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

Saturday, December 29, 2007

New England Timelines - 21st century

Material to be added.

Back to Timelines entry page.

New England Timelines - the 20th century

Material to be added.

Back to Timelines entry page.

New England Timelines - the 19th century

I have started the timeline section by adding material from the Clarence Valley Time lines. I will add further material progressively.
1830
Richard Craig escaped from Moreton Bay Penal colony.
1835
Craig pardoned...told story of the “Big River”.
1838
John Small sailed to the Clarence on board “Susan
Cedar-getters arrive on Clarence River
1839
Ship building yard and timber business established by Phillips & Cole
Big River named “Clarence”
Eatonswill Station established by the Mylne Brothers.
1840
Route from Tablelands made - “Craig’s Line”
Ramornie Station established by Dr. Dobie
Post Office opened 1st October - Arthur Price postmaster
Yulgilbar taken up by Ogilvie.
1841
First store on Grafton side near mouth of Alumny Creek by Bentley.
1842
Clarence Settler’s Arms” hotel opened near Christopher Creek - Proprietor Durno.
Rev. J. McConnell appointed 1st resident Anglican clergyman - Grafton & Clarence.
1843
First marriage recorded. Henry Wall married Bridget Connel?
Baptism of Mary Ann, daughter of Samuel and Arabella Avery.
1844
Birth of George Miller son of Samuel and Arabella Avery.
1847
First Court held at Grafton, 5th April
Court House built on river bank Victoria street.
Surveyor, W. W. Darke, surveyed the town of Grafton.
1850
Rev. John Gibson appointed Presbyterian Minister.
1851
First sale of Gafton town blocks.
1852
Government assisted school opened - other private schools beforehand.
1854
Anglican Church built in Duke Street Grafton
Five acres granted on river at Grafton to Grafton Steam Navigation Co.
1856
Grafton School of Arts formed................. Arrival of 182 German immigrants in March.
1857
First RC church on Nth. Coast opened at South Grafton.
1859
Clarence & Richmond Examiner printed in Grafton June 28th
First Grafton race meeting officially held
German Club formed at Grafton
Grafton proclaimed a Municipality 28th July. J. E. Chapman, mayor.
1860
......... Volunteer Rifle Corps formed................... First Catholic School opened in Church at South Grafton....................Township of Copmanhurst gazetted.
1861
......... Methodist Church commenced in April - Cnr. Prince and Fry Streets................... Baths built on river bank................... Henry Kendall engaged as solicitor’s clerk in Grafton................... Hand powered punt used for river crossing................... Branch of Ancient Order of Royal Foresters formed................... New Court House opened on Cnr. Duke and Victoria Streets.
1862
......... Telegraph Station opened................... Grafton Hospital opened. .................. Father Murphy appointed resident priest................... Clarence River Jockey Club formed in August................... Gaol opened in Victoria Street.
1863
......... Big disastrous flood recorded................... First harbour works at Clarence Heads.
1864
......... Branch of Oddfellows Lodge first opened at Grafton.
1866
......... Formation of Clarence Pastoral and Agricultural Society................... Foundation Stone of St. Marys laid................... Post Office in South Grafton opened................... Ramornie Meat Works opened - Joseph Page manager.
1867
......... Bishop Sawyer appointed Anglican Bishop of Grafton................... St. Marys opened................... South Grafton School opened as private school.
1868
......... Bishop Sawyer drowned................... First steam punt at Dobie St. was commissioned................... Catholic School opened in Grafton.
1869
......... Earl & Countess of Belmore visited Clarence................... Opened Belmore sugar mill at Ulmarra................... Free Presbyterian church commenced. .................. Royal Theatre erected in Pound Street.
1870
......... Solferino Goldfields opened up.
1871
......... Tannery established cnr. Prince and Hoof Streets................... Grafton Grammar School established by Frederick Newton................... Free Presbyterian church commenced................... Public School Buildings opend Cnr. Queen and Bacon Streets.
1872
......... Clarence and New England Railway League formed.
1874
......... Foundation stone of Cathedral laid. .................. Grafton Argus Newspaper established................... Council adopts a ‘Tree Planting Policy’................... Post Office foundation stone laid................... Bawden Bridge opened April.
1875
......... Lutheran Church established.
1876
......... Memorial Park at Boulevarde dedicated................... Lutheran Church built cnr. Alice and Oliver Streets.
1878
......... Grafton Grammar School new building opened in Mary Street................... Post Office building on present site opened.................. Shares offered in Grafton Gas Lighting Co.
1879
......... Commercial Bank of Sydney constructed cnr. Prince and Fitzroy Streets. .................. Volunteer Fire Brigade commenced.
1880
......... Court House constructed on present site.
1882
......... Wreck of SS New England.
1884
......... Christ Church Cathedral dedicated................... Salvation Army commenced................... AMP building constructed by Wm Kinnear................... Arrival of Sisters of Mercy.
1885
......... Grafton proclaimed a city................... Grafton Volunteer Water Brigade founded................... Baptist Church opened in March.
1886
......... St. Andrews Presbyterian Church opened.
1888
......... Fisher Park gazetted................... The Grip newspaper founded by Baptist Clergyman Henry Beecher................... “The Barn” erected on old showground site.
1889
......... Zietsch’s Cordial Factory commenced................... First milk separator in district demonstrated at Grafton Show.
1890
......... Largest recorded flood (8.13m) in March.
1891
......... Grafton District Cricket Association formed.
1892
......... Grafton Dairy Company began operations................... Grafton Cycle Club formed.
1893
......... Gaol opened on present site. ................... Floods in February (7.95m) & June (7.45m)
1894
......... Aruma Benevolent Home opened.
1897
......... South Grafton Municipal Council formed................... Town Hall & Council Chambers erected in Prince Street................... “Examiner” business moved to School of Arts Hall Prince Street.
1899
......... McKittrick Park dedicated................... Grafton “Clarion” Newspaper established at South Grafton.Back to Timelines entry page.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - Z

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - Y

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - X

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - W

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Woolmington, Eric. Northern Tablelands. Geographer. Here.

Woolmington, Jean (Jo) (1927-2007). Northern Tablelands. Teacher, historian, with a special focus on the Australian Aborigines. Here.

Woolnough, Peter. Northern Tablelands. Singer and Entertainer. See Peter Allen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - V

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - U

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

New England's Aboriginal Languages


I have finally found a map of the distribution of New England's Aboriginal languages.

Looking at the map, I know something about every one with two exceptions: the Nganyaywana around Armidale and the Wgarabal around Tenterfield.

I know the Armidale group by a different name, but know nothing about the second. So I have some investigation to do.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - J

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Economic basis of traditional Aboriginal life in New England

I have begun putting up a post on the New England Australia blog on the economic basis of traditional Aboriginal life in New England.

Once completed, I will transfer it to this blog as a small building block in the development of New England's history prior to the European intrusion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - T

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - R

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Rolls, Eric (1923-2007). Farmer and writer. Western Plains and Mid North Coast. Eric Rolls was a farmer turned writer who became one of New England's most famous writers with his wonderfully evocative book A Million Wild Acres. Post here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - Q

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - P

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Pender family. Architects. Hunter Valley. Three generations of this family had a major influence on New England's built landscape. Here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - O

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Olley, Margaret. Northern Rivers. Painter. Here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - L

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dictionary of New England Biography - K

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Kent Hughes, Ellen Mary (1893-1979). Doctor, community activitist, Aboriginal welfare, local government. Northern Tablelands. Here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Virtual Source Book for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region



My thanks to Neil Whitfield for pointing me to the University of Newcastle's virtual sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region.

