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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The historic fight for Dorrigo National Park continues

 OVERLAP: PA Wright's campaign for the New England Park was supported by Roy Vincent, who led the campaign for Dorrigo. Both are case studies for activism. This is the third in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park.

In researching the history of the Dorrigo National Park I looked at the history of the New England National Park. This deserves a separate story, but I was struck by the way in which the same issues and indeed the same people were involved in the fight for both parks.

In both cases, you had a small number of locals who were prepared to fight to bring the park about.

In both cases, you had local members of Parliament who provided top cover and were prepared to cooperate across electorates to achieve common dreams, the creation of facilities for the North for the benefit of all. They did so despite some local opposition.

In both cases, you had local newspapers that were prepared to support action. I suspect that this was particularly important in Dorrigo where the Don Dorrigo Gazette was edited by Roy Vincent’s brother Reginald.

In both cases, you had common problems that had to be resolved to protect the parks from alienation and to fund development.

In 1923, Roy Vincent as local member had blocked attempts to alienate the Dorrigo Reserves, but he still faced all the problems I have talked about.

In 1927, Vincent tried to have the Dorrigo Mountain Reserves declared a National Park to protect it from alienation.

He was advised that there was no provision to allow this. However, the reserves were declared a fauna as well flora reserve. This, the Minister advised, meant that changes to boundaries would require approval of both houses of the state parliament, thus providing the same protection afforded to the Royal National Park and Ku-ring-gai Chase.  

This was unsatisfactory.

As local Armidale state parliamentarian and Vincent’s friend David Drummond later recorded in the context of the New England National Park, it was just too easy to bring in administrative changes in the final days of a parliamentary session when tired MPs could rubber stamp a change without realizing the implications. Legislation was required that would then force specific legislative action to amend to alienate land.

I haven’t traced through all the history here, but it would be 1967 before specific National Parks legislation was passed through the NSW Parliament by the then Lewis Liberal-Country Party Government.

Meantime, Vincent and the other Park supporters had other problems to deal with. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 December 2019. 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, here 2019  

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Saving the Dorrigo Park

Roy Vincent's efforts protected the Dorrigo National Park at critical stages in its history.This is the second in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park.
Administrative history can be very boring, a list of dates and changes. Yet when you dig in, you find that those changes tell us much about our history.

You can also find yourself taken in unexpected directions, highlighting aspects of our history that extend far beyond the original question. Both are true of the early history of the Dorrigo National Park.

The 1901 gazettal of the two small reserves intended to protect waterfalls was followed by the 1917 reservation of a larger mountain area that now forms the core of the National Park. Separate trustees were appointed covering the two small reserves and the larger reserve.

The trustees appointed to the larger reserve included brothers Roy Stanley and Reginald Henry Vincent, members of that remarkable Vincent newspaper dynasty that played such a role in the history of the New England press and community life more generally.

In 1910, the brothers had established the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate. Both were active in community life, including the campaigns for Northern development and the creation of a new state in Northern New South Wales. Both were committed to the preservation of the Dorrigo mountain reserve.

While Reginald Henry would remain as editor of the Don Dorrigo Gazette, in 1922 Roy was elected to the NSW Parliament as Member for Oxley. There he joined Michael Bruxner’s “True Blues”, the precursor of the NSW Country Party. 

Roy would remain an MP until 1953. From June 1932 to May 1941 he was Secretary for Mines and Minister for Forests, providing a degree of top cover that was important to the preservation of the Dorrigo reserves.

The new trustees faced problems. They had to deal with the spread of blackberries and other noxious weeds, as well as local pressures to log and develop the land. They also wanted to develop facilities. However, they had no money to do any of this.

These problems came to a head in 1923.

On 18 May 1923, Roy Vincent wrote to the Department of Lands as local member and a trustee seeking approval for the Trust to lease a small portion at the top of the Mountain Reserve for grazing purposes. This would provide the trustees with a small income and also help in blackberry control.

The following month, 8 June, the Secretary of the Trust (W H Jarrett) wrote to the Minister for Lands. Given problems with blackberries and fallen trees, he stated that a meeting of the trustees had decided to ask the Department to send an inspector to visit the reserve with a view to alienating the whole reserve for development.

This move blind-sided Roy Vincent. On 2 July he wrote to the Minister in protest. Had all the trustees been consulted? As a trustee, he was totally opposed to the alienation of a single acre of this magnificent reserve, apart from the previous request to lease a portion for grazing.

Roy Vincent prevailed. Dorrigo was saved, but problems still lay ahead.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 December 2019. 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, here 2019  

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Reserved for recreation

Hard yakka: Clearing the Dorrigo brush was back-breaking work for the early selectors. The establishment of the Dorrigo Reserves, now National Park, helped preserve some of the original landscape. This is the first in a short series on the early days of the Dorrigo National Park

The Dorrigo National Park is rightly seen as one of the small jewels in New England’s crown. I wonder how many know its story or indeed that of the New England National Park, the third oldest in NSW.

According to Howard directed Stanley’s History of the Dorrigo National Park, our story begins on 29 March 1900 when Edward Ebsworth, the District Surveyor at Grafton, directed surveyor H A Evans to determine the position of two waterfalls (now the Sherrard and Newell Falls) near the road.
The Dorrigo Plateau was then being cleared and developed for settlement, creating the cultural landscape we know today. Evans was to “measure an area surrounding each waterfall sufficient to protect it with a view to its reservation from sale.”

Evans reported from his camp on 31 August 1900. He recommended reservation of two areas totaling around 8.1 hectares.

This would give ample room for “sight seers and others to ramble about on these areas and enjoy the scenery of the waterfalls, the pretty pieces of brush and bush and the landscape and seascape generally”.

Ebsworth successfully recommended to his Minister that Evan’s proposal be approved, On 19 February 1901, the Government Gazette carried a notice under Section 101 of the Crowns Land Act 1884 reserving the two areas for Public Recreation and the preservation of native flora.

The two areas might have been of sufficient size to allow visitors to ramble (or scramble!) around, but did little for the protection of native flora. However, in July 1917, a much larger area of 1,659 hectares on the Dorrigo Mountain was explicitly reserved for the preservation of native flora.

