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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pioneering Anaiwan language studies

Brilliant linguist Gerhardt Laves (July 15, 1906 – March 14, 1993): His work over 1929-1931 on New England's Aboriginal languages lay undiscovered until 1981.This is the fourth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.
Column one The man who cracked the Anaiwan code 
Column two Terry Crowley's hunt for traditional languages
Column three Northern Tableland's rich tapestry of traditional languages
In a Facebook comment on my previous column in this series on the story of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, Ndyiwaara Widders (a member of the Anaiwan Language Revival Group) mentioned the work of that remarkable American PhD student Gerhardt Laves.

Laves was the first person trained in modern linguistic field work and analysis to study Australian Aboriginal Languages. He came to Australia in August 1929.

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, then Professor of Anthropology at Sydney University, had asked the great University Chicago linguist Edward Sapir to undertake a study of the Australian languages. Sapir could nor come, but sent Laves instead.

.Over the next two years Laves studied and recorded languages across Australia beginning on the North Coast with Kumbaingeri (Gumbaynggir). As part of this, he collected material on Anaiwan and on Yugambal.

Laves was a meticulous worker, keeping detailed notes. All this material went back by ship with him when he returned to the US in August 1931.

Laves worked on the material, but married in 1932. This was the end of his studies. Instead, he focused on family and building a career with the International Harvester Company.

It was not until 1981 that University of Chicago anthropology student Mark Francillon heard about Laves while working with L R Hiatt at Maningrida. Returning to Chicago, Francillon contacted Laves who led him into an attic full of boxes of original manuscript material that had been untouched for decades.

The value of this work was truly astounding, to use David Nash’s words,. “in its detail, accuracy and insight”. The intensively studied languages are represented by texts on mythological beings which are given English translations as well as interlinear glossing. There are also hundreds of file cards, each covering one sentence of the texts, with additional notes and cross-references.

I have sidetracked into the story of Gerhardt Laves partly because it’s a good yarn that holds out hope that we will find more yet unknown material. Here Ndyiwaara Widders has issued a plea for us to keep an eye out for material that, no matter how small, might assist in understanding and reviving the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language.

I have sidetracked, too, because the Laves material was not available when Terry Crowley was cracking the Anaiwan mystery. I do not think that it invalidates his conclusions, but it does mean that we have additional material to work from that may affect elements of his analysis.

In my last two columns in this series, I will stick my neck out. Drawing from the work of Crowley and others, I will tell you the story of Aboriginal settlement of the Tablelands as I see it.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 21 June 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Northern Tablelands' rich tapestry of traditional languages

Across the land. A map showing Northern Tablelands Aboriginal languages identified by Terry Crowley. This is the third in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.
Column two Terry Crowley's hunt for traditional languages
In my last column on the story of linguist Terry Crowley and the resolution of the mystery of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I noted the quick collapse of the Northern Tablelands’ languages following European occupation.

This collapse was partially due to the speed of pastoral expansion, but also to the relatively small size of the Tablelands’ language groups compared to those in surrounding areas.

The first analysis of the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life including estimates of population sizes across the broader New England were actually done by me a very long time ago now!

It is clear that I underestimated the size of the Aboriginal population. However, Tablelands’ populations were not high compared to the very large language groups to the east and west and were therefore more vulnerable to disruption,

This is reflected in the poor records we have for the Tablelands’ languages. We just don’t have a lot of information, something that frustrates those now working to revive the Anaiwan language.

A painstaking review...

Crowley began his work on by painstakingly reviewing the material that we did have on the various language groups. The map will help you understand his conclusions.

On the east, both Baanbay and Gamblamang were dialects of the Gumbaynggir language, a very large language group spoken from the southern banks of the Clarence down to and including the Nambucca Valley. Language boundaries broadly followed watersheds, allowing Gumbaynggir influence to extend deep into the Tablelands.

There are three identified languages on the northern parts of the Tablelands, Yugambal, Ngarbal and Marbal. Information on these languages is scanty. However, it appears that they were mutually intelligible in the same way that a speaker of Danish and Swedish might understand the other.

Crowley suggests that these languages were linked linguistically to Djangadi (Dainggatti), the Aboriginal language spoken in the Macleay Valley to the south of Gumbaynggir territory. There are also linkages through loan words to the adjoining Bandjalung language whose territory stretched from the northern banks of the Clarence into what is now southern Queensland.

A conundrum... 

The apparent linkage between these languages and Djangadi (Dainggatti) in the far south was and is a conundrum, for these northern Tablelands’ languages were separated from the Djangadi by apparently very different Tablelands’ languages that could not be understood by those further north.

Here Cowley identified two different language groups, the Ennewin around Guyra and then moving south the Inuwon followed by the Himberrong, two groups who spoke the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language.

