New England's History

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Research Note: Impact of Smallpox on Aboriginal New England

It is now well established that diseases brought by Europeans extended beyond the moving frontier wreaking havoc on Aboriginal communities still distant from European settlement. One such disease was smallpox, with outbreaks starting in 1789 and then again around 1829.

Discussion on smallpox has focused on two questions.

The first is where the smallpox came from. There are two schools. One said that it came from the settlement at Sydney, a second from Macassan visitors harvesting trepang in Northern Australia. The second question is the scale of the death toll. Both questions have become embroiled to some degree in the continuing history wars.

A related question is the nature of transmission mechanisms, a question that links to the structure of and relations between Aboriginal groups. For example, could smallpox in fact have come from Northern sources in the required time horizons given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations? Again, could smallpox have spread in the way sometimes described given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations?

I am interested in the impact of smallpox on the Aboriginal peoples of Northern NSW, the broader New England. The questions as to who might be responsible and why fall outside my immediate scope except to the degree it affects what happened in New England.

Based on my very preliminary work, my present tentative conclusions are:
·         The first smallpox epidemic came from the Sydney settlement. Its hard to fit the geography otherwise. I still have an open mind on the second.
·         In broad terms, the impact of smallpox was geographically patchy because of the particular dispersed structure of Aboriginal life in combination with the transmission pattern. It hit Sydney hard because you had a high population concentration meaning that people could mix during the contagion period. For smaller groups, infection would depend upon someone one coming while contagious and then infecting the group, with on-transmission depending on someone getting to the next group while contagious. In theory, I suppose, you could have it carried on possum coats or artifacts. The process would be easier if you had largish adjoining populations that mixed such as along the Murray.
·         In the first round, infection appears to have reached the lower Hunter but not beyond. The 1829+ second round was geographically broader, but perhaps not so intense. I say this because the descriptions of Aboriginal people across the North after 1831 that I have seen do not appear to contain references to smallpox markings. 

As I said, very tentative. I stand to be rebutted.

Source Notes

N G Butlin, Macassans and Aboriginal smallpox : the '1789' and '1829' epidemics, Australian National University 1984
Judy Campbell, "Smallpox in aboriginal Australia, the early 1830s", Historical Studies, Volume 21, 1985 - Issue 84
Judy Campbell, Invisible invaders : smallpox and other diseases in Aboriginal Australia, 1780-1880 ,.Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic. 2002.
Peter J. Dowling, VIOLENT EPIDEMICS: Disease, conflict and Aboriginal population collapse as result of European contact in the Riverland of South Australia, 1990, MA thesis in Biological Anthropology, Department of Prehistory and Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, Australian National University Canberra ACT Accessed online 17 May 2017 file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/OWNER/My%20Documents/Downloads/b17470511_Dowling_Peter_J.pdf
C Mear, C. (2008) The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789,Journal of the Royal Historical Society, Vol.94, Part 1 pp.1-22, 2008
Michael O’Rourke, The Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19th century, Michael O’Rourke, Griffith 1997
Jim Poulter, “The smallpox holocaust that swept Aboriginal Australia. - Red hot echidna spikes are burning me”, (We) can do better, 2 March 2014
Chris Warren, “Was Sydney's smallpox outbreak of 1789 an act of biological warfare against Aboriginal tribes?” Ockham's Razor, ABC Radio National, Thursday 17 April 2014   Accessed 17 May 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Build on: Armidale Teachers' College survives the Great Depression

The Parthenon on the Hill. "You are very fortunate to be in such a nice institution", Minister Davies is reported to have told students, somewhat reluctantly. This is the sixth in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 
Armidale, March 1936. The weather was unsettled, threatening the forthcoming Armidale Show. Up at the College on the hill, the corridors were thronged with new and returning students and College staff.

Now established, the Armidale Teachers’ College was well on its way to becoming a jewel in the crown of NSW education. And yet its very survival had been at risk just six years before.

