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

Monday, June 08, 2009

New England Australia History Research Report - May/Early June 2009

I have been down many by-ways and meanders since my last research report, some new, others familiar. A lot of the resulting posts have been on my personal blog.

I have already mentioned on this blog North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy. A little later in Saturday Morning Musings - the challenge of writing good history I looked at the challenge of writing good history.

I followed this with Invasion, massacre, murder and just death in battle looking in part at the way words affected perceptions.

Saturday Morning Musings - New England's Ogilvie dynasty looked at one New England pastoral family. This is actually linked to the previous post because the relations between the Ogilvies, and especially Edward, provides one prism in reviewing Aboriginal-European relations.

Then in Belshaw's jottings - 27 May 2009 I used the device of a Daingatti man to try to tease out elements of thought on the other side of the frontier. I then continued the Aboriginal theme in Saturday Morning Musings - access to an Aboriginal past.

Despite the huge gaps remaining in my knowledge, I am in fact starting to get more comfortable with the Aboriginal side of New England's history. By this I simply mean that I know where most of the gaps are.

In history, as in most of my professional work, I try to point and counterpoint between the particular and the general. I use the particular to develop an initial framework that I then test by returning to the particular. Sometimes I discard the framework in light of new evidence. More often, I extend and modify.

Knowing the gaps does not mean the end of hard work. In the case of the Aborigines, I am conscious of just how much work I have to do on the Holocene period up to European arrival. I now have to develop a sub-framework, and that means looking at all the work done since I did my first work in this area all those years ago.

I simply don't know enough. Because this is a general history, I am hopeful that I can avoid re-visiting primary sources. That would make the whole thing a mammoth task. I also have to remember, and this applies across the scope of the whole work, that I have perhaps just 20,000 words to cover the Holocene up to and including the European arrival. Some of the stuff that I am writing now, thousands of words, has to shrink to paragraphs!

In Train Reading - E Lloyd Sommerlad's Serving the Country Press I returned to the twentieth century.

I am fortunate that a fair bit has been written on the country press. We have to think of these newspapers as businesses as well as propogandists and journals of record for their communities. We also have to think of the biases of their metro competitors who were just as parochial.

Again, I am reasonably comfortable with the country press story. It's just a question of filling out the details and then selecting the key points.

In a post on this blog, The Chinese in New England 1848-1853, I looked at the early history of the Chinese in New England.

I am interested in the Chinese in part because I have Chinese friends and colleagues. So I am writing for them as well. Once I have written up the story of the mining rushes I can return to complete the Chinese story. While the Chinese are very much a sub-sub theme, they do form part of the texture of New England life that was quite important at particular times.

On Sunday I finished a major post - over 3,000 words - on my personal blog, Sunday Essay - church, state and social change in Australia, looking at some elements of social and cultural change within New England through the prism set by three very different books, one on Methodism in a country town, the second a history of the Ursuline Order, the third an organisational history of the NSW Country Party.

While the books are very different, their spans overlap, so they actually reveal many of the same type of change processes.

The sectarian divide that developed between Catholics and the rest of the Australian community was (is) very important from a national viewpoint. It was also important at a local level.

I am actually in a better position to understand the Roman Catholic position than I once was because one of the major orders became a consulting client a few years ago. Just attending a meeting of the order with its opening prayers gives me an emotional context that can, I think, help me understand and present the varying elements in the religious position.

I think that I have done a fair bit over the last month. So much more to go! Onwards!

Notes in passing.