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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New England's built landscape - a new wave of mansions begins

Aberglasslyn House: The monumental Georgian pile designed by architect John Verge for George Hobler remained unfinished following Hobler’s insolvency in the crash of the early 1840s. This is the seventh in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 

The economic collapse in the early 1840s that followed the excesses of the previous two decades brought to an end the first phase of mansion building.

At Aberglasslyn outside Maitland, Aberglasslyn House, the monumental Georgian pile designed by architect John Verge for George Hobler, remained unfinished following Hobler’s insolvency.

At Dalwood, George Wyndham took his family north in search of new opportunities, leaving Dalwood House vacant for a number of years. At Port Macquarie, Lake Innes House went into decline as Archibald Clunes Innes’ financial difficulties worsened.

While severe, the downturn was relatively short and was followed by four decades of economic expansion. Wool prices were good, while the gold rushes created a demand for meat and other agricultural products. With greater security and more funds, the squatters began to invest in new homesteads.

 Yugilbar Castle: It took Ogilvie and his German workers six years and £8,000 to complete the 40 room dwelling to Ogilvie’s satisfaction.

In 1859, Edward Ogilvie returned from Europe with his new wife. Determined to establish a home that would match his dynastic ambitions, in 1860 he began construction to his own somewhat idiosyncratic design of the building that would become known as Yugilbar Castle.

Built from local materials with imported decorations and finishings, it took Ogilvie and his German workers six years and £8,000 to complete the forty room dwelling to Ogilvie’s satisfaction.

Another surviving homestead from this period is Strathbogie near Glen Innes. Built for Hugh Gordon in 1868 to a design by Sydney architect John C Dury, the twin gabled homestead is built from local pink granite.

In 1861, the passage of the first Robertson Land Act had a significant effect on the New England built landscape. The legislation was intended to break up the big squatting stations making land available for closer settlement, but had two opposing effects.

Some land was opened for closer settlement. The free selectors had to occupy and improve their blocks, leading to the creation of smaller and simpler homesteads, the development of new small settlements. We can still see this pattern in the local landscape.

While some land was open to closer settlement, the squatters were also able to use the legislation to expand their own freehold title, using a variety of sometimes dubious techniques such as dummying. This involved sponsoring someone to select land on the basis that they would subsequently sell it back to the squatter.

These actions came at a cost, leaving station owners with smaller runs, more freehold title, but also greater debts that had to be serviced. As debt reduced, the now second generation owners began to plan new homesteads.

The result was something of a building boom, creating some of the bigger mansions that now form such a prominent part of the built landscape.

 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 October 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. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A note on the latest DNA results for Tianyaun Man.

Regular commenter JohnB pointed me to this piece by Ann Gibbons in Science that I had missed, Was this ancient person from China the offspring of modern humans and Neandertals?
(Oct. 12, 2017).

