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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Don Aitkin's What was it all for?

This is one of a number of a number of parallel posts recording my reactions to Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005). I will add a full list of posts later.

Because the book centres on social change in Australia over fifty or so years as seen in part through the eyes of the Armidale High School leaving certificate class of 1953, it is very relevant to the history of New England.

I had intended to finish my current history of New England in 1967, the year of the loss of the the New State plebiscite, with just an overview pointing to the future. I chose this date in part because it represented a key loss, in part because the later period enters what we can think of as current affairs rather than history.

Reading Don, I think that I need to carry the story through at least in sketch form to the end of the twentieth century.

This really is a good book.      

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What was the best New England history published in 2009?

In The History Crop of 2009: not one of the great vintages?, Christopher Moore pondered on the apparent absence of good Canadian history published in 2009. The post includes a comparative link to a review of the best history published in the UK.

This got me wondering.

What was the best New England history published in 2009? Was there in fact anything published? Accepting the very small number of readers on this blog, I thought that the question was worth asking.   

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New England's History - most popular posts 3

It is just over one year since I last posted on the most popular posts on this blog. Time to resume.

By far the most popular post, as it was in July and November 2008, was Geography of New England - Introduction. I suspect that part of the reason for this is that those interested in the US's New England are also attracted.

I put this post up on November 2006, so it's quite old. Given it's continuing popularity, I need to add to it links to later writing to give the visitor a better guide.

The next most popular was the archive for March 2008. I have no idea which of the small number of posts in that month attracted interest.

Then came three equal posts.

The first was a search term that I did not understand, http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com/?expref=next-blog, that brought up a number of posts.  The second was the Anaiwan or Nganyaywana entry page, another post that requires up-dating to bring in later work. The third post was Hunter Valley Aboriginal Groups. This post, too, requires an update.

After a short gap came another geography post, Geography of New England - Impact of Great Dividing Range, a post that was in the top three in my last update.

This was followed by two further posts, How fast do horses travel? and then New England Australia - Karuah River and Great Lakes catchment map. How fast do horses travel? has featured in the top posts in all three updates, so there is again a consistent pattern.

Given the continuing interest I have decided to start my updates with the introductory geography post to give visitors a little greater value for their time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Newcastle's Niagara Cafe and the Karanges family

I have been reading William R Claridge's The Pommy Town Years: Memories of Mayfield and Other Tales of the Twenties (William Michael Press in conjunction with the University of Newcastle, Newcastle, 2000).

In that book I found a little of the story of Angelo Burgess (Bourtzos), the Niagara Cafe and the Karanges family.

I want to write something on this. This post simply notes the fact and preserves a link to a fuller story of the Karanges.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Impact of State Boundaries on Aboriginal Language Groups

A little while ago I put up a map showing the distribution of Aboriginal languages across NSW. A colleague, John Baker, kindly superimposed the NSW state boundaries on the map. The slight skew is due to the structure of the original map.

The reason I am posting it is that the map shows quite clearly the way in which state boundaries cut across different groups. This had significant effects on those involved because of differences in state and territory policies towards the Aborigines.     

for Jim (2)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Valuable source on Hunter Valley family history

I just wanted to mention that Free Selector or Felon provides a rather good searchable resource for all those interested in the history of the Hunter Valley. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bibliography of Aboriginal dreaming stories

My thanks to Gordon Smith for pointing me to this bibliography by M K Organ on Aboriginal dreaming stories. I think that there are a couple of missing New England references. I will pick these up later.

At his point, I have yet to attempt an analysis on the New England material.

Friday, October 09, 2009

NSW Aboriginal Languages Map

Just at the moment I am a somewhat bogged down on Aboriginal languages.

The NSW Aboriginal Housing Office has a rather useful map on its site showing one view of the distribution of Aboriginal languages in NSW. I generally focus on New England, but there are advantages in looking at a broader picture. Look at the map first: my comments follow afterwards.  


If you look first 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 the Murray, 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 west of 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, the Wiradjuri 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.

Along the coast and adjoining ranges you have another dense distribution. Coastal language groups were linked to catchments. Many of the languages are linked: a coastal language, with another related language or dialect (the distinction between the two is a slippery one) occupying the headwaters. 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 New England Tablelands, the largest tablelands in Australia, appears to have had just two language groups.  

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sandra Bowdler on Bora sites

Just to record a reference: Sandra Bowdler A study of Indigenous ceremonial ("Bora") sites in eastern Australia.

There is a real issue in the conflict between the need to record and preserve for historical purposes and the desires and views of current Aboriginal people.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Armidale Methodist Church - reference notes

A search on the Armidale Methodist Church brought up a few interesting if somewhat random references:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New England Australia History Research Report August/September 2009

In August my meanders took me in a new track.

In Introducing the Armidale poets I started a new series looking at one recent stream of New England writing. I followed this with  Hockey and the Armidale poets. Pea and ham soup and poetry and then  Armidale poets - beginnings. At this point, and as so often happens, I got sidetracked.

I want to continue this series because, apart from pure pleasure, it fills another little gap.

Train Reading - Michael O'Rourke's Kamilaroi Lands then Train Reading - Michael O'Rourke brings the Kamilaroi to life and Belshaw’s World: A closer look at Kamilaroi and language continues my discussion of the Kamilaroi people based around three of Michael's books. Michael's writing really has been very helpful in developing my thinking. The only problem is that I have on some ways bogged down in this one element of New England. I have a lot of part written material, but I need to bring it to the point that I can make it available.

