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

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Papuans replace initial settlers in Oceania

Mark Lipson et al had an interesting paper, Population Turnover in Remote Oceania Shortly After Initial Settlement (bioRxiv preprint first posted online Feb. 19, 2018) on genetic mixtures in Oceania. The summary reads in part:
Ancient DNA analysis of three individuals dated to ~3000 years before present (BP) from Vanuatu and one ~2600 BP individual from Tonga has revealed that the first inhabitants of Remote Oceania (“First Remote Oceanians”) were almost entirely of East Asian ancestry, and thus their ancestors passed New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands with minimal admixture with the Papuan groups they encountered [1]. However, all present-day populations in Near and Remote Oceania harbor 25-100% Papuan ancestry, implying that there must have been at least one later stream of migration eastward from Near Oceania. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 6 - Brothers immersed in Depression economics

New England University College first geology class 1939. Just one male! Mary Hindmarsh, Catherine Miller, Rae Anthony, Frank Rickwood, Sylvia Willoughby and Joan Bates

As the first stage of the Great Depression began to grip the world in 1929, Governments around the world began to adopt protectionist measures.

In 1930, the Republican controlled US Congress passed the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act imposing punitive import tariffs on US imports. Other countries retaliated. In 1932 under pressure from the Dominions, the Ottowa Imperial Economic Conference adopted a system of Imperial preference, breaking long standing Imperial support for free trade.

US exports collapsed, falling more than 50 per cent in the years after passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariff. This spread depression across the US.

In both New Zealand and Australia, governments turned to the still small pool of local economists for support. In 1932 Horace Belshaw, along with fellow professors Douglas Copland, James Hight and Albert Tocker, was appointed by the NZ Coalition Government to an economic committee to advise on measures for dealing with the depression.

Horace Belshaw had been writing extensively on the economic position of New Zealand farmers, focusing on their increasing indebtedness and possible reforms to the systems of land tenure and credit, including mortgage adjustment and the need for a central bank.

Now the committee recommended depreciation of the exchange rate and mortgage adjustment as well as wage cuts. Most of the recommendations were put into effect, but the Treasury opposed depreciation and the government delayed implementing it until 1933.

While Horace was engaged in the debate on  New Zealand economic and farm policy, his younger brother was completing his postgraduate studies. Both his MAs had had an economic policy component. Now his Manchester PhD was on Depression, Recovery and Reconstruction in New Zealand, 1929-1932.

As Jim Belshaw later remarked, there is something wonderfully efficient in selecting topics where your brother can supply you with all the key documents!

To this point, Jim Belshaw had been effectively living in the shadow of his elder brother. He had formed interests and views that would have a major impact on New England, but had yet to carve out his own role, his place in the world. .

We know now that the new University College would provide that place, that he would spend the rest of his life in Armidale. But that was not clear when he arrived in early February 1938, nor would he have necessarily welcomed it had he known.  

He was young, fresh faced, so young that Jean Dyce, the Warden’s secretary wanted, to enrol him as the first student and was disappointed when she could not. This was his first permanent job outside teaching.

He was not impressed with Armidale. The place was small, dry and dusty. Despite his reservations, he threw himself into the job and, with that, the world changed.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 21 February 2018. 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, here 2018 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Michael O'Rourke reviews John Whitehead's Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Volume 5 Cunningham’s Expedition across the Liverpool Plains 1825

I hadn't heard of John Whitehead until I read Michael O'Rourke's review of  John Whitehead's Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Volume 5 Cunningham’s Expedition across the Liverpool Plains 1825. It is one of a series of books by Whitehead tracing the journeys of botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham.

Michael summarises the book in this way
This well set out book by John Whitehead, formerly the Shire Engineer at Coonabarabran NSW, maps and relates in exquisite detail one of the lesser-known expeditions of the English-born botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham (1791–1839). In 1825 his small party trekked from today’s outer north-west Sydney north to the Hunter Valley. They then followed the route of an earlier (1823) botanical tour to Pandoras Pass in the north-west. Then they entered the south-west sector of the vast Liverpool Plains, the second party of colonists ever to do so.
For those who do not know Michael, he describes himself as an independent scholar. I know his work and he displays a punctilious eye for detail. That is partly why Mr Whitehead's book appeals to him - like appeals to like! I do not disagree.

