New England's History

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

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

History revisited – Lang vs Clark Irving: the battle for Northern self-government begins

Following the separation of Victoria in 1851, our sometimes irascible clergyman John Dunmore Lang turned his attention to the matter of Moreton Bay. In 1854 he was re-elected to the NSW Legislative Council, this time by the Moreton Bay District, to press the case for separation.

Lang’s vision did not yet include self-government for what we now call Northern NSW or New England. He wanted the bigger Northern NSW that stretched to Torres Strait to be broken into three colonies; separation for Morton Bay was a first step. He also wanted the boundary of Moreton Bay to be south of the present line.

As it became clear that this was not possible, Lang turned his attention to a new project, the creation of a new colony in Northern NSW. The battle that now raged was fought out in the Northern Rivers. There Lang was pitted against Clark Irving, merchant, ship owner, pastoralist and politician.

Irving had been elected in 1856 to represent the Clarence and Darling Downs in the first Legislative Assembly formed after the grant of responsible government to NSW. In 1857 he lost his seat in the face of local dislike of leadership from Sydney, as well as justified doubts about Irving’s support for the Moreton Bay separatist cause.

Now overtly anti separatist, Irving used his not inconsiderable political skills and financial resources to fight back, gaining re-election in 1859, the year of Queensland separation, as member for Clarence.

Irving controlled the local newspaper. Lang and his supporters therefore decided to establish a rival paper. In 1859 financial backing was found to bring William Vincent to Grafton to establish the Clarence & Richmond Examiner, now the Grafton Daily Examiner. This marks the start of the Vincent newspaper family that was to play such an important role in the history of the New England press and in the promotion of Northern causes.

Irving won. The agitation died down, resurfacing at Glen Innes in 1875 and then again in a stronger way in 1887-1888. This agitation is important because it saw the emergence of concepts and arguments that are still important today.

From the start of the 1880s, all the capital cities began gaining population at the expense of the rest of their colonies. The problem was most pronounced in Victoria, leading to the formation of decentralisation leagues to campaign for balanced development.

The decentralisation movement spread. In Newcastle, some speakers at an 1888 protest meeting, called over the railway plans of the Sydney government, advocated separation. The move was rejected, but the newly formed North and North-western Decentralisation League subsequently proposed that the Colony should be divided into ten provincial districts (regional councils), each entitled to a share of the national revenue.

The Newcastle discussion over separation reflected the resurgence of separatist support further north. Beginning in 1887, a campaign for separation spread along a line from Grafton through Glen Innes to Inverell. For the first time there was a clear expression of Northern identity, a creation of the period since Queensland separation.

Agitation died. However, a base had been laid for the bigger campaigns of the twentieth century.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 30 July 2014, the second in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

History revisited – Pioneer of region’s secession and independence movement

The entry on John Dunmore Lang in the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes him variously as Presbyterian clergyman, politician, educationist, immigration organiser, historian, anthropologist, journalist, goal-bird and, in his wife’s words engraved on his statue in Sydney, “Patriot and Statesman.” Portrait of John Dunmore Lang ca. 1871

Lang was born in Scotland in 1799, the son of small landowner William Lang and his wife Mary Dunmore. Lang’s mother seems to have had a considerable influence on him. In the words of one of Lang’s biographers, she had formidable powers of moral indignation and such capacity for vituperation that in comparison her son’s most savage strictures seemed but a mild remonstrance!

After qualifying for the ministry, Lang arrived in Sydney in May 1823 as the first Presbyterian minister. There he threw himself into the turbulent religious, political and educational life of the still young colony.

In early 1840, Lang sailed for the US: In travels through eleven states he was deeply impressed by the great merit of republican government based on the independent sovereignty of each state and a large measure of local autonomy. He returned with a new vision for Australia expressed in two books, The Coming Event; or, the United Provinces of Australia (Sydney, 1850) and Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia (London, 1852).

This was a time of considerable constitutional change. As part of that change, the original colony of NSW was progressively subdivided with the creation of Van Dieman’s Land (1825), Western Australia (1832), South Australia (1836) and New Zealand (1841).

