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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Season's Greetings to all my readers

I am taking a short Christmas break. I wish all my readers seasons greetings. May you have a happy Christmas and a great new year.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

History Revisited - building a New England media empire

MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: in his Extra column this week, Jim Belshaw explores the background and achievements of journalist Ernest Christian Sommerlad
In 1950, all the Northern media (press, radio and then television) was locally or regionally controlled. By 2000 all this had been swept with local media becoming part of external media empires.

One result of these changes is the disappearance in large part of the press figures that once formed such a distinctive part of Northern life. Ernest Christian Sommerlad was one such.

Earnest by nature, constantly active and a devout Christian in belief, E C Sommerlad was part journalist, part community activist and publicist, part politician, part writer, part business man whose influence endures to today.

Sommerlad was born on 30 January 1886 at Tenterfield, the youngest of twelve children. His parents, John and Louisa, had emigrated to Australia from Germany, forming part of the several waves of German immigrants that settled in the Clarence and at various localities on the Tablelands.

At eleven, Sommerlad left school to help on the family farm. Restless, he enrolled at Newington College in Sydney at the age of 21 (his classmates were all 14), passing the junior public examination in 1908. After theological training, Sommerlad left for Fiji as a missionary, but returned after six months because of a throat infection that made preaching difficult.

He remained active within the Methodist Church, this involvement providing one of the continuing threads of his life.

In February 1912, Sommerlad joined the Inverell Times as a reporter, moving three months later to the rival Inverell Argus where he quickly rose to editor. It was during this Inverell period that Sommerlad met a young sharefarmer called David Drummond. Also a devout Methodist and equally earnest, Drummond and Sommerlad formed a close friendship that spread across Sommerlad’s varied interests.

In May 1918, Sommerlad purchased the Glen Innes Examiner, laying the base that would later become Northern Newspapers, a key part of the Sommerlad publishing dynasty.  

Here three threads in Sommerlad’s life come into play.

The first was journalism and writing, interests he retained until the end of his life when in 1950, two years before his death, he published Mightier than the Sword, the first handbook on Australian journalism.

The second thread was his role as a publisher and business man. This was reflected in the growth of his own newspapers, in the role he played in local newspaper consolidation during the 1920s and then in the evolution of the country press and its association. As first general manager, then Managing Director and then Chairman of Country Press Ltd, he built the organisation into a major business.

The third thread was Sommerlad’s involvement in politics and community development.

He became actively involved in the new political movements emerging in the North after the First World War including the Country Party and the New State Movement. Totally committed to the North and Northern development, he used his paper as his pulpit to promote local and regional causes.

E C Sommerlad died in 1952. He left a considerable legacy.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 December 2015. 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, here for 2015.
This is the last column for 2015. The next column will appear in the paper on 13 January 2016, on this blog on 20 January. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

History Revisited - Guyra's link to organic farming origins

A DIFFERENT WAY TO GROW: Harold Fletcher White was one of the pioneers of organic farming from his Guyra property
I suspect that most people think of Australian organic farming as a recent development dating to the 1980s.one thread in the growing environmental movements with their interest in sustainability.

Few Australians would know that the world’s first organic farming organisation, the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society, was formed in 1944. Its periodical, the Organic Farming Digest, was the first organics advocacy journal.

If few Australians know of the early history of organic farming, fewer still would know of the New England connection with that early history.

The term organic farming was coined by Lord Northbourne, appearing first in Northbourne’s manifesto on organic farming, Look to the Land, published in London in May 1940. The book reached Australia quite quickly, and was widely and favourably reviewed.

The ideas in the book attracted attention from that linked group of New England farmers and graziers already interested in scientific farming, as well as other Northern causes. .From the beginning, the newly established New England University College had been seen as a vehicle for the advancement and application of agricultural science.

Harold Fletcher White was a key member of the New England group. Known as Bill to his friends and Colonel to everybody else, White was a formal rather stern man of firm views who commanded considerable respect.

Born in 1883, White was part of the first group of pupils at the New England Proprietary School (later The Armidale School). After TAS, he studied arts and engineering at Sydney University for two years, but gave that up to join Pitt Son & Badgery. In 1906 White returned to manage some of the family properties at Guyra.

A member of the 6th Australian Light Horse since 1906, White enlisted in 1914, finishing the War as a lieutenant-colonel. Upon return to Australia, he continued the pasture and stock improvement work that he had begun on Bald Blair.

As part of his work, White experimented with the application of fertiliser to pastures. This gave great initial yields which then diminished despite increased application of fertiliser. White concluded that much farming was soil mining, that healthy food required healthy soil, that monoculture was part of the problem. To his mind, action to increase the humus content in soils was central to sustainable agriculture.

White began to experiment with various techniques that might increase the humus content. This focus on practical experimentation was one of the features of the New England group as a whole.

White was involved with the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society from its formation to demise in 1955. Starting with the first and ending with the last publication, he contributed twenty articles to its periodical, making him the second most prolific contributor.

In 1953, he joined with Professor C Stanton Hicks to write and publish Life from the Soil setting out his ideas in some detail. The book was a considerable success, going through three editions.

