Unrecognised and now almost unknown: explorations through the history of the broader New England

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  • 8/9/2019 Unrecognised and now almost unknown: explorations through the history of the broader New England



    Unrecognised and now almost unknown: explorationsthrough the history of the broader New England1

    In recognition of the topic of this paper as well as our location, I would like to begin

    by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the Land. I would also like to payrespect to the Elders past and present of this Land and of all New Englands

    Aboriginal peoples. My hope is that they will find some value in my work.

    This paper follows my personal journey in attempting to write a history of the broader

    New England. I will talk a little about names and naming later. For the present, Isimply note that when I talk about the broader New England, I mean the Northern

    Tablelands and its surrounding rivers to the north, south, west and east.

    I say unrecognised, because the area that I am talking about has no formal identity.You will not find it on any map. I say now almost unknown, because the tides of

    history, and of fashions in the writing of history, have overtaken the area, its interests

    and activities. Things once considered important have been increasingly relegated to a

    sentence, a footnote, or just ignored.

    As will become very clear, I have a direct personal interest in all this because of my

    own history and that of my family. In some ways, I think of my work as somewhat

    akin to an archaeological rescue dig, trying to recover a past before modern

    constructions destroy it entirely!

    This leads to obvious problems of selection, perception and bias in my research and

    writing. The topic I have selected, and the initial questions I asked of the evidence,

    reflect my own past, interests and values. Further, at a personal level and especially

    on my New England Australia blog


    and in my weekly column in theArmidaleExpress, I am still a partisan player, sometimes using history to explain and support

    particular positions.

    To manage the obvious conflict created by my interests, perceptions and approach andmy role as a historian, I try to make my personal biases clear up front. I also try to be

    professional in my practice of the historical craft. By this, I mean simply that I try tobe objective in my approach to the evidence and to ensure that the things that I say are

    properly referenced, so that others can check and, as appropriate, refute my inevitable

    errors of fact and judgement.


    I first became interested in writing a history of the broader New England while doingmy honours years in history at the University of New England in 1966. This was a

    very different world.

    1 Paper delivered by Jim Belshaw to the University of New Englands Classics and History Seminar

    Series, Armidale Friday 19 March 2010.2http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com

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    The Cold War was still in full swing. Australia was involved in the Vietnam War.Jobs were plentiful. The social changes that would make the 1970s such a tip decade,

    a break with the past, were underway, but undergraduate students at the University ofNew England still wore gowns and were expected to dress properly. In the case of

    men, the rules prescribed coat and tie as well as gown. One of my student colleagues

    did just that, wear a tie, coat and gown to lectures. Fortunately, he did add underpants

    to the list! The main student issue on campus was room visiting, with studentscampaigning en masse to overturn a decision of the University Council banning visits

    by members of the opposite sex in the Colleges3.

    At local and regional level, the New England New State Movement was in the middle

    of Operation Seventh State, the campaign that would culminate in the 1967 plebiscite.

    The loss of that plebiscite on the votes of the dairying, mining and industrial interests

    of the lower Hunter still lay ahead.

    I had always been a new state supporter, in large part because of my grandfather,

    David Drummond. Drummond had first become involved with the movement for selfgovernment while working as a manager on a share farm basis on Maxwelton, a

    wheat block near Inverell4. He remained a supporter over a long career in State andFederal Parliament that stretched from 1920 to 1963.

    I first became actively involved with the New England New State Movement in 1961

    when, at my grandfathers request, I acted as an usher at the 1961 Armidaleconvention that launched Operation Seventh State. This was a very big meeting and

    very exciting to a sixteen years old wearing his first suit! When I started at the

    University of New England in 1963, I carried my new state enthusiasms with me.

    During first year, I helped form the University of New England New State Society

    and became foundation president. I became the Societys representative on the

    Movements Executive and remained a member until leaving Armidale early in 1967.

    Despite this involvement, it wasnt the fight for self government that first made me

    want to write a history of New England. That desire came from another source


    In 1963 as a first year undergraduate I enrolled in History I. The History Department

    was a remarkably strong department for what was still a relatively small institution.

    The first year history course provided a general introduction beginning witharchaeology and prehistory, a segment largely taught by Isabel McBryde, supported

    by Mary Neely (later Dolan). This focus on archaeology and prehistory was unusual,since prehistory itself was quite a new field. John Mulvaney and Johan Kamminga

    note that the first book on world prehistory and one of our texts, Grahame Clarkes

    3 Mathew Jordans A Spirit of True Learning: the Jubilee History of the University of New

    England (University of New South Wales Press, Sydney 2004) pp 187-190 discusses the room visiting

    issue. However, the editor ofNeucleus quoted was Winton, not Winston, Bates. Winton was in fact co-editor; I was the second editor with Winton. Like so many UNE alumni, Winton went onto a

    distinguished career, becoming a Commissioner with the Productivity Commission.4

    J D Belshaw, David Henry Drummond 1890-1930: The formative years, Armidale and District

    Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, No 22, March 1979, pp147-160. For further detail, see J

    D Belshaw, Decentralisation, Development and Decent Government: the life and times of David

    Henry Drummond, 1890-1942, PhD thesis, University of New England 1983.