As work got on the new College building in the first half of 1929, few realised just how vulnerable Australian had become to international downturn. Import competition within the domestic market was increasing. Government public works funded by heavy overseas borrowings – fifty million ponds in 1928 alone – meant that ever more export income had to be used to pay interest and dividends to overseas investors; by 1927-28 these totaled 28 per cent of export income.

New South Wales was particularly vulnerable. It was already affected by growing import competition, while the growth in its metropolitan population, and hence the numbers in building, construction and public services, had been particularly marked.

In 1929, the worst possible combination of events happened. Export prices fell, while overseas borrowings stopped as a consequence of the closure of the London capital market to Australia.

In March and April 1929 as the building contract was let and work commenced, the State's London overdraft rose to three to four million pounds.. By June, the State was in a financial vice which tightened as the year proceeded: Not only could New South Wales not raise long-term loans, but the State's bankers were resisting any further increase in overdraft levels. Equally importantly, the State now faced declining income tax collections, rising losses on railway and transport services, and rising welfare costs.

By the time the new College’s foundation stone was laid on that day of hope and speeches in November 1929, Australia was in the grip of recession,. By early 1930, the expected State deficit for 1929-30 had risen to over three million pounds.

Soup Kitchen, NSW c 1932. As depression deepened, Drummond pushed forward with construction of the new Teachers' College building regardless
C B Newling later surmised that Drummond pushed construction of the building forward because he wanted to beat the growing collapse. I don’t think that’s true for at least the first part of 1929 because the scale of the crisis wasn’t yet recognised. What is true is that Drummond continued to push construction  regardless.

Drummond lost office in 25 October 1930, leaving his Labor successor William Davies with an almost completed but partially empty building because of reduced student numbers Drummond faced a withering storm of criticism, but was unrepentant.

There were moves to close the College. Drummond persuaded Labor Minister William Davies to visit Armidale in March 1931 to inspect the situation for himself. “You are very fortunate to be in such a nice institution”, Davies is reported to have told students, somewhat reluctantly. “It is one of the finest buildings in New South Wales”.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 May 2017. 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 2017.   

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Creating the building blocks of education

Laying the foundation stone of the Armidale Teachers' College, October 29, 1929, Drummond was determined  that a "Country College for Country Students ...should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney." It was a time of hope and speeches.  This is the fifth in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 

As lectures got underway in temporary premises in March 1928, planning for permanent premises for the new Armidale Teachers’ College had begun.

The best building site in Armidale consisted of eight acres of crown land on South Hill with commanding views over the city. This was occupied by an old goal set in gardens gone to wilderness. The previous Labor Government had considered re-opening the goal to hold sexual offenders, something that had created panic in the city. Mayor Morgan Stephens saw the old goal as a blot on the landscape: he had “done all in his power – except carting away the bricks and mortar – to remove it”.

In December 1927, Smith had obtained approval for the transfer of the goal site to his Department once the buildings had been demolished. At first, the Government Architect proposed to utilise the old goal buildings, something vehemently opposed by the College’s protagonists. Drummond set out the case quite clearly in words that guided his overall approach throughout the project: “if the Armidale Teachers’ College were to be a Country College for Country Students then the Government should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney.”

On 10 February 1928, the decision was taken to demolish the goal. Drummond wanted the new buildings constructed as soon as possible. He called for sketch plans early in 1928, then on 5 April he wrote to the Departmental architect asking him to arrange for the Chief Architect to take the plans of “Sydney Teachers College to Armidale for personal discussions with Mr Newling to see what changes might need to be made to accommodate 250 students, taking local conditions into account.”

With plans complete, tenders for the new building were called. On 1 March 1929, a contract was let to the Public Works Department providing for completion within eighteen months at a cost of £81,200. Drummond had wanted an iconic building and the plans provided for that. Externally, the style was free treatment of Italian Renaissance with meticulous attention to detail. Internally, there was the same attention to detail

Construction began on 8 April 1929, with Drummond closely monitoring the whole project. In October 1929, for example, Smith recorded that the Minister had decided to proceed with the whole central section of the building comprising the gymnasium and Assembly Hall as originally envisaged. The gymnasium was constructed with special care, based on the then best models. It featured a floor specially mounted on elliptical springs to cushion impacts.