The Society was forced to close in 1955 because of lack of support. However, by then it had popularised the concept of organic farming. The ideas that it and White espoused remain relevant today.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 December 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

History Revisited - Thomas' death a blow to New England's Aboriginal history

PHOTOGRAPHY PIONEER: Thomas Dick took many photographs of Aborigines in the Hastings Valley in the first decades of the 20th century
The discovery of another collection of Thomas Dick’s Aboriginal photos attracted considerable interest. Oyster grower, naturalist and photographer, Thomas Dick produced 500 photographs of the Hastings Valley that are today seen as works of art.

Thomas Dick’s grandparents settled at Port Macquarie in 1841. Grandfather John was a tanner. Thomas’s father, also John, worked in the family tannery business until taking up one of the first oyster leases on the Hastings River in the 1880s.

Thomas took up his own oyster lease in 1899. Like many at the time, this was the age of the amateur naturalist, he became fascinated by nature. This brought him into contact with the young economic zoologist Theo Roughley who had just started working at the Technological Museum in Sydney and was especially interested in fisheries.

Roughley taught Thomas the rudiments of photography and helped him buy his first camera just before the start of World War One. Thomas became hooked, setting up his own darkroom.

During the working week, Thomas worked his lease, growing and marketing his oysters. Then at the weekend, he explored his interest in natural history and photography, searching for suitable objects and backgrounds. Thomas was clearly knowledgeable, providing information both to Roughley and to Richard Baker, the Technological Museum’s curator.

Thomas is best known now for his Aboriginal photographs. “I set out years ago, he wrote in 1923, “to collect and write the history of these Aborigines, and get together, not only a fine collection of photos, but also a fine collection of implements etc., and …. a remarkable amount of information.”

Thomas’s photos were staged, itself a remarkable feat for he had to persuade his Aboriginal models to remove clothing and pose undertaking traditional tasks. He built trust, aided in some cases by payment of fees.

The photographs may have been staged, but they were authentic nevertheless. Thomas went into the mountains with the Aborigines, gaining trust and the secrets of their laws, information provided on the basis that it would not be made available until after the death of the informants.

“I was fortunate”, he later recorded, “for some of the old men were most intelligent and they recognised that their race was run, as it were, so they gave me under the conditions named, the history of their race.”

“Now by these means I secured all of the marks on the sacred trees, and their meaning, all of the rules of the ‘Waipara’ or man making ceremony.”

Tragically, Thomas Dick died on his fiftieth birthday in 1927. He had gone to study marine life in one of his favourite rock pools and seems to have been caught by a major wave.

Thomas knew the value of the information he had, but had clearly been struggling to get it down. . “I do not known when I will bring out the work for I am now too much handicapped”, he had written sadly in 1923. In that year, he also resigned as a member of the Royal Society of NSW. There were clearly problems.

With Thomas’s death, we lost access to that past he had learned about, lost the chance to establish a bridge between that past, the present and the future. This loss is particularly great for the Birpai/Biripi people themselves. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 December 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Aborigines of the Hastings Valley: more Thomas Dick photographs discovered

The ABC's 7.30 Report carried an interesting story on the discovery of more of Thomas Dick's Aboriginal photographs.

Thomas Dick (here, here) was a Port Macquarie oyster farmer and pioneer photographer who took a series of photos of Aboriginal life on the Hastings over 14 years in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The photos were posed, but Dick knew and was trusted by the Aboriginal people. On all I know, they present an authentic picture.

Thomas Dick was drowned in 1927. Sadly, the knowledge he collected died with him. He had intended to write up the stories that he had been told by the elders, but that was not to be. There was one aspect of the 7.30 Report that made me uncomfortable, and that was the suggestion that he was ostracised because of his interest in the Aboriginal people. That doesn't quite fit with a man who was  secretary to the Port Macquarie Show Society, secretary of the Regatta Club. secretary of the Church of England Parochial Council, and an alderman on the Port Macquarie Council

I will write up his story properly later. For the moment, I just wanted to record the discovery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

History Revisited - Regan embodied entrepreneurial tradition

THE FAMILY BUSINESS: Tamworth born Basil Regan traveled to England to learn the art of flour milling before returning to his home town.
The rivalry between Armidale and Tamworth is almost as old as that between Sydney and Melbourne and just as intense. Those in Armidale have sometimes seen Tamworth as hot, crass and commercial. Those in Tamworth have seen Armidale as cold, conservative and elitist, almost effete.

Of course, these views are caricatures. However, like all stereotypes, there is more than a grain of truth in them. In particular, Tamworth is simply more entrepreneurial and business focused than Armidale. To illustrate this, I want to return to the story of Basil Regan, someone I mentioned in my last column on the history of food.

John Basil Regan was born on 15 June 1903 at Tamworth, the fifth of seven children of Charles and Sarah Regan. By the time Basil was born, the Regan business interests were well established. These included Charles Regan Ltd’s store (the 'Palace of Trade'), as well as the George Fielder Phoenix Mill (photo) that had been  acquired by Charles in 1912.

