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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

History revisited - how Armidale became a hub for educators

I started my last column by posing a question: just how did Armidale get not just one but two higher educational institutions in the space of ten years? I spoke of the way that the combination of the re-emerged New State Movement with the formation of the Country Party helped set the ground. But I also said that beyond these factors was the simple rivalry of two educators with very different views about teacher training.

The announcement in December 1927 that a Teacher’s College was to be established in Armidale was not welcomed by all. Newly appointed Principal CB Newling later recalled that the Armidale proposal met active hostility within the Sydney press, among city interests and within the NSW Department of Public Instruction. Importantly, potential students fearful of the likely standards of the new college were reluctant to leave Sydney for the bush.

The College also had some powerful supporters fully aware of these reservations. To David Drummond as Minister, the College was a chance to establish a country college for country kids. The College was also intended as one key building block in the creation of the infrastructure required to support a Northern State. To S H Smith as head of the Department, the College was a chance to put his own ideas into practice.

Smith was then in his early sixties. Handsome and intelligent, with a commanding presence and a beautiful speaking voice, he was also shy, fussy, sensitive and vulnerable to personal attack.

Smith had started as a pupil teacher and then worked his way though the ranks, becoming Under-Secretary in 1922 upon the retirement of the famous Peter Board. Smith knew that there were those who affected to despise him because of his lack of formal education and was deeply wounded by it. Drummond was sensitive to Smith’s feelings and the two men became close.

Smith had clashed with Professor Alexander Mackie, the head of Sydney Teachers, College. Mackie, aDedication, Armidale Teachers College 1929 brilliant Scottish-born academic, had come to Sydney in 1906 to head the newly established Sydney College. He was a man of strong views who believed that that the main emphasis in teacher training should be academic, that the independence of Sydney Teachers’ College must be preserved, and who had little time for financial or other constraints on his activities.

Smith took a different view. Bound up in the day-to-day problems of State education, he regarded the College’s job as training those teachers the Department required in the way the Department required. Smith also disagreed with Mackie as to the most desirable form of teacher training: while not opposed to academic training, Smith thought that Mackie’s academic bias meant ill-trained teachers, and instead supported a more vocationally-oriented training.

These differences in approach would have made for difficulties anyway, but their personalities compounded problems. After Smith made a surprise inspection of Sydney Teachers’ College in 1927, Mackie wrote to him that such inspections could ‘only be done competently by a person with the necessary qualifications.’ He went on: ‘The inspection of highly qualified specialists on the College staff should be entrusted to men and women with similarly high academic qualifications and with extensive experience of College work.’ Not surprisingly, Smith found this letter ‘offensive’. For Smith’s part, he later commented sarcastically to Drummond that Mackie had ‘that type of mind which is usually associated with the Scottish metaphysician.’

The combination of committed Minister and Under-Secretary would have been irresistible in any case. However, they were joined by two other men.

A W Hicks, the very able local inspector who became a key Drummond aide and who would later occupy senior positions in the Education Department, took care of local logistics, while C B Newling as the College’s first Principal provided very strong leadership. Newling’s authoritarian style, his nickname was Pop, would not be acceptable today but was critical at the time.

Drummond, Smith, Hicks and Newling proved an irresistible combination.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 July 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013. The photo shows the laying of the foundation stone for the new Teachers' Colle.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

On writing a history of New England

Over on the New England New State Movement Facebook page, I promised to write a post outlining the history of New England that I am presently trying to write. While I have discussed the project from time to time, I thought it time now to provide a full overview.

Geographic Coverage

I focus on the Northern or New England Tablelands and the river valleys that run from the Northern or New England Tablelands to the north, west, south and east. This is the area that the Nicholas Commission concluded was suitable for statehood, and has had a sometimes riven historical identity to the present time.

This held even in Aboriginal times, although New England's Aboriginal peoples would not have seen it in this way, for geography is central to New England's history. In Aboriginal times, you had the inland riverine Aboriginal peoples, the Tablelands' peoples and those on the coast, interacting in a variety of ways. As today, New England's Aboriginal peoples also interacted with those around them.