From a quick scan it looks a very useful historical resource.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - I

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - G

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Draytons. Hunter Valley wine family. Here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - F

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here

Freame, Harry. Spy and adventurer. Northern Tablelands. Here.

Frewen, Hugh. First cousin to English PM Winston Churchill, Hugh Frewen's life stretched from aristocratic and county life in England before the First World War through various adventures to Dorrigo on the Northern Tablelands. Here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - D

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Dixon, Patricia (Pat) ?-2001. Macleay Valley, Northern Tablelands. Labor Party activist and the first Aboriginal person elected to a NSW Council (Armidale City), Pat worked to extend the involvement of Aboriginal people in local government. Here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - A

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Allen, Peter. Northern Tablelands. Singer and entertainer. Born Peter Woolnough, Peter Allen became an international singing star. Here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gambu Ganuurru, or Cumbo Gunnerah of the Gunn-e-darr tribe

According to Wikipedia, Gambu Ganuurru, or Cumbo Gunnerah in an older spelling, also known as the Red Chief, or Red Kangaroo was a Kamilaroi [Gamilaraay] man who lived in the area nowknown as town of Gunnedah in the 18th Century.

He had a reputation as a warrior and wise leader of the Gunn-e-darr tribe.

He was buried in the mid 1700s in a manner befitting a Kamilaroi man of great importance; in a sitting position, backed by a tree carved with totemic designs. The stories of his unsurpassed bravery, achievements and adventures were handed down through the generations and his burial place was treated with great respect.

In 1887 the town's doctor arranged for the remains of Gambu Ganuurru to be dug up, and later sent them, along with a slab of what was locally known as The Blackfellow’s Tree, to the Australian Museum.

As custom demanded his silence, "Old Joe" Bungaree [born ca. 1817], the last full-blooded Aborigine of the Gunn-e-darr tribe, was unwilling to talk about his great leader. It was only just before he died that he decided to confide in his friend, J P Ewing, the local Police Sergeant.The Sergeant's son Stan Ewing (1878-1938) recorded this information and passed it on to other historians. Gambu Ganuurru soon became recognised as a great Aboriginal leader, his story appearing in The Sydney Mail in 1891.

Writer Ion Idriess wrote The Red Chief first published in 1953, which became a best-seller of its day. The tag 'Red Chief' was coined by Idriess; it is not used in the source documents (see O'Rourke 2005).

Friday, July 06, 2007

Towards a Course on the History of New England - Introduction

Note to readers: This and the preceding posts began life on my Personal Reflections blog. For practical reasons, I have decided to transfer them to this blog, allowing me to put the first post first then work back.

Photo: This is a photo of the North Coast Steam Navigation Company's Uralba in naval dress.

Built by the shipbuilder E Wright of Tuncurry in 1942, this was the last ship built for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, the last wooden coal burner built in Australia and, almost certainly, the last ship built in New England for the coastal trade.

I have been gnawing away at the regional bone in a number of posts and feel the need to put the matter aside for the present with two final posts.

On 2 July in Australia's Regions - are they really different? I commented on just how dull I found Australian history, suggesting that this was due at least in part to our failure to recognise regional variations. I extended my argument the following day in my post Timgad and the Study of Australian history.

My first post drew comments from Adrian and Legal Eagle. My thanks to both. I have taken the liberty of repeating Legal Eagle's comment in full because it bears upon my argument.

Hear hear, Jim - I got totally bored by Australian history at school. Then when I was an adult, my mother did some genealogical research and discovered convicts on both sides of the family.

One forebear also brought Merinos to Australia along with Macarthur, but my forebear ate his, which explains why he is not in the history books. I am reliably informed by a friend with a rural farming background that Merinos are delicious...

He also had positive relationships with indigenous people, such that one or two indigenous men around Sydney renamed themselves after him. Seems to have been the one nice member of the Rum Corps, and accordingly he didn't prosper as much as others...

Anyway, the point of this meandering comment is that this
history was all tremendously interesting, but I'd never seen it at school. Why
is Australian history at school so boring?

I really enjoyed this comment written in Legal Eagle's usual light style.

Her argument drives to the heart of my concern with the teaching of Australian history, and I think that this applies to some degree at least to both sides of the history wars, its failure to explain and reflect to people the world that is theirs.

I could make my point by critically examining the NSW Australian History, Geography, Civics and Citizenship Test Scope Statement and Test Specifications from 2006 that Neil referred to in his post on Julie Bishop's history reference group. While I have my own perspective on the issues raised, I commend this post as a snap shot to anyone who is interested in the way in which the teaching of Australian history has become enmeshed in the culture and political wars.
As an alternative approach, I thought that I might kill two or more birds with the one stone by focusing instead on what might go into a New England history curriculum.

I have now had two goes at writing posts on the history of New England to set a context for some of the things that I am talking about. I still want to complete this, but the task is just too big at the moment. So an outline curriculum might go some way to filling this gap.

Equally importantly, I think that it will draw out the way in which the current approach to and debate about Australian history so conceals and distorts our past.

The Task

The New England Government has decided that there should be a New England Studies stream built into the school curriculum to give students an understanding of the world around them. As part of this, it had decided that school students should have the option of studying New England history as one discrete element in the school curriculum.

Your task is to sketch out some of the things that might go into such a curriculum as a base for discussion. You have been given the following writing instructions.

The course should provide an overall framework, dealing with major themes in an integrated narrative fashion that must be studied by all.

Within this framework, the course must provide opportunities for localisation, for teachers and students to look at local examples so that students understood something of the history of their own areas and could see the relationships between local life and history and the broader world.
However, this should not be done in a rigid fashion. Students and teachers should have the freedom to select topics of interest and relevance to them within broad guidelines.

Recognising that history cannot be value free, the course should not be prescriptive, but should ensure that students have access to different views and are able to form and debate their own opinions. The course should make full use of writing, painting, film and other audio visual material drawn from across New England.

I will begin the outline of a suggested curriculum in my next post.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Towards a Course on the History of New England- The Colonial Period.


Note to readers: This post is a work in progress. I have decided to post it then add to it progressively until finished. First update 8 July. Extended 10 July. Extended 11 July. Extended 12 July. Crikey, this is taking a while! In this context, my apologies to those who are getting multiple feeds since I am saving as I go along. Extended 13 July

In my first post in this series, I defined our task as the development of an outline New England history curriculum. If you have not read this post, please do so first because it sets a context for this post.

Developing a full curriculum outline is obviously beyond the scope of any blog post, so what I am going to do is to indicate a few of the things that might go into such a curriculum. In doing so, I will point to a few of the differences with other approaches. But do compare it with your own knowledge of Australian history and the way it is taught and make your own judgements.

New England's Geography

We are all formed by our interaction with the world around us. We can see this in the use of the word "country" by Aboriginal people. Here New England is a broader geographic entity in a way unmatched in Australia among the states and territories except for Tasmania. You simply cannot understand New England's history if you do not understand its geography.

