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

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 


Anonymous said...

And I'm sorry to say, his impression of Armihole was absolutely spot on. 50+ years later, nothing much had changed, sadly.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Anon. The city has changed since then. You are right on one point certainly. Over the last few years I have been struck by just how few people are in the streets when I visit. It does look much sleepier! It's directly connected, I think, with previous town planning decisions that have broken up the coherence of the CBD. For its size, Armidale has a remarkable number of the chains but they are all spread.

Ken Williams said...

Please - Frank Rickwood. Became a professional geologist, leading to a subsequent brilliant career in both geology and business. Well described elsewhere, and undoubtedly one of NEUC's true greats. Don't know where that "Wickwood" could have come from!

Jim Belshaw said...

Oh dear, Ken. Of course I know that's his name. The W is just a typo that I did not pcik up. Thank you. I have corrected the post.