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

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    


Johnb said...

Along with many other Historical Societies The Bellinger Valley HS has just been notified of an intention to move all the archive material currently stored in Armidale to a single repository in Sydney. Having just deposited material in that archive because it is regionally local and remains accessible to any future researchers we were not best pleased to hear of this proposal. Is there any organised opposition to this proposed move Jim ? Devils Advocate, what is there in favour of this move.

Jim Belshaw said...

John, this scared the living daylights out of me. I am following up as a matter of urgency to determine accuracy.