The New England Tablelands with its rugged eastern escarpment is central to that geography.
Running for several hundred miles from the edge of the Hunter Valley to Toowoomba in Queensland, the Tablelands are a major Australian landform. All New England's eastern flowing rivers from the Hunter in the south to the Tweed in the north have their origins in the Tablelands. Then there are the western flowing rivers such as the Namoi and the Gwydir that also start in the Tablelands and form geographic entities until they enter the vast expanses of the western plains, finally merging with the Darling River.

This geography has influenced every aspect of New England life from the arrival of the first Aborigines until today. For that reason, any New England history curriculum has to start with an understanding of New England's geography.

There is actually some good and exciting stuff here from a teaching viewpoint simply because you can look at geographic change and interaction over a long period across a varied set of linked landforms.

Aboriginal New England

The Aborigines would be front and central to New England history in a way that is simply not possible in NSW nor, for that matter, in Australia. There is no ideology in this statement. It's just a fact linked to the relative size of the indigenous population, geographical unity and smaller size. Further, there are real possibilities to teach Aboriginal history in new ways.

Note I say Aboriginal history, not just the history of black-white relations. I am talking about a new approach.

New England is a European construct. It makes no sense to limit discussion of pre-European Aboriginal life to European boundaries. Rather, the focus should be on the geographic entity including the full Tablelands and the surrounding areas.

This is where it gets exciting, because we can use archaeological, anthropological, audiovisual (photographs, sound, film footage) and ethnohistorical material to look at cultural sequences, patterns of life and relationships between geographically different but linked areas with major Aboriginal populations over long time periods. We can also link this to local sites and material such as bora rings, allowing for significant localisation.

By doing all this, we can bring the long Aboriginal occupation of the country alive for both indigenous and non-Aboriginal kids in ways that are hard to do at present. Further, because this along with New England's geography is a foundation building block in the course, it takes Aboriginal history out of the academic ghetto into which (at least as I see it) it has now fallen.
Imagine what it would be like for, say, a Bundjalung kid to have the long history of his people and their relationships with other groups form a core part of mainstream history studied by all.

Periods versus Themes

Life gets more complicated with the arrival of the Europeans. Here we have a methodological clash, one that also forms an element in the history wars, between a narrative, chronological approach on one side, a thematic approach on the other.

My personal view is a simple one, you have to have both using a matrix structure to integrate.
Some measure of narration and associated chronology is necessary to set a frame so that people can set things in context and see relationships. However, there also needs to be a thematic approach to allow people to see and understand related changes over longer periods. A thematic approach can also aid localisation.

Where I part company with some of my colleagues is my belief that the themes should be dictated by the history, not imposed upon the history because the topic is considered to be important for some reason external to the history itself.

The balance between narrative and themes and the interaction between the two has to be defined as the course is defined to ensure that the course flows, that the bits fit together, that it can in fact be studied properly within the allotted hours.

This is beyond the scope of this blog post. Instead, I am going to point to some of chronological periods and to some of the key themes. That way I can at least give a feel for what the course might look like, for some of the issues and challenges involved.

The Colonial Period

The colonial period covers the time span from the arrival of the Europeans through to Federation. Now here we come to our first major methodological problem.

When I first started thinking about writing a history of New England all those years ago, I was going to start by looking at the arrival of the Europeans and the Empire through Aboriginal eyes, progressively switching the focus as the invaders established their hold on the land. I wanted to do this for dramatic reasons and to redress what I saw as the then very Euro-centric view of the early period of European settlement.

I think now that this is too difficult to do in quite the way I wanted to. Instead, I think that the course needs to continue with an overview of the colonial period, pointing to main themes and changes within a chronological framework to set a context. I say this in part because of the need to avoid fragmentation, in part because this period established patterns that would continue to be of importance in later New England history.

A few examples to illustrate.

The interaction between geography, transport and settlement patterns created two overlapping regional patterns. The east-west pattern linked the western slopes and plains and the tablelands with the main northern river ports and especially Grafton. The north-south pattern linked the tablelands, western slopes and plains to the Hunter and first Morpeth and then Newcastle.

These regional patterns and the interaction between them form a core element in New England history.

Then we have the growth of the shipping, mining and industrial activities in and around Newcastle. This made Newcastle very different from the rest of New England. The two were interdependent but also deeply suspicious of each other, suspicions that deepened with the formation of the union movement and the creation of the modern political parties. These differences played themselves out over time from the early days through to the defeat of the New State plebiscite in 1967 and still exist today.

European Invasion

Having established an overall context for the colonial period, I think that the European invasion needs to be dealt with as the next block, in so doing fleshing out and extending some of the points made in the overview segment.

This would be a difficult but interesting segment to write and teach in part because you have in the same classroom the direct local descendants of both the original inhabitants and the invaders. This is not unique to New England, but is generally different from the big metro centres of at least Sydney and Melbourne where dispossession was generally complete.

It is also difficult because it is a complex story in which events on the ground were influenced by local conditions played out within a frame set by the colonial administrations in Sydney, then Sydney and Brisbane, and by the home Government in London.

One of the key issues is just how you present this segment.

At this level, the Aboriginal story is rawer, harsher, than it is in the broader courses. Myall Creek and the other massacres that did occur were local and regional events, not something that happened up-country, remote. Teachers are often teaching in class-rooms with significant numbers of Aborigines present. In some cases, the majority if not all of the students are Aboriginal.

I think that the only way this can be handled is by presenting the material objectively, explaining as best we can from the evidence what happened and why.

A second issue is where to draw the end point for this segment. At this stage, my inclination would be to take the story through to the end of the nineteenth century, although there is a case for finishing earlier, and then treating the Aboriginal story as a theme.

Colonial Period - Themes, Topics

Just as the way the Aboriginal story is affected by the adoption of a particular geographic focus, so with other themes or topics.

We can see this if we look at the historiography. Local or narrower regional histories such Robin Walker's Old New England are invaluable, but suffer to some degree because they struggle to present local life in a broader context. By contrast, the broader state or national studies are again valuable, but have the opposite weakness. They are too broad to really provide the context required to fully understand developments in particular areas.

Take, as an example, the question of the 1890's depression.

We all know that there was one as the period of rapid expansion especially in Sydney and Melbourne came to a shuddering halt. But was there in fact a depression? The answer is far from clear cut, because this collapse (unlike the Great Depression) appears to have been very much a localised affair whose effects varied across the country.

The advantages of histories such as the one that we are looking at here on New England is that they fill a gap between the broader necessarily broad brush stories and their narrow regional or local counterparts.

Colonial Period - Settler Patterns

The European settlers who came to New England in waves largely came from Great Britain. There were far fewer Irish, fewer Roman Catholics, more English, more Scots, more Presbyterian than elsewhere in NSW.

Some, as in the Scottish migrations organised by John Dunmore Lang, were poor people removed by the enclosure who wished to better themselves. They came first to the Hunter Valley before moving north and especially to the Clarence Valley. For a period, Gaelic was widely spoken in some local areas.

Others, again including many Scots, were from better off families who came with capital. Many of these settled on the Tablelands, leaving behind a range of Scottish names - Glencoe, Glen Innes, Ben Lomond.

Their life was very different as they sought to build a life modelled in some ways on the county and country families from home. Some failed, but many (Whites, Dangars, Wyndhams and Wrights are examples) built major pastoral empires from the Hunter in the south into Queensland.

The rise and later fall of the squattocracy forms one key element in the New England story, affecting not just the built landscape but also social structures and manners. There were huge differences in life, outlook and manners between the small farmers on the coast and elsewhere and the big pastoral families with their wealth and social position.

