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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Soldier settlement, Bool and the Whites

Really just a follow up on a few topics.

My last post was on New England soldier settlers. Gordon Smith's  Old news from Armidale and New England carried a story from the Sydney Morning Herald (30 April 1920) on General Birdwood's visit to the Kentucky Soldier Settlement Scheme. Apart from providing a picture of development at that time, I noted that the General chatted for a few minutes with Sergeant Freame on old Gallipoli days. Sergeant Freame was one of the General’s scouts on the peninsula, and was the first Australian to receive the D.C.M.

University of New England archivist Bill Oates has another story on Archives Outside. From Uralla 1916 to Europe 2010 – Anzac Commemorations & New England points and counterpoints betwWalking-Stick-Tenniseen present and past. Back in November 2009, Bill had a story, New England remembers through the archives: World War I, dealing especially with the Whites and the Booloominbah Convalescent Home.

The photo shows returned servicemen playing tennis on the top Bool courts. The picture will be familiar to generations of those with contacts with UNE.

Mind you, in Armidale a few weeks ago I noticed that they has become overgrown. I wonder why? Has the university forgotten the history of those courts?

There were many things in these stories of Bill's that touched a chord.

The First World War had a traumatic impact on New England. Just so many people were lost.

The ex-servicemen who returned and who wanted a new life played a major role in subsequent political events.

Then when you look at the role of the White family, you find another of the threads in New England's history.

I have only partially captured all this in the writing that I have done to this point. One of the really fun things is the way in which the past slowly emerges from the mists.

I have argued, and I stand by this, that fashions in the writing of Australian history blind people to the history of areas such as New England. We simply fall below the radar. It's nice to see people like Bill bringing it alive.     

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New England soldier settlers

On Archives Outside,  Selena Williams' post Hidden Stories: Acknowledging World War One Nurses as Soldier Settlers focused on something that I knew nothing about, female soldier settlers.

Selena is now working as a research assistant for A Land fit for Heroes, a new web site recording the experiences of NSW soldier settlers. I think that I mentioned the site when it first came up, but its content then was very low. I revisited, and spent some time clicking through the case studies.

I am especially interested in New England soldier settlement. Of course, this was a sub-set of a broader program, but I am interested in local impacts.

Kentucky south of Armidale is the soldier settlement area that I know best at a personal level because my Aunt and Uncle (Ron and Kath Vickers) had a property there.Cousin Jamie Glenroy 1960

I am not sure that it was ever a soldier settlement block, but certainly it was in the soldier settlement area.

I looked around for a photo to illustrate this post. This one is from cousin Jamie's collection. Taken in 1960, it shows a very young Jamie (the grass seems huge) looking up towards the woolshed. Planted as wind breaks, the pine trees on the top left were typical of Kentucky. Sadly, the trees had a limited life, so many of them have died and have not been replanted, changing the visual landscape that I knew.

I have written several posts on Kentucky. 

One, New England Story - The life and death of the mysterious Harry Freame, records the story of a remarkable man who after an adventurous early life came to Kentucky Estate as government storekeeper following its subdivision as a soldier settlement scheme, then acquiring a block and establishing an orchard. This was not the end of the story, for he was to become one of, if not the first, Australian spies.

For those who are interested, there is a display about the life of past Kentuckians in the Kentucky Hall including Freame. Visitors can get the key from the Kentucky store.

Returning to Selena's work, for someone like me who is interested in the texture of New England life, her work and the A Land fit for Heroes web site are very important. Even now, just clicking through the still limited case studies on the site I can start to see patterns and questions.     

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hunter Valley Research Foundation

Back in March in Newcastle University's regional contribution I asked:

What I really want to do is to be able to show the Newcastle University's specific contribution to its region. I have ideas and hypotheses, but I need to be able to test and extend these. Any ideas? 