In June 1843, Lang was elected to represent the Port Phillip District in the NSW Legislative Council in Sydney. There were deep concerns at Port Phillip about remote government from Sydney, about the misuse of revenue raised in Port Phillip on expenditure outside Port Phillip. Further, the District had only six representatives in the Council, too few to make a real impact.

Driven by his vision of a federated Australia with multiple states, Lang threw himself into the self-government cause. This was achieved in 1851 with the creation of Victoria following the passage of the Australian Colonies Act. Lang now turned his attention to Moreton Bay.

The suggestion that a new colony might be formed north of the Manning River if parent colony NSW became too large and unwieldy had first been made by the British Secretary of State in Governor Gipps’ time (1838-1846). A clause in the Constitution Act therefore enabled her Majesty on the petition of inhabitant householders north of the 30th parallel of south latitude to detach such territories from New South Wales and to erect them into a separate colony or colonies. This boundary included the Clarence River, but subdivided the Northern Tablelands, leaving Armidale in NSW.

The stage was now set for a battle that would help set the direction and form the character of the twentieth century campaign for self-government for New England.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 July 2014, the second in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

History revisited – new state movement 163 years young and still kicking

In January 1851 a meeting in Brisbane supported by squatters from the Northern Tablelands, the Clarence and Darling Downs formed the Northern Districts Separation Association. Their aim was the creation of a new colony by the subdivision of NSW.

One hundred and sixty three years later, agitation for self government for the North continues. Last Monday, the ABC’s Kelly Fuller featured the New England New State Movement. As I write, the New England New State Facebook group page has 306 members. The Movement is presently much diminished from its peak to be sure, but at one hundred and sixty three years it is the oldest surviving political movement in Australia.

History is written by the winners, controlled by the gatekeepers who determine what will be researched and published, what is newsworthy. Since the 1967 plebiscite defeat, the fight for New England self-government has diminished to just a footnote in the history books. As it has done so, the recognition of the North, the broader New England, has diminished too.

Today, we count less than Tasmania or the ACT or the Northern Territory; less than Western Sydney, the Sunshine Coast, the Pilbara or the Kimberley. You see, we don’t exist. We are just not there.

Over the next six or so columns, I plan to tell you a little about the history of the continuing fight for New England self-government from the 1850s to the present time.

It’s not a story that you will find in the conventional history books. To those writers, our story is neither important nor relevant. However, it is to us. More, it’s important in a general sense as an integral thread in Australian history.

Over its history, the Northern later New England New State Movement forced the creation of one Federal and two state royal commissions into constitutional issues. It played a major role in the establishment of the most significant Commonwealth Parliamentary inquiry into the constitution. It led to pamphlets, book, articles, summer schools and conferences on constitutional issues.

The Movement had to do this because constitutional rigidities were, and remain, the biggest problem New England faced in gaining self government. In doing so, the Movement articulated all the main issues that have to be addressed by Mr Abbott’s White Paper on reform of the Federation.

Along the way, the Movement delivered quite tangible benefits to the North, going some way towards overcoming the parochial local and regional divides that have always bedevilled attempts at cooperative action.

Next week, I will begin the story by looking at the colonial origins of the Movement and especially that stormy petrel, the Presbyterian clergyman John Dunmore Lang who made such a mark on Australian history.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 July 2014, the first in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

Other posts in this series are:

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

History revisited – the women’s revolution

One of Australia’s best known paintings is Frederick McCubbin’s On the Wallaby Track (189McCubbin_wallaby6). It’s a bush scene. The man lights a fire to boil the billy. His young wife leans back against a tree, eyes shut, exhausted. A strapping baby rests upon her lap.

That painting is in the NSW Art Gallery. I always focus on the woman. Each time, I wonder how she coped on the track with a long and apparently heavy dress like that, with shoes or boots that appear quite uncomfortable.

In my last column, I suggested that being a wife and mother in the nineteenth century was hard and sometimes dangerous work, especially for the ordinary woman without access to domestic help to do the really hard work.

