Sunday, January 31, 2010

Newcastle, Armidale and the process of community renewal

On Facebook, the American writer Kanani Fong wrote a note about urban recovery and development for a friend. At my request, she has kindly published it as The Local Economy: More Business Close Or Pull Out on her Get Lost with Easy-writer blog.

I found Kanani's post interesting for several reasons.

The US's sheer size means that the country has experienced rises and falls of cities and regions on a scale far beyond that in Australia.

The attached photo of Detroit's Michigan Central railway statioDetroit Michigan Central Stationn is from Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline, a photo essay by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Skepticlawyer wrote a nice companion post, Ozymandias or, when a city dies.

I think that we can learn from the US experience.

Kanani's post really centres on possible responses to urban decline. She points to the way in which different decisions can affect down town areas, suggesting too that cooperative local action is one way of addressing the problem.

I grew up in Armidale. The city then had a small, compact downtown centred on three Beardy Street blocks. Newcastle was and remains New England's big city. Visiting Newcastle as a child, I found the downtown area with its ships, trains and shops quite fascinating after Armidale's small scale. The nearby BHP steel works (BHP was so big in Newcastle terms that it was just called the BHP) added to the fascination.

Today, the old Newcastle CBD has become something of a wasteland in part because of construction of suburban shopping malls. How to reclaim and revitalise the CBD has become a major issue.

In Armidale, the construction of new shopping centres to the west and east of Beardy Street and now the construction of a giant new Bunnings store a few blocks to the south-east of Beardy Street poses significant problems for the coherence of the central city and to the place of Beardy Street in its heart. Whatever the advantages of the malls and super-stores are in shopping terms, they are generally not attractive buildings.

I could, rightly, be accused of a degree of nostalgia for the past. Change happens. However, I think that there needs to be a greater degree of community involvement and debate in the change process.

At present, this is generally reactive, often just short term NIMBY (Not in My Backyard). NIMBY is not necessarily bad. Of course, arguments about the Armidale or Newcastle CBD's are local arguments and must reflect local concerns. However, I would argue that there needs to be broader debate about the type of New England we want, not just localism. How might all the bits fit together?      




Saturday, January 30, 2010

New England Motor Company - Lismore

Nemco buses

Over time, I have carried a fair number of posts dealing with New England Airways.

In those posts I picked up references to George A Robinson's motor transport interests. However, I had no idea until I finally read Joan Priest's Virtue in Flying, a biography of pioneer aviator Keith Virtue (Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1975) just how important those transport interests were.

This photo shows two of the buses belonging to Robinson's Lismore based New England Motor Company.

It's not a good reproduction, but it does give you a feel for the time.

NEMCO was a pretty big operation, big enough to provide not just financial support to the unsubsidised New England Airways, but also core technical and logistical support.

Both were critical. NEA was the only major unsubsidised airline, while it began at a time when you had to be able to maintain and sometimes rebuild your planes by yourself independent of outside support. Damage from hard landings had to be fixed, while the engines themselves could be very cranky.

Mechanical knowledge was therefore critical. Here NEMCO's need to maintain its own buses meant that it had the mechanical skills to support the airline and especially in the critical early days before NEA got big enough to establish its own service facilities.

According to scuba on the Bus AustraliaNEW ENGLAND MOTOR CO LISMORE NSW WHITE MO-7390 web site, the first bus in the top picture, the WA 20 White was built by NEMCO in their own garage. I wonder how many current Australian bus lines could actually build a bus?

The second colour photo shows another variant photographed in Kirklands Garage several years after their purchase of NEMCO.

Scuba also reports that the Ranger, the second bus in the top photo, was one of a pair built by Athol Hedges in Northgate (Brisbane). These were purchased for the Lismore - Tenterfield run, but were also used on the Lismore - Brisbane run in later years until the sale of the company in 1970.

The next photo is a more modern photo of one of the Rangers.

The roads these buses travelled along could be quite dreadful, clouds of dust when dry, clinging mud when wet.NEW ENGLAND MOTOR CO LISMORE NSW AEC RANGER MO-347

Now I have discovered just how important the New England Motor Company was, I am keen to learn more. 

Here I discovered from scuba that there is a history of NEMCO - Kevin R Kirkland, comp, Life’s a journey: the Kirkland and New England Motor Company story. Lismore, the author, 1999.

There are two copies in the Lismore Historical Society collection. A trip to Lismore? 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Further musings on the My School web site

I have just finished a post on my personal web site, Media reactions to the My School web site. Bear with me a little if I just muse here from a particular and personal New England perspective.

In considering schooling, the standard of a school is set not by absolute results, but by how well the school does for its pupils considering the cohort those students come from. At a personal level, our choices about the schools for the girls has been based on the question of fit.

Before going on, the Sydney Morning Herald has released NSW school rankings based on the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy) results. You will find the primary results here, the secondary results here.

I began my primary education at the Armidale Demonstration School, now the Armidale City Public School (rank 187), as did a lot of far more successful people than me. My Aunt taught at Ben Venue (rank 179), Drummond Memorial School (rank 367) is named after my grandfather.

My eldest daughter started at Newling Public School (rank 311) then went to the New England Girls School (primary rank 131) almost by accident because she won a scholarship. Clare, youngest, joined her there.

At secondary level, I went to The Armidale School (rank 212). By now my aunt had moved to teach at PLC (secondary rank 66), my first really serious girlfriend was going to the New England Girls School (secondary rank 147), most of my Armidale mates went to the Armidale High School (rank 399).

When we came to Sydney the girls completed their primary education at St Catherine's Waverley (rank 94) and then did their secondary education there too (secondary rank 68). We deliberately chose St Catherine's because it was non-selective.

Does the higher NAPLAN ranking for St Catherine's mean that the girls got a better education there than they would have in Armidale? Absolutely not. Would the girls have got a better education at the top three ranked NAPLAN schools (James Ruse Agricultural High School, North Sydney Girls High, North Sydney Boys High)? Absolutely not. In fact, it would probably have been a disaster!

I have deliberately chosen Armidale to make my point because I know it best and because it is such a major educational centre. Similar arguments can be applied to other parts of New England.

I get so tired of some of this stuff.

I was at a lunch Tuesday and there was a discussion on university education. I made a point about the value of a University of New England education. A friend of many years looked at me strangely and said but they won't meet people. By this, he really meant access to high level people.

I actually got quite angry. We both have kids at the University of New South Wales. I asked him how many contacts his son had made of this type, already knowing the answer which was, of course, almost none. The place is just too big. I then said that it was in fact easier to build networks at UNE because of its smaller size.

The risk of the My School web site is that it is likely to further entrench this type of prejudice. If you look at the geographic classifications attached to schools, there are just two, metropolitan and provincial.

