New England's History

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

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Reflections on the life of John Mulvaney

The death of Professor John Mulvaney on 21 September 2016 placed a full stop on a remarkable career and, in a way, the end of an era. John Mulvaney was as the first university-trained prehistorian to make Australia his subject and has been justly described as the ‘Father of Australian Archaeology’.

I met Professor John Mulvaney just once, at an ANZAAS conference in Canberra. I remember his infectious smile, the way he cocked his head.

This was a fun conference, a real experience. I was a nineteen year old university student who had been interested in Australian prehistory by Isabel McBryde. Isabel had studied under John Mulvaney at Melbourne and was one of his protégés.

I had come to the conference almost by accident because we were staying in Canberra, allowing me to go. This was an exciting time to be involved in Australian prehistory. Everything was new, the first drawing back of the veil over the deep history of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples.

This was the conference at which Alexander Gallus presented his results on Koonalda Cave. I remember the scepticism about those results, the discussion over coffee at the breaks. In the end, Koonalda Cave would prove to be as important as Gallus suggested, but that was certainly not clear at the time.

Derek John Mulvaney was born at Yarram, South Gippsland in 1925. One of five children, his Irish born father was a teacher with the family moving around country Victoria to various schools and eventually to Frankston.

After completing year 11 at Frankston High School, John became a trainee teacher but quickly realised that this path was not for him. In 1943, the eighteen year old joined the RAAF as a navigator. He was sent to Canada for training and then posted to England in September 1944. 1944. During his days off he toured the English countryside, creating an interest in history. Apparently, it was his visit to the megalithic standing stones called ‘the Consuls’ that sparked his particular interest in prehistory. I was curious, but was not able to identify those particular standing stones in a short web search.

The War ended before John entered active service. Late in 1945, he returned to Australia, enrolling at Melbourne University as an honours student in history. The course was funded by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, a scheme that would have a considerable impact on Australian intellectual life.

At Melbourne, John studied Roman History under John O’Brian. There were just six in the class.
In 1949 he was appointed tutor in ancient history at Melbourne, enrolling in an MA. Twelve months later he submitted his thesis on ‘State and Society in Britain at the time of Roman conquest’.

Reflecting on this early history, I was struck by the timing of it all. By the time John was 25, he had started as a trainee teacher, served in the war, completed his first degree, worked as a tutor and then completed an MA. That’s not bad going! John was always an organised man!

John’s experiences as well has his study of ancient Britain had aroused an interest not just in archaeology, but in the possibilities of Australian archaeology. He applied for an Australian National University post-graduate scholarship. His application contained an unusual request: he asked to use the graduate scholarship to enroll in undergraduate study, in Paleolithic archaeology, at Cambridge University. Reflecting the influence of Grahame Clark and his colleagues, Cambridge was one of few university centers interested in archaeology beyond the Old WorId. It was, John argued, essential for him to train as an archaeologist and this required undergraduate studies in prehistory at Cambridge University.

His application was accepted, and in September 1951, full of enthusiasm, John became an undergraduate student at Clare College. Given that he already had two degrees at honours level, he did not have to complete the first part of the undergraduate course but was allowed to complete the remaining course over two years.

While John would later be critical of what he saw as Clarke’s imperial tendencies and indeed of the Cambridge school as a whole, that period in England was (to use his own words) a “Golden Age.” Upon arrival, John went to see Grahame Clark who was to be his first Supervisor. Clarke told him that, in addition to himself, John must go to a young man named Charles McBurney, who was the real Stone Age authority. John hadn’t heard of McBurney, but would learn much from him.

The then level of staff student interaction is hard to imagine today. For his two years at Cambridge, John was supervised every week by McBurney and also by Clarke until Clarke was appointed professor. Then Clarke’s place was taken by Glyn Daniel, so throughout his two years, John had contact every week with two academic supervisors.

Over the two years, John studied stone tools and took part in his first archaeological digs – in England and Ireland, Denmark, and in Cyrenaica, Libya. The Libyan dig was especially important, for it introduced John to the application of rigorous excavation techniques that he would later use in Australia and teach to his students, including Isabel McBryde.

Early in 1952, McBurney invited John to join his party to go to Libya to dig at the Haua Fteah, the enormous cave where McBurney had dug a trial trench the previous season. This was clearly an adventure for John. In June 1952, they drove across France to Marseilles, went by sea to Tunis and then drove across North Africa to Apollonia near where the site was located. There was a British army base at Apollonia. That proved fortunate, for John collected two serious infections, both requiring hospitalisation at the base hospital. 

Archaeology is about precision and preservation. Charles McBurney had developed techniques to excavate deep sites; the year John was there they got down to 27 feet. McBurney used sieves suspended on stands that he developed and he sorted material separately according to stone, bone, shell, keeping them separate. These were techniques that we used under Isabel’s guidance sixteen years later, using tweezers to pick up pieces of bone or charcoal so that they would not be contaminated and could be properly bagged for later examination by a subject specialist.