These differences lingered into the present time. "Jack's as good as his master so long as they both come from the same GPS school" was still a Tableland's saying towards the end of the twentieth century.

Differences in outlook and background among settlers, the impact of differing forms of agriculture and pastoral activity, created major divides, divides that affected cooperative activity within New England. The attempts to overcome those divides, their successes and failures, forms a major theme in twentieth century New England history.

Unlike Victoria where the grazing elites were essentially absorbed into the Melbourne establishment, many - not all - of the New England equivalents maintained a degree of separation from Sydney. This separation was to be important in facilitating cooperative activity.

While some New England squatters sent their children to Sydney or even home (Great Britain) to be educated and saw themselves in Sydney terms, others identified with local and regional causes. They invested part of their wealth in the establishment of new facilities including hospitals, schools and, later, the establishment of wool selling in Newcastle and of the New England University College. They also played an active role in politics and broader regional development activities.

The effects of this regional focus were quite profound.

In Victoria, the rural community was clearly divided between the Melbourne focused generally conservative pastoralists and the more radical small farming communities, a divide reflected in the later histories of and relations between the Victorian Country Party and what is now called the Liberal Party.

In New England, by contrast, farmers and graziers were able to combine in the formation of a single party, making the Country Party dominant outside Newcastle and the immediately surrounding mining towns. Even today, and as we saw in the last NSW State election, the Liberal Party struggles to establish more than a toe hold in New England.

While settlers from the British Isles formed the dominant group, they were not the only new arrivals.

European wars and religious persecution brought smaller groups of settlers to particular areas such as German families including the Sommerlads to Tenterfield, a family that was to play a major role in the history of the New England media. Then there were the Chinese, by far the largest group outside those from the motherlands.

From 1851 there were a series of mineral discoveries - especially gold and then tin - from the Upper Hunter through into Queensland, attracting people in their thousands.

At Nundle, for example, gold was discovered at nearby Swamp Creek in 1851. By 1865 the population was around 500 with about 50 businesses in operation.

At the bigger Rocky River fields near Uralla, there were 1,200 people in May 1856, 3,ooo in July, 4,500 in mid-September. Over 1856, Rocky River yielded 40,000 ounces of gold, around 22 per cent of the total production in the colony of NSW in that year.

As in other parts of Australia, the first Chinese arrived quite early at the new fields, attracted by the prospect of 'Xin Jin Shan', or the New Gold Mountain. At the Rocky River fields, the first Chinese appeared in 1856. From 1858 onwards, Chinese outnumbered Europeans on this field.
While Chinese numbers were to decline with the imposition of restrictions on migration and the end of the rushes, they have left a significant continuing imprint on parts of New England.

Leaving the story to return to my theme of a course on New England history, while students need to understand the overall pattern of settlement, this is also an area where localisation is both possible and helpful.

Students in some Clarence Valley schools, for example, might want to look at the history of Scottish migration to the Valley. This provides a window into the experiences of a particular group entering Australia through organised migration flowing from conditions at home.

In similar vein, some Tenterfield students might want to look at German migration, while schools in gold and tin areas might well choose to study the Chinese. Each slice provides a different story that illustrates and amplifies the broader migrant experience.

Colonial Period - Economic Activity

The rise of various New England industries and economic activities and the linkages between these, transport and patterns of life is another area that has to my mind become lost, submerged, in broader Australian history.

This is not a criticism of Australian history. Times change. As they do, previously important topics drop below the radar. Yet those topics can remain important to particular groups.

To illustrate with two examples.

For many years, Australian rode on the sheep's back. With the decline in the importance of the wool industry, wool has begun to disappear from the national radar, including the study of Australian history. Yet you cannot understand key elements in Australian history and especially that of New England if you do not understand wool, because wool has left a major imprint on Australian and especially on New England life and culture (here for an overview of the history, here for the New England slice).

In similar vein, the Australian steel industry has long lost its central place in Australian life. BHP is now, as it began, predominantly a mining company. Yet you cannot understand the story and history of Newcastle if you do not understand the role of "the BHP" as it was called and of the surrounding industries.

Colonial Period - Transport and Industry

Transport, the combination of transport and geography, fights over transport are all central to New England history. This is not unique to New England, but as with other parts of Australia the story takes particular local form.

The story of transport in nineteenth century New England is one of competition between three transport modes - water, road and rail.

Water transport was far cheaper than road, with land transport costs so high that road transport over the rough tracks was largely uneconomic for all but the highest value goods.

Initial settlement therefore occurred close to navigable waters where products such as coal or timber could be extracted and shipped to market by sea. Coal mining as well as forestry, logging and the associated timber milling have been major New England industries over much of the historic period, leaving significant imprints on New England life.

Wool changed settlement patterns because it provided a high value for weight product that could justify high land transport costs, encouraging broader settlement and the rise of the pastoralists.

Mining too - gold, then tin and precious metals including diamonds - met the high value for weight criterion, leading to new settlements and industrial establishments across much on New England. For a period, New England became the world's largest tin province.

Rail changed patterns, allowing economic carriage of lower value for weight farm products. This, together with free-selection acts intended to break up the large pastoral properties, led to a rapid expansion of farming.

In all this, each transport mode has its own story.

Water transport is the story of New England's rivers and the adjoining coast. There was some paddle boat traffic on the Darling River in the far west, but the eastern rivers and coast dominated water transport.

Freight and passengers came from the inland to the river ports and especially Morpeth and later Newcastle on the Hunter, Grafton on the Clarence. Goods and passengers flowed back to the inland properties and emerging townships. The rivers were the main arteries for travel in their own valleys and to Sydney. From Newcastle, clippers carried coal to world markets.

The story of shipping in New England, in fact Australian maritime history in general, has always been poorly taught and today is largely relegated to isolated displays in local museums. This makes it easy to forget just how central it was to New England life, especially in coastal regions, until quite recently.

It was not just the ships and those who sailed on them. It was also all those who built them, financed them and serviced them. Each New England river valley had its own ship building industry, in total building hundreds of ships and river boats during the colonial period.

The road transport story is similar in some ways to shipping, yet different.

Today we think of roads in terms of arteries along which people and goods travel. That was true in the past, yet roads in colonial New England were also centres of economic and industrial activity in a way that is, I think, not true today.

Horse or bullock travel required people in a way that is not true of modern transport.

At Tenterfield, for example, over 500 teams were engaged in carrying freight between Tenterfield and the coast ports just prior to the railway connection. Then people were required to grow the oats to help feed the animals, providing a significant market for local farming activities. People were also required to make or repair equipment and own and staff the myriad of inns and posting houses located along main transport routes.

All this made for a much more dispersed population than we see today in rural New England. It also helped create images of landscape and life that linger still.

Rail transport was different again.

The first New England railways serviced the coal mines. Then came the slow growth northwards of the Great Northern Railway. This, one of the great Australian engineering feats of the nineteenth century, is largely forgotten today. Yet it was the main rail line between Sydney and Brisbane until the 1960s. Spur lines sprang from the main line, opening up new areas especially for wheat farming.

Water, road and rail transport came together in a complex mix.

The growth of rail brought cheaper goods, but this destroyed many small local industries. Rail competed against water transport, a competition aided by differential rail freight rates intended to attract traffic from water transport.

