Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New England Australia - the siblings

So much to write about, so little time. This is much on my mind tonight.

Earlier this week I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Australia. New England as I define it, an area the size of England with enormous diversity, gets just 35 pages in a book of 1,120 pages. Further, the New England sections are very fragmented with no historical context. Just to put this in context, the ACT gets 21 pages, Kangaroo Island 6 pages.

This blog has only been going since 8 April. Yet already I hope that I have been able to give a feel for the diversity and depth of the New England experience. Four significant Australian airlines began in New England before vanishing. Pound for pound, New England has generated at least as many writers than any other area of the country. We have more major national parks than any other equivalent area. We have three wine regions. And so it goes on.

All this is submerged in Sydney and NSW. If only the New England New State Movement had been able to achieve self government, then we might have least warranted Tasmania's 95 pages, South Australia's 89 pages in the Lonely Planet Guide, including a proper state introduction.

As a way of setting a frame, I had been going to return to the history of New England, providing a time line for separation agitation in the twentieth century so that you could see how developments fitted to this. Then Janet Howie, the daughter of Professor Howie, rang me, reminding me of another unique New England experience.

The term "the siblings" is used to describe the children of the staff of the New England University College. As Janet said, we can talk as cousins even though we have no blood connection simply because we share an intense experience, an experience share by no other Australians. How to explain this?

The New England University College was founded in 1938 as a college of Sydney University. This would not have happened without the New England New State Movement and the agitation and linkages it created.

Armidale was already a major education centre, with a range of public and private schools and the Armidale Teachers College (ATC). Founded in 1928, ATC was seen by its core founder, David Drummond, as a first step in creating the educational base necessary to support the future New England State. The University College was the next step.

While Armidale was a major educational centre by then Australian standards, it still had a population of only around 7,000 and was a city because of its two bishoprics. Into this small community came a small group of academics from around the world. Some were already married, some single and ended up marrying local girls. In dad's case, David Drummond's daughter.

Life was intensely local. There was no TV. Sydney was totally remote, eight hours away by train, more by road. No plane. We walked, rode our bikes, went on broader picnics by car.

But life was also international. Our parents had all travelled, many went on sabbatical leave to other countries especially the UK.

As a child I rarely read the Sydney papers. They came late and said little that was relevant. But for years I read my father's Economist I knew nothing of Sydney politics, but could tell you a lot about the latest political developments in the US or UK. I mean a lot. I could tell you the results of a US primary and why when I had no idea of a Sydney by-election.

Life was not always easy for the siblings. Our fathers especially were away for extended periods. When dad went away on a Fulbright scholarship he was gone for twelve months. Our teachers expected us to be bright. This held regardless of ability and circumstance. We also found problems in fitting in.

When my parents with my grandfather's support decided to send me to The Armidale School (TAS), the local Anglican GPS (Greater Public School) , I entered the loneliest period of my life. The boys at TAS were mainly from the land, so I as an academic's child had little in common. The town boys resented the fact I had gone to TAS, at one point chasing me across town until I escaped them by hiding under a car.

Things change. My role in scouts, I became a patrol leader, gave me a solid base in town. Then I finally broke through at TAS to the point that my last two years there stand out as the happiest years of my life. But things were very tough for a period.

Coming back to the siblings. Our experiences, for both better and worse, cannot be duplicated. Here I am enormously pleased that some are now being recorded so that they will not be lost.

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