After initial education by the Dominican nuns in Tamworth, Basil enrolled in 1915 at St Ignatius College in Sydney. he seems to have enjoyed his time there, but left in 1920 before completing the leaving certificate to work in the family business and especially the flour milling side.

In 1922, the nineteen year old Basil went to England where he was employed by Thomas Burton Ltd, flour-millers. He completed the London City & Guilds course in flour-milling before training at Aynsome Laboratories, St Helens, and the Woodlands Ltd laboratories, Dover.

This training would prove to be very important, for Basil would establish himself as a technological entrepreneur. 
In 1924 Basil rejoined the family businesses, managing with his cousin the new flour mill erected in West Tamworth. This became the main profit earner for the family company. Now established, Basil married Kathleen Mary Cavanagh, a striking redhead and accomplished pianist, on 30 September 1931.

In 1935 Regan began experimenting with the manufacture of gluten and starch. He employed an Irish milling engineer and by 1938 a process had been perfected, using wheat rather than corn or potatoes, and a starch factory had been erected. 'Fielders Cornflour' had been born. Not, mind you, that it actually contained cornflour!

By 1945, the Regan family enterprises were one of Tamworth’s largest employers. The main company that Basil grew is now known as Goodman Fielders.

One of the features of Tamworth business over very many decades is the way in which entrepreneurial business activities created business leaders and a pool of capital that could be deployed to other business activities. This facilitated start-ups and spread risk.

In Basil’s case, he was a board member and sometime chairman of the Tamworth Newspaper Co. Ltd, a director of East-West Airlines Ltd and later of Television New England Ltd. He was also actively involved in community activities.

A devout Catholic and a devoted family man, Basil died on 14 July 1987 at Normanhurst in Sydney , and was buried in the Tamworth cemetery. He was survived by his wife, son and three daughters,.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 November 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Food, Adelaide and nostalgia: two Australian history blogs

In searching around for material to illustrate a food story,  History Revisited - how railways helped revolutionise our food, I came across two new blogs. Well, they are not really new, just new to me!

The first is Adelaide Remember When. As you might expect from the title, it does focus on Adelaide and fits within the nostalgia trope that has become so prevalent. Those from South Australia are likely to relate most strongly, but the various posts are interesting in themselves.

The second is Australian food industry timeline, a site that includes a second blog for things that otherwise might not fit in simply called My (other) blog! This is a very good site for those like me interested in the history of food in Australia. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

History Revisited - how railways helped revolutionise our food

CLASSIC: In his column, Jim Belshaw discusses the history of food in Australia and details why we have a man called William Arnott to thank for our Iced Vovo.
This column returns to something I talked about earlier this year, the history of food in Australia.  

One of the constant issues in discussions on food is Australia’s failure to develop its own unique cuisine and, as a subset of this, our failure to develop distinct regional cuisines in the way that happened in other places.

There is truth in these complaints, although I have argued that there was far more variety than people realised. I have also attacked the idea that our food somehow became more varied following the migrant intake after the Second World War.

At one level it did, but what we now see as variety is actually far less varied than the food we ate at points in Australia’s past. Current cuisine is also homogenized and packaged through magazines and cooking shows that present a standardized cross-country view that focuses on novelty.

Like lemmings, we are meant to rush off and do the latest thing together! Fashion rules, leading to food fashion cycles. You can see this clearly in the changing restaurant mix. In one day, out the next.

The role played by cooking shows and by the chain stores in imposing culinary uniformity is the latest manifestation of a long trend dating back to the industrial revolution.

The industrial revolution gave us faster transport, trains and ships, along with refrigeration and other new food preserving techniques. It also gave us an increased range of food additives designed to enhance appearance and taste.

These new developments hit Australia suddenly. The rapidly spreading railway network allowed food stuffs to be shipped more easily. Then from the 1870s, came the rapid spread to industrial food manufacturing and packaging.

These dates are important. Commissioner Macdonald established his headquarters in Armidale in 1839. The railway came to Armidale in 1883, just 44 years later. That was not a lot of time to build a unique local cuisine!

The new food businesses developed into major industrial empires. Scotsman William Arnott emigrated to Australia in 1848. He prospered in Maitland as a baker and pastry cook, only to be wiped out in the great double Hunter floods of 1857.

In 1865, Arnott re-established himself in Newcastle, achieving quick success especially with the supply of sweet and plain biscuits and ships' biscuits. His biscuits were sold to the growing number of ships in port and distributed to Sydney be sea and along the growing railway network. The Arnott’s biscuit empire had been born. .

Later, the Regan family and especially John Basil Regan (1903-1987) would build Tamworth based Fielder’s into a national food empire. Basil Regan played a major role in the twentieth century development of Tamworth, contributing also to other Northern causes including decentralization and the growth of the New England University College.

I can recognise the benefits that the new food companies brought to consumers. However, I also can’t help wishing that the process had been just a little slower, a little less all-consuming. That would have given us a better chance to develop our own unique cuisine.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 November 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

History Revisited - Flying into city's aviation history book

WOMEN IN THE FORCE: In this week's column, Jim Belshaw delves into the region's aviation history by looking at the story of Jeanne Upjohn who became involved with flying as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Airforce 
This column returns to the early days of civil aviation in New England.

