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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The custom of the good Aussie cuppa

Billy Tea advertisement: Advertising always reflects current tropes. This ad plays to national themes in a way intended to present the brand as uniquely Australian.This is the fifth in a series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood  

In 1893, Sydney doctor Philip E Muskett, one of the first Australian nutritionists, attacked Australians love of meat, tea and tobacco.

Australians would be healthier, he suggested, if they ate more salads, drank more wine, substituted a small cup of coffee for tea and walked six or more miles a day. This advice was largely ignored.

By 1893, Australians had become the world’s largest per capita consumer of tea with their own tea culture. .This love emerged in the early period of European settlement and for very practical reasons.

The East India Company ships that carried first convicts and later free settlers to NSW went on to China to load tea for the British market. Some of that tea was left behind in Sydney on the return journey to meet local demand.

Unlike England where high taxes on tea limited consumption, tea was a freely available relatively cheap product in NSW. 
"'Would you like a cuppa' or 'I will put the kettle on' continue as Australian welcoming phrases."
Its low bulk and high value allowed it to be distributed easily across an increasingly dispersed settlement. It disguised the taste of often muddy water and replenished fluids lost in heavy work in high temperatures.

Green tea was initially popular. Then came black Chinese tea. Later still, came black tea from India and Ceylon.

Green tea was largely drunk unsweetened. Sweetened tea became popular with black tea. The rations provided to agricultural workers came to include a mix of meat, flour, sugar, tea and salt.

Today, we are used to tea made in pots. However, while teapots appear to date back to the Chinese Yuan dynasty founded by Kublai Khan in the 13th Century, they were not common for ordinary people until later in the Industrial Revolution when cheap mass produced versions became available.

Initially, tea was brewed in quart pots and then in that universal Australian icon, the billy.

The billy offered several advantages. It was lighter, you could fit a smaller billy inside a larger one and attach both to your swag via the metal loop at the top. That loop also made it easier to place the billy on or remove it from the fire. You could also carry water in the billy for later use.

In 1883, Alfred Bushell established what is claimed to be Australia’s first teahouse in Queensland. It is no coincidence that when his sons took the business to Sydney in 1899, they created Billy Tea as the new firm’s central brand.

Today coffee has replaced tea as the dominant Australian drink. However, tea’s dominance survives in morning tea, afternoon tea or just tea for the evening meal.

“Would you like a cuppa” or “I will put the kettle on” continue as Australian welcoming phrases. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 23 May 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, May 23, 2018

Bathing becomes a warmer prospect

A new, more comfortable, era: Enjoying the luxury of hot water in an early advertisement. This is the fourth in a series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood  

The hot showers or baths that we take for granted today require water, a way of transporting and heating the water, a way of disposing of the waste water

.The first instantaneous hot water heater – the geyser – was invented by an English painter Benjamin Maughan in 1868. In 1889, the first storage hot water system was invented in the US. In 1915, Dux started making electric hot water heaters in Australia,

By 1900, some big New England homes or institutions had boiler systems that provided heating and hot water. However, the new domestic systems were slow to spread because they depended upon money and access to electricity or gas that was in limited supply outside urban areas.

In Australia and New Zealand, the invention of the chip heater from the 1880s provided a partial solution to the heating problem. This consisted of a cylindrical unit with a fire box and flue, through which a water pipe was run. Water was drawn from a cold water tank and circulated through the fire box. When heated, the water was drawn off to the area where it was used, typically in a bath.

Heat was provided by paper, chips and often pine cones. This could heat the water quickly, but would go cold if too much was run off. A careful balancing act was required to draw of the water at the right speed. A bath could take quite some time to prepare.

One common memory among those who grew up with chip heaters is the sound. They roar from the sound of the fire and boiling water.

As late as 1958, many houses in New England towns were not connected to either town water or electricity.

“We didn’t have electricity, we relied on tank water and our bathroom contained a chip heater, clawfoot bath and a cement floor” one New Englander recalled of 1958 weekly bath nights. .

“We would collect chips from the woodpile in a bucket and on Sundays Mum or Dad would light the chip heater and run a bath. Dad would add paper and chips and a dash of kerosene and the chip heater would roar and spit out boiling water. Very scary!”

“The kids bathed first, followed by Mum and Dad. As the only girl I got to bath first. About three inches of water in the bottom of a huge bathtub wasn't a lot. After I finished, more water was added for each person.”

“After our bath Mum would always check behind and inside our ears and the bottoms of our feet to make sure we had washed properly.”

“I so envied the full bath that my Dad used. Never even considering that five other people had bathed before him!”

The tone is nostalgic, but you can see why so many older New Englanders still regard hot running water as the ultimate luxury. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 May 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, May 22, 2018

A few references for later follow up

I have been running out of time to write up research results so I thought that would simply list them for later work:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cold Comfort of early days

Big day: Opening of the Armidale electricity works in 1922. Even by the early 1950s, many homes did not have access to either electricity or town water.This is the third in a new series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood  

One of Australian poet Mary Gilmore’s poems is called The Saturday Tub. The poem is a nostalgic look at childhood. The writer, dreaming by the fire, is thrown back where I used to be in eighteen hundred and something three.

