Sunday, May 28, 2006

New England & Queensland: A truncated relationship

My last post focused on the impact of the Dividing Range and especially on the way it affected east-west and north-south communications within New England. But this left open the question of south-north communications between New England and the colony, now state, of Queensland.

On the surface, you would expect this to be substantial. The New England Tablelands extend into Queensland, as do the western slopes and plains. The Tweed River valley is divided by the New England-Queensland boarder. Brisbane, Queensland's political and commercial capital, is closer than Sydney to much of Northern New England. On the surface, you would expect substantial trade and communications. The reality was very different.

In his 1966 PhD thesis, The Geographical Scope of Support for the New State Movement in Northern New South Wales, Professor Eric Woolmington from the University of New England's Geography Department examined the impact of the NSW-Queensland border on local activity.

Using geographic models developed to explain boundaries between the economic catchment areas of competing major centres, Woolmington defined the expected boundary between the spheres of influence of Sydney and Brisbane. This generated an economic boundary well south of Armidale.

Woolmington then examined the actual economic boundary using a variety of measures. In all cases, he found that the economic boundary was well to the north of that expected. He used the phrase marchland areas - areas of major competition - to describe the territory between the projected economic boundary and the actual political boundary. This territory coincided almost exactly with the east-west geographic axis that I described in my previous post.

At one level, it is not suprising that Sydney's influence should have been so pervasive. The city was much bigger than rival Brisbane, especially in the colonial period. New England people had to deal with Sydney as the seat of government and power. Economic links were strong because Sydney merchants financed pastoral activities, supplying goods and selling primary products in return.

However, that is not the end of the story. At a second level, the location of the economic boundary was also strongly influenced by consistent efforts by the Sydney Government to maintain economic control, to centralise power and influence in Sydney. Those efforts, the impact they had at local level, the resistances they created, form another key theme in New England history.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Geography of New England: Impact of Great Dividing Range

In my last post I looked at the impact of changing communications and especially travel time on our perception of space. I did so because this helps us understand themes in New England history. That post followed an overview of the geography of New England.

In this post I want to extend the discussion by focusing on the impact of the Great Dividing Range and especially the rugged eastern escarpment separating the Northern Tablelands from the coastal river valleys.

The escarpment is central to New England history because of the way it separated inland New England from its coast, making east-west travel difficult. Roads, tracks really, had to be cut along the edge of ridges and were subject to constant subsidence and landslides because of the combination of unstable ground with heavy escarpment rains.

Northern New England from Armidale north was close to the river ports, especially Grafton, on the Northen Rivers. So tracks went through from Armidale to Grafton, Glenn Innes to Grafton, Tenterfield to the Richmond River. Goods, especially wool, moved down those tracks for shipment out by ship, supplies to service inland needs came back.

From Armidale south there were tracks from Armidale due east to Bellingen, from Armidale south and east to Kempsey, from Armidale south and then east through Walcha to the convict settlement at Port Macquarie. Again, goods moved along those tracks to and from the small river ports, although traffic was much lower.

Inland, gaps in the range made north-south traffic down to the Hunter Valley easier in geographic terms than the east-west route.

Sea transport was cheaper than land transport, especially for bulk goods. However, these lower costs had to be offset against the added costs and difficulties associated with crossing the escarpment.

This simple equation determined transport patterns. Freight from the north and east of the Tablelands went east for on-shipment by sea from the northern river ports. Freight from the southern Tablelands and the western slopes and plains went south for on-shipment first from Morpeth, the main river port on the Hunter, and then from Newcastle at the mouth of the Hunter.

This pattern influenced the political battles that helped form New England.

Local interests in the Northern Rivers wanted improved east-west links to attract more inland freight. Grazing and commercial interests inland wanted cheaper and quicker freight routes to the coast. But these improved routes were slow to come, with the first tar road to the coast not in fact coming until the early 1960's.

The constant failure of attempts to gain improved communications fueled resentment against the Sydney Government. It is therefore not suprising that the areas most affected by poor east-west communications formed the heartland of separatist agitation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

On Travel Time and Our Sense of Space

My last post focused on the geography of New England. To move forward on the development of a real history of New England I need to show the relationships between geography and some of the main themes in New England history. But before doing this, I want to stand back and look at the way in which changing communications affects our individual view of the world around us.

Today we live in a world that is both expansive and truncated. Expansive in that communications brings remote parts of the world into our lounge rooms. Truncated in that we know less of our immediate environs. This is partly a matter of individual time, we have access to more information and can only take in so much, but it is also a matter of communications and especially transport time.

