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

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 

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