New England's History

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The demons of a historic New England figure

Edvard Munch, The Scream 1893: Driven by his own demons, William Ogilvie, Edward's eldest son, took his own life in 1920.This, the tenth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, continues the story of writer Judith Wallace
Life can sometimes become too much. On 18 November 1920, William Ogilvie was found lying on his bed at Sydney’s Usher’s Hotel with a bullet wound in his temple, a revolver clasped in his right hand. He was only 58.

Near his body were found a letter to his solicitor plus telegrams to his wife and children.

“Good-bye, my darling wife, one telegram read, “I shall never see you alive again. I have written you to Ilparran today, explaining everything. Fondest love, my dearest dear.”

I do not know what drove him to suicide, can only imagine the distress it caused his family.

Edward, the eldest boy and Judith Wallace’s father, was in England. After beginning his education at TAS (The Armidale School), he had gone to England to study at Oxford, his father’s old university. He was, the TAS magazine observed, one of the few Armidalians who had studied at Oxford.

Edward underwent officer training and in 1914 became a second lieutenant in the 17th Lancers. At the time of his father’s death in 1920, he was still in England as a lieutenant with the Life Guards.

Now as his father had wished, Edward returned home to help his mother and manage Ilparran as well as the family’s other interests.

Four years after his return, he married the English born Dorothy Gytha Micklem in Brisbane at what appears to have been a considerable social wedding.
"It is indeed a haunting, sad, but magical book..."
The Micklems owned property in North Queensland, so the papers presented it as a union of two major pastoral families with the Governor of Queensland present as one of the guests.

To house his new wife, Edward built a new house on the property. That house and the surrounding property form the centre piece of Judith Wallace’s memoir on he childhood.

Writing in 1996, David McCooey (Artful Histories: Modern Australian Autobiography) features Judith’s book as one example in his study of Australian autobiography. He capturing the key elements of the book to place them in a broader context; ideas of place and time; the elegiac nature of accounts of place; the way time weaves itself through the narrative.

It is indeed a haunting, sad, but magical book, one that shows life at a particular time in a particular place. Australia is not and never has been a uniform whole, but a place of many and varied stories.

Next week I will look at key features in Judith’s story.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 September 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 .

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Ogilvies - a dynasty under strain


Unlikely friendship: The English poet Robert Browning was a friend of the Clarence River squatter Edward Ogilvie and his daughters, his beloved Octet. This, the nineth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, continues the story of writer Judith Wallace.    
London, May 1888. “My dear Eight”, the English poet Robert Browning wrote to the Ogilvie girls: “what a peculiar as well as pleasant privilege it is, to love each one of you as if there were eight of you to love and the whole eight as if they were one and indivisible”.

Browning was then 76 and would die the following year. His friendship with the Clarence River squatter Edward Ogilvie and his family was an unlikely one. I think Browning liked their freshness and lack of cant.

The family was breaking up, although that was not immediately clear. Edward was lonely following the death of his wife and had become demanding. He also felt that his sons were growing away from him, becoming absorbed into English life.

The girls would soon escape into marriage. For the boys’ part, Edward considered that it was time that eldest William took over his dynastic responsibilities.

Edward recognised that William would need to learn the ropes after such a long time in England. He was therefore sent home to Yulgilbar to be mentored under manager William Penrose.

Soon after arriving in Australia, William married Ethel Mylne, Graham Mylne’s daughter from nearby Eatonswill. The two families had always been close, connected by proximity, shared experience and marriage. 

Tensions soon arose between William Penrose and William Ogilvie.

Father Edward was showing no signs of returning and had rented a house in his beloved Florence. Penrose continued living in the big house and would cede little responsibility to William Ogilvie, treating Yulgilbar as his own.

William also felt that Penrose was using Yulgilbar to build his own stock at Yulgibar’s expense. Finally, a frustrated William wrote to his father to deliver an ultimatum.

“I will give up my claim to Yulgilbar”, he told his father, “if you will lend me £2,000 to buy a place of my own.” Far away in Europe, Edward agreed.

