New England's History

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Nineteen Counties

Nineteen counties

On this day in 1829 Governor Darling proclaimed the 19 counties of NSW, redefining the area the Europeans could settle. Hat tip to State Records NSW.

This map shows the boundaries. The squatters quickly spread beyond these limits.

The counties themselves vanished from memory, but their imprint remains.     

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

History revisited – Armidale’s many connections

I can’t help being obsessive. It’s a problem.

People who live in Armidale now are absorbed by the rituals of daily life in that city as it is today. That’s understandable. But what about the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, who have connections with the city but who don’t live there? Where do they fit in?

At work a new staff member said “where do you come from Jim?” “Armidale.” “I wondered”, she said. You see, she used to work for the Business Enterprise Centre in the 1990s. Just across from my desk is a bloke whose family comes from Kelly’s Plains. “We are having a reunion”, he says. “I have never been there. I would like to go”.

Across the partition is a colleague who was born in Bundarra. He talks of the Bundarra Public School athletics team going to the big city (Armidale) for sporting events. “I didn’t have running shoes”, he says. “The Armidale boys did”. I have written several Bundarra columns just for him.

Nick sits just over my shoulder. He is married to a Greek girl from one of the former Greek café owning families in Armidale.

Four people, each with very different memories of and connections to Armidale and the North. The same pattern could be seen a week back at the launch of Came to New England. Published to mark last year’s 75th anniversary of the University College, the book’s thirty seven authors tell differing stories of connection with institution and place that span the decades since establishment.

I said that I was obsessive. Most local or regional historians are, for we are trying to capture and tell the stories that form our collective past. These form the things that bind.

In my columns on the history of the New England fight for self-government I traced the development of a sense of Northern identity, of connections that bind. By the end of the 1920s these were well established, providing a framework for local action. Then from the War came waves of economic and demographic change.

In 1950, every Northern newspaper or radio station was locally owned, as was TV when it arrived. This local ownership provided the base for Victor Thompson’s 1920 newspaper new state campaign. By 2000, most of the newspapers, all the radio station, all the TV stations were externally owned and controlled. The North had lost its voice.

From 1980, mass migration to the North Coast transformed the North’s population. In ten years, the population of the Tweed Valley grew by more than the total population of the Northern Tablelands.

This influx broke the previous balance between coast and inland, reducing the inland to a population rump. The old family connections and shared stories were broken, replaced by new connections and stories to places elsewhere.

In future columns I will return to the story of the Northern fight for self-government, now set in the context of the rise and fall of the sense of Northern identity.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 1 October 2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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 for2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

History revisited – threads in New England’s history

In my last column, I took the story of the North’s fight for self-government through to the end of the 1920s. Now we plunge into the tumultuous story of the Depression in which the North came within an inch of formal forced secession from New South Wales. This was also the time in which the term New England first started to be used to describe the broader North.

I suspect that some readers may be surprised at just how long it is taking to tell the story of the North’s fight for self-government. You shouldn’t be. This is a fight that has continued for over 150 years, one that is inextricably entwined with Northern history.

Still, to give you a break while also setting a context, I thought that I might stand back from the main story and talk about themes in New England history. You see, even now with all the changes, that’s what shapes us.

Geography shaped Aboriginal New England. Obviously, there was no such thing as Aboriginal New England. New England or the North is a European construct. But the core pattern of the Tablelands with its originating rivers still shaped Aboriginal life.

When the Europeans arrived, settlement came in two broad streams: an inland stream mainly from the Hunter north and then across to the coast; and then a coast stream by ship up the river valleys north and then across into the inland.

This pattern formed New England life, creating overlapping north-south and east-west axes. The north-south axis centered first on Morpeth-Maitland and then on Newcastle with the expansion of the Great Northern Railway; the east-west axis centered on the various river ports and especially Grafton.

Separatist support was strongest along the east-west axis, for that was the area that was most adversely affected by Sydney centralising policies that effectively impeded the development of east-west linkages and trade. However, separatist support also extended along the north-south axis as far south as Maitland, for that was the area most affected by Sydney centralisation policies that diverted trade to Sydney after the opening of the railway bridge over the Hawkesbury region.

In all his, the sense of Northern identity was lowest in Newcastle and the lower Hunter and from the Manning Valley south.

Newcastle did see itself in Northern terms, but this was muted by the rise of coal mining. The coal owners and the miners saw the world in very different terms from those living further north. On the coast, from the Manning Valley south the focus was on Sydney with few Northern linkages.