The subdivision between the two is, I think, based on the ARIA distance based geographic classification where metropolitan equals major city as defined by ARIA, provincial the rest. This means, for example, that schools in Tweed Heads, Maitland, Cessnock and Newcastle are classified as metropolitan, those in Lismore, Armidale, Tamworth or Coffs Habour are provincial.

Even expressed in this way, you can see that metropolitan/provincial as geographic descriptors have very little meaning. However, there is something worse, and that is the way in this country provincial has the meaning controlled from outside, second rate. We simply do not have the admittedly sometime imperfect US capacity of being able to attach excellence to things independent of location.

As a senior public servant and then as a consultant I work with words and mental constructs all the time. As part of this, I did things like change the words used in order to change sometimes deeply held perceptions.

To a substantial degree, New England and its schools are caught in a trap set by current mental constructs and their associated words. It is very hard to see how to break out.    


I wrote above:

The subdivision between the two is, I think, based on the ARIA distance based geographic classification where metropolitan equals major city as defined by ARIA, provincial the rest. This means, for example, that schools in Tweed Heads, Maitland, Cessnock and Newcastle are classified as metropolitan, those in Lismore, Armidale, Tamworth or Coffs Habour are provincial.

I was partially incorrect. The My School web site states:

Description of where the school is located, with four classifications of metropolitan, provincial, remote and very remote outlined here. More specific definitions are provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

So it is an ARIA based classification, with provincial apparently combining inner and outer regional.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Using the My School web site to analyse patterns of disadvantage within New England

As reported in Australia's new My School web site goes live - more or less, I managed to spend a little time on Commonwealth Government's new school ranking web site between its crashes.

In this post, I just want to point out that the new site provides some very useful data for all those interested in New England education and who are concerned, as I am, about the growing incidence of social disadvantage within New England.

While the focus in discussion has been on individual schools and comparisons between schools, the data actually allows relative disadvantage in schooling to be plotted on a geographic basis. This is potentially very useful when it comes to mounting a case for extra funding support.

Just a thought.   

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Belshaw's World - Kempsey disaster – six killed, huge damage

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  20 January 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

On Wednesday 31 August 1949, the Armidale Express carried a special appeal from the Mayor of Armidale, L E Dawson.

Launching a Mayoral Appeal, Alderman Dawson said:

“The citizens of Kempsey have indeed suffered a major catastrophe, and our hearts go out to them in their distress and our sympathy is with families who have lost loved ones in the flood. As usual, Armidale citizens will, I know, do all that is expected of them.”

The previous Friday, 26 August, Arthur Lindeman had come on duty at Kempsey Aeradio at midnight.

Located at Kempsey airport, Kempsey Aeradio was one of twelve original stations built by AWA in 1938 to try to make the skies safer following several crashes.

Manned by a staff of five, the station provided communication between Brisbane and Sydney on a point-to-point Morse channel, with aircraft overflying Kempsey on a 24-hour basis. One of the prime navigational aids used by aircraft was a 33Mc Radio Range located on the airport, an NDB (non directional beacon) and a rotating light.

Kempsey Airport itself supported an intermittent Anson aircraft service to and from Sydney, along with and a Sunderland flying boat service to Taree, Port Macquarie and Grafton with road connections to Kempsey. Aviation pioneer and TAS old boy P G Taylor was one pilot on the Sunderland service.

It had begun raining very heavily. By 2 am the rain was torrential. Lindeman explained the situation to the Flight Checking Officer at Sydney and requested permission to close the station. A regular freighter was due out of Brisbane about this time and permission was refused.

“At about 3.30 am the wife of a local farmer and her young son arrived and asked if I had been outside lately”, Lindeman later recalled. “The water was lapping the top steps, a depth of about four feet. Equipment which could be moved was placed as high as possible after advising Sydney and Brisbane that the station was closing.”

With dawn breaking, the party headed across the airport for higher ground

There were snakes everywhere. As they passed through the airport gate, they eyed the snakes that coiled themselves round the fencing wires and gate posts.

Belgrave St Kempsey looking west from the road bridge in 1949 Rain continued, especially on the Saturday when another eight inches fell. The effects were devastating. It was pitiful”, Lindeman said, “to witness houses, outhouses and belongings being washed down the river.”

The photo shows Belgrave Street looking west from the road bridge.

Six people died in the flood, including a 13-year-old boy on a horse at Smithtown who drowned after he went out by horseback to get some cattle in for his dad. Rescue efforts were hampered by the collapse of the telephone system and the flooding of the local radio station.

Lindeman and his colleagues got the station operating again from temporary accommodation in the Police Station. However, Kempsey Airport communication and navigational facilities were never fully restored, leaving primary responsibility with Coffs Harbour.

Armidale citizens responded to the Mayor’s Appeal.

Rotary Club President G A Mills announced that the Club had given the Kempsey Club £25 to disburse as the Kempsey Club saw fit, while Armidale citizens donated generously to the Mayor’s Appeal.

Sixty years later, August 2009, Kempsey commemorated the disaster with a special exhibition organised, appropriately, by the Kempsey SES.

This year has seen more major floods at Kempsey, if not on the scale of 1949.

The Armidale-Kempsey Road once again collapsed. Perhaps, this time, we may see a better all-weather road as a result.

Note on sources: This column is drawn especially from the records of the Airways Museum and Civil Aviation Historical Society, Armidale Express, Mcleay Argus.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Welcome visitor 28,000

Welcome to visitor 28,000 who came from Sydney via a Google search on inverell fire byron arcade.The post I did yesterday on the fire, Fire guts Inverell's historic Byron Arcade, attracted quite remarkable traffic. 69 of the last 100 visitors went directly to that page.

I am quietly pleased with the increased traction on this blog. Over the recent group of 100 visitors, the average number of page views per visit was 1.8, the average visit length 2:31 minutes. The average number of return visits over the last week was five per day, so that there is at least someone out there who reads the blog on a regular basis. The number of registered followers is up to seven, not a large total of course, but still nice. 

I still have something of a battle in choosing what to write about. This includes maintaining balance between current and historical events, between different areas within New England, between straight reporting and analysis.

I doubt that I will ever get the balance right. Still, I am getting a lot more feedback now including new material. This helps, because I like writing with an audience in mind.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fire guts Inverell's historic Byron Arcade

Back in July 2008  in a New history of Inverell's Byron Arcade I wrote of the work of the Inverell Family History Group in documenting the history of Inverell's historic Byron Byron Arcade fire NDLArcade. Sadly, the building has now been gutted by fire.

