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

Friday, February 04, 2011

Sources for New England Records

This post continues the archive discussion from my previous post, NSW Cabinet Records.

In New England & Archives Outside, I wrote:

Those who read this blog will know that I am writing a history of the broader New State New England. They may not realise how history affects records and the presentation of those records.

The University of New England was founded to be the Sydney University of the North. When it began, it collected material from the broader New England.

In 1967, the New State plebiscite was lost and the New State Movement collapsed. This affected both the way records were kept and presented. As a simple example, UNE''s local history collection, the best regional history collection in Australia, narrowed its focus to cut out some areas, focusing especially on inland New England. From my viewpoint as an historian, this was something of a disaster. Areas such as the North Coast diminished from view.

I must emphasise that this is not a criticism of UNE archivist Bill Oates who does a remarkable job. Rather, it is a simple statement that UNE's contracting focus meant that there was nothing left to bridge the gap between the narrowly local or regional and the state level.

The North Coast suffered most in this contraction. It actually vanished from the historical radar. This may sound extreme, but I do try to monitor this stuff quite closely.

There are so many broader New England and especially North Coast stories that are now just unknown. I cannot rebuild the broader New England memory of its past on my own, although I try. The Robinson family, New England Airways, steam navigation on the coast, Nimbin and counter culture, all are being lost. They remain as fragments, isolated memories diminishing on a sea of time, footnotes in the broader Australian story.

You see why I want more Hunter and North Coast photos?

In a responding comment, Fiona Sullivan from State Records NSW wrote:

In terms of State archives the University of New England and Regional Archives (UNERA) is the designated repository for archives from the New England and the North Coast regions. In fact right now we are in the middle of negotiating the transfer of records from a North Coast Council to the repository. I had assumed this was the case for their private archival collections as well, however, following your post I rang the University Archivist, William Oates to check on this. He confirmed that the North Coast region is still very much part of UNERA's collection policy, however, the reality is that they are being offered less from that region than the New England. . Perhaps this is a reflection of the shift in regionalism over time. When UNERA was initially established the University of New England had a Vice-Chancellor based in Grafton and travelling across to work. Since then the North Coast has established it's own university, Southern Cross, which merged then unmerged with UNE. It's also worth noting that there was period of time in the late 80's when the University of New England was without an archivist. The sheer fact of geography also makes the North Coast a more challenging region for UNERA to collect in. There are also a number of strong Historical Societies in the North Coast region who are actively collecting and maintaining archives. So in a sense it's not that archives from the North Coast aren't being collected it's more that not all of them are ending up at UNERA. I hope this helps to answer some of your questions.

I must say that I really love the way that our friendly archivists are responsive. This companion post looks at some elements of Fiona's comment from a New England perspective.

NSW Archive Regions

Archive regions The map shows NSW regions for public archival purposes. The main regions that together constitute the broader New England are Hunter, New England and North Coast.

Before talking about New England repositories, two general points.

First, the region marked on the map as Orana actually includes part of what I would normally call New England. Current administrative boundaries do not always reflect history. There appears to be no repository for Orana, so I am assuming that records there are held by local historical societies or in Sydney.

The second is that Riverina records are held by the Charles Sturt University archives in Wagga Wagga. This may seem a long way from New England, but there is a strong interface between New England and Riverina because of the presence of cooperating separation movements in both areas. It is hard, for example, to understand the history of NSW or New England in the 1930s without having some knowledge of Charles Hardy and the Riverina Movement.  

Thinking of Riverina reminded me of Alan Ives who used to be archivist there. Eccentricity and archives sometimes goes together. In Alan's case he was a bibliophile of the first order whose flat in Canberra was stacked to the ceiling with books!

New England Archive Regions

The regional archives repository in Armidale is located at the University of New England and Regional Archives (UNERA) within the Heritage Centre on the C.B. Newling Campus (Cnr Dangar and Kentucky Streets) of the University. As UNERA holds State archives from the New England (Northern Tablelands plus North West) aad North Coast regions of NSW.

The Heritage Centre is open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm (excluding public holidays). The telephone number is (02) 6773 6555. The Newling Campus - the old Armidale Teacher's College - is less than ten minutes by taxi and is in walking distance of the main street. UnderIt's a pleasant location to work.