Consider an example. Older Armidale residents will remember laundries often to be found in a separate room at the back of the house with their coppers. Fires had to be lit, the water in the copper heated, the clothes washed in the hot water stirred with an old broomstick. Then the water was squeezed out using a mangle and clothes hung on long lines stretched across the back yard.

This was, in fact, relative luxury. Fifty years earlier, clothes were often boiled in a kerosene tin set on bars across an open fire. In both cases, the time and effort involved was substantial.

Once clean, those clothes requiring ironing were ironed with heavy metal irons heated on the stove. There were different types of irons depending on the clothes, but in all cases the irons cooled quite quickly and had to be reheated. Is it any wonder that washing day was an ordeal?

If you look at the time and effort involved in all this, you might see why I rank labour saving devices as the first and most important advance supporting the changing role of women. Many women did do paid work while married, but the time to do so was just so limited.

I rank improvements in health care as the second most important factor in supporting the changing role of women. It meant that fewer women died in child birth, something obviously important from a personal and family perspective. But it also meant that fewer children died.

Infant death was one key reason for the big families of the past. It meant that you needed more children to ensure family survival. You could not choose to have a particular family size, to stop having children to achieve that, because infant and child mortality made such a choice impossible.

I doubt that the women’s revolution could have happened without these two things, labour saving devices plus improvements in health care. Labour saving devices gave women extra time while still maintaining family responsibilities. Improvements in health care meant that women had to spend less time in child rearing. The combination led to a social revolution.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 July 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

History revisited – bobbed hair & the start of a revolution

When I first studied history at school, it was all about war, politics, kings and battles. There was very little about domestic life or, indeed, life in general. Now, fortunately, the historical canvas is painted in much broader terms.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like war, politics, kings and battles and even economics! However, the details of life are not just interesting, but set a basic context that helps explain other things.

Take, as an example, the rise of the women’s bobbed hair cut.

Traditionally, women wore their hair long. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” really only makes sense if you know that women wore their hair long. The modern miss would have to say “I’m sorry, I can’t, but here’s a rope.” Practical, but not quite as romantic!

To my mind, bobbed hair is a symbol of the changes that have taken place in women’s life over the twentieth century. Shorter hair became necessary during the First World War when women started working in factories. It was practical. When, to the shock of the traditionalists, it became a fashion statement during the 1920s, it was again in part because it was practical.

The long and complex clothing worn by women in the last part of the 19th century may have been fashionable and attractive, but it could be an absolute pain. Quite literally, in fact. The high necked dresses with their multiple buttons stretching up to the back of the neck caught hair that had to be painfully and carefully untangled.

I had enough problems with my daughters getting knots out as I brushed their hair. I hate to think how I would have gone with a wife or partner with hair caught in her high-necked dress.

Today, we think of women’s liberation in political or gender relation terms. That’s true, but it’s also very misleading.

In the nineteenth century, being a wife and mother was hard and sometimes dangerous work.

It was hard because of the absence of any form of labour saving device. With the man of the house often absent for extended period, women had to undertake hard physical labour including sawing wood so that it could be chopped. Hard labour continued even when the man was home in washing, cooking and cleaning.

It was dangerous, too. It wasn’t just the dangers of childbirth at a time when so many women had very large numbers of children with limited medical knowledge or support. Open fires, fuel stoves, moving heavy pots or kerosene lamps all provided their own dangers and challenges. Severe burns were common.

Is it any wonder that women formed powerful support networks, that men were judged first and foremost by a single rule, is he a good provider? In my next column, I will look at some of the basic changes that have taken place in women’s life over the last century and a half.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 25 June 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

History revisited – NENCO, Newcastle & wool sales part 2

Continuing my story of the establishment of wool selling in Newcastle, with P A Wright now joining the small group of activists, a new company was formed, the New England, North and Northwest Producers’ Co Ltd, later to be known as NENCO to sell wool and wheat through Newcastle.