John was also exposed to the very early days of carbon dating, something that would be absolutely critical for him a little while later in establishing the antiquity of Aboriginal occupation of Australia.

In September following his graduation, John met and became engaged to Jean Campbell. At this point, John might have stayed on at Cambridge for a period or, alternatively, gone to Auckland as Professor of Archaeology, a move suggested by Clarke. However, while visiting friends in the north of England there was a car crash that badly injured Jean and also placed John in hospital. Coming out of hospital, he found a message from his parents that his father was dying. So the couple abandoned all other plans and returned to Australia, marrying after their return.

John was offered a position at Melbourne University teaching Ancient History. He was now teaching with his former teacher and mentor John O’Brian. Inevitably, his teaching soon extended to prehistory and archaeology. In 1957, John was allowed to introduce a fourth-year Honours history option to undergraduates, a course called Pacific Prehistory. This was the first course taught anywhere in Australia on the prehistory of our region. So little was known about Australia that Polynesia was taken as the main field, with Australian material added as the years passed.

In 1956, John began his journey into Australian prehistory by excavating a limestone rockshelter at Fromm’s Landing on the Murray River, a dig that continued into the early 1960s. Radio carbon dates from the site, John’s first, suggested that the site had been occupied for almost 5,000 years. At Fromm’s Landing, John discovered the skeleton of a dingo, the tooth of a Tasmanian tiger and the highest flood in the history of the Murray River, all about 3,000 years ago.

John’s Cambridge experience had already convinced him of the importance of interdisciplinary studies. So at Fromm’s Landing he worked with geomorphologists. He also took a palynologist, Sadly, no pollen was discovered in the deposit. 

John’s second excavation was also a limestone rockshelter, this time at Glen Aire on Cape Otway. This was Isabel McBryde’s first fieldwork experience.

John’s third excavation, at Kenniff Cave in Queensland, began in 1960. In 1962 he received a telegram from his wife, giving him the first carbon dates from the site. The oldest was 16,000 years. John thought there must have been a mistake and telegrammed back. The date was indeed 16,000 years. With that one date, the antiquity of Aboriginal occupation of Australia had been pushed back many thousands of years into the Pleistocene era.

Here we need to reflect on the state of prehistory globally and especially in Australia at the time.

Globally, the study of prehistory was in many ways still in its infancy. To a continuing degree, archaeology was dominated by the romance of the Classical World. In Australia, those few interested in Australian prehistory had come primarily from museum backgrounds.

In 1960 the University of New England was the first to appoint a tenured staff member, Isabel McBryde, carrying prehistory in her job title and was, I think, the first Australian university to require the study of prehistory as an element in in the introductory history course. In 1966, UNE was also the first to introduce an Australian prehistory course at honours level.

I enrolled in History I at UNE in 1963. Even then, there were very few textbooks. Further, those we had had a distinctly European flavour. By 1996 when I enrolled in honours, the frontiers were already being pushed back. Here there were two distinctive features in Isabel’s archaeological work, both reflecting John Mulvaney’s influence. The first was a focus on developing a regional cultural sequence, on exploring Australian prehistory, Aboriginal history, within the confines of a reasonably broadly defined but still geographically contained region. The second was the importance placed upon the ethnographic record as a way of examining patterns of Aboriginal life that might then inform the archaeological record. It was an exciting time. 

In 1965 John was appointed to a position at the Australian National University in the Research School of Pacific Studies, allowing him to work full-time for the first time as a research worker in the Australian region.

At ANU, John became increasingly involved with Jim Bowler (a geomorphologist from Melbourne University) and Rhys Jones (an ANU prehistorian newly appointed by Jack Golson.

In 1969, Jim Bowler persuaded John and Rhys Jones to take part in a field trip to Lake Mungo, in western NSW, one of the dry-lake beds in the Willandra Lakes complex, surveyed and named previously by Bowler. This visit set in train the most important archaeological discoveries in Australia, or perhaps anywhere in the world, to that time. The first samples of charcoal and burnt bones included material dated to 26,000 years before the present, the earliest evidence for human cremation. Another burial site located by Jim Bowler was an inhumation, ritually covered with red ochre, was older still. These were the most remote Paleolithic remains of Homo sapiens discovered to that point, placing Australian Aborigines at the very end, in time and place, of the human diaspora out of Africa. In 1981, John had the honour of introducing the nomination of the Willandra Lakes as a world heritage site, at a World Heritage Committee meeting.

In the midst of his other work, John found time to complete and publish The Prehistory of Australia in 1969. This book has now seen three editions (the most recent with Jo Kamminga as co-author in 1999 involved a total revision) and remains a classic.

In 1971 John was appointed to the Foundation Chair in Prehistory in the Arts Faculty at the ANU and in the following year introduced Prehistory 1 as an undergraduate subject. In addition to a busy archaeological life life, he became involved almost inevitably in related public activities.