On 29 November 1929 with construction underway, a large crowd gathered to watch the laying of two foundation stones, one by NSW Premier Thomas Bavin, the second by Drummond. It was a festive ceremony meticulously planned by Drummond down to the last detail, including the supply of flags and bunting.

It was a time of hope and speeches looking forward to further decentralisation of education, including a Teachers’ College at Wagga Wagga and a possible University College in Armidale, However, storm clouds were gathering that would threaten not just the building, but the new College itself.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 April 2017. 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 2017.  

Monday, May 01, 2017

Extracting ancient DNA from sediments - and the rise of multidisciplinary history

Fascinating story in The Atlantic, Scientists Can Now Pull the DNA of Ancient Humans Out of Cave Dirt.

In essence, new techniques allow animal and human DNA deposited into surrounding soil to be recovered. This has significance for two reasons.

It allows DNA analysis to be carried out without destroying fossils. It also allows inferences to be made even when direct evidence is not available.

When I first studied prehistory, we had very few scientific tools available. Now the explosion in science is reshaping our knowledge not just of the remote human past but of more recent times. History and especially prehistory have become truly multi-disciplinary disciplines.

One side effect is the merger of prehistory and history. A division based on the primacy of written records ceases to have relevance when so many alternative techniques and approaches are available. Now we have just history.

This poses a challenge to us all. I know that I struggle to understand let alone integrate all the new knowledge now relevant to the writing of history.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Human occupation of North America pushed back over 100,000 years

Fascinating archaeological results announced in the US.

In 1992, archaeologists were called in during renovation of the San Diego freeway to do some test excavations.  They found what appeared to be an abandoned campsite, where humans had left stone tools and hammered mastodon bones behind.

Of itself, this wasn't too unusual. It's apparently fairly well-established that humans were hunting mastodons in the Americas as early as 15,000 years ago.But the numbers derived from various dating techniques suggested that the bones had been buried more than 100,000 years ago. That was startling.

After 24 years and multiple tests, researchers now say that an unknown type of early human lived in California roughly 130,000 years ago! That dramatically changes our understanding of the human settlement of North America, pushing back the date of human settlement by more than 100,000 years. This does not mean, however, that those early settlers were modern humans. Based on what we know at present, they were probably Denisovans. .

This story from arstechnica provides further information, while this recently released YouTube video provides a very good summary of the story. Further comments follow the video.

Both the story and video show the painstaking work that has to go into this type of discovery, especially when the results are so startling. As a consequence of that type of work, our understanding of  the long human past is evolving rapidly and is likely to continue to evolve in ways that we can't quite foresee.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A note on New England Aboriginal servicemen

Interesting piece on ABC Radio National's Awaye! Program,  Indigenous Anzacs: Letters home from Aboriginal WWI diggers reveal humour, sadness, (program itself here, Saturday 22 April) on Aboriginal servicemen during the First World War. Presenter Daniel Browning's great-great uncle Thomas Browning (photo) was one of those featured in the piece.

Quoting from the piece on Thomas Browning::

"In May 1917 a military order revoked the nominal ban on Aboriginal men serving in the Australian Imperial Force, although in fact many had already enlisted.

One of the Aboriginal men who joined up after the military order was Samuel Browning, a fisherman from Fingal (then known as The Caves or Caves Point) on the North Coast of New South Wales.

One of Browning's mates enlisted with him but was rejected on the grounds that he had no European heritage. Browning left Australia in late 1917 aboard the troop ship Euripides, and disembarked at Devonport in the south of England on Boxing Day.

