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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Towards a New England History - introductory post

Photo: This photo is taken from the Tobwabba Art site. Tobwabba is a 100 per cent Aboriginal owned artists' cooperative.

In this, the first of several posts, I want to start looking at the issues involved in writing a decent first history of New England. Not the Northern Tablelands, but the fuller new state New England. This is not an easy task simply because of the absence of a formal political entity. Here Scottish history is instructive.

While born in Australia, my grandfather was a proud Scot. So over the years I received as presents many books on Scottish history. I found these easy to follow so long as Scotland existed as a unit in its own right, much harder when it became simply a region of England or the UK. The problem? How do you write about something that does not exist!

In thinking this challenge through, I think that the starting point has to be the original Aboriginal inhabitants. New England is a European construct. The Aboriginal Nations (language groups) obviously did not think of New England. However, they did have to respond to the European invasion.

So what was Aboriginal New England like? How did it evolve in the thousands of years prior to the European invasion?

Here we have to paint a picture of the changing interaction between people and a changing landscape, because the landscape itself was not static, changing in long waves with geological and climatic change, as well as shorter waves under the impact of the Aborigines themselves.

Then we have the immediate impact of the Europeans and the nature of the Aboriginal response. From this point, the Aborigines become a sub-story, but one that needs to be written as an important thread in the New England experience.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Geography of New England - Introduction

Photo: Gordon Smith, Paradise Rocks in the rugged New England Ranges

Note to readers: This is quite an old post. Its continuing popularity, it consistently comes first in viewer interests, means that I should do an update. In the meantime, Readers can access all the geography posts by clicking on New England geography on the side bar. I have also added a few notes at the end pointing to some related posts of interest.
To understand New England's history we need to understand New England's geography, the way in which climate and landscape have helped shape New England life.

In my first post, I suggested that in many ways the broader New England does not exist. It is not marked on any maps, it has no legal, political or economic form, while even those living within New England do not agree as to its boundaries. Yet it has maintained a very real if sometimes intangible presence.

If we cannot precisely define New England, we can at least define its broad boundaries by taking a triangle with its apex just south of Newcastle, one side stretching north up the coast to the Queensland border, the base running along the border to a point somewhat west of Goodooga, with the other side returning to just south of Newcastle.

In all, the triangle contains (depending on the precise boundaries adopted) about 166,000 square kilometres. To put this size in perspective using an overseas example, New England's size is around 25 per cent greater than that of England (130,000 square kilometers).

The New England triangle is a geographically diverse territory, with climatic conditions ranging from sub-tropical on the coast, to cold on the in the high plateaux of the centre, to semi-arid in the far west.
The Great Dividing Range dominates the area, dividing New England into a series of north-south zones.In the east, the humid coastal zone consists of a series of riverine valleys, with relatively short fast-flowing rivers separated from each other by spurs from the interior ranges.

Most of the valleys are small, except in the south where the zone broadens out into the Hunter Valley, and in the far north where the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed Rivers are less separated, and together form a broad unit known as the Northern Rivers.

Moving west, the humid coastal zone ends in a generally sharp escarpment, marking the start of a second geographic unit, the Northern or New England Tablelands. Although parts of the Tablelands rise to more than 1,500 metres, heights are generally about 900 metres, declining gradually to the west.

While clearly a geographical unit, the Tablelands display considerable geographical diversity.In the east the coastal river systems have cut huge gorges through the escarpment deep into the Tablelands. This combination of escarpment and gorges form the core of World Heritage listed national parks that run for hundreds of kilometres north-south (see http://www.nnsw.com.au/npa/nationalpark.html for more details). To the west of the escarpment and gorge country, the Tablelands are broken up into a series of tablelands of varying heights, separated to some degree by rougher country.

Further west, the Tablelands give way to the Western Slopes, a series of river basins separated by westward arms from the Tablelands, forming major headwaters for the Darling River system. In turn, the Slopes merge almost imperceptibly into the hot dry plains of the interior.

Related posts:

On Travel Time and Our Sense of Space is one of a series of posts that looks at the interaction between geography and perception. This post was followed by Geography of New England - Impact of Great Dividing Range; the escarpment and its impact on east-west communications and on life have influenced New England life thoughout human habitation. New England & Queensland - a truncated relationship points to the way in which human boundaries cut across geographical entities.

Much of New England live has been influenced by the rivers and river catchments. Aboriginal language groups were linked to rivers and river catchments. For that reason, I put up a number of posts with catchment maps. You can find the entry point to the series here.    

To be continued.

Friday, November 24, 2006

New England's History - blog objectives

Photo: New England flag

In April 2006 I established the New England, Australia blog to provide a forum for discussions on the history, life and culture of Australia's New England.

In many ways New England does not exist. In the words of the Australian poet A D Hope, New England is an idea in the heart and mind.

In formal terms, the term New England is used to describe the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Here locals talk of "the New England." But the term is also used, and this is the way I use the term, to describe a much broader region that has maintained a struggle for self government - the right to govern itself within the Australian federation - since the middle of the 19th century.

We have come close at times, but success still eludes us. The forces of the status quo are very strong.

Because the broader New England has no formal political expression, its history, life and culture gets submerged, squeezed between the more narrow local on one side, the broader state and nation on the other. So I thought that a site that focused just on New England might provide another voice, a way of documenting and presenting the New England experience.

A key objective in the original blog was the presentation of my own research and writings on New England's history to provide a starting point for the development of a full New England history. I saw this as important because without a knowledge of history we forget our past. It becomes a far country dimly remembered.

As New England, Australia evolved I began to focus much more on current life and developments. While I have tried to put these in a historical context, the original history objective has become somewhat submerged.

I have therefore decided to create this blog to focus just on New England history and historiography. In doing so, I will begin by copying historical material from the main blog so that already posted material becomes more accessible. Once this is completed, I will start adding new work.

Like all my blogs I welcome discussion. Indeed, I hope that with time I will be able to add other writers to the blog, thus turning it into a collaborative effort.

However, unlike my other blogs I do not intend to post general commentary since I want to maintain the special purpose focus, nor do I propose to post every day. My initial objective is two to three posts per week, thus allowing readers time to find and absorb material.

I have no idea as to how successful this approach will be. However, experience with my other blogs makes me cautiously optimistic.