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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On-line source: first NSW Legislative Council records 1824-1855 now digitised

The NSW Parliament has now digitised records relating to the first New South Wales Legislative Council from 1824 to 1855. It includes tabled papers, Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reports of debates, and documents relating to the administration of the First Council (classified as "non-tabled papers").

These have been indexed by document type and date. Please note, over time some of the early original material has become faded and in some places illegible; nonetheless it is included here in its authentic form as a record of its existence.​ Also, while every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, the archive is a work in progress and some classification errors may exist.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bumpy beginnings for young teachers


Long trip: The Kempsey-Armidale Road in the 1920s. It wasn't always easy for students to get to Armidale over New England's dreadful roads, and the trip could leave them feeling quite sick. This is the seventh in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. .

To the young seventeen and sometimes sixteen year olds who came to Armidale Teachers’ College and, later, to the University College, it was a path to a new world. 

The College’s catchment extended from Maitland to the Queensland border. North Coast students were especially important, as they would be to the later University. 

In most cases, they were the first in their family to undertake any form of higher education. Many had barely travelled outside their home towns. The great majority were quite religious and came from socially conservative families and communities. 
For writer Shirley Walker, the College was a way of leaving the claustrophobia of home and community.
Many parents had reservations about education and risks, especially for girls. However, teaching was also seen as respectable, a means for social advancement. 

For some such as writer Shirley Walker who studied at the Teachers’ College during the Second World War, the College was a way of leaving the claustrophobia of home and community. For most, I think, the feeling was one of nervous excitement connected with the unknown.

Getting to Armidale could be an issue because of the poor east-west transport links. 

Les Sullivan from Kempsey was awarded a scholarship to the College in 1941. To solve the problem of getting there, his parents booked him onto the twice weekly Woodward and Purkiss coach service to Armidale. 

“Bidding my parents a teary farewell with an admonition from my mother, ‘Don’t do anything you’d be afraid to tell us’, ringing in my ears, I boarded the large open-style stretched tourer (probably a Studebaker or Hudson) for the 120 miles (190 km) gut-churning, dust-eating, corrugated ordeal”. 

“I had always been prone to carsickness so it was not a journey I was looking forward to. I can still see the sign at the bottom of “The Big Hill” warning of 12 miles (17 km) of winding road. I was too sick to enjoy the tea stops at Bellbrook and Jeogla and just prayed for the ordeal to end.”

Coming home was a little easier, for the large number of North Coast students made it possible to book return charters to at least the main destinations. Even so, as late as the 1930s, it was sometimes easier for one North Coast student to return home via rail to Sydney and then steamer to Woolgoolga. There he would be lowered onto the long wharf in a wicker ware basket along with his luggage.

But what type of College did the students find upon arrival? Here we have a 1935 description from the Sydney Morning Herald describing the completed main buildings and initial playing fields. The journalist was totally impressed with the space, the facilities and standard of teaching.

If the aim of the piece was to impress city students that they should consider the College, it would certainly have helped. 

For most of the Northern students, it would have been the largest and most impressive building they had ever seen and by a considerable margin. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 May 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, May 17, 2017

Research Note: Impact of Smallpox on Aboriginal New England

It is now well established that diseases brought by Europeans extended beyond the moving frontier wreaking havoc on Aboriginal communities still distant from European settlement. One such disease was smallpox, with outbreaks starting in 1789 and then again around 1829.

Discussion on smallpox has focused on two questions.

The first is where the smallpox came from. There are two schools. One said that it came from the settlement at Sydney, a second from Macassan visitors harvesting trepang in Northern Australia. The second question is the scale of the death toll. Both questions have become embroiled to some degree in the continuing history wars.

A related question is the nature of transmission mechanisms, a question that links to the structure of and relations between Aboriginal groups. For example, could smallpox in fact have come from Northern sources in the required time horizons given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations? Again, could smallpox have spread in the way sometimes described given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations?

I am interested in the impact of smallpox on the Aboriginal peoples of Northern NSW, the broader New England. The questions as to who might be responsible and why fall outside my immediate scope except to the degree it affects what happened in New England.