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    my interest in the project. At this point, I want to use the work of Isabel McBryde asone prism to extend my discussion on some of the threads within New Englands


    Impact of the University of New England on regional thought

    While there have been a number of studies that do look at specific aspects of regionalthought

    9, I am not aware of any general studies examining the contribution of regional

    thought to the overall history of Australian thought. Yet the evidence that I have seen

    suggests that there were considerable regional variations in thought that fed back into

    the broader pattern of Australian life and thought, including politics. Certainly, that

    was the case within New England.

    At the time Isabel was appointed to the University of New England, it was just twenty

    two years since the formation of the New England University College, seven years

    since UNE had gained its autonomy.

    Those agitating for the formation of the new university college saw its role in regional

    terms: this was to be the Sydney University of the North. To this end, the College wasto support Northern development by bringing science and education to bear upon

    Northern problems. In 1920 the first New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, putthe problem this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical

    schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area10


    The academic staff coming to the new College and then the University had a varied

    background, but shared the ideal of the founders about the role of a university as a

    centre of teaching and learning in the English tradition. However, they also came

    from a very different world: the culture shock was enormous and deserves a section of

    the history in its own right. For the moment, I will simply point to a few important


    Armidale may have been a significant education centre, but in 1938 it still only had a

    population of perhaps 7,00011

    and was a long way from the major centres staff had

    known. Further, 1938 was a drought year, so the town that greeted the Colleges new

    9 The work of B D Graham, for example, on the formation of the Australian Country Parties ( The

    Political Strategies of the Australian County Parties from their origins until 1929 , PhD thesis,

    Australian National University, 1958; The Formation of the Australian Country Parties, Australian

    National University Press, Canberra 1966) draws out quite clearly the way in which ideas about the

    need for, role of and structure of Country Parties varied in geographical terms.

    In similar vein, Don Aitkins work on the NSW Country Party (see for example D A Aitkin, The

    Colonel: A Political Biography of Sir Michael Bruxner, Australian National University Press,

    Canberra, 1969; The Country Party in New South Wales: a study of organisation and survival,Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972) provides examples of geographical variation

    across NSW.

    At regional level, High Lean Country (Alan Atkinson, J S Ryan, Iain Davidson and Andrew Piper

    (eds), Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest 2006) point to a number of specific intellectual co ntributions madethrough the University of New England, while John Ryans many publications also discuss thought,

    attitudes and the contribution made.10

    E Page and others (eds), Australia Subdivided, The First New State, Examiner Printing Works,

    Glen Innes, 1920, p10.11

    The 1938 Australian Year Book uses the 1933 census data. Armidales population was then 6,794.

    Accessed on-line 24 February 2009.

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    staff was dry and dusty, far removed from the green city we know today. My father,who was to lecture in history and economics and was the first staff member to arrive,

    later recalled that his first reaction was to catch the train back!

    Armidale was also marked by a very stratified social structure12


    John Ferrys Colonial Armidale describes the progressive emergence of town socialstructures based on those who had capital and those whose capital was limited

    13. He

    also describes the process by which social order was established in Armidale,

    replacing the previous early settler society. This process was not unique to Armidale,

    but to greater or lesser extent was common across New England: the rise of the town

    is one theme in New England history; the often bitter rivalries between towns a

    second. These rivalries divided, preventing common action that might have benefited



    While there were common processes in town formation, the character and culture of

    towns varied depending upon their history and economic base. Here, two things incombination made Armidale different.

    The first was the presence of a more diversified town population because of the citys

    role as an educational, religious and administrative centre15

    . The second wasArmidales role as a grazing centre with well established pastoral families, many of

    whom were also actively involved in community activities at a local and regionallevel. This was important and, to a degree, unusual, for the wealth and position of

    these families often led them to identify with capital city life and beyond to England

    and Europe.

    The Clarence Valley squatter Edward Ogilvie can be taken as an example of the

    second type16

    . Ogilvie was a fascinating, if difficult, character. He was ten when his

    father William emigrated to Australia in 1824, taking up land in the Upper Hunter. In

    1840, Edward and his brother took up land in the Clarence after a race from the

    Tablelands against a much larger party guided by former convict Richard Craig. The

    Ogilvies had asked to join Craigs party. Denied, they pushed on as fast as possible

    12Robert Barnards first detective novel, Death of an Old Goat (the Crime Club, London 1974)

    provides a funny, somewhat malicious and satirical account of social structures in Armidale during the

    1960s. While somewhat later, it still provides a guide to both structures and responses. However, it is

    important to recognize that social structures and associated attitudes varied greatly across New

    England. These variations affected, among other things, approaches to cooperative actions.13