The Ennewin, Himberrong and Inuwon form the heart of the mystery we have been discussing. How and why were they different?
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 June 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

New DNA results challenge Indian pre-conceptions


The thorniest, most fought-over question in Indian history is slowly but surely getting answered: did Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans, stream into India sometime around 2,000 BC – 1,500 BC when the Indus Valley civilisation came to an end, bringing with them Sanskrit and a distinctive set of cultural practices? Genetic research based on an avalanche of new DNA evidence is making scientists around the world converge on an unambiguous answer: yes, they did. Tony Joseph, Hindu Times
Interesting piece in the Hindu Times again illustrating the way that DNA analysis is re-shaping our view of the world.

I have absolutely no expertise in the question of Indo-Aryan migration, nor am I familiar enough with Indian politics to know how how questions of the direction of migration play out domestically. I had always assumed that part of the ethnic difference between the north and south of the country lay in the different migration patterns, with the north open to waves of migration from elsewhere in Eurasia. The latest data would appear to support that view.
Until recently, only data on mtDNA (or matrilineal DNA, transmitted only from mother to daughter) were available and that seemed to suggest there was little external infusion into the Indian gene pool over the last 12,500 years or so. New Y-DNA data has turned that conclusion upside down, with strong evidence of external infusion of genes into the Indian male lineage during the period in question.
Tony Joseph suggests that the reason for the difference in mtDNA and Y-DNA data is obvious in hindsight: there was strong sex bias in Bronze Age migrations. In other words, those who migrated were predominantly male and, therefore, those gene flows do not really show up in the mtDNA data. On the other hand, they do show up in the Y-DNA data:

In fact, about 17.5% of Indian male lineage has been found to belong to haplogroup R1a (haplogroups identify a single line of descent), which is today spread across Central Asia, Europe and South Asia. The Pontic-Caspian Steppe is seen as the region from where R1a spread both west and east, splitting into different sub-branches along the way. Genetic analysis suggests that the Indian versions of R1A split of between 2,000 and 1,500 BC.

Postscript 21 June 2017

Ramana, my Indian blogger friend, pointed me to this rebuttal of the Joseph piece, Genetics Might Be Settling The Aryan Migration Debate, But Not How Left-Liberals Believe. My first reaction was that  Anil Kumar Suri appeared to be wielding a rather hatchet in what was clearly an ideological dispute that I did not properly understand.

I need to go back to to the Joseph piece and look at the detail of DNA material provided to try to determine what is factual as compared to ideological positioning on both sides. Meantime, some one may be able to explain just what the apparent ideological and political dispute really is..

On a different topic, regular commenter Johnb has pointed me to yet another DNA study, First complete genome data extracted from ancient Egyptian mummies. For later reference.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Terry Crowley's hunt for traditional languages

1842: A dance in the Macleay Valley at the end of an initiation ceremony. A key issue that Terry Crowley had to address in his work was the relationship between the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language and those on the coast. This is the second in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

I am not a linguist. Indeed, my early school attempts to learn Latin and French can only be described as spectacular failures, creating a fear of languages that lingers to this day. I make this point because we are now going to enter territory way beyond my normal professional competence.

We know that language changes over time. To understand this, you need only watch the TV clips celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Aboriginal constitutional referendum. Many people I know are surprised at just how “posh’ the Aboriginal activists of the time sounded.

The shifts in New Zealand English provides a second example. The “thuck” New Zealand accent that we know today did not exist in 1967 outside a few isolated geographic areas.

Linguists have developed various techniques for analysing languages, changes in languages and the relationship between languages.

Phonology refers to the system of relationships among speech sounds that determine the way a language sounds. Lexical refers to the vocabulary of a language. Grammar refers to the rules for structuring language of which phonology is a part.

When linguist Terry Crowley began his study of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, he had to overcome a number of problems.

The first was variety. Within broad language groups, each local group spoke their own language that might vary from their neighbours to some degree. There were language chains in which the language at each end might vary considerably.

Unlike current Australians, the Aborigines were also multi-lingual. They could switch between dialects or indeed languages depending on whom they were talking too. We see this today in the Northern Territory where some Aboriginal people may speak multiple languages, with English the third or fourth language spoken.
... the Anaiwan were effectively dispossessed in the space of just a few years. One effect was language collapse.
 All this created difficulties for those few interested enough to record language beyond the complexity associated with just writing down the sounds in English. What language were they in fact recording?

In the case of the Tablelands languages, a further factor came into play.

The initial spread of European occupation was quite slow. An Anaiwan man born in 1788 would have been 44 before the first Europeans arrived on the southern Tablelands, although knowledge of and effects of European occupation including introduced diseases probably reached the Tablelands far earlier.

One the European settlers did reach the Tableland, the whole area was at least loosely occupied within ten years. This had profound effects on the Anaiwan who were effectively dispossessed in the space of juts a few years. One effect was language collapse.