In Browning 's letters to his mother Mary, his heartbroken bride-to-be, and 10-year-old sister, there is no mention of the horrors of the Western Front nor of his gassing in the trenches near Rouen in northern France in August 1918, just a few months before the guns fell silent.

In an undated letter from Bath, where he was convalescing, Sam wrote urgently to Fingal, anxious that his younger brother stay away.
"Dear Mother, tell George to stop where he is instead of enlisting — one is enough from home, so don't forget."
Elsewhere, Browning longed for the beach.
"I am longing for a good feed of oysters and pippies. I'd give ten bob for a feed," he wrote to his mother from the ANZAC training camp at Codford in February 1918. 
Others who served from the opposite side of New England were the three Firth brothers.  Again I quote;
"Francis Walter Bertie Firth served in the Middle East and lost a brother in Egypt, but his letters from "somewhere in France" are consumed by anxiety about missing letters apparently sent by his mother Kate from Pilliga in northern New South Wales but never received.

Bertie wrote to his mother on Easter Sunday in 1917: "Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living," he wrote.

"It is about time the winter was over, I would not like to be here for another, the coldest place on earth."
Characteristically, and presumably without irony, Bertie signs his letters that he hopes everyone at home is well as it leaves him, "in the pink of condition".

Another letter suggests that he may he have been jilted: "I got a letter from Peggy the other day. She is engaged to someone else. Good luck to her."

I don't have a lot of information on Aboriginal servicemen from Northern NSW. Another who served during the Second World War was David Cook. From a piece by Noah  Riseman:

"Lance-Corporal David Cook is an Aboriginal man born in Ebor, near Armidale New South Wales, in 1945. Around the time of Dave's tenth birthday, he and his four siblings were forcibly removed from their parents. Dave was placed in Kinchela Boys Home for three years before being fostered. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Army, seeking a life away from his daily troubles.

Dave served in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Malaya before being sent off to Vietnam. Throughout his service he proved to be a successful soldier and was well-liked by his peers. He served two tours in Vietnam before being discharged in 1968.

When Dave returned to New South Wales, his life rapidly spiralled out of control. Cycles of violence, imprisonment and racism threatened to turn him into another Aboriginal statistic. However, Dave managed to reconnect with his siblings, who helped him get his life back on track through emotional support, stability and employment. Now retired, Dave does volunteer work in Cambodia, applying his Army engineering knowledge in a land mine clearance program.".

I wondered if readers had more information on Aboriginal servicemen (and later women) from Northern New South Wales, Hunter to the border? This would help me flesh out another part of New New England's history.


AIATSIS has an exhibition on the Stafford Brothers, a family with New England connections.

Debrah Novak put up a Facebook post repeating a story from the Grafton Daily Examiner on the attempts of Mackenzie Laurie to enlist. I quote:
This is a newspaper article in the Daily Examiner Tuesday, May 1916: TRUE AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT? CLARENCE DARKIES WANT TO ENLIST: Mackenzie Laurie has not just arrived from Scotland. He has never seen that county, and except he desires to help the Empire, has no desire to leave the land he loves and has lived in for 23 years. Laurie is, in other words, a young Clarence River Aboriginal, and has tried to enlist in Maclean, Ulmarra, Grafton and Harwood. He has been turned down everywhere he has tried, and, like many others in a dilemma, sought out the Daily Examiner man as a last resort. Laurie is bashful, if brave; had never been inside a newspaper office in his life before, and has always been a close reader of this particular paper – he read the tips and all about Randwick doings and the war. Here is his complaint told in his words.

“I want to ask is why not a pure Australian regiment? They won’t take me or Harry Grant, or Cowan, or Daley or Bundock- and we’re all Australians. They turn us down. They say the English will mistake us for Turks, and shoot us. But that don’t matter. We don’t care that we shot at or not. We want to kill a few Turks and (in deep thought and not wishing to appear misinformed) -The Bulgar (semi-nomadic warrior Turk) - that’s the fellow. If England goes under, where are we? Myself, Harry Grant, D. Torrens, T. Daley, Billy and Jim Cowan, K. Bundock, Harry and J Neville, Piebald, Ferguson, Hamilton, P. Mercy, my two brother in laws, and J. Morris and Alf Blakeney.

