New England's History

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

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.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale museum fight finally won, if for the moment

DECEMBER 1933: Local member and Education Minister David Drummond opens the Armidale museum, the first municipally operated museum in NSW
Starting in December 1890, three previous attempts to establish an Armidale museum had all failed. Now in November 1929, the Armidale Express reported that Alderman D W Oliver had instigated new moves “to establish a museum in Armidale”.

The trigger appears to have been the offer of the gem and minerals collection belong to Albert Pike. Now an elderly man living in Mittagong, Mr Pike was a well known local prospector and one of the pioneers of the Copeton diamond field.

This was a considerable collection, one that would be later valued at £5,000. Following a detailed evaluation by W E Clark, science master at Armidale High School, the Armidale Council announced in June 1931 that it had decided to accept Mr Pike’s offer of the collection in return for “suitable living quarters and a small retainer.”

David Drummond as local MP and also Minister for Public Instruction offered one guinea as a donation and suggested that the collection could be housed in the Teachers’ College until accommodation could be provided. Drummond had already been looking for specimens that might be included in a museum at the Teachers’ College that would be reflective of the North.

The Armidale Express considered that the museum would be better in a more central position and also not confined to geological specimens. The paper launched an appeal for £50 to help house the exhibits, to provide a living room and furniture for Mr Pike and to pay him 10s a week in wages as curator and attendant.

On 5 September 1931, Alfred Pike arrived in Armidale by train. On Saturday 26 September, the museum opened in temporary premises to display both the Pike Collection and other exhibits lent by local businessman Harry Court.

The new museum had considerable support, but faced problems of premises, content and governance.

Its location in temporary premises proved difficult. Initially Council had hoped to fund a building for the museum and also art gallery using Unemployment Relief Council funds. When this failed, Council looked at other options.

Finally, in March 1933 Council received advice of a Government loan of £600 for construction of a museum and gallery on Council land to the Government Architect’s plans and specifications. Construction began immediately on a reasonably substantial brick building next to the Fire Station in Rusden Street.

Meanwhile, the museum’s protagonists worked to increase the collection. Now back in office as Minister for Education, Drummond persuaded Sydney jeweller Percy Marks to donate another collection of gemstones, while fifty samples of Australian commercial timbers were obtained from the Technological Museum in Sydney.

In the midst of work, Albert Pike died in May 1933, not living to see the final result.

On Saturday 16 December 1933, Drummond was able to officially open the Armidale museum. Armidale now had a functioning museum and art gallery, the first municipally operated museum in NSW, but there were difficulties ahead.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 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.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale's museum fight

Attempts to create an Armidale Museum have a long and sometimes chequered history.

The first move dates to 1890.

In December of that year, Armidale City Council requested the Minister of Public Instruction to establish technological classes and a museum in Armidale. In January 1891, the Mayor called a public meeting to discuss technical classes.

In November, the Under Secretary of the NSW Mines Department contacted Council in connection with the establishment of a School of Mines, asking if Council would provide a room should a collection of minerals be provided for exhibition. Council agreed and the collection was duly sent to Armidale.

These initial moves took place at a time of continuing fascination with science and technology, with technical education seen as a weapon of economic development. While Armidale clearly shared this interest, no further action appears to have been taken.

Towards the end of 1909 public interest resurfaced, with a sub-committee formed to receive specimens for a Technological Museum covering natural history, geology, mining and agriculture. On 16 February 1910, a representative public meeting was convened to further consider the museum question.

Money was again a key issue. With the School of Arts unable to fund a permanent building, the meeting concluded that the proper place for a museum would be in a technical school building. The meeting therefore resolved to ask the Mayor to inaugurate a deputation, through the State member, to wait upon the Premier seeking a special grant for the erection of a building for technical classes and a museum. Again, the museum proposal seems then to have lapsed.

There is now another long gap in our story. It is 1923 before the museum question resurfaces, and then it takes a different form. Whereas the previous discussions had focused on a technological museum, now the trigger was the possible purchase of a South Sea Island curio collection owned by P T W Black. This, A H Perrott of Chevy Chase hoped in September 1923, “would be for the foundation of a museum for New England.”

The use of the word New England suggests that the museum is now being seen in a broader context. At the same time, the shift from a technological museum to one centred on a South Sea Island’s collection raised the issue of purpose, a key question so far as museums are concerned. This issue would ultimately take the museum in new directions.

For the present, a committee was formed including Mayor Morgan Stephens to consider the proposal. The Mayor was forced to advise the committee that it was not possible to purchase the collection.

The museum proposal again lapsed, surfacing next in 1929. This time the result was the creation of NSW’s first municipally operated museum. I will continue the story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 February 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 02, 2016

History Revisited - Resting Place of Australia's first world champ

AN EARLY FAVOURITE: Rowing was extremely popular in Australia's early days. Edward Trickett was an avid rower and Australia's first world champion. 
Uralla residents will know the old Trickett’s store with its impressive Victorian Italianate decorative parapet. Local business man C.E. Solomons built the corner portion with its parapet. In 1920, the building was purchased by local retailer Fred Trickett and extended further along Bridge Street to create Uralla’s main emporium. .