I haven’t properly researched the general history of either public spaces or national parks. However, a few general points are worth noting because they set a context for our story.

The idea of reservation of land for parks or other public purposes such as commons was well established. The idea that ordinary citizens should have access for recreation, enjoyment and access to nature to the equivalent of the parks established and enjoyed by aristocrats became well established during the 19th century. 

In Sydney, both the Royal National Park (1879) and Ku-ring-gai Chase (1894) were explicitly intended for public recreation.

The idea of preservation of flora and fauna had also become well established, if sometimes in the breach.

We can see all these elements in the initial establishment of the Dorrigo Reserves. However, the administrative and funding arrangements for the Reserves left much to be desired,
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 November 2019. 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, here 2019  

Monday, December 02, 2019

A VC in turbulent times

Dealing with turbulence: Sir Zelman Cowen as Queensland University Vice Chancellor.This is the third in a three part series on the life of Sir Zelman Cowen. 
In my last column I said that while Zelman Cowen’s public activities as the University of New England’s second VC did increase the public prominence of the university, his internal influence as VC is more difficult to measure.

In his history of UNE, Mathew Jordan mentions two areas where Cowen’s influence was important.

The first was the establishment in 1969 of a separate Faculty of Education. The second was his support for the establishment of a Faculty of Natural Resources. The Commonwealth would not agree for financial reasons, but agreed to the establishment of a School of Natural Resources finally established in 1971 after Cowen’s departure. 

Both were important initiatives: the Faculty of Education was the first in New South Wales, while the School of Natural Resources was the first such institution in Australia. Both attracted students and funding.

There was a third more problematic area, adult education, which Jordoa ignores. This is an odd gap in his history. He makes great play of the establishment of adult education and then, somehow, it disappears.   

First Belshaw as Acting Warden and then Madgwick had placed emphasis on adult education. It fitted with their personal philosophies and was an important element in the Northern outreach that had been so strongly emphasized by New England’s founders.

By the mid 1960s, university extension was a critical element in the University’s integration with its regional communities, while its summer schools such as the School of Dance, a school now seen as one of the seminal influences in the history of Australian dance, had achieved national prominence. Then, somehow, it largely stopped.

John Ryan’s PhD thesis draws out some of the complexities associated with the decline of adult education.

There were internal university problems, as well as funding issues linked to changing Australian Government policies. The loss of the sense of Northerness following the narrow loss of the 1967 self government plebiscite did not help.

Zelman’s role in the decline is unclear.

He was supportive of the role of adult education, but he had to balance that with changing attitudes at Commonwealth level and the reactions within the University to increased funding constraints. I also think that he did not share the original vision of the University as a Northern institution, as well as a national and international institution.

In 1970, Zelman left New England to become VC at the University of Queensland, a post he held until becoming Governor General in 1977 after Sir John Kerr.

In both roles he had to deal with turbulence, with political and social change. He did so with a focus on rational argument, the gathering of evidence and with a grace and tact that have justly given him a place in Australian history.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 November 2019. 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, here 2019  

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Remembering the early days at the New England University College - Ian Johnstone reviews Jenny Browning's Four Wives

Retired Armidale lawyer and local historian Ian Johnstone with his latest book.  

From time to time here and elsewhere I have written of life in the early days of the New England England University College. Part of that writing dealt with the families and especially the story of the siblings, the children of the early academic staff.

In 2008, Jenny Browning nee Howie published a book called Four Wives, the story of four women who came to Armidale with their husbands in 1938 and 1939. I discussed briefly it in a column I wrote in October 2018, Armidale's university family grows. My experiences were a little different because my father was unmarried when he arrived in 1938 and later (1944) married a local girl.

The number of people who remember the days of the New England University College are thinning rapidly. Recently I was contacted by Dorothy Casmir who had seen the material I had written on Jenny's book.

Dorothy came to NEUC in 1950. There she met Alan who would become her husband. She was taught by Doctor Howie (psychology) as he was then, while she and Alan used to babysit the Voisey children. Alan Voisey was head of geology. My earlier story brought all sorts of memories back and she wanted to contact Jenny or Yvonne Voisey now Roach.

One of the real pleasures of my role as a regional historian lies in the requests I get, the desire people have to learn about their past, to reconnect. I cannot always help. This time I could. With the assistance of the Armidale  Families Facebook page  and Dorothy's son, we were able to put Dorothy in touch with Yvonne. In an email, Dorothy said that they talked and talked and that Yvonne was able to put Dorothy in touch with Jenny. I also had a rather nice email from Alan passing on his recollections of a particular conversation he had with my father. 

Ian Johnstone is an Armidale lawyer and local historian. In 2008, he wrote a full review of Jenny's book.  With his approval, I have reproduced his original review in full without editing. It provides a snapshot of life at the New England University College. Note that I'm not sure that either Readers Companion or Boobooks have copies anymore. I think that it is out of print.  

Book Review
Four Wives: The Story of Four Women Married to foundation Academics Appointed to the New England University College 1938 and 1939
By Jenny Browning

Self published, April 2008. 145 pages, 92 photos, $49.95 including postage from tecprint, P O Box 598, Darling Heights, Queensland 4350, and $39.95 from Readers Companion and Boobook in Armidale.

Ian M Johnstone johnstone@bluepin.net.au December 2008

Jenny Browning has added to the recorded history of part of UNE’s “golden days”.  The first sixteen years of the University of New England, its babyhood and adolescence, as it were, from 1938 to 1954, have long been held in special regard by those fortunate to have experienced any of them.

The NEUC, New England University College, was a College of Sydney University, which employed the staff, and gave the fledgling community university status. NEUC, however, was not a replica of its guardian, and immediately acquired standards and a distinctive corporate spirit of its own. The small community of scholars and students, housed mainly in Boolominbah, the White family mansion beautifully designed by the architect John Horbury Hunt and built in 1888, soon generated its own ethos. This was one of achievement, adventure and excitement which, with sound guidance from understanding administrators, came naturally to those fleeing school and embarking on higher learning of their own choice in an idyllic setting. It was a much appreciated privilege in those days to attend university. It has to be said that NEUC was extraordinarily fortunate in the high quality of its initial academic staff both as scholars and teachers and as strong all-round individuals.

