New England's History

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

History Revisited - how Tamworth's paper became a leader

CHANGING TIMES: Jim Belshaw's column this week focuses the history of the Tamworth newspaper the Northern Daily Leader
I hope that you had a happy Christmas. May 2016 bring peace and happiness.

My last column summarized the life and career of Ernest Christian Sommerlad. This column continues the story of the Northern pressmen, they were nearly all men, who had such an influence on New England life over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Albert Edward Joseph was born at Gympie in Queensland on 9 November 1873. the third son of Henry and Rebecca Joseph. Following the death of both his parents, the twelve year old Albert was sent to Tamworth to live with his Uncle Solomon, the publisher of the bi-weekly Tamworth News.

While attending the  Tamworth Grammar School, Joseph decided to become a surveyor and joined the Survey Branch of the Land’s Department.. Committed to Tamworth and the North, he managed to stay working at the Tamworth Local Land Board Office for twenty years by the simple expedient of refusing every promotion!

Upon his Uncle’s death, control of the Tamworth News had passed to G A Codrington. Joseph may have been was working as a surveyor, but he retained his interest in newspapers. In 1908, he put together a deal that allowed him to buy the rival Tamworth Observer with effect from 1 January 1909.

Within two years, Joseph floated the Tamworth Newspaper Coy Ltd. This purchased both the News and Observer, with Joseph becoming Managing Director of the new company. In 1920, the Tamworth Daily Observer was renamed the Northern Daily Leader.

Writing later, Albert Joseph said: "There is substance in the; claim that the paper that can be delivered at the breakfast table will dominate the thought's of those amongst whom it circulates. At least it will tend to develop a distinctive community of opinions and ideals. and thus to become a focus of political and social thought in the life of the region.”

With these words as guidance, Victor Thompson as editor, Joseph as business leader, the Observer/Northern Daily Leader aggressively extended its reach following the railway lines. Within a few years, the paper became the dominant daily over a territory extending from Tenterfield on the border to Moree in the west, Murrrurundi in the south. As late as 1960, the Leader was outselling the Sydney Morning Herald in Armidale.

The tone of the paper was unapologetically Northern, campaigning on causes from self government to the university movement. It was also prepared to spend on things that could not be immediately justified in circulation terms, including literary pages. This made the paper a driving force, a focus for Northern activism and a clearing house for the ideas and enthusiasms of the North. .

Beyond the paper, Joseph played a key role in the formation of the Associated Northern Dailies, in the Country Press Association and in a variety of community activities. He was a foundation member of the Advisory Council created to guide the newly created New England University College.

By the time of his death in 1947, Joseph was seen as a key Northern figure whose life was marked not just by his professional career nor by his community activities, but by his kindness and personal contribution to so many.

“Of Joseph it can truly be said”, Profesor A E Bland later said, “that a man s virtue is measured, not by his extraordinary efforts, but by his everyday conduct.”
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 January 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited 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.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ancient stone artifacts discovered on Sulawesi

Interesting piece by Michael Greshko (Stone Tools Point to Mysterious Neighbor of Flores ‘Hobbit’) in National Geographic reporting on the latest archaeological work on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Stone tools found there appear to predate the arrival of modern humans to the area by more than 60,000 years
The perplexing artifacts, announced on Wednesday in Nature, are most likely between 118,000 and 194,000 years old, though some may be even older. The keen-edged flakes of stone were excavated from an ancient river floodplain in southwest Sulawesi, near the present-day village of Talepu. Some even bear telltale signs of being hammered into shape.But today’s best evidence indicates that modern Homo sapiens didn’t arrive on neighboring islands until about 50,000 years ago, well after the mysterious toolmakers left their wares behind. The find further indicates that some earlier form of human was more successful at traversing the south Pacific’s island networks than previously believed.
Gerrit van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong in Australia, the study’s lead author, says that the tools likely were made by Homo erectus, an ancient hominin that lived on nearby islands beginning at least 1.5 million years ago. It’s also possible that the toolmakers are yet-undiscovered relatives of Homo floresiensis, a “hobbit” hominin found on the island of Flores, just south of Sulawesi, between 18,000 and 95,000 years ago, if not earlier.
This discovery is the latest of many that has been dramatically transforming our understanding of the more distant human past. In time, these discoveries are likely to affect our interpretation of Aboriginal prehistory.