Initially, and for a very brief period, this benefitted Newcastle, creating what Lazlo called an economic commonwealth centred on that city. But then the line between Sydney and Newcastle finally opened. With freight rates on the new stretch between those cities effectively set at zero for some products in order to attract freight to Sydney, Newcastle trade collapsed in the face of Sydney competition.

In the face of competition from the north-south rail connections, New England coastal shipping and merchantile interests combined with inland merchants and primary producers to try to create better east-west links. These moves failed. The first tarred east-west road would not come until the 1960s. East-west rail lines remain a dream.

The attempts to create better east-west links and the reactions to the constant failures to do so form an enduring theme in New England history and politics, fueling resentment against the Sydney Government.

As with many other elements in New England history, there is plenty of scope for localisation in the transport area.

On the coast I feel that there are enormous possibilities to bring the romance and danger of coastal shipping alive in ways that will not only tell people about their own areas, but also instill a love of history as a discipline.

Inland students would also find the shipping story interesting, including the links with their own areas. However, they are more likely to focus on road or rail where historical artefacts are more readily available.

Colonial Period - Towns, Time, Politics and Society

At one level, it sounds like a truism to say that life in colonial New England was very different from today. Yet it was in ways that we find hard to penetrate today.

One of my favourite books is Geoffrey Blainey’s Black Kettle and Full Moon (Penguin). Subtitled Daily Life in a Vanished Australia, the book explores different aspects of daily life from European settlement until the early part of the twentieth century. Blainey's book is necessarily broad brush in geographic terms, but provides a key entry point for any social study of 19th century Australia.

This was a world of great technological, political and industrial change.

At the time of New England's first convict settlement at Newcastle (1801), the French Revolution was just twelve years old, while the Napoleonic Wars were raging. This - really the first total war of the modern era - saw the British Empire pitted against French controlled Europe.

The agrarian and industrial revolutions were in their early stages. Most cooking was done over open fires, light at night came from fires, candles and lamps or from moon or starlight. There was no refrigeration, limited foodstuffs. Communications were slow and eratic.

The next 100 years saw massive change.

European settlement spread rapidly, so that by 1901 New England's population was over 400,000. Steamers had replaced sail. Railways linked the inland to Sydney. Refrigeration had appeared, allowing (among other things) export of meat and dairy products. Canning meant a wider range of food stuffs. There were new stoves and other domestic products. Gas and then electric lighting had begun to spread. The telegraph linked communities, as well as the Australian colonies to other parts of the Empire.

This was a very different New England from that we know today.

To begin with, the North or Northern Provinces as the area was then known (the name New England did not come into wide use until the 1930s) was far more important in wealth and population terms than it is today, although signs of relative decline were already apparent.

In 1901 the total NSW population including New England was just 1.4 million, of whom around 500,000 lived in the Sydney region. So New England fell not far short of Sydney and was easily the most populous area outside Sydney.

In national terms, New England's population was only one third less than that of Queensland, roughly equal to that of South Australia, far higher than Western Australia or Tasmania. New England's mines, grazing properties and farms made a major contribution to the new Federation's export performance.

The distribution of the New England population was also very different from that holding today.
The biggest urban concentrations were in the lower Hunter Valley.

There was found Newcastle, the North's biggest city, with a population in 1901 still more than one tenth of that of Sydney notwithstanding decline towards the end of the century. There, too, was Maitland.

Long Newcastle's rival, Maitland had been eclipsed as the main Northern commercial centre partially as a consequence of railway developments that favoured Newcastle. Still, in 1901 the city remained more than 50 per cent larger than Lismore, the biggest New England town.
I wonder how many school students in Maitland today understand the historical role that their town has played in New England history?

Life in the lower Hunter was dominated by coal, leading to a very different texture of life.

Newcastle, along with Bunbury in Western Australia, was one of the last Australian ports in which sail was a rival to steam. The tall ships in the river, the lumpers who loaded them, the boarding-house proprietors who looked after and exploited the sailors, and the merchants who supplied the ships all helped create a differnt atmosphere.

But beyond all this was the stark reality of a life dominated by the harsh rythm of the mines.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Towards a Course on the History of New England - the Twentieth Century

Note to readers: This post continues the discussion of the development of a course on the history of New England and is a work in progress. I will add to it progressively until finished.

In my last post in this series, I discussed issues associated with New England's history and the teaching of that history during the colonial period. This post looks at New England during the twentieth century.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

New England Timelines - the Aboriginal Period

I am developing this page to provide indicative dates for developments during that long sweep of New England life from the arrival of the first human beings until the arrival of the Europeans.

The page is very much a work in progress and it will take me a long time to flesh it out in any meaningful way.

c123,000 BCE. The sea level was around 25 feet higher than it is now, so much of what is now New England's humid coastal zone was under water.

c98,000 BCE. At the start of the fourth ice age, the sea level began to fall. This moved the shore line out about six to ten miles, creating a large coastal plain stretching along the current New England coastline.

c18,000 BCE. Around 20,000 years ago, the sea level began to rise again, progressively submerging the coastal plain.

c3,000 to 4,000 BCE. The rise in sea levels slows, then stops. Progressive siltation then creates the coastal zone with its various river deltas as we know it today.

Back to Timelines entry page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - a project note

Well, I have now made a little progress in my long held plan to try to create something approaching an embyro New England Dictionary of Biography.

The trigger to act was a stocktake post that I was doing on previous posts on writers with New England connections. I decided that I would create NEDB pages at the same time. It took me many hours just to record names from the first two posts on writers, stalling the stocktake in the process. Still, I have at least made a start.

Given limited time, it will be a long while before the NEDB is of any use as a real resource, but I console myself with the thought that even an entry a week means 150 names over three years.

Now that I have made a start on NEDB I should also do something about the time-line project, creating an initial structure to give me an incentive to add key dates as I go along.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - H

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Horne, Donald. Writer. Hunter Valley. Donald Horne was born at Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley. Here

New England Dictionary of Biography - E

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Ellis Bob. Writer. Northern Rivers. Bob Ellis was born in Lismore. Here, here

New England Dictionary of Biography - M

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Massey, Robert George 1815-1853. Commissioner Crown Lands. Mid North Coast, Macleay Valley, New England Tablelands. Here.

Murray, Les. Poet. Mid North Coast. One of Australia's most famous poets, Les Murray was born at Bunyah on the North Coast and has now returned there. His early life and influences have had a significant impact on his poetry. Here, here

Murray, Patrick Desmond Fitzgerald 1900-1967. Academic. University of New England. Here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - C

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Callaghan, Emma Jane (1884- 1979). Aboriginal nurse and midwife. Born at La Perouse in Sydney, Mrs Callaghan moved to the Nulla Nulla Aborigines' Reserve near Bellbrook in the Upper Macleay Valley where she played a major local role. Here.

Chauvel, Charles (1897-1959). Pioneer film maker. Northern Rivers, New England Tablelands (South Eastern Queensland portion). Here.

Croft, Julian. Poet. New England Tablelands. Here

Friday, June 01, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - S

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

Initially the references will be fairly fragmentary, linking especially to my own posts. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Shand, Donald Munro (1904 - 1976). Grazier, agribusiness pioneer, aviation pioneer, politician. New England Tablelands. Here, here.

Sharkey, Michael. Poet. New England Tablelands. Here, here.

Swan, James (Jim). Aviator. Liverpool Plains. Jim was a pilot with East West Airlines. Here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - B

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections.