The children line up to take their turn in front of a bath the size of a churn. It was, 'where's the flannel?" and, "Mind the soap!" Slither and slide, and scuffle and grope. Clean, they are dried, dressed in a night dress and packed of to bed with a prayer.

Today, we take a hot shower for granted, a necessity to get our day started. We forget how recent this is. Perhaps we only learn this when people start reminiscing.

A hot shower or bath is actually a complex process.. It requires water, a way of heating and transporting the water, a way of disposing of the waste water.

In most of the early town in New England and Southern Queensland water came from local streams, from wells, from the sky as rain stored in tanks. It was in short reply and not always very good.

At Hillgrove where water was always short, run-off from Bracken Street carried filth and rubbish accumulated from homes and businesses down the ridge to form putrid pools. At Inverell, the shallower town cesspits polluted the deeper water wells. In both cases, disease and death resulted.

The newly formed but short of funds municipal councils looked to improve the situation.

In Armidale, the council first developed a well in the market square, but was then forced to look for a bigger solution. The result was the Dumaresq Dam. and the first municipal water supply in 1897. Glen Innes was slower, developing a scheme to pump water from the river in 1918.

Other towns came along in their own way and at their own pace, with water supply depending upon the precise geography of the area as well as available funds. Outside the towns, the small settlements and farming properties remained dependent on tanks, dams and streams.

First gas and then electricity did spread, but the process was slow and variable. Wood remained the dominant fuel for cooking and heating in the towns and countryside and still does in many places.

As late as the early 1950s, some houses in Armidale still had no electricity nor access to town water. Other towns were in a similar position.

At Marsh Street in Armidale where I grew up, we had both electricity and town water. However, wood was still our main fuel. The house well had been filled in, but we had two big tanks, one providing water to the house, the other to the out-door laundry with its big copper and the garden.

In my next column, I will share with you some of the nostalgic memories of the days before hot showers were possible.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 May 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, May 15, 2018

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Labour of the laundry cycle

Lighter work: A 1954 washing machine advertisement. The new washing machines came as a great relief to most. This is the second in a new series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood  

I briefly mentioned coppers and the washing cycle in my last column. Today we forget just how much labour was involved in ordinary domestic life.

We also forget just how structured that life was. It had to be to fit everything in.

In many household, Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing day, Wednesday was mending, sewing and baking day, Thursday was cleaning day, Friday was shopping day, Saturday was for sports while Sunday was for worship, church and visiting friends and relatives.

Garry Mansfield remembers the washing routine in his own household just before the first washing machines became common. On Sunday, he would have to chop kindling and “second wood” and set the fire under the laundry copper ready for the Monday.

The copper might be found in a laundry at the back of the house or sometimes in a small building separate from the house. The copper was set into a brick surround with a fire box at the base and a chimney to carry the fumes away.

Next to the copper would be two or sometimes three cement tubs, a vital component in the washing process. You will still find these in some of the older houses.

Early on Monday morning the copper had to be filled, usually from the tank, ready for sheets and whites to be boiled first. Soap or soap powder was added to the water. As the water boiled, a smooth copper wood stick was used to stir the clothes around. The sticks became very smooth and whitened from constant use.

Once the clothes were ready, the stick was used to transfer them to the rinsing tub and then as appropriate to the third tub which might contain Reckitt’s blue bag for the whites. In some cases, a mechanical mangle was used to wring the clothes before their transfer to the washing basket.

The whole process was reasonably complex and involved a production line. While the whites were boiling, stained clothes might be soaked and scrubbed in the rinsing tub to be ready for their turn in the copper. Then the first load would be hung out to dry while the second was heating.

With bigger families, multiple washes were required making for a very hot and steamy laundry.

That Australian icon the Hills Hoist was invented in 1945, most washing lines were still strung between poles in backyards. Once the washing was hung, forked sticks were used lift the lines to gain maximum exposure to sun and wind.

As the washing was brought in, another production line began. Clothes requiring ironing were damped down and the rolled up so as to be ready for the Monday iron.

The new washing machines that became more readily available in the 1950s had their own problems, overload the wringers and they would jam or come apart, but they were a welcome relief to the overloaded housewife! 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 May 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, May 08, 2018

