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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Heritage Futures Research Centre

I see that the University of New England's Heritage Futures Research Centre has finally updated its web site!

The Centre was founded in 2001 to consolidate the University's range of expertise and research relating to the natural and cultural history and heritage of regional Australia, and to facilitate the sharing of values, information and expertise among scholars, professionals and the broader community.

The Centre has a strong multidisciplinary focus, something that I as a Centre adjunct value greatly. After all, when I write I am never sure whether or not I am writing as a historian, an economist or as a policy or management adviser!  

Saturday, May 29, 2010

New England's literary tradition 2 - geography

Geography has formed the New England literary view. To those living on the coast, the blue rim of the nearby mountains is nearly always in view. To many, the mountains were an entry to a new and different world. The poet Les Murray belongs to this class[1]. Murray came from the Manning Valley. The New England poet and writer Julian Croft suggests that, to Murray, the mountains are a bridge between earth and sky[2]:

a radiant season swelling through the horizons
beyond September, mortality crumbling down
till on summer mornings, a farm boy can see through the hills
the roots of pumpkin-vines knotting clear under New England.

To some more recent settlers drawn to the coast over the last two decades for retirement or life style reasons, the mountains have become a barrier, outlining the far limits of their world. Some have never even been to the upper limits of the valleys in which they now live, spending their lives in a narrow strip fronting the sea with the occasional visits to the metropolitan areas from which they fled.

The vision of those living on the Tablelands is necessarily different. The size of the Tablelands, its distinct character, gives the sense of living in a unique world juxtaposed between two very distinct worlds.

To the east, the Tablelands with its fours seasons breaks sharply at the escarpment to the subtropical world of the coast. To those living on the Tablelands, Western Slopes and Plains, the coast has been a traditional playground; a place for holidays and sometimes for retirement. The coast’s then big towns – Grafton, Lismore, Taree – were places to visit. The real heartland lay in the myriad small seaside places, each favoured by specific families and friends. Here, as an example, Armidale writer Gwen Kelly wrote of Hungry Head beach near Urunga[3]:

Here, alone, the rock cliff juts
above the wave-whorled sand,
ruts in a crumble, aeons old,
to filter through my hand.

To the west, the Tablelands drops down into the Western Slopes and Plains. Temperatures became hotter, the climate drier, the sky expands as the land flattens. We now enter the world of bush poetry. Bush poetry is not unique, of course, to this area. However, this is bush poetry country. Henry Lawson wrote:

Our Andy's gone to battle now
'Gainst Drought, the red marauder;
Our Andy's gone with cattle now
Across the Queensland border[4].

Many decades passed between the writing of this poem and the formation of the Australian Bush Poets Association in 1994[5]. However, it is really no coincidence that the Association should have been formed at Tamworth as part of the Country Music Festival. There is a great contrast between Lawson and the later bush poets and the more genteel poets of the Tablelands and North Coast.

The Hunter Valley was always a little different. This is a big valley, with a total area of around 22,000 square kilometres. It also runs north west and, shielded by rugged ranges to its north, is much drier than any other coastal region within New England. To the southern traveler, the descent from the Liverpool Ranges to Murrurundi in the Upper Hunter is sharp but short; there is not the same sense of transition as in movement from the Tablelands to the other eastern river valleys.

The Upper Hunter itself feels constrained, bound by the ranges to the west. However, these are different ranges with sharp bluffs, more like the Hawkesbury ranges to the south. As the valley broadens, the landscape feels like an extension of the Liverpool Plains. There is the same sense of heat, with the irrigation plants spaying to keep selected paddocks green. The traveller is now entering coal and wine country, two very different industries in conflict. Further south lies the self contained world of the coal and secondary industry of the Lower Hunter.

The size and diversity of the Hunter makes for a varied literary tradition[6]. Bush poetry is present, as it is further north, with a Hunter Bush Poets Group[7]. At a broader level, Patrick White, one of Australia’s best known writers, came from a Hunter Valley family. However, unlike Judith Wright further north, his writing cannot be classified as New England. There is no equivalent to South of My Days, now almost the anthem of the Tablelands:

South of my day’s circle, part of my blood’s country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under winter,

Over recent years there has been a rapid expansion in writing in the Hunter as elsewhere, in part because of the expansion of Writer’s Centres, as well as specialist presses: writers’ centres exist at Newcastle (Hunter Writers’ Centre[8]), Byron Bay (Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre[9]) and Armidale (New England Writers’ Centre[10]), while Northern Rivers Press at Lismore[11], Catchfire Press in the Hunter[12] and Kardoorair Press in Armidale[13] are examples of specialist presses. In addition, the various educational institutions have played an important role promotion and publishing

Today there is quite a diversified range of writing in both print and on-line form. Again, location and geography are important. However, that is another story.

Note to readers: This is one of a series getting basic ideas down. You will find the introductory post here.

[1] For details of Les Murray’s work and thought see his web site – http://www.lesmurray.org/bio.htm Accessed 28 May 2010. The linkages between Murray and the New England Tablelands are discussed in Julian Croft, Imagining New England, High Lean Country: Land, people and memory in New England, edited by Alan Atkinson, J S Ryan, Iain Davidson and Andrew Piper, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2006, pp 279-290.