The pressman stopped; he seemed to have written a regiment. Laurie Persisted. He wrote on:
“Put all of them down, all of them want to go at once, NOW. There is also A. Olive, R. Cowan, B. Robertson, Donelly, Dunn and J.Boney.”

“All these are ‘pure Australian’s, everyone one of them as black as I am, no immigrants about any of them” (looking straight at the reporter). “You can call yourself ‘Stralian! You only immigrant Britisher. If you are pure ‘Stralian, you must first be able to speak our language – wurra-murra girooha lomiba booyamba, Can you say that?

The reporter said he didn’t understand the Australian classics.

Mackenzie Laurie continued to give names. “Harry Grayson, Walker, Cameron Fred Laurie (my brother) and D Cameron (my brother in law)”
“I want you to put all our names in this paper, and show the Government in Sydney that us pure ‘Stralians is ready to fight for the country straight away. I’m single, all teeth are good, as you see, good chest, aged 23, work for Mr Smith near the Common, and I am prepared to run any man on the Clarence 120 yards for any money up to 50 quid.”

“Tell them I am an athlete, went to Glenreagh Sports with sixpence in my pocket and came home with two quid. I’m off to work now, but if Sergeant Swan or Constable Sproule wants to get me, they can find me at Alumny Creek, ready straight away to fight for the country.” End Note: The is a photo of Harold Cowan from Grafton who enlisted in 1917 when Aboriginal people were finally allowed to enlist.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Armidale Teachers' College opens for business, March 1928

FIRST INTAKE: Armidale Teachers' College pioneer group. There were 33 women, 30 men in that first intake, Primary teaching was one profession open to women.  This is the fourth in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England.: 

Those involved in the establishment of the new Armidale Teachers’ College had just three months from Cabinet’s approval of the proposal until the first scheduled intake of students in March 1928 to make the whole thing possible.

Good staff were critical if the project were to overcome the increasing number of detractors and prove a success.

Part of the reason for the College’s establishment had lain in the tensions between Sydney Teachers’ College Principal Alexander Mackie and S H Smith as head of the Education Department, between Mackie’s focus on the academic and Smith’s focus on vocational education.

Smith had begun his career as a pupil teacher, a scheme in which prospective teachers began their training while at school and then were sent out to teach after school, gaining their formal qualifications later. He knew what it was like to find yourself at 18 in sole charge of a country school with anything from 20 to 40 pupils in classes ranging from 1st to 6th.

Smith and C B Newling, the ATC’s new principal, wanted two things in the new College’s staff. They must be well qualified to overcome the type of prejudice exemplified by Mackie’s views. Then too and most important, they had to be good teachers in their own right.

Smith and Newling were successful in recruiting the required staff. While they were doing so, work continued on the nuts and bolts issues associated with the establishment of the new institution.

It was physically impossible to get everything in place by the due date. ‘Girrahween’, now Smith House, may have been purchased as a main centre, but the required modifications would not be completed until later in 1928. Interim arrangements were required.

What came to be called ‘Siberia’, a new two room building used for manual arts training at the renamed Armidale Demonstration School, was appropriated for initial lectures. Older Armidale residents will remember ‘Siberia’ because the building was still being used when they went to what we called Armidale Dem.

‘Whare-Koa’ provided accommodation for 24 women under the supervision of Matron Bell. Arrangements were made to accommodate remaining students in private board.

Lectures began in March as scheduled for the initial enrollment of 63 (30 men and 33 women). As would happen ten years later with the University College, everything was in short supply. Again as would happen ten years later, the standard of the staff and their teaching made the difference.

On 9 March 1928, the official inauguration ceremony for the new college took place, followed by a complimentary dinner in the Armidale Town Hall for David Drummond and S H Smith. This was a gala occasion attended by around 230 people. Sadly, illness prevented Smith attending.