Based on my very preliminary work, my present tentative conclusions are:
·         The first smallpox epidemic came from the Sydney settlement. Its hard to fit the geography otherwise. I still have an open mind on the second.
·         In broad terms, the impact of smallpox was geographically patchy because of the particular dispersed structure of Aboriginal life in combination with the transmission pattern. It hit Sydney hard because you had a high population concentration meaning that people could mix during the contagion period. For smaller groups, infection would depend upon someone one coming while contagious and then infecting the group, with on-transmission depending on someone getting to the next group while contagious. In theory, I suppose, you could have it carried on possum coats or artifacts. The process would be easier if you had largish adjoining populations that mixed such as along the Murray.
·         In the first round, infection appears to have reached the lower Hunter but not beyond. The 1829+ second round was geographically broader, but perhaps not so intense. I say this because the descriptions of Aboriginal people across the North after 1831 that I have seen do not appear to contain references to smallpox markings. 

As I said, very tentative. I stand to be rebutted.

Source Notes

N G Butlin, Macassans and Aboriginal smallpox : the '1789' and '1829' epidemics, Australian National University 1984
Judy Campbell, "Smallpox in aboriginal Australia, the early 1830s", Historical Studies, Volume 21, 1985 - Issue 84
Judy Campbell, Invisible invaders : smallpox and other diseases in Aboriginal Australia, 1780-1880 ,.Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic. 2002.
Peter J. Dowling, VIOLENT EPIDEMICS: Disease, conflict and Aboriginal population collapse as result of European contact in the Riverland of South Australia, 1990, MA thesis in Biological Anthropology, Department of Prehistory and Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, Australian National University Canberra ACT Accessed online 17 May 2017 file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/OWNER/My%20Documents/Downloads/b17470511_Dowling_Peter_J.pdf
C Mear, C. (2008) The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789,Journal of the Royal Historical Society, Vol.94, Part 1 pp.1-22, 2008
Michael O’Rourke, The Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19th century, Michael O’Rourke, Griffith 1997
Jim Poulter, “The smallpox holocaust that swept Aboriginal Australia. - Red hot echidna spikes are burning me”, (We) can do better, 2 March 2014
Chris Warren, “Was Sydney's smallpox outbreak of 1789 an act of biological warfare against Aboriginal tribes?” Ockham's Razor, ABC Radio National, Thursday 17 April 2014 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/was-sydneys-smallpox-outbreak-an-act-of-biological-warfare/5395050   Accessed 17 May 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Build on: Armidale Teachers' College survives the Great Depression

The Parthenon on the Hill. "You are very fortunate to be in such a nice institution", Minister Davies is reported to have told students, somewhat reluctantly. This is the sixth in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 
Armidale, March 1936. The weather was unsettled, threatening the forthcoming Armidale Show. Up at the College on the hill, the corridors were thronged with new and returning students and College staff.

Now established, the Armidale Teachers’ College was well on its way to becoming a jewel in the crown of NSW education. And yet its very survival had been at risk just six years before.

As work got on the new College building in the first half of 1929, few realised just how vulnerable Australian had become to international downturn. Import competition within the domestic market was increasing. Government public works funded by heavy overseas borrowings – fifty million ponds in 1928 alone – meant that ever more export income had to be used to pay interest and dividends to overseas investors; by 1927-28 these totaled 28 per cent of export income.

New South Wales was particularly vulnerable. It was already affected by growing import competition, while the growth in its metropolitan population, and hence the numbers in building, construction and public services, had been particularly marked.

In 1929, the worst possible combination of events happened. Export prices fell, while overseas borrowings stopped as a consequence of the closure of the London capital market to Australia.

In March and April 1929 as the building contract was let and work commenced, the State's London overdraft rose to three to four million pounds.. By June, the State was in a financial vice which tightened as the year proceeded: Not only could New South Wales not raise long-term loans, but the State's bankers were resisting any further increase in overdraft levels. Equally importantly, the State now faced declining income tax collections, rising losses on railway and transport services, and rising welfare costs.

By the time the new College’s foundation stone was laid on that day of hope and speeches in November 1929, Australia was in the grip of recession,. By early 1930, the expected State deficit for 1929-30 had risen to over three million pounds.