This pattern was reflected in the 1920s’ separatist campaigns. It was also reflected in the 1967 plebiscite vote on self-government.

Movement of people along both the north-south and east-west axis created linkages of kith and kin. Simply put, we all had relatives elsewhere in the North. The establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College and New England University College reinforced this pattern, for it brought together kids from across the North. This further facilitated the growth of Northern identity,

Then from 1980 came fundamental demographic shifts, the rise of the coast, that would progressively erode that sense of Northerness. I will look at this in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 September 2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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 for2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Updating New England’s History

I intend to update this blog over the next week or so. I make this point only because I will be bringing material up at the date it which it should have appeared, not the current date. This may lead to some strange feeds!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

History revisited – the Cohen Commission’s silver lining

Even at the time, the 1925 Cohen Commission Report into new states was not as devastating as it seemed. Northern and, more broadly, country grievances had been documented. The NSW Treasury financial assumptions and analysis accepted by the Commission were open to severe challenge, although some of the analytical tools that would assist this such as the concept of the multiplier had yet to be developed. The Report’s biases themselves were clearly documented. 

All this was recognised by the Melbourne Age in a remarkably sympathetic editorial. The unfavourable report should not come as a surprise, the paper suggested, nor was it a reason for slackening effort. “The commission represented the interests of one State or part of a State …… The case for new States is undeniably strong.”

Perhaps most importantly of all, the five years’ campaigning since Victor Thompson launched his newspaper campaign had created a genuine sense of Northern identity. This went some distance towards overcoming the very powerful local parochialisms that had, and still do, so poison efforts at broader Northern cooperation. Armidale would benefit greatly as a consequence.

Over the first half of 1926, David Drummond returned to the fight with a series of articles in Country Life on constitutional reform. These were published later in 1926 under the title Constitutional Changes in Australia.

The result could hardly be classified as literature: Drummond’s lack of formal education was still apparent in his sometimes clumsy construction, while the articles were repetitive and written in a popular style. However, they were a detailed statement of the separatist position that, with modifications, has held to the present day. Armidale Teachers College

In parallel, Drummond along with other Northern leaders turned to what would later be called the functional approach to new states, the creation of the structures and institutions necessary to support Northern self government. In doing so, they were supported by the local press and drew on the links and loyalties created over the previous five years.

The elections of October 1927 saw the defeat of the first Lang Government and its replacement by a Nationalist- Country Party coalition. The Progressive Party had changed its name to better reflect its country base.

The Northern Country Party ministers including Drummond as Minister for Public Instruction came to office with a long to do list.

One of the immediate tangible results was the 1928 creation of the Armidale Teachers’ College (photo) as a first step towards the creation of a Northern university. Work also began on the construction of the Guyra-Dorrigo railway, pursuing another long-held Northern dream.

This Indian Summer would prove brief, swept away by the Great Depression. As it faded, the ground was being laid for the next and still more dramatic burst of new state agitation.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 September 2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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 for2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

Friday, September 12, 2014

Janine Rizetti, family reconstruction and network analysis

On the Resident Judge of Port Phillip, Janine Rizetti’s ‘Connecting’ at the masterclass provides a report on her attendance at a history master class at the University of Tasmania. It’s an interesting piece and I wish that I had been able to attend.

In some earlier posts (here, is an example) I mentioned the work that Allan Atkinson and Norma Townsend had done on family reconstruction, the painstaking recreation of local life through examination of families and the linkages  between them. This seems to be very similar in some ways to the network study approach discussed in Hobart, the examination of connections between people, although here the focus is on connections across space as compared to a narrowly defined local area. The connection comes from the examination of patterns and linkages.

All very interesting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

History revisited – the Cohen Commission: outmanoeuvred, the New England new state movement goes down

Premier Sir George Fuller may have been forced to accept Drummond’s resolution calling for a Royal Commission into the creation of new states but, fundamentally opposed to the idea of breaking up NSW, Fuller had no intention of making things easy for the new state protagonists,

The Northerners had wanted a Commission to lay down the boundaries for John Jacob Cohentheir state. Instead, the terms of reference announced in April 1924 required the new staters to pass three main tests: whether new states were practicable; if so, whether they were desirable; and whether the same ends could not be achieved another way.

These tests made the membership of the Commission vitally important, for unsympathetic appointees had three different if related grounds for rejection. The omens here were not encouraging.

Three of the five commissioners including Grafton born Justice Cohen (photo) as chair had deep connections with the Nationalist Party. Even more important was the appointment of W A Holman (photo) as counsel to assist the inquiry, supported by H S Nicholas. As Premier, Holman had clashed with the new staters while his political career had been effectively destroyed by those same Progressives who were now the chief protagonists of the new state cause.