Climate deteriorations and Neanderthal demise in interior Iberia - a note

Interesting paper by Wolf, Kolb et al on the impact of climate change and Neanderthal demise in interior Iberior. The abstract reads:
Time and circumstances for the disappearance of Neanderthals and its relationship with the advent of Modern Humans are not yet sufficiently resolved, especially in case of the Iberian Peninsula. Reconstructing palaeoenvironmental conditions during the last glacial period is crucial to clarifying whether climate deteriorations or competition and contacts with Modern Humans played the pivotal role in driving Neanderthals to extinction. A high-resolution loess record from the Upper Tagus Basin in central Spain demonstrates that the Neanderthal abandonment of inner Iberian territories 42 kyr ago coincided with the evolvement of hostile environmental conditions, while archaeological evidence testifies that this desertion took place regardless of modern humans’ activities. According to stratigraphic findings and stable isotope analyses, this period corresponded to the driest environmental conditions of the last glacial apart from an even drier period linked to Heinrich Stadial 3. Our results show that during Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 4 and 2 climate deteriorations in interior Iberia temporally coincided with northern hemisphere cold periods (Heinrich stadials). Solely during the middle MIS 3, in a period surrounding 42 kyr ago, this relation seems not straightforward, which may demonstrate the complexity of terrestrial climate conditions during glacial periods. 
D. Wolf, T. Kolb, M. Alcaraz-Castaño, S. Heinrich, P. Baumgart, R. Calvo, J. Sánchez, K. Ryborz, I. Schäfer, M. Bliedtner, R. Zech, L. Zöller & D. Faust, "Climate deteriorations and Neanderthal demise in interior Iberia", Scientific Reports,volume 8, Article number: 7048 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41598-018-25343-6 Received: 20 September 2017, Accepted 17 April 2018, Published 04 May 2018

One of the issues we have discussed here that also came up in discussion during my recent Armidale seminar paper is the need to properly understand local variations in climatic conditions during the Pleistocene and Holocene if we are to understand the Aboriginal history of New England.

This paper makes the same point in a different context. The abstract is fairly dry (the full paper is on-line: link above), but a key point from the paper can be summarised this way: interior Iberia (modern Spain) became very dry and inhospitable with reduced vegetation at particular periods. One period coincided with Neanderthal occupation. It seems that the Neanderthals were not wiped out,  but may have retreated to coastal refuge areas where conditions were more benign. .

During glacial periods, the climate became drier as well as colder because so much water was tied up in ice. However, there were considerable variations at local level. For example, research results from the Little Llangothlin lagoon on the high New England suggest local variations during the Late Glacial Maximum that do not quite fit with the conventional analysis.

I now have a mass of new reading to do and to report on!

Thursday, May 03, 2018

New England Travels: journeys through space and time

Paper delivered by Jim Belshaw in the University of New England’s Humanities seminar series, 13 April 2018
This morning I am going to take you on a journey through the history of New England {1} It’s a vast canvas spanning more than 30,000 years of human history. I can do no more than give you a taste. Think of it as a history dégustation:  the careful, appreciative tasting of elements of our history that might encourage you to go further, to explore for yourself.

I talk as a public historian. While I am connected with the academy, I remain somewhat outside. My primary audience is those interested in or who might be interested in New England history. My platforms are my newspaper columns, my blogs, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as my sometimes academic papers and book contributions such as my chapters in Came to New England published to mark the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the New England University College (2).

I seek to attract, to entertain, to involve, to teach. My readers give me feedback and leads. Some become very close to research assistants.

First threads: introducing social change, New England thought, the influence of UNE

When I write as a professional historian, I try to observe the canons of the discipline as taught to me at this place all those years ago. It was a very strong department with 16 staff excluding three vacant positions. Student numbers were smaller, making for an intense experience. Today we talk of history method. Then all honours students were required to study a course on the theory as well as method of history, a philosophy of history course taught by Ted Tapp.

A poet as well as an historian, Ted was a quiet, serious man who sometimes went beyond his students’ comprehension. I’m not sure quite how much I understood, but that plus Philosophy I were two of the most important courses in forming the intellectual views I now hold.  They told me how the towering intellectual constructs we work with, all the frames of our intellectual and moral beliefs, are humanly determined and can be analyzed. I learned the difference between correlation and causation. Perhaps most importantly from Ted, I learned following Karl Popper that we cannot know for certain, that all knowledge based on evidence is only knowledge if it is potentially refutable. If it cannot be refuted, it is not knowledge but belief. For that reason, the professional historian must provide the evidence on which conclusions are based so others can check and follow up.

In saying this, I am not denying the importance of faith, nor of ideas based on faith. This was a matter of considerable interest to us as students, for we were a religious lot. In my case, I was an active member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship, attended Student Christian Movement activities including its national conference in Adelaide and had friends who were active in the Evangelical Union. We argued and debated about religion and its implications for life, action and reform. Then came great changes, changes documented in part by Don Beer, a member of the history department, in his article, ‘The Holiest Campus’, its Decline and Transformation: The University of New England, 1946–79(3)
These changes were profound and deep, part of a broader set of changes that affected every aspect of New England life. Mathew Jordon’s book Spirit of True Learning: The Jubilee History of the University of New England explores some of the changes at the University, while Kenneth Dempsey's Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town (4), a sociological study, looks at the impact  in the Barool Methodist parish, in fact the Uralla-Arding parish. Dempsey, a postgraduate student at UNE, the son of a Methodist minister and himself a Methodist minister, places local changes and tensions in the context of broader changes taking place in the Methodist church.