The real advantage of work such as this is that it allows detailed tracing of the journeys of the early explorers. When I first studied Australian history I found this stuff fairly boring. I suppose I saw the explorers more in terms of what would come, not realising what an important resource they were in describing the land before it was changed by European occupation. Now as a regional historian, they have become a major resource.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 5 - Belshaw appointed to Armidale

Doc: Jim Belshaw, 1940, two years after arriving in Armidale

Sydney, July 1937. 

Now 29, Jim Belshaw returns to New Zealand from England having completed his PhD in economics at Manchester. At Sydney, Belshaw went ashore to inquire about job prospects at the University and the banks. At the Bank of New South Wales Economics Department he heard vague rumours about a proposed university college to be established in a remote part of the state. Those he talked to were not impressed.

In December 1937, the first five academic positions at the New England University College were advertised. Without much enthusiasm and with decided reservations, Belshaw decided to apply, beating thirty five other applicants for the position of foundation lecturer in history and economics.

Previously, we left Belshaw sitting in his fettler’s cottage turned school master’s residence at Tahekeroa north of Auckland. He had just failed to get a scholarship to study in the UK despite completing a masters with first class honours and .first in New Zealand

Now Belshaw sat down to do another masters, this one in history: “New Zealand in the Crisis: An Essay in Recent Economic History.” This time after again gaining first class honours and first in New Zealand, Belshaw was awarded the coveted scholarship to study in the UK.

The scholarship provided for a return first class steamer fare plus tuition and living costs at a university of your choice. This was a new world for the still young Belshaw with his provincial and working class background. Among other things, he had to buy his first dinner jacket to wear at dinner, a heavy wool affair that proved to be quite unsuitable on a ship sailing through the tropics!

I think that one of the things that would make Belshaw so effective as a teacher at New England is that he understood what it was like for often insecure students from families with no exposure to university education. It could also make him demanding because he knew what was possible and had strongly developed views on academic standards.

Relationships between older and younger brothers, or indeed between generations, can be complicated.

Jim Belshaw was following in the footsteps of his elder brother. By the time Belshaw was completing his second MA, Horace had become a major New Zealand public figure, setting a considerable challenge for the younger man.

Jim Belshaw rejected Cambridge for his PhD because Horace had gone there, choosing instead to go to Manchester near original Belshaw home country. However, the two brothers shared interests and values. 

My next column will carry the story through to the early days of the New England University College as Jim Belshaw established his own place. This was also the period in which the now New Zealand Belshaws became the Pacific Belshaws. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 7 February 2018. 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, here 2018 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 4 - ideas, values and attitudes begin to form

Teacher's residence a fettler's cottage, Tahekeroa 1930. Jim Belshaw on the far left. The school was a railway carriage nearby.

Tahekeroa north of Auckland, 1930. The 22 year old Jim Belshaw is teaching at the little local school while working on his masters degree. The school is in a railway carriage, the teacher living in a small fettler’s hut next door. Wages have been cut by a third because of the Depression.

I know from experience that my father was a very basic cook. He was busy and did not care to spend a lot of time on domestic trivia. Sister May used to come up from Auckland from time to time to cook him a meal, and he was invited to some meals by members of the local Moravian community.

They went further. Feeling that their young teacher should be married, that he spent too much time with his books, they attempted to match him with local girls.

The focused Belshaw wasn’t interested. However, he did find time to play as half at provincial level in rugby and continued his involvement with the Workers’ Educational Association where elder brother Horace was now organising annual summer camps.

It was on one of those camps that Jim introduced sister May to a friend of his, Vic Fisher. As a young man, Vic had become fascinated by the bush, the Māori and Polynesian society and history in general.

In 1930 he was appointed assistant ethnologist at the Auckland Museum. Over the next 37 years as first assistant ethnologist and then ethnologist, he would play a major role in promoting interest in Māori and Polynesian society and history. He was also one of the founders of New Zealand archaeology and the New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Vic was a very gentle man, an enthusiast who had considerable impact on those around him. He taught my brother and I to play chess, allowed us to sit in the big Māori war canoe and showed us how to light a fire with flint.