In the 1960s, John along with Jack Golson and Isabel MvBryde campaigned for legislation to protect Aboriginal sites, including organising a major conference on the requirements for site legislation. Between 1965 and 1975, every state in Australia introduced some kind of legislation to protect Aboriginal sites. He was involved in the formation of the Australian (now Australian and Torres Strait Islander) Institute of Aboriginal Studies, being an executive member between 1964-80 and then its chair in 1982-84. He was also involved in organising the first meeting of the Australian Archaeological Association.

John became a leading light in bridging the gap between the public and academia, actively campaigning on pubic issues, including the struggle to save the Franklin River and its Aboriginal heritage. He became a foundation member of the Australian Heritage Commission in 1976, remaining a member until 1982, and member of the Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections 1974-75, the body which recommended establishment of the National Museum of Australia. It would be 20 years before this recommendation would be acted on and even then its details were largely ignored. John was also involved in the formulation of the Burra Charter (1979) and was the chief Australian delegate to the inaugural UNESCO meeting in Paris, held to determine the criteria for World Heritage listing. He was instrumental in nominating the Willandra Lakes and Kakadu National Park to the World Heritage list. latter

John’s role as a public intellectual during his long career has been detailed in the book Prehistory to Politics. John Mulvaney, the Humanities and the Public Intellectual edited by Tim Bonahady and Tom Griffiths (Melbourne University Press 1996).
In the late 1970s, the ANU decided to include anthropology alongside prehistory in John’s Department. High student interest led to the appointment of another professor. Differences in approach created difficulties for John.  Partly for that reason, partly to open his post to a younger prehistorian, he decided to ease into an early ‘retirement’ in 1985 aged 60, being inscribed as Professor Emeritus at ANU the following year. 

‘Retirement’ is in inverted commas since John remained as active as ever. He became Honorary Secretary of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and Chair of the ACT Heritage Committee, while the following two decades became a golden age of writing and publishing. During this period John wrote, coauthored or edited 16 books, including his autobiography. 

Over his long career, John received many awards including .a CMG (Companion in The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George) in 1982, an Order of Australia (Australia’s highest Order) in 1991, the Graham Clark Medal by the British Academy in 1999 and the Rhys Jones Medal from the Australian Archaeological Association in 2004.

Reflecting on the changes that had taken place over his long professional and public career, John suspected in 2000 that that there might not be another general prehistory of Australia. So much had been discovered that it was very difficult now to cover it in one book within the space limits set by publishers. Instead, it would now be possible and indeed more sensible to write specific regional histories. In a sense, that was almost a reversion to the position he had held in the 1960s on the need to develop regional cultural sequences instead of trying to create generic sequences that may or may not hold in individual areas.

He also mused on the changes that had taken place in the disciplines of archaeology and prehistory, at the way multi-disciplinary science had pushed out the boundaries of what could be learned. They have indeed been truly remarkable. This links to another element in John’s various reflections.

When he first became interested in Australian prehistory and indeed for many years after, he had not met any Aboriginal people. He was 35 before he saw his first Aboriginal people on his first trip to Kenniff Cave in 1960 and then met many after he started field work in the Northern Territory from 1963 on. He was not aware of the extent of continuing knowledge among Aboriginal people. He was alerted to this partly by the anthropological studies, partly through increasing contact. In 2000, he said: “I suppose in my own career I went from this ‘I was a Stone Age archaeologist, I wasn’t dealing with the living’ till I started meeting living people and giving greater and greater credit to work of Donald Thomson (Australian anthropologist), work like that.”

I could identify with that. While I was doing my honours thesis on the economic structure of Aboriginal life in Northern New South Wales at the time of European intrusion, I read Malcolm Calley's PhD thesis on Bandjalang Social Organisation with fascination. My thesis was a study in ethnohistory, using historical records to try to understand the economic structure of aboriginal life. At the time I was writing there was great suspicion among historians about the role of oral history and tradition as an evidence source. There was also a view that the Aborigines of Eastern Australia were too far removed from their tribal past for current memories to be a valid guide to traditional life. To me, the striking thing about Malcolm's thesis was the way it demonstrated that oral tradition was still in fact worthy of study as a way of understanding present and past Aboriginal life.

John became involved not just in the study of the Aboriginal past but in giving Aboriginal access to that past, in involving them, recognising their continuing history and contribution. Among other things, he played an important role in the transformation of the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies into an Indigenous controlled institution, as well as campaigning for protection of indigenous sites.

By 1999, John was worried about balance, concerned that the pendulum had swung to the point that policies and processes were actively impeding the study of Aboriginal history. The consent requirements for digs, for example, imposed financial and time costs on honours or higher degree students that many students could not afford, reducing the numbers of those interested in Aboriginal history. As another example, the reburial of remains has the effect of destroying their archaeological value, including the possibility of using new scientific techniques to extend our knowledge.

Perhaps ironically, the work that John and others did to protect Aboriginal sites has led to an explosion in certain aspects of Australian archaeology and especially the need to carry out investigations in advance of development activities. This has created jobs for John’s students. I say ironically because so much Australian archaeology is now carried out on a fee for service basis without peer review or indeed the results being easily available. Meantime, and I find this sad, Australian prehistory seems to have dropped behind studies elsewhere. I still remember my astonishment at visiting the Danish National Museum last year at just how much was now known about Danish prehistory as compared to Australian. .