When East-West Airlines started passenger flights in 1948, Jeanne Upjohn became one of its first two hostesses. The other was Carmel Paul.

Jeanne had become involved with flying during the war as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). Formed in March 1941 after considerable lobbying by women keen to serve and by the Chief of the Air Staff who wanted to release male personnel serving in Australia for service overseas, the WAAAF was the first and largest of the World War II Australian Women's Services. In all, around 27,000 women served in the WAAF.

Upon joining the WAAF, Jeanne undertook an equipment officer’s course and was sent to Laverton base as corporal in charge of a unit of six women. There she was promoted rapidly, with men as well as women reporting to her, itself something of a challenge. She also met and would subsequently marry Flight Lieutenant Bill Upjohn.

As EWA was being formed, Bill applied to become a pilot but was ruled out on health grounds. Jeanne then put her hand up to become a hostess. To her, the thought of becoming part of the aircrew was exciting after her years as ground crew.

At 5 foot 7 inches, Jeanne was quite a tall women, while the planes were small. She was told that if you can fit, mate, you’re in. She did, just!

These were very much make-do days. The male pilots wore their old air-force uniforms, while Jeanne modified her WAAF uniform to create the first hostess uniform. Later, she would design the first unique EWA hostess uniform for us as a summer uniform.

EWA began flying with small seven seater Avro Anson planes. Given their small size, the hostesses would normally seat the passengers, make sure that they were comfortable, give them a minty and then send them off! Only on special flights would seats be removed so that the hostess could travel with the plane.

One such involved, Cyril Garbett, the Archbishop of York. He was brought to the plane in Moree accompanied by various dignitaries and a police escort. In full church regalia, the 73 year old Archbishop was crimson faced in the high heat, as was his secretary.

The flight to Coffs Harbour was marked by thermals that threw the plane up two or three thousand feet and then down again. The poor and now ill Archbishop begged for tea, but it was just too rough for him to drink it. It was a trip he would not forget.

In the last days of 1949, the Ansons were at last replaced by Lockheed Hudson planes. East West took out  the normal 12 seats, replacing them with 24 smaller ones with a narrow aisle in the middle. Now the hostesses traveled with the plane.

To Jeanne, one enduring memory was the friendships established with the regular customers who treated the plane in much the same way as they did their own car. It was very much a family thing.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 November 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Rediscovering The History Carnival

Thanks to Hels from Art and Architecture, mainly. I have rediscovered The History Carnival. Started in January 2005, The History Carnival is a monthly showcase of blog writing about history, usually held on the 1st day of the month. It's hosted at a different blog each month to provide a variety of approaches and perspectives.

I followed The History Carnival early on, then lost sight of it in the pressures of day to day life. I actually didn't realise that it was still going! Indeed, it seems to have gathered strength since I last looked!

I encourage you to have a browse  (link above). It's a very good way of catching up on history interests.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Updated History blog list

I have now completed editing my current history blog list page. Each entry should now open in a new window. If you have a history blog or know of one that you think should be included, please email me at ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

History Revisited - ice factor in ancient lives

COUNTRY CHANGES: A clue as to why the Aborigines did not use the bow and arrow can be found in the Danish National Museum. The spear was a more efficient weapon in open terrain. 
Have you ever wondered why the Australian Aborigines never adopted the bow and arrow? They had access to the technology, for the bow and arrow was used by New Guinea peoples with whom the Aborigines on Cape York had regular contact.

On the surface, adoption of bow and arrow would seem to have made great sense. It’s a fearsome weapon, useful in hunting as well as warfare. In fact, the Aborigines probably rejected it on a purely practical grounds.

While I had always suspected this, I hadn’t properly realised why until my visit to the Danish National Museum.

There I found that the heavy glaciers that had covered much of Denmark since the onset of the Late Glacial Maximum began to retreat around 13,000 years ago. As they did, human beings moved back into previously ice covered territories that became first tundra and then light forest. The still sparse human populations survived by hunting reindeer and gathering what vegetable foods were available.

Around 8,300 years ago, temperatures rose sharply. The reindeer moved north, to be replaced by elks and aurochs, a now extinct wild ox. Both are seriously big animals. Looking at the skeletal remains in the museum, my first thought was just how hard and dangerous the hunt must have been.

As temperatures rose, the previous open forest was replaced by dense forest of aspen, birch and pine. This was the point at which bows and arrows appear to have replaced spears as the primary hunting weapon and for purely practical reasons. In thick bush, a bow and arrow was a more effective weapon than a spear.

The position in Australia was very different. There the more open terrain in combination with animal size made the spear, throwing stick and boomerang more efficient weapons.

This is also where regular burning emerged as a cultivation device. Down on the Liverpool Plains, for example, fire kept the country open, encouraging the animals that the Aborigines liked to hunt.

The Danish experience also throws light on the reasons why the Aborigines did not adopt farming.

We know that the Aborigines knew about garden cultivation in New Guinea. We know that Aboriginal management of land resources became quite intense, especially during that period of change called intensification that began 6-5,000 years ago when population seem to have grown quite rapidly. And yet agriculture did not emerge.

