Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Onset of the Great Depression - NSW: how to present?

Photo: NSW Depression Dole camp

In my last post I said that I would talk about the 1932 secession moves within NSW. I have been held up by a few practical issues.

I am trying to write from a New England perspective. This means standing outside the conventional metro frames.

When I came to look at the 1932 secession material - and it is already on blogger in draft, all I have to do is publish - I decided that I should write something about the onset of the depression to set the scene. But the Great Depression was not a uniform experience - measures of unemployment varied from 15 per cent to over 40 per cent depending on area. So one needs to factor this in. Further, there were particular factors that made the NSW state government especially vulnerable - the use of London overdraft finance for example.

No Australian government was equipped to handle the Great Depression. The policy tools developed by John Maynard Keynes did not yet exist. Governments frayed and collapsed. I need to explain this. But in doing so, I face another problem.

I checked with my daughters (19,17). They have no idea who Keynes was. He has vanished. The entire folk memory - the common memory of events and people - has gone.

I first really became conscious of this problem about two months ago when I was writing some material on the wool industry. A friend, late thirties so finishing secondary education in Sydney about 1975, asked me why. She had no idea about the previous importance of the industry or its linkage to Australian history. I then ran some tests asking people about the meaning of words in Waltzing Matilda. It appears we sing the song without knowing the meaning of the words.

I complain about the discontinuity in New England history, the way the past has vanished, but there appears to be a much bigger problem at Australian level. This is not just an issue of knowledge of Australian history itself, but rather more a series of cultural shifts that appear to have progressively cut people off from their shared past.

While I have written on elements of this on Personal Reflections, my concern here is a purely practical one. What does it mean for the way I write? How much additional information must I provide?

At the very least, I need to do some re-writing. Some of my material was written over twenty years ago. I would stand by most facts and interpretations, at this level the material has stood up pretty well to the passage of time. However, I clearly need to add more explanatory material.

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