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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Armidale Boiler House's unique past

Ahead of its time: Closed in 2000, the Boiler House with award winning Stage 3 design was central to UNE's campus services

Cockatoo Island is one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations. There the old dock works with its buildings and cranes has been turned into an exhibition and activity space, adding depth and variety to the visitor experience.

But did you know that Armidale had what could become an equivalent if smaller space, one that won a state architectural award in the same year as the Opera House?

Boilers were central to the industrial revolution. They provided the power and heat required to drive industrial development.

On the Tablelands with its cold winter climate, boilers generated hot water that was then used to heat larger buildings such as TAS 

At the University, the growth of the top campus in the late 1950s created new heating demands. The University decided that a new coal powered reticulated hot water system was the most effective response.

Stage one opened in 1961 in a new facility built at the northern end of the campus. Continued growth in student and staff numbers led to a stage 2 extension in 1965 designed by Leif Kristensen and then a much bigger stage 3 expansion in 1971.

New beginning: the Boiler House with its raw concrete form reveals aspects of industrial life while providing a space for exhibitions and activities including a children's discovery space

While I was aware of the building, I had no idea of its size or architectural significance. Designed by Government design architect Robert Bryant as part of Bryant’s larger scheme for a residential complex in the northern part of the campus, the award winning stage 3 makes creative use of off-form concrete to create an arresting brutalist form.

The boiler plant closed in 2000 and then sat idle for many years. Finally, a small team was formed to look at ways of re-purposing and re-imagining the building, while retaining key links to the past. The team includes the Program Manager for UNE’s School Discovery Program Kirsti Abbott, historical archaeologist Pamela Watson, archivist Ian Stepenson and photographer Terry Cooke.

The concept under development centers on the use of the space as an exhibition and activity area, including a special focus on a children’s discovery space that will link past, present and future.

This approach takes advantage of the building’s unique structure and history, as well as its location on the northern edge of the campus with easy access and closeness to other facilities.

As part of its work, the team is trying to build a full history of the facility, including stories from those who have worked there.

If you have stories to share or indeed would like to find out more about the project, please contact Kirsti Abbott, email kabbott6@une.edu.au, phone 0466 726 525.

An exhibition of Terry Cooke’s photographs of the Boiler House, called Getting into Hot Water, is currently on view in the Dixson Library at UNE.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 23 August 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, August 23, 2017

Mapping the path of human progress

The Madjedbebe dig: Because of the global importance of the Kakadu site, the team used all the latest archaeological technology to deliver the best results.

New discoveries reshaping our knowledge of the deep human past just keep rolling.

The Madjedbebe rockshelter can be found in Kakadu near Jabiru in the Northern Territory. In 1989, a small excavation at the site suggested human occupation at 60,000-50,000 years ago, but the numbers were disputed.. The site was therefore further excavated in 2012 and 2015.

The team used the latest technology as seen on the increasingly popular TV programs that have done so much to turn archaeology into a glamour profession.

Ground penetrating radar a-la Time Team was used to survey the area before digging. As digging proceeded, laser scanning (Time Scanners) was used to create accurate three dimensional maps recording the placement of artefacts for later study.

A variety of dating techniques were used including OSL, Optically-Stimulated Luminescence. This allows the last time quartz sediment was exposed to light to be dated, a useful technique if you are trying to date artefacts or human remains surrounded by sand.

The results of the team’s work was published in Nature in July, attracting world wide headlines. They showed an earliest occupation date range of 65,000 years plus or minus 5,000 years. Further, that date was associated with artifacts including the earliest known global example of a ground edge axe indicating a sophisticated and well established life style.

Within weeks, on 9 August 2017, updated results were published in Nature from Lida Ajer, a Sumatran Pleistocene cave with a rich rainforest fauna associated with fossil human teeth. These indicated an early modern human presence in Sumatra of 73,000 to 63,000 years ago, effectively the same date range as Madjedbebe.