The inauguration, Drummond said, was an historic occasion, a departure in the educational history not only of New South Wales, but of Australia itself.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 April 2017. 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 2017.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Swift beginning for the new college

The third in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. The new Teachers' College was part of David Drummond's vision for education in the North. 
The most remarkable feature of the establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College was speed. Four people were critical in that process.

As Minister, the college was part of David Drummond’s vision. His role was to provide top cover and to organize support in the Government and in the North to the initiative.

As Departmental Head, S H Smith saw the College as a vehicle for the implementation of his own ideas on teacher training. Smith had to oversight all the Departmental and administrative requirements necessary to bring the project to fruition.

A W Hicks as the local District Inspector of Schools knew Armidale well and was close to Drummond and Smith. His job was to identify the buildings and facilities required to allow the College to begin operation quickly pending construction of a new permanent building.

Finally, C B (Pop) Newling, the newly appointed head of the College, had to handle all the detail required to create a new institution.

Nine days after his appointment as Minister in October 1927 David Drummond had asked for an urgent report on the possible establishment of country teachers’ colleges, suggesting Wagga Wagga and Armidale as possible sites. Department Head S H Smith immediately recommended Armidale, a recommendation Drummond accepted.

The matter had to go to Cabinet. Hicks in conjunction with Smith began the process of identifying buildings that might be rented or purchased with costs. By 9 December 1927, Smith had prepared a Cabinet Minute seeking approval for the establishment of the College and the purchase or lease of the necessary buildings.

By 12 December, Cabinet had approved the proposal. On that day, C B Newling was summoned to Sydney by telegram, sworn to secrecy and offered the post of Principal. Newling, sympathetic to Smith’s views on student teaching, saw the post as a major opportunity.
Memoir: In The Long day Wanes, CB Newling reflects on his life and especially his period as Principal of the Armidale Teachers' College
Newling would prove a superb choice. While paternalistic by today’s standards, he was totally committed to the College and its students, guiding the new institution through the difficult immediate establishment phase and the equally difficult early years that followed.

News of the possible formation of the College seems to have first broken in the press on the day of Newling’s appointment when the Tenterfield Star reported a rumour that the Armidale goal site was to be used to erect a technical college or teachers’ training college “either of which would serve the northern districts and not Armidale alone.”

From this point, action to create the new College took place against a backdrop of growing criticism from the Labor opposition and the city press, from country towns elsewhere in the State who felt that they had a better claim and from prospective students and their parents reluctant to chance the new college.

Drummond and Smith were unmoved, with work continuing apace. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 April 2017. 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 2017.  

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

College born in conflict

The second in my new series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. Alexander Mackie at Sydney University. Mackie had "that type of mind", Smith said, "usually associated with the Scottish metaphysician." 
In some ways, there is something just so 2017 about events surrounding the establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College in 1928.

Then, as now, there was conflict over the balance between academic and vocational education. Then, as now, there were problems in attracting teachers to go to the bush, a belief that a country college would help overcome this.

There were also concerns about the extent to which students would wish to study in Armidale as compared to Sydney. A new building was required. There were arguments over the costs and value of the proposal compared to the cheaper expansion of existing facilities at Sydney Teachers’ College..

The NSW State elections held on 9 October 1927 had seen the election of a Nationalist/Country Party coalition government. David Drummond, the 37 year old Country Party member for Armidale and new Minister for Public Instruction, saw the establishment of a teachers’ college as the creation of a country college for country kids. He also saw a possible Northern college as one key building block in the creation of the infrastructure required to support a new Northern State.