Jenny includes her father Duncan Howie quoting, on page 35, Wordsworth’s lines from his Prelude
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

Howie wrote in 1973 in a tone tinged with nostalgia, of ‘the first fine frenzy of whirlwind confusion and desperate improvisation’ in 1938. 

This enthusiasm for learning and for living a full life, engendered by being in a small rural community of scholars is mentioned by many of those who experienced it first hand.

There are many examples of the expression of this in these publications:

1. Margaret Franklin (Ed.) The New England Experience: Inside stories of UNE 1938-1988, UNE Alumni Association, 1987. [Appendix IV, which I compiled, lists the staff members for 1938 and 1939, and their qualifications.]

2. Keith Leopold, Came to Booloominbah, UNE Press, 1998, edited by John S Ryan.

3. J P Belshaw and P E H Barratt, Some Reminiscences about NEUC, 23 Armidale and District Historical Society Journal ADHSJ 1-17, March 1980.

4. Jim Graham, ‘Some Recollections of life at NEUC and UNE 1952-1955’, 45 ADHSJ 1-12 May 2002.

5. The Golden Years: A collection of reminiscences from the pioneers of the New England University College Collected by Elaine and Neil Graham, UNE Alumni Association October 1988, and

6. Margaret SpencerNew England University College 1938-1945’, Chapter 17 in The Arts from New England; University Provision and Outreach 1928-1998,edited by J S Ryan, the Faculty of Arts, UNE Alumni and UNE, 1998, pp.231-242.

Three comments from early students will suffice to confirm the point I am making.

Paul Barratt was the first student to arrive on campus in 1938 and returned to it from the war and was later to take the Chair of Psychology. He wrote in 1980:

There was no library, no laboratory and no apparatus.  Everything happened in Booloominbah where students and staff had their bedroom-studies, took their meals and attended classes.  The result of this peculiar set of circumstances was the growth of a very close staff-student relationship characterised by an exceptional dependence upon the staff for support, instructions and guidance.  I must say that, without exception, the staff rose to the occasion and engendered in their pupils a very strong feeling of confidence.  Consequently motivation was high and was enhanced by joint participation in sporting and social activities. 23 ADHSJ p12.

Alwyn Horadam, who arrived as a student in 1940 and was later A/Prof of Mathematics, wrote in 1987:

Perhaps there may have been a touch of magic in the air in those heady days, a feeling of participation in an exhilarating academic adventure.  More to the point, the truth is possibly that the students were a select group with a unity of purpose living in a closed environment…Looking back at these New England experiences, one has a feeling of pride and privilege in having participated in something unique and worthwhile: the birth of a fine university.  Remembrance of Things Past in The New England Experience, p6.

Jim Graham OAM was a student from 1952 to 1955. He taught at TAS for 44 years, 1956-99, wrote A School of their own, the history of TAS, wrote and produced many plays, including Ginger Meggs and Seven Little Australians, and was President of UNE Alumni Association. In 2001 he wrote:

As I reflect I conclude that UNE derived its special character from its relative isolation…The size of the university , in numerical terms, was certainly a factor which contributed to its distinctive personality…..There was a real feeling of corporateness. We were a discernible body…We were a community of teachers and scholars; undergraduates learning not only the prescribed courses of study, but, along with the teachers, learning from each other…The ambience, which was created by the group and the opportunities made available through collegiate life, led students to an understanding and respect for each other and for each other’s prejudices and points of view. 45 ADHSJ p.2.

There are many other sources of descriptions of early UNE including significant memoirs by Don Aitken, Paul Barratt, Noel Beadle, Kathleen Letters and Alan Voisey.

Jenny Browning has now added a new dimension to UNE’s early history, by rescuing details and attitudes from memorabilia, diaries and oral history about the otherwise overlooked wives of the early academic staff. She has brought to centre stage four who were used to working only back-stage. Some precise details will help to introduce these four wives and mothers.

1. Jenny’s father Duncan Howie, M. A. (W. A.) Ph. D. (London) was appointed in 1938, at age 35, to lecture in Philosophy and Psychology, and later had the Chair in Psychology. His wife was Ella Howie (nee Willliams).

2. Ralph G Crossley B. A. (W.A.) Ph.D. (Frieburg) was appointed in 1938 to lecture in French and German. His wife was Hilda Crossley (nee Collet)

3.Dr. H F C Davis, M. Sc. (Sydney) was appointed in 1939 to lecture in Biology. He was born in 1912. He died in Papua New Guinea in WWII in 1944 and the Consett Davis Playing Fields at UNE are named in his memory. He is also commemorated on the war memorial plaque in the circular garden east of the Union building. Cathy Davis was aged 4 when he died. His wife Gwenda Davis (nee Rodway) later lectured in Botany and Zoology at NEUC, but was paid only two thirds of the male rate because she was a woman. (p.72)

4. A H Voisey, M Sc (Syd) was appointed in 1939 to lecture in Geology and Geography, and later had the Chair in Geology. His wife was Phyllis Voisey (nee Cox).

Four of their children, Jenny (which is the affectionate Scottish diminutive of Janet, which her father called her) Browning (nee Howie), Peter Crossley, Cathy Davis and Yvonne Roach (nee Voisey) formed the group ‘The Families of New England University College’ and conferred with Dr Philip Ward at UNE Archives, who helped them considerably with their project. The group’s endeavours resulted in the materials and photos from which this book were quarried and also recorded talks which are now archived as Historical Collections: Families of NEUC, 1938-1954.

Jenny starts her book by quoting the much admired historian Dr John Ferry to the effect that ‘of all social institutions the family is the most significant in shaping people’s lives.’ Colonial Armidale,1999, p.12.. Then, in an appealing mix of the memories of the group of four about their families, anecdotes and relevant academic quotes, she sketches the social mores in Armidale; the scarcely suppressed animosity between the Protestants and the Catholics, the role expectations, especially by and of women, and the contrasting attitudes of university academics, Teachers College staff, graziers and townsfolk to each other.