It would be a permanent break. When Edward finally came to make dynastic choices, Yulgilbar would go to daughter Mabel. It was made clear to her husband, Charles Lillingston, that he must throw himself into the place, but that it could never be his.

Lillingston, a successful man in his own right, was reluctant but finally agreed. The resulting discussions created significant tensions within the family, making the break with William permanent.

For his part, William had already purchased Ilparran, a property west of Glen Innes. It was this property that William’s granddaughter Judith Wallace would immortalise in Memories of a Country Childhood.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 22 August 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 .

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

In pursuit of a dynasty

Great success: Tom Robert's painting of squatter Edward Ogilvie. Ogilvie staked out land on both sides of the Clarence River seeking to build a dynasty.This, the eighth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, introduces the story of Judith Wallace.   
Academic and writer Judith Wallace’s great great grandfather, Edward Ogilvie, was an ambitious man. He wished to found a dynasty. He was to achieve great success, but his own personality brought a key plank undone.

Edward’s remarkable story was told by George Farwell in Squatter's Castle: The saga of a pastoral dynasty (1983). Here I can do no more than sketch a few details to set the scene for later events.

Edward was born at Tottenham, Middlesex, on 25 July 1814, the son of naval officer William and his wife Mary.

In 1824, William and Mary decided to emigrate to NSW, arriving in January 1825. William was given a land grant of 2,000 acres in the Upper Hunter which he named Merton after the English village they had been home.

The Ogilvies were undercapitalised and initially struggled. The children were home schooled by Mary and actively involved from an early age in farm work.

In 1846 Edward and brother Frederick along with an Aboriginal companion went north looking for new land.

Escaped convict Richard Craig had discovered a large river, the Clarence, while living with the Aborigines. Now he was leading a large party from Falconer’s Plains near Guyra down to the Clarence. 

The Ogilvies asked to join the party. Denied, they pushed on as fast as possible and reached the Clarence at Tabulum ahead of Craig. Downstream Edward took up fifty-six miles (90 km) on both sides of the river and later named the runs Yulgilbar. By 1850 Yulgilbar was about 300 sq. miles (777 km²) and included Fairfield, a 100,000-acre (40,469 ha) cattle station in the mountains.

With the family fortunes now established, Edward sailed for Europe in August 1854, traveling widely across the continent. Florence became his favourite city, a love that would stay with him.

While in Europe Edward met and in 1858 married Theodosia de Burgh. Returning to Australia in 1859, he built a palatial home for his new wife that would become known as Yulgilbah castle. In 1862 a first son, William Frederick, was born.

At twelve, William was sent to school in the United Kingdom and seems to have stayed there until finishing at Balliol College Oxford.

In late 1884, Edward returned to England with his wife and daughters for another extended visit, joining his two sons. It was the last time the whole family would be together.

Edward had always been a dominant personality. Now he was becoming irascible and over-controlling. The scene was set for events that would throw his dynastic plans into chaos. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15 August 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 .

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The rhythms of our lives - influence of church on young lives


Tennis party: Armidale social life in the 1930s. Photo is from the Drummond family collection.This is the seventh in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands.
The rhythms of our lives proceed in stages linked to age: childhood, school, beginning work, family formation. While these rhythms are linked to age, their exact pattern varies over time and space and is affected by individual circumstance.
"The nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century, the church you attended or were affiliated with had a major influence on childhood and young adult life."
 Australian society today has become increasingly secular. By contrast, over the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century, the church you attended or were affiliated to had a major influence on childhood and young adult life.

The big sectarian divide was between Catholic and Protestant, although there were divides among the Protestant churches too. 

At St Ursula’s in Armidale, the nuns wanted their girls to marry good Catholic boys and bring up good Catholic children. Mixing with other boys was discouraged.

In similar vein, Judith Wright noted somewhat acerbically that some parents sent their girls to the New England Girls School in the belief that they might find a suitable husband from among the boys at The Armidale School. It was a marriage market. Mixing with Catholic boys was not encouraged.