    John Ferry, Colonial Armidale, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1999.14 As an example, rivalry between coastal and tablelands towns made it very difficult to establish long

    desired west-east rail links because nobody could agree on routes.15

    Drummonds description of the early days of the university movement, (D H Drummond, AUniversity is Born: The Story of the Founding of the University College of New England, Angus

    and Robertson, Sydney, 1959), shows clearly how this affected the movement. As an example (p5), the

    deputation that met the NSW Minister of Education in August 1924 to plead the case for local

    university education was led by the Rev. Canon Archdall, M.A, Headmaster of The Armidale School.He was supported by the Mayor, Morgan Stephens, by Mr J Cornforth, M.A., Brother Jerome as

    Principal of the De La Salle College and Mr F Cuthbert, M.A, Headmaster of the Armid ale High

    School. In academic terms this was, and this is the reason Drummond listed all their qualifications,

    quite a high powered group for such a small city.16

    George Farwell, Squatter's Castle: The saga of a pastoral dynasty, Angus & Robertson; Sydney


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    into unknown country and reached the Clarence at Tabulum ahead of Craig. Edwardtook up fifty-six miles (90 km) downstream on both sides of the river and later named

    the runs Yulgilbar.

    Edward Ogilvie is quite an important figure in early New England European history.

    The story of the growth of the Olgilvie empire is an interesting story in its own right.

    More importantly, Edward Ogilvies relations with the Aboriginal peoples weresomewhat unusual for the time. At Merton in the Upper Hunter he learned to speak

    the local dialect, probably a variant of Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi)17

    . Upon arrival in the

    Clarence he learned to speak the local dialect of Bundjalung, and established formal

    relations with the local Aboriginal people.

    Yet, and this is what is important at this point in our narrative, he had little interest in

    local activities outside the property itself. Instead, and like his father, he fell in love

    with Italy and spent as much time there as possible. So far as the Clarence and

    especially Grafton were concerned, he remained an alien being.

    Key local pastoral families on the New England such as the Wrights and Whites were

    different, for they were involved. This affected the local social hierarchy, creating agrazier/farmer structure to match and interact with town divisions in a variety of

    complicated ways. The arrival of the academic added to this complexity by addinggown, creating a town/gown/country divide. Many country people found the new

    arrivals very strange indeed, while the academics themselves had to decideindividually how to fit into the place in which they now found themselves.

    My own father is a classic example. In 1944 he married Edna Drummond, the new

    Colleges first librarian and eldest daughter of the local member of state parliament,

    leading to the local Labor party joke that Drummond founded a university to find a

    husband for his daughter! Yet despite this connection, I had no idea until quite late in

    his life just how difficult an adjustment it was for him.

    At my fathers funeral, Professor Ron Neale described him as the Universitys only

    working class professor. There was some truth in that.

    Born in 1908, James Belshaw was the second son of James and Mary Belshaw who

    had emigrated to Canterbury in New Zealand in 1906 from the industrial world of

    Wigan in Lancashire18

    . This was a very working class family. His parents had limitedformal education, his father had been one of the first Labour councillors in Britain and

    the family was active in the Primitive Methodist church. In New Zealand, JamesBelshaw Senior worked in various roles before becoming a Methodist home

    missioner. It was also a family with a powerful interest in education and a strong

    sense of social justice.

    Given this background, my father struggled with a social structure that reminded him

    of an English class system that he disliked. He made many good friends, but never

    forgot his initial reactions. He also, and this is the last point I want to make about the

    17Michael ORourke, The Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19


    century, Michael ORourke, Griffith 1997, pp33-38.18

    Holmes, Frank. 'Belshaw, Horace 1898 - 1962', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22

    June 2007, URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/, accessed 2 March 2010.

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    initial culture shock experienced by academic staff, struggled with what he saw as thesocial conservatism of the broader New England society.

    We need to be careful here with our definitions, for the question of what constitutes a

    conservative or a conservative society is by no means clear cut. What we can say, I

    think, is that the new College and its staff had to deal with people who were

    unfamiliar with, and to a degree distrustful of, university education19.

    To manage this problem of children coming into contact with tertiary education for

    the first time and with parents concerned about the moral well being of their children,

    first the Armidale Teachers College and then the University College adopted

    approaches that we would now regard as paternalistic. As an example, in his

    introduction to Keith Leopolds memoir on his days at the early University College,

    John Ryan records this promotional piece from the Lismore Northern Starof 22

    November 194020


    No student in residence is permitted to be out after 10 pm without permissionand they have to sign the leave book when they return.

    By now, my discussion must seem a long way from Isabel McBryde, but there is a

    link in the unique university culture that emerged out of these various forces. Thebelief of the academic staff in the role of the university as a centre of teaching and

    learning, in the ideal of a university as an independent entity dedicated to the pursuitof knowledge, merged with the ideals of the founders that the university should serve

    the needs of broader North. To use a modern phrase, the University College and

    University thought globally, but worked locally.