As I indicated in one of the Kamilaroi posts, one thing that has been helpful was the decision to draw a line in the Aboriginal New England section of the history at the time of colonisation. This makes it easier to focus on the Aboriginal story. I was finding that later events kept on interfering with my thought and writing.

 Armidale Air Show 1959 was triggered by a post from Paul Barrett. The link to his post is included in my post.

In Saturday Morning Musings - weird history and other meanders I quoted (thanks to Christopher Moore's Canadian History) US historian and writer Jill Lepore:

To be a public historian, not a public intellectual, not a popular historian, not a pundit, but a public historian, is to be a keeper of our memory as a people. And that, if I had my druthers, and the capacity, is what I would want to be.

I am not sure that I could claim to be a pubic historian. I think that that would be pretentious. But certainly I am trying to record and present aspects of New England's past. You see, the problem is that while there are still some historians writing at local and regional level, there seem to be none writing at a broader New England level.

The North exists. If you overlay maps of the current administrative divisions of NSW Government agencies with other boundaries such as the TV aggregation boundaries you will see it emerge. Yet no-one is writing about it as an entity. No-one is preserving and re-presenting the collective memory.

The Armidale Airshow of 1959 is one very small element, as is Belshaw’s World: The Palais Royale and memories of a Newcastle past. When I write about the Palais or Newcastle past I write not as a Newcastle or Hunter Valley person, but as a person from elsewhere who still sees Newcastle as part of his personal  historical world.

I accept that my approach including my continued support for New England separation raises its own issues in terms of objectivity when writing as an historian. But so long as I give my sources and express my arguments clearly, then others can critique what I write.

Sunday Essay - Farming, green house gases and the importance of practical experiments- Part One and  Sunday Essay - Farming, green house gases and the importance of practical experiments- Part Two are both explorations of current issues. However, both also link to another element of New England history, rural science and experimentation.

Just another thing to write about!        

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Austlang - information on Australia's Aboriginal languages

The Austlang data base is a very good source for those wanting to find information on particular Aboriginal languages. You can search by name if you already know this, or by area if you want to find what language may have been spoken there.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New England Australia History Research Report July/early August 2009

I have been bogged down and not able to post. Just a brief update on my thinking.

In The Australian Aborigines - problems with personal perceptions I reported on a shift in my thinking brought about by a discussion with an Aboriginal colleague. I extended this discussion somewhat in "Wild blacks" and other interesting things.

Following my visit to Canada, A Belshaw family photo marked the another stage in my interest in Belshaw family history.I followed this with Saturday Morning Musings - more on the Belshaws. The Belshaws themselves are one small thread in New England's history.

In Saturday Morning Musings - Aboriginal languages and the return of Kamilaroi I returned to my musings on Aboriginal New England. This was followed by Sunday Essay - language, history and Australia's First Peoples and then A note on New England's Aboriginal languages.

In Memories of Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Stadium I looked at one aspect of the New England experience from a personal perspective.

Sunday Essay - church, state and social change in Australia and Belshaw’s World: Views of a past world – Barool, Treefield and Highcliffe took me in a different direction, an exploration of some aspects of the religious experience within New England.

Train Reading - Keith Leopold's Came to Booloominbah dealt with another aspect of the New England experience.This led me to write Getting balance (and interest) in New England's history.

Finally, Armidale Air Show 1959 is just a note.

Monday, June 08, 2009

New England Australia History Research Report - May/Early June 2009

I have been down many by-ways and meanders since my last research report, some new, others familiar. A lot of the resulting posts have been on my personal blog.

I have already mentioned on this blog North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy. A little later in Saturday Morning Musings - the challenge of writing good history I looked at the challenge of writing good history.

I followed this with Invasion, massacre, murder and just death in battle looking in part at the way words affected perceptions.

Saturday Morning Musings - New England's Ogilvie dynasty looked at one New England pastoral family. This is actually linked to the previous post because the relations between the Ogilvies, and especially Edward, provides one prism in reviewing Aboriginal-European relations.

Then in Belshaw's jottings - 27 May 2009 I used the device of a Daingatti man to try to tease out elements of thought on the other side of the frontier. I then continued the Aboriginal theme in Saturday Morning Musings - access to an Aboriginal past.

Despite the huge gaps remaining in my knowledge, I am in fact starting to get more comfortable with the Aboriginal side of New England's history. By this I simply mean that I know where most of the gaps are.

In history, as in most of my professional work, I try to point and counterpoint between the particular and the general. I use the particular to develop an initial framework that I then test by returning to the particular. Sometimes I discard the framework in light of new evidence. More often, I extend and modify.

Knowing the gaps does not mean the end of hard work. In the case of the Aborigines, I am conscious of just how much work I have to do on the Holocene period up to European arrival. I now have to develop a sub-framework, and that means looking at all the work done since I did my first work in this area all those years ago.

I simply don't know enough. Because this is a general history, I am hopeful that I can avoid re-visiting primary sources. That would make the whole thing a mammoth task. I also have to remember, and this applies across the scope of the whole work, that I have perhaps just 20,000 words to cover the Holocene up to and including the European arrival. Some of the stuff that I am writing now, thousands of words, has to shrink to paragraphs!

In Train Reading - E Lloyd Sommerlad's Serving the Country Press I returned to the twentieth century.

I am fortunate that a fair bit has been written on the country press. We have to think of these newspapers as businesses as well as propogandists and journals of record for their communities. We also have to think of the biases of their metro competitors who were just as parochial.

Again, I am reasonably comfortable with the country press story. It's just a question of filling out the details and then selecting the key points.

