal be approved, On 19 February 1901, the Government Gazette carried a notice under Section 101 of the Crowns Land Act 1884 reserving the two areas for Public Recreation and the preservation of native flora.

The two areas might have been of sufficient size to allow visitors to ramble (or scramble!) around, but did little for the protection of native flora. However, in July 1917, a much larger area of 1,659 hectares on the Dorrigo Mountain was explicitly reserved for the preservation of native flora.

I haven’t properly researched the general history of either public spaces or national parks. However, a few general points are worth noting because they set a context for our story.

The idea of reservation of land for parks or other public purposes such as commons was well established. The idea that ordinary citizens should have access for recreation, enjoyment and access to nature to the equivalent of the parks established and enjoyed by aristocrats became well established during the 19th century. 

In Sydney, both the Royal National Park (1879) and Ku-ring-gai Chase (1894) were explicitly intended for public recreation.

The idea of preservation of flora and fauna had also become well established, if sometimes in the breach.

We can see all these elements in the initial establishment of the Dorrigo Reserves. However, the administrative and funding arrangements for the Reserves left much to be desired,
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 November 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019  

Monday, December 02, 2019

A VC in turbulent times

Dealing with turbulence: Sir Zelman Cowen as Queensland University Vice Chancellor.This is the third in a three part series on the life of Sir Zelman Cowen. 
In my last column I said that while Zelman Cowen’s public activities as the University of New England’s second VC did increase the public prominence of the university, his internal influence as VC is more difficult to measure.

In his history of UNE, Mathew Jordan mentions two areas where Cowen’s influence was important.

The first was the establishment in 1969 of a separate Faculty of Education. The second was his support for the establishment of a Faculty of Natural Resources. The Commonwealth would not agree for financial reasons, but agreed to the establishment of a School of Natural Resources finally established in 1971 after Cowen’s departure. 

Both were important initiatives: the Faculty of Education was the first in New South Wales, while the School of Natural Resources was the first such institution in Australia. Both attracted students and funding.

There was a third more problematic area, adult education, which Jordoa ignores. This is an odd gap in his history. He makes great play of the establishment of adult education and then, somehow, it disappears.   

First Belshaw as Acting Warden and then Madgwick had placed emphasis on adult education. It fitted with their personal philosophies and was an important element in the Northern outreach that had been so strongly emphasized by New England’s founders.

By the mid 1960s, university extension was a critical element in the University’s integration with its regional communities, while its summer schools such as the School of Dance, a school now seen as one of the seminal influences in the history of Australian dance, had achieved national prominence. Then, somehow, it largely stopped.

John Ryan’s PhD thesis draws out some of the complexities associated with the decline of adult education.

There were internal university problems, as well as funding issues linked to changing Australian Government policies. The loss of the sense of Northerness following the narrow loss of the 1967 self government plebiscite did not help.

Zelman’s role in the decline is unclear.

He was supportive of the role of adult education, but he had to balance that with changing attitudes at Commonwealth level and the reactions within the University to increased funding constraints. I also think that he did not share the original vision of the University as a Northern institution, as well as a national and international institution.

In 1970, Zelman left New England to become VC at the University of Queensland, a post he held until becoming Governor General in 1977 after Sir John Kerr.

In both roles he had to deal with turbulence, with political and social change. He did so with a focus on rational argument, the gathering of evidence and with a grace and tact that have justly given him a place in Australian history.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 November 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019  

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Remembering the early days at the New England University College - Ian Johnstone reviews Jenny Browning's Four Wives

Retired Armidale lawyer and local historian Ian Johnstone with his latest book.  

From time to time here and elsewhere I have written of life in the early days of the New England England University College. Part of that writing dealt with the families and especially the story of the siblings, the children of the early academic staff.

In 2008, Jenny Browning nee Howie published a book called Four Wives, the story of four women who came to Armidale with their husbands in 1938 and 1939. I discussed briefly it in a column I wrote in October 2018, Armidale's university family grows. My experiences were a little different because my father was unmarried when he arrived in 1938 and later (1944) married a local girl.

