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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Australian Climate History research project

I see from Archives Outside that: 

The Climate History research project is seeking to reconstruct Australia’s climate history from European settlement to 1900. The National Library of Australia is seeking your help for this important research project to piece together our nation’s climate history.

The current research project appears to focus on Lake George, the shallow lake near Canberra so well know to those who drive to Australia's national capital. The broader project is described this way:

This landmark project, spanning the sciences and the humanities, draws together a team of leading climate scientists, water managers and historians to better understand south-eastern Australian climate history over the past 200–500 years. It is the first study of its kind in Australia.

When I first studied history, climate and indeed to a degree geography itself was largely ignored. It was there, but almost in passing. I was probably more sensitive to this than many because I studied geography as well as history at school. I was also curious about things that seemed to be missed out. Even so, I really only became aware of the importance of geography when I first studied archaeology and Australian prehistory. Now geography including climate was central to my interest in the patterns of Aboriginal life.

I may have been aware of the importance of geography, yet I still did not properly understand either the interconnections or nuances involved. That came later.

I am not a geographical or environmental determinist in the way that some prehistorians are.  When I did geography honours at school, I was interested in the way our concepts of geography and of resources combined physical resource with our understanding of technology and our perceptions of life. To use a modern phrase, the very idea of resources was a cultural construct. However, no-one can deny (I think) that geography including climate is important.

Today as I try to pursue my interest in the history of New England over the last 50,000 years I am constantly frustrated by my own lack of knowledge of geography broadly defined, including geological and climatic history. I am also frustrated by the degree of difficulty in finding the information I need.

It has taken concerns with climate change to make the history of climate important.

I do not have the personal time to participate in the research project. However, from a purely selfish perspective, I am very glad that it's there.      

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The importance of dates in history

In her Uplifting Quotes for the Uninspired Historian series, the Resident Judge of Port Phillip had a short but interesting review (Uplifting Quotes for the Uninspired Historian #8) of Ged Martin's book, in Past Futures:  The Impossible Necessity of History, Toronto, Toronto University of Press, 2004. I haven't read the book yet, but wanted to pick up one point, the importance of dates.

Ged Martin wrote:

Every decision is a double decision, requiring us to ask first, ‘why when?’ and only then ‘why what?’. The operative second part is the action of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the available options.  The historical core is to be found in that crucial first part, the decision to take a decision.  We should begin by seeking to understand not simply why a decision was taken but when it was taken.  This helps us to appreciate why, at that time, some options but not others were available to those making the decision. (p. 93)

In the post modernist history world, there was a strong tendency to dismiss dates as unimportant. What was important were patterns and especially themes - women, aborigines, colonialism are examples. Yet you cannot understand history if you don't understand dates. Let me illustrate with a personal example.

When I was writing my PhD I drew from the work of a fellow historian to argue that the extension of the railway line north from Newcastle created an inland Northern economic commonwealth centred on Newcastle that was destroyed by predatory railway freight pricing once the railway connection went through from Newcastle to Sydney.

Now in broad terms that's right. Yet some of the conclusions I drew were at best suspect, at worst plain wrong. I found this out much later when, for another reason, I needed to check the dates at which parts of the Great Northern Railway opened. There simply wasn't enough time between those dates and the completion of the railway to Sydney to support the weight of the conclusions I was drawing.

I felt quite silly because I had allowed my analysis to outrun my evidence!   

Monday, February 21, 2011

A corner of tenth-century Europe

I continue to enjoy Christopher Moore's History News. This time he led me to a new (new to me) history blog, Jonathan Jarrett's A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, Early medievalist's thoughts and ponderings.

This is a really enjoyable blog whose posts come complete with footnotes. Those of us interested in history are very lucky indeed with the range and depth of history blogs. I learn new things all the time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The 1999 closure of BHP's Newcastle steel works

Now that I have started writing my seminar paper on cultural change in New England I have to start filling gaps while also adding new material. I begin the paper with the closure of the Newcastle steelworks, once the largest integrated steel works in the British Empire.

This post simply records some of the on-line references so that I don't loose them.

The closure was debated in the NSW Legislative Assembly on 22 September 1999. The speeches are interesting not just because of the closure, but because they provide a snapshot of issues at the time. BHP Billiton's HRRP Fact Sheet 1 contains a brief history of the works. There is also reference to a book - Jay, Christopher (1999). A Future More Prosperous: The History of Newcastle Steelworks 1912-1999. Broken Hill Propriety Co. Ltd. - that I had not seen.