The problems facing the new venture were formidable. Lacking capital, it faced entrenched opposition from the Wool Buyers’ Association as well as the Wool Brokers’ Association. Both were protective of the existing system. Neither could see any advantage at all in wool selling at Newcastle, only increased costs.

Wright had expected to gain support in Newcastle, including capital. However, the venture was too far outside the normal interests of the southern city and, in any case, seemed risky. Later Newcastle would adopt wool selling as its own, but for the present this lay far in the future. wool classer, newcastle

Wright and his colleagues adopted a multi-pronged approach to the various barriers facing the venture.

They tried to establish relations with existing buyers and brokers. That move failed and perhaps as well. Had NENCO’s application to join the Brokers’ Association been accepted, the Association could have killed the concept by allocating Newcastle a sales quota that guaranteed commercial failure.

They also sought political and industry support. This did not give them immediate benefits, but provided a degree of protection against possible retaliation from existing interests.

Most importantly, they sought support and capital from major Northern wool growers. Accompanied by W E Tayler, Wright called on Colonel White at Bald Blair. In Wright’s words, White was widely regarded as one of the foremost men in the North. If he came in, the venture would gain immediate credibility.

White was not enthusiastic. To Wright’s dismay, White said that he would not take part; so far as he was concerned, they could sit on their own bottom. Thinking about it, White was to change his mind, to join NENCO as a shareholder and director. Other big graziers joined as well.

While it wasn’t clear at the time, this growing support gave NENCO the commercial edge to succeed. The grower members produced a substantial clip. They were prepared to sell this through Newcastle even if it meant lower prices, taking a lower return now to achieve their longer term objectives.

The first Newcastle sale took place on Thursday 1 November 1928. NENCO’s own premises were not ready, so the wool was displayed at the old Newcastle skating rink, with the auction held at the Church of England’s Tyrell Hall.

That sale was a disappointment. Of the 1,760 bales of wool on offer, only 25 per cent was sold, although 60 per cent was sold later. The scheme’s opponents crowed. It was a failure.

At this point, the support of the bigger growers became critical. They would sell their wool through Newcastle regardless. This was enough to guarantee ultimate success. The rest, as they say, is history.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 June 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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 for2014.

The photo from the Newcastle Regional Library shows a wool classer inspecting wool for sale in 1950.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

History revisited – the shears stop in Newcastle

End of an Era. The Newcastle wool sales came to an end last year after more than ninety years in operation. Jim Belshaw explains how the sales began in the 1920s to help Northern farmers.

Tuesday 19 February 2013, Newcastle. The last wool sales had begun. For the last time, the buyers, brokers and graziers gathered together. Unlike other centres where selling had become remote, the mob of woolgrowers and buyers who relished travelling to Newcastle to see the collective clip had never wavered, propping up hotels, restaurants and business. It was their sale, a major social outing.One of the last bales

Barbara Morley had served the wool brokers and growers breakfast, lunch and dinner for 27 years. Now she was to don her apron for the last time, serving dinner for up to two hundred people, enjoying a last chardy or chat with all the familiar faces.

‘Country folk are just so unbelievable, real gentlemen and so respectful – I’ll miss them.’’

The story now ending had begun many years before. During the 1920s, Northern graziers experienced difficulties in selling their late cut wool because of congestion in the Sydney wool stores. Wool shorn in October or November could not be sold until the following March, creating a cash flow hole. The problem had become so bad that some growers were selling their wool from the shed, taking a lower price just to get the cash.

A small group (J J Price, A E Hunter and W E Tayler) decided that the solution was to open wool sales in Newcastle. Newcastle was a deep water port with a direct rail connection that finished on the water front. Tayler came to see P A Wright to seek his support and to ask him whether he was prepared to join the board of the new venture.

PA, everyone called him PA if not always to his face, was frustrated. He had sold his own large clip from the shed in 1927. A strong supporter of self government for Northern New South Wales, Wright believed that existing institutional structures impeded local development. He was also a supporter of direct action; those experiencing problems should act to fix them at once as best they could.