At his death, he was working on a project showing the similarities between Māori and Elizabethan English linked to their nature as wood using cultures.

There must seem a large gap between Tahekeroa in 1930 and New England in 2018, but the ideas and attitudes under development among the Belshaws would have a considerable impact on the early history of the University of New England and indeed beyond.

Jim Belshaw completed his MA in economics on “Post-War Unemployment and Unemployment Policies in New Zealand” in the minimum time allowed. He received first class honours and first in New Zealand.

This was not enough. There was only one scholarship in New Zealand for an expenses paid study at a UK university of your choice. This was awarded to another candidate. Belshaw had to begin again.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 31 January 2018. 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, here 2018 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Further dating evidence sets context for Aboriginal occupation of Australia

Misliya Cave is part of a series of prehistoric cave sites located along the western slopes of Mount Carmel, Israel. An upper left jawbone with most of the teeth attached attributed to homo sapiens  has been dated to 177,000-194,000 years ago, pushing back the date at which modern humans left Africa. 

New research results continue to deepen our understanding of the hominin past.

In a piece in National Geographic (These Tools Upend Our View of Stone-Age Humans in Asia, 31 January 2018) Michael Gresko provides an overview of new research reported in Nature. The authors of that research summarise their results in this way: 
Luminescence dating at the stratified prehistoric site of Attirampakkam, India, has shown that processes signifying the end of the Acheulian culture and the emergence of a Middle Palaeolithic culture occurred at 385 ± 64 thousand years ago (ka), much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia.  The Middle Palaeolithic continued at Attirampakkam until 172 ± 41 ka. Chronologies of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in regions distant from Africa and Europe are crucial for testing theories about the origins and early evolution of these cultures, and for understanding their association with modern humans or archaic hominins, their links with preceding Acheulian cultures and the spread of Levallois lithic technologies. The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints. At Attirampakkam, the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component all highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies. These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385 ± 64 ka and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe. This suggests complex interactions between local developments and ongoing global transformations. Together, these observations call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka.
These results are interesting because they add  evidence for the spread of early hominin and the emergence of quite sophisticated stone technology, this time in India. This is probably the area the predecessors of the Australian Aborigines moved through so many millennia later.

In a second piece, this time in The ConversationFossil jawbone from Israel is the oldest modern human found outside Africa, 26 January 2018, Rolf Quam reports on the dating of human fossilised teeth found in the Misliya cave in Israel. The fossil, an upper left jawbone with most of the teeth attached, has been dated to 177,000-194,000 years ago. This is considerably older than any other remains from our own species, Homo sapiens, ever discovered outside of Africa  .

In a paper to be delivered in Israel this week,  John Hawks proposes to reflect on  the deep time of human origins and evolution:
To me, right now, the most critical area where we know the story was complex, and badly need new data and models to understand that complexity, is around 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. 
It was then that our modern human ancestors in Africa began to differentiate from an initially small population into branches that still exist in different regions of Africa today. It is now clear that many other hominin populations existed at the same time, including Homo naledi and some archaic forms of humans in Africa, Neandertals, Denisovans, and possibly other archaic humans in Eurasia, Homo floresiensis in Flores (and maybe others). In Africa, in Europe, and in Asia, some ancient populations experimented with, and ultimately adopted, new stone tool forms.
The big questions of human evolution all now cause us to focus upon this time interval for answers. How did culture influence our evolutionary pathway? How did ancestral hominins become modern humans? How did these hominin populations fit into their environment in ways that enabled them to survive and coexist? 
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I now think that this critical time period is where we must look
I would love to hear those reflections.

So what do we make of all this?

  • Around 385 ± 64 thousand years ago we have the emergence of a reasonably sophisticated stone using hominin technology in India
  • Around 250,000 to 350,000 years ago we have the emergence of Homo Sapiens in Africa
  • Around 177,000-194,000 years ago we appear to have Homo Sapiens in what is now Israel
  • Around 65,000 years ago, the Aborigines were in Australia having traveled through Pleistocene Asia, most probably but not certainly via what is now India. 
No doubt the pattern will shift further as we learn more, but it does provide a working approximation for further thought.