The Northerners organised thoroughly for the task ahead. It was agreed that Thompson would organise the general evidence, while Page as Commonwealth Treasurer preparing the necessary financial data. Guidelines were prepared for witnesses, with local leagues provided on-ground support.

It was clear from the first hearings that the Movement was on trial as Holman used his considerable forensic skills to build the case against. The Commission became a duel between Thompson leading for the Movement and Holman.

Thompson believed that he was winning. This view was not shared by other members of the Northern leadership group. On 6 June 1924, an alarmed Alf Pollack wrote twice to Page stressing the need for expert cross-examination, arguing that Thompson could not provide it.

William_Holman_1919 The hearings also provoked scattered opposition from local opponents of the self-government cause, opposition that was played up by the metropolitan media covering the Commission. But most important of all were debates over financial viability.

Page had argued that a Northern new state would have an annual surplus of 416,064 pounds. NSW Treasury representative Bertram Stevens argued that revenues would be25 per cent lower than Page’s projections, costs 40 per cent higher.

Recognising that this was potentially devastating. Page drew on the resources of his own Department. A Treasury official analysed Steven’s evidence, while the Department also collected comparative material on costs in other jurisdictions.

In the end, it was all in vain. The Commission accepted Holman’s arguments and the State Treasury estimates, ruling against the Movement on all counts. New states were neither desirable nor practical. Existing defects in the machinery of government should be remedied by a system of district councils with delegated powers.

Exhausted, the movements elsewhere in NSW collapsed, while even the stronger Northern Movement was reduced to a shadow of its former strength.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 September 2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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 for2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

History revisited – Progressives force George Fuller to strike New England self government deal

It will already be clear that the story of the North’s fight for self-government is long and complex. The 1920s are important in that long story because it was then that the arguments and issues that would dominate future debate were defined.

It is sad but true that the only new issue in present discussions on the future of the Australian Federation is the degree of fiscal imbalance created by the Commonwealth’s overwhelming financial power. Every other issue, everyone one of the solutions put forward, every argument for or against each solution, was fully canvassed in the 1920s and then repeated seriatim over coming decades.

I mention this because we are now coming in our story to the creation of the Cohen Royal Commission into New States. This was seen, correctly, as a considerable achievement. However, it was also one that would bring the new state movement to its knees.

In March 1920, the Progressive Party had campaigned as a new broom. However, the new Party was actually an uneasy amalgam of very experienced Parliamentarians who saw political power as an end and the new and younger country members such as Bruxner or Drummond who saw political power as a means to an end, the achievement of their objectives and aspirations.

On 5 October 1920 Labor Premier John Storey died, being replaced by James Dooley. Storey’s death left the Assembly evenly balanced. Sensing an opportunity, Nationalist Liberal leader George Fuller persuaded some of the Progressives to join him to create a Nationalist-Progressive Coalition to overthrow the Government.

The move failed, but split the Progressive Party down the middle, with the younger country members led by Bruxner refusing to have anything to do with the deal. Initially their fate was uncertain, but their stand was finally backed by the Progressive Party organisation. George_fuller

The elections of March 1922 saw the two wings of the Progressive Party pitted against each other. Following the elections, the Nationalist- Coalitionists became the largest party group, but did not have a majority. Fuller (photo) therefore formed a minority government. 

The True Blue Progressives were in a difficult position. Their party organisation and key backers including the Graziers’ Association would not allow them to support the Labor Party. Aware of this, Fuller did his best to ignore the presence of the True Blue Progressives.

The True Blues responded by making life miserable for the Government while campaigning on causes dear to their hearts, including new states. Matters came to a head in November 1923 when the Progressives combined with Labor, independent and dissident Coalitionists to defeat the Government during the Estimates debate.

Sir George Fuller had had enough. A deal was struck in which the Progressives agreed to provide general support to the Government in return for undertakings that included a Royal Commission into New States.

In December 1923, Drummond was able to move a successful motion in the Assembly calling for the creation of the Royal Commission. The Cohen Commission was born.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 August   2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

History revisited – Queensland joins fight for self government

By December 1920, the new state fire that Victor Thompson had lit in January 1920 may, as Earle Page said, have burnt well, but the new Movement still had to turn that heat into reality.

The events that followed over the next four years are complex, deeply entwined in local, state and Federal politics. I can only sketch some of the key features.

The embryo movement formed at the Glen Innes convention in August 1920 was transformed into a full scale movement that, by the end of 1921, had 200 leagues across the North.