Drummond found a ready ally in his department head, S H Smith, who saw the college as a chance to put his own ideas into practice. Then in his early sixties, Smith was (to use Drummond’s words) handsome and intelligent, with a commanding presence and a beautiful speaking voice. He was also shy, fussy, sensitive and vulnerable to personal attack.
The member and the Under Secretary. Drummond wanted a country college for country kids. Smith wanted a college that would reflect his view in the importance of vocational education. It was a powerful combination. 
Smith had started as a pupil teacher and then worked his way though the ranks, becoming Under-Secretary in 1922 upon the retirement of the famous Peter Board. Smith knew that there were those who affected to despise him because of his lack of formal education and was deeply wounded by it. Drummond who had left school at twelve was sensitive to Smith’s feelings and the two men became close.

Smith clashed with Professor Alexander Mackie, the head of Sydney Teachers, College. Mackie, a brilliant Scottish-born academic, had come to Sydney in 1906 to head the newly established Sydney Teachers’ College. He was a man of strong views who believed that that the main emphasis in teacher training should be academic, that the independence of Sydney Teachers’ College must be preserved, and who had little time for financial or other constraints on his activities.

Smith took a very different view. Bound up in the day-to-day problems of State education, he regarded the College’s job as training those teachers the Department required in the way the Department required. Smith also disagreed with Mackie as to the most desirable form of teacher training: Smith thought that Mackie’s academic bias meant ill-trained teachers and wanted more vocationally-oriented training.

These differences in approach would have made for difficulties anyway, but their personalities compounded problems. Smith and Drummond therefore combined.

In December 1927 came the announcement that a new College would be established in Armidale with teaching to commence in 1928. The rush was on. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 29  March 2017. 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 2017.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Education in another era

This is the first of a new series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England.  1935. Armidale Teachers' College staff and students. Students entered the college at 17, sometimes 16, and began teaching two years later.

Over coming columns, I thought that I would share with you a few stories about the early days of the Armidale Teachers’ and New England University Colleges with a special focus on people and life. This column sets the scene.

The past is indeed a far country. We are blinded to this because we think that what we think now, our experiences, our beliefs. can be used to interpret or understand the past.

The reality is very different. The Armidale Teachers’ College was founded in 1928, the University College in 1938. That’s not all that long ago and yet it was a totally different world. To a degree, what we believe today is tangential to what was.

The establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College (ATC) was due to a confluence of political circumstances made possible because the small city was already an educational centre.

Armidale had five boarding schools, a boarding hostel and one state high school when the ATC was established in 1928. While many boarders came from Northern NSW, the boarding catchment extended from far North Queensland to Sydney and beyond.

The pupils were drawn to Armidale because of the city’s and schools’ reputations, because the city’s cold climate was seen as healthy. 

Boarding conditions were spartan, austere, unacceptable by today’s standards.  
TAS dormitory 1913 illustrates the spartan conditions at Armidale's boarding schools.
 The schools set part of the pattern of Armidale life, busy during term time, deserted during holidays.

The departure of the boarding school trains, the end-term mail trains south and north, were a scene of bustle. At each small stop during the night, pupils were dropped off to be collected by family.

Glen Innes Mail. Werris Creek. As term ended, the Brisbane and Glen Innes Mails became boarding school trains returning borders home. Some traveled for as much as 30 hours. 
Queensland country borders in particular had long journeys. They had to change at Wallangarra, in Brisbane and then perhaps again later for the appropriate country line train. It might be more than thirty hours before the train disgorged the now tired and grubby student into the arms of its parents.

Mind you, these long trips were not necessarily seen as a hardship. They were often fun.

Our attitudes towards education and age have also changed. Most students left school at the Intermediate Certificate, year ten in today’s money, some much earlier. The proportion going on to the Leaving Certificate (Year 11) was relatively small, the proportion going to teachers’ college or university smaller still.

The average starting age at college or university was 17, some were still 16. The normal teachers’ college course was two years for primary school teachers, the basic BA or BSc three years, four if you did honours or a Diploma of Education.

The college graduate would be in the class room as early as 18, more normally 19 or 20. The university student would be at work or in postgraduate study at 21, in some cases as early as 20.

It was a different world, but these were not the only differences. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 22  March 2017. 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 2017.