My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Buzo, Alex. New England writer. New England Tablelands. Born in Sydney, Alex was educated in Armidale at The Armidale School before escaping back to Sydney. While Alex loved Sydney life, he retained his links to Armidale. Posts here, here, here.

Buzo, Zihni. New England engineer. New England Tablelands. Father of Alex Buzo. Born in Albania, Zhini came to Armidale to work on the Oakey hydro scheme, becoming actively involved in various water development proposals. While he subsequently travelled around the world on various UN mission, Armidale remained his home base. Posts here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography - N

Note to readers: This is one of a series of pages that I am creating to provide a reference list of people with New England connections. My hope is that in time it will provide the base for a true New England Dictionary of Biography. You will find a complete list of pages here.

Napier, Claire. Northern Tablelands. Dance instructor, entertainer. Helped train international start Peter Allen. Here.

Newell, Patrice. New England writer. Hunter Valley. Posts here, here. Born in Adelaide, Patrice moved to Gundy in the Hunter Valley with her husband Philip Adams. Her writing is informed by the love of the area she now lives in.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The State Line


Photo: State Border, Railway Station, Wallangarra.

In my last post I referred again to the impact of state boundaries.

This photo is a visual representation of that point. New England lies on the white side, Queensland on the red.

Friday, May 11, 2007

New England & Queensland - a further note

Last December in New England & Queensland - a truncated relationship I discussed the way the state border affected life and history. I was reminded of this during a recent visit to Queensland's granite belt.

This area is in fact the northern extension into Queensland of the New England Tablelands, so in terms of physical geography it is similar to areas further south.

In Aboriginal times, the indigenous population treated the area as one. Then after European settlement the Tablelands was an entity until the establishment of Queensland as a separate colony in 1859. From that point, histories diverged.

I really need to look more closely at the history of southern Queensland to trace some of these patterns.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

New England Airways - History PhD student wanted



Photo: Keith Virtue, New England Aviation pioneer

I need a PhD student!

One of the problems all postgraduate students in history face is defining a topic that will interest them while getting them a degree. Well, I have a topic.

I would love to see someone write the history of New England Airways. Not only will this get you a PhD, but it will almost certainly give you a base for a very good book!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Changing Meaning of New England



Photo: Bruxner Highway, Tenterfield.

A short note on the changing meaning of the words "New England".

When European settlers first arrived on the Northern Tablelands they called the place New England because it reminded them of home. They then planted English trees, creating landscapes such as that shown in the photo.

At this stage the broader New England was known simply as the North, defining itself in relation to Sydney. The people called themselves Northerners. We can see this in the early names of the news state movement, the Northern Separation Movement.

In 1931 the new state movement adopted the name New England at its Maitland Convention. New England was now defined as an entity in its own right.

This name spread. We can see an early example of this when G A Robinson called his new Lismore based airline New England Airways.

In 1967 with the loss of the new state plebiscite and the decline of the new state movement use of the name New England began to shrink again. Today common usage has shrunk back towards the Tablelands.

I use the name New England in its broader sense because I am interested in the history of New England as an entity, not just little New England.

In a post on the New England Australia blog I referred to the way in which official and media use of language was starting to emasculate Newcastle's separate identity. This is a local example of a broader problem.

As best I can, I will try to preserve knowledge and understanding of New England's identity.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

New England Timelines




Photo: Boys, The Armidale School, 1950s

There is debate in history about the importance of dates. Personally, I find dates invaluable as pegs and in ensuring that I do not make silly mistakes about the relationships between events.

So I have created this page as another entry point to various New New England time lines.

The pages are broken into three parts:

  • Dates relevant across New England.
  • Local or regional time lines.
  • Topic specific time lines.

New England Time Lines

Location or Regional Time Lines

Topic Specific Time Lines

To be added.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

New England Dictionary of Biography


Photo: Sir Earle Page, New England politician

So far I must have mentioned more then 100 people in my various posts with New England connections. They make up part of the rich New England tapestry. My only problem? I am losing track of them all!

I have created this page as an entry point to what will I hope become a resource, an embryo New England Dictionary of Biography. I will add supporting pages over time. I cannot hope to write cameo biographies of thousands. I can aim to give links.

Pages

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

Friday, April 06, 2007

New England's Aborigines - list of former missions/reserves

The NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs has prepared a series of regional reports. These include details of discrete Aboriginal communities located at former missions and reserves.

I have used these to generate the following list grouped by New England regions as defined by the Department for later follow up.

New England/North West: Boggabilla, Jubullium Village, Mehi Crescent, Minnon, Mungindi, Narwon Village, Stanley Village, Toomelah, Walhallow Reserve.

North Coast: Baryulgil, Bellbrook, Bellwood, Bonalbo, Box Ridge, Burnt Bridge, Cabbage Tree Island, Corindi, Greenhill, Malabugilmah, Muli Muli, Old Burnt Bridge, Purfleet, Tabulam.

Hunter Valley: Not identified.

Murdi Paaki (part): Not identified.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

New England's Aborigines - Stocktake on Posts

I have recently written a fair bit across blogs on issues relating to Australia's indigenous people, a lot of it relevant to New England History. This post provides a stocktake as at 24 March 2007.

26 November 2006 Towards a History of New England - Introductory Post discusses in a preliminary way how to treat the story of New England's Aborigines within the history of New England.

This is an area where my thinking has been evolving with my writing. I would now place a lot more weight on the indigenous story in later history because a full history needs to present the Aboriginal experience back to New England's Aboriginal peoples.

One major theme is obviously the nature of the interaction between New England's Aboriginal peoples and the Europeans. However, I do not think that this should dominate everything else since the core focus should be on the Aborigines themselves.

I also do not want the story twisted by later "national" thought models. This is a regional story. New England's Aborigines have their own stories and experiences to be told.

Here on 30 January 2006 in The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring I used Judith Wright's poem as a device to highlight the difference between European and Aboriginal perceptions, in so doing introducing an example of major construction done by New England's Aboriginal peoples.

For somewhat similar reasons in an earlier post (3 November 2006) New England Australia - introducing mining I deliberately included the Moore Creek Axe factory to make the point that mining began in New England before European times.

The continuing importance of regional stories was a core theme in a 20 December 2007 post on my personal blog, Australia's Aborigines - an introductory post, a post that discussed in part the evolution of my own ideas about the Aborigines.

This led to a number of posts with both a personal and policy focus.

I first referred to the work of the Australian archaeologist and prehistorian Isabel McBryde on 14 August 2006 in a post on the writings of Patrice Newell. The reference to Moore Creek in my post on mining (see above) also linked to Isabel's work. Then 0n 17 February 2007 in Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australian Aborigines 3: Australian Prehistory I looked in more detail at Isabel's work through the prism set by my own experience.

Isabel sits at the centre of a number of themes relevant to New England historiography in general, the Aboriginal experience in particular.

Just as the concept "New England's Aborigines" is a construct from European times, so too is the concept "Australian Aborigines", just more so.

Isabel recognised that Aboriginal life and history varied from area to area and had to be studied on a local and regional basis to be truly understood. She was the first Australian prehistorian to take a regional area - in her case New England - and look at it in detail. In doing so, she influenced my own continuing focus on the need to understand regional variations.