Recent discoveries on Barrow Island now off the West Australian coast appear to have pushed the confirmed date for Aboriginal occupation of Australia to between 50,000 and 53,000 years ago. The issue then becomes how the Aborigines fitted into a pattern of human dispersal that was far more complex than that realised even a decade ago.


I wrote a slightly longer muse piece on my personal blog. The Sulawesi discoveries: where does Australian prehistory fit? John Hawks had a useful perspective piece, Somebody was on Sulawesi before 118,000 years ago, while University of New England's Dr Mark Moore who analysed the stone tools recovered from the excavation, reports that the tools were finely crafted with a high degree of skill involved.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Season's Greetings to all my readers

I am taking a short Christmas break. I wish all my readers seasons greetings. May you have a happy Christmas and a great new year.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

History Revisited - building a New England media empire

MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: in his Extra column this week, Jim Belshaw explores the background and achievements of journalist Ernest Christian Sommerlad
In 1950, all the Northern media (press, radio and then television) was locally or regionally controlled. By 2000 all this had been swept with local media becoming part of external media empires.

One result of these changes is the disappearance in large part of the press figures that once formed such a distinctive part of Northern life. Ernest Christian Sommerlad was one such.

Earnest by nature, constantly active and a devout Christian in belief, E C Sommerlad was part journalist, part community activist and publicist, part politician, part writer, part business man whose influence endures to today.

Sommerlad was born on 30 January 1886 at Tenterfield, the youngest of twelve children. His parents, John and Louisa, had emigrated to Australia from Germany, forming part of the several waves of German immigrants that settled in the Clarence and at various localities on the Tablelands.

At eleven, Sommerlad left school to help on the family farm. Restless, he enrolled at Newington College in Sydney at the age of 21 (his classmates were all 14), passing the junior public examination in 1908. After theological training, Sommerlad left for Fiji as a missionary, but returned after six months because of a throat infection that made preaching difficult.

He remained active within the Methodist Church, this involvement providing one of the continuing threads of his life.

In February 1912, Sommerlad joined the Inverell Times as a reporter, moving three months later to the rival Inverell Argus where he quickly rose to editor. It was during this Inverell period that Sommerlad met a young sharefarmer called David Drummond. Also a devout Methodist and equally earnest, Drummond and Sommerlad formed a close friendship that spread across Sommerlad’s varied interests.

In May 1918, Sommerlad purchased the Glen Innes Examiner, laying the base that would later become Northern Newspapers, a key part of the Sommerlad publishing dynasty.  

Here three threads in Sommerlad’s life come into play.

The first was journalism and writing, interests he retained until the end of his life when in 1950, two years before his death, he published Mightier than the Sword, the first handbook on Australian journalism.

The second thread was his role as a publisher and business man. This was reflected in the growth of his own newspapers, in the role he played in local newspaper consolidation during the 1920s and then in the evolution of the country press and its association. As first general manager, then Managing Director and then Chairman of Country Press Ltd, he built the organisation into a major business.

The third thread was Sommerlad’s involvement in politics and community development.

He became actively involved in the new political movements emerging in the North after the First World War including the Country Party and the New State Movement. Totally committed to the North and Northern development, he used his paper as his pulpit to promote local and regional causes.

E C Sommerlad died in 1952. He left a considerable legacy.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 December 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.
This is the last column for 2015. The next column will appear in the paper on 13 January 2016, on this blog on 20 January. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

History Revisited - Guyra's link to organic farming origins

A DIFFERENT WAY TO GROW: Harold Fletcher White was one of the pioneers of organic farming from his Guyra property
I suspect that most people think of Australian organic farming as a recent development dating to the thread in the growing environmental movements with their interest in sustainability.