    The meld worked because while the founders themselves thought of this as their

    institution and were highly protective of it, they also shared the vision of the

    academics of the university as a place of learning21

    . As theArmidale Express

    editorialised on the Colleges opening: It must not be a superior boarding school for

    young men and women. Its function is to create, not imitate22


    Isabels personality and approach exactly fitted the Universitys culture. The results

    were quite outstanding for such a small institution23


    19Keith Leopold was a member of the first student intake at the New England University College. In

    his memoir (Keith Leopold, edited by J S Ryan, Came to Booloominbah: A Country Scholars

    Progress 1938-1942, The University of New England Press, Armidale 1998), Keith suggests (p17) that

    support for the new College was not as widespread as its founders might have liked: for the most part,

    he wrote, the idea of a university college in Armidale met with indifference or even hostility . This was

    not helped by the fact that the College opened with male and female students sharing the same

    building, something then unique in Australia.20

    Leopold, p17.21 The 1957 appointment of Russell Ward as lecturer in history provides an interesting example.

    Wards previous membership of the Communist Party had led to him being effectively blackballed. Yet

    he was now appointed to what was regarded as a conservative institution and indeed the only universityin Australia whose staff and students tended to vote Country Party.22 Cited by John Ryan, Leopold, ibid.23

    The material that follows on UNE theses is drawn partly from the list of UNE postgraduate thesis

    (http://www.une.edu.au/archaeology/theses.php accessed February 2007) supplemented by my personal

    knowledge. In addition to the thesis in the archaeology list, there were also theses now classified as

    history. Isabel herself left Armidale in 1973, but the work continued.

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    Four years after Isabels arrival came the first thesis, Sharon Sullivan's 1964 honours

    study on the material culture of the Aborigines of the Richmond and Tweed Rivers.

    By 1978, UNE students had written at least 22 theses on the Aborigines, 4 Litt.B's, 16

    BA honours and 2 MAs. Isabel herself was awarded her PhD in 196724

    , laying the

    basis for a 1974 book, Aboriginal prehistory in New England 25. This was followedin 1978 by book of essays, Records of Time Past: ethnohistorical essays on the

    culture and ecology of the New England tribe s26

    mainly written by her former

    students. This included an article of mine,Population distribution and the pattern of

    seasonal movement in Northern NSW, drawn from my original work. The story does

    not end there, for there were also journal articles and monographs, including her

    pioneering study with R A Binns, A petrological analysis of ground-edge artefacts

    from northern New South Wales27


    The citation for her award in 2003 of the Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding

    Contribution to Australian Archaeology justly summarised her work this way:

    Her work in New England was remarkable for its extent and depth, andIsabel'sexamination of the interface of archaeology and ethnography in the region

    shaped not only the approach taken by many later researchers but alsoprepared the basis for the arguments about upland regions created by

    archaeologists such as Sandra Bowdler and Luke Godwin28


    If we now look at the original plaint from 1920 in Australia Subdivided - no

    universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area - we can see from

    Isabels case just how well the new University College and then University served the

    original ideas of its founders. Nor, I should add, is this unique to UNE. Both

    Newcastle and later Southern Cross have also served their immediate areas in the

    same way, if with a narrower geographic focus. The overall contribution of New

    Englands colleges and universities is another part of the New England story29.

    The Importance of Geography

    The second theme that I want to use Isabels work to illustrate is the importance of

    geography, in so doing also extending our discussion of Aboriginal New England.

    In High Lean Country, Wendy Beck notes that Isabel defined her study area in

    Aboriginal Prehistory in New England as north eastern NSW from the latitude of

    24Isabel McBryde, An archaeology survey of the New England Region, NSW, PhD thesis,

    University of New England, 1967.25

    Isabel McBryde, Aboriginal prehistory in New England: an archaeological survey of

    northeastern New South Wales, Sydney University, 1974.26 Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies .27

    Australian Institute if Aboriginal Studies 1972.28 Ibid.29 It is hard today with mass university education to realize the importance of this. One of the

    weaknesses in Mathew Jordans A Spirit of True Learning (op cit) is that he does not fully bring this

    out so far as UNE was concerned. The contribution needs to be assessed not just across disciplines, but

    also in university extension work and the activism of key individuals. Because this is my second

    criticism of Mathews book, I should note that I found it a valuable work.

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    Tamworth and Kempsey north to the Queensland border and from the coastwestwards to the Nandewar Ranges and the western slopes of the Northern


    . She also notes that in another publication, Isabel explains that NewEngland has been interpreted broadly, but generally conforms to the bounds envisaged

    by the late nineteenth and twentieth century New England New State Movement.