The Heritage Centre collection is a large one combining a number of different collections. These include the local history collection developed at the Armidale Teacher College/Armidale College of Advanced Education, the University  of New England Archives and the regional state archive. The original mission of the University archives was expressed in these terms:

Collect all research material likely to be of value in throwing light on the historical, economic and social development of Northern New South Wales from the earliest European settlement until recent times.


While definitions of the North have varied, the University archives contains the best broad collection of Northern material.

You can access details of the current collection on-line including university, TC and CAE records, state records, maps and the regional collection. 

This photo shows University archivist Alan Wilkes collecting material in 1964. Alan was very definitely in that somewhat eccentric archival tradition that I have mentioned before.

In addition to the Heritage Centre, the main university campus contains further historical material. The campus is located to the north west of the city. While there is a local bus service, by far the best way of getting between the Heritage Centre and the main campus is  via a short car or taxi ride.

The University's Dixon Library contains a large special collection of local and regional histories, many of them now hard to obtain. This is a closed collection; you will need to contact the library to arrange access.

In addition to the local history collection, a number of departmental libraries contain valuable thesis material. Because the New England University College was established in 1938 as the Sydney University equivalent of the North, it had a very strong regional focus for its first five decades. This meant that a substantial number of theses - honours, Lit B, masters & PhD - were completed on local or regional topics.

Two examples to illustrate this. 

Isabel McBryde was appointed in 1960 to lecture in prehistory and ancient history. By 1978, UNE students had written at least 22 theses on the Aborigines, most with a regional focus. This remains one of the best resources on Aboriginal history at a regional level in Australia.

The second example are the local or regional history theses. These began earlier, and again constitute a valuable resource.

There are many other theses with a regional focus in other disciplines. One day, and this is yet another thing that I would like to do, I would like to prepare some form of consolidated list.

To access the theses, I suggest that you contact Archaeology & Palaeoanthropology for the Aboriginal theses, History for the history theses.

Turning now to the Hunter Valley, there are two official archives. Before discussing them, I must note I haven't visited, that's still on my list, just looked at their on-line collection material. 

The Newcastle Region Library holds general government archives of significance to the Newcastle Region. It also hold a range of other historical material. The material is managed by the Local Studies Section - Laman Street, Newcastle, telephone: (02) 4974 5330; the Local Studies Section is open Monday to Wednesday 9:30am-8pm; Thursday to Friday 9:30am-5pm; and Saturday 9:30am-2pm. The Library is, I think, in working distance from the Civic railway station.

In official records terms, the University of Newcastle Archives mostly holds university archives
and public health archives. However, the archives also include a range of other material, including the Pender papers. Maitland architects, the Penders had a considerable influence on the built environment across New England. The opening hours are Monday to Friday 9:30am-5pm. Address details Level 2 Auchmuty Library
University Drive, Callaghan NSW 2308, Telephone: (02) 4921 5819.

I am not sure of the best way of getting there by public transport.

Local Historical Societies

In her reply, Fiona mentioned local historical societies. These are indeed an invaluable resource. I haven't attempted a full list. However, I did want to mention a couple that are of particular importance. I am happy to add others.

The Richmond River Historical Society was formed in 1936. It has a large and very valuable collection.

The Clarence River Historical Society was formed in 1931. Like it's counterpart in the next valley, it too has a very valuable collection.

The Scone & District Historical Society occupies a special place in my heart.

Arch Gray was a lecturer at Armidale Teacher's College. There he met wife to be Nancy. When I stayed with them in Scone just across the road from the historical society, Arch must have been in his eighties.

Another bibliophile, he had the most remarkable set of material on the broader New England that I have ever seen. I just sat there and browsed while talking to him. Travel brochures from the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, local histories, political pamphlets, it was all there.

I spent the next day across the road at the museum going through the records of Upper Hunter branches of Dymphna and Manning Clark, at the home of Arch Gray, Scone, New South Wales, 12 November 1989 the New State Movement. That night, more conversations.

Arch knew the most remarkable range of people. This photo shows Dymphna and Manning Clark at the Grays, 12 November 1989.

I do wonder what happened to Arch's collection. I would love to think that it had been preserved.

1 comment:

LearningByReading said...

The importance of one who writes history can not be overstated. Thank you for taking on such an important responsibility!