Few Australians would know that the world’s first organic farming organisation, the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society, was formed in 1944. Its periodical, the Organic Farming Digest, was the first organics advocacy journal.

If few Australians know of the early history of organic farming, fewer still would know of the New England connection with that early history.

The term organic farming was coined by Lord Northbourne, appearing first in Northbourne’s manifesto on organic farming, Look to the Land, published in London in May 1940. The book reached Australia quite quickly, and was widely and favourably reviewed.

The ideas in the book attracted attention from that linked group of New England farmers and graziers already interested in scientific farming, as well as other Northern causes. .From the beginning, the newly established New England University College had been seen as a vehicle for the advancement and application of agricultural science.

Harold Fletcher White was a key member of the New England group. Known as Bill to his friends and Colonel to everybody else, White was a formal rather stern man of firm views who commanded considerable respect.

Born in 1883, White was part of the first group of pupils at the New England Proprietary School (later The Armidale School). After TAS, he studied arts and engineering at Sydney University for two years, but gave that up to join Pitt Son & Badgery. In 1906 White returned to manage some of the family properties at Guyra.

A member of the 6th Australian Light Horse since 1906, White enlisted in 1914, finishing the War as a lieutenant-colonel. Upon return to Australia, he continued the pasture and stock improvement work that he had begun on Bald Blair.

As part of his work, White experimented with the application of fertiliser to pastures. This gave great initial yields which then diminished despite increased application of fertiliser. White concluded that much farming was soil mining, that healthy food required healthy soil, that monoculture was part of the problem. To his mind, action to increase the humus content in soils was central to sustainable agriculture.

White began to experiment with various techniques that might increase the humus content. This focus on practical experimentation was one of the features of the New England group as a whole.

White was involved with the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society from its formation to demise in 1955. Starting with the first and ending with the last publication, he contributed twenty articles to its periodical, making him the second most prolific contributor.

In 1953, he joined with Professor C Stanton Hicks to write and publish Life from the Soil setting out his ideas in some detail. The book was a considerable success, going through three editions.

The Society was forced to close in 1955 because of lack of support. However, by then it had popularised the concept of organic farming. The ideas that it and White espoused remain relevant today.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 December 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

History Revisited - Thomas' death a blow to New England's Aboriginal history

PHOTOGRAPHY PIONEER: Thomas Dick took many photographs of Aborigines in the Hastings Valley in the first decades of the 20th century
The discovery of another collection of Thomas Dick’s Aboriginal photos attracted considerable interest. Oyster grower, naturalist and photographer, Thomas Dick produced 500 photographs of the Hastings Valley that are today seen as works of art.

Thomas Dick’s grandparents settled at Port Macquarie in 1841. Grandfather John was a tanner. Thomas’s father, also John, worked in the family tannery business until taking up one of the first oyster leases on the Hastings River in the 1880s.

Thomas took up his own oyster lease in 1899. Like many at the time, this was the age of the amateur naturalist, he became fascinated by nature. This brought him into contact with the young economic zoologist Theo Roughley who had just started working at the Technological Museum in Sydney and was especially interested in fisheries.

Roughley taught Thomas the rudiments of photography and helped him buy his first camera just before the start of World War One. Thomas became hooked, setting up his own darkroom.

During the working week, Thomas worked his lease, growing and marketing his oysters. Then at the weekend, he explored his interest in natural history and photography, searching for suitable objects and backgrounds. Thomas was clearly knowledgeable, providing information both to Roughley and to Richard Baker, the Technological Museum’s curator.

Thomas is best known now for his Aboriginal photographs. “I set out years ago, he wrote in 1923, “to collect and write the history of these Aborigines, and get together, not only a fine collection of photos, but also a fine collection of implements etc., and …. a remarkable amount of information.”

Thomas’s photos were staged, itself a remarkable feat for he had to persuade his Aboriginal models to remove clothing and pose undertaking traditional tasks. He built trust, aided in some cases by payment of fees.