    The first point to note about this is that the study area as defined by Isabel inAboriginal Prehistory in New England is not the same as the new state boundaries

    recommended by the Nicholas Commission in 1935 and later adopted by the New

    England New State Movement, for these included the Hunter Valley. The area

    variously called the Northern Districts, Northern Provinces, the North or New

    England is a European construct whose boundaries have varied with time. While

    those variations form part of the history of New England, they were not relevant to the

    Aborigines who occupied this territory prior to the coming of the Europeans; what

    was relevant to them was the territory they occupied and their relationships with

    adjoining groups31


    In her chapter, Wendy kindly suggests that one James Belshaw mapped the different

    geographic zones within New England32; she includes a map based on part of myoriginal analysis. I included this introductory material on the geography of New

    England because I knew from my own experience just how important geography wasin determining the pattern of life. This is not geographical determinism; other factors

    can also be important. However, the topics that I was trying to investigate across avaried area such as population distribution and the patterns of seasonal movement

    were clearly related to geography.

    I broke New England into four north-south geographic zones reflecting common

    usage the humid coastal strip including the Hunter Valley, the tablelands, western

    slopes and then western plains. Each zone contained a variety of environments

    depending on landforms, soil and climate. Climate, for example, varies both east-west

    and north-south. Within each zone and between zones, you would expect east-west

    and north-south human interaction. That was indeed the case.

    While my primary focus in this section is on Aboriginal New England, European New

    England was just as affected by geography. As an example, the pattern of yes and no

    votes at the 1967 new state plebiscite were closely correlated to settlement and

    transport patterns created during the first decades of European settlement, patternsdirectly linked to geography33.

    In her discussion of Isabels work, Wendy suggested that Isabel conceived of the

    region under study in a relatively abstract way, rather than consisting, for example, of

    30 Wendy Beck,Aboriginal Archaeology, High Lean Country, op cit, pp 88-9731 This has relevance to the scope of any history of the broader New England, for the first part of such a

    history has to include geographic areas now included in Queensland.32 Op cit pp 89-91.33 Jim Belshaw,History of the New EnglandNew State Movement 2 - definingNew England, New

    Englands History Blog, http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com/2010/02/history-of-new-england-

    new-state_04.html, 4 February 2010. Just as there were north-south and east-west linkages in

    Aboriginal New England, so there were in European New England. These axis were very important in

    determining, among other things, the pattern of political life.

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    specific Aboriginal territories34

    . This reflected, in part, the state of knowledge at thetime. At that point, there was very little available work on Aboriginal history35. The

    writing that had been done was dominated by anthropologists, prehistorians andethnographers. The detailed ethnographic and linguistic work required to understand

    the distribution of the Aboriginal people at the time of European settlement had

    simply not been completed.

    There is a rather sad subtext here. We can take Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) as an


    . In 1963, pioneering linguist Arthur Capell reported that up to 50 speakers

    of the language had been recorded. They were mostly elderly, but possessed

    considerable knowledge. Noting that Gamilaroi was one of a number of related

    dialects in North Western NSW, Capell suggested that a comparative study of the

    whole series of dialects might well be made. By the time that Peter Austin, the scholar

    who would play such an important role in documenting Gamilaraay, began his studies

    of the language as an undergraduate in 1972, the majority of these speakers had died.

    Against the background of the discussion to this point, we can now turn to review thedistribution of New Englands Aboriginal languages at the time of European

    colonisation. The position here is necessarily a confused one.

    To begin with, what was a language? In 1788 there were perhaps 250 Aboriginallanguage groups in Australia, incorporating perhaps 700 dialects37. The precise

    distinction between language and dialect can be a difficult one. In general, speakers ofdifferent dialects within a language group were likely to be able to understand each

    other, or at least recognise that they spoke different varieties of the same language.

    However, this was by no means clear cut.

    We also need to make a clear distinction between language and political or territorial


    . The broad language groups covered substantial areas in geographic

    terms. There were a variety of shifting territorial and political boundaries within each

    language group. Just speaking the same or a related language did not make for

    everlasting friendship.

    34High Lean Country, p90

    35 Jim Belshaw,Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines, New England Australia

    Blog, http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com/2007/01/malcolm-calley-anthropolgy-and.html, 27

    January 2007.36

    The material on the Gamillaraay is drawn from Peter K Austin, The Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi)Language, northern New South Wales A Brief History ofResearch, SOAS, University of

    London, 2006, accessed on-line 17 December 2008.37 John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory ofAustralia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999 pp

    69-75; and Peter K Austin, Article MS 1711 Countries and language Australia , Encyclopedia of

    Language and Linguistics ELL2,pp 2-9.. Accessed on line 19 August 200938

    In using the term political boundaries I am not implying formal structures of the type associated with,

    for example, nation states. A closer analogy would be the type of relationships found in mediaeval

    Europe, in Scandinavia or indeed in Homers Greece. The 18 th century Kamilaroi war leader the Red

    Kangaroo provides an interesting case study. Having taken control from the previous elders, he hadbuilt the Gunnedah mob up into a strong force by absorbing other groups. Raids from the Bundarra

    mob on the Goonoo Goonoo and Manaella mobs led them to seek support from the Red Kangaroo. The

    Red Kangaroo argued that support should be provided because the power of the Bundarra mob posed a

    threat. A joint war party was formed that defeated the Bundarra group. The case shows how political

    alliances were formed and used in Aboriginal Australia. (Michael ORourke, Sung for Generations,

    published by the author, Canberra 2005, pp 306-311).