The number of people who remember the days of the New England University College are thinning rapidly. Recently I was contacted by Dorothy Casmir who had seen the material I had written on Jenny's book.

Dorothy came to NEUC in 1950. There she met Alan who would become her husband. She was taught by Doctor Howie (psychology) as he was then, while she and Alan used to babysit the Voisey children. Alan Voisey was head of geology. My earlier story brought all sorts of memories back and she wanted to contact Jenny or Yvonne Voisey now Roach.

One of the real pleasures of my role as a regional historian lies in the requests I get, the desire people have to learn about their past, to reconnect. I cannot always help. This time I could. With the assistance of the Armidale  Families Facebook page  and Dorothy's son, we were able to put Dorothy in touch with Yvonne. In an email, Dorothy said that they talked and talked and that Yvonne was able to put Dorothy in touch with Jenny. I also had a rather nice email from Alan passing on his recollections of a particular conversation he had with my father. 

Ian Johnstone is an Armidale lawyer and local historian. In 2008, he wrote a full review of Jenny's book.  With his approval, I have reproduced his original review in full without editing. It provides a snapshot of life at the New England University College. Note that I'm not sure that either Readers Companion or Boobooks have copies anymore. I think that it is out of print.  

Book Review
Four Wives: The Story of Four Women Married to foundation Academics Appointed to the New England University College 1938 and 1939
By Jenny Browning

Self published, April 2008. 145 pages, 92 photos, $49.95 including postage from tecprint, P O Box 598, Darling Heights, Queensland 4350, and $39.95 from Readers Companion and Boobook in Armidale.

Ian M Johnstone December 2008

Jenny Browning has added to the recorded history of part of UNE’s “golden days”.  The first sixteen years of the University of New England, its babyhood and adolescence, as it were, from 1938 to 1954, have long been held in special regard by those fortunate to have experienced any of them.

The NEUC, New England University College, was a College of Sydney University, which employed the staff, and gave the fledgling community university status. NEUC, however, was not a replica of its guardian, and immediately acquired standards and a distinctive corporate spirit of its own. The small community of scholars and students, housed mainly in Boolominbah, the White family mansion beautifully designed by the architect John Horbury Hunt and built in 1888, soon generated its own ethos. This was one of achievement, adventure and excitement which, with sound guidance from understanding administrators, came naturally to those fleeing school and embarking on higher learning of their own choice in an idyllic setting. It was a much appreciated privilege in those days to attend university. It has to be said that NEUC was extraordinarily fortunate in the high quality of its initial academic staff both as scholars and teachers and as strong all-round individuals.

Jenny includes her father Duncan Howie quoting, on page 35, Wordsworth’s lines from his Prelude
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

Howie wrote in 1973 in a tone tinged with nostalgia, of ‘the first fine frenzy of whirlwind confusion and desperate improvisation’ in 1938. 

This enthusiasm for learning and for living a full life, engendered by being in a small rural community of scholars is mentioned by many of those who experienced it first hand.

There are many examples of the expression of this in these publications:

1. Margaret Franklin (Ed.) The New England Experience: Inside stories of UNE 1938-1988, UNE Alumni Association, 1987. [Appendix IV, which I compiled, lists the staff members for 1938 and 1939, and their qualifications.]

2. Keith Leopold, Came to Booloominbah, UNE Press, 1998, edited by John S Ryan.

3. J P Belshaw and P E H Barratt, Some Reminiscences about NEUC, 23 Armidale and District Historical Society Journal ADHSJ 1-17, March 1980.

4. Jim Graham, ‘Some Recollections of life at NEUC and UNE 1952-1955’, 45 ADHSJ 1-12 May 2002.

5. The Golden Years: A collection of reminiscences from the pioneers of the New England University College Collected by Elaine and Neil Graham, UNE Alumni Association October 1988, and

6. Margaret SpencerNew England University College 1938-1945’, Chapter 17 in The Arts from New England; University Provision and Outreach 1928-1998,edited by J S Ryan, the Faculty of Arts, UNE Alumni and UNE, 1998, pp.231-242.