Tianyuan Cave (photo) is near modern Beijing. In 2007 researchers found human remains radio carbon dated to between 42,000 and 39,000 years ago. That is well after the first groups of Aboriginal people arrived in Australia. Now the results of new DNA analysis have been published in Current Biology. The formal summary of results follows. Further comments follow the summary.
By at least 45,000 years before present, anatomically modern humans had spread across Eurasia, but it is not well known how diverse these early populations were and whether they contributed substantially to later people or represent early modern human expansions into Eurasia that left no surviving descendants today. Analyses of genome-wide data from several ancient individuals from Western Eurasia and Siberia have shown that some of these individuals have relationships to present-day Europeans while others did not contribute to present-day Eurasian populations. As contributions from Upper Paleolithic populations in Eastern Eurasia to present-day humans and their relationship to other early Eurasians is not clear, we generated genome-wide data from a 40,000-year-old individual from Tianyuan Cave, China, to study his relationship to ancient and present-day humans. We find that he is more related to present-day and ancient Asians than he is to Europeans, but he shares more alleles with a 35,000-year-old European individual than he shares with other ancient Europeans, indicating that the separation between early Europeans and early Asians was not a single population split. We also find that the Tianyuan individual shares more alleles with some Native American groups in South America than with Native Americans elsewhere, providing further support for population substructure in Asia and suggesting that this persisted from 40,000 years ago until the colonization of the Americas. Our study of the Tianyuan individual highlights the complex migration and subdivision of early human populations in Eurasia. 
Melinda A. Yang, Xing Gao, Christoph Theunert, Haowen Tong, Ayinuer Aximu-Petri, Birgit Nickel, Montgomery Slatkin, Matthias Meyer, Svante Pääbo, Janet Kelso, Qiaomei Fu, 40,000-Year-Old Individual from Asia Provides Insight into Early Population Structure in Eurasia, Current Biology, Volume 27, Issue 20, p3202–3208.e9, 23 October 2017
Recognising my knowledge limitations, I drew the following main points from the latest results. My indebtedness to Anne will be clear if you look at her article. :
  • The date ranges mean that Tianyaun Man. is probably at least 20,000 years younger than the first Aboriginal occupation of Sahul, the name given to the bigger Australian continent when sea levels were lower.
  • The DNA results show elements of Neanderthal genes but no trace of the Denisovan genes to be found in Aboriginal DNA. On the basis (as seems to be the case) that the Denisovans were reasonably widely spread across Eurasia, this suggests to my mind that  Tianyaun Man came from a later migration wave,
  • Tianyuan Man shares DNA with one ancient European—a 35,000-year-old modern human from Goyet Caves in Belgium. But he doesn’t share it with other ancient humans who lived at roughly the same time in Romania and Siberia—or with living Europeans.
  •  Tianyuan Man is most closely related to living people in east Asia—including in China, Japan, and the Koreas—and in Southeast Asia, including Papua New Guinea and Australia.This suggests that the Tianyuan Man was not a direct ancestor, but rather a distant cousin, of a founding population in Asia that gave rise to present-day Asians. 
  • Tianyuan Man was a distant relative of Native Americans living today in the Amazon of South America, such as the Karitiana and Surui peoples of Brazil and the Chane people of northern Argentina and southern Bolivia. But he is not an ancestor to ancient or living Native Americans in North America, which suggests there were two different source populations in Asia for Native Americans. 
Postscript 28 October: 2017

Current Anthropology has an interesting article by Professor Robin Dennell, "Human Colonization of Asia
in the Late Pleistocene: The History of an Invasive Species" (Current Anthropology Volume 58, Supplement 17, December 2017) The summary reads:
 Narratives of “Out of Africa 2”—the expansion of Homo sapiens across Asia—emphasize the pattern of human dispersal but not the underlying processes. In recent years, the main debates have been over the timing and frequency of dispersal. Here, I treat these issues as subordinate to biogeographic ones that affected the behavior of humans in Asia as an invasive species that colonized new environments and had negative impacts on indigenous hominins. I suggest that attention should focus on three issues: (i) geographic factors that molded human dispersal across Asia, (ii) behavioral changes that enabled humans to overcome previously insurmountable barriers, and (iii) demographic considerations of human dispersal and colonization of Asia, including interactions with indigenous competitors. Although a strong case can be made that humans dispersed across southern Asia before 60 ka, this should not detract from attention on the underlying processes of dispersal and colonization.
I found the article provided a useful summary framework. The geographic analysis in particular filled a gap in my knowledge The MIS in the paper, by the way, stands for Marine isotope stage. I wasn't really familiar with the term so looked it up. According to Wikipedia:

 Marine isotope stages (MIS), marine oxygen-isotope stages, or oxygen isotope stages (OIS), are alternating warm and cool periods in the Earth's paleoclimate, deduced from oxygen isotope data reflecting changes in temperature derived from data from deep sea core samples. Working backwards from the present, which is MIS 1 in the scale, stages with even numbers have high levels of oxygen-18 and represent cold glacial periods, while the odd-numbered stages are troughs in the oxygen-18 figures, representing warm interglacial intervals. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

A note on the Sunghir DNA results from an Australian perspective

ANCIENT NETWORKERS  DNA from four Stone Age people — including the two shown here as they looked when excavated, top, and at the time of death, bottom — suggests that hunter-gatherers have long formed groups with few close relatives. Aside from discouraging inbreeding, that social structure encouraged cooperative ties among groups and rapid cultural advances, scientists say. 

Interesting piece in Science News by Bruce Bower, Ancient humans avoided inbreeding by networking (5 October 2017) on the results of DNA analysis of four individuals from the Sunghir site in Russia, Sunghir is situated about two hundred kilometres east of Moscow, on the outskirts of Vladimir, near the Klyazma River.