In This Land of Promise. The Ursuline Order in Australia 1882-1982(5), Ursuline sister and history department staff member Pauline Kneipp in part considers the impact of global changes on the order and on the life of the sisters. One effect was the shift of the Ursuline’s national headquarters from Armidale to Canberra and the closure of the Armidale school that had been the original reason for their existence in this country.

Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia takes a different approach (6). Don did the Leaving Certificate, the precursor of the High School Certificate, at Armidale High School in 1953 before studying at UNE. Fifty years later, he went back for a reunion of the class of 53. This led him to think of an article that became a book looking at change in Australia since the Second World War through the prism set by the experiences and attitudes of the class of 53. It’s a fascinating book, one that draws out a deep weariness in the group at the pace and extent of change.

I may seem to have drifted, but I have just given you an initial taste of number of threads in New England history, threads that will recur. One is the nature and importance of social, cultural and economic change across the history of New England from Aboriginal times to today. A second is the existence of New England thought, a distinct cultural, political and intellectual tradition. A third is the influence of the Armidale Teachers’ College, UNE and later the other colleges and universities on New England thought, culture and life, as well as on students who carried the New England experience across the world.

Second threads: geography, environmental change, new states, what’s in a name?

To this point, I have been using the term New England without defining it. So where and what is New England? There are two parts to this question: the geographical area covered and the names attached to that area. My answers will introduce you to further threads in the history of this place that I call New England.
In geographical terms, the area covered is the Northern or New England Tablelands and the river valleys that extend from the Tablelands to the north, south, east and west. Defined in this way, we have a natural geographic unit that exists independent of political or administrative boundaries.

This is a large area. From Lake Macquarie in the south to Tweed Heads on the Queensland border is over 700 km (434 miles), from Coffs Harbour on the coast to Bourke on the Darling River is almost 900 km (559 miles) by road. To provide an international comparison. London to Edinburgh is around 666 km (414 miles) by road, New York to Washington a mere 364km (226 miles). Putting this another way, depending upon the precise boundaries adopted, New England at around 166,000 square kilometres (64,000 square miles) is 25 per larger than England.

This large territory contains a number of distinct bioregions each containing multiple micro-environments. This creates a hierarchy that cascades from the broad area down to the bioregions and then the microenvironments within them, each with its own history.

We can see this pattern if we look at Aboriginal New England at the time of European occupation, something I explored in more detail in my 2010 paper to the Armidale and District Historical Society on the distribution of Aboriginal languages across New England (7). To the west, we have the riverine language groups extending down the Western Slopes and flowing onto the Western Plains of which the Gamilaraay were the largest. On the east, we have coastal language groups such as the Bundjalung, the Yaegl, the Gumbaingirr and the Daingatti to name a few. Then in the middle we have the smaller Tablelands languages such as the Anaiwan squeezed between the bigger language groups on each side.

The territories of the main language groups are related to river catchments, while within them we have a cascade from the main language groups through dialects to hordes or clans and then family groups whose territory is determined by both catchments and local environmental conditions, my microenvironments. The nature of interaction between groups within the hierarchy including trade were determined by relative resources and cultural links, making for a complex pattern that we do not fully understand.

We now come to another thread in New England history, the nature of environmental change. We do not know when people first arrived in New England. My present best guess based on dating patterns is between 30 and 32,000 years ago (8). The millennia since have seen many dramatic environmental changes. Sea levels have varied from perhaps 60 metres below current levels to 120 plus metres below to one to two metres above. Rainfall, wind and temperature patterns have varied greatly over this long period, with consequent changes to vegetation and animal life. Water courses have shifted, changed.

There is a saga here of human adaptation, of survival and change. To understand this, to explore the deep New England past, requires us to drill down, to look at the detail of change. It also requires us to put aside sometimes deeply held preconceptions. The geographic and human patterns that existed in 1788 were not the same as those that existed 6,000 or 30,000 years before. The visual images we hold today provide no real guidance to that past.

To illustrate this, take your picture of the Tablelands and strip away most of the current vegetation, replace it with tundra with periglacial conditions in spots. Or perhaps as an even more dramatic example, replace your images of the beaches, rivers, forests and estuaries of the entire North Coast with a more rugged coastline dropping sharply to a cold and more distant sea.

I now turn to the second part of the question I posed earlier, the names attached to that area I am calling New England, in so doing introducing further threads in the history of New England.

I note that  my use of the term “New England” is broader than current usage which tends to limit the term to the Tablelands or to Tablelands and Western Slopes. The broader entity has been variously called the North, the Northern Provinces, the Northern Districts and then, increasingly, New England from 1932 when the New State Movement first adopted the name for the North. This created a distinction between the Tablelands, the New England, and the broader new state area.

The Northern Separation, later New England New State, Movement is another key thread in the history of New England in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.(9). It began in the period leading up to the separation of the Moreton Bay colony, now Queensland, in 1859. It continues today if in a presently low key way especially via Facebook, making it the second oldest political movement in Australia after the union movement.  