What do these and other discoveries mean? I think that we can summarise the results this way, recognizing that new evidence is emerging all the time?

The date for the emergence of modern homo sapiens is being pushed back all the time, with modern homo sapiens widespread across Africa before a 100,000 out-of-Africa migration date. That date itself is looking increasingly uncertain to my mind.

The number of identified hominid species continues to increase, with modern humans living alongside them in the same time space, and indeed the same geographical space in some cases, for extended periods.

The DNA evidence shows interbreeding between hominid species, casting doubt on the old idea of straight line evolution in which modern humans simply supplanted other hominid species such as the Neanderthals. Rather, there may have been parallel and overlapping evolutionary paths. We carry our complex past in our DNA!

As the time span of Aboriginal history increases, so does the range of environmental changes to which the Aboriginal peoples were subjected to. We cannot understand Aboriginal history unless we understand those environmental changes.

There is therefore a growing need for a full and understandable environmental history of this continent accessible to all.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 August 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, August 16, 2017

New England's big screen highlights

Old Main Street, Raymond Terrace: Filming for Tomorrow, When the War Began

A few months ago, New England born writer and comedian Carlo Ritchie oganised New England expatriate/New State drinks at a pub in Sydney’s Redfern. The idea was to bring us together across interests and generations, to create a centre where we could talk about New England matters from film to food to beer and all things beyond.

It wasn’t a big group, these things take time to evolve, but I couldn’t help noticing just how many film makers, actors and dramatists there were.

We don’t have a proper history of New England film, indeed most people don’t even know that there is such a thing. In 2006 when film writer Neil Rattigan wrote his pioneering piece on New England film in High Lean Country, he identified ten feature films with New England connections.

I have been digging around in the ten years since Neil wrote. I use a broader definition of New England, but have now identified 29 feature films with some New England connection from the rather ramshackle 1921 Guyra Ghost Mystery to P J Hogan’s 2012 production, Mental.

When I look at the time distribution of the films, we have one on the 1920s, two in the 1930s, then just one in the 1940s. In the 1950s when the Australian film industry was down, there were actually four including Armidale filmed Captain Thunderbolt.

The 1960s saw just one film, Koya No Toseinin (The Drifting Avenger). Filmed on location at Nundle, this Japanese western starred Ken Takakura, the Clint Eastwood of Japanese film., seeking revenge for his murdered family. The movie was apparently never released in Australia, but I am told that it is available on YouTube. .

The 1970s saw six films, then just one the following decade. Production picked up in the 1990s with three films, six in the 2000s, with four so far in the 2010s. In all, its quite a lot.

A number of the films have absolutely nothing to do with New England beyond incidental filming.

Ken Halls’ 1937 Lovers and Luggers is a rollicking adventure melodrama about a lounge lizard and pianist who is sent on a quest to Thursday Island to retrieve a pearl for a girl.

What could be more reasonable than that? It’s a 1937 chick flick! Needless to say, the girl was not worth his love, but he does find true love in the process.

The only connection between Lovers and Luggers and New England is that a few scenes were shot in Port Stephens.

That was 1937. Many years later, I visited Raymond Terrace. I hadn’t been there before. We were on our way to Armidale, introducing a friend to New England.

Over a picnic lunch near the pioneer museum, wine and pate and meats and breads, I explained that I wanted to find the main street location where Tomorrow, When the war Began (2010) was shot.

Later we found it. Like Lovers and Luggers, the only connection between this film and New England is location. But it makes life so much richer because I can see the interconnections. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 August 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. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nature: An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago

A letter published in Nature by K E Westaway et al, An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago, (Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/nature23452 Received 30 March 2017 Accepted 29 June 2017 Published online 09 August 2017) reports that scientists have now accurately dated two human teeth first discovered in the Lida Ajer cave on the island of Sumatra in the late 19th century, showing modern humans were living there between 73,000 and 63,000 years ago.

Background information is provided in a piece by Kira Westaway in the Conversation, Old teeth from a rediscovered cave show humans were in Indonesia more than 63,000 years ago.