Wright listened to Tayler’s arguments. The need was clearly there. The concept was attractive. But would it work in a practical sense? There was a big gap between that embryo group and the practical realities involved in creating a new wool selling centre in the face of entrenched institutional and commercial barriers.

Wright was a methodical practical man. However, that was combined with curiosity, with a willingness to observe and experiment and the ability to see visions and to pursue causes with a dogged persistence.

As a practical man, he did his own investigation, visiting Sydney for talks with wool brokers. As a visionary, he became convinced that part of the solution to Northern problems lay in the development of Newcastle as an export port for Northern produce. It wasn’t just wool. Northern wheat growers were experiencing similar problems trying to export through Sydney.

After reflection and investigation, Wright decided to support the project and join the board. I will continue this story in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 June 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

History revisited – Chinatown in Tingha

Most of New England’s small settlements have vanished in the great rural depopulation, leaving little behind beyond a few posts. This was especially true of our mining towns, for there the town survived just as long as the rush endured. Once the miners left, the town vanished, the buildings moved or decaying into the landscape. Now the few remains lie forgotten, ignored even by neighbours, their history lost.

This remains true even where the original physical presence was substantial. Tingha’s China Town is an example. Heard of it? I bet not.

China Town ran on the creek bank along Amethyst Street. However, the Chinese population was so big that it overflowed across the town. At the height of the tin boom, Chinese boarding houses, stores, cafes, peanut shops, wine shops, herbalists, opium dens and gambling shops competed for space in Tingha’s overcrowded town centre.winghinglongstore

How big was big? That’s difficult to estimate. At the height of the tin mining boom, 2,500 people packed into Tingha and its immediate surrounds. The population of the broader Tingha mining district was 7,000 of whom 2,000 were Chinese. My best guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Tingha had perhaps 500 Chinese residents; the remaining Chinese visited as needs demanded.

Chinese celebrations were both noisy and colourful. One year, a huge paper marquee was imported from China and erected in the vicinity of the main joss house. It housed displays of various gods and devils and of humans being punished for their sins.

The display remained open for a week. On the seventh day amidst much ceremony,

it was set alight. As it burned, fire crackers exploded; there was much gaiety until the whole structure was reduced to ash.

As the mines declined, people left, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Yet many Chinese lingered, leaving their imprint. That is why stores in so many towns near the tin belt carried Chinese names, names that linger to this day; Hong Yuen (Inverell), Kwong Sing (Glen Innes and Bundarra), Hong Sing (Stanthorpe) and Wing Hing Long (Tingha).

When Harry Fay died in Inverell in August 2012, the Northern Daily Leader spoke of his connection with the iconic Hong Yuen department store. After taking over the store in 1970 that his grandfather had run for sixty years, the paper said, Mr Fay had carried on the family tradition of honesty, quality service and community spirit. That’s not a bad epitaph.

I wonder how many Chinese students at UNE know that their ancestors were a significant part of the history of the area in which they now study? Not many, I would guess.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 June 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

History revisited – Tingha’s tin a golden find

Credit for the first discovery of tin on the Northern Tablelands belongs to Pennyweight Joe, Joseph Wills to give him his real name. The name Pennyweight Joe was the affectionate nickname given to him by his fellow workers and employers.

In her book Tin at Tingha, Helen Brown records that Pennyweight Joe was seen by those around him as a simple, likeable though quite eccentric shepherd who was perpetually short of money. He was, in fact, a little more than that.

Joseph Wills seems to have had a sound knowledge of geology, a love of rocks; this allowed him to identify metals and precious stones. He also had overseas connections to whom he sent samples and from whom he received information on prices. His role as shepherd gave him ample time and opportunity to prospect.

Around 1865, Wills sent a consignment of geological specimens to his brother-in-law Frederick Clar De V’ries in London. This included a sample of tin, along with agate, sapphires, rubies and amethysts, all of which De V’ries exhibited at a miner’s exhibition in Paris.

