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

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! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Connecting to our past

Anniversary: Armidale Demonstration School (Armidale City Public) turns 150. Three alumni, Jim Belshaw, Rob Richardson and Paul Barratt. Paul was in the process of returning to the New England, I came much later, both drawn back by the sense of connection. This is the second in a three part series on the economic, social and cultural value of family, local and regional history within the broader New England.
In my first column in this brief series on the economic and cultural importance of history to Northern NSW, the broader New England, I spoke of the rise in interest in family and local history. This draws people to the various towns and localities across New England, re-establishing links and creating new opportunities.

The New England diaspora, those no longer living in the North but who were born here or have some form of family connection, now exceed the local resident population by more than three to one.

Not all these people are interested in family, local or regional history, but many are.
To give you one rough indication of scale, the Armidale Families’ Facebook page has well over 2,000 members who no longer live in Armidale but retain their connection.

Each year, there are hundreds of family reunions or centenaries or other special events that bring people back to the North. They all spend money, adding to local economic activity. To my mind, this is an underutilized resource.

In 2011, I found out almost by accident about the Armidale Demonstration School 150 year celebrations.

Older residents or ex-residents still call the school Armidale Dem. I do wonder why it was renamed when North Sydney still proudly uses the name demonstration.

You can understand why the school focused on current students and Armidale residents, but this ignored the rest of us (the majority) who live outside Armidale.

We started to organise. In the end, nine of us came back. It could have been many times that number if the celebrations had focused on the broader ex-student body, if support on things like bookings had been there.

I must emphasize that I am not being critical of the organizers. They did a wonderful job in bringing together so much memorabilia, in organizing an event to remember. But it was a missed opportunity.

So far, I have focused on family and local history with a special focus on locals or those with New England connections. But this is still only part of our story.

Across the North there are hundreds of museums and local historical societies that preserve and promote the culture and history of their localities.

Supported by councils and maintained by volunteers with a small number of paid staff, they form an integral part of our tourism infrastructure. They provide part of the experience that locals and visitors alike appreciate. They are a valuable asset.

And yet, despite council support and all the efforts of volunteers, we are not maximising the value they offer.  

In my last column in this short series I will explain why, suggesting what needs to be done to address the situation. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 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    

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Web of history revealed

Ancestry: West Armidale (now Drummond Memorial) Primary School 1960. Across the North there are probably a thousand history-related Facebook pages where people exchange stories and images such as this. This is the first in a three part series on the economic, social and cultural value of family, local and regional history within the broader New England. 
I will start this week’s column with a few blunt statements. History is worth money. I suspect too few people recognize this.

I also suspect that most people are not aware of the range of historical resources available across the broader New England that can enrich lives and also bring cash!
I suspect, too, that those who do recognize this tend to think of it in terms just of their attraction, accommodation or local area. This minimizes opportunities.

It would take a detailed economic study to start to quantify the value of history to the North. However, we can get something of a feel for it if we ask the question who is interested in the history of the North?

We can start here with the growing field of family history.

The disruption of Aboriginal life following European occupation led to many deaths. Then came forced relocations that merged different groups. Records of all this including births and deaths are scanty.

Not surprisingly, Aboriginal people now are seeking to trace their ancestry as best they can, to find out about the history not just of their families but the clans and language groups from which their ancestors came.

With 591 members, Armidale historian Caroline Chapman’s Facebook group, Discussion Group for Aboriginal History of New England, has become a major source of information and discussion for those seeking to find out about their ancestry in this area.

Callum Clayton Dixon’s Anaiwan Language Revival Program seeks to both revive the language and to document the story of the Anaiwan people. The Friends of Anaiwan Language Revival FB group has 130 members.

The settlers who came after British occupation, mainly British but including other groups such as Germans and Chinese, are just as interested in family history. This interest extends into local history, the stories of the areas in which their ancestors lived.

To give you an indication of scale, the Armidale Families past and present FB group has 3,116 members, the Uralla Memories FB group 2,245 members, Glen Innes and Surrounds Family History Memories 539 members and the Armidale Family History Group 340 members.

I have given you local FB examples because FB has become the main communication mechanism. I have only done a partial audit, the task is too big for a single individual, by my best guestimate is that across the North there are probably a thousand history related FB pages or groups, as well as blogs and web sites connected with localities, families, societies and museums. 

It is hard to estimate the total number of people involved but it must run into many tens of thousands.

These are not small numbers, but this is only part of the story of history in the North.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 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    

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

From picnics to barbecues

 Large group picnic: With limited entertainment options, picnics were central to Australian life.
Growing up in Armidale during the 1950s, picnics were an essential feature of life. They could be family picnics held at a particular location such as the Gwydir River or a group activity such as Sunday School picnics.