Agitation has proceeded in surges. The colonial period saw separatist agitation established as a vehicle for protest. Then last century came major surges in the 1920s, the 1930s and then in the 1950s and 1960s culminating in the narrowly lost 1967 plebiscite. The waves created by each surge ultimately crashed against the barriers created by constitutional structures and existing vested interests, but each left a benefit behind. We would not be at this place today without those waves.

The effective collapse of the organised new state movement after the plebiscite loss and the political infighting that followed coincided with dramatic social and economic change from the 1970s including loss of industry, progressive structural decline and the rise of the coast. The regional social, cultural, political and media infrastructure that had supported cooperative action collapsed. The local parochialism that been one of the bedevilling features of New England life since the emergence of the towns reasserted itself, while the sense of Northern or New England identity declined, as did external recognition of that identity.

At a personal level, I find the second half of the twentieth century and the first decades of this century hard to research and write about because of a pervading sense of personal loss at our relative decline.(10)  I hope as a professional historian that I do follow those tenets I talked about before, allowing the evidence to dictate conclusions. However, as a public historian, I see part of my role as equivalent to a historical rescue dig, seeking to preserve and present a past, to show its texture and value before the next range of social and economic change rolls over the top.

With the decline, use of the term New England shrank from its broader coverage back towards the Tablelands. However, while I use other terms such as the North where appropriate, I retain New England for practical as well as sentimental reasons.

The terms Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North all have their own problems. To begin with, they are Sydney centric terms defined by their relationship to Sydney. Initially, the use of the terms expanded with European occupation progressively extending towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. The separation of Queensland in 1859 put a hard barrier in place. Queensland now had its own north.

Some years ago I coined the term border myopia to describe the way borders affect our thinking, blinding us. Queensland promotes the Granite Belt as a special unique area. Few realise that the Granite Belt is in fact part of the New England Tablelands. Tenterfield is about 44 minutes by road south of Stanthorpe. Had the border been shifted south just a little bit, Tenterfield would now be the southern part of the Granite Belt and part of Queensland tourism promotion.

The Commonwealth Games opening ceremony featured in part the Yugambeh Aboriginal nation because of its Gold Coast linkages. Less well recognised is that Yugambeh-Bundjalung, also known as Bandjalangic, is the Aboriginal language group that stretched from the north bank of the Clarence into South East Queensland including what is now the Gold Coast. When the Queensland border was created, the hard political line created not only divided Aboriginal groups placing related people under different legal jurisdictions but also affected the way we see relationships. You cannot write a history of the Aboriginal peoples within Northern NSW without addressing cross-border linkages.

Following the creation of Queensland, the coverage of the terms Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North shrank in NSW to the area up to the new political border, setting up its own inconsistencies. You can see this easily if you look at terms in use today.

What does the term the North mean? It doesn’t mean all of Northern NSW but actually the north-east of NSW. The term North Coast was used to describe the area from the border to the Hunter. Then came a short gap to the Central Coast followed by another gap around Sydney and then the South Coast. Today we have the term Mid North Coast to describe the area from the Northern Rivers to the Hunter. But where is the South North Coast? Or, indeed, the North Coast? It remains easier to use the term New England unless the context demands otherwise.

Third Thread: prehistory and Aboriginal studies, multidisciplinary studies, challenges for regional historians

I have already referred to the importance of  geography and the environment in New England history and thought. I now want to extend this discussion using my own experiences as a base, placing it in the context of multidisciplinary studies and the challenges faced by regional historians in integrating and tailoring broader research to regional stories.

In Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, Billy Griffiths explores the history of Australian archaeology (11). There he wrote of the work and influence of Isabel McBryde at the University of New England and beyond.

Isabel came to UNE in 1959 as the first tenured lecturer in Australia to carry the word prehistory in her job title. Her 1966 honours class in prehistory of which I was a member was, I think,  the first honours class of its kind in Australia.

Isabel was introduced to archaeology and Australian prehistory by John Mulvaney at the University of Melbourne who became her mentor[12]. Like Mulvaney, she went to Cambridge to study in Professor Grahame Clark’s Department. Clarke is arguably the most important global prehistorian of his generation. He emphasised the importance of exploring economies and environmental conditions if you were to understand prehistory.

Later, Clarke and the Cambridge School would be criticised by Mulvaney and others for its geographical determinism and its excessive influence on Australian prehistory. A particular criticism was that the approach ignored the way in which culture and human choice affected life. Prehistoric peoples were not just passive actors, but active participants in the ways they chose to respond to and manage the world around them.