If we now look at the Danish experience, we find that the hunter-fisher culture survived for millennia in co-existence with emerging agricultural communities further south. The reason was quite simple. Why bother?

The Danish hunter-fisher communities could make a decent living from their traditional life style. They could also and did trade with the emerging agricultural communities, providing raw materials in return for goods. There was no need to change; they were doing quite well as it was.

Something similar applied in Australia. Why trade an open life for sedentary life with its long hours and risks when you were doing quite well as it was? It just didn’t make sense!
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 28 October 2015. 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 for2014, here for 2015.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

History Revisited - Danish insights on New England's past

CELEBRATING THE PAST: Jim Belshaw spent hours in the Danish National Museum during his recent trip to Europe
I have been away, arriving back from Europe Saturday very jet lagged. While the primary objectives of the trip were to spend some time with eldest and to follow the Rugby World Cup, history became an inevitable part of the journey. I can’t help myself, you see!

The trip began in Copenhagen where Helen is working for Danish shipping company Maersk. With Helen still working during the day, I roamed Copenhagen looking at the buildings and visiting the various attractions.

The Danish National Museum is very good. There was much to see. However, I fear I spent my entire time in the section dedicated to Danish prehistory!

The University of New England was one of the first in Australia if not the first to include world prehistory in its history course. A little later, it was the first to introduce Australian prehistory and archaeology as an honours course. I was lucky to be one of the early guinea pigs.

With this background, several things struck me as I looked at the exhibits and explanations on the different stages in the prehistory of that area that would become Denmark. One was the level of detail.

At 43,000 square kilometres, Denmark is something over a third of the size of the New England North West region. That smaller size allows for much more detailed coverage in both research and presentation. There is no equivalent museum display for the Aboriginal peoples of Northern NSW.

The second thing that struck me, and I was to feel this many times over the trip, was the advance in knowledge since I first studied Australian and world prehistory. It’s actually daunting.

At the highest level, the combination of new techniques in areas such as DNA analysis and dating are constantly reshaping our understanding of the deep human past. To a degree, this has outrun our capacity to absorb new knowledge, at least at popular level. There past but now invalidated conclusions remain firmly fixed in our minds.

At local level, work done by Danish archaeologists has pushed back dates and provided a detailed understanding of the changing pattern of human life in the face of constant environmental change. I was especially interested in the impact of the freezing Late Glacial Maximum (LGM) and then the subsequent warming associated with the arrival of the Holocene period.

In some of my columns I tried to tell the New England story of these periods. Now I was comparing my local understanding with the patterns in another place.

There are obvious similarities as well as differences. In both New England and Denmark, the cold dry conditions pushed human occupation back. Conditions were worse in Denmark, with much of the area covered by glaciers. However, the broad patterns remained similar.

As the LGM eased, the climate became warmer, while sea levels started to rise. Both plant and animal life responded to these changes, leading to progressive changes in patterns of human life. In both Denmark and Northern NSW, land was reoccupied, while human populations increased with more intense utilisation of the stabilising landscape.

However, there were also significant differences in response between the two areas directly associated with differences in food resources and raw materials. I will continue this story in my next column. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 21 October 2015. 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 for2014, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

History Revisited - a celebrated life for Gardner

Oban cemetery, November 1973. Around 100 people gathered to see the unveiling of a headstone for William Gardner, the pioneer chronicler of Northern Tablelands’ life.

By then, many historians had drawn from Gardner’s manuscript chronicles. Recognising his importance, the Armidale and District Historical Society raised a fund to pay for the headstone on Gardner’s previously unmarked grave.

I suspect that we don’t sufficiently recognise the importance of the work done by the Society over the years since its formation. This is a simple example of its enduring legacy. I draw on its work all the time.  

Back at Oban, Lionel Gilbert gave a short talk on Gardner’s life and achievements. The headstone was then unveiled by Oban owner Mr J Bennett, after which the multitude adjourned for lunch.

But who, in all this, was William Gardner?

William Gardner (1802-1860) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. In April 1838 he sailed from Leith in Scotland arriving in Sydney five months later.

We know little of Gardner’s life in the thirty six years before he sailed for Sydney. He was clearly an educated man and may have spent some time in the US, for in 1848 he published a pamphlet on the possibility of growing of cotton in NSW.

Gardner was aware of conditions on the frontier. The copy of the Sydney Gazette that carried news of his arrival also carried editorial on the Myall Creek massacre. Despite this, he soon moved north.

After working in a store at Maitland, Gardner moved to the newly-opened New England plateau about 1842, becoming a tutor at the late Henry Dumaresq's Saumarez station near Armidale.

A keen horseman, Gardner travelled widely over the district, and compiled the first detailed map of the northern districts of New South Wales, published in September 1844 in Baker's Australian County Atlas. This reveals competent draughtsmanship and painstaking attention to such details as roads, tracks and station properties.

From 1853 Gardner was employed as tutor at Moredun (October 1853–September 1854), Rockvale (October 1854–September 1855), Mount Mitchell, and at Andrew Coventry's Oban station (1858-60).