Why is this important? Well, as I see it, if you are going to understand the past you have to understand how people thought at the time. This means that you must get out of your own mind frame, back into theirs. And this can be hard because the elements that set our individual mind frames are deeply embedded, unconscious.

To illustrate this, I want to take the New England of 1907. This was the year my grand father arrived in Armidale, starting a love affair with the North that lasted until his death in 1965.

Both population structures and communication systems were very different from those holding today.

The country side had then not be depopulated. The rural population, people living on farms and in centres with a population less than 600, varied from area to area but generally made up between 43 and 60 per cent of the total population. A further 16 to 23 per cent lived in towns and villages whose populations ranged between 600 and 2000. (Data drawn from D A Aitkin, The Country Party in New South Wales. A Study of Organisation and Survival. ANU Press, Canberra 1972, p5. Since Aitkin's figures are mainly drawn from the 1921 census, they probably understate 1907 rural populations.)

The end result was a diversified population structure ranged in a distinct hierarchy. At one extreme was the locality or rural district, whose total population could reach several hundred. Such localities were usually, as at Arding near Uralla, centred on the school, church and tennis courts. At the other extreme were the larger towns such as Lismore (7,381 people in 1911) offering a relatively wide range of urban services.

In the middle came a variety of towns and villages. These ranged from small settlements with perhaps just a hotel, bakery and general store, to mining centres based on tin and gold, to timber towns nestling in the hills with their small collections of unpainted weather board houses huddled round the mill, to meduim size towns offering a wider range of services to the surrounding countryside.

No matter how small, these various centres sustained a range of community activities such as church groups, sporting clubs and farmers' organisations. The result was a complex web of relationships, linking the community together.

Transport patterns were also very different. The coast was not then linked together by railway, so that for many journeys it was easier and faster for passengers and freight to travel by coastal steamer. Inland, the train was was the key form of north-south transport (east-west transport was very difficult because of the absence of good roads) channelling passengers and freight first to Morpeth and Newcastle and then, by 1907, to Sydney.

Away from the railways and steamer routes, the horse and bullock were still king, with most towns linked by stage coach with a posting station or inn every sixteen to twenty one kilometres. Growing the feed needed to feed the horses was a major local industry. In addition to the roads themselves, New England was linked by an intricate network of stock-routes, along which mobs of sheep and cattle moved continually.

These different settlement and transport patterns helped mould human thinking. Even with the fastest horse-drawn transport, the distance covered in a day was roughly equal to that covered now by car in one hour on a modern highway; tarvelling as the stock moved, that hour became a journey of more than a week. To the New Englanders of 1907, their imediate world was huge. meausred as it was in days or even weeks of travel time.

It was also more sharply focused: slower transport meant that the knowledge of the landscape was greater; insignificant valleys that today vanish in few minutes then stood out in clear relief. Beyond all this, even though there were large areas with few or no people, it was a populated world. The posting stations and inns, the slower transport that allowed travellers to stop and chat, and the many farming settlements, meant that human life was spread across the landscape.

The heightened awareness of their immediate world helped develop strong emotional attachments between people and the districts they lived in. "South of my day's circle, part of my blood's country," one of Australia's leading poets Judith Wright later wrote of the Tablelands (From "South of My Days", J Wright Collected Poems: 1942-1970, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1975 p20).

Such strong local links strenthened local loyalties to the point where they hindered (and still do) cooperation with other towns and districts within New England. But over time they also played an important part in the development of a wider Northern loyalty.

The New Englander's perception of the large size of their immediate world was normally associated with a deep seated belief in its development potential. When this was continually frustrated, strong local loyalties were transformed into a sustained attempt to unite New England in order to radically restructure the existing governmental system.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Geography of New England: Overview

In my first post (on New England, 8 April 06), 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 escparpment 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 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.

Geography of New England: Introduction

My last post looked at the early pattern of European settlement in New England, suggesting that this created an underlying pattern that continues until today.

To develop this theme further we need to understand New England's geography, the way in which climate and landscape have helped shape New England life and history. For that reason, my next posts will focus on geography.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Early European Settlement in New England

My last two posts were concerned with separatist agitation in New England during the 19th century. The pattern of that agitation and the agitation that followed were strongly influenced by early European settlement patterns in New England.

Europeans came to Northern New South Wales in two broad streams.