I don’t think that Isabel was ever limited by the Cambridge School. I say this, partly from my direct personal experience, partly from what I learned later about her overall approach. There were four distinct elements in her approach:
  •  A belief under John Mulvaney’s influence that prehistorians and archaeologists had to move away from generalised continent wide conclusions to focus on regional sequences
  • A focus on the collection of existing historical and ethnographic material that might inform prehistoric research
  • The deliberate use of local contacts, historical societies and increasingly Aboriginal people themselves as informants and guides
  • A conscious choice to tap the widest possible range of specialist support within UNE and beyond that might inform her research.
The result was a period of incredible productivity. By 1978, UNE students had written at least 22 theses on the Aborigines. Isabel herself was awarded her PhD in 1967, laying the basis for a 1974 book  Aboriginal prehistory in New England: an archaeological survey of northeastern New South Wales (Sydney University Press).  This was followed in 1978 by book of essays, Records of Time Past: ethnohistorical essays on the culture and ecology of the New England tribes (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies) mainly written by her former students. There were also journal articles and monographs, including her 1972 study with geologist R A Binns, A petrological analysis of ground-edge artefacts from northern New South Wales (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies) This pioneering multidisciplinary study analysed the chemical composition of stone artefacts in various collections to determine their original source, thus indicating patterns of trade and contact in prehistoric New England.

Isabel’s approach fitted with my own interests. I chose as my history honours thesis topic a study of Aboriginal economic life in Northern NSW as revealed by the ethnographic and historical record (13). This was totally consistent with Isabel’s approach in seeking to mine all the early contact records, the later anthropological and ethnographic studies, to create a picture that might help inform the deeper past. I also wished to apply tools and approaches drawn from economics to inform the questions I asked.

I was influenced here by a previous debate between my cousin Cyril Belshaw, then professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and the economist, historian and anthropologist  Karl Polanyi. Polanyi took the view that economics was only relevant to societies that used money as a means of exchange. Belshaw disagreed, drawing in part from his experience in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. I took Belshaw’s side because I believed that the questions asked by economists were relevant.

My approach took me outside the conventional bounds of history, something that I think made some of the department including Russell Ward uncomfortable. Isabel backed my approach. It was productive as you can see from the topics I addressed: population distribution, the patterns of seasonal movement, trade, private property, specialisation, capital formation and farming. These are all topics of current debate.

In writing, I drew from the work of UNE academics outside the history department. Geographer Eric Woolmington was of particular importance, introducing me to a concept that I still use today, that of the marchland.

Eric and Jo Woolmington came to Armidale in 1956 when Eric accepted a lecturing position at UNE (14). Jo enrolled at UNE and became part of our history group. One of our first if not the first assignments was to prepare a summary of some work by Gordon Childe on prehistory - Jo did hers in verse! Later, Jo became a member of the history department and principal of Mary White College. Her sensitivity to the Aboriginal cause, and its ambivalent relationship with Christianity, focused her research for two decades on the Aboriginal situation and the state of religion in the first half of the 19th century. This work remains relevant today.

In 1958, UNE’s Belshaw Block was destroyed by fire. “Belshaw’s done his block” said the sign in Prosh, the student procession later that year. That was funny, but the fire was no laughing matter for those affected. In Eric Woolmington’s case, it destroyed all copies of his about to be submitted PhD thesis and his research notes. He had to begin again.

Eric’s new study was an examination of the geographic basis of support for the New England New State Movement (15). This choice was partially determined by events at the time but also reflected the University’s role. Its founders had seen it as the university of the North, a view shared by the foundation staff. It was, in the words of Acting Warden Belshaw, to be a powerhouse of the North. Both founders and staff saw it too as an international community of scholars.

Outside the academy, there was considerable interest in educational advancement, decentralisation, economic development, regional studies, local history, scientific farming and environmental protection among the Northern leadership group. Organic farming can be taken as a little known example. This term appeared first in Lord Northbourne’s manifesto on organic farming, Look to the Land, published in London in May 1940. The book reached Australia quite quickly and was widely and favourably reviewed, attracting attention from that linked group of New England farmers and graziers already interested in scientific farming  as well as other Northern causes.

In 1944, the world’s first organic farming organisation, the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society, was formed. Its periodical, the Organic Farming Digest, was the first organics advocacy journal. Harold White from Bald Blair was a key figure in its formation and became an avid contributor to the journal.

The self-government movement itself had to explain why separation was desirable, justified. In doing so, it articulated a theory of governance based partly on geography. Writing in 1926, David Drummond, the Movement’s main constitutional theorist, suggested that constitutional entities must be based on community of interest (16). Without that, oppression of the minority by the majority was inevitable. By this, Drummond was not referring to the democratic process whereby the majority view on particular issues triumphs, but circumstances where particular groups are consistently disadvantaged because their interests will normally conflict with the majority. The solution lay in restructuring government to better reflect community of interest.

The net result of all this was a flood of New England studies inside and outside the academy: conferences, pamphlets, theses, books and articles.

In exploring the geographic base of separatist support, Eric's central thesis was that New England was a marchland area, an area of economic competition between Sydney and Brisbane. Using a variety of techniques, he attempted to measure the natural economic boundary and then compared this to the actual boundary. The natural economic boundary lay far to the south of the actual boundary. He suggested that this area of overlap, contested territory, represented the natural heart of the movement.