The Armidale community perceived distinct social differences between vocational teachers’ college academics and university academics who were envisioned as a “rarer” breed. (p76).

Surely most readers will be glad that religious and social differences and divisions do not  now signify as they used to. One form of liberation is to have less social vanity, but perhaps personal vanity has expanded to fill the space vacated!

Jenny quotes Kerry James as writing in 1989:

- Women in particular have a great capacity for exerting social control over one another.  Female networks elaborate and enforce notions of proper and allowable female comportment and deviants are harshly dealt with. (p109) 

The main subject of Jenny’s book is how the four wives responded differently and with varying degrees of defiance to these pressures to conform.

For example, Jenny writes of Gwenda Davis:

Gwenda’s father was a doctor in Nowra and she was well aware of, and had no time for, the snobbery and narrow-mindedness of a rural community. She particularly disliked the controlling behaviour and influence exerted by the women of society’s upper echelons upon other women as to how they should manage their children and run their home.

Jenny quotes a telling phrase from Gwenda’s diary in February 1938…’lest I become a bloody lady!’  Both  p.78. She defied local conventions from the start. She got on instead with her Botany and Zoology lecturing at NEUC.

There is a startling revelation that for NEUC academic staff, being members of NEUC and not of Sydney University, had a huge consequence as well as depriving them of some status. ‘Their salaries were much lower than those of Sydney University lecturers.’  p.70-1. Matthew Jordan in his Jubilee history of UNE A spirit of true learning, UNSW Press, 2004, deals  at length with the tensions between Sydney University and its country ward, but he does not mention this fact. It was a special relief therefore, when autonomy was gained on 1 February 1954. At last academic staff could be represented on the governing body, UNE Council, and new faculties created including Rural Science and Agricultural Economics, and the pay anomalies removed.

There are many other delights to be found in this book; for example, this description of Dr Isabel Blanche who taught French: -

The academics’ children have many fond memories of the quirky, later somewhat eccentric, Miss Blanche…ho cycled to and from the university and everywhere around town, on her ancient black bicycle.  With her longish dresses and high heels, her long hair escaping from her French roll, her black university gown streaming in the breeze threatening to tangle in the back wheel, she rushed about always running late.  As she gaily waved to us children, shouting a greeting, usually in French, the bicycle would wobble alarmingly as we waited in apprehension and wicked childish amusement for her to fall.  (p112)

Jenny has honoured all four wives and mothers, and at the same time, she has written a valuable book about a memorable era in Armidale’s educational and cultural history.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

University's growing pains

The appointment in 1966 of Zelman Cowen to replace Robert Madgwick as the University of New England’s Vice-Chancellor was seen, rightly, as a considerable coup. Why, some of his colleagues at Melbourne University asked, had he not gone to Harvard or Cambridge?

After the hard early days, Madgwick had overseen very rapid growth at UNE. This growth is worth recording, for it was during the final Madgwick period that the University moved from a significant to dominant driver in the local economy.

Internal student numbers had grown from 249 in 1955 to 1,396 in 1965. External student numbers had grown from a zero base to 2,568.

Residential: The original Wright College, part of the new buildings constructed under Sir Robert Madgwick. This is the second in a three part series on the life of Sir Zelman Cowen. 
Academic staff had grown from 63 in 1953 to 360 in 1966, while general staff had increased from around 100 to 693. Construction work had boomed.

Madgwick was worried about the speed of growth.

How might the University preserve its collegiate nature and special culture, its outreach? How might it overcome the tendency to become more inward looking, more fragmented, as it grew?

By 1966, Madgwick had formed the view that it might be necessary to cap the size of UNE to preserve its character and the standard of teaching and student experience.

Madgwick was right to be worried.

He did not foresee the social changes that were just getting underway, the proliferation of new universities, the constant changes that would come in policy, the rise of corporatism, managerialism and the mega-university.

However, Madgwick did identify weaknesses within UNE that would later impede its ability to manage change. As the University grew it became comfortable, turned inward, reduced its regional role opening the way for new competitors, and forgot that it had to be better just to survive.

These changes and challenges still lay just ahead when Zelman Cowen arrived in 1967.

Upon arrival, Cowen maintained his role as a public intellectual. In 1967 he prepared the case for the ABC supporting a yes vote on the Aboriginal constitutional referendum, then in 1969 he delivered the ABC Boyer Lectures.

Cowen had long been interested in civil liberties and individual freedoms. His Boyer Lectures, the Private Man, focused on the erosion of privacy, on the challenges presented to society by new technology and the need for law reform to keep pace.

These have become even more pressing topics today.

Cowen’s public activities did increase the public prominence of UNE. His internal influence as VC is more difficult to measure.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 November 2019. 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, here 2019  

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A note on cave art in Borneo

Twelve months ago, 7 November 2018, a team of researchers published a letter in Nature outlining new discoveries in cave art in Borneo. I missed it at the time. hat tip to Iain Davidson who posted a link on the UNE Archaeology Society Facebook page.

The piece adds to our understanding of the early world the Australian Aborigines travelled through to reach Sahul.


Figurative cave paintings from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi date to at least 35,000 years ago (ka) and hand-stencil art from the same region has a minimum date of 40 ka1. Here we show that similar rock art was created during essentially the same time period on the adjacent island of Borneo. Uranium-series analysis of calcium carbonate deposits that overlie a large reddish-orange figurative painting of an animal at Lubang Jeriji Saléh—a limestone cave in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo—yielded a minimum date of 40 ka, which to our knowledge is currently the oldest date for figurative artwork from anywhere in the world. In addition, two reddish-orange-coloured hand stencils from the same site each yielded a minimum uranium-series date of 37.2 ka, and a third hand stencil of the same hue has a maximum date of 51.8 ka. We also obtained uranium-series determinations for cave art motifs from Lubang Jeriji Saléh and three other East Kalimantan karst caves, which enable us to constrain the chronology of a distinct younger phase of Pleistocene rock art production in this region. Dark-purple hand stencils, some of which are decorated with intricate motifs, date to about 21–20 ka and a rare Pleistocene depiction of a human figure—also coloured dark purple—has a minimum date of 13.6 ka. Our findings show that cave painting appeared in eastern Borneo between 52 and 40 ka and that a new style of parietal art arose during the Last Glacial Maximum. It is now evident that a major Palaeolithic cave art province existed in the eastern extremity of continental Eurasia and in adjacent Wallacea from at least 40 ka until the Last Glacial Maximum, which has implications for understanding how early rock art traditions emerged, developed and spread in Pleistocene Southeast Asia and further afield.
M. Aubert, P. Setiawan, A. A. Oktaviana, A. Brumm, P. H. Sulistyarto, E. W. Saptomo, B. Istiawan, T. A. Ma’rifat, V. N. Wahyuono, F. T. Atmoko, J.-X. Zhao, J. Huntley, P. S. C. Taçon, D. L. Howard & H. E. A. Brand, Palaeolithic cave art in Borneo,  Nature 564, 254–257 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0679-9