In the inland, settlement moved from the newly settled areas in the Hunter Valley up through the Western Slopes and the Northern Tablelands and then onto the Northern Rivers and the Moreton Bay (now Queensland) district. On the coast, settlement went from river valley to river valleyby sea. Transport routes mirrored settlement patterns: on the coast shipping was dominant, whereas inland (at least from about Armidale south) the main routes ran overland to the river port of Morpeth on the Hunter River. From Armidale north, transport went south and also east over the rough eastern escarpment for shipment by sea, largely from Grafton which was the major river port on the Clarence.

These early transport and settlement patterns created enduring social and economic links. The Hunter Valley, Western Slopes and, to a lesser degree, the Northern Tablelands formed one embryonic unit. This overlapped with a second grouping consisting of the Tablelands and the Northern Rivers.

South of the Northern Rivers, the coastal zone had progressively less contact with either the Tablelands or the Northern Rivers; by Taree the coastal orientation was exclusively south. The coming of the railways during the second half of the 19th century strengthened the north-south axis (the inland grouping) at the expense of the east-west (the Northern Tablelands-Northern Rivers), but otherwise left the basic pattern unchanged.

This pattern forms a core underpinning in New England history.

References Colonial Period New England New State Movement

In my last post I promised to provide references so that those interested could follow up. A list of references on separation movements in colonial New England follow:
  • S C Caldwell, "New England Politics 1856-1865. An Examination of the Electorate of New England Constituencies which throws some light on New South Wales Politics during the First Decade of Responsible Government", BA (Hons) thesis, University of New England, 1958.
  • U R Ellis, "New Australian States", The Endeavour Press, Sydney 1933. This partisan account (Ellis was a new state activist throughout his long career) remains the only overview of the separation movements across Australia.
  • G J R Linge, "Industrial Awakening. A Geography of Australian Manufacturing 1788 to 1890." Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1979. Linge's focus is far broader than New England. However, his work explains the industrial change leading to the emergence of the Decentralisation Movements in the 1880's including a major focus in Newcastle in southern New England with the first support there for separation. The changing relationship between Newcastle and the rest of New England forms one of the threads in New England history.
  • R L O'Hara, "The Influence of the Moreton Bay Separation Movement in New England and the Clarence", Armidale & District Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, No 11, December 1968. O'Hara's work helps explain why Grafton and the Clarence were such a core centre of new state support.
  • E J Tapp, "The Colonial Origins of the New England New State Movement", Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, Vol 49, November 1963, pp205-221.
  • E R Woolmington, "The Geographical Scope of Support for the New State Movement in Northern NSW", PhD thesis, University of New England, 1966. While Woolmington's core focus is on the later period, his thesis is invaluable in understanding some of the geographical factors underlying support for the separation movement.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On references

A very brief note. Looking at my last post, in future I will post references so that those who are interested can follow up.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

New England's Boundaries

In my last post I referred to the two definitions of New England, the name applied to the Northern Tablelands as compared to the boader area seeking self-government. The boundaries of the second have varied with time.

Moves to create a new state in Northern New South Wales date back to the separation of Queensland from New South Wales. Squatters in the then sparsely populated far north of New South Wales wanted to and indeed expected to be included in Queensland.

When the Sydney merchants persuaded the Government in London to shift the boundary north leaving them in New South Wales, the squatters argued instead for the creation of their own self-governing colony. This initial move died, but then surfaced again in the Clarence Valley driven in part by disputes over the way revenues from land sales were all being spent in Sydney.

The Scottish born clergyman John Dumore Lang played an active role in supporting these agitations. Lang had supported the agitation leading to the previous separation of first Victoria and then Queensland. Now he supported the northen NSW moves in part because it fitted with his vision of the future Federated States of Australia made up of a number of self-governing states each responsible for meeting direct local needs.

These agitations died away, but defined the colonial new state core of New England as the combination of the Northern Tablelands with the nearby Northern Rivers (the valleys of the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Rivers), the mid North Coast as far south as the Manning River, the Western Slopes and Liverpool Plains. In essence, the Tablelands and immediately surrounding areas minus the Hunter Valley to the South.

This was not the end of the story.

As we shall see later, there were powerful economic and social links between the Hunter Valley, Tablelands and Western Slopes, links that made the Hunter a logical part of New England. These links were recognised by New Englanders and encapsulated in the boundaries of the New England New State as recommended by the Nicholas Royal Commission. Those boundaries form the broader New England as I use the term.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On the name New England

The original Australian New England term was applied to New England's Northern Tablelands because the European settlers saw climatic similarities with home. Later the term came to be applied to the larger area of Northern New South Wales seeking self-government.

So today there are two New Englands. The first - often called the New England - refers to the Northern Tablelands. The second refers to the broader new state area.