By the time Terry Crowley started his work, there were no native Nganjaywana speakers left. He therefore had to rely on the imperfect records left behind, using his linguistic skills. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 7 June 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Paleoanthropologists having fun - Almost Human, new discoveries from Jebel Irhoud

In “Almost Human,” the search for hominin fossils reads like an extreme sport. Written by Lee Berger with fellow paleoanthropologist John Hawks, the book documents with riveting intensity Berger’s lifelong fascination with fossil hunting and the contributions he has made to our understanding of human origins. Rachel Newcombe Washington Post
There is no doubt that paleoanthropologists are having fun at the present time. One sign of this is the release of Lee Berger and John Hawks' Almost Human. From Rachel Newcombe's review in the Washington Post it sounds like a rattling good yarn.
In contemporary paleoanthropological circles, Berger ..... is considered something of a maverick. He invites National Geographic to document his expeditions for social media, puts out calls on Facebook to invite scientists to join his teams and, rather than hoarding his finds so he alone can analyze them, makes replicas and photos of fossils available for other scientists to study. Rachel Newcombe
Berger may be a maverick, certainly he has drawn criticism from fellow professionals, but he is part of a new wave that is reshaping our fundamental understanding of the deep human past.

"The famous drawing of a linear and simplistic evolution from ape-like individual morphing to an upright modern human is anything but accurate." Renaud Joannes-Boyau

The latest in the string of recent discoveries exciting paleoanthropologists comes from the Jebel Irhoud site in
Morocco 100  some kilometers west of Marrakech. This site first  came to attention in 196o when a barite mining operation discovered a fossil skull. Subsequent excavations uncovered a range of hominin (early human) fossils but there were considerable difficulties in dating them accurately.

In 2004 an international team of scientists led by Jean-Jaques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute  for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and including Renaud Joannes-Boyau from Southern Cross University began a  new study of the site. They found 16 new human fossils, animal remains and a large number of African Middle Stone Age artifacts showing Levallois technology with a high proportion of retouched tools.

The rather starting results  have now been announced in two articles published in Nature.well summarised by two stories, one by Renaud Joannes-Boyau in The Conversation,  a second by Kate Wong in Scientific American.

The fossils have been classified as belonging to homo sapiens. They display our species slim "gracile" face as compared to the more robust face and elongated skull of the Neanderthals. However, there are differences in skull structure from today with a more elongated brain case, both longer and lower. In date terms, the remains have been dated to 300,000 years ago, adding 100,000 years to the earliest known date for homo sapiens.

In parallel with the two Nature articles on the latest Jebel Irhoud results, results have been released for a pre peer review formal publication study entitled Ancient genomes from southern Africa pushes modern human divergence beyond 260,000 years ago.This early release process allows  preliminary study results to be made available quickly; the formal peer review and publication process can take years.

This study examined the genomes of seven people from several different groups in Southern Africa who lived between 300 and 2,000 years ago. The results suggested that the different groups to which these individuals belonged diverged at least 260,000 years ago, implying that homo sapiens is at least this old.      

 I lack the technical expertise to properly evaluate the latest results. However, the conclusions as I see them are:
  • Homo sapiens emerged earlier and was more wide spread across Africa than previously realised, well before the 100,000 or so years ago date for the out-of-Africa migration
  • The evidence for overlap in time between various hominid species seems to be getting stronger all the time
  • The definition of just what constitutes homo sapiens among hominids has become very uncertain. I's all very messy if also intensely interesting! 
  • The need to understand the detail of constantly changing environments over long periods keeps growing. 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Explorations through the early days of tertiary education in Australia's New England

This post provides a consolidated list of posts exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England to make it easier for readers to follow the story through in order.

The first tertiary institution was St John's Theological College founded in 1898 by Bishop Arthur Vincent Green to train future Anglican clergy.

In May 1926, the College was relocated from Armidale to Morpeth in the Hunter Valley. The story of the College is outlined in a 2014 post, History revisited – college a capital idea.

While the College's loss was a significant one from an Armidale perspective, its presence had added to the city’s reputation as an education centre, aiding the foundation of the Teacher’s College in 1928.

This College was the first major Australian higher education institution established outside a capital city.

Starting in March 2017, I explored the College's early  days in a series of eight Armidale Express columns later posted here:
I had intended to continue the series into the early days of the New England University College (founded 1938) but decided after eight consecutive columns that it was better to break the series into two parts. I will add the next series here once complete.

A note on sources

I normally don't include sources with the columns. However, I will add sources here in due course so that those who are interested can follow up.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The man who cracked the Anaiwan code

Terry Crowley: A brilliant linguist who shed light on the mystery of Anaiwan. This is the first in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language
Next part in this series; Terry Crowley's hunt for traditional languages 
It took the brilliant linguist Terry Crowley to crack the mystery attached to the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language of the southern New England Tablelands. He did so as a third year student at the Australian National University.

Terrence Michael Crowley was born on 1 April 1953 in Billericay just east of London. The family emigrated to Australia when Crowley was about seven years old, taking up a dairy farm outside Shepparton.

Crowley was dux at Shepparton High School in 1970, enrolling the following year in a Bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies at ANU. There he came under the influence of R M W Dixon who interested him in Aboriginal languages. In 1974, he gained first class honours with a University Medal in linguistics and then worked as a research assistant in Bob Dixon’s department, again concentrating on Australian Aboriginal languages.