I asked this because I am trying to trace the contribution made by individual universities to New England's cultural, social and economic development. Now I know most about UNE, not just because of my personal connections, but because it had a very particular mission and left a larger footprint. 

My feeling is that the University of Newcastle has played a considerable role. Here I know that the Hunter Valley Research Foundation was one spin-off.

Professor Cyril Renwick who played such an important role in its foundation was a household name at our place. It wasn't just his school text that I used when I picked up economics. It was also his role in founding what is now the Foundation.

The HVRF web site describes its foundation in this way:

The Hunter Valley Research Foundation (HVRF) grew out of the devastation of the disastrous 1955 floods which left a trail of destruction and despair throughout the Hunter Valley. After recovery had commenced, a community meeting of over 600 residents took place in Maitland to discuss future action. There was a widespread demand that an effort be made to mitigate the flooding and safeguard the Valley's economy. A decision was taken to set up an organisation to acquire knowledge of the total environment through research and subsequently the HVRF was established.

In writing my history of the broader New England, I really need to deal with this because I think that it is a remarkable story. To my knowledge, this was a unique institution. Further, I would like to weave Professor Renwick's work into my narrative.

I have done some web checking, but again, does anybody have knowledge of published material that might help me?  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dating old photos by fashion

My last post, Archives Outside, dealt with the dating of photographs and attracted a very nice comment from  Fiona Sullivan.

Looking at some of the comments on this and other posts attempting to identify date and location of photos, I stand somewhat in awe of the detailed knowledge of the commentators!

One of the reference sites referred to, Fashion Era, has a quite remarkable section -The Costume Detective: How to Date Old Photographs by the Costume: A Fashion-era Special, is really worth a browse.

Now the focus in the discussion is on photo dating. However, to date photos people have to understand what happened and when. This raises a far broader issue and one that excites me as a historian. You see, most of these techniques are actually a study in social and cultural history.

Take fashion. Yes, you can see how fashions changed. But those changes tell us not just about changing trends and social structures, but also something of the detail of domestic life. For example, how long did it take to get dressed? How much time was taken just to keep clothes clean and somewhat tidy?

One of the things that puzzled me as child with old photos lay in the fact that people might be dressed up, coats and ties for example, but everything was crumpled. This simply goes to the question of ironing.

In Australia, we take pressed clothes as a given. We also take electric irons as a given. They are just part of the fabric of current life. Yet electricity itself is very new.

The mining town of Hillgrove near Armidale may have had electric power in 1895, but it would be many years yet before Armidale gained electricity. No power, and you have to iron using irons heated on stove tops. I remember those old irons, for I have actually seen them used. They were bloody heavy and took time to heat. Then they had to be re-heated.

All this took time, quite a lot of time. It was also heavier work. Mind you, you also had to have a stove. For a fair bit of at least the first part of the nineteenth century, the majority of Australians cooked over open fires.

All this explains the rumpled appearance in photos. However, it also explains something else. I suspect that the later rise of women's liberation would not have been possible, or at least not in its advanced form, without the invention of all the devices that now make house work so much easier.   

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Archives Outside

I am really enjoying the NSW State Records Office Archives Outside blog. Chatting to Bill Oates, the University of New England archivist, on my recent visit to Armidale, Bill said that the folks responsible for the blog were thrilled at the response they were getting. And so they should be. It's well deserved.

One of their latest posts, What are your tips for dating photographs?, dealt with ways of dating photos.

I use old photos quite a bit to tell stories and to attract comments. See, for example, North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy, a nostalgia piece where I show that the State Library date attached to the photo (c1925) could not be correct since the ship sank in 1921.

It's not just a question of dating, but also of setting a context. What does the photo tell us?  

Look at the photo in New England Airways - Postscript, one of a series in the Hood collection. It's not just that people are all dressed up, it's also that the photo is part of a remarkable story in Australian aviation, the New England Airways' story.