If you look at my posts, this emphasis comes through time after time as I fight against what I see as the pernicious tendency to impose simplified national or state constructs on thought, policy and life. However, this itself raises an issue: in talking about New England in the way I do, am I guilty of falling into the same trap?

I don't think so.

New England itself is a European construct. This has to be recognised. However, when we come to look at Aboriginal life before the European invasion, New England in combination with south eastern Queensland does appear to have formed something of a geographical entity, one small enough to see Aboriginal responses and interactions in a varying geographic context. In this sense, looking at the Aboriginal experience in this area becomes, as with Isabel's work, a small building block in the creation of a proper national mosaic.

After the invasion the position changes. The boundary between New England and Queensland split Aboriginal language groups, placing people from linked groups under different jurisdictions.

On 20 February 2007 in Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australian Aborigines 4: Policy Interlude I pointed to the way in which different jurisdictions affected the Aboriginal experience. In the New England case, we need to understand the varying policies of the Sydney and Brisbane Governments and, later, the National government.

This holds today. On 2 January 2007 in Githabul People achieve Native Title Deal I reported on a deal between the Sydney Government and the Githabul people of north eastern New England. I also noted that the deal only covered Githabul territories on the New England side of the border, with the Brisbane Government refusing to participate.

Returning to Isabel, she began her work at a time very few academics were interested in the Aborigines. In my brief post of 27 January Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines on the pioneering work of Malcolm Calley I made the point that anthropologists rather than historians had pioneered Aboriginal studies, a theme I returned to a little later in the post already referred to on prehistory.

The relationships between academics and Aborigines has sometimes been a vexed one, complicated by the later addition of land rights where academic evidence on both sides can affect outcomes.

The Aborigines believe, correctly, that academics have been too ready to discount their oral traditions. On the other hand, anyone who has been involved with oral history knows that while oral history is very good in providing an emotional context, a feel for issues, it can be extremely unreliable when it comes to factual matters.

Many Aborigines also believe, again correctly, that academics write from a European outside perspective. Here we have an added problem in that so much writing is focused on, driven by, the wrongs done too the Aborigines. If you look at one post already referred to, The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring, you can see the juxtaposition between the European and Aboriginal perspective.

A further problem is that this outside perspective in fact feeds back into Aboriginal perceptions of their own experience and history, further distorting the story.

Do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying that wrongs have not been done, nor am I saying that we should not research or write on them. But to do a proper history of New England I want to write about New England's Aborigines as people, families passing down the generations, families living and coping with changing circumstances.

To illustrate my point, please look at the comments following my post on Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines.

Who were the Aborigines living in Armidale before the new arrivals came from the Macleay Valley? Why did the new arrivals come? What was their experience after they arrived? Why did Armidale's Aborigines achieve a degree of advancement earlier than in other places? I think that these are important questions if one is to write properly about the complex mosaic that is New England's Aboriginal experience.

However, whatever the weaknesses in academic writing, whatever the complexities in the relationships between academics and Aborigines, there is no doubt that Aboriginal studies has come a long way since Isabel began her work in the sixties.

An interesting feature of this is the role played by the University of New England and then later other New England universities. UNE was founded to be the lead university of the future self governing New England state. While we have yet to achieve this, UNE has had a profound influence on New England life, far greater I think than even UNE people realise.

So far as New England's Aborigines are concerned, we can look at this along two dimensions.

The first is historiographical. Isabel began her work in the sixties. In 1964 Sharon Sullivan completed the first honours thesis. By 1978 Isabel's students had written 22 theses on the Aborigines, 4 Litt.B's, 16 BA honours and 2 MAs. Isabel herself was awarded her PhD - An archaeology survey of the New England Region, NSW - in 1967. In all, a fair body of work for such a short period.

Others, too, became involved in Aboriginal Studies. As an example, on 4 December 2006 in William G (Bill) Hoddinott & New England Aboriginal Languages I referred to Bill's work in recording details of languages, some on the point of extinction.

The second dimension beyond historiography and Aboriginal Studies is that New England's universities themselves form part of the continuing historical story of New England's Aboriginal peoples. Their influence here has been and continues to be very important.

As part of the writing that I have been doing on Australia's universities, another regular theme of mine, in Australia's Regional Universities and Indigenous Advancement (March 10 2007) I gave the rankings for Australia's top universities measured by indigenous participation. Both the University of New England and Southern Cross University were in the top five star group, while the University of Newcastle achieved four stars.

University involvement with New England's Aboriginal peoples has been extensive and deserves to be treated as a theme in its own right.

My post of 26 January 2007 Southern Cross University - Bundjalung Nation Mapping provides a current example. Here the University, the Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Natural Resource Management Committee, Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, and Department of Environment and Conservation National Parks and Wildlife Division have joined together in a new project intended to give indigenous communities a greater say on how their traditional lands are managed and preserving the wisdom of Elders.

My writing and thinking on the history and experiences of New England's Aboriginal peoples has been informed by and in turn informs my broader thinking on Aboriginal issues. I try to constantly test my thinking by pointing and counterpointing between broader issues and their on-ground effects especially in New England. In doing so, I have to be aware of problems of perception and bias.

I dealt with this issue in two of the first three posts (On History, On History, Causation and E J Tapp) on my then newly established personal blog. There I tried to make a clear distinction between topic selection and the approach that should be followed in analysing the topic. Here I said in part:

Now, and this drives to the heart of my point about method, whatever one's view about the role of the historian, all historians must write in such a way that the reader can understand both the evidence and the logic chain. That is, we must set up our arguments for later test by others.

I leave it to others to judge the extent to which I am meeting this test. But certainly I do try to make my own biases clear.

On 14 November 2006 NSW Ten Year Plan NSW - New England's Needs began a three part discussion on the Sydney Government's new ten year plan by setting out some of New England's needs as I saw them. Here I indentified indigenous development as one key issue:

New England has a major Aboriginal population, in some cases much higher than the NSW average. This group faces very significant problems. We need to address the opportunities offered by our significant Aboriginal heritage as well as the problems.

The next post Does the NSW Ten Year Plan meet New England's Needs? ( 16 November 2006) looked at the detail of the Plan against the needs identified in the first post.

Indigenous development was dealt with in the Fairness and Opportunity section of the Plan. Two objectives were set for indigenous development, one relating to schooling, the second to health. The Plan stated that the Government considered that its existing Two Way program would meet meet these objectives, so no further action was proposed. I concluded:

Given that New England has a significant Aboriginal population, these are important targets. However, it is not clear to me that they can be achieved in the absence of economic growth to address economic disadvantage.

At the time I wrote these initial posts I had not fully focused on indigenous issues, but this issue of growth and economic disadvantage was to become central.

On 20 December 2006 in a post already referred to, Australia's Aborigines - an introductory post , I gingerly entered the minefield of changing policy and attitudes towards Australia's indigenous people.

I will not repeat all the arguments in that post beyond two key linked points. I summarised the first point this way:

This lead me to a simple conclusion. We should stop talking about specific Aboriginal problems as though all Aborigines were a uniform group quite distinct from the broader community, but instead should focus on disentangling the facts so that we knew just what we were really talking about.

A little later I suggested that as part of my work in trying to understand and present New England on the New England, Australia blog, I had begun digging down not just into the past but also the current position of New England's aborigines. This showed me how little I knew. I went on:

Aboriginal New England was in resource terms a very wealthy area at the time the Europeans arrived. Reflecting this, the Aboriginal population especially along the humid coastal zone was very substantial. This means that today New England still has a far higher, and I think growing, Aboriginal proportion of its population than the Australian average. Lower than the Northern Territory, but still up to five times the Sydney average. Further, that population is especially concentrated in particular areas.