At this point, Terry Crowley’s interest moved to the languages of the Pacific and especially Vanuatu. His sudden and unexpected death from heart attack on 15 January 2005 came as a shock to friends and colleagues alike.

Crowley made his contribution to our understanding of the Aboriginal languages of the broader New England during the early part of his career.

In 1976 came his pioneering study of the Nganjaywana language. This was followed in 1978 by two publications on Bundjalung, the language spoke north of the Clarence. Then in 1979 came a piece on Yaygir, the language spoken at the mouth of the Clarence.

Prior to Crowley’s work, the Nganjaywana or Anaiwan language was a mystery. It seemed so different from other Aboriginal languages, a language on its own. Was it in fact a remnant of an earlier language, the sign of remnant group from an migration?

There has been dispute about the pattern of early human settlement of the Australian continent, disputes that have formed part of the so-called history wars. Are modern Aborigines direct descendants of a first founder group or have there been several waves of migration, with later arrivals mixing with and ultimately supplanting earlier arrivals?

The model extended and popularised by American anthropologist Joseph Birdsell suggested that settlement had come in three distinct waves involving different peoples. This model was supported by theoretical arguments, as well as skeletal, cultural, ethnographic and linguistic studies.

One thread in the discussion was that the Tasmanians, the pigmies of North East Queensland and perhaps the Anaiwan were remnants of an earlier migration pattern later supplanted by modern Aboriginal groups.

We now know, I think, that modern Australian Aboriginals are direct descendants of first settler groups. This does not rule out settlement by earlier hominids, we have no evidence here at all, nor does it rule out later admixtures. However, the basic pattern seems clear.

While modern DNA analysis is central to our new understanding, it was the work of linguists such as Crowley who filled in part of the pattern. In particular, Crowley showed that Anaiwan was related to surrounding languages.

I will continue this story next week.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 31 May 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.    

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Armidale Teachers' College - becoming part of Armidale

Part and parcel of life: The 1937 swimming carnival at the old baths. College students and their activities became an integral part of Armidale. This, the eighth in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England, concludes the series' first part. 
Today it is hard to realise just how important the Armidale Teachers’ College was to the pattern of Armidale life in the middle decades of the twentieth century. 

The College was ten years old when the University College was founded. It would be a number of years after that before university students outnumbered college students. Never big enough to dominate city life in a way the University would come too, it complemented and reinforced existing activities, laying the base for new ones.

Visually, the College on the hill dominated a city of generally single story buildings. The students who walked in convoy up the hill in the morning just before nine from Smith House and later the new men’s residences and then again down the hill at five were a familiar part of the streetscape.

The local sporting competitions were strengthened by the TC teams, the church youth groups received new members, while local store keepers found a new source of business. College students performed at local venues, while College facilities from the auditorium to the sporting fields were a valuable addition to local infrastructure.

For the students, the reminiscence of College life that I have been able to find have a number of common features.

The first was the collegiate if sometimes paternalistic nature of College life. To many students away from home for the first time with limited previous opportunities, the College was a new and active social and cultural world. They were encouraged to become involved in College activities that fitted their particular interests.

Sport was obviously important, as was the opportunity to mix with the opposite sex. Then there was the exposure for the first time to drama, writing, music and art.

Time and time again, former students referred to the Hinton Collection.

To Howard Hinton, photo, art was an integral part of life, to be enjoyed. He insisted that the paintings he donated be preserved as a single collection and shown in hallways and lecture theatre so that they formed an integral part of the daily round.

It is clear that he was successful. The paintings might not have been seen by as many as they would have been in, say, the NSW Art Gallery, but they were seen intensively. They became part of internal visual memory for many students.

Another feature of College life was involvement in religious activities at College and in the city. We tend to underestimate today just how important religious beliefs were in daily life.

We also forget the strength of sectarian divides between Roman Catholics and Protestants, between Micks and Prods. One devout Catholic records that this was the first time he had been forced to mix with with, let alone share a room with, a Prod!

From the College students went on to a variety of life paths, some achieving great prominence. I will look at this when I continue the story in a later series of columns.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 May 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.   

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On-line source: first NSW Legislative Council records 1824-1855 now digitised

The NSW Parliament has now digitised records relating to the first New South Wales Legislative Council from 1824 to 1855. It includes tabled papers, Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reports of debates, and documents relating to the administration of the First Council (classified as "non-tabled papers").

These have been indexed by document type and date. Please note, over time some of the early original material has become faded and in some places illegible; nonetheless it is included here in its authentic form as a record of its existence.​ Also, while every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, the archive is a work in progress and some classification errors may exist.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bumpy beginnings for young teachers


Long trip: The Kempsey-Armidale Road in the 1920s. It wasn't always easy for students to get to Armidale over New England's dreadful roads, and the trip could leave them feeling quite sick. This is the seventh in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. .

