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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

History Revisited - Tale of a blossoming city

TRANSFORMATION: After once being described as unprepossessing, Jim Belshaw says Armidale is now beautiful
Today Armidale is, rightly, seen as a beautiful city. Yet it’s not always been seen in that way.

Writing in 1963, a geographer at the University described Armidale’s aspect as unprepossessing. With rare exceptions, it was an urban hodge-podge, lacking buildings that were distinguished, elegant or stately. Sometimes its vistas were enhanced by colour changes in its surrounding rural landscapes and in the blossoms and foliage of exotic trees planted a thin profusion in parts of the town. At best this relief was temporary, confined to only a few weeks in Autumn and Spring.

If you lived in the city at the time you could see his viewpoint, although many locals bristled at his words.

The city had grown in fits and starts. Brick homes sat next to sometimes rundown wood cottages. Recurrent droughts and associated water restrictions were common..

Constantly short of money because of its limited rate base, the Council had been reluctant to spend on civic improvements. Indeed, there were moves to try to subdivide open space including Drummond Park and the proposed arboretum to increase population and rates.. Some roads were still un-tarred, although the position here was improving.

Twenty years later, the city was transformed. The apparently ugly duckling had become a swan. There would be losses in that transformation, but by happen stance, sheer luck and some good decisions, the result was a generally harmonious whole creating a unique character.

Armidale began with good bones, a creek and two hills. The visual possibilities of this landscape were always there. It just took time to realise.

The initial town straggled. In 1848, a grid pattern was imposed on this by surveyor John James Galloway. It was meant to run north-south, east west, but Galloway was forced to shift this slightly to accommodate existing buildings. Still, order had arrived.

The area covered by the grid pattern that would become the municipality was limited in size. A bit over 3.2 square miles, 2,060 acres, on the old measurement. And so it remained until, I think, 1961 when the city boundaries were finally extended.

As the city grew in the 1950s it extended into the adjoining Dumaresq Shire. There, freed from restrictions, new road and settlement patterns emerged. You can see this clearly today on the map.

Within the traditional city boundaries, a distinct pattern emerged with different types of architecture linked to time. location and money. Time because the architecture reflected the prevailing fashions. Location and money because that determined where you could afford to live, how much you could afford to spend on your dwelling.

Larger dwellings emerged near the main street and then further up South Hill. Generally on large blocks, these faced north, looking down the valley. Victorian Armidale, what I call the old city, had been born.

The survival of these dwellings would become critical in the transformation of Armidale. However, that is only part of the story of the birth of the Armidale swan. That story I will continue in my next column. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 January 2016. 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, here for 2016.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

History Revisited - how Tamworth's paper became a leader

CHANGING TIMES: Jim Belshaw's column this week focuses the history of the Tamworth newspaper the Northern Daily Leader
I hope that you had a happy Christmas. May 2016 bring peace and happiness.

My last column summarized the life and career of Ernest Christian Sommerlad. This column continues the story of the Northern pressmen, they were nearly all men, who had such an influence on New England life over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Albert Edward Joseph was born at Gympie in Queensland on 9 November 1873. the third son of Henry and Rebecca Joseph. Following the death of both his parents, the twelve year old Albert was sent to Tamworth to live with his Uncle Solomon, the publisher of the bi-weekly Tamworth News.

While attending the  Tamworth Grammar School, Joseph decided to become a surveyor and joined the Survey Branch of the Land’s Department.. Committed to Tamworth and the North, he managed to stay working at the Tamworth Local Land Board Office for twenty years by the simple expedient of refusing every promotion!

Upon his Uncle’s death, control of the Tamworth News had passed to G A Codrington. Joseph may have been was working as a surveyor, but he retained his interest in newspapers. In 1908, he put together a deal that allowed him to buy the rival Tamworth Observer with effect from 1 January 1909.

Within two years, Joseph floated the Tamworth Newspaper Coy Ltd. This purchased both the News and Observer, with Joseph becoming Managing Director of the new company. In 1920, the Tamworth Daily Observer was renamed the Northern Daily Leader.

Writing later, Albert Joseph said: "There is substance in the; claim that the paper that can be delivered at the breakfast table will dominate the thought's of those amongst whom it circulates. At least it will tend to develop a distinctive community of opinions and ideals. and thus to become a focus of political and social thought in the life of the region.”

With these words as guidance, Victor Thompson as editor, Joseph as business leader, the Observer/Northern Daily Leader aggressively extended its reach following the railway lines. Within a few years, the paper became the dominant daily over a territory extending from Tenterfield on the border to Moree in the west, Murrrurundi in the south. As late as 1960, the Leader was outselling the Sydney Morning Herald in Armidale.

The tone of the paper was unapologetically Northern, campaigning on causes from self government to the university movement. It was also prepared to spend on things that could not be immediately justified in circulation terms, including literary pages. This made the paper a driving force, a focus for Northern activism and a clearing house for the ideas and enthusiasms of the North. .

Beyond the paper, Joseph played a key role in the formation of the Associated Northern Dailies, in the Country Press Association and in a variety of community activities. He was a foundation member of the Advisory Council created to guide the newly created New England University College.

By the time of his death in 1947, Joseph was seen as a key Northern figure whose life was marked not just by his professional career nor by his community activities, but by his kindness and personal contribution to so many.

“Of Joseph it can truly be said”, Profesor A E Bland later said, “that a man s virtue is measured, not by his extraordinary efforts, but by his everyday conduct.”
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 January 2016. 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, here for 2016.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ancient stone artifacts discovered on Sulawesi

Interesting piece by Michael Greshko (Stone Tools Point to Mysterious Neighbor of Flores ‘Hobbit’) in National Geographic reporting on the latest archaeological work on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Stone tools found there appear to predate the arrival of modern humans to the area by more than 60,000 years
The perplexing artifacts, announced on Wednesday in Nature, are most likely between 118,000 and 194,000 years old, though some may be even older. The keen-edged flakes of stone were excavated from an ancient river floodplain in southwest Sulawesi, near the present-day village of Talepu. Some even bear telltale signs of being hammered into shape.But today’s best evidence indicates that modern Homo sapiens didn’t arrive on neighboring islands until about 50,000 years ago, well after the mysterious toolmakers left their wares behind. The find further indicates that some earlier form of human was more successful at traversing the south Pacific’s island networks than previously believed.
Gerrit van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong in Australia, the study’s lead author, says that the tools likely were made by Homo erectus, an ancient hominin that lived on nearby islands beginning at least 1.5 million years ago. It’s also possible that the toolmakers are yet-undiscovered relatives of Homo floresiensis, a “hobbit” hominin found on the island of Flores, just south of Sulawesi, between 18,000 and 95,000 years ago, if not earlier.
This discovery is the latest of many that has been dramatically transforming our understanding of the more distant human past. In time, these discoveries are likely to affect our interpretation of Aboriginal prehistory.

Recent discoveries on Barrow Island now off the West Australian coast appear to have pushed the confirmed date for Aboriginal occupation of Australia to between 50,000 and 53,000 years ago. The issue then becomes how the Aborigines fitted into a pattern of human dispersal that was far more complex than that realised even a decade ago.


I wrote a slightly longer muse piece on my personal blog. The Sulawesi discoveries: where does Australian prehistory fit? John Hawks had a useful perspective piece, Somebody was on Sulawesi before 118,000 years ago, while University of New England's Dr Mark Moore who analysed the stone tools recovered from the excavation, reports that the tools were finely crafted with a high degree of skill involved.