In a post on this blog, The Chinese in New England 1848-1853, I looked at the early history of the Chinese in New England.

I am interested in the Chinese in part because I have Chinese friends and colleagues. So I am writing for them as well. Once I have written up the story of the mining rushes I can return to complete the Chinese story. While the Chinese are very much a sub-sub theme, they do form part of the texture of New England life that was quite important at particular times.

On Sunday I finished a major post - over 3,000 words - on my personal blog, Sunday Essay - church, state and social change in Australia, looking at some elements of social and cultural change within New England through the prism set by three very different books, one on Methodism in a country town, the second a history of the Ursuline Order, the third an organisational history of the NSW Country Party.

While the books are very different, their spans overlap, so they actually reveal many of the same type of change processes.

The sectarian divide that developed between Catholics and the rest of the Australian community was (is) very important from a national viewpoint. It was also important at a local level.

I am actually in a better position to understand the Roman Catholic position than I once was because one of the major orders became a consulting client a few years ago. Just attending a meeting of the order with its opening prayers gives me an emotional context that can, I think, help me understand and present the varying elements in the religious position.

I think that I have done a fair bit over the last month. So much more to go! Onwards!

Notes in passing.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

May Yarrowyck - an update

Back in March 2008 in Aboriginal midwife - the mystery of May Yarrowyck I wondered about the story of this Aboriginal midwife.

By the wonders of the internet, Kim found the post and left a book reference with more information. I am recording it here so that I do not lose it. The reference is:

Barbara Le Maistre with contributions from M R Hardie, Nimula, Tingha, Bullawangen : Aboriginal people and their land, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville, N.S.W. 1996.

There is a copy in Australia's National Library. Another book to read!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Newcastle time line

I have been looking for some Newcastle time lines for a little while This one from the Awaba site has an Awabakal focus.


  • escaped convicts, William and Mary Bryant, thought to have located Glenrock Lagoon


  • Lt. John Shortland lands on the southern shore of the Hunter River


  • the Hunter sails to Bengal with the first coal exports from Newcastle


  • August: William Reid locates Lake Macquarie, sailing into the channel after mistaking it for the Hunter River
  • November: the Norfolk wrecked on Stockton Beach


  • Paterson, Grant and Barrallier explorer the lower Hunter River on the Lady Nelson, seeing "the fires of the natives and many individuals"
  • June: first settlement formed at the mouth of the Hunter River under M. Mason; abandoned February 1802
  • November: Superintendent Mason reports hostile encounters with Aborigines on the Hunter River, and the theft of two blankets by one man, thought to be under the influence of alcohol


  • March: second settlement at `King's Town' (Newcastle) formed under Charles Menzies with 34 Irish convicts implicated in the Castle Hill uprising; thereafter a "place for the reception of desperate characters" and "choice rogues"
  • May: six Aboriginal men from Newcastle taken to Sydney to meet Governor King


  • January: Governor Lachlan Macquarie inspects the Newcastle settlement


  • Benjamin Singleton marks a route a land route from Sydney to Newcastle
  • Governor Lachlan Macquarie makes the second of three tours of Newcastle; meets "Burigan, King of the Newcastle native tribe" and 40 men, women and children, who entertain with a short "Carauberee"; "I ordered them to be treated with some grog and an allowance of maize".


  • September 18: convict Henry Langton receives 75 lashes at Newcastle for "Cutting a black native with a knife"
  • November: John Howe marks a route from Windsor to the Hunter River near Jerrys Plains


  • January: Commissioner J.T. Bigge inspects the Newcastle penal settlement
  • October: death of King Burrigan of the Newcastle tribe, from injuries sustained in the recapture of the convicts James Kirby and James Thompson
  • October 28: three convicts, Robert Davis, Thomas Franklin and William Page flogged for `Inhumanely ill treating and cutting a black native and intimidating him against bringing in bushrangers'
  • December: trial and execution in Sydney of James Kirby for the murder of King Burrigan


  • John Laurio Platt receives a 2000 acre grant on the lower Hunter River near Newcastle
  • Governor Macquarie makes his second tour of Newcastle; meets Bungaree at Wallis Plains


  • November: Governor Brisbane inspects the Newcastle settlement


  • September: LMS Deputation (Reverend Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet) inspect the Hunter River


  • January 5: Sydney Gazette publishes two `Australian Aboriginal Song[s]', by Threlkeld, being the first publication of an attempt to capture the Awabakal language in writing


  • publication of Threlkeld's Specimens of a Dialect of the Aborigines of New South Wales


  • Threlkeld dismissed from the LMS


  • publication of Threlkeld's An Australian Spelling Book


  • members of the United States Exploring Expedition visit Threlkeld's Ebenezer mission


  • Threlkeld returns to Sydney and takes up the pastorate of the South Head Congregational Church (Watson's Bay, NSW), concluding 15 years of missionary work at Lake Macquarie


  • publication of Threlkeld's A Key to the Structure of the Aboriginal Language


  • death of King Bully of Newcastle


  • death of Reverend Threlkeld


  • death of Old Ned White


  • publication of Dr. John Fraser's An Australian Language


D.A. Roberts, H.M. Carey and V. Grieves, Awaba: A Database of Historical Materials Relating to the Aborigines of the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie Region, University of Newcastle, 2002

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Awabakal Entry Page

This is one of a number of entry pages established to provide a central point for posts and references dealing with specific Aboriginal language groups within New England. You can find a list of all the entry pages here.