Four years before, in November 1916, Fred’s father Edward (Ned, “The Slab”) Trickett had been visiting Uralla to see his son. In addition to the general store, Fred was mining gold. His father was helping Fred in the mine when the shaft walls collapsed, severely injuring Edward.

On 28 November 1916, Edward died at his son’s home. The death was a major story, for Edward Trickett had been Australia’s first sporting world champion.

Edward Trickett was born on 12 September 1851 at Greenwich on Sydney’s Lane Cove River, son of boot maker and former convict George Trickett and his wife Mary. He grew into a tall (6 ft 4 ins or193 cm) well built man who worked initially as a quarryman.

Rowing had long been a popular sport in the colony.. By 1837 when the first Anniversary Regatta was held in Sydney,. both rowing and sailing were well established sports.

Trickett was ten when took part in his first race, finishing second in the under 16 maiden skulls at the Anniversary Day Regatta. At fourteen, he won the 12-foot dinghy title. He went on to defeat most of the State's professional scullers to become Australian Professional Sculling Champion.

In 1876, Sydney innkeeper and former sculler James Punch took Trickett to England to challenge for the world championship. On 27 June 1876 Trickett defeated reigning Champion James H. Sadler on the Thames’ Putney-Mortlake course, becoming the first Australian to win a world championship in any sport. On his return to Australia, 25,000 people gathered to give him a hero’s welcome.

Trickett became licensee of Trickett's Hotel and then proprietor of the International Hotel, both in Sydney. He continued competitive sculling. However, a rolling beer keg crushed one hand, leading to the loss of fingers. This affected his stroke.

In June 1880 Trickett went to England to defend his world title against Canadian Ned Hanlan, but on 15 November was defeated on the Thames course. In May 1882, he tried again against Hanlan, this time suffering a humiliating defeat

In May1884, Trickett moved to Rockhampton as a publican but was forced to return to Sydney in dire straits following losses in a mining venture. .Now teetotal and a strong advocate for the Salvation Army, his Church connections helped him obtain a position with the customs service.

Trickett retired from the service on 11 September 1916, just six weeks before his death.

Trickett was an immensely popular man, a sporting celebrity. In all, he won over 150 trophies, feats celebrated in ballad and verse and on cigarette cards.

In 1918, public subscriptions funded a memorial to him in Uralla. He is buried in the Uralla cemetery. Uralla's McCrossin's Mill Museum has a display on Edward Trickett including the memorial.. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 February 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, February 17, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale aspired to become 'Cambridge of Australia'

"HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY": Jim Belshaw says that the Creeklands' area contributes to the harmony of Armidale
The opening of the Malpas dam in 1968 was important to the greening of Armidale because it removed water constraints. However, other forces were at play as well.

By 1963, Armidale was in the midst of a building boom that would continue for almost twenty years. By 1974, NSW Government population projections suggested that Armidale’s population would pass that of Tamworth, reaching 40,000 people by the year 2000. Few realised just how vulnerable Armidale had become to downturn because of its now overwhelming dependence on a single industry.

In October 1959, the Hon Lionel Brett, a representative of the British Council and a leading town planner, commented during a visit to that “Armidale appeared as a city which could be greatly improved”. Earlier, in August of that year, J H Shaw from the University of NSW had said that with proper planning, Armidale could become the Cambridge of Australia.

These two ideas of civic improvement and of Armidale as a unique education centre were conjoined and could conflict. Civic improvement included modernization and development, while life style was central to the university city concept. 

In retrospect, the Arboretum debate in the first part of the sixties was something of a turning point. Worried about the rate base relative to servicing costs, Council was split between the subdivision of the open space around the lookout or the open space on South Hill that was the site of the proposed Arboretum. 

A resumed proposal to rezone the Arboretum land for residential purposes again led to protests from a variety of civic groups. For the first time, aldermen found themselves greeted by demonstrators with placards. It was a friendly affair, and in the end the land was maintained for public purposes. The Arboretum itself would not officially open until 1988, but the practical effect was to save open space in the north and south of the city.

In 1966 as part of the continuing interest in beautification, recreation and civic improvement, a recreation and playing fields advisory committee was formed following a public meeting.

There was rapid progress. In Armidale in 1968, there were twelve hectares of recreational land. Ten years later there were 26 hectares, with a further 7 hectares nearing completion plus another 8 hectares allocated for equestrian clubs. A further 59 hectares had been allocated for future open space.

The Creeklands were now emerging as a central unified east-west meander, adding to the harmony of the central city in its valley.

Growth in pupil numbers meant expansion in schools as well as in student numbers, leading to new schools and not always appealing new building. Visually, the sympathetic extensions at TAS were especially important in helping anchor Brown Street, while also starting to create a new eastern visual strip from the Police Paddock to the Creeklands.

The transformation period that we are talking about (1963-83) also saw the beginning of the museum precinct in Kentucky Street with the opening of NERAM in 1983, as well as the revitalisation of Beardy Street.

One can argue about Beardy Street, but that’s a different story. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 February 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.