The attached photo from The Northern Leader shows the scale of the fire.   Thirteen weatherboard units and six businesses in the CBD were destroyed.
While my thoughts are with the twelve people made homeless by the fire and the business owners who have to rebuild, I also thought of the loss of Inverell's history.

The Family History Group itself lost its office in the blaze. I imagine that this included a lot of carefully collected records.

Inverell has been very lucky in the work of its local historians, including Elizabeth Wiedamann's two books. Elizabeth and I did postgraduate studied together at UNE and I have recently been re-reading the first volume (here and here). As Elizabeth records, Inverell has had a history of fires in the main street.
John Caling kindly sent me some photos of the aftermath of the fire, supplied to him by a relative in the Family History Group.

This first photo shows the front of the building after the fire from roughly the same positByron Arcade after fire Jan 2010 6.ion as the first photo.

At the time of the fire, the Inverell District Family History Group was working on a Pioneer Register and was seeking contributions from the community. The Register was to include include the names of people who lived in Inverell and surrounding areas prior to 1910.

My family will miss out on inclusion since we came a little later. In 1912 my grandfather, David Drummond, came to Inverell to manage Maxwelton, a wheat block created out of the newly subdivided Bannockburn Station. Mum was born while they were living there, so I can claim a personal Inverell connection.

We have some family photos of this period. I must do a post or posts some time on the Inverell Byron Arcade after fire Jan 2010 2. connection. Its actually quite important in our family history.

The last photo is another shot of the damage from a different perspective.

I hope that the Family History Group has a copy of the material already collected on the Pioneer Register.

It must be very hard from their viewpoint to face the challenge of re-building.  


I have been getting a lot of hits on this post, so that I thought that I should do a progressive update just pointing to key press articles. I will continue the update over the next few days:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wikipedia and the history of New England

In Hunter Valley calls for a Northern NSW New State I referred to a recent set of comments from the Hunter on the need to revive the New England New State Movement. In saying that I would respond to the comments, I meant in part that I would provide some basic history of the New England New State Movement. This is simply not available anywhere on line.

Remembering that what is not recorded and presented is forgotten, I want to use this post to make a few brief comments about the Wikipedia coverage of New England history.

Wikipedia is very important. For a very large number of people, Wikipedia is the first port of call. If you are not on Wikipedia, you do not exist.

The problem that then arises is that the Wikipedia coverage of New England and New England history is quite dreadful. To understand this, we need to look at the way Wikipedia operates.

Wikipedia depends on individuals putting up content on a voluntary basis. As content is posted, it is amended, extended, by others. Herein lies the problem.

Wikipedia is presently carrying out a strategic review. This is actually very important for all of us who use Wikipedia as a resource.

The statistical data collected as part of this review shows that the creation of Wikipedia has slowed down. Further, the loss of active editors (those who amend or create Wikipedia pages) is now getting close in numbers to the creation of new editors.

The problem is most acute for what we can think of the minority topics, the narrow slices, where content actually depends on a small number of people or even single individuals. Problems with whales attracts many, the entire sweep of New England history attracts few.

Fair enough, some might say. However, it means that the single most important source of on-line information about the history of specific areas such as New England is completely deficient.

As a blogger, I can and do put information up. However, if you do a web search on New England Australia Wikipedia comes in number one, this blog comes in number eight. Actually, that's not bad, but it still means that those interested in historical material will go to the Wikipedia page.

If you do go to the Wikipedia page, you will see that is focuses on the Tablelands or the New England North West. At one point, I did add some broader material, but it seems to have been edited out. You might think that there would instead be a section on Northern NSW - the area was called the North, Northern NSW or the Northern Districts before the name New England was adopted - but this does not exist.     

The only reference to Northern NSW is the separate Northern state soccer league, something I dealt with in Belshaw's World - Ampol, New States and Soccer. This article is a stub and is also, as I have just realised, factually incorrect. The league's coverage is not limited just to the north coast.

The New England page does contain a cross-link to the New England New State Movement. I edited this one to provide a better overview, but it is still very much a stub. Note, too, from the discussion page that the topic is rated as of low importance in terms of NSW or Australian history.

I plan to amend this page, but in doing so I face some major problems.

The first is that the Wikipedia pages do not allow original research. I have to link to already published stuff. I can do this - the references at the end of the page were added by me - but it is a limit where so much of the history including some of my own work is in thesis form. I also cannot use my blog writing as sources.

The second is that supporting pages that might add credibility but also, and more importantly, allow people to follow up do not exist.  Just to take two examples:

  • there is no page on Ulrich Ellis who was not just the Movement's Director in the last stage, but a historical writer, Page's private secretary and a Canberra self-government activist. The same holds true for most of the other figures in the movement. Those covered such as David Drummond are in the stub class.
  • not one of the Royal Commissions and Inquiries forced by the Movement at either state or federal level are mentioned anywhere, let alone have a page. The current Australian Republican Movement, in fact, seems to get more coverage than a hundred years of previous constitutional discussion.

It is not an easy thing to address this type of gap. I will try because it is important. But lord, the time involved!     

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Border myopia and problems with maps

I have often complained about border myopia, the way in which political or administrative boundaries blind us to other things including underlying geographical realities.

I know New England quite well. However, I am really struggling just at present to come to grips with exact geographic patterns in the north eastern mountain and coastal section where the formal NSW and Queensland boundaries cross geographic features. I need to see the geography independent of these boundaries. This is remarkably hard to do.

Why is this important? Well, in looking at what would become New England in Aboriginal times, I have to write about what was independent of later boundaries. This means writing about the geographic extensions of New England within what is now Queensland and the interactions with the areas around.

Then, when the boundaries went through, I have to look the impact this had on life. From that time until today, the interaction between Southern Queensland and Northern New England affects New England life in a whole variety of ways.

In purely geographic terms, a political entity that stretched from the Hunter but included at least what is now the Gold Coast and possibly the Brisbane River on one side, the Darling Downs on the other, would have made a lot of sense. Of course, it would not be New England as we know it today, but it would have made for a far more cohesive system than we have today.     

Student offers out at New England's universities

University offers from New England universities came out during the week. You can find a full list of the UAI cut offs here. I don't have on-line access to the full list. These offers are on top of previous early admission offers.

Down in Newcastle, the Newcastle Herald reports that University of Newcastle has offered more places for undergraduates in 2010, although the extra spots have pushed down entrance scores across the board. At the release of the main round of university offers yesterday, about two-thirds of entrance scores had gone down by between 0.15 and 11.05 points. This was largely due to an extra 630 main-round offers made by the university in what was the first year of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR).

In all, the University of Newcastle made 7712 main round offers, one of its largest offers to date. It included 1369 places in teaching degrees, 630 nursing places and more than 500 spots in engineering.