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The story of Zelman Cowen, Australian intellectual, Governor General and UNE's second VC after autonomy

Zelman Cowen, UNEs second VC, 1968.This is the first in a three part series on the life of Sir Zelman. 

October marked one hundred years since the birth of the University of New England’s second Vice-Chancellor, Sir Zelman Cowen.

Zelman Cowen was born in Melbourne on 7 October 1919, the son of Bernard and Sarah Cohen. His father changed the family name to Cowen a few years after his birth.

After studying locally, the boy won a scholarship to Melbourne’s Scotch College where he was Dux in 1935. He then studied law at Melbourne University, winning the Supreme Court Prize as top student, followed by a Rhodes scholarship.

With the onset of war, Cowen deferred the scholarship, enlisting in the Royal Australian Navy. He was in Darwin at the time of the Japanese bombing in 1942 and then served on General McArthur’s staff in Brisbane.

In 1945, Cowen married Anna Wittner. The couple became, in the words of Michael Kirby, “a partnership of intellect, culture and wit” with Anna “sometimes softening the ego that was a feature, probably inevitable, of such a brilliant man.”

One senior New England academic who, while liking and respecting Cowen, described the pair somewhat acerbically as Anna and the King of I Am.

Following his marriage, Cowen took up the delayed Rhodes scholarship at New College, Oxford. There he again demonstrated that energy, drive and intellect that had already marked his life. 

He won the Vinerian Scholarship as the top graduate in civil law and became a lecturer at Oriel. There he won his doctorate with a biography of Sir Isaac Isaacs.

Isaacs, a hero of Cowen’s, had become Australia’s first Jewish Governor-General after serving on the High Court of Australia, including a period as Chief Justice.

In 1950, Cowen returned to Melbourne University as the chair of public law. He also became Dean of Law.

While at Melbourne, Cowen began broadcasting radio commentaries, mainly on legal topics including the attempts by the Menzies Government to dissolve the Australian Communist Party.

Cowen was becoming a prominent public intellectual, a not always easy role in Australia. He was also interested in questions of civil rights and privacy, concerned about the potential erosion of individual liberties.

In 1966, Sir Robert Madgwick resigned as the University of New England’s Vice-Chancellor to become Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

As Warden of the New England University College and then as first VC of the newly autonomous University, Madgwick had steered the institution through the difficult early foundation stages into growth.

Cowen accepted an invitation to become the second VC, arriving in Armidale in 1967.  In my next column, I will look at his role as VC and beyond.


In the newspaper edition of this column, I had Sir Zelman attending Oriel College at Oxford while a Rhodes scholar. A correspondent corrected me. Cowen went to New College.  

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 6 November 2019. 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, here 2019  

Monday, November 11, 2019

A note on Lebanese/Syrian settlement in New England

Many early Lebanese migrants arrived in Australia with only a suitcase full of supplies. Walking their way into regional areas, they established businesses that would help many country towns thrive. Yarad's Store Taree. Photo ABC 
Fascinating piece on ABC Mid North Coast (10 November) by Emma Siossian, Jennifer Ingall and Lauren Pezet, Hawkers, haberdashery and hospitality on the history of the Lebanese community in country NSW. Two New England towns, Moree and Taree, were featured.

Before going on, a definitional note. I have used the term Lebanese, but as I have commented before in the context of Germany, the application of labels based on nationality can be misleading. Lebanon did not exist as a country until after the First World War. The first Lebanese settlers in New England came from the then Ottoman province of Syria and were classified as Syrian.

Dan Bros Hawker Van, Taree?, nd, photo ABC

A useful overview of the history of Lebanese  settlement in NSW can be found in Paul Convy, Dr. Anne Monsour, Settlement in
 New South Wales  A Thematic History (Migration Heritage Centre, July 2018).

This paper provides a framework for understanding chain migration, a process similar to that seen with many other groups including the Chinese. It also provides a snapshot of some elements of the Lebanese community and its culture and history.

The Australian Lebanese Historical Society website provides some interesting material on individual Lebanese stories, while the UNE's Heritage Futures data base in  Different Sights - Immigrants in New England provides basic information on many individual stories including those from Lebanon.

One of the challenges in writing a local or regional history and especially a broader regional history is how to place each immigrant thread into a locally or regionally focused context. The broader story of the Lebanese community such as the influence of Sydney's Redfern is only relevant to the extent to which it affects the local or regional story.

I suspect that one common theme lies in the way in which small communities attempted to maintain their culture and links in the face of isolation. It's also interesting in the context of inland New England how the Chinese came to dominate one niche, the Lebanese a second, the Greeks a third. These niches overlapped. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

New England's great literary legacy

Remarkable: Poet and academic Geoffrey Dutton. Asked to identify Australia's 100 greatest books, 17 were linked to Northern NSW.
The 1988 Bicentenary, the celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the first fleet, was contested territory. To many Aboriginal people, this was the invasion. To others, it was a celebration of just what we had achieved.

Regardless of the debate, the Bicentenary was marked by an explosion in history publishing. Some books covered Aboriginal history, some dealt with national themes, while others focused on family, local and regional history.

New England, especially the New England, benefited greatly from books published before, during and just after the Bicentenary. I haven’t done a statistical count, but my feeling is that more books were published in this period than the totality over the last fifteen years.