While important, the religious divide was not universal. Cooperation did occur and indeed was necessary in small communities. There is very little evidence of religious divides in Maslyn Williams’ descriptions of community life in Tenterfield.

However, one thing that stands out from Judith’s writing is just how little contact she had with people outside her family and immediate circle. The girls at NEGS came from the same group.

When cousin Tina introduced her into social life, it involved the social round of the Bachelors and Spinsters, Matrons, Races and TAS/NEGS old boys/old girls balls. There are no references to people or life beyond this other than some people on or linked to the property or rare visits to Armidale for particular purposes.

This contrasts with Binks Turnbull Dowling’ memories. She, too, was sent to boarding school, in this case the Hilton House School. Today we know the school as PLC Armidale, but it was then owned by its principle, Miss Alethea Tendall.

There are similarities in the description of school life at the two institutions, something that is a story in its own right, but Hilton was in town and less cloistered than the more remote NEGS.

Binks had relatives and friends in Armidale and we get descriptions of a social life that contained some similar elements to that of Judith but which was more town centered and far more varied. Indeed, any older Armidale resident who reads Binks’ book will instantly recognise names and places.

Next week I will introduce our fourth character, the writer Judith Wallace, a member of another pastoral dynasty, the Ogilvie family. Her story provides a counterpoint to that of Judith Wright. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 August 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 .

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Life and times of Binks Turnbull Dowling

Water houses, Papua. Binks Dowling's father became a popular Australian writer on Papua New Guinea in the 1920s and early 1930s. This is the sixth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands.
Today’s column introduces a third character, Binks Turnbull Dowling, into our continuing story of coming of age on the New England. Each character is different, their lives take us in sometimes unexpected directions, but between them they reveal something of the depth and complexity of our shared history.

Binks Turnbull Dowling was born in Papua in 1923, the daughter of English born Gilbert Munro Turnbull and Jean Doris Winn. Jean was part of a totally different extended Turnbull family headquartered at Kotupna, a large station in the Fall country to the east of Armidale.

Gilbert trained as an architect and in 1920 became Government Architect in Papua. He was an adventurous man and a considerable writer.

Often writing under the pseudonym Tauwarra (Motu for fighting-man), Gilbert published numerous short pieces and articles, at least 90 short stories and four novels.

The couple met when Gilbert was visiting Australia and married in the Presbyterian Manse in Armidale on 31 August 1921. Initially the marriage seems to have been happy enough, although they were very different characters.

In 1928’ the couple decided to send Binks to stay with the Turnbulls on Kotupna. Later, mother Jean decided to return to Kotupna, leaving Gilbert in Papua. While the couple remained married, they never reunited. Gilbert retired to Urunga in 1934 and died four years later at just 48.

In 1997, Binks’ children persuaded her to write and publish an autobiographical memoir, For crying out loud. It’s a good if sometimes confusing read.

The book is broken into overlapping chronological segments. These explore and describe Binks’ life up to her marriage.

The book is also an examination of her parents, their personalities and the complexities of relationship, seeking to understand. It is dedicated to the father that she greatly loved, a father she rarely saw after she was sent to Kotupna, a father who died when she was fifteen.

It is not a sad book, but there are sad elements that made me uncomfortable, a reminder of the uncertainties and complexities of life. Apart from the story of her parents, I wondered about the inarticulate nature of the Turnbull men, about the break-ups and relationship failures. Sometimes, it seemed to me that Kotupna had become a devouring beast.

I know that members of the Turnbull family would probably not share that perception.

When Binks asked her mother years later why she stayed at Kotupna, Jean looked at her strangely and said simply “But I was happy”. The love they all had for Kotupna, Binks is no exception, shines through.

Next week, I will look at some of the elements in Binks’ life comparing them to other characters in our story
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 1 August 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 .


Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The poetry and the passion: Judith Wright's Moving Images

Cresting the Moonbi range in 1942, Judith Wright's love of the New England, "my country", suddenly crystallised. The 1946 result was The Moving Image, her first book of poems.This, the fifth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, is the second on poet and writer Judith Wright
In 1946, the 31 year old Judith Wright published her first book of poetry, The Moving Image. Dedicated to the father she loved and who loved her, the book is one of the masterpieces of New England literature.

The poems cover many of the themes for which she would later become well known including love of the environment and awareness of Aboriginal dispossession, but most are local poems that will be instantly familiar to anybody who knows the New England Tablelands. They reflect a love of country, a sense of passionate identify.

This long felt love had suddenly crystalised in 1942.

Judith had been working in Sydney. Most men were now away at the war, while her father was leading civil defence planning to evacuate people and livestock from the coast in the event of Japanese invasion.

After pressure from Judith, her father agreed that she should come home to help on the property. Topping the Moonbi Range, Judith was suddenly aware, struck, that she had entered her country.

She had long known that she would be a poet.

After her mother’s death in 1927, the twelve year old Judith had tried to adopt the role of Norah from the Billabong series, books that she loved. She became fiercely protective of her brothers and tried to look after her father. She was also struggling with the stresses of early puberty.

When he father  remarried, Judith and her new step mother clashed. It was decided that Judith and her cousin Tina should go to NEGS, the New England Girls' School, as boarders.

Unlike the slim Tina, the bespectacled Judith was bookish, spotty, bulgy and uncertain. She was not sure what to expect, but knew that she would always second. She consoled herself with the love of poetry and the knowledge that she would become a poet.

At NEGS, Judith decided that she would like to go to the University of Sydney, but her plans were thrown awry by the second of two serious accidents.

In the first, she was thrown from a horse and broke her arm. It was set wrongly and had to be broken and reset.

The second accident was far worse. Her horse fell, leading to very serious injuries. She was carried by stretched to the homestead, driven to Armidale and then sent to Sydney by train for surgery and rehabilitation.

It had been an agonising experience, one that had also put paid to any idea of matriculation. But not all was lost.

I will continue my story next week, also introducing our third character in our growing up on the New England series.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 25 July 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Judith Wright's search for an escape

Formative years: Judith Wright's favourite home was her mother’s family property, Thalgarrah. This, the fourth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, is the second on poet and writer Judith Wright
In some ways, the first part of poet and writer Judith Wright’s life can be described as a search for escape, escape from the confines of New England, escape from the narrowness of Sydney, escape from the roles and limitations imposed on women.

It can also be thought of as a search for happiness and meaning in often difficult and confusing personal circumstances. During this period she formed those views expressed in her writing that would make her one of Australia’s most prominent literary figures.

Judith was born on 13 May 1915, the first child of Phillip Arundell (PA) Wright and Ethel Mabel Wright nee Bigg.

The fact that Judith was first born is important, for she was born into a world where girls could not inherit. Expected to marry, they received money but could not inherit the land. This would become a tragedy for Judith when, at the end of her life, the beloved properties were lost.

The first part of Judith’s life revolved around station life and multiple homes belonging to family members. Her favourite was her mother’s family home, Thalgarrah.

Thalgarrah was more open than the dark Wallamumbi, set in nice grounds. I also think that the girl was spoiled, loved. Describing it, Judith referred to her mother’s country, an almost identical term used by writer Maslyn Williams as the title of his memoir.

Life at Wallamumbi revolved around Inside and Outside. Inside was the relatively formal life of the homestead and family, Outside the life of the working property.

Initially Judith’s life centered on the Inside, including the Girls, the domestic staff who provided a welcome relief to the greater formality of the homestead itself. Later, Judith would some to love the outside, the broader station.

Judith’s mum became ill with a debilitating disease that finally rendered her a total invalid.

The girl seems to have been bookish from an early age, teaching herself to read from the books around the house. As her mum became sicker, Judith retreated into he books, creating a world of imagination.