Soup Kitchen, NSW c 1932. As depression deepened, Drummond pushed forward with construction of the new Teachers' College building regardless
C B Newling later surmised that Drummond pushed construction of the building forward because he wanted to beat the growing collapse. I don’t think that’s true for at least the first part of 1929 because the scale of the crisis wasn’t yet recognised. What is true is that Drummond continued to push construction  regardless.

Drummond lost office in 25 October 1930, leaving his Labor successor William Davies with an almost completed but partially empty building because of reduced student numbers Drummond faced a withering storm of criticism, but was unrepentant.

There were moves to close the College. Drummond persuaded Labor Minister William Davies to visit Armidale in March 1931 to inspect the situation for himself. “You are very fortunate to be in such a nice institution”, Davies is reported to have told students, somewhat reluctantly. “It is one of the finest buildings in New South Wales”.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 May 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, May 03, 2017

Creating the building blocks of education


Laying the foundation stone of the Armidale Teachers' College, October 29, 1929, Drummond was determined  that a "Country College for Country Students ...should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney." It was a time of hope and speeches.  This is the fifth in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 

As lectures got underway in temporary premises in March 1928, planning for permanent premises for the new Armidale Teachers’ College had begun.

The best building site in Armidale consisted of eight acres of crown land on South Hill with commanding views over the city. This was occupied by an old goal set in gardens gone to wilderness. The previous Labor Government had considered re-opening the goal to hold sexual offenders, something that had created panic in the city. Mayor Morgan Stephens saw the old goal as a blot on the landscape: he had “done all in his power – except carting away the bricks and mortar – to remove it”.

In December 1927, Smith had obtained approval for the transfer of the goal site to his Department once the buildings had been demolished. At first, the Government Architect proposed to utilise the old goal buildings, something vehemently opposed by the College’s protagonists. Drummond set out the case quite clearly in words that guided his overall approach throughout the project: “if the Armidale Teachers’ College were to be a Country College for Country Students then the Government should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney.”

On 10 February 1928, the decision was taken to demolish the goal. Drummond wanted the new buildings constructed as soon as possible. He called for sketch plans early in 1928, then on 5 April he wrote to the Departmental architect asking him to arrange for the Chief Architect to take the plans of “Sydney Teachers College to Armidale for personal discussions with Mr Newling to see what changes might need to be made to accommodate 250 students, taking local conditions into account.”

With plans complete, tenders for the new building were called. On 1 March 1929, a contract was let to the Public Works Department providing for completion within eighteen months at a cost of £81,200. Drummond had wanted an iconic building and the plans provided for that. Externally, the style was free treatment of Italian Renaissance with meticulous attention to detail. Internally, there was the same attention to detail

Construction began on 8 April 1929, with Drummond closely monitoring the whole project. In October 1929, for example, Smith recorded that the Minister had decided to proceed with the whole central section of the building comprising the gymnasium and Assembly Hall as originally envisaged. The gymnasium was constructed with special care, based on the then best models. It featured a floor specially mounted on elliptical springs to cushion impacts.

On 29 November 1929 with construction underway, a large crowd gathered to watch the laying of two foundation stones, one by NSW Premier Thomas Bavin, the second by Drummond. It was a festive ceremony meticulously planned by Drummond down to the last detail, including the supply of flags and bunting.

It was a time of hope and speeches looking forward to further decentralisation of education, including a Teachers’ College at Wagga Wagga and a possible University College in Armidale, However, storm clouds were gathering that would threaten not just the building, but the new College itself.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 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.  

Monday, May 01, 2017

Extracting ancient DNA from sediments - and the rise of multidisciplinary history

Fascinating story in The Atlantic, Scientists Can Now Pull the DNA of Ancient Humans Out of Cave Dirt.

In essence, new techniques allow animal and human DNA deposited into surrounding soil to be recovered. This has significance for two reasons.

It allows DNA analysis to be carried out without destroying fossils. It also allows inferences to be made even when direct evidence is not available.

When I first studied prehistory, we had very few scientific tools available. Now the explosion in science is reshaping our knowledge not just of the remote human past but of more recent times. History and especially prehistory have become truly multi-disciplinary disciplines.

One side effect is the merger of prehistory and history. A division based on the primacy of written records ceases to have relevance when so many alternative techniques and approaches are available. Now we have just history.

This poses a challenge to us all. I know that I struggle to understand let alone integrate all the new knowledge now relevant to the writing of history.