Moving north, I know that the University of New England has also increased its offers but, to my frustration, I have been unable to find the story giving details. That will teach me not to bookmark!

Moving east, the Northern Star reports that Southern Cross University is offering another 1,000 places in this round.

This year's student intake takes place against a background of fundamental change in the funding of Australia's universities that has led many to expand student offers in advance of funding. How New England's Universities will respond to this is a key issue for the future of higher education within New England.

The University of Newcastle has already indicated its intent to grow to a mega 40,000 strong student institution by 2020. Watch this space!      

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tamworth Country Music Festival 2010 nears its end

Well, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is now almost finished. As you might expect, some of the best coverage is in the Northern Daily Leader and I have been reading it with interest.

I have never actually been to the Festival. This may sound strange given its size and its proximity to Armidale where I lived for so many years. Part of the reason is that my family does not like country music and hence does not want to go. I do, but it is very much a minority taste in this family.James Treloar, Rod Dowsett, Rebel Thomson, Tamworth 2010

The big issue this year at Tamworth that just seemed to run and run and run was the inclusion of non-country elements in the Festival including especially a concert including Australian idol winner and now pop star Guy Sebastian.

It wasn't until half way through the festival that Tamworth Mayor James Treloar (photo with singer Rod Dowsett and Tourism Tamworth's Rebel Thompson) put this one to rest. Tamworth is and would remain country.

It couldn't be any other way, really. However, I don't understand why the story ran in the way it did. There seemed to be internal political overtones among those interested and involved.

I was chatting to a muso friend last weekend. I commented that Tamworth and country music seemed to me to be the only event in Australia that provided something of an articulated career path within a popular singing genre. He agreed in general, but then gave me a quick education in the economics of music in general and country music in particular.

I had no idea just how little money a country singer made, nor of the overall impact of the internet on music. I did in fact know a little about the second, but far too little of the detail.

Something else I must find out more about. I am especially interested in music that in some way links to the New England story. L J Hill's Namoi Mud is an example.    

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Belshaw's World - tragedy in New England skies

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  13 January 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

On Sunday Morning 18 September 1932 a chartered New England Airways Puss Moth took off from Sydney for Brisbane. On board were the pioneer aviator Captain Leslie Holden and his friend Dr George Hamilton, along with pilot Ralph Virtue.

Holden, a member of the pioneering Adelaide motor building firm after whom the car is named, was then thirty seven.

Enlisting in the AIF in May 1915 as a motor driver, he was one of the first batch of 200 volunteers to train in England for the Australian Flying Corps in December 1916. Holden became an ace, famous for his ability to nurse badly damaged aeroplanes home. This earned him the nicknames of 'the homing pigeon' and 'Lucky Les'.

Returning to Australia in June 1919, he became Sydney manager of Holden's Motor Body Builders. However, bitten by aviation bug and with financial support from friends, he bought a D.H.61 biplane in 1928 which he named Canberra.

Flying the Canberra, Holden operated charter flights from Mascot, Sydney.

Holden DH61 Armidale The photo taken by Leslie Henderson, John Caling’s mother's step-brother and a keen amateur photographer, shows the Canberra in Armidale. This was almost certainly the first visit by a passenger plane to Armidale.

In 1926 gold had been discovered at Wau in the then Australian mandated territory of New Guinea. A rush began.

In September 1931, attracted by the aviation opportunities, Holden and the Canberra made what was probably the first flight from Sydney to New Guinea to begin a successful air-freight business.

The second passenger, Dr George Hamilton, was a Macquarie Street skin specialist. Hamilton was a keen aerial photographer and an old friend of Holden’s. They had flown together often, including the famous rescue flight to the Kimberleys where they had found the missing Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm on a mud bank in the middle of a river.

The pilot, Ralph Virtue, was a member of a pioneering New England aviation family.

His father, Robert Virtue, was an Irishman. Hot-tempered, restless and ambitious, he had bought a diary farm at Bexhill near Lismore. This quickly grew to over 1,000 acres.

Ralph’s brother Keith, the youngest son, had become obsessed with flying. Finally, the old man told Keith that if he could get a licence, he would buy him a plane. Keith did, and the plane (a Gypsy Moth DH 60) was purchased.

As soon as Keith had obtained his commercial license, Keith and Ralph set up Virtue’s Air Travel. The new business made a precarious living out of barnstorming flights, flying training and charter along the coast and onto the Tablelands.

In 1930 after purchasing a second plane, Keith went to the New England Motor Company in Lismore to make arrangements for them to become his booking agents.

The proprietor, George A Robinson, had first founded a motor coach service at Kempsey with his brother. He then moved to Lismore to set up New England Motor Co. By 1930 this was a substantial business with services from Brisbane to Nowra.

Robinson agreed to join the Virtues and New England Airways was born, backed by the New England Motor Co.

In early September 1932, Leslie Holden arrived in Brisbane by boat from New Guinea with his wife and three young daughters. The trip was partly holiday, partly to buy new planes for the New Guinea business. On arrival, the family caught the New England Airways flight to Sydney.

In Sydney, Holden and Hamilton decided to join with friends in a holiday cruise along the Barrier Reef. The chartered New England Airways Puss Moth was therefore loaded with fishing gear, camera film, luggage and a small mail bag.

The weather was not good, but all three were used to that.

The craft arrived at Lismore for refuelling at 1.30 pm and took off again.

Crossing the Coorabell Ridge at low height to keep below the clouds, the plane was caught in a sudden downdraught. Half a dozen witnesses saw the plane appear to turn a somersault and then right itself before the left wing broke off, causing it to crash. All three men were killed instantly.

At first, the media blamed the crash on pilot error. However, while the Puss Moth was a beautiful plane to fly, it would be established that the plane had a fatal design flaw that made it prone to break up in certain circumstances.

Note on sources: This post is largely drawn Jane Priest’s great biography of Keith Virtue, Virtue in Flying, along with Carl Bridge’s ADB entry on L J Holden.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New England Granite

For those who do not know Australia's New England, the term is used in two ways.

"The New England" refers to the New England Tablelands, Australia's largest tablelands area stretching from the edge of the Hunter Valley into what is now southern Queensland.

New England without the the - also known as the North, Northern Districts or Northern Provinces - refers to the broader area covering the Tablelands and the river catchments extending from the Tablelands.

Each area has its own unique character, something that I tried to capture a little of in The colours of New England.

In a comment on UNE passings - death of Margaret Mackie (1914-2009),  Kerith Power included the lyrics of a song he had written to celebrate Margaret Mackie. I quote the chorus:

I find my touchstone in the New England granite, feel the bare bone under the skin
Walk on bedrock, feet fairly planted, see the end of all my meanings and where I begin.

