I spent Easter in the Hunter Valley. Most go for the wine. I like wine too, but in my case it was a history tour. I wanted to walk the ground to help me visualise things past. I don’t know about you, but I find that I can’t understand the history properly if I don’t understand the geography.
The tour began on Easter Saturday. We started with a short tour of the Broke Fordwich area. Here my interest was in part the current conflict between mining and wine, between industrialisation and village life. (Photo Caption: DEBATE: The mining industry is at loggerheads with many in the Hunter)
Mining has a long history in the North, beginning with coal in the Hunter. It is a story of national significance, although elements of that have been lost because of the way we write and research history. In the big picture focus that dominates so much history, the local and regional specifics are submerged. I find that sad, and fight against it as best I can.
A simple example to illustrate. Did you know that key elements of the Australian labor and union movements began in the North? I didn’t until I started researching and writing on Northern history.
From Broke Fordwich we drove to Singleton. Here I wanted to visit the Catholic Church and surrounding buildings. Why? Well, I had read the history of the Church in Singleton and of the Sisters of Mercy. Like the Ursulines in Armidale, they had become part of Northern history.
The visit did not disappoint. The Church was being prepared for Easter ceremonies, but we were allowed in. I stood there thinking of the past, before wandering around near the convent and school buildings,
From Singleton, the next stop was Morpeth on the Hunter. This was the big port for Northern New South Wales, the second largest port in the colony after Sydney, contending with Grafton for control of the vital Northern trade.
At Morpeth, the drays loaded with New England wool came in. From Morpeth, the drays went north, loaded with farm supplies.
The development of Newcastle as a port, the opening of the Great Northern Railway, would sideline Morpeth. Today it survives as a popular tourist centre, marked by its old buildings and its visitor thronged main street.
I will continue this story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 30 April 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.