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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

New England history: Personal stories reveal times of change

War photographers, New Guinea: (Back left) Damien Parer, Frank Hurley, (front left) Maslyn Williams and George Silk. This the first of a six part series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands
My writing on domestic life and childhood has taken me deep into nostalgia territory, as it has for some of my readers. This has not been helped by the Armidale Families Past and Present Facebook site!

Founded and moderated by Elizabeth Pollard, the membership has exploded to almost 2,200. The majority of members no longer live in Armidale, but are enjoying exchanging reminiscences and sharing photos. It is, all agree, quite addictive.

From my viewpoint as an historian, the site and others like it add to the already great depth of historical material on the broader New England. We need many more historians if we are to capture and present the story of our past over the last 30,000 years to the level that it deserves.

That requires broader action. For the moment and to continue the childhood and nostalgia theme, I thought that I would share with you over coming columns five stories about growing up or coming of age on the Tablelands during the twentieth century.
"They are stories of personal and family change set against a backdrop of major change at local, regional and national level". 
Four of the five are based on autobiographical pieces. The writer’s age varies, although all were born before the Second World War: Maslyn Williams was born in 1911, Judith Wright in 1915, Binks Turnbull Dowling in 1923, Judith Wallace in 1932.

To their stories I have added a fifth, that of Peter Woolnough, better known by his stage name Peter Allen. Born on 10 February 1944, Peter carries our coverage into the 1950s.

Four of the five were born in New England, the fourth (Maslyn Williams) was born in the UK. Three of the five became writers, the fourth a songwriter, singer and cabaret star. The fifth (Binks Dowling) was the daughter of a writer. Of the five, only Binks Dowling remained in New England.

Each story is different, describing different aspects of life during formative periods in the subject’s life., They are stories of personal and family change set against a backdrop of major change at local, regional and national level. Yet there are similarities between them.

All four have an element of nostalgia, a feeling of looking back. Four of the five have an element of loss. Only one, that of Maslyn Williams, is totally sunny. Only one, Judith Wright, involves an explicit and sometimes acerbic rejection of a past that yet retains its hold over her.

In the short compass of these columns with my 500 word limit I can do more than sketch a few key elements in each story. Still, I hope that they will be of interest and encourage you to read further into the fascinating story that is New England’s past.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 June 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  2017here 2018  


Peter Dowling said...

Hi Jim as Bunks Barbara Dowling son she knows nothing about your story. Where did you find that Gilbert Turnbull her father published 90 short stories. It more likely 30 I have 26 here transcribed.
Also still awaiting your ideas about the western boundary of Gumbayngirr Baanbai country.
Kind regards Peter Dowling

Peter Dowling said...

Hi Jim. My mother's Nick name is Binks the phone tries to automatically change my text.
Best wishes Peter

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Peter. I should have thought that there might be a connection! Tell your mum how much I enjoyed her book. Errors of fact and interpretation are my own! The reference to your Grandad and his 90 stories came largely from his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turnbull-gilbert-munro-8882. He was an interesting man.

On the boundaries question, I have made no progress. Sigh. A question of time but also sources.