The creation of Queensland created a political boundary that cut across Aboriginal territories, placing the same peoples in different legal jurisdictions. Up to the creation of Queensland, my history extends into what is now Queensland. With the creation of Queensland, my history retreats to the new boundary, although part deals with issues and interactions created by the boundaries.  

Naming Conventions

The Aborigines had no name for the area I am talking about since, from their perspective, it didn't exist. From the time of European settlement, it came to be called the Northern Districts, the Northern Provinces or just the North, defined in relation to Sydney as centre. Initially these terms extended into what is now Queensland. With the creation of Queensland, the North shrank to the border. Those parts of the New England North incorporated into Queensland effectively became the new south defined in relation to Brisbane. 

The name New England was initially limited to the New England Tablelands, Following its adoption by the new state movement as the name for the whole area, its broader usage spread, then contracted again after the loss of the 1967 new state plebiscite. Outside the Tablelands, the term New England was always political, used by those who supported statehood, rejected by those opposed who classified themselves in terms of NSW or their own locality or immediate region.

Faced with naming choices, I use the term New England in the broad sense in the first part of the book. Following European settlement, I generally talk of the North since this was common parlance. Once the name New England was adopted, I use that or, sometimes, the North where sense dictates.

Historical Scope

The book is broken into four parts:

  1. An introduction setting the scene, painting an overview picture of the area's geography and history.
  2. Aboriginal New England up to 1788. While traditional Aboriginal life continued for decades after the arrival of the First Fleet, I chose 1788 as a cut off to avoid becoming entangled in later debates. It is a story of peoples living in the sun light. We know that clouds are coming, but we can look at what was without the entanglements of what was to be.
  3. Colonial New England, the period from first European settlement to Federation.
  4. New England in the Twentieth Century. I needed an end point, so I chose the end of the century.

Historical Focus

I am trying to tell a deeply textured story of the life of the peoples who have called New England home. This is not so easy because of the breadth. Each area of New England has its own history. However, I am not writing a series of local or regional histories. My focus is on broader commonalities and links and on the interaction with the rest of the world. I am also concerned with differences and the way these played out. Here I run into problems of balance.

Problems of Balance

To illustrate my problems with balance, look at my reading this week.

I have been looking at Annabella Boswell's journal and especially the account of the early days at Port Macquarie. This is a rather wonderful, almost Jane Austin, picture of domestic life among a particular group at a particular place at a particular point in time. It led to this post, Belshaw’s World – memories of a Port Macquarie far past. How do I balance in writing? I have to reduce Annabella to just a few paras when she deserves more. 

Then for my Express History Revisited column I continued my story of the foundation of Armidale's two colleges, first ATC and then UNE. This is a very Northern story, one of people, politics and power that delivered the North results. Here I am working with two main books, Drummond's A University is Born and Mathew Jordon's history of UNE. 

I have also been looking at two very specific histories of UNE departments, Agricultural Economics and Psychology. These are relevant to the history of UNE, but I am also reading them because of what they say about the history of New England thought and people and the impact that this has had elsewhere.

Now I have a problem. It's not just that I know the people or their children or my fellow students, but I also have current views on the issues raised, that are working themselves out today. So how do I balance this? 

I don't think that I can. It is probably better just to admit my partisan positions and let readers correct me.

Will I ever Finish?

I wonder about this. I want to be correct, to be balanced as best I can, and then I am always finding new things that I didn't know. My friends and colleagues take a different view. Just get the bloody thing out, they say! You can always revise in new editions.

I think that they are right,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

History revisited - Armidale envisaged as Athens of the North and as an Australian Oxford

"The Country Party encapsulated country grievances about country neglect..."

A question that has puzzled many is just how Armidale got not just one but two higher educational institutions in the space of ten years. Yes, Armidale was already an educational centre. Yes, the first helped lay the base for the second. Yes, there was a local member in David Drummond who was also Minister for Education.

Yet none of this really explains just what happened, why those institutions were established in Armidale so far in advance of any equivalents elsewhere. The answer lies in a remarkable confluence of circumstance.