Three comments from early students will suffice to confirm the point I am making.

Paul Barratt was the first student to arrive on campus in 1938 and returned to it from the war and was later to take the Chair of Psychology. He wrote in 1980:

There was no library, no laboratory and no apparatus.  Everything happened in Booloominbah where students and staff had their bedroom-studies, took their meals and attended classes.  The result of this peculiar set of circumstances was the growth of a very close staff-student relationship characterised by an exceptional dependence upon the staff for support, instructions and guidance.  I must say that, without exception, the staff rose to the occasion and engendered in their pupils a very strong feeling of confidence.  Consequently motivation was high and was enhanced by joint participation in sporting and social activities. 23 ADHSJ p12.

Alwyn Horadam, who arrived as a student in 1940 and was later A/Prof of Mathematics, wrote in 1987:

Perhaps there may have been a touch of magic in the air in those heady days, a feeling of participation in an exhilarating academic adventure.  More to the point, the truth is possibly that the students were a select group with a unity of purpose living in a closed environment…Looking back at these New England experiences, one has a feeling of pride and privilege in having participated in something unique and worthwhile: the birth of a fine university.  Remembrance of Things Past in The New England Experience, p6.

Jim Graham OAM was a student from 1952 to 1955. He taught at TAS for 44 years, 1956-99, wrote A School of their own, the history of TAS, wrote and produced many plays, including Ginger Meggs and Seven Little Australians, and was President of UNE Alumni Association. In 2001 he wrote:

As I reflect I conclude that UNE derived its special character from its relative isolation…The size of the university , in numerical terms, was certainly a factor which contributed to its distinctive personality…..There was a real feeling of corporateness. We were a discernible body…We were a community of teachers and scholars; undergraduates learning not only the prescribed courses of study, but, along with the teachers, learning from each other…The ambience, which was created by the group and the opportunities made available through collegiate life, led students to an understanding and respect for each other and for each other’s prejudices and points of view. 45 ADHSJ p.2.

There are many other sources of descriptions of early UNE including significant memoirs by Don Aitken, Paul Barratt, Noel Beadle, Kathleen Letters and Alan Voisey.

Jenny Browning has now added a new dimension to UNE’s early history, by rescuing details and attitudes from memorabilia, diaries and oral history about the otherwise overlooked wives of the early academic staff. She has brought to centre stage four who were used to working only back-stage. Some precise details will help to introduce these four wives and mothers.

1. Jenny’s father Duncan Howie, M. A. (W. A.) Ph. D. (London) was appointed in 1938, at age 35, to lecture in Philosophy and Psychology, and later had the Chair in Psychology. His wife was Ella Howie (nee Willliams).

2. Ralph G Crossley B. A. (W.A.) Ph.D. (Frieburg) was appointed in 1938 to lecture in French and German. His wife was Hilda Crossley (nee Collet)

3.Dr. H F C Davis, M. Sc. (Sydney) was appointed in 1939 to lecture in Biology. He was born in 1912. He died in Papua New Guinea in WWII in 1944 and the Consett Davis Playing Fields at UNE are named in his memory. He is also commemorated on the war memorial plaque in the circular garden east of the Union building. Cathy Davis was aged 4 when he died. His wife Gwenda Davis (nee Rodway) later lectured in Botany and Zoology at NEUC, but was paid only two thirds of the male rate because she was a woman. (p.72)

4. A H Voisey, M Sc (Syd) was appointed in 1939 to lecture in Geology and Geography, and later had the Chair in Geology. His wife was Phyllis Voisey (nee Cox).

