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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New England & Queensland - a truncated relationship

Photo: Gara Gorge near Armidale

My last post focused on the impact of the Dividing Range and especially on the way it affected east-west and north-south communications within New England. But this left open the question of south-north communications between New England and the colony, now state, of Queensland.

On the surface, you would expect this to be substantial. The New England Tablelands extend into Queensland, as do the western slopes and plains. The Tweed River valley is divided by the New England-Queensland boarder. Brisbane, Queensland's political and commercial capital, is closer than Sydney to much of Northern New England. On the surface, you would expect substantial trade and communications. The reality was very different.

In his 1966 PhD thesis, The Geographical Scope of Support for the New State Movement in Northern New South Wales, Professor Eric Woolmington from the University of New England's Geography Department examined the impact of the NSW-Queensland border on local activity.

Using geographic models developed to explain boundaries between the economic catchment areas of competing major centres, Woolmington defined the expected boundary between the spheres of influence of Sydney and Brisbane. This generated an economic boundary well south of Armidale.

Woolmington then examined the actual economic boundary using a variety of measures. In all cases, he found that the economic boundary was well to the north of that expected. He used the phrase marchland areas - areas of major competition between powers - to describe the territory between the projected economic boundary and the actual political boundary.

At one level, it is not suprising that Sydney's influence should have been so pervasive. The city was much bigger than rival Brisbane, especially in the colonial period. New England people had to deal with Sydney as the seat of government and power. Economic links were strong because Sydney merchants financed pastoral activities, supplying goods and selling primary products in return.

However, that is not the end of the story. At a second level, the location of the economic boundary was also strongly influenced by consistent efforts by the Sydney Government to maintain economic control, to centralise power and influence in Sydney. Those efforts, the impact they had at local level, the resistances they created, form another key theme in New England history.

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