The photographs may have been staged, but they were authentic nevertheless. Thomas went into the mountains with the Aborigines, gaining trust and the secrets of their laws, information provided on the basis that it would not be made available until after the death of the informants.

“I was fortunate”, he later recorded, “for some of the old men were most intelligent and they recognised that their race was run, as it were, so they gave me under the conditions named, the history of their race.”

“Now by these means I secured all of the marks on the sacred trees, and their meaning, all of the rules of the ‘Waipara’ or man making ceremony.”

Tragically, Thomas Dick died on his fiftieth birthday in 1927. He had gone to study marine life in one of his favourite rock pools and seems to have been caught by a major wave.

Thomas knew the value of the information he had, but had clearly been struggling to get it down. . “I do not known when I will bring out the work for I am now too much handicapped”, he had written sadly in 1923. In that year, he also resigned as a member of the Royal Society of NSW. There were clearly problems.

With Thomas’s death, we lost access to that past he had learned about, lost the chance to establish a bridge between that past, the present and the future. This loss is particularly great for the Birpai/Biripi people themselves. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 December 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Aborigines of the Hastings Valley: more Thomas Dick photographs discovered

The ABC's 7.30 Report carried an interesting story on the discovery of more of Thomas Dick's Aboriginal photographs.

Thomas Dick (here, here) was a Port Macquarie oyster farmer and pioneer photographer who took a series of photos of Aboriginal life on the Hastings over 14 years in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The photos were posed, but Dick knew and was trusted by the Aboriginal people. On all I know, they present an authentic picture.

Thomas Dick was drowned in 1927. Sadly, the knowledge he collected died with him. He had intended to write up the stories that he had been told by the elders, but that was not to be. There was one aspect of the 7.30 Report that made me uncomfortable, and that was the suggestion that he was ostracised because of his interest in the Aboriginal people. That doesn't quite fit with a man who was  secretary to the Port Macquarie Show Society, secretary of the Regatta Club. secretary of the Church of England Parochial Council, and an alderman on the Port Macquarie Council

I will write up his story properly later. For the moment, I just wanted to record the discovery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

History Revisited - Regan embodied entrepreneurial tradition

THE FAMILY BUSINESS: Tamworth born Basil Regan traveled to England to learn the art of flour milling before returning to his home town.
The rivalry between Armidale and Tamworth is almost as old as that between Sydney and Melbourne and just as intense. Those in Armidale have sometimes seen Tamworth as hot, crass and commercial. Those in Tamworth have seen Armidale as cold, conservative and elitist, almost effete.

Of course, these views are caricatures. However, like all stereotypes, there is more than a grain of truth in them. In particular, Tamworth is simply more entrepreneurial and business focused than Armidale. To illustrate this, I want to return to the story of Basil Regan, someone I mentioned in my last column on the history of food.

John Basil Regan was born on 15 June 1903 at Tamworth, the fifth of seven children of Charles and Sarah Regan. By the time Basil was born, the Regan business interests were well established. These included Charles Regan Ltd’s store (the 'Palace of Trade'), as well as the George Fielder Phoenix Mill (photo) that had been  acquired by Charles in 1912.

After initial education by the Dominican nuns in Tamworth, Basil enrolled in 1915 at St Ignatius College in Sydney. he seems to have enjoyed his time there, but left in 1920 before completing the leaving certificate to work in the family business and especially the flour milling side.

In 1922, the nineteen year old Basil went to England where he was employed by Thomas Burton Ltd, flour-millers. He completed the London City & Guilds course in flour-milling before training at Aynsome Laboratories, St Helens, and the Woodlands Ltd laboratories, Dover.

This training would prove to be very important, for Basil would establish himself as a technological entrepreneur. 
In 1924 Basil rejoined the family businesses, managing with his cousin the new flour mill erected in West Tamworth. This became the main profit earner for the family company. Now established, Basil married Kathleen Mary Cavanagh, a striking redhead and accomplished pianist, on 30 September 1931.

In 1935 Regan began experimenting with the manufacture of gluten and starch. He employed an Irish milling engineer and by 1938 a process had been perfected, using wheat rather than corn or potatoes, and a starch factory had been erected. 'Fielders Cornflour' had been born. Not, mind you, that it actually contained cornflour!