[2] Julian Croft, 2006, p285.

[3] Gwen Kelly & A J Bennett, Fossils and Stray Cats, Selected Poems, Kardoorair Press, Armidale 1980

[4] Poem Hunter, http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/andy-s-gone-with-cattle/, accessed 28 May 2010.

[5] Australian Bush Poets Association, http://www.abpa.org.au/, accessed 28 May 2010.

[6] The Hunter material is very much work in progress, a surmise.

[7] http://www.hunterbushpoets.org.au/Home.aspx accessed 28 May 2010.

[8] http://hwcentre.com/ accessed 29 May 2010.

[9] http://www.nrwc.org.au/v1/index.php accessed 29 May 2009

[10] Web site presently offline.

[11] http://www.northernriverspress.com/index.html, accessed 28 May 2010.

[12] http://www.catchfirepress.com.au/, accessed 28 May 2010.

[13] http://www.kardoorair.com.au/Kardoorair_Press_Home.html, accessed 28 May 2010.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New England literary tradition - introduction

A post on my personal blog, Regional traditions in Australian culture, looked at regional variations in Australian culture with a special focus on New England. I said in that post:
Just at the moment I am wrestling with one of my periodic topics, the relationship between geography and life and the way we see the world. The trigger in this case is, as is often the case, my research into New England history.
This post provides an entry point into my writing with a specific focus on New England's literary tradition.

This is both fun and difficult. Fun because the writing forms part of my own world, difficult because we have only just begun to delineate the patterns of New England writing.

As I proceed, I will add linked posts below.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Do you know of any photos of the Jimmy Sharman boxing troupe?

I am running this story on a number of my blogs just to get the best coverage I can.

Back in July 2009, I ran something of a nostalgia story on my personal blog, Memories of Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Stadium. In response, kellso100 has just written:

Hi am looking for photos of sharmans troup in the late 40's and early 50's as my dad fought for him he fought under the name curly ryan before sparing for dave sands until daves unfortunate death.

When I got the comment, I did something of a web search on Jimmy Sharman photos and on Curly Ryan, but found very little.

Can you help kellso100? There must be some photos around. 

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Introduction to New England's Aboriginal languages

This paper provides an introduction to New England's Aboriginal languages. It is part of a bigger paper and should be treated as work in progress. 

To begin with, what was a language? In 1788 there were perhaps 250 Aboriginal language groups in Australia incorporating perhaps 700 dialects[1]. The precise distinction between language and dialect can be a difficult one. In general, speakers of different dialects within a language group are likely to be able to understand each other or at least recognise that they speak different varieties of the same language.

We also need to make a clear distinction between language and political or territorial boundaries[2]. 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.

All Aboriginal languages share some common features. In grammatical terms, they have relatively free word order, allowing all possible ordering of subject, verb, object. Words show case, tense and mood by the addition of meaningful segments. Verbs and nouns have markers added to indicate who does what to whom, when and how. New words are formed by adding other meaningful segments. This can make for very long word, really sentences in themselves.

Most Aboriginal languages have only three vowels – i, a and u – although a few have four or more. As a New England example, the Bundjalung language group occupying territory stretching from the Clarence Valley into Southern Queensland used four vowels – i, a,u and e, each of which can be pronounced as a longer vowel[3]. There are also two semi-vowels in many languages, y and w

Words generally begin with a consonant, although Yaygirr (the language spoken around the mouth of the Clarence River) contains many words beginning with vowels such as aagal, sea[4].

Within this language diversity, all the New England language groups belong to what has come to be called Pama-Nyungan, the dominant language grouping over much of Australia. Coined by the linguist Kenneth Hale from the words pama (person in Cape York) and nyunga (one in south western Australia), Pama-Nyungun languages have commonalities in the structure of words and the way words to relate to each other.

All the almost 190 Pama-Nyungan languages suffix their verbs and nouns to show grammatical relations. They are grouped into perhaps twenty major language groups.

It is clear is that with so many languages and dialects, only a few languages had many thousands of speakers, with numbers tailing away to hundreds in other cases. In some case, contiguous related languages or dialects covered large areas like links in a chain. People easily understood their neighbours because they shared vocabulary and could at least understand structure and pronunciation. As the chain lengthened, language difficulties increased; people at opposite ends might barely understand each other.

As will be discussed in more detail later, New England illustrates this pattern in a very interesting way. The Anaiwan or Nganyaywana Aboriginal peoples who occupied the southern areas of the New England Tablelands appear to have been relatively homogeneous and limited in number, although even here there is debate about the number of dialects. By contrast, the Bundjalung language group occupying territory stretching from the Clarence Valley into Southern Queensland may have had as many as twenty separate dialects[5]. To the west, the Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) whose territory stretched along the western slopes and plains into what is now Queensland may have had at least five major dialects, seven if the related languages of Yuwaalaraay and Yuwaaliyaay are included[6]. Bigambul, the language group on the slopes and plains in Queensland to the north was also reported to be close to Gamilaraay[7].Gamilaraay dialects Austin

The map drawn from Austin, Williams and Wurm 1980 and cited by Peter Austin  shows one estimateddistribution of Gamilaraay dialects.  

