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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A note on New England Aboriginal servicemen

Interesting piece on ABC Radio National's Awaye! Program,  Indigenous Anzacs: Letters home from Aboriginal WWI diggers reveal humour, sadness, (program itself here, Saturday 22 April) on Aboriginal servicemen during the First World War. Presenter Daniel Browning's great-great uncle Thomas Browning (photo) was one of those featured in the piece.

Quoting from the piece on Thomas Browning::

"In May 1917 a military order revoked the nominal ban on Aboriginal men serving in the Australian Imperial Force, although in fact many had already enlisted.

One of the Aboriginal men who joined up after the military order was Samuel Browning, a fisherman from Fingal (then known as The Caves or Caves Point) on the North Coast of New South Wales.

One of Browning's mates enlisted with him but was rejected on the grounds that he had no European heritage. Browning left Australia in late 1917 aboard the troop ship Euripides, and disembarked at Devonport in the south of England on Boxing Day.

In Browning 's letters to his mother Mary, his heartbroken bride-to-be, and 10-year-old sister, there is no mention of the horrors of the Western Front nor of his gassing in the trenches near Rouen in northern France in August 1918, just a few months before the guns fell silent.

In an undated letter from Bath, where he was convalescing, Sam wrote urgently to Fingal, anxious that his younger brother stay away.
"Dear Mother, tell George to stop where he is instead of enlisting — one is enough from home, so don't forget."
Elsewhere, Browning longed for the beach.
"I am longing for a good feed of oysters and pippies. I'd give ten bob for a feed," he wrote to his mother from the ANZAC training camp at Codford in February 1918. 
Others who served from the opposite side of New England were the three Firth brothers.  Again I quote;
"Francis Walter Bertie Firth served in the Middle East and lost a brother in Egypt, but his letters from "somewhere in France" are consumed by anxiety about missing letters apparently sent by his mother Kate from Pilliga in northern New South Wales but never received.

Bertie wrote to his mother on Easter Sunday in 1917: "Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living," he wrote.

"It is about time the winter was over, I would not like to be here for another, the coldest place on earth."
Characteristically, and presumably without irony, Bertie signs his letters that he hopes everyone at home is well as it leaves him, "in the pink of condition".

Another letter suggests that he may he have been jilted: "I got a letter from Peggy the other day. She is engaged to someone else. Good luck to her."

I don't have a lot of information on Aboriginal servicemen from Northern NSW. Another who served during the Second World War was David Cook. From a piece by Noah  Riseman:

"Lance-Corporal David Cook is an Aboriginal man born in Ebor, near Armidale New South Wales, in 1945. Around the time of Dave's tenth birthday, he and his four siblings were forcibly removed from their parents. Dave was placed in Kinchela Boys Home for three years before being fostered. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Army, seeking a life away from his daily troubles.

Dave served in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Malaya before being sent off to Vietnam. Throughout his service he proved to be a successful soldier and was well-liked by his peers. He served two tours in Vietnam before being discharged in 1968.

When Dave returned to New South Wales, his life rapidly spiralled out of control. Cycles of violence, imprisonment and racism threatened to turn him into another Aboriginal statistic. However, Dave managed to reconnect with his siblings, who helped him get his life back on track through emotional support, stability and employment. Now retired, Dave does volunteer work in Cambodia, applying his Army engineering knowledge in a land mine clearance program.".

I wondered if readers had more information on Aboriginal servicemen (and later women) from Northern New South Wales, Hunter to the border? This would help me flesh out another part of New New England's history.


AIATSIS has an exhibition on the Stafford Brothers, a family with New England connections.