By 1945, the Regan family enterprises were one of Tamworth’s largest employers. The main company that Basil grew is now known as Goodman Fielders.

One of the features of Tamworth business over very many decades is the way in which entrepreneurial business activities created business leaders and a pool of capital that could be deployed to other business activities. This facilitated start-ups and spread risk.

In Basil’s case, he was a board member and sometime chairman of the Tamworth Newspaper Co. Ltd, a director of East-West Airlines Ltd and later of Television New England Ltd. He was also actively involved in community activities.

A devout Catholic and a devoted family man, Basil died on 14 July 1987 at Normanhurst in Sydney , and was buried in the Tamworth cemetery. He was survived by his wife, son and three daughters,.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 November 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Food, Adelaide and nostalgia: two Australian history blogs

In searching around for material to illustrate a food story,  History Revisited - how railways helped revolutionise our food, I came across two new blogs. Well, they are not really new, just new to me!

The first is Adelaide Remember When. As you might expect from the title, it does focus on Adelaide and fits within the nostalgia trope that has become so prevalent. Those from South Australia are likely to relate most strongly, but the various posts are interesting in themselves.

The second is Australian food industry timeline, a site that includes a second blog for things that otherwise might not fit in simply called My (other) blog! This is a very good site for those like me interested in the history of food in Australia. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

History Revisited - how railways helped revolutionise our food

CLASSIC: In his column, Jim Belshaw discusses the history of food in Australia and details why we have a man called William Arnott to thank for our Iced Vovo.
This column returns to something I talked about earlier this year, the history of food in Australia.  

One of the constant issues in discussions on food is Australia’s failure to develop its own unique cuisine and, as a subset of this, our failure to develop distinct regional cuisines in the way that happened in other places.

There is truth in these complaints, although I have argued that there was far more variety than people realised. I have also attacked the idea that our food somehow became more varied following the migrant intake after the Second World War.

At one level it did, but what we now see as variety is actually far less varied than the food we ate at points in Australia’s past. Current cuisine is also homogenized and packaged through magazines and cooking shows that present a standardized cross-country view that focuses on novelty.

Like lemmings, we are meant to rush off and do the latest thing together! Fashion rules, leading to food fashion cycles. You can see this clearly in the changing restaurant mix. In one day, out the next.

The role played by cooking shows and by the chain stores in imposing culinary uniformity is the latest manifestation of a long trend dating back to the industrial revolution.

The industrial revolution gave us faster transport, trains and ships, along with refrigeration and other new food preserving techniques. It also gave us an increased range of food additives designed to enhance appearance and taste.

These new developments hit Australia suddenly. The rapidly spreading railway network allowed food stuffs to be shipped more easily. Then from the 1870s, came the rapid spread to industrial food manufacturing and packaging.

These dates are important. Commissioner Macdonald established his headquarters in Armidale in 1839. The railway came to Armidale in 1883, just 44 years later. That was not a lot of time to build a unique local cuisine!

The new food businesses developed into major industrial empires. Scotsman William Arnott emigrated to Australia in 1848. He prospered in Maitland as a baker and pastry cook, only to be wiped out in the great double Hunter floods of 1857.

In 1865, Arnott re-established himself in Newcastle, achieving quick success especially with the supply of sweet and plain biscuits and ships' biscuits. His biscuits were sold to the growing number of ships in port and distributed to Sydney be sea and along the growing railway network. The Arnott’s biscuit empire had been born. .

Later, the Regan family and especially John Basil Regan (1903-1987) would build Tamworth based Fielder’s into a national food empire. Basil Regan played a major role in the twentieth century development of Tamworth, contributing also to other Northern causes including decentralization and the growth of the New England University College.

I can recognise the benefits that the new food companies brought to consumers. However, I also can’t help wishing that the process had been just a little slower, a little less all-consuming. That would have given us a better chance to develop our own unique cuisine.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 November 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.