To the young seventeen and sometimes sixteen year olds who came to Armidale Teachers’ College and, later, to the University College, it was a path to a new world. 

The College’s catchment extended from Maitland to the Queensland border. North Coast students were especially important, as they would be to the later University. 

In most cases, they were the first in their family to undertake any form of higher education. Many had barely travelled outside their home towns. The great majority were quite religious and came from socially conservative families and communities. 
For writer Shirley Walker, the College was a way of leaving the claustrophobia of home and community.
Many parents had reservations about education and risks, especially for girls. However, teaching was also seen as respectable, a means for social advancement. 

For some such as writer Shirley Walker who studied at the Teachers’ College during the Second World War, the College was a way of leaving the claustrophobia of home and community. For most, I think, the feeling was one of nervous excitement connected with the unknown.

Getting to Armidale could be an issue because of the poor east-west transport links. 

Les Sullivan from Kempsey was awarded a scholarship to the College in 1941. To solve the problem of getting there, his parents booked him onto the twice weekly Woodward and Purkiss coach service to Armidale. 

“Bidding my parents a teary farewell with an admonition from my mother, ‘Don’t do anything you’d be afraid to tell us’, ringing in my ears, I boarded the large open-style stretched tourer (probably a Studebaker or Hudson) for the 120 miles (190 km) gut-churning, dust-eating, corrugated ordeal”. 

“I had always been prone to carsickness so it was not a journey I was looking forward to. I can still see the sign at the bottom of “The Big Hill” warning of 12 miles (17 km) of winding road. I was too sick to enjoy the tea stops at Bellbrook and Jeogla and just prayed for the ordeal to end.”

Coming home was a little easier, for the large number of North Coast students made it possible to book return charters to at least the main destinations. Even so, as late as the 1930s, it was sometimes easier for one North Coast student to return home via rail to Sydney and then steamer to Woolgoolga. There he would be lowered onto the long wharf in a wicker ware basket along with his luggage.

But what type of College did the students find upon arrival? Here we have a 1935 description from the Sydney Morning Herald describing the completed main buildings and initial playing fields. The journalist was totally impressed with the space, the facilities and standard of teaching.

If the aim of the piece was to impress city students that they should consider the College, it would certainly have helped. 

For most of the Northern students, it would have been the largest and most impressive building they had ever seen and by a considerable margin. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 May 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.   

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Research Note: Impact of Smallpox on Aboriginal New England

It is now well established that diseases brought by Europeans extended beyond the moving frontier wreaking havoc on Aboriginal communities still distant from European settlement. One such disease was smallpox, with outbreaks starting in 1789 and then again around 1829.

Discussion on smallpox has focused on two questions.

The first is where the smallpox came from. There are two schools. One said that it came from the settlement at Sydney, a second from Macassan visitors harvesting trepang in Northern Australia. The second question is the scale of the death toll. Both questions have become embroiled to some degree in the continuing history wars.

A related question is the nature of transmission mechanisms, a question that links to the structure of and relations between Aboriginal groups. For example, could smallpox in fact have come from Northern sources in the required time horizons given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations? Again, could smallpox have spread in the way sometimes described given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations?

I am interested in the impact of smallpox on the Aboriginal peoples of Northern NSW, the broader New England. The questions as to who might be responsible and why fall outside my immediate scope except to the degree it affects what happened in New England.

Based on my very preliminary work, my present tentative conclusions are:
·         The first smallpox epidemic came from the Sydney settlement. Its hard to fit the geography otherwise. I still have an open mind on the second.
·         In broad terms, the impact of smallpox was geographically patchy because of the particular dispersed structure of Aboriginal life in combination with the transmission pattern. It hit Sydney hard because you had a high population concentration meaning that people could mix during the contagion period. For smaller groups, infection would depend upon someone one coming while contagious and then infecting the group, with on-transmission depending on someone getting to the next group while contagious. In theory, I suppose, you could have it carried on possum coats or artifacts. The process would be easier if you had largish adjoining populations that mixed such as along the Murray.
·         In the first round, infection appears to have reached the lower Hunter but not beyond. The 1829+ second round was geographically broader, but perhaps not so intense. I say this because the descriptions of Aboriginal people across the North after 1831 that I have seen do not appear to contain references to smallpox markings. 

As I said, very tentative. I stand to be rebutted.

