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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New England New State Symbols 1

William Oates, the archivist at the University of New England has now produced two posts on  Archives Outside linked in some way to the New England New State Movement:

I plan to do a full companion piece later. For the present, I just wanted to make a few notes here on the use of symbols by the New State Movement.

Many of the senior new state leaders over time including (among others) Page, Thompson, Drummond and Sommerlad had media connections and knew how to manage especially the local media. These connections were central to the various movement campaigns. However, it was another man, Ulrich Ellis, who was responsible for much of the symbolism used by the movement in the period after the Second World War.

Andrew Moore's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on Ellis is quite remarkably partisan and unsympathetic, a hatchet job. I had not seen it before writing this post, and it left me feeling quite angry. Andrew might argue that my own obituary of Ellis ( James Belshaw, Ulrich Ellis: journalist, political agitator, and theorist, public servant and historian, Canberra Historical Journal, New Series, No 10 September 1982, pp 16-22) was biased in the opposite way, but at least it covered the man's full career and was completely referenced.

Just to quote some of Andrew's statements:

  •   Ellis attached himself to causes on the periphery of the political mainstream. Leaving aside Ellis's involvement with the new state cause, the Country Party itself was hardly peripheral to the mainstream. Ellis's role there as political secretary to Earle Page, his writing on country causes, was hardly peripheral.
  •   As a Canberra resident he was a passionate advocate of local self-government, and of the need to improve Canberra’s amenities and to attract tourism to the national capital. This sentence follows immediately after the previous one. Peripheral? Andrew also does not recognise the role that Ellis played in gaining a greater freedom of expression for public servants.
  • Ellis was a foot-soldier whose energy and dedication compensated for his lack of sparkling intellect. Ouch. What a put down.
  • His two pioneering historical works, The Country Party: A Political and Social History of the Party in New South Wales (1958) and A History of the Australian Country Party (1963), were unscholarly and partisan. It is nice for Andrew to at least recognise that they were pioneering. At the the time these books were published there was very little Australian political history. Yes, Ellis was writing from a viewpoint, that of the insider, but his own biases were clear and the books provided a base for work by later historians including Don Aitkin and Bruce Graham.
  • Ellis is sometimes remembered as less reactionary than his brother Malcolm Ellis. None the less, his argument that the New State movement was `the only permanent safeguard against extremist domination in industry and government’, and his warnings that lax security in Canberra public service offices was assisting communist espionage, echoed his brother’s concerns. This is guilt by association. There is no context for Malcolm Ellis, none for the times, no critical assessment of the statements.

I have sidetracked. I will do some full posts on Ellis because he was an interesting man who deserves a better treatment than this.

For the moment, the point is that it was Ellis because of his long long involvement in various country movements and his role as a journalist and publicist who recognised the value of symbols and symbolism.

It was in this role that he composed  Battle Song of New England as a new state anthem.

I will continue the discussion in another post after I have cooled down!

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