Recognising the need for national support, the Northern leadership took the subdivision cause onto the road. They reached out into Queensland where support for separation was already strong in Central and Northern Queensland. Here they were joined by Labor politician and later Prime Minister Frank Forde (photo)  who, as member Frank Forde for Rockhampton in the State Parliament, had been actively promoting the subdivision of Queensland.

In Southern New South Wales, the Northern campaigners were successful in creating an active movement seeking statehood for the Riverina. Then, in July 1922, a national new state conference was held at Albury. Convened jointly by the Riverina and Northern Movements, the conference aimed to coordinate the activities of the various separation movements that had sprung up as a result of the Northerners’ campaign.

Attended by representatives including seven parliamentarians from twelve organisations covering NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, it formed an All Australian New States Movement with Earle Page as President, Victor Thompson as secretary.

Also in July 1922, Frank Forde successfully moved a motion in the Queensland Parliament calling for constitutional change to allow the formation of new states, while Drummond moved a motion in the NSW Parliament calling for immediate action to create a new state in Northern New South Wales.

This motion was opposed by the Labor opposition who argued that any subdivision should take place only in the context of an overall revision of the Federal Constitution that would strengthen Federal powers and replace the states with provinces.

The Government’s position was more complicated. The Premier conceded that new states were inevitable in the longer term, but also felt that it was simply unreasonable to expect members to agree to a motion that would mean loss of territory for NSW. An amendment was therefore moved and passed asking the Federal Government to convene a convention to consider the question, thus neatly shelving the issue.

The Federal elections of December 1922 saw the election of new staters P P Abbott to the Senate, Victor Thompson to the House of Representatives as member for New England. It also saw the emergence of the Country Party in a position of balance of power.

Page, now Country Party Leader, was determined to assert country interests. He demanded that the new Government be a joint one, a coalition of equals. The result was the formation of the Bruce-Page ministry.

The door now seemed open to real action to force self-government for New England. It wasn’t to be as easy as that.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 August   2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

History revisited – Thompson’s separatist fire burns well

Tamworth Observer editor Victor Thompson could not have foreseen the scale of impact of the Northern self-government campaign he launched through the paper in January 1920. Over 1920, the movement grew and grew.

Following the initial success of the Thompson campaign, a meeting of Northern newspapers held at Glen Innes in March 1920 agreed to form a New State Press League and Press Propaganda Executive with Thompson as secretary to direct an intensive propaganda campaign.

Over the next twelve months, the twenty-seven newspapers that had joined the League funded the Propaganda Executive to distribute news and editorial material to Northern newspapers. By August 1920, sixty newspapers from the Upper Hunter to the border were publishing League material.

The Thompson campaign coincided with campaigning for the NSW State election.

Earle Page had already been elected to the Federal Parliament in 1918 as member for Cowper representing the newly formed County Party. Now the March State election saw the election of a number of members for the newly formed Progressive Party including Mick Bruxner and David Drummond who had specifically campaigned on the new state cause.

In April 1920, the Tamworth Municipal Council circularised other councils in the North asking for an expression of opinion on the desirability of new states. Many reported enthusiastic support and followed Tamworth’s example by calling public meetings to launch new state leagues. By the end of May, fifty four councils were prepared to take action.

The Northern parliamentarians, particularly Page, Bruxner and Drummond helped the cause by speaking on tour and by assisting in the establishment of local leagues.

In late May, Drummond was the main speaker at a 5,000 strong Tamworth rally. The rally was preceded by a procession more than a mile long including 500 children clad in white. Denied a half holiday for the event, the children deserted school to march anyway.

In August, a Glen Innes conference appointed a provisional central executive for the newly forming Northern New State Movement pending a full convention to be held in Armidale. Following this, Progressive Party Parliamentarians Raymond Perdriau and David Drummond were appointed to organise the North Coast and Inland respectively.

December saw the publication of what would come to be called the new state bible, Australia Subdivided. Largely edited by Glen Innes Examiner editor Ernest Sommerlad with a foreword signed by seven parliamentarians, Australia Subdivided provided a detailed presentation of the new state case. It also bemoaned the absence of teachers’ colleges or universities in the North, a view that would be of considerable importance to Armidale’s future.

At year’s end, Page could fairly write to Thompson “Altogether, I think that you will be satisfied with the results of your labours this year. The fire you started has travelled far, and burnt well.”

The fire had indeed burnt well. However, now the new Movement faced major challenges in turning the dream into practical reality.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 August   2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. 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.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series