Source Notes

N G Butlin, Macassans and Aboriginal smallpox : the '1789' and '1829' epidemics, Australian National University 1984
Judy Campbell, "Smallpox in aboriginal Australia, the early 1830s", Historical Studies, Volume 21, 1985 - Issue 84
Judy Campbell, Invisible invaders : smallpox and other diseases in Aboriginal Australia, 1780-1880 ,.Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic. 2002.
Peter J. Dowling, VIOLENT EPIDEMICS: Disease, conflict and Aboriginal population collapse as result of European contact in the Riverland of South Australia, 1990, MA thesis in Biological Anthropology, Department of Prehistory and Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, Australian National University Canberra ACT Accessed online 17 May 2017 file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/OWNER/My%20Documents/Downloads/b17470511_Dowling_Peter_J.pdf
C Mear, C. (2008) The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789,Journal of the Royal Historical Society, Vol.94, Part 1 pp.1-22, 2008
Michael O’Rourke, The Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19th century, Michael O’Rourke, Griffith 1997
Jim Poulter, “The smallpox holocaust that swept Aboriginal Australia. - Red hot echidna spikes are burning me”, (We) can do better, 2 March 2014
Chris Warren, “Was Sydney's smallpox outbreak of 1789 an act of biological warfare against Aboriginal tribes?” Ockham's Razor, ABC Radio National, Thursday 17 April 2014 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/was-sydneys-smallpox-outbreak-an-act-of-biological-warfare/5395050   Accessed 17 May 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Build on: Armidale Teachers' College survives the Great Depression

The Parthenon on the Hill. "You are very fortunate to be in such a nice institution", Minister Davies is reported to have told students, somewhat reluctantly. This is the sixth in Jim Belshaw's series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 
Armidale, March 1936. The weather was unsettled, threatening the forthcoming Armidale Show. Up at the College on the hill, the corridors were thronged with new and returning students and College staff.

Now established, the Armidale Teachers’ College was well on its way to becoming a jewel in the crown of NSW education. And yet its very survival had been at risk just six years before.

As work got on the new College building in the first half of 1929, few realised just how vulnerable Australian had become to international downturn. Import competition within the domestic market was increasing. Government public works funded by heavy overseas borrowings – fifty million ponds in 1928 alone – meant that ever more export income had to be used to pay interest and dividends to overseas investors; by 1927-28 these totaled 28 per cent of export income.

New South Wales was particularly vulnerable. It was already affected by growing import competition, while the growth in its metropolitan population, and hence the numbers in building, construction and public services, had been particularly marked.

In 1929, the worst possible combination of events happened. Export prices fell, while overseas borrowings stopped as a consequence of the closure of the London capital market to Australia.

In March and April 1929 as the building contract was let and work commenced, the State's London overdraft rose to three to four million pounds.. By June, the State was in a financial vice which tightened as the year proceeded: Not only could New South Wales not raise long-term loans, but the State's bankers were resisting any further increase in overdraft levels. Equally importantly, the State now faced declining income tax collections, rising losses on railway and transport services, and rising welfare costs.

By the time the new College’s foundation stone was laid on that day of hope and speeches in November 1929, Australia was in the grip of recession,. By early 1930, the expected State deficit for 1929-30 had risen to over three million pounds.

Soup Kitchen, NSW c 1932. As depression deepened, Drummond pushed forward with construction of the new Teachers' College building regardless
C B Newling later surmised that Drummond pushed construction of the building forward because he wanted to beat the growing collapse. I don’t think that’s true for at least the first part of 1929 because the scale of the crisis wasn’t yet recognised. What is true is that Drummond continued to push construction  regardless.

Drummond lost office in 25 October 1930, leaving his Labor successor William Davies with an almost completed but partially empty building because of reduced student numbers Drummond faced a withering storm of criticism, but was unrepentant.

There were moves to close the College. Drummond persuaded Labor Minister William Davies to visit Armidale in March 1931 to inspect the situation for himself. “You are very fortunate to be in such a nice institution”, Davies is reported to have told students, somewhat reluctantly. “It is one of the finest buildings in New South Wales”.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 May 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.   

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Creating the building blocks of education


Laying the foundation stone of the Armidale Teachers' College, October 29, 1929, Drummond was determined  that a "Country College for Country Students ...should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney." It was a time of hope and speeches.  This is the fifth in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. 

As lectures got underway in temporary premises in March 1928, planning for permanent premises for the new Armidale Teachers’ College had begun.

The best building site in Armidale consisted of eight acres of crown land on South Hill with commanding views over the city. This was occupied by an old goal set in gardens gone to wilderness. The previous Labor Government had considered re-opening the goal to hold sexual offenders, something that had created panic in the city. Mayor Morgan Stephens saw the old goal as a blot on the landscape: he had “done all in his power – except carting away the bricks and mortar – to remove it”.

In December 1927, Smith had obtained approval for the transfer of the goal site to his Department once the buildings had been demolished. At first, the Government Architect proposed to utilise the old goal buildings, something vehemently opposed by the College’s protagonists. Drummond set out the case quite clearly in words that guided his overall approach throughout the project: “if the Armidale Teachers’ College were to be a Country College for Country Students then the Government should provide the amenities both architectural and cultural that the students would have if they were trained in Sydney.”

On 10 February 1928, the decision was taken to demolish the goal. Drummond wanted the new buildings constructed as soon as possible. He called for sketch plans early in 1928, then on 5 April he wrote to the Departmental architect asking him to arrange for the Chief Architect to take the plans of “Sydney Teachers College to Armidale for personal discussions with Mr Newling to see what changes might need to be made to accommodate 250 students, taking local conditions into account.”