In 2004, Jean Mulvaney died after heart surgery. She was 81, a little older than John. They had brought up six children in the home in Yarralumla which John and Jean established when they moved to ANU from Melbourne. Because my focus was on John, I haven’t said much about Jean. She was clearly a remarkable person in her own right, you will find details given under sources below, and the couple formed a very real partnership. 

In 2006 John married again, historian Liz Morrison. John and Liz continued to live in the Yarralumla home John and Jean had established. John continued his work until his death  plus the gardening that had been his primary leisure activity..

Australian Archaeological Association Award of the Rhys Jones Medal 2004
In 2000,John was interviewed by Pamela-Jane Smith as part of the Personal Histories Project. A full transcript of that interview can be found at
John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999
The Australian Women’s Register, Mulvaney, Jean (1923 - 2004),

Below is the YouTube video of John's 2010 ANU interview

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The History Carnival 156

Welcome to the 156th edition of blogging's The History Carnival. I have has a significant computer crash, losing emails. If I miss anybody, please accept my apologies.

Drusilla Modjeska begins her book Stravinsky’s Lunch, a biography of Australian painters Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith, with a story about Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It appears that Stravinsky required total order and quiet when working, and it was his wife’s business to deliver this.

I mention this as an introduction to the first post in June’s History Carnival, Cath Feeley’s rather nice short piece on Misplaced Habits, Where are the women? Rewriting the history of Marx’s Capital. Floored by a question in her mock viva discussing her thesis on the British publication and reception of Karl Marx’s Capital about the absence of women in the story, Cath later investigated and found out that there were indeed women involved with the production of the book. It might well not have come out without them. I leave it to you to read the story.

Frog In A Well’s Alan Baumler’s Visual Digital History looks at the rise of internet recording including the digital archive and the implications for our craft. I was especially interested in the photos because of their Chinese content, interesting because I am interested in China, although it’s outside my primary field.

I think that we all wrestle a little with this one, the rise of the internet. It is just so convenient, but it does influence selection. For those of us who want people to be able to follow up our sources or who want to find things again, the constant loss of links and the shifting patterns of ever changing search algorithms also makes life hard.

In another post linked to history method, Dr Lucy Noakes MASS OBSERVATION AND THE CENTENARY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR looks at current UK perceptions of the of the First World War. In a way, this is not history at all, these are current views, but the post links to history at several different levels.

If you know what views are at point in time, then you can ask how those views evolved. Some of the most valuable modern historical sources are anthropological and sociological studies of culture, attitudes and social structures. Then the post provides a perspective on the history and work of the Mass Observation organisation. I must admit to not having heard of it. However, its research carried out for other purposes now provides a valuable historical source.    

Architecture is part of physical and visual history, something that stands in the landscape that we can see.  Influenced by the availability of local materials, its also reflects the ideas and character of particular periods. Adrian Yekkes' Picture Post 54 - Stanhill Flats, Melbourne provides a fairly spectacular example of the Australian Art Deco style.  

While I always had an interest, I became really interested in Canadian history on a visit  a few years ago when I bought some histories and started reading.  To an Australian, there are obvious connections because of the two countries shared history and connection. However, excluding the Aboriginal people, Canadian history is both longer and more complex.

I was reminded of this by Anya Zilberstein's piece, Jamaican Maroons in Nova Scotia: The politics of climate and race. Canada's Caribbean connection continues to this day.  

On Friday 20 May,the remote Atlantic British Island of St Helena celebrated both  her new airport and her 514th discovery anniversary.

St Helena's long history includes her role as a British East India company base, although is the Island is best known now as Napoleon's place of exile. In a post, Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène: La conquête de la mémoire (6 April to 24 July 2016), on  Reflections on A Journey to St Helena, John Tyrrell reports on a joint exhibition by St Helena and the French Government on Napoleon's exile there.

John Hawks Weblog remains a good source on paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution. His Neandertal stone circles at Bruniquel Cave discuses the problems involved in using archaeological evidence to evaluate the past, especially the distant past.

Helen Webberley, a former host of the Carnival, has a nice eye for a good story, Her Robert Capa - Hungarian-American-world citizen photojournalist is a case in point. Perhaps he should have married Ingrid Bergman after all. She was clearly very keen and it might have kept him at home and alive! But then, perhaps not. He was a wanderer.

Mike Dash's Sorcerers and soulstealers: hair-cutting panics in old China traces the story of an outbreak of superstition in late Imperial China, setting it against the backdrop of Imperial power and structures. It's an interesting read.

At Musings, George Campbell Gosling wonders Am I a Contemporary Historian? I note that he is referring to his subject area, the history of medicine and charity in modern Britain, rather than his position in our craft. What is the dividing line between modern and contemporary history and does it matter anyway!

