Monday, October 09, 2006

The New England New State Movement and Regional Movements in Australia 1

Graphic: New England New State Movement Anthem, National Library

We will raise the banner of New England
Work for New England, Fight for New England
We will raise the battle cry of freedom
Fight for our Liberty
Part of the New England Anthem

Way up in the north of Northern NSW
There is a new state movement that's sort of on the go
But what will be the capital of this new state of ours?
That is the burning question that's being worrying them for hours
Will it be in Armidale, Tamworth or Bendameer?
Or will it be in Grafton the place where they make beer?
Song, University of New England Student Review, 1960s

This is the first part of what was a much longer post, so long that it became absolutely unreadable. I am therefore breaking it up into multiple posts that I can run over the next week or so.

One of the questions I sometimes get asked, usually out of a vague sense of curiosity since the issue now seems so remote, is why I support a New England New State.

When the Grazier's Association in NSW again suggested new states a year or so back, the metro media was confused about the idea, even those supporting the idea had little sense of the history.

There is a historical discontinuity that grows worse. Nearly all of the leaders of the post war New England Movement are now dead. There has been little academic research that I am aware of over recent decades not just on New England, but the whole Australian regional experience and history.

Regional development has become popular again, but the policy arguments largely ignore past experiences. Those now arguing in favour of regional governments in place of states have, I think, little idea of just how old this argument is, of the differences between that and the new state concept, of the way in which the various issues have been debated in the past through newspapers, public meetings, journals, Royal Commissions, pamphlets and books. An entire slab of the Australian experience has been effectively deleted from both living memory and the pages of history.

Australia's Regional Movements

The New England New State Movement forms part of what I call the regional movements, political, social and cultural responses from regional areas to the challenges they face and especially those flowing from metro domination. The regional movements in NSW that led to the separation of Victoria and Queensland are early examples of regional movements, the rise of the independents in NSW and Queensland the most recent example. Politicians such as Richard Torbay or Tony Windsor sit squarely in a long tradition.

There have been many regional movements between the successful Queensland and Victorian separation movements and today's independents: the other attempts to create new colonies during the nineteenth century; the Decentralisation Leagues that sprang up in the 1880s in Victoria and New South Wales; the regional development and decentralisation campaigns of the early part of the twentieth century; the Country Party; the creation of county councils in NSW; the various twentieth century new state movements across Australia; the populist movements of the depression period including Western Australia's attempts to secede from the Commonwealth and the threatened secession from NSW of New England; the regional councils movement associated with post war reconstruction; the various regional university movements; the growth centres concept of the Whitlam Government.

To the degree that they are still written about, many of these various movements are presented as populist conservative in a historical frame determined by metro focused conventions. Thus the potential secession moves - the break up of NSW - in the period leading up to the dismissal of Jack Lang are presented, if even recognised, as a footnote within a frame set by New Guard and Old Guard, radical and conservative responses to Lang.

These moves were much more than this because they drew from an incipient sense of regional nationalism, were led by dominant regional leaders, had press support and were set within a historical frame created by years of political endeavour. They had also defined a constitutional base for irregular action based on the case of West Virginia, drawing from advice provided by J G Latham among others.

Coming Posts

In my next post I will look briefly at just how close NSW came to break up in 1932, writing not from the conventional metro perspective, but looking at it as a New Englander who could have wished for a different outcome.

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