As part of this process, Australian writer Geoffrey Dutton was commissioned by Angus & Robertson to select 100 books that might be classified as Australia’s greatest books. The result appeared three years before the Bicentenary entitled The Australian Collection: Australia’s Greatest Books.

I purchased it from Boobooks in the first week after I returned to Armidale, taking it outside with my coffee to browse it in the sun.

You will know that I am obsessed with New England’s history. I make no apology for this. It’s my passion.

Sitting there in the sun in the Mall, I did what I always do. I started going through to identify all the books and authors with New England connection.

I couldn’t finish the task. Once my coffee was done, I went home and took the book along with a pad and pen outside to sit in the sun and record.

This was a distraction. I was meant to be unpacking all those horrid boxes, but I sat and read and took notes. I am glad that I did.

I discovered that no less than 17 books or writers had a connection to Northern NSW, my broader New England.

Think about this for a moment.

 Of Professor Dutton’s selection of one hundred greatest Australian books, 17 per cent have some connection with Northern NSW. That’s quite remarkable.

I have been conscious for some time of the contribution made by the broader New England to Australia’s cultural and intellectual history. I didn’t know this when I started researching.

I wonder why it’s not recognized?

Is it just because all the cultural gatekeepers who determine topics and grants live in metropolitan areas? Or is it because we New England historians are too localized and cannot look beyond? 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 30 October 2019. 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, here 2019  

Monday, October 28, 2019

Maximising value from local and regional history - the case of mining history

Historical nugget: Jubilee Gold Mining Company, Rocky River, is part of our rich mining history, yet few outside the New England know of the scale of the mining province.This is third in a three part series on the economic, social and cultural value of family, local and regional history within the broader New England.
So far in this series, I have spoken of the growing interest in family, local and regional history. This comes partly from current locals, but far more from those outside the North who have lived there or have family connections to the area.

There are two further groups we need to consider.

The first is visitors who come to a particular location, often for a day or less to visit a particular attraction or just to see a place. This group drops into the local information centre, historical society or museum as part of their visit. They may have an interest in local history, but this is often peripheral to their visit. 

The second group covers those who have a particular interest from architecture to mining to Aboriginal history to bushrangers to Italian POWs. The range is quite enormous.

The first group is actually quite well catered too. The second is not.

Localism is the curse of the North. It is driven by locals who see their town as the centre of the universe, by councils who see their role as promoting and serving the areas covered by their shifting boundaries often in competition with other areas.

The term zero sum game is used to describe the situation where the pie is fixed, where one participant can only gain of someone else loses an equivalent amount. Tourism promotion and history’s role in tourism promotion is often treated as though it were a zero sun game.

This may sound extreme, but consider this case.

A week back, I had dinner with friends to meet his parents. They love mining and told me many fascinating stories about Lightning Ridge.

As part of their love of mining and of ghost towns, they regularly attend the Nundle gold/Chinese festival. They visit Glen Innes to fossick. But they had no idea that the western slopes of the Tablelands had once been the greatest tin province in the world.

They had no idea that Tingha had been a major mining center with a large Chinese population and its own China town. Driving through, they had noticed the Wing Hong Ling Museum, but it didn’t mean anything to them.

This struck me as a failure in information and promotion.

History is about stories. This is where we local and regional historians, amateur and professional, come in.

If we don’t get our mind above the local, if we don’t look for broader linkages and patterns, if we don’t tell a textured story, then those who depend upon us will be less effective.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 23 October 2019. 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, here 2019    

Friday, October 25, 2019

Homo luzonensis, Denisovans, Papuans and the the Australian Aborigines - more evidence from the deep past

Because of issues associated with my move to Armidale, it is some considerable time since I last reported on the continuing research into the deep human past, research that affects our understanding of Aboriginal history.

While I have been relatively off-line, regular commenter John B has been emailing me material. It now seems an appropriate point to bring that material on line. The long post that follows reports on three recent studies, concluding with a short discussion. My continued indebtedness to John B will be apparent.

Homo Luzonensis 

In April 2019, a group of researchers reported on the results of exploration at Calloa Cave in the Philippines, suggesting the discover of another hominin species that they named Homo luzonensis, dating to about 67,000 years ago.

The map from the paper is shown, including land that would have been revealed at various sea levels below the present. The abstract from the paper is set out below. 
"A hominin third metatarsal discovered in 2007 in Callao Cave (Northern Luzon, the Philippines) and dated to 67 thousand years ago provided the earliest direct evidence of a human presence in the Philippines. Analysis of this foot bone suggested that it belonged to the genus Homo, but to which species was unclear. Here we report the discovery of twelve additional hominin elements that represent at least three individuals that were found in the same stratigraphic layer of Callao Cave as the previously discovered metatarsal. These specimens display a combination of primitive and derived morphological features that is different from the combination of features found in other species in the genus Homo (including Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens) and warrants their attribution to a new species, which we name Homo luzonensis. The presence of another and previously unknown hominin species east of the Wallace Line during the Late Pleistocene epoch underscores the importance of island Southeast Asia in the evolution of the genus Homo."
Florent Détroit, Armand Salvador Mijares, Julien Corny, Guillaume Daver, Clément Zanolli, Eusebio Dizon, Emil Robles, Rainer Grün & Philip J. Piper, A new species of Homo from the Late Pleistocene of the Philippines, Nature volume 568, pages 181–186 (2019) Published on-line 10 April 2019, accessed 22 October 2019 
That same day (10 April), BBC Science Paul Rincon provided a useful popular summary in Homo luzonensis: New human species found in Philippines.The article included this chart derived from the Smithsonian which I thought provided a useful graphic.

The BBC article as well as other commentary quotes Professor Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum. For those who follow Twitter, Professor Stringer is an active tweeter - @ChrisStringer65.

John kindly sent me a press release apparently issued by Professor Stringer at the time. This is set out below. I have not been able to find a link to the original but have included it in full because of the overview it provides.