Gardner did not marry. The reasons are unclear.

There were not many available single women at this period, and he seems to have enjoyed his single life. Instead, he devoted himself to wide and varied cultural interests. These included sketching and later photography as well as writing. A sound judge of horses, he advised Gideon Lang in 1857 on the selection of horses for the Indian army.
Gardner's later writings were not published, but were kept in large manuscript notebooks. I made them for my own amusement, he wrote. They are a treasure trove of information about the early years of New England, including sketches and drawings of old homesteads and natural features.

Gardner died on 10 September 1860 and was buried at Oban in a then unmarked grave.

We know from descriptions and reminiscences that he was highly respected and greatly missed, including by those he taught. Not a bad legacy, I think.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 September 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

History Revisited - Armidale plays a big role in Proctor's life

GLAMOROUS EVENT: Thea Proctor's interest in decorative work strengthened by her participation in annual The Chelsea Arts Club Ball.

Artist Thea Proctor was 23 or just 24 when she arrived in London 1903. It was an exciting time.

In addition to her close relationship with George Lambert, she mixed with the other Australian expatriate artists including Charles Condor, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, artists whose paintings can be found in the New England Regional Art Museum.

Proctor became preoccupied with line, colour and form, concentrating on drawing and water colour painting. Here she was influenced by Condor’s fan designs, Japanese prints and the drawings of the French neo-classical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Her interest in decorative work was also highlighted by the Chelsea Arts Club balls with their elaborate costumes and through exposure to the Ballets Russes.

Founded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1909, the Paris based Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century. Diaghilev consciously tried to promote artistic collaborations among leading young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers. As part of this, he commissioned works from composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, artists such as, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and designer Coco Chanel.

The impact on Thea seems to have been considerable. .After seeing the Ballets Russes in 1911, she exclaimed “it would be difficult to imagine anything more beautiful and inspiring”.

Thea’s art works, her decorative fans and drawings, were well received. However, I am left wondering at the extent to which this focus was gender connected. We know from other writing including the biographies of Australia artist Stella Bowen as well as that of Dora Carrington that decoration was seen as a more acceptable female role.

Thea returned to Australia in 1912, but finding the market unresponsive she moved back to England late in 1914, achieving more critical success. Then, with many other expatriate artists including George Lambert, she returned to Australia following the war.

In Sydney she became active in the Society of Artists and in 1925 held a joint exhibition in Sydney and Melbourne with Margaret Preston. Both artists included brightly coloured wood cuts in scarlet frames. While Proctor’s work was comparatively conservative, it was seen as ‘dangerously modern’ in Australian terms.

The next year, she joined with Lambert and others to found the Contemporary Group to promote young avante garde artists.

While Proctor’s work achieved considerable critical and indeed popular success, she needed to supplement her income through teaching art and writing.

Always elegantly dressed and considered an arbiter of taste, Thea wrote on fashion, flower arranging, colours for cars and interior decoration. In the 1920s she organized artists' balls; in 1932 she designed the fashionably modern Lacquer Room restaurant for Department store Farmer & Co; and in the 1940s produced theatre décor.

Thea continued to paint throughout her life and to play an active role in encouraging young artists. Unmarried, she died at Potts Point on 29 July 1966. It had been a long and interesting life from her birth in Armidale and those early years at NEGS.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 September 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

History Revisited - Thea Proctor: from NEGS to the art world of Edwardian London

SCHOOL GROUNDS: Renowned artist Thea Proctor lived in Armidale for a brief period before returning to study at the New England Girls School. Proctor would go on to study art in the vibrant world of Edwardian London.
For most, to be born or educated in Armidale is to leave the city. Their journeys have taken them all over the world and into every aspect of life.

Artist Alethea Mary (Thea) Proctor was born in Armidale on 2 October 1879, the oldest child of William Consett Proctor and his Queensland born wife Kathleen Janet Louisa, née Roberts.

Thea’s father had come to Armidale as a solicitor. He became involved in local government and was Mayor of the City in 1877. In December 1880, he was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as Member for New England, a position he was to hold until January 1887.

Some time after his election, the family moved to Sydney, living comfortably at Hunters  Hill. Then in 1889, Thea was sent back to Armidale to board at NEGS. Her parents’ marriage had become troubled. They separated in 1892, divorcing in 1897. On 24 August 1903 William Proctor again married. His new wife was Julia Cusack. They would have one son and three daughters.

It is not clear what contact Thea retained with her father or, later, with her half brothers and sisters. Following the separation, she went to live at Bowral with her maternal grandparents. They encouraged her interest in art. artistic pursuits. In 1894, while attending Lynthorpe Ladies' College, Thea won a prize at the Bowral Amateur Art Society's exhibition. Because of this connection, Bowral claims Thea as its own.

In 1896, Thea enrolled at Julian Ashton's art school. The school emphasized drawing and the latest decorative ideas in composition.

This was an exciting time in Australian art. Thea became fully absorbed in a world in which art and personal relations were closely interlinked. Her fellow students included Elioth Gruner, George Lambert and Sydney Long. She became briefly engaged to Long in 1899, but it was with Lambert she formed the closest relationship.