The story is based on an article that appeared in Science. If you follow the link through you can access the original article, You will need to register, but that is free. The article's abstract reads:  
Present-day hunter-gatherers (HGs) live in multilevel social groups essential to sustain a population structure characterized by limited levels of within-band relatedness and inbreeding. When these wider social networks evolved among HGs is unknown. Here, we investigate whether the contemporary HG strategy was already present in the Upper Paleolithic (UP), using complete genome sequences from Sunghir, a site dated to ~34 thousand years BP (kya) containing multiple anatomically modern human (AMH) individuals. We demonstrate that individuals at Sunghir derive from a population of small effective size, with limited kinship and levels of inbreeding similar to HG populations. Our findings suggest that UP social organization was similar to that of living HGs, with limited relatedness within residential groups embedded in a larger mating network.
Martin Sikora1, Andaine Seguin-Orlando, Vitor C. Sousa, Anders Albrechtsen, Thorfinn Korneliussen, Amy Ko, Simon Rasmussen, Isabelle Dupanloup, Philip R. Nigst, Marjolein D. Bosch, Gabriel Renaud, Morten E. Allentoft, Ashot Margaryan, Sergey V. Vasilyev, Elizaveta V. Veselovskaya, Svetlana B. Borutskaya, Thibaut Deviese, Dan Comeskey, Tom Higham, Andrea Manica, Robert Foley, David J. Meltzer, Rasmus Nielsen, Laurent Excoffier, Marta Mirazon Lahr, Ludovic Orlando, Eske Willerslev, "Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers", Science 05 Oct 2017. eaao1807, DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1807
Bruce's report focuses on what the results might show us about mating patterns among hunter gatherers (HG). I looked at the results from a slightly different perspective. First to summarise some key points as I understood them:

  • The DNA of four individuals was analysed. The remains dated from around 34,000 years ago.
  • The DNA of the three individuals buried together share both mitochondrial and Y-chromosome lineages  That is, they formed part of the same group. However, none of them were closely related (that is, third degree or closer). Third degree relationships includes first cousins, great grandparents and great grandchildren. 
  • Modelling provided a refined estimate of the time since admixture with Nenaderthals at 770 generations (95% CI 755-786). Accounting for the uncertainty of both the admixture estimate and 14C ages, this corresponds to an admixture date between the ancestors of Sunghir and Neanderthals of between 53.6 and 58.1 kya (at 29 years/generation. However, the results from one individual suggested that there could have been a more recent admixture.
.The Aborigines arrived in Australia perhaps 60-65,000 years ago. That is before the estimated admixture date between the Sunghir and Neanderthals. They too carry Neanderthal genes, although they also carry Denisovan genes, suggesting a later mixing with Denisovan peoples. So the evidence continues to suggest that we are dealing with long and overlapping periods of interaction between different hominin species.

 I am not quite sure what conclusions to draw from the DNA results so far as breeding patterns within the Sunghir group are concerned. However, it would not be surprising if they had kinship arrangements designed to prevent in-breeding.. Aboriginal kinship arrangements have that effect while also fitting people into social structures. Those arrangements probably evolved with time. We cannot assume that those holding among Aboriginal people at the time of European occupation were the same as those holding 65,000 years before.

Too a degree, too, this type of arrangement depends upon population size. In-breeding is more common among smaller groups.    

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The construction of comfort: building upon the necessities of shelter

Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended. This is the sixth in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 
Next post.

While the first mansions such as Dalwood House or Lake Innes House were emerging in the Hunter or at Port Macquarie, the first slab huts now being built on the New England by the European occupiers remained rough structures, quickly constructed to provide shelter and a base.

This was a male society in which comfort ranked second to the basic necessities of shelter. Even then, there were some who wanted more. Crown Land Commissioner George James Macdonald was one such.

A sometimes melancholy and in the end tragic poet, Macdonald was a neat man whose sensibilities demanded order and a degree of comfort. When in March 1843 a party travelled up from the civilisation of Port Macquarie to attend the Armidale races, one of the party (Mrs Annie Baxter) expressed surprise at the Commissioner’s hut. While small and badly finished, it was well and tastefully furnished.

As women and then children arrived over the first decade after occupation, more was required. In some cases, the original homestead was extended or incorporated into new structures.

At Balala south of Uralla, the original homestead built by George Morse and Thomas Toule in 1841 became part of a complex around a courtyard. On one side was a slab schoolroom and bedroom, on the other bedrooms built in part of basalt and granite.