With plans complete, tenders for the new building were called. On 1 March 1929, a contract was let to the Public Works Department providing for completion within eighteen months at a cost of £81,200. Drummond had wanted an iconic building and the plans provided for that. Externally, the style was free treatment of Italian Renaissance with meticulous attention to detail. Internally, there was the same attention to detail

Construction began on 8 April 1929, with Drummond closely monitoring the whole project. In October 1929, for example, Smith recorded that the Minister had decided to proceed with the whole central section of the building comprising the gymnasium and Assembly Hall as originally envisaged. The gymnasium was constructed with special care, based on the then best models. It featured a floor specially mounted on elliptical springs to cushion impacts.

On 29 November 1929 with construction underway, a large crowd gathered to watch the laying of two foundation stones, one by NSW Premier Thomas Bavin, the second by Drummond. It was a festive ceremony meticulously planned by Drummond down to the last detail, including the supply of flags and bunting.

It was a time of hope and speeches looking forward to further decentralisation of education, including a Teachers’ College at Wagga Wagga and a possible University College in Armidale, However, storm clouds were gathering that would threaten not just the building, but the new College itself.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 April 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.  

Monday, May 01, 2017

Extracting ancient DNA from sediments - and the rise of multidisciplinary history

Fascinating story in The Atlantic, Scientists Can Now Pull the DNA of Ancient Humans Out of Cave Dirt.

In essence, new techniques allow animal and human DNA deposited into surrounding soil to be recovered. This has significance for two reasons.

It allows DNA analysis to be carried out without destroying fossils. It also allows inferences to be made even when direct evidence is not available.

When I first studied prehistory, we had very few scientific tools available. Now the explosion in science is reshaping our knowledge not just of the remote human past but of more recent times. History and especially prehistory have become truly multi-disciplinary disciplines.

One side effect is the merger of prehistory and history. A division based on the primacy of written records ceases to have relevance when so many alternative techniques and approaches are available. Now we have just history.

This poses a challenge to us all. I know that I struggle to understand let alone integrate all the new knowledge now relevant to the writing of history.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Human occupation of North America pushed back over 100,000 years

Fascinating archaeological results announced in the US.

In 1992, archaeologists were called in during renovation of the San Diego freeway to do some test excavations.  They found what appeared to be an abandoned campsite, where humans had left stone tools and hammered mastodon bones behind.

Of itself, this wasn't too unusual. It's apparently fairly well-established that humans were hunting mastodons in the Americas as early as 15,000 years ago.But the numbers derived from various dating techniques suggested that the bones had been buried more than 100,000 years ago. That was startling.

After 24 years and multiple tests, researchers now say that an unknown type of early human lived in California roughly 130,000 years ago! That dramatically changes our understanding of the human settlement of North America, pushing back the date of human settlement by more than 100,000 years. This does not mean, however, that those early settlers were modern humans. Based on what we know at present, they were probably Denisovans. .

This story from arstechnica provides further information, while this recently released YouTube video provides a very good summary of the story. Further comments follow the video.


Both the story and video show the painstaking work that has to go into this type of discovery, especially when the results are so startling. As a consequence of that type of work, our understanding of  the long human past is evolving rapidly and is likely to continue to evolve in ways that we can't quite foresee.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A note on New England Aboriginal servicemen

Interesting piece on ABC Radio National's Awaye! Program,  Indigenous Anzacs: Letters home from Aboriginal WWI diggers reveal humour, sadness, (program itself here, Saturday 22 April) on Aboriginal servicemen during the First World War. Presenter Daniel Browning's great-great uncle Thomas Browning (photo) was one of those featured in the piece.

Quoting from the piece on Thomas Browning::

"In May 1917 a military order revoked the nominal ban on Aboriginal men serving in the Australian Imperial Force, although in fact many had already enlisted.

One of the Aboriginal men who joined up after the military order was Samuel Browning, a fisherman from Fingal (then known as The Caves or Caves Point) on the North Coast of New South Wales.

One of Browning's mates enlisted with him but was rejected on the grounds that he had no European heritage. Browning left Australia in late 1917 aboard the troop ship Euripides, and disembarked at Devonport in the south of England on Boxing Day.

In Browning 's letters to his mother Mary, his heartbroken bride-to-be, and 10-year-old sister, there is no mention of the horrors of the Western Front nor of his gassing in the trenches near Rouen in northern France in August 1918, just a few months before the guns fell silent.

In an undated letter from Bath, where he was convalescing, Sam wrote urgently to Fingal, anxious that his younger brother stay away.
"Dear Mother, tell George to stop where he is instead of enlisting — one is enough from home, so don't forget."
Elsewhere, Browning longed for the beach.
"I am longing for a good feed of oysters and pippies. I'd give ten bob for a feed," he wrote to his mother from the ANZAC training camp at Codford in February 1918. 
Others who served from the opposite side of New England were the three Firth brothers.  Again I quote;
.
"Francis Walter Bertie Firth served in the Middle East and lost a brother in Egypt, but his letters from "somewhere in France" are consumed by anxiety about missing letters apparently sent by his mother Kate from Pilliga in northern New South Wales but never received.