"Homo Luzonensis -  a new human species from island south east Asia

After the remarkable finds of the diminutive Homo floriensis were published in 2004, I said that the experiment in human evolution conducted on Flores could have been repeated on many of the other islands in the region. That speculation has seemingly been confirmed on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, nearly 3,000 km away. 13 fossil human remains - teeth, hand and foot bones, and part of a femur from at least 3 adults and immature individuals have been recovered from excavations at Callao Cave since 2007. They have been dated to at least 50,000 years old, are small in size, particularly the teeth, and they show a distinctive combination of primitive and and derived traits sufficient for the authors of the paper in Nature to create a new human species for them: Homo luzonensis. They suggest that some of the hand and foot bones show features also present in much more ancient australopiths ("southern apes") found in Africa, and interpreted as adaptations for life in the trees.

So, do these finds really represent a new species, and what do they add to the story of human evolution? Given the small size of the sample, some scientists will question the wisdom of creating a new species based on such limited material, while others such as me wonder whether Luzon find might eventually turn out to be a variant of the already known Homo floresiensis, despite some clear differences. And we know that island isolation can be a catalyst for some odd evolutionary changes, including reversion to apparently primitive states. Nevertheless, for the moment, it is probably reasonable to accept the new species, at least provisionally, while awaiting more finds.

As for its origins and fate, they remain mysterious. As with floresiensis, expert opinion will probably be divided. Some will argue that the primitive features of luzonensis are evidence of a pre- Homo erectus dispersal out of Africa, perhaps more than 2 million years ago. floresiensis and luzonensis would represent some of the last survivors of that early wave, lingering on at the fringes of the inhabited world. Others would prefer to regard these island forms as descendants of Homo erectus, subject to isolation and island dwarfing over a considerable period of time. And given two such populations in the remote islands of south east Asia, others like me might consider they represent remnants of a dispersal of an original floresiensis or luzonensis -like founder lineage that originated somewhere like the island of Sulawesi. As for the fate of luzonensis, it is too early to say whether the spread of Homo sapiens into the region at least 50,000 years ago might have been factor in its disappearance, as has been suggested for floresiensis.

An extra layer of complexity in the region has been added by recent research on the Denisovans, an archaic population of humans originally identified from ancient DNA recovered from human fossils in Denisova Cave, Siberia. The additional existence of late Denisovan-like populations in south east Asia had been inferred from the presence of related DNA in extant Asian and Oceanian people, but recent research indicates at least three separate and varied Denisovan-like sources, at least one of which probably lived in the same wide biogeographic zone as floresiensis and luzonensis. We are currently far from establishing which fossils in the region might represent such populations, but it is probable that the spread of Denisovan-like people into the region was a separate and much later event than those involving floresiensis and luzonensis." Ends

Another who commented on the Luzon discoveries was Professor John Hawks. His New species of hominin from Luzon appeared on  his blog on 10 April 2019 and in the online journal Sapiens at the same time. It covers some of the same ground as Professor Stringer's comment, but with more focus on the details of the evidence.

Multiple Deeply Divergent Denisovan-related ancestries in Papuans 

 At the same time as the Luzonensis results were reported,  another paper was released in Cell entitled Multiple Deeply Divergent Denisovan-related ancestries in Papuans. 

The abstract reads:
"Genome sequences are known for two archaic hominins-Neanderthals and Denisovans-which interbred with anatomically modern humans as they dispersed out of Africa. We identified high-confidence archaic haplotypes in 161 new genomes spanning 14 island groups in Island Southeast Asia and New Guinea and found large stretches of DNA that are inconsistent with a single introgressing Denisovan origin. Instead, modern Papuans carry hundreds of gene variants from two deeply divergent Denisovan lineages that separated over 350 thousand years ago. Spatial and temporal structure among these lineages suggest that introgression from one of these Denisovan groups predominantly took place east of the Wallace line and continued until near the end of the Pleistocene. A third Denisovan lineage occurs in modern East Asians. This regional mosaic suggests considerable complexity in archaic contact, with modern humans interbreeding with multiple Denisovan groups that were geographically isolated from each other over deep evolutionary time."
Jacobs GS, Hudjashov G, Saag L, Kusuma P, Darusallam CC, Lawson D, Mondal M, Pagani L, Ricaut FX, Stoneking M, Metspalu M, Sudoyo H, Lansing JS, Cox MP, Multiple Deeply Divergent Denisovan-related ancestries in Papuans, Cell. 2019 May 2;177(4):1010-1021.e32. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2019.02.035. Epub 2019 Apr 11.Accessed 23 October 2019
On 11 April, EuekaAlert carried a press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. I have set this out below in full because it provides another perspective.

"Multiple Denisovan-related ancestries in Papuans 
 DNA sequences from Indonesia and New Guinea reveal new branches of the Denisovan family tree

   The findings are based on a new study led by Murray Cox from Massey University in New Zealand and made possible by sampling efforts led by Herawati Sudoyo from the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta, Indonesia. The data were collected and analyzed by an international team of researchers, including Mark Stoneking from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Taken together with previous work - which has pointed to a third Denisovan lineage in the genomes of modern Siberians, Native Americans, and East Asians - the evidence "suggests that modern humans interbred with multiple Denisovan populations, which were geographically isolated from each other over deep evolutionary time," the researchers write.

The new evidence also unexpectedly shows extra mixing between Papuans and one of the two Denisovan groups, suggesting that this group actually lived in New Guinea or its adjacent islands. Moreover, Denisovans may have lived in the area until as recently as 30,000 years ago, making them one of the last surviving groups of archaic hominins. "People used to think that Denisovans lived on the Asian mainland and far to the north," says Cox. "Our work instead shows that the center of archaic diversity was not in Europe or the frozen north, but instead in tropical Asia." Stoneking adds, "Moreover, this archaic diversity seems to have persisted much longer in Island Southeast Asia and New Guinea than elsewhere in the world."

It had already been clear that Island Southeast Asia and New Guinea was a special place, with individuals there carrying more archaic hominin DNA than anywhere else on Earth. The region was also recognized as key to the early evolution of Homo sapiens outside Africa. But there were gaps in the story.

Divergent Denisovan lineages

To help fill those gaps, the team identified stretches of archaic DNA from 161 new genomes spanning 14 island groups in Island Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Their analyses uncovered large stretches of DNA that did not jibe with a single introgression of genes from Denisovans into humans in the region. Instead, they report, modern Papuans carry hundreds of gene variants from two deeply divergent Denisovan lineages. In fact, they estimate that those two groups of Denisovans had been separated from one another for 350,000 years.

