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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

History revisited – Brown Street: an iconic Armidale Street

For those who love the look and feel of Armidale, the Armidale Visitor Information Centre has a little treasure trove of books about Armidale. One is John Ferry’s Brown Street Armidale NSW 2350.

John was, is, one of New England’s greatest historians. He was only 55 when he died in 2004. The book was written long before, in 1990, but it wasn’t until just before his death that he offered it to the Historical Society. It was then lovingly edited by Bruce Cady, finally coming out in 2007.

Brown Street has changed since John wrote, but it remains a special study of a special street. You can still walk Brown Street today with the book in hand, if sometimes sadly noting the changes. Gordon Smith, Brown Street, Armidale

Growing up, I thought of Brown Street as one of Armidale’s more interesting streets, although it wasn’t my favourite street. That honour was taken by Faulkner Street, followed by Dangar. By contrast, I regarded my own street, Marsh Street, as a pedestrian affair: very boring, really, with its long sweep down and up the hill. .

Brown Street is anchored by two of Armidale’s iconic buildings. 

On the west is the Railway Station, a piece of High Victorian architecture with Italianate features. It’s hard now when only a few railway enthusiasts keep the dream of the Great Northern Railway alive to understand just how important that station was to Armidale.

Try an experiment. Go to the station. As you come onto the platform look to your left. There were the old refreshment rooms. Now go to the platform’s edge and look north along the disused line. Shut your eyes and try to think back.

You are ten. You are going to Sydney on the Glen Innes Mail, sharing a sleeping compartment with your brother. You have never done that before, and steam trains are exciting anyway. All that power!

In the distance, you can hear the faint hoot of the whistle. Now the train comes into sight, rushing towards the station. As it stops, you rush up to see that hero, the engine driver with fireman feeding coal. Steam leaks from the engine.

People have rushed to the refreshment rooms to get supplies. Now your parents call you back. The guard has blown his whistle; people are swarming back onto the train.

You enter that marvelous compartment with all its special features. Your own basin! Who wants the top bunk? You can see why we were excited.

Down the other end of Brown Street can be found TAS with its John Sulman designed main building. This is a very different style, but one that is equally striking.

Jessie Street marks the divide between these different worlds, the poorer industrial west compared to the more genteel and wealthier east. The buildings reflect that transition.

I am not going to describe all the features of Brown Street. Rather, I want you to buy the book and walk the street yourself!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 March 2014. 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, here for 2014.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alan Barcan, the Sydney Old Left and threads in New England’s history

I have been reading Alan Barcan’s Radical Students: the Old Left at Sydney University (Melbourne University Press, Carlton South 2002). I bought it a second hand bookshop because I was curious, curious about the subject, but also about the author. Alana Barcan

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was writing a PhD thesis on the life of my grandfather, David Drummond, Drummond was an activist Country Part Education Minister in NSW for some twelve years and had a major influence on education in New England, in NSW and beyond. In writing I drew quite heavily from Alan’s work on the history of education in Australia since it helped provide structure and set a basic context for part of my work.

That explains in part why I bought the book since it is something of a personal memoir of a man whose writing I have used and liked. However, I was also attracted by the title. I knew the old left had been influential; I remember the fights between the old and new left. I was curious about that, but also wondered what influence it had all had in regard to my primary project, a history of New England. How did that fit in, if at all?

As I read the book, I was disappointed at the lack of reference to the North. Then I thought, how dumb! The New England University College was established in 1938, the Newcastle University College in 1951. Many of the earlier events that Alan describes took place before their creation or when they were still very small.

Episodes such as the sometimes conflict between the left and the Andersonians, the followers of philosopher John Anderson, for influence on the Sydney campus were hardly relevant to the North. Even the broader influence of Anderson, including his influence on Libertarian thinking and the by-blow creation of what became known as the Sydney Push, were peripheral.

Still, as I read, I realised that Alan’s analysis of student life and old left activism actually provided a useful framework for one small part of the Northern story.