Debrah Novak put up a Facebook post repeating a story from the Grafton Daily Examiner on the attempts of Mackenzie Laurie to enlist. I quote:
This is a newspaper article in the Daily Examiner Tuesday, May 1916: TRUE AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT? CLARENCE DARKIES WANT TO ENLIST: Mackenzie Laurie has not just arrived from Scotland. He has never seen that county, and except he desires to help the Empire, has no desire to leave the land he loves and has lived in for 23 years. Laurie is, in other words, a young Clarence River Aboriginal, and has tried to enlist in Maclean, Ulmarra, Grafton and Harwood. He has been turned down everywhere he has tried, and, like many others in a dilemma, sought out the Daily Examiner man as a last resort. Laurie is bashful, if brave; had never been inside a newspaper office in his life before, and has always been a close reader of this particular paper – he read the tips and all about Randwick doings and the war. Here is his complaint told in his words.

“I want to ask is why not a pure Australian regiment? They won’t take me or Harry Grant, or Cowan, or Daley or Bundock- and we’re all Australians. They turn us down. They say the English will mistake us for Turks, and shoot us. But that don’t matter. We don’t care that we shot at or not. We want to kill a few Turks and (in deep thought and not wishing to appear misinformed) -The Bulgar (semi-nomadic warrior Turk) - that’s the fellow. If England goes under, where are we? Myself, Harry Grant, D. Torrens, T. Daley, Billy and Jim Cowan, K. Bundock, Harry and J Neville, Piebald, Ferguson, Hamilton, P. Mercy, my two brother in laws, and J. Morris and Alf Blakeney.

The pressman stopped; he seemed to have written a regiment. Laurie Persisted. He wrote on:
“Put all of them down, all of them want to go at once, NOW. There is also A. Olive, R. Cowan, B. Robertson, Donelly, Dunn and J.Boney.”

“All these are ‘pure Australian’s, everyone one of them as black as I am, no immigrants about any of them” (looking straight at the reporter). “You can call yourself ‘Stralian! You only immigrant Britisher. If you are pure ‘Stralian, you must first be able to speak our language – wurra-murra girooha lomiba booyamba, Can you say that?

The reporter said he didn’t understand the Australian classics.

Mackenzie Laurie continued to give names. “Harry Grayson, Walker, Cameron Fred Laurie (my brother) and D Cameron (my brother in law)”
“I want you to put all our names in this paper, and show the Government in Sydney that us pure ‘Stralians is ready to fight for the country straight away. I’m single, all teeth are good, as you see, good chest, aged 23, work for Mr Smith near the Common, and I am prepared to run any man on the Clarence 120 yards for any money up to 50 quid.”

“Tell them I am an athlete, went to Glenreagh Sports with sixpence in my pocket and came home with two quid. I’m off to work now, but if Sergeant Swan or Constable Sproule wants to get me, they can find me at Alumny Creek, ready straight away to fight for the country.” End Note: The is a photo of Harold Cowan from Grafton who enlisted in 1917 when Aboriginal people were finally allowed to enlist.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Swift beginning for the new college

The third in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. The new Teachers' College was part of David Drummond's vision for education in the North. 
The most remarkable feature of the establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College was speed. Four people were critical in that process.

As Minister, the college was part of David Drummond’s vision. His role was to provide top cover and to organize support in the Government and in the North to the initiative.

As Departmental Head, S H Smith saw the College as a vehicle for the implementation of his own ideas on teacher training. Smith had to oversight all the Departmental and administrative requirements necessary to bring the project to fruition.

A W Hicks as the local District Inspector of Schools knew Armidale well and was close to Drummond and Smith. His job was to identify the buildings and facilities required to allow the College to begin operation quickly pending construction of a new permanent building.

Finally, C B (Pop) Newling, the newly appointed head of the College, had to handle all the detail required to create a new institution.

Nine days after his appointment as Minister in October 1927 David Drummond had asked for an urgent report on the possible establishment of country teachers’ colleges, suggesting Wagga Wagga and Armidale as possible sites. Department Head S H Smith immediately recommended Armidale, a recommendation Drummond accepted.

The matter had to go to Cabinet. Hicks in conjunction with Smith began the process of identifying buildings that might be rented or purchased with costs. By 9 December 1927, Smith had prepared a Cabinet Minute seeking approval for the establishment of the College and the purchase or lease of the necessary buildings.