The Awabakal occupied the territory from the southern edge of the lower Hunter River and included Lake Macquarie. Hunter Valley Aboriginal Language Groups provides a description of their territory and surrounding language groups.

New England Australia - Lake Macquarie and Tuggerah Lakes catchment map provides a map of the main catchment occupied by the Awabakal. Note that while language groups do link to catchments, the boundaries are not exact.

By far the best on-line source of the University of Newcastle's Awaba site. This contains a variety of source material on the Awabakal, with some too on surrounding groups.

Hunter Valley Aboriginal Groups

Aboriginal language map

This brief post focuses on the Aborigines of Southern New England.

If you look at this map of Aboriginal language groups you can see that a number of language groups occupied the Hunter Valley. This is unusually varied for a single area.

In the north the Worimi occupied territory extending along the northern bank of the Hunter up to near Maitland and then a broad sweep of the coast up to and including what is now Foster-Tuncurry along with adjacent hinterland following the streams up into the hills to the east.

This was rich territory because it combined hinterland with extensive coastal lands including Port Stephens and the Great Lakes.

To the east and north west were the Geawegal, often confused by Sydneysiders with the Gweagal. According to Tindale, the Geawegal occupied the northern tributaries of the Hunter River to Murrurundi; at Muswellbrook, Aberdeen, Scone, and Mount Royal Range. Tindale also suggests that they were affiliated with the Worimi. This would make sense.

Given suggestions that the Kamilaroi may have been extending into the Upper Hunter, the Geawegal would have been the affected language group. According to the Tindale data base, there are also linguistic similarities between Kamilaroi and Geawegal.

The Awabakal occupied the territory from the southern edge of the lower Hunter River and included Lake Macquarie. They therefore occupy the most southern catchment recommended by Justice Nicholson for inclusion in New England.

The Wonnarua were neighbours of the Geawegal and occupied territory inland from the Awabakal covering part of the mid-Hunter valley including Muswellbrook.

The Darkinung (also Tindale's Darkinjang) were primarily a non-New England tribe. However, the map suggests that their territory did actually extend into the Hunter to some degree, including Cessnock.

On the west, the territory of the Dakinung, Wonnarua and, to a small degree, the Geawegal all adjoined the Wiradjuri, one of the largest tribal group in Australia whose territory extended west and south over a large part of what is NSW.

Obviously any map of this type has great uncertainties. However, linked to the underlying geography, the picture painted is not an unreasonable one.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Chinese in New England 1848-1853

The abolition of transportation in 1840 caused severe labour shortages in New England. This led squatters in the Inverell district to sign a petition in 1842 calling for the introduction of coolies and other Indian labourers[i]. This petition was refused. However, the arrival of Chinese workers provided a part solution[ii]

The earliest known Chinese immigrant to arrive in New South Wales was Mak Sai Ying. Born in Guangzho (Canton) in 1798, he arrived as a free settler in 1818 and purchased land at Parramatta. Initial numbers were small, with just 18 identified Chinese settlers prior to 1848. Numbers then increased quickly as British and Chinese agents responded to labour shortages by shipping out boatloads of indentured or contract labourers from China. In December 1848, for example, the Nimrod arrived in Moreton Bay with about seventy Chinese on board[iii]. One settler immediately hired sixteen.

Maxine Darnell notes that nearly 3,000 indentured Chinese labourers were imported into the colony during the period 1847-53[iv] Most of these were from the densely populated southern provinces of Guangdong (Kwangtung) and Fujian (Fukien) where conditions were difficult and a significant rise in population had put pressure on available resources.

As part of her work, Darnell compiled a table of known Chinese workers that in conjunction with her footnotes provides interesting insights into early Chinese arrivals.

At least two Chinese workers entered into services of J Pike of Pikedale run in The Granite Belt in September 1849. In May 1850, M H Marsh employed ten Chinese workers from Amoy at Maryland in the Granite Belt, all of whom arrived on the Cadet. By the end of 1852, Chinese workers were widely if thinly dispersed across New England.

The Chinese workers were paid less than their European equivalents.[v] In 1850, Chas and M H Marsh signed a contract with one Chinese worker under which he agreed to work as a shepherd, farm and general labourer for five years[vi]. The new worker was to receive three Spanish dollars (about 12/-) per month, with a weekly ration of 8lb flour or 10lb rice, 9lb meat and 2 oz of tea.

In his short biography of M H Marsh, Eric Dunlop suggests that Marsh was a believer in cheap labour[vii], noting that in 1852 he imported Chinese shepherds from Amoy for whom he paid £7 4s. a year. There is a little more to it than that.

While Chinese workers were paid less, their employers had also to meet transport costs. In the case of the Chinese arriving on the Nimrod, the settler hiring sixteen records that he had to pay freight of £8.15.0 each. Another settler purchased two from the Nimrod for a little more, a total of £21.4.0[viii]. These costs had to be set against lower wages.

There were also management issues. Dunlop records that Marsh found English immigrants discontented and troublesome'[ix]. Marsh was conscious of his position and could display a harsh temper. In evidence before Justice Burton in December 1841, it appears that Marsh beat the son of an employee till he was black and blue because he had taken two dogs out that had been worrying the rams despite a previous warning.[x]. However, it does seem clear that Chinese workers were likely to be easier to manage than locals. There was also in Marsh’s case. an apparently comfortable sense of doing good. Writing of the Chinese workers in 1850 he said they would be rescued from the thraldom of a gloomy and degrading superstition …. exchanging it for the glorious and beneficient principles of Christianity[xi].