The new findings highlight how "incredibly understudied" this part of the world has been, the researchers say. To put it in context, many of the study's participants live in Indonesia, a country the size of Europe that is the 4th largest country in the world based on population size. And yet, apart from a handful of genome sequences reported in a global survey of genomic diversity in 2016, the new paper reports the first Indonesian genome sequences. There also has been a strong bias in studies of archaic hominins toward Europe and northern Eurasia, because DNA collected from ancient bones survives best in the cold north.

Missing data bias scientific interpretation

This lack of global representation in both ancient and modern genome data is well noted, the researchers say. "However, we don't think that people have really grasped just how much of a bias this puts on scientific interpretations - such as, here, the geographical distribution of archaic hominin populations," Cox says.

As fascinating as these new findings are, the researchers say their primary aim is to use this new genomic data to help improve healthcare for people in Island Southeast Asia. They say this first genome survey in the region now offers the baseline information needed to set that work in motion." Ends

Adaptive archaic introgression of copy number variants and the discovery of previously unknown human genes    

On 18 October 2019, Science published another study under the catchy (!) title Adaptive archaic introgression of copy number variants and the discovery of previously unknown human genes. The above graphic reproduced from the article provides an effective schematic.

In this case, I am not providing the full abstract (you will find it here) because of length as well as complexity. However, a short extract follows:
"Copy number variants (CNVs) are subject to stronger selective pressure than single-nucleotide variants, but their roles in archaic introgression and adaptation have not been systematically investigated. We show that stratified CNVs are significantly associated with signatures of positive selection in Melanesians and provide evidence for adaptive introgression of large CNVs at chromosomes 16p11.2 and 8p21.3 from Denisovans and Neanderthals, respectively. Using long-read sequence data, we reconstruct the structure and complex evolutionary history of these polymorphisms and show that both encode positively selected genes absent from most human populations. Our results collectively suggest that large CNVs originating in archaic hominins and introgressed into modern humans have played an important role in local population adaptation and represent an insufficiently studied source of large-scale genetic variation."
PingHsun Hsieh, Mitchell R. Vollger, Vy Dang, David Porubsky, Carl Baker, Stuart Cantsilieris, Kendra Hoekzema1, Alexandra P. Lewis, Katherine M. Munson, Melanie Sorensen, Zev N. Kronenberg, Shwetha Murali, Bradley J. Nelson1, Giorgia Chiatante, Flavia Angela Maria Maggiolini, Hélène Blanché, Jason G. Underwood, Francesca Antonacci, Jean-François Deleuze, Evan E. Eichler, Adaptive archaic introgression of copy number variants and the discovery of previously unknown human genes, Science  18 Oct 2019:Vol. 366, Issue 6463, eaax2083 DOI: 10.1126/science.aax2083, accessed 22 October 2019

In sending me material, John B commented (24 April 2019): "It is increasingly looking likely Jim that the Aboriginals who first colonised Australia were locals to the region and not in transit through it, my suspicions of the original Out of Africa single origin hypothesis, replacement hypothesis, or recent African origin model continue to be confirmed. Archaic diversity, I do like that descriptor and the picture it conveys."

John and I have been talking about these issues now for a number of years. Over that time, new research discoveries have added to our understanding, but also created an unexpectedly complex and uncertain  picture. 

In 2017, reports of results from the excavations at the Madjedbebe rock shelter, The lessons and questions from Madjedbebe, pushed back the date of human occupation of Northern Australia to perhaps 65,000. I was going to write Aboriginal occupation but, while it seems probable, we don't actually know that the continent of Sahul was first occupied by the descendants of today's Aboriginal Australians.

In October 2016 in a paper entitled A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia, by Anna-Sapfo Malvinas, Michael C Westerway et all, the authors concluded that:

  • Aboriginal Australians and Papuans diverged from Eurasians and estimate 51–72 kya, following a single out-of-Africa dispersal, and subsequently admixed with archaic populations
  • Papuan and Aboriginal Australian ancestors diversified 25–40 thousand years ago (kya), suggesting pre-Holocene population structure in the ancient continent of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania). However, all of the studied Aboriginal Australians descend from a single founding population that differentiated ~10–32 kya
  • We infer a population expansion in northeast Australia during the Holocene epoch (past 10,000 years) associated with limited gene flow from this region to the rest of Australia, consistent with the spread of the Pama–Nyungan languages.   

I will leave aside the last conclusion for it raises another set of issues that is important to the history of Aboriginal Australia but is outside the scope of this post.

At the time, the estimate of 51–72 kya for divergence from Eurasians following a single out-of-Africa dispersal made me uncomfortable because the archaeological evidence was already suggesting possible early dates for human occupation of Sahul that might possibly conflict with these time lines. The Madjedbebe results added to this discomfort: the suggested 65,000 years was remarkably close to the suggested 72kya out of Africa date.

Before going on, I note that all the dating techniques involve statistical analysis with confidence intervals. Apparent differences and inconsistencies may reflect no more than this.

 The latest discoveries covered in this blog post suggest that:

  • Earlier hominum species were in South East Asia long before modern humans
  • Those species had come in different waves and had diversified 
  • Those species had crossed the Wallace Line, overcoming sea barriers. They may even have reached Sahul
  • Those species and modern humans overlapped far more than previously realised, co-existing in various forms of relationships including inter-breeding
  • Aboriginal and Papuan groups that formed the basis of later population may have lived in what is now SE Asian for extended periods before moving on, not just passing through.

In writing to me, John also noted:

"I have just been reading a Geology paper that mentioned the super volcano Toba eruption as the largest single event of its type so far known. It struck me that this could have been the event to precipitate human migration into Australia. We now understand that the arrival of H.sapiens into Oz occurred most likely as a bulk entry over a very short period then nobody else over millennia. Could Toba have been the push factor ?"

I am not convinced that there was a single pulse and am generally sceptical of attributions to volcanic eruptions. But still. As dates get pushed back, the possibility that the Toba eruption played a role in the movement of and ending of human species becomes more plausible!