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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

History revisited – Thompson’s separatist fire burns well

Tamworth Observer editor Victor Thompson could not have foreseen the scale of impact of the Northern self-government campaign he launched through the paper in January 1920. Over 1920, the movement grew and grew.

Following the initial success of the Thompson campaign, a meeting of Northern newspapers held at Glen Innes in March 1920 agreed to form a New State Press League and Press Propaganda Executive with Thompson as secretary to direct an intensive propaganda campaign.

Over the next twelve months, the twenty-seven newspapers that had joined the League funded the Propaganda Executive to distribute news and editorial material to Northern newspapers. By August 1920, sixty newspapers from the Upper Hunter to the border were publishing League material.

The Thompson campaign coincided with campaigning for the NSW State election.

Earle Page had already been elected to the Federal Parliament in 1918 as member for Cowper representing the newly formed County Party. Now the March State election saw the election of a number of members for the newly formed Progressive Party including Mick Bruxner and David Drummond who had specifically campaigned on the new state cause.

In April 1920, the Tamworth Municipal Council circularised other councils in the North asking for an expression of opinion on the desirability of new states. Many reported enthusiastic support and followed Tamworth’s example by calling public meetings to launch new state leagues. By the end of May, fifty four councils were prepared to take action.

The Northern parliamentarians, particularly Page, Bruxner and Drummond helped the cause by speaking on tour and by assisting in the establishment of local leagues.

In late May, Drummond was the main speaker at a 5,000 strong Tamworth rally. The rally was preceded by a procession more than a mile long including 500 children clad in white. Denied a half holiday for the event, the children deserted school to march anyway.

In August, a Glen Innes conference appointed a provisional central executive for the newly forming Northern New State Movement pending a full convention to be held in Armidale. Following this, Progressive Party Parliamentarians Raymond Perdriau and David Drummond were appointed to organise the North Coast and Inland respectively.

December saw the publication of what would come to be called the new state bible, Australia Subdivided. Largely edited by Glen Innes Examiner editor Ernest Sommerlad with a foreword signed by seven parliamentarians, Australia Subdivided provided a detailed presentation of the new state case. It also bemoaned the absence of teachers’ colleges or universities in the North, a view that would be of considerable importance to Armidale’s future.

At year’s end, Page could fairly write to Thompson “Altogether, I think that you will be satisfied with the results of your labours this year. The fire you started has travelled far, and burnt well.”

The fire had indeed burnt well. However, now the new Movement faced major challenges in turning the dream into practical reality.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 August   2014, the next in a series telling the story of the Northern or New England self-government moment. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they 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.

If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series

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