Later, Judith would have a sense of guilt about this retreat. She would still go to her mum to read her poems, to tell her about her writing, but didn’t know how to manage her mother’s illness.

Ethel died in 1927. Husband P A was distraught from previous worry and at the loss of his wife. On 21 November 1928 he re-married.

Judith did not get on with her step mother, Dora Isabella Temperley, marking another divide in her life. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 July 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Judith Wright, a quintessentially New England writer


In her own words: Judith Wright's first book of poems, Moving Image published in 1946 included a number of poems that have become New England classics including "South of my Days".This, the third in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, is the first of three on poet and writer Judith Wright
Many parts of Australia claim poet and writer Judith Wright as their own.

In Queensland, the State Government has expropriated her for a performing arts centre. Her New England connection is dismissed in just a few words: “Judith Wright was a Queensland resident for over thirty years. She was born in New England, in regional New South Wales, and came to Brisbane as a young woman”.

Her Wikipedia entry notes that she was born in Armidale, but then says she spent most of her formative years in Brisbane and Sydney. Later, Canberra and Braidwood would claim her too.

In all this, Judith remained a quintessentially New England writer. That was where her views were first formed, although her later experiences and especially her relationship with the older novelist and philosopher Jack McKinney would exercise a powerful influence over her.

Judith met Jack McKinney when she moved to Brisbane. He was a much older man, some twenty four years her senior, only two years younger than her father. They fell in love, moving to Mount Tamborine in 1950; daughter Meredith was born in that year. In 1962, Jack and Judith finally married. Four years later Jack died, leaving a hole in Judith’s life.

Jack McKinney was the second of three powerful men in Judith Wright’s life. The first was her father, Phillip Arundell Wright, with whom she shared a middle name. The third was H C “Nugget” Coombs, a noted Australian economist and public servant, with whom she had a twenty five year love affair.

Coombs was again an older man, in this case by nine years. Both were major public figures. Judith was a widow, Coombs long separated from his wife. Both shared common interests, including Aboriginal advancement and the environment. Judith moved to Braidwood to be closer to the Canberra based Coombs, but the affair was kept secret, if open to their friends and the Canberra network within which they moved.
" It was he that gave her that love, affection and unstinting support that seems to shine through in the letters between them."
Each man had a powerful impact on Judith, but I think that it was the father that formed her core views. It was he that gave her that love of the environment and of the country. It was he that gave her that love, affection and unstinting support that seems to shine through in the letters between them.

I think that Judith would accept that conclusion. Whether she would accept my claim that she remained a quintessentially New England writer is more open to question. “You ask me to read those poems I wrote in my thirties?” she wrote in Skins. “They dropped off several incarnations back.”

That may be true and there are reasons for it, but her 1999 autobiographical memoir half a lifetime draws out the continuing importance of her early life history. I will look at this in my next column. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 July 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Maslyn Williams - the beginnings in Tenterfield and beyond


Maslyn Williams: one of Australia's best post war documentary makers before turning his hand to writing. This the second in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands
“He should go to Australia, to his mother’s people,” Uncle George said, “that’s what she always intended.”

The lad listened. Aunt Yvonne was not convinced. ”But he’s got a good brain. He should go to Cambridge like his father.”

Uncle George, a Whitehall civil servant with a practical mind accustomed to shedding responsibility, would have none of this.

“He can go as an immigrant for next to nothing. I’ll arrange it. If he doesn’t like it, he can come back.”

“He should go to Australia, to his mother’s people” Uncle George said; “that’s what she always intended.”.

The lad listened. Aunt Yvonne was not convinced.

”But he’s got a good brain. He should go to Cambridge like his father.” Uncle George, a Whitehall civil servant with a practical mind accustomed to shedding responsibility, would have none of this.

“He can go as an immigrant for next to nothing. I’ll arrange it. If he doesn’t like it, he can come back.”

Robert Ronald Maslyn Williams, the listening lad, was probably around 17. He had been born in 1911. His father, a career military officer, had been killed in the Great War. His mother had just died.