In other cases, new buildings were constructed. On Ohio outside Walcha, Abraham and Mary Nivison purchased the Ohio run outside Walcha in 1842 and moved into the original slab homestead standing on the property. Nivison wanted a better home for his family and began construction of a new homestead.

The first stage was finished in 1845. It included four bedrooms, a hipped roof structure and chimneys in every room and was built of stone rubble and covered with a lime mortar render. The design and construction method drew in part from Dumfriesshire in Scotland where Abraham and Mary were born.

With increasing prosperity, the homestead was renovated in the 1850s. A new kitchen and store were added, while the roof was raised to accommodate a loft. Six dormer windows were installed which remain a distinctive feature of the home’s appearance today. .

To my knowledge, dormer windows are not a feature of colonial New England architecture. I can’t help wondering, I don’t know, whether or not Ohio’s windows influenced the later design of Armidale’s Mallam House.

I will continue this story next week looking at what was, in may ways, the golden age of New England homestead and construction design.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 October 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. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Local history stories New England media - weekly round up 2

It is actually just over two weeks since my last round-up, but I do want to maintain the weekly format if I can. Please let me know if there are stories that I have missed. That way the series builds up as a resource for all those interested in local histories within the North.You can find the whole series by clicking on local history under labels on the sidebar.

To this point I have not included my own columns in these round-ups because I post them here anyway, if with a lag. However, it does seem sensible now to include them, partly for the sake of completeness, partly because some columns run in more than one paper. Because my columns often span areas, I am including them under a new heading, broader New England.

Broader New England

Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended to increase comfort and meet new needs.

I have continued my series on the built landscape and architecture of New England. The latest columns:are:
  • Number six in the series: The construction of comfort: building upon the necessities of shelter looks at the extension and replacement of the initial crude slab hut homesteads to increase comfort and accommodate families. 
  • Number seven in the series: A new wave of mansions (the first wave was in the Hunter and at Port Macquarie) traces the start of the second major homestaed mansion building phase begun by second generation settlers as wealth accumulated.   . 
Northern Rivers

At ABC North Coast, Kim Honan's Curious North Coast: Why were camphor laurel trees introduced in the Northern Rivers region? (4 October 2017) looks at the story of an introduced tree loved by many, loathed by others.

Newcastle and the Hunter

In The Singleton Argus, Elise Pfeiffer reports (11 October 2017) on problems facing the Singleton Museum. It's a good museum. I took the kids several times on our way north to Armidale. In an earlier story in the Argus that I had missed ( Ready for its official launch 'The Round Ball' the history of Association football in Singleton), Louise Nichols reports on the launch of a history of soccer in Singleton.

At Muswellbrook, the Muswellbrook Chronicle's Betina Hughes reports (Muswellbrook Shire Local and Family History Society launch two books for 2017 History Week, 5 September 2017)  on the launch of two local history books written by former Muswellbrook High School teacher Bruce James, Muswellbrook in Picture 1985 and an updated version of Another Walk Through the Town.

Greta Migrant Camp. Photo Maitland Mercury

In the Maitland Mercury, New England's oldest surviving newspaper (the Armidale Express is second), Lachlan Leeming's Memories of a Greta camp kid: Paul Szumilas reminisces on migrant camp childhood ahead of reunion (12 October 2017) records the memories of one of those who lived at the Greta Migrant Camp. This camp forms an important part of Australia's post war history. Lachlan's articles includes links to earlier articles that between them create a valuable picture of the camp and those who lived there for a period.

In the Newcastle Herald, Hunter valley military historian David Dial's Centenary of the Great War (4 October 2017) provides a snap shot of that war along with Hunter Valley enlistments and deaths for the period 1-7 October 1917. For those Facebook, David has a page dedicated to Hunter military history.

Western Slopes and Plains

Back on 2 July 2017, the Northern Daily Leader's Gunnedah's AgQuip celebrates 45 years in August provided an overview of the history of this iconic event. I hadn't seen it before and record in now because it is an interesting and important story that forms part of a bigger canvas.

On 12 October 2017, the Moree Champion had an advertising feature Moree Uniting Church is marking its  150th anniversary that provides a useful overview of the history of the church in Moree.

Northern Tablelands

In the Glen Innes Examiner, Eve Chappell  continues her explorations into local history:
In the Inverell Times, the history reports include:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Grand designs for early Northern NSW homes

Lake Innes House: An 1837 oil painting of Lake Innes House then at the peak of its luxury. The house is now in ruins. This is the fifth in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 

European occupation came to Northern New South Wales in waves, waves that are reflected in the varying pattern of the built environment across the North.