Relations between the Chinese workers and their new employers were not always easy. In March 1854, two Chinese workers were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment following official complaints by Inverell squatter Alexander Campbell (Inverell Station). Campbell complained that Suchang and Kouhan: had refused to work. The two men made use of bad language. They have been sometimes past impertinent and disobedient and at times very riotous[xii].

This type of case recurs in Darnell’s table and supporting footnotes. From them we get a picture of some of the difficulties and challenges facing the Chinese, as well as those who dealt with them.

While the European settlers who sailed for Australia knew they were going to an alien land, they at least spoke English and were within a system that might be harsh but at least was understood. The Chinese workers spoke limited or no English and were going to a completely alien land. With time, there was no doubt feedback to home villages, but the colony of New South Wales remained alien.

The problems faced by the Chinese were compounded by the fact that the Chinese workers came from different areas and spoke different dialects. The Chinese workers going to M H Marsh’s Maryland run were all from Amoy and presumably spoke the Amoy dialect, Hokkien as it is better known today. This meant that they could talk to each other. This was not always the case.

Apart from the difficulties of day to day communications, inability to speak the English language or to find an interpreter created major difficulties in the event of a dispute or crime. The Chinese were not always as helpless as it may seem.

It seems quite clear from the evidence collected by Darnell that courts and the broader community were aware of the language problem. Here it’s not just the self evident – the difficulty in obtaining interpreters that led to complaints about justice – but also the apparent attempts to compensate. Employers might win, but this could not be guaranteed.

As the Chinese gained experience with Australian conditions, I suspect that their capacity to manage the system improved. In the case of the 1852 case of Athong v Alexander Campbell, Athong employed an Armidale solicitor[xiii]. Athong seems to have lost the case, but he did have representation.

Life could be dangerous. In May 1852, the Phoenix sank on its way to the Clarence River with 12 Chinese on board[xiv]. A thirteenth was found wandering the beach with the Aborigines. He was reportedly quite mad, although no-one knew how he had got there.

Madness in isolation was an issue, as was suicide. There was also sometimes violence between Chinese and between Chinese and other groups. There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that this was worse than that which happened in the broader community, but it certainly happened.

[i] Elizabeth Wiedemann, World of Its Own: Inverell’s Early Years 1827-1920, Inverell Shire Council and Devill Publicity, Inverell, 1981, p43. Material on the Chinese experience at Inverell is drawn especially from this book.

[ii] Unless otherwise cited, background material on the Chinese is drawn from the Harvest of Endurance Scroll, Australian National Museum. Accessed 23 April 2009.

[iii] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 9, p19

[iv] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009

[v] European costs to be inserted.

[vi] Jean Harslett and Mervyn Royle, They Came to a Plateau (The Stanthorpe Saga), second edition, International Colour Productions, Stanthorpe 1973 p20.

[vii] E. W. Dunlop, 'Marsh, Matthew Henry (1810 - 1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, p. 213

[viii] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 9, p19

[ix] E. W. Dunlop, 'Marsh, Matthew Henry (1810 - 1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, p. 213. I wonder whether this is in fact the same group as the 1850 one.

[x] R. v. Betts, Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899, Division of Law Macquarie University, accessed on-line 6 May 2009.

[xi] Quoted Jean Harslett and Mervyn Royle, op cit, p20

[xii] Wiedemann, op cit, p43, quoting the Wellingrove Bench Book 22.3.1854, AO4/5555.

[xiii] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 170

[xiv] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 45, p21

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New England's Chinese - an interesting table

Between 1847 and 1853, nearly 3,000 indentured Chinese labourers were imported into the colony of NSW. Maxine Darnell has prepared an interesting table that provides glimpses of some of these workers.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

SS Fitzroy

I have just completed a post, North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy, looking at the life and death of this ship. I have added references so that I can use the material again.

In preparing the story I looked at a number of photos from the State Library of NSW. Their tight copyright conditions make it difficult to use the photos properly to really draw out history. I felt justified in using the Fitzroy photo because I was correcting an historical inaccuracy in their description of the photo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A note on Commissioner Robert George Massie

I have been trying to find out a little about Crown Lands Commissioner Robert George Massie. I first came in contact with the name in the context of his reports on the Aborigines. However, now I find him a mystery.

He was Crown Land Commissioner on the Macleay. Then I find references to him from at least 1851 as Crown Land Commissioner in a New England context. So who was he and what happened to him?

There is no Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on him, so either no one was interested or he was not considered important enough. I think the first a pity, the second plain wrong.

Searching around, he emerges in the entry for Annie Maria Baxter in the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online. There he apparently had an affair with her from July 1841 to July 1843. The story of Mrs Baxter is an interesting one in its own right, and I will come back to it in a later post.

Then we find that from 1 May 1855 to 31 Jul 1855 he was an elected member the first Legislative Council for the Pastoral Districts of New England and Macleay. The election was declared void for unspecified reasons.

The NSW Parliament suggests that he was born in 1815, died 1883. It says in terms of biographical detail:

Exact dates of birth and death are not known (1 January is used for database purposes). Nineteenth child (of 22) of Richard Massie of Coddington, England, and his wife Hester Lee Townshend, daughter of Edward Townshend of Wincham Hall. He married Annette Browne, daughter of Thomas Browne (who wrote under the name of Rolf Boldrewood); Browne's sister was married to F. M. Darley, a Member of the Legislative Council. He was a Commissioner of Crown Lands around 1844 - 1847.

The Crown Land dates are clearly wrong. Well, that's as much as I know!