One of the difficulties that I face is knowing when to to use photos, especially when they are tied up by apparently fiendish copyright conditions. In fact, most of the older photos are out of copyright. Yet it's still an issue and especially in NSW.

Here Peter Firminger pointed me to another State Records initiative, their participation in a Flickr project to make material more broadly available. See here for a search on New England.

One of the things that I so love about the internet is that we are just getting to the point that some of the more specialist areas that I am interested in, New England history is an example, are just starting to reach critical mass. At this point, they become genuinely useful.

Once again, congratulations to Archives Outside. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Anne Curthoy's Freedom Ride

Now that I have decided to take my history of New England to the end of the twentieth century, one book that I have still have to read is Anne Curthoy's Freedom Ride: a freedom rider remembers.

In some ways, the decision by a group of Sydney University students in 1964 to get on a bus and go visiting some New England towns to protest against prejudice and racial discrimination against Aboriginal people has achieved almost mythic status. The original idea came not from any local knowledge, but was a response to the US freedom rides, so the students themselves were to face a major shock.

Generally, the ride has been interpreted in the context of changing national attitudes towards Australia's Aboriginal people. I am interested in the way it fits into New England history, a very different perspective. How did people respond to these outsiders? What was the local impact? How did it fit into changes that were already taking place?

I don't have an answer at this point. I have come across a number of passing references, but they don't provide any pattern. It may be that there wasn't a pattern, that outside any broader issues and responses, local impacts varied greatly.

I do need to know these things. However, I am also struggling with a broader question.

Writing as an historian, I have to deal with things as I see them. The more I dig back into Aboriginal history, the greater the conflict I find between my role as an historian and attitudes towards Aboriginal history and culture.

At the moment I am still researching New England's Aboriginal languages. I struggle with the idea expressed by some that I must not do so unless I get approval from particular groups of Elders and indeed at the extreme allow them to clear my writing.

I am dealing with the historical record. The reason why so much of the New England Aboriginal languages have survived is because of non-Aboriginal recorders. The very if still limited success of the Aboriginal language revival movement is due to the fact that the Aborigines involved had access not just to their own knowledge but to non-Aboriginal research.

The tragedy for the Language revival movement lies in the fact that just when it was still possible to record in the seventies, non-Aboriginal interest seems to have declined.

It seems to me, I stand to be corrected, that some current attitudes effectively place Aboriginal Studies back in the ghetto that Aboriginal people as a whole are still trying to break out form.     

Friday, April 02, 2010

A few references

One of the wonderfully random things about the web is the way in which searches throw up references that sometimes cannot be found again with the same search! For that reason, I have been saving links on a temporary basis for later recording here. I can then remove the link.

Rodney Harrison's "Shared Landscapes" presents new ways of understanding historic heritage in settler societies through cross-disciplinary case studies that examine the heritage of the pastoral industry in two national parks, one in New England The preview on Google Books looks interesting, so I will see what I can learn and then decide to buy or borrow the book.

The Mudgee Historical Society has, with the author's permission, reproduced some of Michael O'Rourke's analysis of the initial Aboriginal European contact period. The introduction reads:

Incorporating an extended discussion of the armed conflict between Aborigines, settlers and police in the Hunter Valley.

I think that's pretty good, myself, for Michael's research is detailed.

I found an interesting paper by Ian Walters on the Toorbul Point Aboriginal fish trap in South east Queensland that I can certainly use.

The Hills Look Down to the Sea: A Thematic History of the Ballina Shire provides an interesting introduction to the history of Ballina. One of the things that I have to achieve in writing a history of the broader New England is to take and meld all the local histories. This is actually no small task! 

Up-dates on-line resources

Today is an historical research catch up day. As part of this I have updated an earlier post, New England's History - Guide to on-line resources, that I began some time ago but have not returned too since.

I still have some distance to go, but now that I have twenty sources up I think that it has finally become a useful page. Please tell me of any sources that you know that I might have missed.