Four of their children, Jenny (which is the affectionate Scottish diminutive of Janet, which her father called her) Browning (nee Howie), Peter Crossley, Cathy Davis and Yvonne Roach (nee Voisey) formed the group ‘The Families of New England University College’ and conferred with Dr Philip Ward at UNE Archives, who helped them considerably with their project. The group’s endeavours resulted in the materials and photos from which this book were quarried and also recorded talks which are now archived as Historical Collections: Families of NEUC, 1938-1954.

Jenny starts her book by quoting the much admired historian Dr John Ferry to the effect that ‘of all social institutions the family is the most significant in shaping people’s lives.’ Colonial Armidale,1999, p.12.. Then, in an appealing mix of the memories of the group of four about their families, anecdotes and relevant academic quotes, she sketches the social mores in Armidale; the scarcely suppressed animosity between the Protestants and the Catholics, the role expectations, especially by and of women, and the contrasting attitudes of university academics, Teachers College staff, graziers and townsfolk to each other.

The Armidale community perceived distinct social differences between vocational teachers’ college academics and university academics who were envisioned as a “rarer” breed. (p76).

Surely most readers will be glad that religious and social differences and divisions do not  now signify as they used to. One form of liberation is to have less social vanity, but perhaps personal vanity has expanded to fill the space vacated!

Jenny quotes Kerry James as writing in 1989:

- Women in particular have a great capacity for exerting social control over one another.  Female networks elaborate and enforce notions of proper and allowable female comportment and deviants are harshly dealt with. (p109) 

The main subject of Jenny’s book is how the four wives responded differently and with varying degrees of defiance to these pressures to conform.

For example, Jenny writes of Gwenda Davis:

Gwenda’s father was a doctor in Nowra and she was well aware of, and had no time for, the snobbery and narrow-mindedness of a rural community. She particularly disliked the controlling behaviour and influence exerted by the women of society’s upper echelons upon other women as to how they should manage their children and run their home.

Jenny quotes a telling phrase from Gwenda’s diary in February 1938…’lest I become a bloody lady!’  Both  p.78. She defied local conventions from the start. She got on instead with her Botany and Zoology lecturing at NEUC.

There is a startling revelation that for NEUC academic staff, being members of NEUC and not of Sydney University, had a huge consequence as well as depriving them of some status. ‘Their salaries were much lower than those of Sydney University lecturers.’  p.70-1. Matthew Jordan in his Jubilee history of UNE A spirit of true learning, UNSW Press, 2004, deals  at length with the tensions between Sydney University and its country ward, but he does not mention this fact. It was a special relief therefore, when autonomy was gained on 1 February 1954. At last academic staff could be represented on the governing body, UNE Council, and new faculties created including Rural Science and Agricultural Economics, and the pay anomalies removed.

There are many other delights to be found in this book; for example, this description of Dr Isabel Blanche who taught French: -

The academics’ children have many fond memories of the quirky, later somewhat eccentric, Miss Blanche…ho cycled to and from the university and everywhere around town, on her ancient black bicycle.  With her longish dresses and high heels, her long hair escaping from her French roll, her black university gown streaming in the breeze threatening to tangle in the back wheel, she rushed about always running late.  As she gaily waved to us children, shouting a greeting, usually in French, the bicycle would wobble alarmingly as we waited in apprehension and wicked childish amusement for her to fall.  (p112)

Jenny has honoured all four wives and mothers, and at the same time, she has written a valuable book about a memorable era in Armidale’s educational and cultural history.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

University's growing pains

The appointment in 1966 of Zelman Cowen to replace Robert Madgwick as the University of New England’s Vice-Chancellor was seen, rightly, as a considerable coup. Why, some of his colleagues at Melbourne University asked, had he not gone to Harvard or Cambridge?

After the hard early days, Madgwick had overseen very rapid growth at UNE. This growth is worth recording, for it was during the final Madgwick period that the University moved from a significant to dominant driver in the local economy.

Internal student numbers had grown from 249 in 1955 to 1,396 in 1965. External student numbers had grown from a zero base to 2,568.