I have now found more material that I must write up in Marie Neil's history of the Macleay Valley.

New England Australia History Research Report - April 2009 2

Over the last few weeks, my reading has been largely focused on the western tablelands and slopes. I have to complete that, as well as finish writing up my earlier notes on New England's prehistory before I attempt anything else. However, a comment by Jim Simon on New England Airways - Postscript reminded me that I had yet to read  Virtue In Flying written by Joan Priest.

The reading I have been doing on the Aborigines means that I am close to putting a comma in this part of my research in that I now have at least some idea of the flow of England's Aboriginal history from 50,000 years ago to the present. Obviously there are still huge gaps, but the framework is there. So my reading is now deepening my knowledge.

I already had something of a framework for the western tablelands and slopes. Here my recent reading has been fleshing this out a little more. Once I write up my notes, I will have at least base material for mining and the Chinese, as well as much more detailed material on the patterns of settlement as well as town life.

I cannot afford to open a new front until I have bedded existing reading down. However, I then plan to switch focus to the North Coast and especially transport.

One book I have to find and read is North Coast Run: Men and Ships of the N.S.W. North Coast, By Michael P. Richards, Mike Richards. Published by Turton & Armstrong, 1977' ISBN 0908031025, 9780908031023. I started looking at shipping some time ago, but then put it aside. I need to fill this gap. In checking publication details for this book I also found an archaeological report on the PS Rainbow.

I have already written a little on the fascinating history of New England Airways. Virtue in Flying: A Biography of Pioneer Aviator Keith Virtue By Joan Priest, Published by Angus & Robertson, 1975, ISBN 0207132305, 9780207132308, will allow me to flesh this out.

When I first started my attempt to write my history of New England all those years ago, my work had a strong focus on politics. The political theme is still there, but there is now a much stronger focus on social history and on people.

It's not always the prominent, although there are many fascinating larger than life characters. The real challenge is to bring the history alive through the eyes of ordinary people.

Much of my work draws from secondary sources. This is synthesis, rather than research based heavily on primary sources. I worry about this sometimes, but there is really no practical alternative. The task is just too big otherwise.

I am very conscious as I read as to just how many of the secondary sources are out of print. Time moves on, and fashions change. This remains one of the drivers for my own work, the need to redress the balance in some way. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New England Australia History Research Report - April 2009

It is just over one month since my first research report.

I have spent a fair bit of time on an update of New England in the Pleistocene Period. I have decided with referenced posts like this one to progressively update in Word and then re-post, so I will do so over the next day or so.

To avoid confusion, I will need to put a header on past posts alerting readers to changes. The alternative would be to just update the previous post. I may go this route ultimately, but for the present I like to be able to see how my thinking has evolved.

As part of my thinking on the Pleistocene period I have been much concerned with the sea-bed. We are dealing with major shifts in sea levels. To understand the impact of this on New England's coastal strip, we need to understand what the sea bed is like in structure and depth.

The maps that I have found on-line to this point have limited coverage of the sea bed. While they are helpful in showing that major bays or harbours such as Port Stephens or Trial bay would have been either dry land or river valleys, they do not allow me to look far enough out to sea.

I really need maritime maps showing depth contours up to at least 140 metres, maybe more.

The sea-bed slopes quite steeply. As sea levels fell, the rivers would have pushed out through progradation. However, the extent of the estuaries and wetlands - good food areas - would clearly depend on the slope of the land. Too steep, and a falling sea level, while still expanding land, might actually have reduced food supply. 

Turning to more modern times, I remain heavily entrenched in the Inverell region.

I spoke of Elizabeth Wiedemann's work in Book review - Elizabeth Wiedemann's World of its own: Inverell's early years 1827-1920. I know that she has published another book covering the later period, but have yet to find it. 

Following Elizabeth's book, I turned to Helen Brown's Tin at Tingha (Brown, Armidale, 1982).

What a fascinating book this is, although I wish she had used footnotes. She was criticised at the time for this. She makes it clear that she promised not to identify sources because of the need to get people to speak freely. Still, it does create problems.

Using Wiedemann and Brown together will allow me, among other things, to write a first slice on the Chinese in New England. I do not know whether the Chinese presence was important outside the Tablelands and Western Slopes. That is something that I will need to find out later.       

Saturday, April 11, 2009

People and Politics in Regional New South Wales

A note just to record a reference that I found in Google books.

People and Politics in Regional New South Wales
By Jim Hagan
Published by Federation Press, 2006
ISBN 1862875715, 9781862875715
360 pages

I scanned the two North Coast chapters. It fills a rather nice gap from my viewpoint.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book review - Elizabeth Wiedemann's World of its own: Inverell's early years 1827-1920

Armidale, Inverell and Glen Innes make a triangle.

Armidale and Inverell are 126 kilometres apart by road, Glen Innes and Inverell just 67 kilometres, Armidale and Glen Innes 98 kilometres. Three towns, three very different relationships. The relationships between these towns and their links to Grafton in the east form one thread in New England's history.

I was reminded of this because I have been re-reading Elizabeth Wiedemann's World of its own: Inverell's early years 1827-1920 (Inverell Shire Council and Devill Publicity, Inverell 1981). The title comes from Elizabeth's perception of Inverell's geographic place between the Tableland's and Western Plains, along with the relative isolation created by poor transport links.

This is a very different history from John Ferry's "Colonial Armidale".

Whereas John consciously wrote from a broader perspective looking at Armidale in the context of broader trends, Elizabeth's focus is more local, Inverell and district focused. This makes the book less accessible to a broader audience, but also makes it intensely interesting to someone like me who wants to understand the detail of local history, to draw trends and relationships from it that might inform a broader regional history.