Wills did nothing about his find. Then in 1870, probably broke, he sold a bag of tin to a commercial traveler at an Inverell hotel. The traveler took the tin to C S McGlew in Sydney who had been searching for tin across a wide area of NSW.

McGlew had samples of the smelted to test its value, then hastened north to meet Wills who showed him where the tin had come from at Elmore. In June 1871, McGlew and his associated started test mining at Elmore for rich rewards. tin-mining Tingha

Around the same time, Wills found another deposit that he showed to his employer, Duncan Anderson. Anderson, in conjunction with Sydney merchant and early mining magnate Sir Saul Samuel, floated a company to exploit the discovery. Now there were two companies exploiting Wills’ discoveries.

Wills was the first to discover tin, but before anyone knew of the discovery, Messrs Millis and Fearby also discovered tin about sixteen kilometres south of Elmore on the banks of Cope’s Creek. They kept their discovery secret while they formed a new company, the Britannia Tin Mining Company. This also began mining in 1871.

Mills and Firby were far sighted men. As part of their plans, they applied for the conditional purchase of 240 acres (97.13 hectares) of land at the junction of Cope’s Creek and Darby’s Branch Creek. In 1870 in anticipation of the rush that would begin when news of their discovery became public, they had 100 acres (40.47 hectares) of their new selection surveyed into town streets and house allotments.

The two men called their new private town Tingha. Ten years later, it would have a population of over 2,000.

And Joseph Wills? His tombstone records “He paved the way for others’ gains, And dies neglected for his pains.”

It wasn’t quite as bad as that. The two Elmore mining companies each gave him a life time annuity, but he died in 1873 before he could enjoy the real benefits.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 28 May 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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. The photo shows tin sluicing about the turn of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

History revisited – remnants of a past era

Just outside one of the doors leading into Booloominbah from the courtyard is a very strange piece of brickwork. Built in an L shape, it has no discernible purpose.

When brother David and I were very young, Dad’s office was in Booloominbah just down the corridor and up the stairs from that doorway. We often played there, standing on and jumping off the raised L. However, we had no idea what it was for. It was just odd.

I finally found out what it’s purpose last year,. I had come up to Armidale for the gala seqesquicentenary production of Armidale – Our Town. A friend came with me, and on the Saturday morning we decided to do the Heritage tour. Our guide was Werner Schwarz.

At Booloominbah, Werner explained that the brickwork in question was a sidesaddle dismounting point for the ladies of the house and their female friends. They could slide of the horse in a modest fashion, then step down to ground level.

While there are depictions and descriptions of women riding aside on Greek vases and sculptures and in some of the Celtic stories, by the Medieval period in Europe all women rode aside. This was partly the nature of women’s clothing with its many skirts, more a matter of modesty.

This modesty was deeply ingrained. In the middle of the 19th century on the Macleay, Ellen Kemp and her sister were skilled bush riders, but it was always sidesaddle. “Not astride! No – we would not even let the gum trees see us in that position.”

The first sidesaddles did not allow women to control their horses, requiring them511px-STACE-Esther_M to be led. This was impractical. Women did ride and needed to control their own animals. However, progress was slow. According to Wikipedia, the first reasonably practical sidesaddle was not developed until the sixteenth century.

The modern sidesaddle was invented in the 1830s by Jules Pellier. This was revolutionary, for it allowed  women to ride at a gallop and to take part in equestrian events. At Sydney’s Royal Easter Show in 1915, Yarrowitch woman Mrs Esther Stace set a world record for a sidesaddle jump of 6’ 6” (1.98m).

Mrs Stace’s jump marked a high point in more ways than one.

As early as 1909, the Mullumbimby Show permitted women to ride astride for First Class events. Now in the turmoil of war and the social changes that marked the first decades of the twentieth century, astride riding swept the sidesaddle aside. With it went memory of the ladies’ dismount point at Booloominbah.

Today, sidesaddle riding has enjoyed a modest revival, keeping alive that feature of women’s life over so many centuries. We can still see for ourselves, to visualise what this part of life must have been like.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 21 May 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns 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.