The Hunter Valley was first occupied as a penal colony. In January 1812, a small number of convicts were allowed to take up land for farms. From 1817, further settlement was allowed, but it was not until the opening of the penal colony at Port Macquarie in 1821 and the subsequent closure of the Newcastle penal colony that Valley was opened to full European occupation.

From 1826, squatters from the Hunter Valley and Hawkesbury began to seek grazing beyond the Liverpool Plains. In 1830, the Port Macquarie area was opened for settlement, creating a new route to the Tablelands. Whereas those in the Hunter and at Port Macquarie could gain full ownership of land by grant or purchase, those inland or further north were simply squatting on the land.

By the time the New England squatters were building their first slab huts, an established built landscape had emerged further south, one that we can still see today.

The presence small farmers meant that there were smaller homesteads, while some owners began the construction of New England’s first grand homes. The remains of two very early examples survive today.
Fine example: Dalwood House south view from the river. The French doors open into a central courtyard, creating air flows. 
In 1829 in the Hunter, George Wyndham began the construction of Dalwood House, a house later memorialised in Judith Wright’s Generations of Men.

A National Trust property included in the Australian Government’s Register of the National Estate, Dalwood House is the oldest known example of an Australian house built in the Georgian Grecian style that was becoming so popular.

Probably designed by Wyndham himself, the house is built of locally quarried stone and bricks fired on the site with cedar for the fine joinery cut from trees on Edward Gostwyck Cory’s nearby Gostwyck holding on the Patterson River.

It was Cory who discovered the route over the Moonbi Range later followed by the Great North Road and then established Gostwyck, Terrible Vale and Salisbury Plains stations.

Less remains of the second grand house, Lake Innes House built by Archibald Clunes Innes near Port Macquarie using convict labour. .Construction began soon after Innes arrived back in Port Macquarie in 1830 to take up a land grant and continued over much of the next decade.

By 1840, the house had 22 rooms with an underground cistern, a bathroom, privies and a boiler for providing hot water, providing a base for the lavish entertainment and hospitality .Separate bachelor quarters, servants quarters and an estate workers village were nearby, as well as stables and various farm building.

The ruins at Lake Innes are now administered by the NSW Parks and Wild Life Service which offers guided tours. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 October 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. 

Saturday, October 07, 2017

New evidence of possible early (c220,000 years ago) Neanderthal Homo Sapiens interbreeding

Interesting story in Science by Ann Gibbons (Neandertals and modern humans started mating early  Jul. 4, 2017 , 11:00 AM). The piece begins:
For almost a century, Neandertals were considered the ancestors of modern humans. But in a new plot twist in the unfolding mystery of how Neandertals were related to modern humans, it now seems that members of our lineage were among the ancestors of Neandertals. Researchers sequenced ancient DNA from the mitochondria—tiny energy factories inside cells—from a Neandertal who lived about 100,000 years ago in southwest Germany. They found that this DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, resembled that of early modern humans. 
After comparing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) with that of other archaic and modern humans, the researchers reached a startling conclusion: A female member of the lineage that gave rise to Homo sapiens in Africa mated with a Neandertal male more than 220,000 years ago—much earlier than other known encounters between the two groups. Her children spread her genetic legacy through the Neandertal lineage, and in time her African mtDNA completely replaced the ancestral Neandertal mtDNA.
Anne's article is based on a 4 July 2017 report in Nature Communications, Deeply divergent archaic mitochondrial genome provides lower time boundary for African gene flow into Neanderthals by Cosimo Posth, Christoph Wißing, Keiko Kitagawa, Luca Pagani, Laura van Holstein, Fernando Racimo, Kurt Wehrberger, Nicholas J. Conard, Claus Joachim Kind, Hervé Bocherens and Johannes Krause.

I suggest reading Anne's piece first and then the source article. This includes some very interesting material, including methodology and qualifications.  

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Building a country landscape

Deeargee shearing shed: Designed and built in 1872 by Alexander Mitchell, this shearing shed with its tiered roof shows the influence of galvanised iron on New England building.This is the fourth in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture 

There are may ways of classifying the built landscape. Those interested in architecture, for example, focus on architectural styles, usually setting these in a British or European or, later, American context.

While this is a useful and valid approach, I find it confusing because of the number of identified styles.