Fate decided, the lad joined a group of young immigrants on the journey to Australia and, in his case to station outside Tenterfield to become a jackeroo. There he fell in love with Australia, ultimately becoming one of this country’s best known documentary film makers and writers.

It is clear that the lad was interested in writing from the beginning, although his taste first ran to poetry. He kept notes, wrote descriptions and long letter to his Aunt Yvonne.

In 1988, the 77 year old Williams used those notes and letters to write an award winning biographical memoir, His Mother's Country (Melbourne University Press), looking back at the lad (he refers to himself as the lad through out) coming of age on the Tablelands. It was a time when life seemed to be “permanently sunlit”.

The first part of the book outlines why he came, the voyage, reactions to Sydney and describes the long train trip to Tenterfield on the Brisbane Mail, a description that would be instantly familiar to older New Englanders.

The lad knew little of Australia, less of the country or farm work and nothing about his destination. This was his introduction to the new, to strangeness that would soon become familiar.

At Tenterfield, the lad was met by the boss who managed the station on behalf of the family and taken to his new home. It was a large and well established place, a self-contained world, a small village.

One core focus in the book from this point is station life, work and people, as the lad learns to do his job and establishes his place. A second is the lad’s growing involvement in the life of Tenterfield and, to a lesser extent, the nearby big town of Glen Innes.

Final acceptance comes when the irascible and taciturn overseer Old Mackie, the Old Man, is hurt in an accident and the lad has to go for help. Two days later, a heavily bandaged Mackie comes in for breakfast, sits down and looks straight at the lad and says “G’day”.

The book ends with the lad’s departure for England following a further intervention by Uncle George. It’s clear, though, that the lad will return to Australia.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 June 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

New England history: Personal stories reveal times of change

War photographers, New Guinea: (Back left) Damien Parer, Frank Hurley, (front left) Maslyn Williams and George Silk. This the first of a six part series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands
My writing on domestic life and childhood has taken me deep into nostalgia territory, as it has for some of my readers. This has not been helped by the Armidale Families Past and Present Facebook site!

Founded and moderated by Elizabeth Pollard, the membership has exploded to almost 2,200. The majority of members no longer live in Armidale, but are enjoying exchanging reminiscences and sharing photos. It is, all agree, quite addictive.

From my viewpoint as an historian, the site and others like it add to the already great depth of historical material on the broader New England. We need many more historians if we are to capture and present the story of our past over the last 30,000 years to the level that it deserves.

That requires broader action. For the moment and to continue the childhood and nostalgia theme, I thought that I would share with you over coming columns five stories about growing up or coming of age on the Tablelands during the twentieth century.
"They are stories of personal and family change set against a backdrop of major change at local, regional and national level". 
Four of the five are based on autobiographical pieces. The writer’s age varies, although all were born before the Second World War: Maslyn Williams was born in 1911, Judith Wright in 1915, Binks Turnbull Dowling in 1923, Judith Wallace in 1932.

To their stories I have added a fifth, that of Peter Woolnough, better known by his stage name Peter Allen. Born on 10 February 1944, Peter carries our coverage into the 1950s.

Four of the five were born in New England, the fourth (Maslyn Williams) was born in the UK. Three of the five became writers, the fourth a songwriter, singer and cabaret star. The fifth (Binks Dowling) was the daughter of a writer. Of the five, only Binks Dowling remained in New England.

Each story is different, describing different aspects of life during formative periods in the subject’s life., They are stories of personal and family change set against a backdrop of major change at local, regional and national level. Yet there are similarities between them.

All four have an element of nostalgia, a feeling of looking back. Four of the five have an element of loss. Only one, that of Maslyn Williams, is totally sunny. Only one, Judith Wright, involves an explicit and sometimes acerbic rejection of a past that yet retains its hold over her.

In the short compass of these columns with my 500 word limit I can do more than sketch a few key elements in each story. Still, I hope that they will be of interest and encourage you to read further into the fascinating story that is New England’s past.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 June 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018