Thursday, October 05, 2006

History of New England, Australia - Pause for Reflection

Having set the scene with an introduction to the history of New England's railways, I was going to discuss the rise of agriculture. However, I find that there are gaps, puzzles, about some of the structure that I have been using as a historical framework.

Part of this relates simply to dates. More precisely, the absence of them in some cases. Chronology, while somewhat in disfavour today, remains important. There is no point in arguing that a causes b if in fact b came first.

Take the question of freight costs. Yes, the railways were critical to the expansion of wheat production, especially for export markets. But it's not as simple as that. Agricultural expansion in fact began in advance of the railways, notwithstanding the very high cost of horse or bullock transport. The answer here appears to lie in the combination of mining with town growth, increasing the size of the immediate local market. But to check this, I need to say something about mining and its impact. Do the dates fit?

I also need to look again at the history of Newcastle because I have some gaps here. Again taking a transport example. The extension of the Great Northern Railway benefited Newcastle at the expense of Morpeth, that is clear. Again, it is clear that Newcastle lost out to Sydney once the bridge over the Hawkesbury River was completed. But the actual period in which Newcastle held economic sway comes back to railway completion dates and may have been shorter than I thought.

One of my very real difficulties is that there is so little stuff on line and that which is there is fragmented. This simply reflects the fact that no one has really focused on the history of the broader New England - at least no one that I am aware of - over the last twenty five years. That after all is why this blog came into existence.

At the moment I do not have the time or money for that matter to go back into the painstaking business of checking primary sources such as local newspapers or private papers held in the archives. I need to work from my own previous research, from personal knowledge and from what secondary sources there are, pointing to questions and gaps, at least creating the structure for future research.

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