Saturday, March 14, 2009

Belshaw's World - Memories of times past and a restaurant once great

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 18 February 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line.
This column is simply a personal potpourri of some of the things around at the moment in Belshaw’s World.

Last week was my birthday. For my present, my daughters offered to pay for a weekend in Armidale for the whole family. We have to set the date, but it means that we will all be there some time in the next month or so.

I was touched. Since Aunt Kay died, there have been fewer reasons to return.

Last year I ran eighteen full day workshops around the state training community housing managers in new rent setting approaches. This brought me through Armidale twice, in both cases driving between Grafton and Tamworth workshops.

The first time it was cold and damp.

I drove into Armidale a bit after seven in the evening. I was very tired. I had been up since four and still had the Grafton road in front of me, but took an hour just to drive round the town.

On the way out I stopped in front of TAS to smoke a cigarette. The school was brightly lit. I stood there in the mist, thinking of times past.

The second time I made the effort and stayed in Armidale overnight, getting to Armidale from Grafton about eight.

I walked down the road to a restaurant that I had always liked. It had become pretty ordinary. I had been going to write a review for one of my blogs, but decided that the less said the better. Still, it reminded me how things changed.

The same thing happens when I read the Express. There are so few people that I know. Yet despite the changes, Armidale and its surrounds remains my country in a very deeply personal sense. I will be glad to return, as will my girls, both of whom were born in Armidale.

Tuning to other matters, does anybody in Armidale know a cartographer? Let me explain.

Long ago in a dim and distant past, my history honours thesis at UNE was on the economic structure of Aboriginal life in Northern New South Wales – the broader New England – at the time of European intrusion. I was part of Isabel McBryde’s Australian prehistory group, the first ever such undergraduate group at any Australian University.

Reading High Lean Country, I discovered that one James Belshaw mapped the archaeological provinces of New England. After all these years, and assuming that it is the same James Belshaw, I felt flattered. Still, I had no intention of doing so.

I just felt then, as I do now, that you cannot understand history without understanding geography. So my limited maps were intended to set a geographic context.

In writing my thesis, I decided that I would like to write a history of the broader New England starting in pre-historic times then moving to the present. This dream has remained with me, although I had expected that someone else would complete the task. I did not expect the decline in New England historiography that has occurred over the last thirty years. In some ways, we have lost our broader past.

About three years ago I started researching and writing again on New England history. It has now become a passion.

One of my problems is that there are no maps, or at least no on-line maps. And I need maps.

Let me take an example.

I am fascinated by the interaction between Aboriginal groups. Where were they, how did they relate?

When I wrote my thesis, I concluded that the Tablelands itself was a marchland area, with people leaving it at certain times of the year. My views on seasonal migration were conclusively disproved by Luke Godwin. However, I am convinced that the marchland hypothesis itself was correct.

There is some absolutely fascinating stuff here, holding out (as Sue Hudson and I talked about in an email exchange last year) the possibility of writing a fuller history of Aboriginal Australia in New England. Yet I need maps drawn to test and flesh out the argument.

If you know a map maker, please email me. I cannot afford to pay a lot, but am happy to pay standard rates within my limited budget.

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