Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The past is always present

In a comment on my last post on the rise and fall of the paddle steamer, Geoff Robinson spoke of the change in electoral fortunes around Echuca. I commented that I found it interesting the way traditional patterns hold on, just as interesting the way they sometimes change quickly.

In cultural terms, the past is always with us even if we do not recognise it. Sometimes the past takes the form of a granite outcrop, the current Australian fascination with ANZAC day is an example, that all can see. At other times, its influence is far more subtle, largely unseen. Yet it can still be important. In other cases still such as the British empire, the granite that has marked the horizon for generations can suddenly erode in a few short decades.

Over most twentieth century New England the two dominant political parties have been the Labor and Country Parties.

Labor Party influence has been centred on the industrial city of Newcastle and surrounding mining areas. Makes sense, after all, that this should be so in traditional industrial terms. But somehow, at least as I see it, New England Labor has never quite fitted into NSW Labor. The reason for this is simple.

NSW Labor had a strong Irish Catholic influence. This stream controlled the party. By contrast, the immigrants who fed the industrial establishments in Newcastle and the surrounding mines, largely came from England and were Anglican or protestant. They shared the working class tradition, but still belonged to a different group.

There was another factor as well, the continuing conflict between Sydney and Newcastle over trade and commerce. The views of Newcastle Labor could conflict with the interests of the Sydney (Sussex Street) machine. Acute conflict or sense of neglect translated into support for independents.

In my next post I will look at the Country Party.

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