A remark by Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast VC Patrick Johnston - Society doesn't need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. - really got up the nose of Charles West. His Sorry, Vice-Chancellor. We need more historians of the sixth century was quite a stinging response. You will see where my sympathies lie!

That's all folks. The next edition of  the History Carnival will be at the many headed monster on 1 July. Usual nomination form.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

History Revisited - tragic death blights a Governor's life

A plaque near the entrance to Old Government House Parramatta, now a popular tourist spot, marks the place where Lady Fitzroy died.  
Friday, 1 March 1844. NSW Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy accompanied by his wife Mary, a son acting as private secretary plus entourage, embarked on the steam packet for Port Macquarie. A new Governor, he had been sworn in the previous August, FitzRoy was determined to visit every part of the colony.

At Port Macquarie, the Governor and his party were accommodated and entertained at “the Lake Cottage”, the attractive and well established home and headquarters of Archibald Clunes Innes. Innes’ niece Annabella Innes, later Boswell, recorded the details of the visit in her diary, including details of the dinner and ball staged in honour of the FitzRoys.

FitzRoy was a man of considerable charm and ability, able to navigate the complex web of colonial politics and society, if not always in ways that satisfied his superiors in London. His wife had equal, if not better, social skills. Personally close, they made a formidable team.

From Port Macquarie, the couple and their companions set out on the 150 mile journey to Armidale, the first Vice-Regal visit to the Northern Tablelands. The tracks were abysmal, with the drays carrying supplies in and wool out sometimes bogged for days, so all the party rode. The journey took three days.

On the return trip, FitzRoy’s horse fell, pinning his leg. Injured, he was placed in a two wheel vehicle to reduce the jolting, although the jolting on the rough track must have been almost as bad. Then the lead horse fell, throwing FitzRoy from carriage to ground.

The FitzRoys returned safely to Sydney. However, there would be a further and tragic reminder of the dangers involved with horses.

On 7 December 1847, the couple were leaving Government House at Parramatta. The party was delayed and the horses were restless. FitzRoy was at the reins of the carriage, he was an excellent whip, when the horses bolted. His wife was killed, his aide-de-camp would die from injuries, while FitzRoy suffered leg injuries.

FitzRoy’s many friend in the North were deeply upset. FitzRoy was distraught. He considered resigning his post, but finally decided to stay on, primarily for financial reasons.

Among those who attended that Port Macquarie dinner and ball were Archibald Innes’ cousin William Tydd Taylor, wife Margaretta and their now four children. “Mrs Taylor, we thought, was very pretty” wrote Annabella Boswell, nee Innes, in her journal..

In my last column, we left William and Margaretta Taylor still in England following their 1839 marriage. On 5 October 1839, they sailed for Australia on the 350 ton barque “Chelydra”, arriving in Sydney on 29 March 1840. Two days later, 1 April, they set sail for Port Macquarie on the steam packet “William the Fourth”.

It seems clear that it was the Innes connection that persuaded the Taylors to emigrate. It was also that connection that provided a base for what was to follow. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 April 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

History Revisited - John Stuart Mill's link to New England

A PLACE OF LEARNING: William Tydd Taylor attended Edinburgh University before marrying Margaretta Lucy Lind and moving to the New England Tablelands  
I never cease to be fascinated by the connections I find as I trawl through New England’s history. This is another such case.

William Tydd Taylor was born at Edinburgh in 1814. Initially he lived with father John, Mother Harriet and younger brother John near Dundee on the River Tay.

Now we come to the first connection. Harriet Taylor is better known as Harriet Taylor Mill, ardent feminist and the wife of economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill.

It is not clear when Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill first became involved. Helen Taylor, John and Harriet Taylor’s daughter, was born in 1831. By 1833, Harriet was living in a separate residence, although the public façade of the marriage was preserved. at John Taylor’s request.

The relationship between Harriet and John Stuart Mill began as shared intellectual interests, but then deepened into something more. Mill was always generous in recognising her contribution to his thought, Harriet reluctant to accept, although she was writing in her own right. Finally, but only after John Taylor’s death, Harriet and Mill married.

John Taylor was clearly a remarkable person. A man of education, he accepted the relationship and also inspired daughter Helen with a lifelong love for history and strong filial affection from an early age. After Harriet’s death, Helen, now known as the step daughter of John Stuart Mill, would carry on her mother’s work.

These events all lay in the future at the time William Tydd Taylor was born.

William attended Edinburgh University and then became a barrister. In 1838, he received an inheritance from his grandfather’s estate. The following year, on 30 July 1839, William married Margaretta Lucy Lind.

Margaretta was, I think, another connection to that eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment that had helped form John Taylor.

Born in Calcutta to Alexander Francis Lind, a member of the Bengal Civil Service, and Anna nee McCann, Margaretta was the granddaughter of James Lind of Gorgie.

A physician and surgeon and close friend of the poet Shelly, James Lind had visited China in 1766, went to Iceland with a young Sir Joseph Banks and then became physician to the royal household of George the Third.