The word picnic first appeared in the English language in 1748, drawn from the French pique-nique. The practice seems to have been first adopted by the upper classes who saw it as an elegant meal eaten outdoors. However, it spread into other areas of society as more leisure time became available.

I am not sure when the term was first used in colonial Australia, that is something I have to find out, but references to picnics occur quite early.

Entertainment in colonial society was largely self-made. The picnic provided an opportunity for family or group to move away from the daily round into a new space.

In Europe, the development of parks and the opening of estates to the public created the opportunity to experience not just the joy that comes from gatherings, but also the opportunity to see new areas, beautiful gardens and grounds.

In Australia the landscape, was rawer, less cultivated. Some of the early photographs show people picnicking amongst tree stumps!

Better transport including the railways encouraged the picnic habit. Railways, country and city, allowed people to travel on day excursions. With the car, life became easier because you could place the picnic basket or fruit case (fruit cases were commonly used on the New England after the establishment of orchards) in the boot and go.

Travelling by road, there were very few services stations or service centres of the type we know today. With rougher roads and slower travel times, it became normal practice to have picnic kit in the car and stop for morning tea or lunch, picnicking by the side of the road.

This is harder to do today with bigger roads and smaller verges.

By the 1890s, all the major department stores carried picnic kit including wicker ware picnic baskets and lighter weight cutlery and crockery. The baskets are almost identical to those you can buy today.

Unlike the later BBQ, picnic food was generally cold, although it was not unusual pre the vacuum flask to have a billy to heat the water for tea.

Depending on the money you had, the food and drink could be quite ornate. However, for most it was simpler fare, things that would not easily spoil and could be easily carried.

From the 1950s the BBQ began to supplant the picnic, yet it remains as a constant thread in our history.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 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    

Thursday, October 03, 2019

A remarkable life: Frewen's final chapter

Jerome Park, Hugh Frewen's final home.This is the seventh and final in my series on the sprawling life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen. 
 1922 was a fateful year in the life of Hugh Frewen.

His period as a political agent in Iraq had come to an end as had his marriage to donna Maria Nunziante. He now married Rosalind Jones, the daughter of a gardener on an adjoining estate. This marriage would bring three sons and two daughters to add to the two sons from his first marriage.

Restless, Frewen joined a proposed British Pacific Scientific Expedition to New Guinea as entomologist, sailing for Australia with his new wife towards the end of 1922.

The Expedition’s patron died while they were en-route and Frewen and his wife decided to leave the ship at Adelaide and settle in Australia under the patronage of the Governor of South Australia.

There Frewen found work hard to come by. “It came as a shock” Frewen wrote later, “to discover that Englishmen of good general education, but without capital or specialized training, were apparently not in demand in that part of the Empire.”

In South Australia, Frewen worked variously as a bulder’s labourer, as a journalist and radio broadcaster and real estate and securities salesman. He continued writing and became involved in politics and public commentary. 

In 1927, the Frewens moved to Queensland where Frewen again pursued varied activities, adding company promoter and orchid collecting to his list of occupations. By 1931, the Frewens were in severe financial difficulties.

Through happenstance, they were able to move onto a small block at Tyringham where the family built their own home from local timber and established a small holding that provided food and a small income.

Around 1938 they acquired a block on the Dorrigo where Frewen built another home that he named Jerome Park after his mother’s family.

It was during the Tyringham period that Frewen became involved in activities directed at agricultural and economic development and the achievement of self-government for New England.

As the war ended, still restless and still in love with exploration and the sea, Frewen left the family at Dorrigo and went trading around Fiji and the Pacific Islands. Finally, he retired to Dorrigo where he died in 1967.

It had been a remarkable life, a life I have only sketched in these columns. Frewen had inherited his father’s curious mind, his love of writing, his restless spirit. To some degree too, he had also inherited that sometimes lack of commercial practicality that led to his father’s nickname, Mortal Ruin.

It had been a long journey from the America in the gilded age through the courts of Europe to the Dorrigo Hills, one that provides yet another thread in the fascinating history of New England.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 25 September 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, October 02, 2019

Managing the pressures of the long distance student

This post began as a draft response to a plea for help on the History at UNE Facebook page. It became so long that I decided that I should run it as a full post here and then cross-reference it on the FB page.

Under pressure because of family and job circumstances, Jennifer G asked for hints about study techniques that might help her manage more effectively. It was interesting to see how many of her experiences were shared by others, nice that people were so supportive. I thought that I should add my tuppence worth.

Learning and working styles vary greatly. For example, I am a very fast reader and have been trained through work to absorb stuff quickly, so my hints mat not be suitable for all.

My first hint may raise eyebrows, may be seen as unsuitable in a university environment. I will still make it: use Wikipedia and other on-line sources. Yes, I know Wikipedia is full of errors and is not normally suitable for referencing, but it is still valuable in two primary ways.