Apart from any shared language features, communication among different languages was also made easier because many Aborigines were multi-lingual. Marriage partners were commonly exchanged with other groups, while groups mingled as well for social, ceremonial and trade occasions. This was to facilitate European expansion because many settlers made use of Aboriginal guides to bring them into new country

With so many languages and dialects as well as the very different sounds, it is not surprising that the expression of things such as group names into English should lead to widely varied spellings and to subsequent confusion about the exact distribution of peoples and language.

If we take the Dainggatti or Dhanggati language group spoken in the Macleay Valley and its headwaters, alternative spellings given by the Austlang data base include (among others) Djaingadi, Dang-getti, Danghetti, Danggadi, Dhang-atty, Thangatti, Thangatty, Dangati, Dangadi, Dunghutti, Thungatti, Tangetti and Tang-gette[8].

This was further complicated by attachment of names reflecting location or particular groups rather than language.

Drawing especially from the work of linguist Tamsin Donaldson, Michael O’Rourke’s sturdy of the Kamilaroi, the peoples occupying a vast sweep of territory from the Upper Hunter through the western slopes and plains into what is now Queensland, draws this out very clearly[9]. As an example, he points to the case of the Barradine area north of Coonabaraban which was assigned to both Burrigalu and Gamilaraay.

Burrigalu – burrie+galu: literally myall-tree + human plural – meant those who inhabit the myall country or myall dwellers. To O’Rourke’s 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 the Kamilaroi 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 gamil for no).

The Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative points to the same issues with Bundjalung.[10] Suggesting that it was thought that the term ‘Bandjalung’ was originally used to describe the dialect spoken around Bangawalbin Creek and was only later used used as a general term for the whole language as well as as a term to refer to certain individual dialects, the Co-operative notes that each dialect has a specific name of its own. Dialects include: Wahlubal (also known as Western Bandjalang), Yugambeh, Birrihn, the Barryugil dialect, Bandjalang, Wudjebal, Wiyabal, Wuhyabal, Minyangbal, Gidhabal, Galibal and Ngarrahngbal. Many of these names point to some characteristic peculiar to that dialect. For example, Gidhabal means ‘those who say gidha (alright)’, while Wiyabal means ‘those who say wiya (you)’.

This way of classifying languages was not unique to the Australian Aborigines. All people have ways of drawing distinctions between us and them by distinguishing particular speech or territorial or political associations. As Tamsin Donaldson puts it, the Aborigines used several etymologically distinct namimg systems, with different naming systems calling forth different names[11].

The result is apparently crazy patchwork quilt of names whose exact meaning can be quite unclear. In some cases, we may never be able to resolve the problems. However, it is possible through the combination of geographical, historical and linguistic analysis to at least indicate some of the key features of language distribution within New England. 

[1] The introductory overview material is drawn especial from John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, 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 2009

[2] 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 Homer’s Greece. The 18th century Kamilaroi war leader the Red Kangaroo provides an interesting case study. Having taken control from the previous elders, he had built 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 O’Rourke, “Sung for Generations”, published by the author, Canberra 2005, pp 306-311).

[3] Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, Bundjalung, http://www.muurrbay.org.au/bundjalung.html, accessed on line 19 August 2009.

[4] Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, Yaygirr, http://www.muurrbay.org.au/yaygirr.html, accessed on line 19 August 2009.

[5] Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, Bundjalung, http://www.muurrbay.org.au/bundjalung.html, accessed on line 19 August 2009.

[6] The material on the Gamillaraay is drawn from Peter K Austin, The Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) Language, northern New South Wales — A Brief History of Research, SOAS, University of London, 2006, accessed on-line 17 December 2008.

[7] Flick Isabel & Heather Goodall, Isabel Flick: the many lives of an extraordinary woman, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2004, p3.

[8] Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Australian Indigenous Languages Data Base (Austlang), http://austlang.aiatsis.gov.au/main.php, accessed on line 6 May 2010.

[9] Michael O’Rourke, The Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19th century, Michael O’Rourke, Griffith 1997 especially pp 26-32.

[10] Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, Bundjalung, http://www.muurrbay.org.au/bundjalung.html, accessed on line 19 August 2009

[11] O’Rourke, 1977, p 28

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New England, generational change and the 1970s

This morning in a post on my personal blog I looked at Generational Change and the 1970s. In doing so, I deliberately chose Northern examples to continue fleshing out my thinking. Some things I have said before, but it all deepens my understanding.

What I didn't deal with are the detail of the social changes across New England after the Second World War. I know some of the changes because I was there. Others such as the story of Wytaliba I know little or nothing about.

Even where I do know something, my knowledge can be very patchy. For example, I don't know the details of the rise of Bellingen as a counter culture centre, I know very little of the detail of the rise of Byron Bay.

While I get very depressed at a personal level about New England history over the last forty years, one of the positives has been an increase in the diversity of New England life, the establishment of different local and regional traditions.

I would love to write more on some of this stuff not just to understand for myself, but to show people how they fit in.