The results are interesting for two reasons. Thirst is that they are consistent with the 65,000+/5,000 date for the recent Madjedbebe rock shelter date in Kakadu. Secondly, they are the oldest raif forrest date in the world.

.There are a couple of odd things that I didn't understand about the piece in the Conversation. I just note this now without amplification as a reminder to come back to to issue.  

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Patersons and their artistic legacy

Frozen Moment. A National Library of Australia photo of Esther Paterson
One of the best known paintings in the Hinton Collection, Esther Paterson’s The Yellow Glove also known as Portrait of Betty Paterson, is now on tour as part of the NERAM travelling exhibition. Esther entered the painting in the Archibald Prize competition in 1938. She didn't win, but the following year Howard Hinton purchased the arresting portrait for his Armidale Teachers' College collection.

I have known this painting since childhood because the Armidale Teachers’ College was just up the road and I went there quite often. The paintings in the Hinton Collection were everywhere, hanging in the hallways and the lecture theatres.

I was probably seven when I first saw it. It is a piece of art that I really like, but I knew nothing about either Esther or Betty Paterson. Investigating, I find that they were members of one of those artistic families that Melbourne seems to specialise in.

Our story begins in Scotland with John Ford Paterson and his wife Elizabeth, née Stewart. I have no information on John Ford Paterson nor on Elizabeth, but the family was clearly artistic with the three oldest boys all completing initial artistic training in Scotland.

In 1872, the Paterson boys decided to emigrate en-mass to Melbourne. Sister Mary Jane followed in 1881 after the death of her husband with her young son, the future Australian poet and dramatist Thomas Louis Buvelot Esson.

Marvellous Melbourne was booming. In 1880 the population reached 280,000, then 445,000 in 1889. Money flowed like water, and a fair bit of that went to Paterson Bros, the interior design business established by the eldest boy Charles Stewart with his brothers. One of their best known projects was the interior design for William Greenlaw’s Villa Alba, now a Melbourne museum.

Hugh Paterson, Esther and Betty's father, was born in Scotland in 1856 and, like his brothers, attended the Royal Scottish Academy schools. In addition to his work with Paterson Bros, both he and brother John quickly became prominent Melbourne artists, active in the cultural politics of the time.

The Paterson studio managed by Hugh became an artistic centre. Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher whose office was next door liked to drop in. This led, among other things, to the imposition of tariffs on imported paintings and the establishment of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board.

Ester Paterson was born in 1892, Betty Paterson in 1895 to Hugh and wife Elizabeth. Both were prodigies who played with, mixed with and trained with the elite of Melbourne's bohemian set. Both were talented artists, cartoonists and writers who went on to long artistic careers.

I think that the thing I notice most about their work are the lines, the colours and the simplicity. Their work is quite striking, part of the Art Deco scene. Betty in particular became artist by appointment to the flappers, both captured the resonance of the 1920s.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 August 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, August 07, 2017

More DNA data, the impact of cold on human survival

In the constant turmoil that is modern prehistory I missed this September 2016 Nature paper, The Simons Genome Diversity Project: 300 genomes from 142 diverse populations. The abstract reads:
Here we report the Simons Genome Diversity Project data set: high quality genomes from 300 individuals from 142 diverse populations. These genomes include at least 5.8 million base pairs that are not present in the human reference genome. Our analysis reveals key features of the landscape of human genome variation, including that the rate of accumulation of mutations has accelerated by about 5% in non-Africans compared to Africans since divergence. We show that the ancestors of some pairs of present-day human populations were substantially separated by 100,000 years ago, well before the archaeologically attested onset of behavioural modernity. We also demonstrate that indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andamanese do not derive substantial ancestry from an early dispersal of modern humans; instead, their modern human ancestry is consistent with coming from the same source as that of other non-Africans.
Cold, cold, cold. That was the story of long periods of the hominid past. In a comment in Current Anthropology, Robert Hosfield responds to criticisms of his work on the impact of cold on the human species, including especially the possible impact of hypothermia as compared to frostbite.  It seems to come back to questions of clothing as compared to other physiological modifications. I had only seen references to this controversy, how did early hominids survive with poor tool kits and limited clothing, in very cold environments?  This popular piece provides a 2016 input reporting on Horsfield's work.