New England granite! Those from The New England know the granite. Its outcrops, boulders and soil are central.

Poet Judith Wright's South of My Days is almost the national poem of those from The New England. I reviewed this poem in The Poetry of Judith Wright - South of My Days.  I won't repeat either the poem or the whole post, just one part. 

rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue leaved and olive, outcropping granite

All those from the Tablelands will immediately understand these words. The picture will come to them at once.

As Keith says, granite is the bedrock of New England. This is, indeed, the end of all my meanings and where I begin.    

Thursday, January 14, 2010

UNE passings - death of Margaret Mackie (1914-2009)

I suppose that it is sad but inevitable that we should be experiencing so many deaths just at present of people connected in some way with the early days of higher education within New England.

It is now 82 years since the Armidale Teachers' College was established, 72 years since the New England University College was established, 61 years I think since the Newcastle University College was established. Early staff and student numbers were quite low, but then began to expand from the 1950s as part of the overall expansion within the Teachers' College and University sector.

In New England Story - new states, archives and the preservation of our past I spoke of Alexander Mackie,  a brilliant Scottish-born academic, who had come to Sydney in 1906 to head the newly established Sydney College. Alexander Mackie also became Professor of Education at the University of Sydney.

Margaret, Alexander Mackie's daughter, has just died.

Margaret Mackie … survived by the many students she encouraged.

Margaret came to Armidale in 1951, as a lecturer in education to Armidale Teachers' College . In 1955, when the University of New England established its external studies program, she became involved in teaching external students. She was to spend the rest of her life in Armidale.

Harriet Veitch's obituary of her in the Sydney Morning Herald provides a clear and interesting overview of her life. I will leave you to read it, but I thought that I should provide a few supporting comments.

Margaret Mackie was a very bright woman with a strong personality. I did not know her well, she was rather more a presence.

If you look at the photo, she was a very attractive young woman, but perhaps I am not reading too much into it in pointing to the firm line of her mouth.

If you look at my brief description of her father (link above), you can see that he was a man of firm views. Here I was struck by one comment from Harriet: Margaret ... went on to Oxford, "where her father had promised to send her in lieu of a dowry, and took an MA in ''Modern Greats'' (philosophy, politics and economics)."!

Margaret inherited both her father's interest in education and his emphasis on standards and excellence. Her contributions to education including distant education were significant, as were her private contributions to the community.

At the time Margaret entered teaching, career opportunities for women were limited. Teachers, for example, were still expected to leave teaching on marriage. Today, Margaret would have had more opportunities, but higher education in general and New England education in particular might have been the poorer.


In a comment, Kerith Power bought out the two sides to Margaret Mackie's personality. I thought that I should quote the second half of the comment in the main post because I thought that it was one of the best comments I have had.

Kerith, now a senior lecturer at Monash University wrote:

I owe her a lot. Here is the lyric of a song I wrote for her. She was the best teacher I ever had.

For a Teacher

Some people work with stone and steel
Their work is done; you walk among their buildings, travel on their roads
Some people grow and bake and sell, you taste the fruits, the food of earth
Some people make pictures, or tunes to lift our hearts and make us sing
Some people work with people and never know the alchemy they wring.

I find my touchstone in the New England granite, feel the bare bone under the skin
Walk on bedrock, feet fairly planted, see the end of all my meanings and where I begin.

The seasons turn, and turn again
And sheep like boulders graze among the monuments of stone
Each generation seeks the light, and there you shine, you see beyond the bone
Like New England poplars, new leaves are minted bronze with every spring
New children seek awakenings, and travellers return with dusty wings.

I find my touchstone in the New England granite, feel the bare bone under the skin
Walk on bedrock, feet fairly planted, see the end of all my meanings and where I begin

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Belshaw's World - reflections on the mafia as the clan gathers

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  6 January 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns for 2009 by clicking here, here for 2010 columns
I have been greatly absorbed in family and local history.

This is due in part to people like John Caling who keep on sending me material, including recently a mass of photos! I really love this. But it’s also a side-effect of Christmas.

This year members of the Drummond family gathered at Mt Hotham, our first Drummond clan Christmas for some time.

My mother and her sisters – the girls as they were described to their sometimes annoyance – used to provide the social glue us together. Not just the immediate family, but the broader clan including our grand aunts and uncles and their children.

Note the term “grand”. This came from Aunt Kay (Kath Vickers).

“Dear”, she used to say in speaking about my children, “if we have grandparents, then I am their grand aunt”. Great just didn’t cut it, although Kay was of course great as well as grand!

The family bonds weakened with the girls’ deaths and the family’s geographical dispersal. However, this year cousin Jamie (Kath’s son) was determined to bring us together again for a Christmas gathering of the old type.

This was no easy task, but finally eleven of us gathered on Christmas Day, rising to thirteen on Boxing Day with the arrival of brother David and wife Carol.

We had the ski-lodge to ourselves, making this a truly family gathering. It was also a gathering with a degree of horror: as the eldest grandson, I am now described as the patriarch of our immediate clan. Bloody hell, I still feel too young to be the patriarch of anything!

As watched the great grandchildren playing with each other and listened to the conversations, I fell to musing on the way our own family history is a microcosm of the history of Armidale and the broader North.

My great grandfather John Goode came to the area with the gold-rushes. When I read the controversy in the Express over Captain Thunderbolt, I remembered that John Goode signed the document congratulating Constable Walker on shooting the dangerous felon!

My own grandfather came to Armidale as a farm labourer in 1907. There he met and married Pearl Goode. The newspaper report of the wedding concluded:

“The presents were both numerous and costly and included many substantial cheques”.

The cheques would have been very welcome indeed since David Drummond was managing a newly established wheat block on a share farm basis.

In 1920, Drummond became a local member of Parliament and then later Minister for Education. Here he played a key role in getting first the Teachers’ College and then the New England University College.

In 1938, one James Belshaw arrived in Armidale as the first staff member at the newly established University College, subsequently marrying Edna, David Drummond’s eldest daughter and the College’s first Librarian.

“Drummond founded a University to get a husband for his daughter,” one Labor stalwart rudely remarked!

My grandfather retired as an MP in 1963 and died in 1965. Dad retired in the 1970s, dieing in 1984. Today, none of the immediate Drummond clan lives in Armidale, although members of the Goode family remain.

I find it interesting that just over 150 years since John Goode came to what would become Arding, two of his descendents continue to try to bring the past alive.

The work done by cousin Arnold Goode has been of enormous value in maintaining knowledge of Rocky River, Uralla and Arding.