Some architectural histories, for example, list four styles for the old colonial period (1788-c1840), fifteen for the Victorian Period (c1840-c1890) and twelve for the Federation Period (c1890-c1915). This is hard to manage in a general sense, harder still when the architecture of an area has few or no examples of a style or varies from the conventional classification.

A second way of classifying the built landscape focuses on building materials and methods. Here the industrial revolution transformed building by introducing new materials and associated building technology.

Corrugated galvanised iron or steel more normally know just as corrugated iron is a feature of many parts of New England’s built landscape.

Corrugated iron was invented in the 1820s by Henry Robinson Palmer, architect and engineer for the London Dock Company. It was robust and relatively light weight. As shipping improved and then with the spread of the railways, it became almost ubiquitous in country Australia and New Zealand.

Corrugated iron was used in roofing, creating the roofing pattern you can see in many New England centres including Armidale. It was used in farm buildings, including the shearers’ quarters and woolshed that used to be an ever present feature of New England’s built landscape. Most were simple structures, although the 1872 Deeragee woolshed outside Uralla remains as a unique and spectacular example of shearing shed construction.

A third way of classifying the built landscape focuses on purpose. Why was the building created, how was this done, how did it work? This approach has been really popularised by the UK Grand Designs program with its focus on repurposing industrial buildings for new uses. while recognising their original heritage.

No approach is perfect. In this next part of our journey through New England’s built landscape I am going to take purpose as an entry point, focusing first on the homestead.

The European settlers who occupied Aboriginal lands from 1788 came with limited resources. For those who had travelled north often spending weeks sleeping under drays or canvas, the first priority was to build a base as quickly as possible, Then out huts had to be built for the shepherds or stockmen who guarded the flocks and herds.

The result was the slab hut. Nearby trees were cut and then sawed into a suitable length. These were then split into lengths using a maul and wedge. Rafters were erected on top to create a pitched roof that was covered with bark held down by weights.

The slab hut was a relatively quick and ready shelter that while draughty and uncomfortable at least provided a working base.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 September 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, October 02, 2017

When the Diprotodon ranged New England and the Darling Downs

The Diprotodon, a three-tonne marsupial up to 1.8 metres tall and 3.5 metres long, was one of the largest animals to roam Sahul, the prehistoric continent that became Australia.

Many mysteries remain about the Australian mega-fauna including the Diprotodon.  Now a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. by a team led by Gilbert Price has revealed intriguing if brief details about the pattern of their life.

The article abstract is set out below. Further comments follow the abstract. .
Seasonal two-way migration is an ecological phenomenon observed in a wide range of large-bodied placental mammals, but is conspicuously absent in all modern marsupials. Most extant marsupials are typically smaller in body size in comparison to their migratory placental cousins, possibly limiting their potential to undertake long-distance seasonal migrations. But what about earlier, now-extinct giant marsupial megafauna? Here we present new geochemical analyses which show that the largest of the extinct marsupial herbivores, the enormous wombat-like Diprotodon optatum, undertook seasonal, two-way latitudinal migration in eastern Sahul (Pleistocene Australia–New Guinea). Our data infer that this giant marsupial had the potential to perform round-trip journeys of as much as 200 km annually, which is reminiscent of modern East African mammal migrations. These findings provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence for repetitive seasonal migration in any metatherian (including marsupials), living or extinct, and point to an ecological phenomenon absent from the continent since the Late Pleistocene. 
Source: Seasonal migration of marsupial megafauna in Pleistocene Sahul (Australia–New Guinea) Gilbert J. Price, Kyle J. Ferguson, Gregory E. Webb, Yue-xing Feng, Pennilyn Higgins, Ai Duc Nguyen, Jian-xin Zhao, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Julien Louys
Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 284 20170785; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0785. Published 27 September 2017
The articlis behind the paywall. However, Dr Price provided details in a piece in The Conversation, Giant marsupials once migrated across an Australian Ice Age landscape (27 September 2017). For reasons that I will explain in a moment, I think that it is a little over-egged. But first, a methodological note.

The chemical signature of the foods that an organism eats becomes fixed into its teeth when they form. But, as Dr Price noted, it’s also true that “you are where you ate” becomes fixed, especially if you are a plant eater. The geochemistry of the soils where plants grow also becomes incorporated into a herbivore’s teeth. If that particular geochemical signal varies within a given tooth, it would imply that the individual fed across different geological regions when alive.

