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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NSW, exhibitions & confusions

I suppose that this short post is a bit of a gripe, one that I would normally put on New England Australia. However, it does have a historiographical point. 

In writing German internees, Evocities, skills & Academy Games, I spent some time digging around checking back facts. In doing so, I found a new on-line exhibition Belongings at the NSW Migration Heritage Centre.

One of the difficulties involved in writing a history of a place like New England that does not formally exist is that its history always gets submerged. This makes it much harder to put the pieces together. 

NSW, by contrast, exists in a formal sense, so you get official entities like the Centre writing about NSW. There is nothing wrong with that, but it can make it very hard to then disentangle the New England specific elements.

Belongings has just two specific references to New England, Tingha and Trial Bay, both of which I have written about before. Much of the material is state wide, which actually makes it quite useless from my perspective since there is nothing there that I can use.

Just a gripe.        

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to manage the Wars in regional history

I am struggling to post here because of the pressures of my other writing. Today, just a brief post triggered by two other posts that I have written.

On my personal blog, ANZAC Day, national identity & the power of images is a general post on ANZAC Day. As always with my posts, I have tried to build in a little bit of history. Then at the other end of the spectrum on the New England, Australia blog, A New England family war story is a purely personal short piece on my own family's history.

From my viewpoint, these two posts raised a question in my mind: how best to handle global events and especially the First and Second World Wars in local or regional histories? I am not posing this as an especially complex question, simply the latest that I am considering.

The usual approach is to focus on the home front, the purely local reaction to the event. Sometimes that's okay, yet when you get an event like the wars that took so many people away, can you write a proper history without reflecting on their experiences?

I think that the answer's clearly no, but then you have a problem. How do you localise the event?

I found that when I was writing my biography of David Drummond's life up to 1942 I had to do a fair bit of research on both World Wars in order to define events and set a context. However, my focus on the man helped, because it determined what should be included.

New England is more complex, because now we are dealing with a much bigger area in geography and population. My feeling is that I need to identify and focus on those military forces that were especially recruited from Northern New South Wales. While I have some feel for the First World War, my overall knowledge is quite inadequate. I just don't know.

Something else to research. Sigh!             

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fly paper & chip heaters

My last post, Maslyn William's New England, introduced this writer. Later, I extended my analysis in a post on my personal blog, Problems with literature & locale.

In William's story of his life near Tenterfield in the 1920s there are references to day to day things now gone.

I wonder how many Australians now remember fly paper?

In sheep country like Tenterfield or Armidale, flies are common. Hiking through open country as a scout, the flies would gather around the back of the packs attracted by the salt. In houses without screens these flies were a constant problem. Fly paper - in our case a long yellow sticky paper hanging from the light or ceiling - was one answer because it attracted flies who then stuck.

Another thing now largely gone were chip heaters. Wikipedia describes them in this way:

The chip heater is a single point, tankless, domestic hot water system popular in Australia and New Zealand from c1880s until the 1960s. Examples of this form of domestic water heating are still in current use.

The chip heater consisted of a cylindrical unit with a fire box and flue through which a water pipe was run. Water was drawn from a cold water tank, circulated through the fire box and when heated was drawn off to the area where it was used typically in a bath or shower.

The fire box was relatively small and fed by newspaper, with pine cones, small twigs and chips from the wood heap. There often was an ash box under the fire box which also allowed air under the fire as well as various dampers in the flue. The use of chips from the wood pile gave the heater its name – chip heater.

Water was run in at a trickle otherwise it did not get very hot. The rate of combustion was controlled by the flues and the ash box. With lots of fuel and the flues open the water could be quickly boiled which was not a desirable result. With practice the correct combination of fuel, flue settings and water flow could result in a decent hot shower or bath in about 20 min.

We had a chip heater in the bathroom when we were young kids. There was a real excitement in lighting it and then keeping it fed while we waited for the water to heat for our bath!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Maslyn William's New England

While in Armidale to deliver my paper on social change in Australia's New England 1950-2000 I went book shopping. One of the books I brought was Maslyn William's His Mother's Country (Melbourne University Press, Carton, 1988). Answers.com describes his life in this way:

Maslyn Williams (1911-1999), born England, grew up in NSW on rural properties in the New England and Southern Highlands districts, after the deaths of both his parents. His early interest in writing, music and films led to a career in film-making. He was appointed as writer-producer to the Official War Film and Photographic Unit in 1940 and served in the Middle East and the Pacific. He subsequently made films in Europe, Australia and New Guinea, gaining several awards, including a gold medal at the Venice Biennale. In 1962 he gave up film-making to concentrate on writing and is the author of several books on China, Cambodia, Papua, New Guinea and Indonesia. He wrote four novels, The Far Side of the Sky (1967), The Benefactors (1971, published as Dubu in the USA), Florence Copley of Romney (1974) and The Temple (1982), and an autobiography, His Mother's Country (1988). In 1988 Williams won the FAW Christina Stead Award and the Douglas Stewart Prize in the 1989 State literary awards for His Mother's Country. Written in the third person, the autobiography describes both his experiences in 1920s New England, the lives and personalities of numerous individuals he encountered, and the distinctive identity of the landscape which ultimately claimed his loyalty. Williams was an emeritus fellow of the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

I knew of Maslyn Williams as an Australian writer and film maker, but had no idea of the New England connection. While there are elements of the book that I disagree with,  regional directors of education in NSW came later, it is a wonderfully evocative account of rural life on the Northern Tablelands in the 1920s.

Knowing the people and area in the way I do, I kept on adding bits to his story as I read!

The book is long out of print, but if you can find a second hand copy, I really would recommend that you read it. Like all good books, you don't need to know anything about the area to enjoy it. It stands completely self-contained.  

Saturday, April 02, 2011