One of the challenges faced by all students is to get a feel for the scope of their course. Yes, the course material does aim to do that, but Wikipedia can still be valuable. For my part, I use it to give me a quick overview of the area in question, a starting framework. Say I want to find out about the early days of the Muslim faith. A friend was doing this as a course and I wanted to help. So I went through the Wikipedia pages, following the links. In an hour, I had a rough historical structure to work from that at least allowed me to talk sensibly..

 I also use it to clarify names, words and concepts. In reading academic writing I am constantly struck by names that I do not know, words and concepts that I do not understand. I immediately follow through using on-line search and especially Wikipedia.

These types of searches can often be fitted into time gaps.

My second hint: create a schedule of key dates early in the piece. Dates are pegs. You hang things from them, they help you think about the patterns involved.  They can also stop you making gross errors. There is nothing more mortifying, as I know full well, in realizing that an entire carefully developed argument has to be discarded because certain pesky dates don’t fit! It also saves time because you can refer to your schedule in finding dates rather than searching again. In some cases, it may help to add a glossary of terms plus a list of characters.

Hint three: each time you read a new article or book record the details properly. This has two advantages. It saves time later when it comes to that horrid task of creating footnotes and bibliography for your assignment. Mind you, while I still hate creating bibliographies and, in my case, resource lists, I now use footnotes as a tool, even weapon, to support my argument. Properly documenting references in the first place means that when you take notes you can use short form – author and date plus page number – since you already have the full details recorded.

Hint four: keep your notes short. You are recording ideas, facts, quotes for later use. Don’t be like the early me and feel that you must record everything. So much time I wasted. You can always go back if you must. This approach also reduces the risk of the dreaded plagiarism.

There are different ways of taking notes. One old fashioned way that still works is to put them on index cards that you can reshuffle as required. Consider keeping a writer’s diary in which you jot down thoughts, ideas and key facts. This can be a small notebook that you can store in handbag or brief case. This should be page numbered and have an index space (blank numbered pages) at the front where you can cross-reference later thoughts.

Hint five: with books don’t just start reading. Take the time to look at the table of contents (this tells you the structure), read any introduction or preface (this tells what the author thinks the book is about) and browse the index for any topics, people etc that seem relevant. Then flick browse through the book. This gives you a feel for the book and its flow, helping you focus on what seems important. You can then read as required.

Hint six: try to use your otherwise dead time effectively. I used to work in Parramatta, taking around two and a half hours travel time in all. I came to call this my train reading time. Once your mind and ideas are engaged you will find it easier to use little bits of time effectively, thinking while ironing or walking.

Hint seven and I know this one is hard. Try not to get too hung up on assignments or essays. They are important because they are measures that the university uses to assess your progress. They are also problematic sometimes because of variations in marking and in perceptions (staff and students) of the results. In all, they are a major cause of angst.

We live in a measurement world where we all must jump through hoops. That won’t go away. We just have to manage. Here I want to make a few points that may sound heretical or just hard to do.

 Change the way that you look at essays or assignments. Forget the question of how well you do or might do. Don’t worry about the question of pass or failure. Yes, I know that’s hard.

I remember my father then Professor of Economics at UNE and a member of the NSW Board of Examiners for the old NSW Leaving Certificate. A friend’s daughter was struggling with an economics essay and Prof (we all called him Prof) gave her some help. She failed badly. A week later her teacher, an economics student, came round to the house for a group economics tutorial from Dad. Dad did not say a word; just let the matter pass to the keeper.

My point is that any essay or assignment is just a point in the process. Markers are human and struggle with the technical process of marking. I know from my own experience that this can be quite hard when you have a lot of papers. You have to grade them against each other and against your own perception of standards.

If we now turn all this on its head and look at it from a different viewpoint: to the university, the essay or assignment is a progress measurement, a measure of pass or failure. But is it?

In our measurement obsessed world, it would seem so. But, in fact, essays and assignments and indeed exams are part of the process by which you are learning your historical craft, as well as writing skills. As an historian, you need to be able to express your arguments clearly History is not just “facts”. You have to learn to express an argument from introduction to conclusion using clear English in a logical flow, marshalling your arguments supported by evidence. This just doesn’t come. It has to be practiced. The skills you learn will carry you through well beyond history.

 I know that some of the most turgid, tendentious English that you can find comes out of our universities. That does not matter. Well, it does, just not for our present purposes. You need to think of your essays and assignments as part of your learning process. If you fail, find out why and move on, even when you disagree.

I will finish this post with a few general observations

External study can be a lonely business when you are trying to balance work, study and family commitments and have no one to talk too on either method or topic. Use the Moodle or the History at UNE FB page to reach out, to engage, as Jennifer did. Look for fellow students who share your interests and experiences. If you are in trouble reach out early.

In all this, remember that you are acquiring interests and learning skills that will carry you forward in directions that you cannot yet see.  Sorry, I have dropped from helpful to lecturing mode!