The first reference that I know of to the possible establishment of a university in Armidale comes from 1892. Appearing before a NSW Parliamentary Committee, Armidale Mayor William Drew extolled the educational virtues of the city, drawing a somewhat sarcastic comment from a committee member: “It will become a sort of modern Athens, I suppose?” “A University of Oxford, perhaps”, responded the mayor. Those two ideas, Armidale as the Athens of the North and Armidale as an antipodean Oxbridge, were to exercise a powerful influence on the city and its institutions.

Over twenty years later, in 1924, David Drummond as local member arranged for a deputation to meet Albert Bruntnell, the Minister for Education in the Fuller Government, to press the case for the creation of a university college in Armidale. Led by Armidale Mayor Morgan Stevens, the deputation included the heads of Armidale’s major schools. The Minister was sympathetic, but to the point. The estimates provided for the cost of establishing university colleges were prohibitive. The matter rested there for the moment. However, by 1924 much had changed and those changes were to be important.

Armidale itself had changed. While its population in 1921 was still only 5,500, the educational institutions in the city had continued to advance. While this was important, the emergence of two new political movements was more important. The first was the Progressive, later Country, Party, the second a reborn new state movement.

The Country Party encapsulated country grievances about country neglect, including education. While a state wide party, its strength was heavily concentrated in Northern New South Wales. The new state movement drew from similar grievances, but in pushing for self government for the North it articulated a common sense of Northerness that did much to overcome that rigid sense of local parochialism that so impeded regional cooperation and would later make the networked University of New England the most spectacular failure of the Dawkins’ education reforms.

Beyond these factors was the simple rivalry of two educators with very different views about teacher training, a rivalry that was central to the establishment of the Teachers’ College. I will continue this story in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 July 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

History Revisited - the politics of establishing a place of learning for a regional community

In A University is Born (1959), David Drummond told the story of the founding of the New England University College. It is accurate history, but it is also a very political document, written with intent. Not political in a party sense, but political in an institutional and regional sense. graduation 2103

You can see this in the subtitle, the story of the founding of the University College of New England. That last “of” is important, for the College wasn’t just named New England, it was of New England, belonged to New England.

The New England that the College belonged to was not that much shrunken geographic area that carries the name today, but a much larger area, the whole North. This was to be the Sydney University of the North.

The same idea carries through into the dramatis personae, the short biographical entries at the start of the book. There Drummond carefully lists main individuals and the places they came from, a roll-call of centres across the North from Casino to Taree, from Grafton to Moree, Gunnedah and Tamworth. The names roll-on.

In writing, he is careful not to assert any special party political claim for the Country Party, but to recognize contribution from other quarters.

He also recognizes key figures within Sydney University who supported the cause and, in dealing with opponents, is careful to explain their motivations. The most bigoted opponent, and there were some, could read this book without real discomfort.

Drummond knew Sydney University very well and was a strong supporter of that institution. We got what would become our university in part because Drummond was a friend to Sydney and was able to deliver additional financial support to Sydney University at the same time that the New England College was being created.

Later historians would pick over the campaign and financial records of the University Movement and conclude that Drummond was gilding the lily when it came to broader Northern involvement. The key activists came from Armidale, the money too mainly came from Armidale and the Tablelands and especially from a small number of people. There was not great support elsewhere.

There is some factual truth in this, but it totally misses the point.

In 1920, there were just six Australian universities. There were no higher education institutions of any type outside the capital cities. Eighteen years later there were two, both in Armidale.

That’s a remarkable story, one that could not have happened without broader Northern support. Later, when the University forgot its roots, it was to pay a terrible price.

In my next column, I will discuss the foundation of Armidale’s two colleges.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 July 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

History Revisited - our love affair with racing

Colonial New Englanders were horse mad.

While many New Englanders did not own horses, relying instead on shanks’ pony or later bicycles for daily transport, horses were everywhere. They pulled drays, sulkies and coaches, were used for personal transport and to round up stock.

The Australian climate and lack of alternative entertainments encouraged interest in sport. Horse racing quickly became an addiction. The horses were readily available, while racing provided not only spectacle, but also facilitated two great Australian passions, gambling and drinking!

