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.

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