Bertie wrote to his mother on Easter Sunday in 1917: "Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living," he wrote.

"It is about time the winter was over, I would not like to be here for another, the coldest place on earth."
Characteristically, and presumably without irony, Bertie signs his letters that he hopes everyone at home is well as it leaves him, "in the pink of condition".

Another letter suggests that he may he have been jilted: "I got a letter from Peggy the other day. She is engaged to someone else. Good luck to her."

I don't have a lot of information on Aboriginal servicemen from Northern NSW. Another who served during the Second World War was David Cook. From a piece by Noah  Riseman:

"Lance-Corporal David Cook is an Aboriginal man born in Ebor, near Armidale New South Wales, in 1945. Around the time of Dave's tenth birthday, he and his four siblings were forcibly removed from their parents. Dave was placed in Kinchela Boys Home for three years before being fostered. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Army, seeking a life away from his daily troubles.

Dave served in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Malaya before being sent off to Vietnam. Throughout his service he proved to be a successful soldier and was well-liked by his peers. He served two tours in Vietnam before being discharged in 1968.

When Dave returned to New South Wales, his life rapidly spiralled out of control. Cycles of violence, imprisonment and racism threatened to turn him into another Aboriginal statistic. However, Dave managed to reconnect with his siblings, who helped him get his life back on track through emotional support, stability and employment. Now retired, Dave does volunteer work in Cambodia, applying his Army engineering knowledge in a land mine clearance program.".

I wondered if readers had more information on Aboriginal servicemen (and later women) from Northern New South Wales, Hunter to the border? This would help me flesh out another part of New New England's history.

Update

AIATSIS has an exhibition on the Stafford Brothers, a family with New England connections.

Debrah Novak put up a Facebook post repeating a story from the Grafton Daily Examiner on the attempts of Mackenzie Laurie to enlist. I quote:
This is a newspaper article in the Daily Examiner Tuesday, May 1916: TRUE AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT? CLARENCE DARKIES WANT TO ENLIST: Mackenzie Laurie has not just arrived from Scotland. He has never seen that county, and except he desires to help the Empire, has no desire to leave the land he loves and has lived in for 23 years. Laurie is, in other words, a young Clarence River Aboriginal, and has tried to enlist in Maclean, Ulmarra, Grafton and Harwood. He has been turned down everywhere he has tried, and, like many others in a dilemma, sought out the Daily Examiner man as a last resort. Laurie is bashful, if brave; had never been inside a newspaper office in his life before, and has always been a close reader of this particular paper – he read the tips and all about Randwick doings and the war. Here is his complaint told in his words.

“I want to ask is why not a pure Australian regiment? They won’t take me or Harry Grant, or Cowan, or Daley or Bundock- and we’re all Australians. They turn us down. They say the English will mistake us for Turks, and shoot us. But that don’t matter. We don’t care that we shot at or not. We want to kill a few Turks and (in deep thought and not wishing to appear misinformed) -The Bulgar (semi-nomadic warrior Turk) - that’s the fellow. If England goes under, where are we? Myself, Harry Grant, D. Torrens, T. Daley, Billy and Jim Cowan, K. Bundock, Harry and J Neville, Piebald, Ferguson, Hamilton, P. Mercy, my two brother in laws, and J. Morris and Alf Blakeney.

The pressman stopped; he seemed to have written a regiment. Laurie Persisted. He wrote on:
“Put all of them down, all of them want to go at once, NOW. There is also A. Olive, R. Cowan, B. Robertson, Donelly, Dunn and J.Boney.”

“All these are ‘pure Australian’s, everyone one of them as black as I am, no immigrants about any of them” (looking straight at the reporter). “You can call yourself ‘Stralian! You only immigrant Britisher. If you are pure ‘Stralian, you must first be able to speak our language – wurra-murra girooha lomiba booyamba, Can you say that?

The reporter said he didn’t understand the Australian classics.

Mackenzie Laurie continued to give names. “Harry Grayson, Walker, Cameron Fred Laurie (my brother) and D Cameron (my brother in law)”
.
“I want you to put all our names in this paper, and show the Government in Sydney that us pure ‘Stralians is ready to fight for the country straight away. I’m single, all teeth are good, as you see, good chest, aged 23, work for Mr Smith near the Common, and I am prepared to run any man on the Clarence 120 yards for any money up to 50 quid.”

“Tell them I am an athlete, went to Glenreagh Sports with sixpence in my pocket and came home with two quid. I’m off to work now, but if Sergeant Swan or Constable Sproule wants to get me, they can find me at Alumny Creek, ready straight away to fight for the country.” End Note: The is a photo of Harold Cowan from Grafton who enlisted in 1917 when Aboriginal people were finally allowed to enlist.