In 1899, she worked with with Lambert, Long, and others on the short-lived Australian Magazine.. Then in 1903, Thea followed the now established art trail to London where she studied at St John's Wood Art Schools and with Lambert. She was described at this time as 'beautiful, tall, dark-haired, languorous and dignified'.

Years later, she retained this beauty. “Miss Proctor received us in something between a tea gown and a peignoir”, Barry Humphries would write. :”She was tall and still very beautiful, with her long hair caught back in a bun. One recognised without difficulty the striking young woman who appears in more than one of George Lambert’s most celebrated paintings.”

The exact relationship between Proctor and Lambert remains uncertain. She posed for him and frequented his household. She found him intellectually stimulating, became 'doggedly devoted' to him, establishing a life long friendship. It was clearly a friendship that had multiple levels.

It may seem a long way from Armidale and the NEGS dormitories of the 1880s to the vibrant intellectual life of London and Paris at the start of the twentieth century, but that (in a way) is the Armidale story. Our tentacles reach across time and space in often unseen ways.

I will complete Thea’s story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 September 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

History Revisited - Aboriginal nurse Emma Jane Callaghan: the lady who became an institution

HOME SWEET HOME: Emma Jane Callaghan was born at the La Perouse Aboriginal Reserve in 1884. This photo shows a a group at La Perouse from the 1890s. Emma would go on to build a career in nursing and in promoting Aboriginal health.
Emma Jane Callaghan (1884-1979) was a remarkable woman whose life was recorded by Shay Ann Kelly.

Born at the La Perouse Aboriginal Reserve in Sydney on 28 February 1884,
she was the younger twin of William Foot and Kathleen Sims. William was a fisherman, while Kathleen was a member of the Dharawal tribe.

Emma injured her head when she was four. She was looked after by Retta Dixon who would found the Aborigines' Inland Mission of Australia, establishing a relationship that would shape Emma’s life.

Although she had left school after third grade, Emma wanted to be a nurse. About 1903 Dixon took her to visit the Dunggutti (Dainggatti) people at the Nulla Nulla Aborigines' Reserve near Bellbrook in the Upper Macleay Valley.

Emma decided that she had a mission to help her people. Two years later she returned to Bellbrook. There she held religious services in the open air under trees or in the small tin church on the reserve, learning to play the organ. She also helped older Aboriginal women when they assisted in childbirth, earning their trust and respect.

Emma registered Aboriginal births. regularly searching the camps and humpies for sick people, crossing flooded creeks and riding through the bush to tend her patients: At the time, Aboriginal people were not admitted to Kempsey hospital and would not be until an annexe was built in the 1930s.. She also buried the dead with the police as witnesses.

At Bellbrook, Emma met and fell in love with a young Dunggutti labourer, Athol Callaghan. They married on 20 September 1909 at the Nulla Nulla Reserve. Athol was 22, three years younger than Emma. They would have eleven children.

Apart from her other skills, Emma was a competent needlewoman. She made her own hats and clothes as well as clothes for the community including wedding dresses and ball gowns. She also extended her knowledge of the local language, translating Bible stories into Dunggutti.

Athol developed tuberculosis. Around 1928, the family moved to Armidale to be closer to medical facilities. There Emma displayed again that energy that was such a trade mark feature.

Emma herself became highly respected and encountered no personal prejudice. However, that was not universally true for Armidale’s Aboriginal community who were living in appalling conditions on the fringes of the town.

Emma again practiced as midwife to her people, nursing them without charge She lobbied the mayor and the Anglican bishop until her family obtained a house.. This became an impromptu hospital and doctor’s surgery, with Dr Ellen Kent Hughes regularly visiting to see patients.

After seven years in Armidale, the family returned to La Perouse at Athol’s request. There Emma bought a block of land near the mission and built a timber and fibro house to plans provided by her friend Kent Hughes.

At La Perouse, Emma was just as active as she had been in the North. By the time she died in 1979, she had become an institution, “The Lady”. In recognition, the State government preserved her home in 1985.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 August 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

History Revisited - Dymphna Cusack: writing her own story

RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT: Armidale educated Dymphna Cusack travelled the World during her writing career
From time to time in this column I have commented on the many writers with New England connections. Dymphna Cusack (1902-1981) is another such writer.

Dymphna Cusack was born in 11 September 1902 at Wyalong, the third of six surviving children of Beatrice and James Cusack. The combination of straightened family circumstances with the girl’s ill-health led to her being brought up by her childless aunt and uncle, Nell and Tom Leahy at Guyra.

Dymphna was very much alone during those bush years apart from her Aunt and Uncle and her cat, William Adolphus. However she loved animals, fishing and time spent outdoors. Her uncle was a keen fisherman, and they often went fishing together. Later, she would live in many great cities across the world, but she remained a bush girl at heart.

The child read omnivorously. She also discovered a love of teaching when the headmaster at Guyra Primary (“what a man! what a teacher!) let her take over lower classes when their teachers were away.