One of the guests at William and Margaretta’s wedding of was a young Frederick Roberts. Roberts was William’s cousin and would become Roberts of Kandahar, one of the most famous British generals of the nineteenth century. He remembered William and Margaretta as a handsome couple, a view supported by later photos.

Events now would take the newly married couple to other side of the world, to the southern New England Tablelands where they would spend the rest of their lives.

The catalyst here was almost certainly another of William’s cousins, Archibald Clunes Innes. I will continue this story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 April 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

History Revisited - introducing stories from the early days of European settlement on the New England Tablelands

The period 1832 to 1842 was not a good time for New England’s Aboriginal peoples. In 1832, Semphill and Cory each took up Tableland’s runs. By the census of 1841, just nine years later, the European population had reached 1,100 people, almost certainly outnumbering the diminished Aboriginal population.

While the early settler numbers do not seem so huge by today’s standards, to the local Aborigines the size and scale of European intrusion was confronting, a wave that could not be easily resisted.

By 1832, the New England’s Aboriginal peoples would have been well aware of the presence of the Europeans. There is an issue here that we will never properly understand, the way transmitted information was interpreted.

My feeling is that the structure and culture of Aboriginal life made interpretation and response difficult, although its something I am trying to think though. Whatever the case, violence seems to have peaked during the period 1839-1842. By the late 1840s, .Aboriginal people had become an important part of the pastoral workforce.

Perspectives are important. To modern Aboriginal people, the whole process was invasion. To the settlers, it was settlement, the occupation of a sparsely inhabited land. Each side has a story based on very different perspectives and experiences. .

I have written a little of the story from an Aboriginal perspective. I will write more later. However, over the next few columns, I want to tell some of the story from a settler perspective, focused on the first few decades of European settlement.

In that story, the Aboriginal tragedy is a small sub-text. For that reason I will not focus on it. Rather, `I will try to tell the story from a family and domestic viewpoint, the nature of connection and the difficulty of life.

The life of the early European settlers did not suddenly begin on the Tablelands. They were part of a broader world, one alien to the Aborigines they met. This was a world of connection that spanned a different space and time.

In writing, I want to focus on family and connection. I also want to focus on the domestic.

The stories of these people form part of modern New England life. There are still descendants. More importantly, the names are all around us..

The stories that follow are drawn from the histories of runs and stations, many published in  the 1980s. You won’t find them on-line, but you may find them our second hand bookshops.

In my next column, I will tell you a little of Terrible Valley and the Taylors.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 April 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

History Revisited - a collection of wisdom

SHARING THE KNOWLEDGE: the Collective Wisdom project was held in the Armidale Town Hall in 1966 to demonstrate the way computers and communications technology could be used to boost teaching in the city's many schools
In 1996, Armidale saw a major exhibition in the Town Hall under the banner of the Collective Wisdom Project.

Combining Armidale schools, private and public, primary and secondary, the exhibition showcased the way new computing and communications could aid education. .A key objective was to gain support and funding for a modern communications network linking all Armidale educational institutions that would encourage and showcase collaborative working and in so doing sell Armidale as an education centre.

The exhibition was ambitious in size and scope. School groups gathered in the Town Hall to create web pages. Back at school, others prepared content to be sent to the Town Hall over the phone lines. There was a video link up between the Town Hall and the UNE campus in Sydney.

With support from Martin Levins and The Armidale School, the Town Hall display worked perfectly. However, despite support from a Telstra team who set up the Town Hall links, major communications problems emerged. In the end, disks had to be driven to the Town Hall instead of being sent down the wires.
FROM SLATES TO KEYBOARDS: Students were able to compare the learning styles throughout history
The Collective Wisdom exhibition combined Armidale’s past, present and future.

It was mounted in the dying embers of a local entrepreneurial high technology and professional services boom that had begun in the 1980s. This grew rapidly providing significant employment, and then declined just as sharply under the combined impact of the Keating recession and growing turmoil within the University of New England.

The issues highlighted by Collective Wisdom remain relevant today in the continuing discussion about the NBN and communications, about the role that technology should play in the future of education in Armidale and indeed Armidale’s future as a high technology centre.

Finally, the exhibition used exhibits from the Armidale Museum of Education to highlight the difference between past, present and prospective future.

In my last column, I mentioned that Eric Dunlop first raised the question of what he called his '"Old Time One-Teacher School" museum project' just eight months after returning to the Armidale Teachers’ College in 1949.

With support from College principal G W (Bill Bassett) and the Department, attempts began to identify items that might be included in the proposed museum. One item identified at Inverell was the beehive building of the old Pallamallawalla school.

While the Education Museum slowly evolved, Dunlop turned his mind to a second project. Late in 1953, he went on a nine moth trip to Europe to study, among other things, folk, house and open-air museums across Britain and Scandinavia.

This trip created the idea of a folk museum for Armidale. The net result was that Armidale gained two museums, the Education Museum opened in 1956 centred on the Pallamallawalla school and then, in 1958, the Folk Museum.

Eric Dunlop left Armidale in 1962, leaving a considerable legacy behind.