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    This added to the confusion that could arise in the minds of European observers as to

    naming. Quite apart from the varying spellings attached to particular names, thosenames might be a territorial name attached to a particular group, a name attached by

    one group to another group, a dialect name.

    Michael ORourkes study of the Kamilaroi draws this out very clearly39. As anexample, he points to the case of the Baradine area north of Coonabaraban which was

    assigned to both Burrigalu and Gamilaraay languages.

    Burrigalu burrie+galu: literally myall-tree + human plural meant those who

    inhabit the myall country or myall dwellers. To ORourkes mind, this was primarily

    a group or locality name. However, it could also mean the local variant or dialect of a

    larger language.

    In contrast, the name Gamilaraay itself - gamil + array: literally no + having or having

    gamil for no denoted a form of speech, the broader language spoken by theKamilaroi as a whole. Even here, Gamilaraay could describe the language (that

    speech which has gamil for no) or, by implication, its speakers (those who use gamilfor no).

    The result is apparently crazy patchworks quilt of names whose exact meaning can be

    quite unclear. In some cases, we may never be able to resolve the problems. However,a number of general points can be made to clarify what might otherwise seem to be a

    complex and confusing mess.

    The following map taken from the Aboriginal Housing Office web site shows one

    attempt to map the distribution of Aboriginal languages across NSW40

    . A colleague,

    John Baker, kindly superimposed the current NSW boundaries on the map. The slight

    skew comes because the mapping process used specific town locations on the map to

    determine boundaries; these were not quite exact in geographic terms.

    The map should not be treated as definitive. A little later I will discuss some areas

    where I think that the actual distribution within New England varies from that set out

    in the map. However, this is not important from the viewpoint of present analysis

    since we are concerned with overall patterns.

    39Michael ORourke, The Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19


    century, Michael ORourke, Griffith 1997 especially pp 26-32.40NSW Aboriginal Housing Office web site accessed 6 October 2009. The map is, I think, originally

    drawn from the distribution of Aboriginal languages across NSW as defined in Horton, David, general

    editorThe Encyclopaedia ofAboriginal Australia : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history,

    society and culture, Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres

    Strait Islander Studies, Canberra : 1994.

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    Look first at the state boundaries. You can see how they dissect language groups.

    With the creation of Queensland, for example, Bundjalung speakers found themselves

    living in two jurisdictions whose policies towards the Aboriginal peoples varied over

    time and from each other. These divisions continue today. In January 2007, the

    Githabul people (a Bundjalung group) reached a native title agreement with the NSW


    . The Queensland Government refused to participate

    We now turn to the importance of geography. In their Prehistory ofAustralia,

    Mulvaney and Kamminga noted that there had been numerous attempts to mapcomplexes of Aboriginal cultural traits throughout the continent that might help

    understanding of the major differences in language, social customs, mythology,artistic styles and technology.

    42. To their mind, the 1976 explanation by Nicholas

    Petersen was the most persuasive.

    Petersen observed that major cultural areas corresponded with major drainage basins.

    He suggested that the reason for this is that the topography and environments of

    drainage basins tend to be internally uniform, while their margins are relatively poor

    in plant, animal and water resources. This led to more social interaction betweengroups living within the basin; much less between groups living on either side of the

    marginal zones.

    41Melbourne Age, 2 January 2007. I covered this story in two posts on the New England Australia

    blog: Githabul People achieve Native title deal, 2 January 2007,

    http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com/2007/01/githabul-people-achieve-native-title.html; Githabul

    people win land title recognition, 30 November 2007,

    http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com/2007/11/githabul-people-win-land-title.html.42 Ibid p78

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    Petersens conclusions broadly fit with those that I reached in my own earlier work43.

    However, I also suggested that that major geographic regions were important sincethe close relationship between the Aborigines and their environment meant that the

    patterns of Aboriginal life varied with changes to that environment. By implication,

    areas with similar environments were more likely to have commonalities in life and


    To the degree that this conclusion is correct, we would expect similarities within New

    Englands major north-south zones. Indeed, this does seem to have been the case.

    If you look now at the bottom of the map, you will see a heavy concentration of

    languages. These follow the Murray River, a very rich and densely populated

    Aboriginal area at the time of European colonisation.

    On the far left, there are a range of languages - a patchwork quilt - occupying larger

    territories. These are the languages of the Darling River and western deserts. Like theMurray, the Darling was quite densely populated, although densities were far less.

    The Darling is simply a smaller river. The variety in the desert languages to the westof the Darling is a factor of distance and small populations; languages and dialects

    diverged because of distance.

    To the right of the Darling, we find the two biggest language groups by area, theWiradjuri and Kamilaroi. They occupied the river valleys flowing to the west from the

    Great Diving Range. These were quite rich territories; language expansion was

    facilitated by geography, people could spread.