Workers Online contains an article by Dr Nancy Cushing - School of Humanities, University of Newcastle, Remembering BHP: Memory and Industrial Heritage. There was a PM story done at the time. There is another book: Tailing out : BHP workers talk about life, steelmaking and the Newcastle closure / interviews and writing collected and edited by P.P. Cranney

Now in all of this I came across a 2009 discussion thread on the closure of the BHP archives. It's worth a read for all those interested in the preservation of historical material. I don't know what's happened since.  

I also found some video, but I need to follow this up.

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.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

NSW Cabinet Records

In response to New England & Archives Outside, Fiona Sullivan kindly responded with some detailed comments. This post deals with one part of her response.

In my post I asked about NSW cabinet records. She wrote:

Some of the information that you are seeking can be found in State Records search engine Archives Investigator( http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/ ) by looking at the Agency registrations for the Cabinet Office ( http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=\Agency\48 ) and Department of Premier and Cabinet http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=\Agency\10 . These Agency registrations also contain listings of some of the series that we hold which in turn have additional information. As a general rule agency registrations are a good place to start when doing this king of research. There are also a number of record series from the Cabinet Office in State Records collection that are unprocessed, additional steps are required to gain access to these so I would suggest consulting with a public access archivist before you visit.

I did some digging around following Fiona's leads. I thought that I might report on the results since they are likely to be of general interest.


Cabinet records are held at the Western Sydney Records Centre: 143 O'Connell Street, Kingswood 2747, NSW Australia - Telephone +61 2 9673 1788. You will need to visit there if you want to access the originals. You will also need a reader's ticket if you want to access originals. This can be obtained on-line.

Centre hours are Monday to Friday 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, Saturday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, Sundays and Public Holidays - Closed.

You can get to the centre by car (there is parking) or by a train/bus combination. However, Sydney is a bloody big, sprawling city, so you need to allow time. Depending on traffic, it is about an hour fifteen driving time from where I live. For out of towners, it is about an hours drive from the airport.

I haven't calculated public transport times properly, but it appears to be about an hour 50 each way from where I live. It would be a little less from the airport: here you would catch the airport line to Central, train to Penrith or St Marys and then a bus. Whichever way, you need to allow time. There are no shops nearby, so bring lunch. There is a reader's room with free tea and coffee, a fridge and a microwave.

To save time, you can pre-order records. You need to allow at least two days.

Role of Cabinet

I was specifically interested in the cabinet records because of the role of cabinet as the supreme decision making body. Parliament has final authority, but cabinet determines what goes to Parliament.

I had a problem with the records before because of lack of information about the changing way the NSW cabinet works, about the way decisions were made and recorded. To my mind, this remains an issue.

Cabinet Records

Records are kept in series and by agency.

The Cabinet Office was created on 1 Jan 1921, expiring on 27 Apr 2007. Its role was then taken over by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The Cabinet Office agency record (link above) provides details of various series. The first cabinet records date from 1921. I have no idea as to what records existed before this date, nor indeed when cabinet actually first emerged in NSW. There may be an administrative history of NSW that can answer these types of questions. If so, I have yet to find it.

As is the case at Federal level, information becomes more detailed (and useful) with time. Reading the records details with my public policy and historian background, I can see elements in the records that may well help answer questions for me.

To illustrate, let me take an example not apparently connected with my New England history focus. I quote from the NSW Archives material:     

With separation of the Cabinet Office from the Premier's Office in 1988, its new head (Gary Sturgess), acquired responsibility for policy development and for the servicing of the Cabinet.

Sturgess was particularly influential, focusing, with the full support of the Premier, on the ‘big picture’ policy issues. He drew up the major policy blueprints for corporatisation in 1988, the policy-management-regulation splits underlying the 1991 reorganisation, assembled the bureaucratic and political interstate and Commonwealth support for Greiner’s federalism initiative in 1990 and drafted the 1992 "Facing the World" document and the Guarantee of Service.

Without going into all the details or providing the links, at the time we are talking about, I was writing a fair bit on changing approaches to public administration. NSW was one of our case studies. Today, I am doing the same again, reprising previous interests from a different perspective. So the Sturgess period is of particular interest.

Does it link to my current New England interests? Well, it does, because it is part of the social change process that I am writing on at present. The Greiner/Sturgess period had very particular on-ground effects. But that's another story!