Residential: The original Wright College, part of the new buildings constructed under Sir Robert Madgwick. This is the second in a three part series on the life of Sir Zelman Cowen. 
Academic staff had grown from 63 in 1953 to 360 in 1966, while general staff had increased from around 100 to 693. Construction work had boomed.

Madgwick was worried about the speed of growth.

How might the University preserve its collegiate nature and special culture, its outreach? How might it overcome the tendency to become more inward looking, more fragmented, as it grew?

By 1966, Madgwick had formed the view that it might be necessary to cap the size of UNE to preserve its character and the standard of teaching and student experience.

Madgwick was right to be worried.

He did not foresee the social changes that were just getting underway, the proliferation of new universities, the constant changes that would come in policy, the rise of corporatism, managerialism and the mega-university.

However, Madgwick did identify weaknesses within UNE that would later impede its ability to manage change. As the University grew it became comfortable, turned inward, reduced its regional role opening the way for new competitors, and forgot that it had to be better just to survive.

These changes and challenges still lay just ahead when Zelman Cowen arrived in 1967.

Upon arrival, Cowen maintained his role as a public intellectual. In 1967 he prepared the case for the ABC supporting a yes vote on the Aboriginal constitutional referendum, then in 1969 he delivered the ABC Boyer Lectures.

Cowen had long been interested in civil liberties and individual freedoms. His Boyer Lectures, the Private Man, focused on the erosion of privacy, on the challenges presented to society by new technology and the need for law reform to keep pace.

These have become even more pressing topics today.

Cowen’s public activities did increase the public prominence of UNE. His internal influence as VC is more difficult to measure.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 November 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019  

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A note on cave art in Borneo

Twelve months ago, 7 November 2018, a team of researchers published a letter in Nature outlining new discoveries in cave art in Borneo. I missed it at the time. hat tip to Iain Davidson who posted a link on the UNE Archaeology Society Facebook page.

The piece adds to our understanding of the early world the Australian Aborigines travelled through to reach Sahul.


Figurative cave paintings from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi date to at least 35,000 years ago (ka) and hand-stencil art from the same region has a minimum date of 40 ka1. Here we show that similar rock art was created during essentially the same time period on the adjacent island of Borneo. Uranium-series analysis of calcium carbonate deposits that overlie a large reddish-orange figurative painting of an animal at Lubang Jeriji Saléh—a limestone cave in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo—yielded a minimum date of 40 ka, which to our knowledge is currently the oldest date for figurative artwork from anywhere in the world. In addition, two reddish-orange-coloured hand stencils from the same site each yielded a minimum uranium-series date of 37.2 ka, and a third hand stencil of the same hue has a maximum date of 51.8 ka. We also obtained uranium-series determinations for cave art motifs from Lubang Jeriji Saléh and three other East Kalimantan karst caves, which enable us to constrain the chronology of a distinct younger phase of Pleistocene rock art production in this region. Dark-purple hand stencils, some of which are decorated with intricate motifs, date to about 21–20 ka and a rare Pleistocene depiction of a human figure—also coloured dark purple—has a minimum date of 13.6 ka. Our findings show that cave painting appeared in eastern Borneo between 52 and 40 ka and that a new style of parietal art arose during the Last Glacial Maximum. It is now evident that a major Palaeolithic cave art province existed in the eastern extremity of continental Eurasia and in adjacent Wallacea from at least 40 ka until the Last Glacial Maximum, which has implications for understanding how early rock art traditions emerged, developed and spread in Pleistocene Southeast Asia and further afield.
M. Aubert, P. Setiawan, A. A. Oktaviana, A. Brumm, P. H. Sulistyarto, E. W. Saptomo, B. Istiawan, T. A. Ma’rifat, V. N. Wahyuono, F. T. Atmoko, J.-X. Zhao, J. Huntley, P. S. C. Taçon, D. L. Howard & H. E. A. Brand, Palaeolithic cave art in Borneo,  Nature 564, 254–257 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0679-9