Geography is central to Inverell's history.

The town itself lies on the MacIntyre River. This river rises in the Tablelands near Glen Innes and flows north west. There it is joined by the Dumaresq River, a river forming part of the boundary between New South Wales and Queensland. From this point the MacIntyre flows west to become part of the Barwon River that in turn becomes the Darling River.

While Inverell lies on the MacIntyre, the Inverell district actually straddles the MacIntyre and Gwydir River valleys. The Gwydir River begins as Kentucky Creek south of Uralla and then, like the MacIntyre, flows north and north west before swinging west to finally join the Darling River. At its closest point, Inverell is less than 20 kilometres from the Gywdir.

In Aboriginal times, the juxtaposition of the rivers along with the location between the Western Plains and Tablelands made the Inverell area a mixing point between the northern and central Tablelands and the Western Plains.

With the arrival of the European settlers, people and stock moved north from the Hunter Valley first to the upper Gwydir and MacIntrye Valleys and then on to the Darling Downs. Easier travel - the word easier is relative - along the Western Slopes as compared to the Tablelands made the Inverell area a main through point.

The later creation of Queensland and then the location of the railways broke this pattern, although linkages to Queensland remained. The feeling of neglect in the border areas from the remote Sydney Government helps explain the strength of new state feeling in the area.

European settlement brought conflict with the Aboriginal inhabitants. Elizabeth sketches this out, bringing out the violence that occurred. There is some interesting material here, because the fighting actually rolled back settlement in some areas. The Myall Creek massacre was one outcome of the conflict.

Settlement began with sheep and cattle. Elizabeth traces this squatting period from its rise through to decline in the face of farming and closer settlement. In doing so, she draws out the importance of transport and transport costs.

Inverell did not get a railway line until 1901. This meant that the district's rich farming potential could not be achieved for many years because of high transport costs. Now here I noticed something very interesting.

Many of the histories of the New England Tablelands are in fact written from an Armidale perspective. I think that this is true to some degree of both Robin Walker's Old New England and the later High Lean Country.

Robin Walker, for example, does discuss mining, but it is just one thread.

In Inverell's case, the rise of mining along the western granite country of the Tablelands is absolutely central. Mining provided a market for agricultural produce and for other locally produced goods. Without it and in the absence of a railway line, Inverell would have probably have remained a small local service centre.

In similar vein, both Old New England and High Lean Country do mention the Chinese who were drawn to the Tablelands by the mining rushes, but again they are a small part of the picture. This was not true of the mining towns themselves, nor of Inverell. The Chinese remained an important presence into the twentieth century.

One of the strength's of Elizabeth's book is the way she draws all this out. We can see the reality and impact of mining and of the Chinese presence.

Another of her strengths is the way in which she provides the detail of local life. There is so much here to draw from, from the constant fires to the deaths by typhoid to the actual detail of travel time.

Sometimes this can be a little overwhelming, but it makes the book a remarkably valuable source for all those interested in Australia's past.   

Sunday, April 05, 2009

New England in the Pleistocene Period

Aboriginal people may have reached the area that would be variously called Northern New South Wales, the North, Northern Districts or New England as early as 40,000 years ago.

We know from dating at Warren Cave in Tasmania that the Aborigines had reached Tasmania around 35,000 years ago[1], while dates from Willandra Lakes in South West New South Wales suggest occupation as early as 41-40,000 years ago[2]. Given these dates, it seems reasonable to assume a working date of around 40,000 years ago for first Aboriginal occupation of New England.

We do not have hard evidence for these dates. The earliest date I know of in New England itself comes from a dig by Graham Connor at Stuarts Point in the Macleay Valley. This places human occupation at 9,320 +/- 160BP.[3] Further north in South-East Queensland, the Wallen Wallen Creek site shows continuous occupation from about 20,000 years ago.[4]

Despite the absence of earlier dates, it is hard to believe that the Aborigines had not reached New England if they were at Willandra Lakes around 40,000 years ago, had reached the southwest of what is now Tasmania by at least 35,000 years ago.

What type of world did they find?

Sea levels fluctuated greatly during the long Pleistocene period. Forty thousand years ago, sea levels were perhaps 50 metres below current levels, creating a broader coastal plain. Rainfall was high, temperatures moderate. Rivers running east and west from the Tablelands would have carried substantial volumes of water.

In the east, this would have led to progradation, with significant river estuaries, coastal dunes and marshes. It seems likely that the larger coastal strip was thickly wooded and at least as rich in marine and land resources as today. In the west, the rivers and associated wet lands would also have provided a rich environment.

The position on the Tablelands is unclear because so much of the analysis that I have seen deals with later periods. I suspect that the Tablelands were wooded and at least visited by surrounding groups.

The size and distribution of the early Aboriginal population is obviously unknown since at this stage we have yet to prove that they even existed. My own feeling is that it was probably much smaller but mirrored the pattern at the time the Europeans arrived; higher concentrations on the coast and on the western slopes and immediate plains, sparse on the Tablelands.

From around 36,000 years ago, the climate became cooler and drier. The cooler temperatures offset the lower rainfall by reduced evaporation; the streams, lakes and wetlands of inland New England therefore retained their water, providing a continued base for Aboriginal occupation.

From perhaps 25,000 years ago, the local environment deteriorated significantly. Sahul, the name given to the continent that then included Australia and New Guinea, became very dry, both intensely hot and intensely cold. This climatic regime peaked during what is called the Last Glacial Maximum, 21,000 to 15,000 years ago.