By 12 December, Cabinet had approved the proposal. On that day, C B Newling was summoned to Sydney by telegram, sworn to secrecy and offered the post of Principal. Newling, sympathetic to Smith’s views on student teaching, saw the post as a major opportunity.
Memoir: In The Long day Wanes, CB Newling reflects on his life and especially his period as Principal of the Armidale Teachers' College
Newling would prove a superb choice. While paternalistic by today’s standards, he was totally committed to the College and its students, guiding the new institution through the difficult immediate establishment phase and the equally difficult early years that followed.

News of the possible formation of the College seems to have first broken in the press on the day of Newling’s appointment when the Tenterfield Star reported a rumour that the Armidale goal site was to be used to erect a technical college or teachers’ training college “either of which would serve the northern districts and not Armidale alone.”

From this point, action to create the new College took place against a backdrop of growing criticism from the Labor opposition and the city press, from country towns elsewhere in the State who felt that they had a better claim and from prospective students and their parents reluctant to chance the new college.

Drummond and Smith were unmoved, with work continuing apace. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 April 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters 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, here 2017.  

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

College born in conflict

The second in my new series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. Alexander Mackie at Sydney University. Mackie had "that type of mind", Smith said, "usually associated with the Scottish metaphysician." 
In some ways, there is something just so 2017 about events surrounding the establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College in 1928.

Then, as now, there was conflict over the balance between academic and vocational education. Then, as now, there were problems in attracting teachers to go to the bush, a belief that a country college would help overcome this.

There were also concerns about the extent to which students would wish to study in Armidale as compared to Sydney. A new building was required. There were arguments over the costs and value of the proposal compared to the cheaper expansion of existing facilities at Sydney Teachers’ College..

The NSW State elections held on 9 October 1927 had seen the election of a Nationalist/Country Party coalition government. David Drummond, the 37 year old Country Party member for Armidale and new Minister for Public Instruction, saw the establishment of a teachers’ college as the creation of a country college for country kids. He also saw a possible Northern college as one key building block in the creation of the infrastructure required to support a new Northern State.

Drummond found a ready ally in his department head, S H Smith, who saw the college as a chance to put his own ideas into practice. Then in his early sixties, Smith was (to use Drummond’s words) handsome and intelligent, with a commanding presence and a beautiful speaking voice. He was also shy, fussy, sensitive and vulnerable to personal attack.
The member and the Under Secretary. Drummond wanted a country college for country kids. Smith wanted a college that would reflect his view in the importance of vocational education. It was a powerful combination. 
Smith had started as a pupil teacher and then worked his way though the ranks, becoming Under-Secretary in 1922 upon the retirement of the famous Peter Board. Smith knew that there were those who affected to despise him because of his lack of formal education and was deeply wounded by it. Drummond who had left school at twelve was sensitive to Smith’s feelings and the two men became close.

Smith clashed with Professor Alexander Mackie, the head of Sydney Teachers, College. Mackie, a brilliant Scottish-born academic, had come to Sydney in 1906 to head the newly established Sydney Teachers’ College. He was a man of strong views who believed that that the main emphasis in teacher training should be academic, that the independence of Sydney Teachers’ College must be preserved, and who had little time for financial or other constraints on his activities.

Smith took a very different view. Bound up in the day-to-day problems of State education, he regarded the College’s job as training those teachers the Department required in the way the Department required. Smith also disagreed with Mackie as to the most desirable form of teacher training: Smith thought that Mackie’s academic bias meant ill-trained teachers and wanted more vocationally-oriented training.

These differences in approach would have made for difficulties anyway, but their personalities compounded problems. Smith and Drummond therefore combined.

In December 1927 came the announcement that a new College would be established in Armidale with teaching to commence in 1928. The rush was on. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 29  March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters 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, here 2017.