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

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.