Just back from Armidale to deliver a paper. I recorded some of my reactions in Return to country. This dealt in part with the role of the University of New England in recording the history and culture of the area. I concluded my post with these words:
I think that one of the best things that we can do for Aboriginal kids is to give them back their history. Not the generalised history you often see, but the actual specific local, regional and language group history.
The first New State manifesto said in 1920:
In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area.
When people say to me that the idea of New England statehood either makes no sense or is dumb because it cannot be achieved, I say don't be silly. Of course constitutional reform is hard. But if it hadn't been for the New State Movement, we wouldn't have had the University of New England. And if we hadn't had the University of New England, then Aboriginal kids in Northern New South Wales would have had no access to their own history.
I think that this is kind of important. We may not have a new state now, but we also have lots of positive results from previous agitation.
In the two papers I have delivered in Armidale this year, the listening audience has been quite old, old enough to remember some of the things that were done in the past. The younger demographic has no memory of past struggles. Their history has been truncated, cut off.
To my mind, this is a very real problem. If we cannot explain our past, then New England will vanish, squeezed between Sydney and the national.
I think that this would be a tragedy.