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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

History revisited - building the institutions that would preserve and promote New England's history

BUILDING HISTORY: Eric Dunlop's recreation of a bush school room in the Museum of Education around 1958
In 1920 the first New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, put a key problem facing the North in this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area.

To try to address this problem, the Northern leadership set about institution building.

The establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College in 1928 was the first major building block. It was to include a museum that Education Minister David Drummond hoped would represent the North to students from the North. To this end, he peppered his Department with minutes demanding that they find the best possible exhibits.

Down in the Clarence, in 1931 Sir Earle Page suggested the establishment of a historical records museum, which was named the Clarence River Historical Society, with R. C. Law as Secretary. In 1935 the society affiliated with the Royal Australian Historical Society, the first country historical society to do so

In 1933, Drummond opened the Armidale Municipal Museum, proclaimed as 'the first municipally controlled museum' in the state. The museum, Drummond suggested, should be more than just a repository of specimens. To his mind, a country museum should firstly be a place for objects that are 'intimately bound up with the history of the district'; and secondly a place for things 'closely associated with the industries of the district'. He warned that, above all, the museum 'must not be allowed to become a mausoleum or dumping ground for curios'.

In 1936, the Richmond River Historical Society was founded. By 1938, it was publishing its own journal.

New institutions attract new people. Eric Dunlop was one of the people drawn to Armidale by the new Teachers’ College.

Born on 17 May 1910, Dunlop went to Fort Street Boys High School where he was taught history by CB Newling, later first principal of the Armidale Teachers' College. Newling reputedly fired Dunlop's interest in museums by setting a project for him and another student to examine and report on the Australian Museum's Captain Cook artefacts.

In 1933, Dunlop graduated from Sydney University as Master of Arts with first class honours in history in 1933. The following year with Newling’s encouragement, he took up an appointment as lecturer in history at the Armidale Teachers' College.

Dunlop stayed just two years at the College before returning to teaching. He decided that this was an error wanted to come back, but it would be 1949 before he could return. He would then take up the up the museums cause with great enthusiasm, leaving his imprint on Armidale and on the study of history.

Another of the new people drawn to Armidale by the new institutions was Jim Belshaw. New Zealand born, Belshaw arrived in Armidale early in 1938 as foundation lecturer in history and economics at the newly established University College.

The base was now set for an explosion in New England historical writing. Two very different institutions, a university and teachers’ college, would combine with local historical societies and community bodies to create a golden age in New England historiography.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 March 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.

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