At Sydney University, the left and the Christian movements often combined. The Student Christian Movement (SCM) with its sometimes radical Christian humanism was especially important here. This overlapped with the social and ideological concerns of the old left, leading to fluctuating alliances.

The University of New England has been described as Australia’s most religious campus during the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1960s, there was a clear if small left on campus. This focused especially on limited political issues, things outside the ken of most students.

By contrast, the Christian groups were very powerful measured by participation. The Roman Catholic Newman Society and Evangelical Union tended to be more religious and socially conservative, more inward looking.

The SCM was especially  large and active, as was the Methodist Youth Fellowship. A town based group that combined University and Teachers’ College, the MYF exercised a disproportionate influence relative to the proportion of Methodists in the general Australian population. This group was strongly influenced by the change waves sweeping the Methodist Church at the time.

All this made for an activist campus, but one whose manifestations were different to those holding at Sydney. It was humanitarianism within a religious rather than political ideological frame.

As I read Barcan’s book, I was a bit surprised at the number of names that I knew. That shouldn’t have surprised me, Australia was a very small world then, but it did. I was also interested in proportionally how many of those named ended up in the North. Alan himself moved to the University of Newcastle.

Peter Coleman’s review mentions Alan’s encyclopaedic approach, the depth of his research. He concludes:

I first met Barcan at Sydney University in 1946. I was 17 and he was a grand old man of 24. He was the communist editor of Honi Soit.  I look back in amazement at his encouragement of my juvenile essays in journalism - interviews, reviews, reports. His manner was generous, tolerant, good-humoured.  That is the tone of this nostalgic if sometimes melancholy history which is also memoir.

I think that’s not a bad spot to leave this post.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

History revisited – two decades of change at UNE

Concluding my story of UNE’s Vice-Chancellors, in February Professor Bruce Thom (1994-1996) arrived to become VC of the newly reconstituted University of New England.

This “institution has been cruelly treated by State and Federal Governments”, he said. “The last four years were like a bad dream”. He promised a more democratic decision making process. The University must live within its means, diversify funding and increase research output.

The new VC was quickly swamped by legacy problems, including difficulties with the School of Law and the ill-fated Turkish venture. The University’s financial reserves had been largely exhausted by the previous troubles, By July 1996, it was in financial crisis. In November, staff carried a motion of no-confidence in the VC, followed by the Council. Professor Thom had no choice but to resign.

His place was taken by Mal (Malcolm) Nairn as interim VC. Building in part on decisions already made under Professor Thom, Nairn was able to stabilise the situation. His replacement Ingrid Moses (1997-2006) arrived in July 1997. She adopted Nairn’s strategic plan and was able to build from his work. By July 2001, the financial position had been largely restored.

In many ways, Malcolm Nairn, Ingrid Moses, Alan Pettigrew (2006-2010) and James Barber (2010-2014) faced common strategic problems: variable and often prescriptive government polices and funding; limited access to alternative funding sources; difficulties in attracting internal students, along with increased competition in the external marketplace.

The University’s strategic position was poor. From the early 1980s, increased competition especially from the metropolitan universities meant that fewer students were opting for UNE. The times of trouble not only damaged the University’s reputation, but also created greater competition in regional areas. The University of the North had become the University of the North West.

Faced with these problems, all Vice-Chancellors sort to build student numbers, to preserve the University’s research activities, to develop new courses and to find new ways of doing business. There were successes, but there were also recurring problems.

At his first Sydney alumni dinner after becoming Chancellor in 2004, John Cassidy told alumni “this university is a business and must be run as one. That is my job” Sydney alumni dinner

In 2008, this view of Chancellor as Executive Chancellor exploded in a brawl over the respective roles of Chancellor and VC that put the University back on the national front pages for all the wrong reasons, leading to Mr Cassidy’s departure. Five years later, the University was back there over another Chancellor. 

In August 2012, Vice Chancellor Barber presented his plans for UNE to a Sydney alumni dinner. Within minutes, the carefully constructed question and answer session dissolved as anxious and indeed angry alumni sought reassurance that the new focus on on-line mass delivery would not further damage their university as a university (photo).

