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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Towards a New England History - introductory post

Photo: This photo is taken from the Tobwabba Art site. Tobwabba is a 100 per cent Aboriginal owned artists' cooperative.

In this, the first of several posts, I want to start looking at the issues involved in writing a decent first history of New England. Not the Northern Tablelands, but the fuller new state New England. This is not an easy task simply because of the absence of a formal political entity. Here Scottish history is instructive.

While born in Australia, my grandfather was a proud Scot. So over the years I received as presents many books on Scottish history. I found these easy to follow so long as Scotland existed as a unit in its own right, much harder when it became simply a region of England or the UK. The problem? How do you write about something that does not exist!

In thinking this challenge through, I think that the starting point has to be the original Aboriginal inhabitants. New England is a European construct. The Aboriginal Nations (language groups) obviously did not think of New England. However, they did have to respond to the European invasion.

So what was Aboriginal New England like? How did it evolve in the thousands of years prior to the European invasion?

Here we have to paint a picture of the changing interaction between people and a changing landscape, because the landscape itself was not static, changing in long waves with geological and climatic change, as well as shorter waves under the impact of the Aborigines themselves.

Then we have the immediate impact of the Europeans and the nature of the Aboriginal response. From this point, the Aborigines become a sub-story, but one that needs to be written as an important thread in the New England experience.

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