I took Eric’s marchland concept and attempted to apply it to what Professor Iain Davidson has called that bit in the middle, the Northern Tablelands during Aboriginal times. Some aspects of my then interpretation were wrong, the tablelands were occupied during winter, but it remains a useful tool in explaining the relationship between Aborigines on the Tablelands and those in the river valleys to the west and east.
The Tablelands remain a bit of a mystery in archaeological terms because of the absence of evidence. Faced with this, Professor Wendy Beck (a fellow member of the Heritage Futures Research Centre),  adopted an approach that Isabel would have approved of: looking at the Tablelands’ lagoons and wetlands, she asked what population they might have supported? Wendy will be talking later in this seminar series so I will leave the answer to that seminar!

I spoke earlier of multidisciplinary studies and of the challenges faced by regional historians in integrating and tailoring broader research to regional stories. The last ten or so years has seen an explosion of research results, an explosion that has accelerated over the last two years, about the deeper human past including new skeletal remains, DNA and linguistic analysis. These results have changed, in fact upset, our understanding of the processes of human evolution and dispersal across the globe, replacing our previous linear picture with a still emerging multi-linear one. They include:
  •  The discovery of new hominid species including Homo Floresiensis, Homo Naledi and the Denisovans
  •  The realisation that other hominid species overlapped with modern humans far more than was previously realised and that modern humans include various admixtures of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes
  •  Dating evidence from the Madjedbebe rock shelter that has pushed back  the date of human occupation of Sahul, the name given to the previous mega-continent combining New Guinea, the present Australian continent and Tasmania to 62,000+ years ago
  • The discovery that modern Aboriginal and Papuan people carry some Denisovan genes, suggesting contact with a South-East Asian branch of the Denisovans prior to occupation of Sahul.
This is all fascinating stuff. However, as a regional historian I seek to understand how the emerging patterns might mesh with my evolving synthesis about Aboriginal occupation of New England. Here I confess to a degree of discomfort because of conflicts between different types of evidence.

In March this year, for example, Remco R. Bouckaert, Claire Bowern & Quentin D. Atkinson released research results suggesting that the Pama-Nyungan family of languages, the languages spoken in New England, arose just under 6,000 years ago around what is now the Queensland town of Burketown (17).. They suggest this language family spread across Australia as people moved in response to changing climate. I really struggle with this conclusion because I cannot reconcile it with other evidence.

Final Threads

I said at the outset that this talk was something of a history dégustation, a tasting of different elements in our history. In these last few minutes I want to stand back to look briefly at some broader issues, pulling threads together.

It will be clear, I think, that my historical focus is not local or even regional but rather the study of a group of interconnected regions joined by geography. Here I am concerned with patterns, with relationships, linkages, similarities and differences that can only be seen in a broader study.

In chronological terms, the study breaks into three parts. Aboriginal New England up to 1788, colonial New England and New England in the twentieth century. I chose 1788 as a cut-off for the first part to avoid entanglement in later issues such as the frontier wars. We know the darkness is coming, but we can still see the sunlight. I chose the end of the twentieth century as a cut-off to give a degree of separation from later events. Even then, later developments do intrude. When I began work, questions of paedophilia and child abuse had yet to emerge. Now I have to decide how much weight to place on them within the overall work.
Major events or periods broadly dictate a chronological framework across all three parts. However, my focus is specifically New England. External events are dealt with only to the extent that they affect New England. Within the broad chronological framework there are also themes that link periods.

The new state movement is an example. This movement along with the Progressive later Country Party form part of what I call the country movements. There is a second stream, the industrial union stream that began in the coal mines of Newcastle and the lower Hunter. The interaction between the two forms one of the recurring motifs in New England history.

As the project  proceeded, I became more aware of the distinctive elements within New England history and life including the existence of distinct forms of thought and culture. As a consequence,. the scope has widened from an original political and economic focus to one more broadly reflective of social, cultural and intellectual life.

There are issues here of balance and focus. I can’t cover everything!
As an historian, I am dependent on the hundreds of pieces of previous work expressed in theses, books and articles, work that encapsulates the New England historiographic tradition. Not all this work is to be found in academic studies, for it includes local and family histories, memoirs and autobiographies. We are truly blessed to have such depth.

(1)Paper delivered by Jim Belshaw in the University of New England’s Humanities seminar series, 13 April 2018
(2) James Belshaw, “A university for the north”, pp14- 34, “The Parthenon on the Hill”, pp287-292, in J S Ryan and Warren Newman (eds), Came to New England, University of New England, Armidale 2014
(3) Don Beer, “The Holiest Campus’, its Decline and Transformation: The University of New England, 1946–79”, Journal of Religious History, Volume 21 Issue 3, Pages 318 – 336, published on-line 09 October 2007
(4) Kenneth Dempsey Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town, Methuen Australia, North Ryde, 1983 .
(5) Pauline Kneipp, This Land of Promise. The Ursuline Order in Australia 1882-1982, University of New England History Series 2, Armidale, 1982
(6) Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005
(7) An Exploration of New England’s Aboriginal Languages, Paper delivered to a meeting of the Armidale & District Historical Society, Armidale 20 July 2010
(8) We know from dating at Warren Cave in Tasmania that the Aborigines had reached Tasmania around 35,000 years ago while dates from Willandra Lakes in South West New South Wales suggest occupation as early as 40 to 41,000 years ago. The dates we have for New England are all later.