I will leave the museum story here. Later, I will tell you the stories of other museums established across New England as a consequence of the museum movement. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 6 April 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

History Revisited - Eric Dunlop never wearied of teaching

INSPIRING GENERATIONS: Eric Dunlop was a a lecturer in history st the Armidale Teachers' College and a pioneer of the museum movement. He was originally a student at Fort Street Boys High School where he was inspired by C B Newling, first head of the Teachers' College, after whom the campus is named.
Today’s column explores the life of one man, Eric Dunlop, who played such a major role in the development of Armidale’s museums.

In writing about local and regional history, I am often frustrated because of the lack of biographical data. Fortunately, in Eric’s case we have the work of Nicole McLennan to draw from.

Eric Dunlop was born on 17 May 1910, the son of Alexander, a journalist, and his wife Jane. Dunlop did his secondary education at Fort Street Boys High School where he was taught history by C B Newling, later first principal of the Armidale Teachers' College. McLennan records that Newling reputedly fired Dunlop's interest in museums by setting he and another student a project to examine and report on the Australian Museum's Captain Cook artefacts.

In 1933, Dunlop graduated from Sydney University with a Master of Arts with first class honours in history and began teaching. .The following year at the young age of 24, Newling recruited him as lecturer in history at Armidale Teachers' College.

After two years at the College, Dunlop decided to return to teaching, taking advice that this would broaden his experience and accelerate promotion. He became frustrated at the limitations in the school system, realised that he had found his true vocation at the College and sought to return. Twelve years and one war later, he returned to Armidale in February 1949.

Three things should be remembered in considering the events that followed.

Dunlop was influenced by the ideas of what was called the 'New Education', with its emphasis on putting 'the school into contact with "real life", the need to develop all the powers of the child, the value of "learning by doing" and "activity", and "self-expression"'.

This ‘New Education’ focus fitted with another thread, Dunlop’s interest in the country and in the local and regional experience, a thread that meshed perfectly with local concerns. Local state member and former Education Minister David Drummond, for example, was both an exponent of the ‘New Education’ and of the Northern and Country causes of which Armidale was part and also major beneficiary.

Finally, Dunlop had both energy and perseverance, necessary conditions if you are to drive things through.

In 1949, just eight months after his return to Armidale, Dunlop formally proposed his '"Old Time One-Teacher School" project' to Dr G W Bassett, then principal of the College. This involved the reconstruction of a bush school on the college fields, authentically furnished and equipped, paying 'attention to minute details'.

The building was to be set up as a museum, catering to school groups and tourists. It would also be a research centre, housing a collection of materials on educational practice and facilities for the use of students at the College. Through the project, Dunlop hoped to 'awaken a deeper consciousness of the intrinsic interest of our early history' via the preservation and display of historic objects.

In my next column, I will tell you a little more of the story of Eric Dunlop and the history of Armidale’s museum movements.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 30 March 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

History Revisited - local activism and the spread of the museum movement

My last few columns traced the story of Armidale’s first museum, indeed the first municipally operated museum in NSW and one of the first if not the first in Australia.

At a local level, the story is one of a struggle to establish cultural, technical and educational infrastructure in what was, in population terms if not influence, still a very small city.

It pays us now to remember that the things we take for granted in Armidale, the things that contribute to the city’s special ambience, to its life style and reach, did not just happen. They exist because of the work, the hard graft, of people who often failed and, in many cases, did not live to see the results of their work.

Take those who in 1890 began the push to establish an Armidale museum. In the end, it was just too hard.

I wonder how they would feel if brought back to be shown what we have now, if told that they were the stuttering start of a movement that would, finally, add substantially to the city’s architecture, infrastructure and culture? I think that they might be rather proud.

The Armidale museum was not just a local initiative, it was part of regional, national and indeed international processes.

The initial push for the museum came at a time of growing interest in their own still short histories in the various Australian colonies. The form the proposals took reflected local interests, but were strongly influenced by the growing interest in technical education in Australia and elsewhere.

The opening of the museum by David Drummond in 1933 followed a period of sustained agitation seeking self government for the North that had fuelled interest in local and regional identity.

Down in the Clarence, Sir Earle Page had proposed in 1931 that a historical records museum should be established. The result was the Clarence River Historical Society. In 1935 the society affiliated with the Royal Australian Historical Society, the first country historical society to do so.

Further north, the Richmond River Historical Society was founded in 1936. By 1938, it was publishing its own journal.

The form the museum discussions took in the 1950s reflected the folk movement. In the late nineteenth century folk museums had arisen in a number of European countries. They were part romantic, the arts and craft movement was another manifestation, but were also political and nationalistic. They sought to present and preserve the traditions of the people in museum recreations.

By the 1950s, an almost nostalgic desire to preserve the life and history of ordinary folk predominated. This made the idea of folk museums especially attractive at local level. One result was the spread of local museums across Northern NSW.