I am a little different because I am now part of the New England Diaspora, the constant and on-going loss of people from the North. Yet I think that I write for very similar reasons to Arnold.

In this context, I suspect that very few people now in Armidale are aware of the existence of a New England mafia. It seems that you can take people out of New England, but you can’t take New England out of the people!

I have become very aware of the operations of the New England mafia over the last year or so because of my writing, I am of the strong view that Armidale and the broader North need to make better use of its expatriate community.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hunter Valley calls for a Northern NSW New State

Peter Firminger wrote in a comment on New England Story - new states, archives and the preservation of our past:

There is some discussion of the State Movement in the comments at the bottom of They continue onto the second page of comments.
Are you expecting this cause to take off again or just keeping it alive?

I've been reading your material about it and think it's still a great idea - though very unlikely with any colour of NSW Government - except maybe the Greens but that will never happen.

How far south did the proposal extend? I'd love to think it included Wollombi Valley.

I look forward to reading more.

The newspaper story that Peter refers to deals with Upper Hunter anger over coal royalties. This is one of the few growth revenue areas that the Sydney Government has, but very little of this money goes back into the Hunter Valley. A number of comments call for a new state.

I have taken the liberty of repeating the comment stream below.

Spent on Hospitals and Schools!!!!!!! spent on themselves, vote them out!!! Never before in all my years have I had to scrutinise politians like I am having to these days. At next election I will send a letter, e-mail to each one and ask them what are their objectives before I cast a vote and each will get a vote on merrit. Nil reply will get a nil vote.

Posted by Bigbox, 11/12/2009 7:29:26 AM

The Upper Hunter is angry? What about the whole Hunter Region, remember the coal leaves our shores via Newcastle City Harbour. How much of a percentage of money made is coming back to the Hunter Region? The very place the coal comes from.

Posted by cheap skates, 11/12/2009 8:03:58 AM

NSW Government will give the Upper Hunter the equivalent of a Brass Razoo! A "Brass Razoo"was based on the Yankee "raspberry" also called a "razoo", a blurt or mouth-sound made to sound like a fart!

Posted by old boy, 11/12/2009 9:19:27 AM

The people of the upper Hunter deserve their fair share. They also need to build for a future without the coal industry. If I was runnning the local councils I would just invoice the NSW Government for damage to roads, noise polution anything really to get some money. If the more populous areas of the Hunter essentially get very little from the NSW Government what chance do the smaller Upper Hunter communities?

Posted by Ron Burgundy, 11/12/2009 9:24:43 AM

Rather hypocritic don't you think? ... Upper Hunter communities (except Murrurundi) do all they can to oppose coal mining but then want to get their hands on the cash.

Posted by Tiger, 11/12/2009 10:00:48 AM

SO!what has changed, the state government are of the opinion the state only extends as far as the Hawksbury in the north, Engadine in the south and Penrith to the west. Not a thing will happen until New England is created.

Posted by intouch, 11/12/2009 1:01:46 PM

Use your vote for locals at all levels of government.

Posted by Jimbob, 11/12/2009 1:32:59 PM

To the dogs that run NSW the Hunter is so in the ALP's electoral pocket as to be not worth bothering about. Whatever happens the suckers will keep on voting ALP. If the fools really wanted a fair share of the profits from the shortening of their lives caused by PM1-4 coal dusts and power station chemical cocktails destroying their lungs, immune systems, circulatory systems, eyesight, kidneys and livers (children at 4 times the adult rate with 10-30 points lower IQ [for life]) they would make every Hunter seat a marginal ALP seat or even (heaven forbid) a National Party seat. Only then will coal royalties return to the regions before the mongrel industry is finally moved on because of the mammoth cost to public health that exceeds the value of the coal that is dug up. If political change does not occur in the Hunter in the next decade it will be too late as the air, water, land and food chain will be irreparably poisoned. You can't grow food on river flats of opn cut dusted mercury, cadmium, lead, uranium, magnesium and mixed acid salts in air and rain of power station nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and the rest. Breathe deep (if your lungs will let you).

Posted by max, 11/12/2009 9:47:31 PM

intouch - how do we get the New England new state movement back on the agenda? We have known for years that we are the engine room of the state and get a bum deal in return. If anything that bum deal is getting worse. We are being screwed by NSW. The time has passed for calling for our fair share. It is time instead to stop propping up NSW and start forging our own destiny free of that yoke that Macquarie Street has around our necks. We must re-start the new state movement. Are there other like minded people out there who can help?

Posted by Nobbys Head, 12/12/2009 4:41:46 PM

I'm keen Nobby

Posted by old boy, 14/12/2009 1:01:50 AM

Well, Pauline got a party up and running. Only to have the heavies from both parties crucify her. The wave must start some where and keep growing. Another rum rebellion, thats what we need.

Posted by intouch, 14/12/2009 1:47:43 PM

intouch and old boy - lets do it. That's three of us who care enough to want to tell NSW to get stuffed.

Posted by Nobbys Head, 15/12/2009 8:49:50 AM

Hi Nobby, The last time this option was explored there was a referendum, I believe a certain number of signatures were gathered on a petition and representations were followed from there. "old boy" was a young bloke then hair raising around in his FJ doing his best to enjoy life without too much distraction from that pursuit. So I am not sure on the mechanics of that desire for separation from NSW. I am sure there may be some fellow bloggers who may offer advice. All the best mate, you have got my signature and vote if that would eventuate.

Posted by old boy, 15/12/2009 11:56:32 AM

old boy - we have to get together and see if we can actually get a new state movement back on the agenda. This time around a referendum might actually get up.

Posted by Nobbys Head, 16/12/2009 5:24:24 PM

A movement with a goal such as secession can be realised by the position a group of people hold in the community. Such people could be high profile business persons, political "renegades" or union based people. I am not suggesting one particular group. A movement with a goal like this could contain all sector groups mentioned with a common goal. The problem initially, is finding these people with a certain profile to rally the cause.

In response to Peter's question, I said:

Thank you very much for this, Peter. One of the difficulties is the erosion of history. Since the movement died, the whole North has fragmented, making it easy for Sydney to practice divide and rule.

Part of my aim has been to recreate the sense of the North. It still exists in an administrative sense because of geography,but the sense of belonging to a common entity has diminished.

I would have to check the boundaries proposed by the Nicholas Commission to be sure, but I have always written about the Wollombi Valley as belonging to New England. But then, too, boundaries reflect identification.

There are still many of us who want self-government for the North, to get out from under Sydney, as the only way of giving us some control over our destiny. I will respond to some of the comments in a later post.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Congratulations Lynne

Congratulations to Lynne, one of my favourite New England bloggers, and to daughter Kate on the birth of a grand daughter, daughter respectively. Many good things come from Bellingen!