To study this, Dr Price and his team selected an upper incisor from a Darling Downs fossil and drilled numerous samples from the tough, crystalline outer enamel for a geochemical study. When this was subjected to chemical analysis, the results suggested that that the Diprotodon had displayed migratory tendencies, moving from north to south and back in a 200 mile range across the Darling Downs. Quite remarkable really, both in terms of the science and the results.

I said that the results were perhaps over-egged. As you will see when you read the piece, he compares this to the migratory patterns of the wildebeest, noting that it is the first time that this pattern has been established for marsupials and then extending his argument to establish a global significance for the find. The Darling Downs becomes the Serengeti of Australia.

The comparison of this with wildebeest migrations is a bit of a stretch. The distances travelled by the wildebeest dwarf 200k, while not all wildebeest are migratory. It does appears correct that marsupials do not display migration patterns as such. However, kangaroos are semi-nomadic and will move in search of food and water. The ethnographic evidence on the western slopes and plains suggests that during wet periods the Aboriginal population dispersed, concentrating around water sources during dry periods. This appears to reflect movements in the distribution of animals as well as vegetable foods and water.

The Diprotodons were very big animals who displayed herd behaviour. I would have thought that they would have to keep moving at least slowly or they would have just eaten out the the local vegetation. Over a twelve month period,. they could well have covered considerable distances. It makes sense that that movement should adopt a regular pattern, one that presumably had to take the existence of other herds into account as well as seasonal changes. The movement pattern averages a bit over a k a day if they moved 400k in a year. This doesn't rule out migratory patterns, the analysis of the teeth would appear to support that, simply that there are other explanations. It would be interesting to know how much a Diprotodon had to eat! This would tell us how soon they might out-eat a patch.

If we move from the macro-level that concerns Dr Price to a more regional and micro-level, Dr Price has given us a piece of information that we have never had before.

South of the Darling Downs, we have Diprotodon remains from Tambar Springs, Mooki River, Cox's Creek, Lime Springs, Redstone Creek and Cuddie Springs. They were clearly widely spread. The Liverpool Plains was, like the Darling Downs, an apparent hotspot. What Dr Price has done is to provide a piece of range data that may allow us to model the range distribution and behaviour of an extinct species in a particular area, the Western slopes and immediate plains. I think that's rather important.

There are also some real dating issues not well picked up in The Conversation piece. We don't have a lot of good dates. From what I know of the dates, I think the LGM marked the end, although it may have occurred earlier. Whatever the end date, it seems to me that there is now a very clear overlap between Aborigines and megafauna.

My thanks to regular commenter JohnB for inspiring this story.

Update 7 October 2017

Ian Vasey (@Ianvasey53) pointed me to this 1925 Armidale Chronicle story on the discovery of parts of a Diprotodon at Armidale. The Australian Museum piece on the animal provides a very good overview.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Local history stories New England media weekly round-up 1

Sailing ships, Stockton wharves
A week back ( Inverell Times, Glen Innes Examiner local history series) I gave an initial report on new local history writing in those two papers. I was going to report on the individual stories as they came out. However, since then I have discovered other papers also providing local history stories. I have decided that it would be more sensible  do a weekly round-up instead of individual reports.

Northern Tablelands

Starting with the Inverell Times, Robberies and Fund raising (20 September 2017) reports on the history of Wright Heaton in Inverell, while Grand day for rail and Inverell (27 September) reports on the opening of the railway line to Inverell in 1901. Both stories are by staff writers.

To the east in the Glen Innes Examiner, Eve Chappell's Plenty of history in store (26 September) outlines the history Glen Innes's first store It began as Archibald Mosman’s Furracabad Station store around 1852 or a little earlier managed by Mather and Gilchrist and then finished life as a general store in 1982 as Murdo Cameron Mackenzie and Sons.

Northern Rivers

Moving east, ABC North Coast has had three interesting pieces on the history of the Richmond Tweed area:
Mid North Coast
Moving south, in the Macleay Argus, Janine Watson's Kempsey Show | historic photos shared for all to enjoy (11 September) has an interesting historical photo gallery plus short story on the Kempsey show.

Newcastle and the Hunter Valley

Further south in the Newcastle Herald,
In passing, I found a much earlier story that I am including now because of its interest: Mike Scanlon, 18 September 2015, Barking mad tales of old, looks at the days when sail ruled the Newcastle wharves