 Wikipedia piece on this issue points to the disagreements but also suggests that it was rather a long time ago.
One of the issues is the date of the domestication of fire. Many of the presentations such has this Wikipedia diorama are actually very stylized. This example will make you shiver!

 I think the reality is threefold: the human body has considerable capacity to adapt if it is given time; if you have fire and shelter, you can get warm or at least warmer when external conditions are very harsh;  and you may have access to skins or other coverings to keep you warm.

All these things have then to be adjusted to local conditions. For example, you will not go outside if a blizzard is raging unless you absolutely have to. So you will store food if you can to accommodate.  This may be no more than leaving it outside if temperatures are that low.

Your age also determines your response to climatic extremes. If you are younger, it is easier to cope. people may just die earlier.

This total mix determines the group's response It's important from the viewpoint of Australian history because it helps us make judgement about the impact of the Last Glacial Maximum.The Aborigines survived in Tasmania in glacial conditions. Clearly, they had the culture and equipment to respond, although it may have reduced populations and life expectancy. Beyond this, we just don't know what the actual story was.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Forming the unique Anaiwan language

Separation: Squeezed between larger language groups, the Anaiwan language evolved different because of their need to preserve culture, territory and separate identity.This is the eight and last in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

Last week I suggested that as the Last Glacial Maximum eased, the Tablelands were reoccupied by two main groups.

From the south came Dainggatti speakers from the Macleay Valley. We don’t have dates, but from the pattern of the dates that we do have this probably took place about 5,000 years ago.

As the Dainggatti speakers spread north following the watershed , they coincided with settlers from the Northern Rivers and especially the Clarence/Nymboida river system, the Gumbaingirr speakers, who had followed the rivers upstream and effectively occupied significant parts of the Tablelands. Further north, there was Bandjalung expansion, but this appears to have been less pronounced.

But why did the Anaiwan language then diverge so much from its coastal origins? To understand why this might have happened, we need to return to Terry Crowley’s language map. I note that the language boundaries on the map are indicative only and do not indicate exact boundaries.

Crowley suggested that the language north of Armidale described by McPherson as Enneewin was not the same as that further south because it included lexical items borrowed from Gumbaingirr, whereas the language further south did not.

I think that’s incorrect. Although Anaiwan varied greatly from north to south, we can reasonably think of it as a single language, in part because of geography, in part because Crowley himself concluded that the northern and southern languages had a 65 per cent common lexicon. It makes perfect sense that Enneewin or Northern Anaiwan should be a distinct dialect with Gumbaingirr inclusions given the two language groups were side by side.

If we now look at Southern Anaiwan, Crowley’s Nganjaywana with its dialects of Inuwon and Himberrong, you can see a very distinct pattern. In the far south, Himberrong adjoined Gamilaraay in the south and west, Birbay in the south east plus Dainggatti in the east.

Inuwon, by contrast, adjoined Himberrong in the south, Ennewin in the north, both Dainggatti and Gumbaingirr in the east and Gamilaraay in the west. That’s a lot of languages in both cases.

Part of the reason that Crowley put forward for the evolution of Anaiwan as such a distinct language lay in the existence of the secret Anaiwan language identified by Mathews. This, Crowley suggested, reduced the need to borrow from other languages when words fell out of use as a consequence of things such as deaths.

This is possible. However, a simpler explanation lies in the geography described above.

Occupying relatively small territories squeezed between other bigger language groups, the Southern Anaiwan in particular became isolated because of the need to preserve their land and culture.

There is at least some fragmentary evidence to support this view in the archeological and ethnographic record as well as Aboriginal memories. However, that will have to wait to a later series.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 July 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.