In 1917, Dymphna was sent to board at St Ursula’s in Armidale. I have commented before on the contribution that St Ursula’s made to New England’s cultural life. Founded by German nuns in 1882, the school still (in Dymphna’s words) “bore their imprint in its reverence for learning for learning’s sake, and in its rigid discipline.”

Importantly, the school trained girls for University entrance. As a consequence, in 1920 Dymphna won an exhibition and Teachers’ College scholarship to study at the University of Sydney, taking her place in 1922. Upon graduation, she embarked on a teaching career while also writing.

Dymphna wrote her first play while at University, followed by three more that were all well received. In 1936 came her first published novel, Jungfrau, a tale of personal relationships and moral conflicts based on her University experiences.

By the time of her death, she had published twelve novels (two of which were collaborations), seven plays, three travel books, two children's books and one non-fiction book. She also helped Catherine Edmonds write Caddie. Caddie, Red Sky at Morning, and Come in Spinner (written with Florence James) all became Australian films or television shows. Another . book, Heatwave in Berlin, was staged and televised across the Soviet Union as part of the 1965 celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of victory over fascism.

The themes in Dymphna’s work reflected her changing life experiences, taking her far from that early New England life. Yet her love of the county remained and was reflected in some of the descriptions and memories contained in her writing.

In 1961 she returned to her earlier memories in Picnic Races. The setting is the imaginary gold mining town of Gubba, one that combines echoes of Bathurst and Goulburn as well as her beloved New England.

Her husband, Norman Freehill, described the book as a deceptively light-hearted yet profoundly critical study of rural Australia against a pioneering background which was her own.

The sometimes malicious anecdotes and passing descriptions in the book would be instantly recognisable even today, a trait that she shares with other New England writers.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 August 2015. 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, here for 2015.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Janine Rizzetti's review of Klaus Neumann's Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees. A History

Janine Rizzetti's The Resident Judge of Port Phillip remains one of my favourite history blogs. I mention this now because she has written a number of very good posts, most recently a book review,
‘Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees. A History’ by Klaus Neumann.

From Janine's summary, I suspect that this is a book I should read for both personal and professional reasons. I also hadn't realised  until I read the post that former Fraser Government Immigration Minister Michael MacKellar had died. Janine has a link to his obituary in the Age. . 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

History Revisited - Mallaby shared his soap with the world

AUSTRALIAN INFLUENCE: Armidale's renowned soap maker travelled to Paris for the World Exhibition in 1900 
In an earlier column on Armidale industry, I referred to Mallaby’s Soap. Its golden bar soap was perfect for toilets or washing laces, silks and woollens, while scrubbing the table, floors, pots and pans with Mallaby’s pumice stone soap made them much cleaner.

I don’t remember Mallaby’s Soap, production finished by early 1942, but I certainly remember those scrubbed tables that you used to find in country kitchens.

In 1900, George Mallaby attended the World Exhibition in Paris. Held in pavilions stretching from the Eiffel Tower, the Exhibition was not just a display of the miracles of the new, but also a celebration of the wonderful Art Nouveau style, bringing that into public prominence.

The old European order that would be swept away by the Great War was its peak, and countries vied with each other for the grandeur of their exhibits, joined by chambers showcasing science and industry. If you google the Exhibition, you will find early colour photos of the whole show. It was quite something.

It is not clear what Armidale’s George Mallaby made of the whole thing, although I’m sure that he found it interesting. His purpose was more pragmatic, to exhibit his soap for which he apparently won a gold medal. He also took the opportunity, and this was probably the primary purpose of the trip, to visit England after a very long break. His parents had died and he wanted to visit their grave and pay for the cemetery plot. 

We know from John Harvey’s story of his grandfather (New England Lives II) that George Mallaby was born on 13 December 1860 at Osset, West Riding, Yorkshire. On 21 May 1882, George married the twenty year old Faith Furness. Both had been working in the mills.

In August the following year, the young couple set sail for Australia. After a relatively brief stay in Dubbo, the family moved to Armidale around early 1885 to escape the Western Plains heat. There George began making soap in a copper in the backyard.

By the time of George’s visit to England in 1900, he had established a successful business and had also acquired considerable real estate. Just as well, for there were now seven children!

I have written before about the way the new Great Northern Railway reduced many local activities because of the competition from imported goods. In the Mallaby case, George was able to use the railway to gain business, shipping soap south to Werris Creek, north to the Queensland border, thus consolidating his business. Nearby Hillgrove with its gold mines was also a profitable market.

Many of the patterns of life in Armidale and the North more broadly were linked to varying forms of religious observance. The Mallabies were strict Methodists, although Faith and George appear to have mellowed somewhat in later years.

Saturdays were preparation for Sundays, with the boys filling the wood box and polishing shoes. On Sunday, oldest daughter Emma stayed home to prepare the roast while the rest of the family went to church. No embroidering or reading for pleasure was allowed, while music was limited to hymns.

George Mallaby died in 1926, Faith died less than a year later. By then, the young couple from working class England had been able to provide for their now large family, giving them the opportunities they had lacked. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 August 2015. 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, here for 2015.