Professor Barber outlined his plans for the main campus and explained that a strong on-line side would support a deeper on-campus experience. That may well be true, but it is also true that patience with the University among the broader university community is running thin.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 March 2014. 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, here for2014.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

History revisited - College culture shapes shapes university

Continuing my story of UNE’s Vice Chancellors, in my last column I spoke of the very different cultures of the University and the Armidale and Northern Rivers Colleges of Advanced Education. Those differing cultures would be central to the perfect storm that now engulfed the University.

In December 1987, Professor Laurie Nichol (1985-1988) resigned as Vice ChanJohn Dawkins 1984cellor to take up the same position at the Australian National University. His place would be taken by Professor Don McNicol (1988-1990). That December, too, Commonwealth Education Minister John Dawkins released the Green Paper that would form the core of what became known as the Dawkins Revolution in Higher Education. 

The concept of education for national efficiency, for economic development, was central to the Dawkin’s reforms. To achieve this, universities, must become more business like, adopt new corporate models, find new sources of funding.

There were too many higher education institutions, too many small institutions. To be efficient,. they must merge. A stick and carrot approach was adopted. If you didn’t participate, Commonwealth funding would be contracted. If you did participate, then more funding would be provided.

Don McNicol, UNE’s new VC, was a former Chairman of the University Advisory Council of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, the body that had long pressed for a merger between UNE and the Armidale CAE. He fully supported the Dawkins reforms, arguing that they provided exciting opportunities.

Armidale and Northern Rivers CAEs were too small to attract funding as independent institutions, while the University was too small to join the top level of universities as defined. A sometimes frantic round of discussions began.

The end result was the creation of a new networked university incorporating not just UNE and the two colleges, but also, at its request, the Orange Agricultural College. The new university was the third biggest in NSW.

Amalgamation complete, McNicol departed to become VC at his old University, Sydney. He had been at UNE just two years.

The new Vice Chancellor, Professor Robert Smith (1990-1994), was Walcha born and a UNE graduate. He was also, like McNicol, deeply committed too and involved in the Dawkin’s reforms as a former head of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training. Now, under his leadership, the new networked university imploded.

Professor Smith was in a difficult position. Professor McNicol may have achieved amalgamation, but he had left differences in culture and strategy that had just been papered over. Northern Rivers in particular had a very clear objective, seeing the networked university as a path to ultimate full autonomy, while the old university was left without direction and increasingly resentful.

In trying to balance the various conflicts, the networked UNE developed complicated administrative structures that were the very antithesis of the original idea of a united consolidated university. Divorce became inevitable.

Importantly, during the final break-up the Armidale leadership under Principal Cliff Hawkins alienated both Orange and the Coffs Harbour University movement. Both opted for other arrangements. When, on 1 December 1994, the Armidale campus was reconstituted as an independent entity with all executive positions vacated, it was a much diminished institution.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 February 2014. 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, here for 2014.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Chinese in Australia - introducing Francis Darby Syme

The Chinese who came to Australia during the nineteenth century did so as part of an organised trade that extended well beyond Australia. We often forget this when we come to look at Chinese immigration to this country.

Francis Darby Syme appears in the early records as one who played a major role in the trade. This excerpt is from The Takao Club file on Boyd & Co.

"Boyd & Co is one of many companies that show the strong links between Formosa and Amoy that existed in the late 19th century.

The origins of Boyd and Company go back to the 1850s when Thomas Deas Boyd managed the interests of F. D. Syme & Co, which was owned by Francis Darby Syme. Syme was involved in the Coolie Trade, the shipment of indentured Fuchien labourers to work in foreign colonies and countries. It was said that the coolie from Fuchien possessed the best temperament to work long hard hours without complaint. F. D. Syme & Co shipped thousands of coolies from Amoy to Australia, Bourbon (Reunion), British Guiana, California, Havana, Hawaii, Mauritius and Peru between the years of 1845 and 1852.TDBoyd

Thomas Deas Boyd was born at Cupar, Fife, on 1 March 1831. Although the 1851 Scottish Census shows him  to be still in Scotland and working for the British Linen Bank, Thomas Deas Boyd must have come out to China shortly thereafter, for, in March 1856, he married Isabella Elder, a young lady from Fife, at Canton, China.