I suggested that this made Aboriginal issues and the Aboriginal experience relatively more important than in, say, Sydney. I concluded:

My frustration here is that the fragmentation imposed on New England by current systems makes it very hard to see and understand changing patterns.

In the absence of any integrated material I am forced to try to dig down location by location to discover the facts. Without these, anything I might say is likely to have little real meaning. Further, I have found little on some of the questions that I am interested in such as the nature of modern internal migration patterns. It becomes yet another total story that needs to be written from ground up.

Quite a bit of my writing since has simply been testing and amplifying these conclusions.

On 21 December 2006 in Australia's Aborigines - A Note on Demography I provided some initial demographic data. On 7 March 2006 in NSW's Aboriginal Population I provided data on the distribution of indigenous people across NSW, then on 9 March 2007 in Australia's Aborigines - another demographic note I provided some national data.

The NSW data provided in the 7 March post was drawn from the regional studies prepared by the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs during the development of the NSW Government's Two Ways program. I have already referred to this in passing in my comments on the NSW Government's Ten Year plan.

At the time I wrote this post I had not read either the regional studies or the supporting material on Two Ways. I will write about this in a later post. Essentially, while the approach does have its strengths, it also suffers from the same policy weaknesses that I have referred to previously.

From the viewpoint of New England history, however, there is some very useful material in the regional reports such as lists of former Aboriginal reserves or localities that provide a check list for future investigation.

I do not pretend that the initial demographic material is either complete or rigorous. Indeed, the paucity of data - the 2001 census is still the main source used by every one - is a real problem. However, the demographic data does support the broader policy points I have been developing, points that are relevant to the New England experience.

On 8 March 2007 in Aborigines and Public Policy - a methodological note I pointed to some of these issues.

My first point was that we needed to recognise and understand variations in Aboriginal conditions across space, not just talk in averages, state or national. This is a point that I keep returning to.

On 20 February, for example, in Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australian Aborigines 4: Policy Interlude I discussed, among other things, Hope Vale and the views of Noel Pearson. Then on 9 March I discussed the PWC report into Australia's Aborigines and the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP). While I was critical of the report, it again drew out the nature of regional variation.

In my 8 March post I also pointed to further linked problems, linked problems that I again keep returning too.

The first is the the way in which particular issues come to twist and dominate the debate. This links to a second issue, the core need to properly define the problem to be addressed. In my view, misspecification of problems is the single most common cause of policy failure. Here I noted that one question that I constantly ask is is the issue in question an Aboriginal problem or a problem for our Aborigines?

By this I simply meant that is the problem unique in some way to Aborigines (an Aboriginal problem) or one shared in some ways with other groups in the Australian community (a problem for our Aborigines)? If the second, are there aspects to the problem that are specific to the Aboriginal community?

Now this is an issue of real relevance to New England in both public policy and hisitorical terms.

If we look at the demographic data, in 2001 there were an estimated 134,888 Aboriginal people living in NSW, comprising just over 2 per cent of the total NSW population and approximately 29 per cent of the total Aboriginal population in Australia.

Of the total Aboriginal population, 11,931 (0.54 per cent of the total population) lived in what as defined as Coast Sydney. From memory, I do not have the exact numbers in front of me, something under 2,000 of this total lived in what is today the City of Sydney, essentially Redfern. So seriously is this small group taken that they have their own Cabinet Minister, the Minister for Redfern. Yes, Frank Sartor as minister has other portfolios as well, but it is still a portfolio.

The position in New England is somewhat different.

If we look at New England we find:

  • Murdi Paaki (Far West - part). Aboriginal population 7,542 or 14 per cent of the total population.
  • New England North West. Aboriginal population 12,047 or 7.28 per cent of the total population.
  • North Coast. Aboriginal population 16,402 or 3.5 per cent of the total population.
  • Hunter. Aboriginal population 11,605 or 2.2 per cent of the total population.

So the total Aboriginal population in New England in 2001 was something of the order of 42,000 counting part of Murdi Paaki, ranging from 2.2 to 14 of the total population. This makes the Aboriginal population as a proportion of the total population much higher. Further, outside parts of the coastal strip such as Coffs Harbour that proportion is both rising and becoming more concentrated in places such as the bigger inland centres.

I suspect, and this is an issue that I had not focused on, that the Aboriginal proportion of New England's population has always been higher and that this has had its own historical dynamics.

On 10 January 2007 I wrote a post, New England's Aborigines - Moree Success Story looking at the remarkable work done by Dick Estens in Moree. I wrote this story as an example of the positives in the current Aboriginal story. That remains true, but there is a converse, and that is the past.

If you look at the Freedom Rides of the sixties - I do not have the reference in front of me - it is no coincidence that they had such a strong New England focus simply because that is where the Aborigines were a significantly higher proportion of the total population.

All this makes the issue of Aboriginal history as a stream in broader history as well as public policy towards the Aborigines important in a way that is simply not true in Sydney.

In public policy terms, the development of New England's Aboriginal peoples is or should be a core public policy issue, not one relegated to the ghetto of indigenous or Aboriginal policy. Further, to the degree that the problems faced by New England's Aboriginal peoples are a subset of problems faced by other New Englanders, those problems cannot be solved unless broader problems are addressed.

In New England's Poor Towns - a failure in public policy (4 March 2007) I commented with a degree of bitterness on the fact that nearly nearly all the poorest and most socially disadvantaged towns and villages in NSW described in Professor Vinson's national study were to be found in New England. I said in passing:

There is also , I suspect, a close correlation between the relative size of local aboriginal populations - the Aborigines form a much higher proportion of the New England local population than the national average - and the average measures of economic and social deprivation.

I extended my argument in another post on the same day, New England and the Immiseration of Public Policy. While I was angry when I wrote this post and therefore presented things in strong terms, I do not back away from my core messages:

Those living in Sydney where the Aborigines are just one per cent of the city population can treat Aboriginal issues as an abstract issue, something to be dealt with through the ghetto created by "Aboriginal policies."

Those living in New England - and in other parts of regional NSW - do not have this luxury....

I am not joking when I say that the way we handle Aboriginal advancement is perhaps the single most important policy issue in determining the future viability and harmony of many New England communities.

Here a core message across many blog posts has been the need for New Englanders to combine to address problems and in particular the need for broader economic development. We cannot improve the conditions of New England's Aboriginal peoples without this.

Update 17 June 2007

I have added several stories since writing this post.

On 6 April 2007 in a short note I recorded lists of former missions and reserves in New England.

On 23 April in Australia's Aborigines - the need to localise, a post triggered by search patterns on the New England Australia site, I talked about the need for better information at local level, suggesting that one simple thing that Governments could do to make the indigenous story more accessible was to fund the creation of web sites for each of the indigenous nations.

I followed this on 25 April with a post New England's Aborigines - the Birpai: web references setting out the results of a web search on the Birpai/Biripi people of the Hastings-Manning Valley.

Update 2 March 2008

Quite a bit has happened since my last update. I really need to rewrite this post entirely.

Perhaps most importantly, I have now started establishing entry pages to consolidate posts for individual New England language groups. So far I have put up two:

There are a number of other posts as well. I will try to catch up on these later.