The sea retreated to perhaps 120 metres below current levels. The sea became colder, 2-4 degrees C below current levels. On land, mean monthly temperatures probably fell by 6-10 degrees C. Extensive inland dune building suggests that the climate become much windier.

According to Mulvaney and Kamminga, severe cold, drought, and strong winds over central and southern Sahul, would have discouraged tree growth , although some species common today must have survived in sheltered or better-watered refuges.[5]

The retreating sea would have progressively increased the size of New England’s coastal strip. The sclerophyll woodland and deciduous forests would have progressively colonised the new land, with the coastal dunes and associated wetlands following the shifting coast east. While colder and drier, there would have been sufficient water and food resources to maintain populations.

The Tablelands would have been a very different story. Here average temperatures fell by perhaps 8 degrees C. The New England Tablelands marked the start of a region of cold steppe and scattered sub-alpine woodland sweeping down through the southern Snowy Mountains[6] into Tasmania.

In the southern Snowy Mountains, the fall in temperature was sufficient to allow glaciers to form despite the lower precipitation. In New England, the higher portions of the Tablelands in the centre and south where average heights are around 1,300 metres must have been very cold, dry and windswept. Along New England’s Snowy Mountains where the highest peak (Round Mountain) is almost 1,600 metres, there were probably blizzards and semi-permanent snow despite the much lower precipitation.

It seems likely that any previous human occupation of the Tablelands would have come to an end, although people may still have visited the lower areas.

To the west, Mulvaney and Kamminga suggest that much of the south-eastern interior of Sahul experienced cold arid conditions similar to modern Patagonia[7]. That said, the lower western Tablelands and slopes were probably vegetated by grassland with spring herbs with patches of woodland and forests. Further west, the streams crossed the arid plains.

While these changes took millennia and would not have been noticeable to individual generations, the effect on the human population must have been quite severe.

Water and food supply were two of the critical determinants of prehistoric demography. Water became scarcer, droughts more frequent. Food supply was reduced. Over time, populations would have been forced to relocate and may well have become much smaller.

In the absence of archaeological evidence, it is impossible to say just what the precise effects were in New England.

We know that there was Aboriginal occupation of the coastal strip given that the Wallen Wallen site in South East Queensland shows continuous occupation from 20,000 years ago, a date in the earlier part the Late Glacial Maximum. It is reasonable to assume that any occupation on at least the majority of the Tablelands ceased. But what happened further west?

Under current climate, Northern NSW is generally wetter and warmer than Southern NSW because the area is affected by two different weather patterns. Rainfall also declines to the west because of the impact of the Eastern Ranges.

The climate during the Late Glacial Maximum was clearly very different. However, my feeling is that the current pattern was replicated to some extent because of air flows from what is now the Pacific.

In later times, ethno-historical evidence suggests that the presence of standing water was very important[8]. During wet periods, people moved out into the broader landscape, concentrating round permanent water during dry periods.

With diminished rainfall but also lower temperatures, it seems likely that there were areas on the Western Slopes and Plains that would have continued to provide sufficient water and food to maintain life. Why, then, is there still no archaeological record?

Assuming that the area was populated, the pattern of sites would have reflected then on-ground conditions. Many of the sites would have been camping sites, not easily identifiable beyond lithic scatter. Other sites would have reflected the then location of permanent water.

My feeling is that we need to chart what the landscape was like then to identify possible sites. Mind you, this may already have been done and I have simply not discovered the analysis.

[1] John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999. P186. The broad framework for this section is drawn from Mulvaney & Kamminga’s work.

[2] Op cit, p197

[3] G Connah, Archaeology at the University of New England 1975-76, Australian Archaeology, No 5, 1976, PP1-5

[4] Ian Walters, Antiquity of Marine Fishing in South-East Queensland, QAR, Vol 9, 1992, pp35-39. P35. Accessed on line 4 April 2009.

[5] Mulvaney & Kamminga, op cit, p116

[6] I have used the term southern Snowy Mountains because New England has its own smaller range also called the Snowy Mountains.

[7] Mulvaney & Kamminga, op cit, p117

[8] J Belshaw Population distribution and the pattern of seasonal movement in northern New South Wales. In I. McBryde (ed.), Records of Times Past, pp.65-81. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1978.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New England Australia History Research Report - March 2009

It has been a long, long, break since my last post, but I have not been completely idle.

To begin with, I have established that my idea (however limited at present) of creating entry pages for the different Aboriginal language groups is of value. My original reason lay in my frustration with the fragmented nature of on-line material. However, I am doing some contract work at present in an Indigenous organisation and have found that many Indigenous people in fact share my frustration.

Linked to that work, my recent train reading has included "Clean, Clad and Courteous" - Jim Fletcher's History of Aboriginal Education in New South Wales. I want to write this up further with key dates; that way I have filled in another building block in my history of New England.

As part of my recent work I have also been looking at NSW discrete communities - this is the name applied to the old missions and reserves that now form the heart of the NSW Land Council system. Just having a list is of itself helpful, but I have also been looking at some of the individual histories. At the moment I am not doing this in a very structured way beyond my immediate work needs, simply filling in gaps.

I have also finally purchased John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga's Prehistory of Australia (Allen & Unwin 1999). I wanted to do this to provide a broader national framework for my New England work. It won't exactly meet my needs, it is actually quite weak at a regional level, but it does provide a start.

Not a lot to report, I know, but I am still making at least some progress.