Friday, January 08, 2010

New England's aviation pioneers

Kind of side-tracked this morning writing Stories from the barnstorming days of Australian aviation. I wonder how many North Coast people know that pioneer aviators used to barnstorm along the coast, that the early aviation industry landed on beaches, open paddocks and sometimes roads?

I have written a number of posts on this blog about the history of aviation in New England, including New England Airways and East West Airlines. Time to update and consolidate the story, I think. But this will take a little while!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Water Wars - the Darling floods

floods Nthn NSW Jan09

This rather impressive photo from the Adelaide Advertiser shows the impact of flooding in western New England and Southern Queensland now sweeping down the Darling River. The photo is one of a gallery of fifteen.

The floods are big news in South Australia with a concerted campaign to try to force release of water. In just the one issue of the paper there are multiple campaigning stories: see here, here as examples.

I have a rather different view.

We speak of the Murray Darling basin as though it is a single entity. The common phrase Murray-Darling River system is an example. It is not, for there are in fact two quite distinct systems.

The first is the far larger Murray River system, the second the smaller Darling River system. The difference in scale between the two is shown by the map, the Murray at the bottom, the DaMurray-Darling_basinrling on the left running to the top.

Discussion on the "Murray-Darling system" is driven by the Murray. South Australia's water problems are linked to the continuing drought along the Murray.

The difficulty that arises is that when the Murray is dry, the water in the smaller Darling has to be shared not just by those in the Darling River catchment area, but also those drawing from the Murray below the junction with the Darling.  

This creates a basic asymmetry. If the Darling is dry, those in the Darling basin receive no benefits from any flows on the Murray. If the Murray is dry, those in the Darling can lose water to support those on the Southern Murray.

I recognise that I am simplifying. Still, the practical effect is that those along the Darling can lose out. We have seen this already.

If, as argued, the continent becomes drier, the relatively higher water resources in Northern NSW will be increasingly demanded by those in the drier south. The votes are in the south.

Northern NSW does not have its own political entity. There is nothing to offset the political pressures that will come from the south. The North must lose.               

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Belshaw's World - Christmas Musings

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  30 December 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here

A newspaper column is meant to be a static thing. In fact, the combination with my blogs makes it all wonderfully interactive.

As I write I have just received an email from John Caling. One of John’s friends in Armidale kindly sent him a copy of my column on Armidale’s Greek cafes.

John, a member of the Sourry family, sent me material on the family with a small correction to the information from John Hamel that formed the core of my post.

I am going to add John C’s information and then recirculate. If I do this and then lodge a copy with the Heritage Centre, we have a record that people can turn to.

If you are from one of Armidale’s Greek families and would like your story included, please contact me.

On a related matter, John C and I were in the same class at Armidale Dem. You can always tell an older Armidale person – they always talk about Dem!

A while back, Bruce Hoy sent me a photo of our fifth year class and I wrote a bit of a story about the year on one of my blogs.

Bruce’s dad was the mechanic at New State Motors, the Holden dealers. His older brother, along with others including John Hamel, was in the Armidale High Leaving Certificate of 1953 that featured in Don Aitkin’s What was it all for?, a book that I have referred to before.

Quite often, I would go up to Bruce’s place in the morning. Spade in hand, we would go down to Dumaresq Creek just below his house and build dams and other civil engineering works!

Not allowed today, of course. Probably not then. However, I still remember the thrill as we broke the dam and the water rushed down the creek!

Returning to the photo, memory is an imperfect beast. I simply cannot remember all the people in the photo Bruce sent me.

If you were at Dem in our year and can help with names and stories, please email me and I will send you the photo. I thought that I might do a story on our class.

Turning to other matters, this time last year I spoke of Christmas in New England, of the return of those away from home who came back to be with family.

As a child, Boxing Day was the most boring day of the year.

The lead up to Christmas was always exciting, as was Christmas Day itself. Then came this day when nothing seemed to happen. We might go for a picnic, but it was all very anti-climatic.

As I grew older, and especially after I left home, my views changed. Boxing Day was still quiet, but it was also the start of a very pleasant period.

Each place has its own rhythms. Armidale is no different. Once the University and school break begins, the city goes quiet. But that is only on the surface.

Some of those returning to Armidale for Christmas leave immediately, more stay until New Year.

This is the time for visiting, for playing golf or tennis, for catching up with those that you have not seen for twelve months.

Now that this after Christmas period is no more for me, I look back with a degree of nostalgia.

None of us can go back. But at least the contacts keep the memory alive.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Armidale Kempsey Road Passing Cars 1920s

Following Armidale Kempsey Road Bullock Drays 1920s, another photo from John Caling, this time a family shot on the Armidale Kempsey road on the way to holiday at Port Macquarie.

If you click on the photo you will get far more details. I would be interested in your comments because I think that there is some fascinating stuff in the detail.  

Monday, January 04, 2010

Armidale Kempsey Road Bullock Drays 1920s

John Caling kindly sent me these photos of the Armidale-Kempsey Road in the 1920s. If you click on them, they blow-up to a larger size.

The first photo shows a bullock dray hauling timber turning one of the narrow bends.  You can get a feel for size and the degree of difficulty involved.

The next photo shows, I think, the same dray around the bend. Again, it gives a feeling for size.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New England Story - new states, archives and the preservation of our past

By one of those accidents I so love about blogging, some did a blog search on Armidale. This led me to Paul Barratt's Jim Belshaw on Leslie Hubert Holden, a rather nice response to a post I had written. It also lead me to Archives Outside, a very good blog on archives across NSW.

Now I am often very critical of the what I see as the nonsense coming from the Sydney Government. But here I have to give credit where it is due. Our friends at the NSW State Archives have created a very good blog indeed for all those interested in regional history.New England Flag

The photo of the New England flag comes from  “This is all very silly” : An interesting start to a regional archives, a post by William Oats on the  creation of what was, I think, the first regional archives in NSW. Dear the story took me back.

I quote:

In 1947, the Warden of the New England University College (NEUC), Dr Madgwick wrote to the Under Secretary of Justice of NSW stating ‘This was all very silly.’ He was referring to a decision that records located in the Armidale Court House could only be researched by NEUC staff and students  at the State Library in Sydney( over 500 kilometres away). Local access to historic records was forbidden.

The desire to preserve local and regional records was not new, reflecting a long-standing sense of Northern NSW or New England consciousness. To understand this, we need to look at some history and especially the the campaign to achieve self-government for the North and the way this interacted with other things.   

HRCP2419-New-State-Float-1963 To set something of a context for this, the next photo from the same post shows a New State Float at Newcastle in 1963.