The Cuddie Springs site near Brewarrina suggests occupation as long ago as 35,000 years BP. However, dates here have been subject to considerable dispute and there appears to be no agreement on the issue. Excluding Cuddie Springs, we have a date of greater than 20,200 years BP from a hearth at Glennies Creek 35 kilometres north of Branxton in the Hunter, while a site on a former terrace of Wollombi Brook near Singleton suggested a date range of 18,000-30,000 years BP. At Moffats Swamp near Raymond Terrace, a date of 17,000 years BP was obtained. On the Liverpool Plains, Aboriginal occupation has been dated to at least 19,000 years BP. Further north in South-East Queensland, the Wallen Wallen Creek site shows continuous occupation from about 20,000 years ago.

The dates suggest a consistent pattern of Aboriginal occupation across New England from perhaps 20,000 years ago, with possible visits if not occupation from perhaps 30,000+ years ago
(9) One of the surprising gaps in New England historiography given its importance is the absence of a full history of the self-government cause.
(10) Social Change in Australia’s New England 1950-2000, the seminar paper I gave in the Humanities seminar series, 8 April 2011, looks at social change in more detail. The paper is currently in revision.
(11) Billy Griffiths, Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia,. Black Inc, February 2018). The section on Isabel McBryde  is repeated in Billy Griffiths, “Haunted Country”, Inside Story, 23 March 2018 http://insidestory.org.au/haunted-country/
(12) I reflect on John Mulvaney’s life in a post on my history blog, Reflections on the life of John Mulvaney, 5 November 2016. http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/the-death-of-professor-john-mulvaney-on.html. The post includes links to some key documents for those who would like to read further.
(13) Jim Belshaw, The Economic Basis of Aboriginal Life in Northern New South Wales in the Nineteenth Century, BA Hons thesis, University of New England, 1966
(14)  A post on my New England blog, More UNE Passings - death of Jo Woolmington (7 January 2008) provides a personal perspective on Jo including some of her work http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/2008/01/more-une-passings-death-of-jo.html
(15) E R Woolmington, The Geographical Scope of Support for the New State Movement in Northern New South Wales, PhD thesis, University of New England, 1963. See also E R Woolmington, A spatial approach to the measurement of support for the Separatist Movement in Northern New South Wales, Monograph Series No.2, Department of Geography, University of New England, 1966.
(16) Drummond, D.H., Constitutional Changes in Australia: Current Problems and Contributing Factors, Glen Innes Examiner, Glen Innes, 1926.
(17) Remco R. Bouckaert, Claire Bowern & Quentin D. Atkinson, “The origin and expansion of Pama–Nyungan languages across Australia”, Nature Ecology & Evolution, volume 2, pages 741–749 (2018) Published online:12 March 2018 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0489-3

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The rhythm of craybobbing

Family excursion: Cray bobbing near Armidale. This is the first in a new series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood  

For many of us, to grow up in New England is to leave because of lack of jobs. But we all retain memories of the place that was.

Each place in New England has its own unique rhythm, the pattern of life that reflects that large world we saw as children and young people. This is a story of one such rhythm, a war over words..

It’s an Armidale story, but one that would apply to many other places.

It all began innocently enough. In a comment on a post in the Armidale Families Facebook page, I said that we used to go yabbying in the dam on the old police paddock.

This led to an immediate riposte. It should, multiple respondents said, be called cray bobbing. Others came to my defence saying yabbying for ever, although we were a little outnumbered. But in all this, what did come through were the memories of child hoods past.

As the comments came in, I tried to map the favourite yabby holes across old Armidale.

There was the police paddock with its stream and dam. There were the old brick pits, the dam in the east now occupied by Bunnings. There was a dam on the eastern side of the golf course, the dam off Donnelly Street where Autumn Lodge now stands.

So how did we catch and eat then?

Some like my brother and I just used a bit of string or cotton thread with meat at the end. Others used the same technique but added a net to catch the yabbies at the end. Still others used more sophisticated techniques.

One was using a drum or kerosene tin with holes punched in the bottom. You added some meat to this, submerged the drum or tin, then pulled it out of the water.

And what did you do with the yabbies once you caught them. We had so few that we used to just throw them back. Others followed a different approach.

Over at the brick pits, some would just throw them in a billy of boiling water and then eat them on the spot, muddy taste and all. Others would soak them in cleaner water first before cooking.

One respondent would rough rinse them and then take the haul for her mothers to cook in the laundry copper. Now there is a blast from the past.

Today we have washing machines. Then there were laundry coppers, containers with a fire underneath.

You would add water, light the fire, add soap and clothes. then stir the clothes around with a stick as the water boiled. Once washed, you might wring them and then carry them to the line in the backyard.

I wonder. Do kids today still catch yabbies? And what are they called, yabbies or craybobs?
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 25 April 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