From Canton the young couple moved to Amoy where the 1859 China Directory shows "Thos. D. Boyd & family" to be resident and working for F. D. Syme & Co. The 1861 China Directory also shows Thomas Deas Boyd to be a merchant working for for F. D. Syme & Co, with W. A. Sturrock and W. A. Cornabé as assistants.

However, in March 1862, Francis Darby Syme sold his property at Amoy to Thomas Deas Boyd, so one can presume that Boyd took over the interests of Syme in that year.

Boyd & Co was founded at Amoy in 1862 by Thomas Deas Boyd and William Alexander Sturrock, who were both previously employed by F D Syme & Co at the same port, and they also employed William Alexander Cornabé as an assistant. By 1872, Thomas Deas Boyd had replaced his junior partner with Robert Craig, and opened offices in Takow and in Taiwanfoo. In 1873 Boyd & Co had recruited Thomas George Harkness, and the following year David Moncrieff Wright, to work at Amoy."

From the reference to thousands of coolies, you will see how big the trade was.

Wikipedia describes Amoy, a centre of Symes' operations,in this way:

"Xiamen (also known as Amoy, is a major city on the southeast (Taiwan Strait) coast of the People's Republic of China. It is administered as a sub-provincial city of Fujian province with an area of 1,699.39 square kilometres (656.14 sq mi) and population of 3,531,347 at the 2010 Census.[2] The city's urban area includes the old urban island area and covers all six districts of Xiamen and has a total urban population of 1,861,289. It also borders Quanzhou to the north and Zhangzhou making this a unique built up area of more than five million people. The Jinmen (Kinmen) Islands administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) are less than 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) away.

Xiamen and the surrounding southern Fujian countryside are the ancestral home to large communities of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. The city was a treaty port in the 19th century and one of the four original Special Economic Zones opened to foreign investment and trade when China began economic reforms in the early 1980s. It is endowed with educational and cultural institutions supported by the overseas Chinese diaspora. In 2006, Xiamen was ranked as China's second "most suitable city for living", as well as China's "most romantic leisure city" in 2011."

Wikipedia adds:

"In 1541, European traders (mainly Portuguese) first visited Xiamen, which was China's main port in the nineteenth century for exporting tea. As a result, Hokkien (also known as the Amoy dialect) had a major influence on how Chinese terminology was translated into European languages. For example, the words "Amoy", "tea" (茶; tê), "cumshaw" (感謝; kám-siā), and "Pekoe" (白毫; pe̍h-hô), kowtow (磕頭; khàu-thâu), and possibly Japan (Ji̍t-pún) and "ketchup" (茄汁; kiô-chap) originated from the Hokkien.

During the First Opium War between Britain and China, the British captured the city in the Battle of Amoy on 26 August 1841. Xiamen was one of the five Chinese treaty ports opened by the Treaty of Nanking (1842) at the end of the war. As a result, it was an early entry point for Protestant missions in China. European settlements were concentrated on the islet of Gulangyu off the main island of Xiamen. Today, Gulangyu is known for colonial architecture and the tradition of piano-playing and organized sports.Many natives of Xiamen and southern Fujian emigrated to Southeast Asia and Taiwan during the 19th and early 20th century, spreading Hokkien language and culture overseas."

Tea was a critical export for the East India Company, and part of a global trade network that included the new colonies in Australia. I gave an introductory feel for this in First Chinese connection with the newly established settlement at Port Jackson. I will talk about the Opium Wars  in another post.

The first Chinese who came to the new Australian colonies came via people like Francis Syme. Those who came during the gold rushes were part of a more complex trade. That, too, is part of another story.


Digging a little further, I came across this piece in the Glasgow Herald (8 April 1879) of a later court case that appears to involve the widow of Francis Darby Syme, again with Boyd links. I also found this piece in the Internet Archives Correspondence with the Superintendent of British Trade in China : upon the subject of emigration from that country (1853) that deals with the coolie trade.