In my next column, I will tell you a little of the story of Eric Dunlop, a man who would have considerable influence on the museum movement in the North.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 23 March 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

History Revisited - a new Museum is born

A NEW (OLD) MUSEUM. Almost 25 years to the day since he opened the Armidale Museum, David Drummond opens the Armidale Folk Museum on 20 November 1958.
The Armidale Museum was closed in January 1942 for the duration of the War. Thirteen years later, and despite protests, the museum was still closed. The War had become quite extended!

During the week, I was asked where the Museum building was. It was next to the old Fire Station in Rusden Street.. If my geography is correct, the site is now occupied by the new council chambers.

Council had decided to re-open the museum, but the premises were still rented and things dragged on.

In March 1955, Council acquired the Literary Institute. In September 1955 following a visit to Europe assessing the local museums in Britain and in the Northern European countries, Teachers’ College lecturer E.W. Dunlop addressed Council on the cultural and educational advantages of a folk museum for Armidale or the New England district.

Eric Dunlop, a man who had a considerable impact on Armidale, had already moved to establish an education museum in conjunction with the Armidale Teachers’ College. Now he had a new project.

Following his address, Council accepted the proposal to establish the “first folk museum in Australia” and moved to establish a committee. It wasn’t in fact the first museum in Australia, but the idea provided a rallying point. The Armidale Express welcomed the move: “the City Council in naming a committee to launch the folk museum has selected men who are fully capable of sound planning and wise development.”

Armidale now had two museum groups. The exhausted and now largely defunct Armidale Museum group had a collection and, technically, premises if they were ever to become available. The folk museum group had enthusiasm and premises, but lacked most other things.

Events again moved slowly. In May 1956, the folk museum committee arranged a temporary museum within the Literary Institute as part of the Centenary of Responsible Government. In November, Harry Court protested against the Council proposal to transfer contents of the museum from its present accommodation to the Literary Institute.

In February 1957, the PMG gave notice of intention to vacate the Museum premises. It was now possible for Council to re-establish the City Museum or, alternatively, continue with the proposal to merge the museum collection with the folk museum collection.

David Drummond and Harry Court, two previous members of the now defunct museum committee, met the folk museum committee. With Council support, the decision was taken to house the museum collection temporarily in the Literary Institute, with the folk museum committee assuming responsibility for the display, care and control of exhibits. It was also agreed that the folk museum committee should be widened to include residents with a special knowledge of the Pike display and the best methods of display.

On 20 November 1958, the new Armidale Folk Museum was officially opened by David Drummond, now member for New England. It was almost 25 years to the day since he had opened the Armidale Museum as Australia’s first municipally operated museum. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 March 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

History Revisited - darkening clouds over Armidale's Museum

PAINTINGS WITHDRAWN: In 1939 the National Gallery of NSW withdraws paintings from the Armidale Museum due to Gallery budget cuts
When David Drummond officially opened the new Armidale Museum on Saturday 16 December 1933 as the first municipally operated museum in NSW, the future seemed secure after all those years of effort, the future seemed secure. It wasn’t to be as easy as that.

In July the following year, a meeting convened by Mayor O’Connor established a number of sub committees to undertake the organisation of various sections of the museum. Honorary Curator A H Perrott mentioned the need for more space to house the growing collection. Drummond warned that if the museum was to develop in the right direction it “must not be allowed to become a mausoleum or dumping ground for curios.”

The collection continued to grow. The trustees of the Booloominbah estate presented the trustees with the very fine collection of Island trophies formerly housed in Booloominbah. Geoffrey Forster donated the saddle said have been used by Thunderbolt.

William Dixson after whom the University Library is named donated the original petition to the Governor praying that Armidale should be proclaimed a municipality. The Reverend J A R Perkins donated a more than 300 year old bible.

Yet in the middle of all this, there seems to have been a decline in enthusiasm. There were also setbacks. In April 1939, the director of the National Art Gallery of NSW advised Council that the paintings on loan to the art gallery side of the museum. were to be withdrawn as a consequence of budget cutbacks.

In January 1942 the museum was closed for the duration of the war, becoming the office of the Chief Warden. “Stoutly timbered and sandbagged reinforcements”, stretchers, medical supplies and telephoned jostled with the museum collection. At end July 1944 when workmen began clearing war paraphernalia, the collection was covered by thick dust.

I shuddered a little when I read this story. It wasn’t just the defeat of the previous efforts to create an Armidale museum, but the apparent mistreatment of a collection that had become quite valuable in both historical and monetary terms.

In 1945 and 1946, the premises were temporarily reopened to house two visiting exhibitions. Then in 1948, part of the museum space became the office for the New England County Council county clerk. The following year Council allocated space to the Postmaster General’s Department for a temporary office for a district radio inspector.

The allocation of museum space to offices was a bridge too far. In July 1950, the Sydney Sun published an article on neglected country museums, condemning Council for building offices in the museum.

A bit over two years later in September 1952, Harry Court who had played such an active role in the previous museum movement, protested about the mistreatment of the donated collections.

Council decided to re-open the museum. However, there was now a new museum movement in town that would lead to a change in direction.

I will complete the story of the Armidale museum in my next column. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 March 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.