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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

History Revisited - introducing stories from the early days of European settlement on the New England Tablelands

The period 1832 to 1842 was not a good time for New England’s Aboriginal peoples. In 1832, Semphill and Cory each took up Tableland’s runs. By the census of 1841, just nine years later, the European population had reached 1,100 people, almost certainly outnumbering the diminished Aboriginal population.

While the early settler numbers do not seem so huge by today’s standards, to the local Aborigines the size and scale of European intrusion was confronting, a wave that could not be easily resisted.

By 1832, the New England’s Aboriginal peoples would have been well aware of the presence of the Europeans. There is an issue here that we will never properly understand, the way transmitted information was interpreted.

My feeling is that the structure and culture of Aboriginal life made interpretation and response difficult, although its something I am trying to think though. Whatever the case, violence seems to have peaked during the period 1839-1842. By the late 1840s, .Aboriginal people had become an important part of the pastoral workforce.

Perspectives are important. To modern Aboriginal people, the whole process was invasion. To the settlers, it was settlement, the occupation of a sparsely inhabited land. Each side has a story based on very different perspectives and experiences. .

I have written a little of the story from an Aboriginal perspective. I will write more later. However, over the next few columns, I want to tell some of the story from a settler perspective, focused on the first few decades of European settlement.

In that story, the Aboriginal tragedy is a small sub-text. For that reason I will not focus on it. Rather, `I will try to tell the story from a family and domestic viewpoint, the nature of connection and the difficulty of life.

The life of the early European settlers did not suddenly begin on the Tablelands. They were part of a broader world, one alien to the Aborigines they met. This was a world of connection that spanned a different space and time.

In writing, I want to focus on family and connection. I also want to focus on the domestic.

The stories of these people form part of modern New England life. There are still descendants. More importantly, the names are all around us..

The stories that follow are drawn from the histories of runs and stations, many published in  the 1980s. You won’t find them on-line, but you may find them our second hand bookshops.

In my next column, I will tell you a little of Terrible Valley and the Taylors.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 April 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.


kEN Thornton said...

My name is Ken Thornton. Our small group of researchers at Newcastle University are researching a 19thC New England pastoralist Algernon Henry Belfield (he owned Eversleigh) His 45 years of weather observations has brought him to our attention.
I was wondering if you have heard of him and if you may have any information on him.

Ken Thornton

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ken. My apologies for the delay in responding. I know who he is of course and have also known Dick and his brother. However, from your web site you know more about him than me! I will keep an eye out for you. Cheers Jim