This was towards the height of the third wave of agitation to achieve self-government: the first took place in the 1920s, the second the 1930s, with the third starting following the end of the Second World War. During the second wave, the name New England was adopted as the preferred name for the new state. These waves set a context for the story that follows.

The story really begins in 1927.

The announcement in December that year that a Teacher’s College was to be established in Armidale, the first decentralized education institution, was not welcomed by all. According to CB Newling, the newly appointed principle, the Armidale proposal met active hostility within the Sydney press, among city interests and within the NSW Department of Public Instruction.[i] Perhaps most importantly, potential students fearful of the likely standards of the new college, were reluctant to leave Sydney for the bush.

The College had some powerful supporters who were fully aware of these reservations.

To David Drummond as Minister and also local member, the College was a chance to establish a country college for country kids. The College was also intended as one key building block in the creation of the infrastructure required to support a Northern State.

To S H Smith as head of the Department, the College was a chance to put his own ideas into practice.

Smith was then in his early sixties[ii].Handsome and intelligent, with a commanding presence and a beautiful speaking voice, he was also shy, fussy, sensitive and vulnerable to personal attack. A man of limited formal education, Smith had entered the teaching service in 1879 as a pupil teacher, and had worked his way up though the ranks, becoming Under-Secretary in 1922 upon the retirement of the famous Peter Board. There were those who affected to despise Smith because of his lack of formal education; Smith knew this and, sensitive on this point himself, was deeply wounded by it. Drummond’s awareness of his limited own education, he had left school at twelve, probably helped him to manage his new Permanent Head. Certainly he understood Smith, and the two men became close.

Smith had clashed with Professor Alexander Mackie, the head of Sydney Teachers, College and the stormy petrel of NSW education. Mackie, a brilliant Scottish-born academic, had come to Sydney in 1906 to head the newly established Sydney College. He was a man of strong views who believed that that the main emphasis in teacher training should be academic, that the independence of Sydney Teachers’ College must be preserved, and who had little time for financial or other constraints on his activities[iii].

Smith took a different view. Bound up in the day-to-day problems of State education, he regarded the College’s job as training those teachers the Department required in the way the Department required. Smith also disagreed with Mackie as to the most desirable form of teacher training: while not opposed to academic training, Smith thought that Mackie’s academic bias meant ill-trained teachers, and instead supported a more vocationally-oriented training.

These differences in approach would have made for difficulties anyway, but their personalities compounded problems. After Smith made a surprise inspection of Sydney Teachers’ College in 1927, Mackie wrote to him that such inspections could ‘only be done competently by a person with the necessary qualifications.’ He went on: ‘The inspection of highly qualified specialists on the College staff should be entrusted to men and women with similarly high academic qualifications and with extensive experience of College work.’[iv] Nor surprisingly, Smith found this letter ‘offensive’[v]. For Smith’s part, he later commented sarcastically to Drummond that Mackie had ‘that type of mind which is usually associated with the Scottish metaphysician.’[vi]

The combination of committed Minister and Under-Secretary would have been irresistible in any case. However, they were joined by two other men.

A W Hicks, the very able local inspector who became a key Drummond aide and who would later occupy senior positions in the Education Department, took care of local logistics, while C B Newling as the College’s first Principal provided very strong leadership. Newling’s authoritarian style, his nickname was Pop, would not be acceptable today but was critical at the time.

Armidale Teachers College In combination, these men were determined that the venture would succeed. Drummond in particular pushed construction forward as fast as possible with almost obsessive attention to the most minor details, from the type of tap to be used in the washroom to the way in which pines should be planted in the playing fields.

The result was a magnificent building (photo).

It is in the focus on details of the College and in the associated attempts to gain political support that we can see the Northern influence.

The Northern press had welcomed the College’s establishment, looking forward to the establishment of a Northern university.[vii] For his part, Drummond matched the press comment with a carefully marshaled public relations exercise. The Mayor of Armidale, Morgan Stephens (another new state supporter), was asked to organize a dinner to mark the opening of the College: the dinner should be attended not only by people from Armidale, but from the North in general to mark the fact that this was a Northern occasion[viii].

Drummond’s move was both political and ideological. The ideology lay in his deep belief in the North and of the role of the people of the North in deciding their own future.

The same belief is shown in his request to the Department to obtain pictures for the proposed College gallery from the NSW Gallery, pictures that would illustrate among other things the history of the North.[ix] On that same day, he asked that a similar request be made to the National Museum for specimens for the College Museum. These should include ‘specimens definitely granted to the College to hold in trust for the people of the Northern Districts for all time’ and also ‘specimens which are intimately connected with the natural development and pursuits of the district’[x].

In 1938 after a final, sometimes desperate battle, the establishment of the Armidale Teachers' College was followed by the establishment of the New England University College. From the beginning, the new institution saw its role in part in terms of the promotion of New England and the recording and preservation of the area's heritage. Dr Madgwick's 1947 request for local access to historical records fits exactly within the New England tradition.

I won't spoil your enjoyment of Simon's post by providing the later history including the photos of University Archivist Alan Wilkes crossing streams on horse-back, a remarkable sight for anyone who knew Alan! I would add, however, that the University's role in the preservation of regional knowledge and history has been absolutely critical to the very survival of that knowledge and history. This is yet another story that deserves to be told.   

[i] C B Newling, The Long Day Wanes, L F Keller, Hunters Hill, 1973, p66ff.

[ii] The description of Smith is largely drawn from a letter Drummond wrote to Elizabeth Campbell on 1 March 1965. Copy in Drummond Papers, University of New England Archives, A248/1087/6.

[iii] Material on the relations between Smith and Mackie is drawn from E S Elphick, Armidale Teachers’ College: Its Background, Foundation and Early Years, Litt.B thesis, University of New England, 1972, pp70-94. Smith’s views of the clash between himself and Mackie are set out in his minutes to Drummond of 17 November 1927 and 18 September 1928. These minutes (contained in Drummond’s Ministerial Letter Book, Drummond papers, University of New England Archives, A248/Vol.2133, p6 and pp 44-47) give a clear picture of Smith’s attitudes and personality.

[iv] Mackie to Smith, 4 November 1927. Cited Elphick, op cit, p82.

[v] Smith to Drummond, 17 November 1927. Ministerial Letter Book, op cit.

[vi] Smith to Drummond, 18 September 1928. Ministerial Letter Book, op cit

[vii] See, for example, Northern Daily Leader, 29 December 1927.

[viii] Drummond to Morgan Stephens, 27 January1930.

[ix] Drummond to Department, 21 February 1930. Ministerial Letter book, p105.

[x] Drummond to Department, 21 February 1930. ibid, p106-107.