    Overall, the broad sweep of languages along the Western Slopes and Plains, the

    riverine languages, seem clearly related, merging into the languages of the western

    deserts. Dividing lines are linked to geography. However the relationship is not an

    exact one.

    Variable rainfall droughts and floods is a feature in this area. The Aborigines were

    not bound to water in the same way as Europeans with their stock and crops.

    However, during dry periods Aboriginal populations concentrated near water,

    expanding across land at other times to take advantage of newly available water and

    food resources. As a consequence, social and to a degree language groupings ranalong rivers; language dividing lines could cross catchments.

    Along the coast and adjoining ranges, you have another dense distribution. We can

    think of this in both north-south and east-west terms. North-south languages are

    directly related to river catchments. The partial exceptions are the Hunter and theClarence. There is a problem with the Hunter that I will come back to shortly. So faras the Clarence is concerned, the sheer size of the river made it the divide between

    two very different language groups, the Gumbaynggirr and the Bundjalung. A third

    Gumbaynggirr related language, Yaygirr, does not appear on the map, but occupied

    the areas around the mouth of the Clarence.

    43J. Belshaw, The Economic Base ofAboriginal Life in Northern NSW in the Nineteenth

    Century, BA (Hons) thesis, UNE, 1966; add 1978

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    East-west, there appear to be language shadings inland. In the Hunter Valley, for

    example, the traditional presentation of language distribution has a coastal languagewith a linked inland language. The position further north appears somewhat similar.

    Bainbaa, the language spoken in the headwaters of the Nymboida River (a tributary of

    the Clarence to the south extending into the Tablelands near Guyra) appears to be a

    version of Gumbaynggirr.

    Tribal groups occupying the Tablelands areas between the Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri and

    the coastal languages were generally smaller in population because the environment

    was poorer. They were also squeezed. The map shows the New England Tablelands,

    the largest tablelands in Australia, with just two language groups.

    I said earlier that I thought that the actual distribution of languages varied from that

    set out in the map. Here I want to mention two of the puzzles that presently concern


    The first is the Hunter Valley. I think that Michael ORourkes analysis of the

    evidence shows conclusively that the Kamilaroi occupied territory in the UpperHunter shown as Geawegal on the map44. Further, it also seems clear that some of the

    five languages shown on the map, a very large number for such a small area, were notlanguages at all, but territorial names or dialects. This led Amanda Lissarrague to

    argue for a new geographic title, the Hunter Valley Lake Macquarie language45


    The second is the Northern Tablelands and especially the relationship between

    Nganjaywana and Anaiwan. Are they in fact just different names for the same

    language, different dialects of the same language or different languages? As with the

    Hunter, I am still working my own way through the evidence, trying to focus on the

    underlying geography.

    Rediscovery of the North

    Returning to my personal journey through the history of New England, early in 1967 I

    left Armidale to take up a position as an administrative trainee with the

    Commonwealth Public Service Board. At the end of my training year, I was posted to

    the Commonwealth Treasury at that Departments request. While I retained my

    interest in Australian prehistory for a period, I was now working as an economist.This led me to switch to economics, completing my Masters degree in economics at

    the Australian National University in 1970.

    There was a certain irony in this, for I was following in my fathers footsteps. He had

    come to Armidale as lecturer in history and economics. Forced to choose between thetwo, he chose economics, with Gordon Greenwood then appointed to lecture inhistory. The irony lay in the fact that I had sworn not to do economics beyond a third

    year major because this was my fathers discipline.

    44 Michael ORourke, The Kamilaroi Lands, op cit, pp33-38.45

    Australian Indigenous Language Date Base (AUSTLANG), Awabakal,

    http://austlang.aiatsis.gov.au/main.php accessed 20 October 2009. AUSTLANG with its on-line search

    facility is an extremely useful introductory tool for anyone interested in the distribution of Aboriginal

    language groups.

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    There is another small sub-text here that forms part of the social history of New

    England. Earlier, I spoke of the arrival of the academics in Armidale and of theinteraction between them and the existing social order. The siblings as they later came

    to be known, the children of staff at the University College, formed another sub-

    group, town while in a sense also gown. It wasnt always easy being an academics

    child in Armidales goldfish bowl, among other things it created expectations atschool, and the various children reacted in different ways. My rejection of economics

    in favour of history was one outcome.

    In 1972 I ran for Country Party pre-selection first for the Federal seat of Eden-Monaro

    and then the state seat of Armidale. I was unsuccessful, but became actively involved

    for a time in the Party at an organisational level and in various groups concerned with

    Party reform. It was during this period that John Knight and I decided to write a joint

    biography of my grandfather.

    Born in Armidale in 194346

    , John had completed a BA honours at UNE and a MA atHawaiis East West Centre. He had also been a Fulbright scholar. In 1965 he had

    joined the Department of Foreign Affairs, but at the time of our discussion wasprivate secretary to then Opposition Leader Billie Snedden. Johns election to the

    Senate in 1975 as one of the two senators for the Australian Capital Territory, aposition he was to hold until his untimely death in March 1981, put Johns

    involvement in the project on hold. I decided to continue and enrolled in a PhD atUNE to provide structure.