The first organised horse race in Armidale took place in 1842, just three years after the city’s foundation and the year before the first race meetings in South Australia or Queensland.

Most little settlements from the upper Hunter to the gold fields of the upper Clarence quickly acquired a race track.

Those first race tracks were pretty rough and ready affairs, with horses racing along Armidale’s dust tracks or on small flat spaces in mountainous regions. However, if you are going to have sport, you must have rules.

The Australian Racing Committee was formed in Sydney in May 1840 to set standards for racing in the colony, becoming the Australian Jockey Club in January 1842. As a consequence, the formal race trappings that we know today spread quite quickly, with judges, stewards, clerks, handicappers, starters and, of course, the obligatory Hon Sec and Treasurer!

Those early race meetings were major social events. They could run for several days, offered substantial prize money, and attracted people from considerable distances.

With time, several streams emerged.

There was flat racing provided through organised clubs such as the Armidale Jockey Club. Jump racing began in Sydney in 1832, but never attracted the same level of support. Then there was picnic racing.

While some of those early race meetings were quite highly organised, they featured amateur riders and local horses. There was a picnic feel to many of the smaller meetings, leading to the term picnic races.

As racing became more professional in the later 1800s, amateurs and pony racers were largely excluded. The popularity of country picnic races boomed as keen amateur racers took to the country circuits. Picnic races became organised events, with their own circuits featuring grass fed horses.

In Armidale, the picnic races became a long standing annual tradition. much favoured by country people. The day began with a Calcutta auction, then the races and finally a ball. It was a chance for people to meet and have some fun.

Picnic racing has been in sad decline. While they still exist in some places, the 2013-2014 NSW racing calendar does not list a single New England event. An era has ended.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 July 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

History Revisited - rumblings create new volcano stories

"Perhaps the most mysterious thing .... is that the explosions and shakings all appear to proceed from,,,,"

This is another one of those mysterious New England stories. Some, like the Emmaville black panther that sent thrills up our spines when we were kids, are highly unlikely. Others I just don’t know. This is one such story.

Georges Mount lies to the east of Bundarra in the Basin Nature Reserve.

On Saturday 19 January 1907, a Uralla Times headline read “Are our Volcanoes Extinct?”, a headline intended to send delicious shivers up its readers’ spines.

“It is popularly supposed”, the paper began, “that, whereas in the dim, hoary past, Australia was the centre of a vast volcanic activity, all have long since become perfectly extinct.” Not so, says the paper: ”the best regulated theories are apt at times to be set astray, especially those theories appertaining to natural phenomena; so that, after all , we must not be too cock-sure as to the utter absence of volcanoes”

The paper goes on. ”On the contrary there is a stretch of wild precipitous country on the western edge of the high Guyra Tableland which ever and anon gives indisputable evidence that something is wrong with the works below -- something which tends to the theory that the ancient Guyra - Bundarra Volcanic System formerly one of the most active in Australia , is not entirely dead.”

So much of our tourism material is just so boring. The Uralla Times was under no such strictures. It had a readership to thrill.

“The neighbouring country from whence the subterranean explosions periodically proceed,” the paper explains “is known as the Basin. This “is a wild gorge through which flow from the high lands beyond large Creeks George’s and Laura. In places these creeks are separated only by a narrow wall of rock , so that one can stand on the “razorback” and throw stones into either stream. Limestone caves and dark crevices in the rocks abound in the locality , some of them evidently having been utilised for years as a marsupial cemetery , judging by the big accumulation of bones.”

Look at the language. Do you want to visit?

Perhaps the most mysterious thing, the paper reports, is that the explosions and shakings all appear to proceed from a hill at the head of the basin, what we call George’s Mount.

Are these stories true? I don’t know. But like all good stories, there is an Aboriginal legend to go with it.

According to the Bundarra web site, a big old blackfella, the head of a powerful mob, started to fight with a huge kangaroo. Neither could conquer, so they rested and then started again.

The rumbling is the angry voice of the blackfella and the thumping and shaking of the surrounding countryside is caused by the kangaroo beating his massive tail on the ground.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 June 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013