    At this time my focus was on my grandfather. Further, John and I had both seen the

    biography focused on two linked threads: politics and the Country Party on one side,

    his public and ministerial career on the other side. Here we were influenced by the

    work of Don Aitkin and especially his 1969 biography of NSW Country Party leader

    Mick Bruxner and then his 1972 study of the structure and history of the NSW

    Country Party47. I had found both very convincing from my own knowledge of the


    At this point, I want to return briefly to one of my earlier themes, the role of New

    Englands universities in preserving and promoting the culture and creativity of New

    England, as well as the nature of the links that bind over time and space.

    Don Aitkin was a teachers son who was, in fact, the first student admitted to the

    newly established University of New England in 1954 simply because his name beganwith an A!48 Those drawing on his work were, respectively, the sons of an Armidale

    storekeeper and the first academic to arrive at the University College in 1938. Three

    46Biographical material on John Knight is drawn from the Senate Hansard, Wednesday, 4 March 1981,p 303, accessed on-line 5 March 2009.47 D A Aitkin, The Colonel: A Political Biography of Sir Michael Bruxner, Australian National

    University Press, Canberra, 1969; The Country Party in New South Wales: a study of organisation

    and survival, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972.48Don Aitkin, UNE's first student, awarded honorary degree, University of New England media

    release, 11 October 2004, accessed on-line 5 March 2009,


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    very different people with different experiences, yet linked by history and sharedinterests.

    Dons own interests took him away from his initial political focus into a very

    successful career as a political scientist and senior university administrator. However,

    in 2005 he returned to his original roots in What was it all for? The Reshaping of

    Australia.49. This is a remarkably good book that explores social change in Australiathrough the prism set by the Armidale High School Leaving Certificate class of 1953.

    This book was a godsend from my viewpoint. I had been struggling with a way to

    structure the history of New England from the 1967 plebiscite loss through to the end

    of the twentieth century. This was a period of fundamental change within New

    England that saw the decline not just of many of the ideas and institutions that had

    given the area its character, not just in the relative power and influence of the area, but

    also of the very idea of New England itself. What was it all for? gave me something

    of a structure for looking at the process of change in a controllable way. So, just as it

    had been thirty years before when John Knight and I first looked at a biography ofDavid Drummond, Dons writing had come to my aid in providing an initial starting


    I said an initial starting point, because a very odd thing had happened in the writing ofDrummonds biography. As I started detailed research and writing, I found that the

    only way to understand him lay in his role as a regional politician. After his troubledchildhood and his sometimes harsh experiences as a ward of the state, it was

    Drummonds arrival in Armidale in 1907 as a seventeen year old farm labourer that

    really marked the start of his life because, from this point, the troubled youth started

    to achieve the successes that would make him a leading politician and education

    minister. In so doing, his identification with the North came to be a central feature of

    his beliefs. I also found that some of the arguments that he and others used to justify

    separation and that I had really thought of as political debating points, actually now

    rang true from my own experience as a senior policy adviser.

    All this led me to restructure the thesis. Instead of focusing on the Country Party and

    Drummonds public career as central, the North, the history of the North and

    Drummonds love for the North became central. This shift was to cause me

    considerable marking problems, problems that became something of a cause celebre

    within the University and that led me finally to walk away from the PhD. That is oldhistory now. For present purposes, it was at this time that I decided that I must write a

    proper history of the broader New England because of the need, as I saw it, to presentand preserve a slice of the past that I considered to be important.


    In concluding, I have tried to give you just a taste of New Englands history through

    the frame set by my own experiences. That history has been constantly re-shaped by

    the interaction between local conditions and broader forces including economic and

    demographic change in ways that are not always clear or self-evident. One of the

    49 Don Aitkin, What was it all for? The Reshaping ofAustralia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005.

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    advantages of taking a broader area such as New England is that it can be easier to seethese interactions than it is at local, narrow regional or state or national level.

    Take Federation as an example. If you look at writing in this area, you will see that

    the primary focus has been on the political and national impacts of Federation. Yet

    Federation was also an economic decision, the creation of a customs union behind

    protective walls that rose with time. This meant that Federation redistributed incomeand economic activity in quite differential ways across the new nation, depending

    upon whether economic activity serviced a local or global marketplace. We can see

    this clearly in New England, for the industrial interests of the lower Hunter and some

    farming areas benefited, whereas other areas were disadvantaged, providing one

    driver for the re-emergence of separatist feeling.

    Or take Aboriginal New England. Why did the Bundjalung, Gumbangirr and

    Dainggatti peoples retain more of their languages than Aboriginal peoples in other

    parts of New England? Was it just a matter of relative population size, or was it the

    way in which differential development allowed for what we can think of as refugeareas?

    I will finish here. I hope that I have interested you in the history of the broader New