Browsing the Sydney Morning Herald, I found this article from Monday 18 October, 1954. The slightly bemused tone is reasonably representative of SMH reporting of the time. Acceptance of the arguments, but somewhat dismissive of the outcome.
"NEW STATE MOVEMENT
New England's Golden Lion Is Determined
By A STAFF CORRESPONDENT
New Englanders, or at least a goodly number of them, have chosen a golden lion rampant as the symbol of their desire for secession from the State of New South Wales.
Their lion, an angry beast with all claws extended, stands upright and brandishes a sword.
By contrast, the golden lion gardant on the N.S.W. coat-of-arms seems apprehensive; it clutches the State shield with both paws and looks back warily over its own shoulder.
That, at any rate, is the wishful interpretation of the two lions by members of the New England New State Movement.
Their description of New England's lion is justified by their own vigour and self-confidence; but their description of the N.S.W. lion is a little misleading.
The New Staters arc indeed vigorous. During the last five years, they have sent a deputation to the Federal Government, appealed by petition to the N.S.W. Government, and held their own referenda to demonstrate New England's desire for self-government.
They have, strangely enough, persuaded visiting Texas oil man, Mr. Hugh Cullen, to inform President Eisenhower of their movement.
They have asked Sir Winston Churchill, as a representative of Old England, to visit New England; they wear their own badge (gilt lion on a white ground); and they will soon fly their own flag (yellow lion on pale blue).
At their annual convention in December, they will plan a representative assembly, a shadow parliament as it were, for New England.
The N.S.W. Government is not quite so worried by this activity as the appearance of its lion gar- dant would suggest. The Premier has ignored New England's petition; and his Minister for Local Government has tried to deter New England municipal and shire councils from holding referenda.
Undeterred, the New State Movement will soon make an ap proach to the Crown. This approach cannot succeed, though, unless the N.S.W. Government is prepared to co-operate. According to the Australian Constitution, New England cannot secede with out the consent of the N.S.W. Parliament.
New England State, as envisaged by the movement, would far exceed the present boundaries of the New England region. New England is a plateau 100 miles wide and 180 miles long, bounded on the south by the Moonbi Ranges and on the north by the Queensland border. It includes the towns of Walcha, Guyra, Uralla, Inverell, Glen Innes and Tenterfield, and the city of Armidale.
In summer it is, like England, a green and pleasant land; in winter, its high grazing lands are sometimes covered by snow.
The new State's boundaries were drawn in 1934 by a Boundaries Commissioner, Mr. H. S. Nicholas, appointed by the N.S.W. Government. They will take in not only New England but Newcastle and the Hunter River Valley, the coastline from Newcastle to Queensland, and the north-west slopes and plains as far west as Brewarrina.
This area of 64,000 square miles is three times as large as Tasmania and contains a population of 680,000-100,000 more than Western Australia.
Throughout this region the word "decentralisation," so often paid little more than lip service in Australian cities, has deep significance. Centralisation has stunted New England, its citizens declare; decentralisation is its only hope. And Statehood-the word enters any conversation sooner or later-is the only acceptable basis for decentralisation.
"New South Wales has borrowed £243m for capital works during the last five years," complains one New Stater. "We of New England are responsible for our share-one fifth, since we comprise one-fifth of the State's population-which is about £48,500,000. In point of fact, though, less than £10m has been spent in New England during this period. Thus we, the people, have been robbed of £38,000,000 in the last five years."
New England could have made good use of that money, too, say the New Staters. There is no rail link between New England and the north coast. Lines have been started at different times from Guyra, Glen Innes and Tenterfield, but never finished. There is not even a good road down from the highland towns to the coast.
The Keepit Dam, near Gunnedah, was started in 1938 and is still unfinished. Iluka port at the mouth of the Clarence River has not yet been developed.
The New Staters know very well what has happened to the missing millions. Sydney is the thief. Residents of Sydney would be surprised at the genuine anger aroused in New England by the proposal that a tunnel should be driven underneath Sydney Harbour.
If the State Government's first concern is Sydney, let New England become its own State. "Of course" New England could support itself! Would it not have an annual production of £.192 million - considerably more than that of Tasmania, Western Australia or South Australia? And did not Queensland start life in 1860 with only 7id in the Trea- sury?
It is against this kind of feeling that the New England New State Movement must be viewed. Agitation for a new State of New England has risen and subsided several times during the last 50 years. The present movement started in 1948 under the encouragement, principally, of Mr. Phillip A. Wright, who is now its president. "P.A.," a big man in his late sixties, is a cattle man and, it is popularly and proudly supposed in New England, a millionaire.
There are other cattle and sheep men on the executive of the movement: Mr. Peter Wright, of Lana; Colonel H. F. White and Mr. Richard White, of Bald Blair. But the movement is by no means confined to graziers or, in fact, to members of the Country Party.
One recent executive meeting in Armidale was attended by a schoolteacher and a retired auctioneer from Tenterfield, an Armidale solicitor, a teacher from the Armidale School, and an Oxford graduate whose know- ledge of constitutional law has been of value to the movement.
It could not be denied, however, that the most active support for Statehood comes from the pastoralists of New England. The townspeople do not show the same enthusiasm. And the Labour M.L.A. for Armidale (Mr. Jim Cahill) is pessimistic about the chances, and indeed is doubtful about the immediate need, for a new State.
Active support for the movement seems small when the number of subscribers (2,000) is compared with the total population of the New State region (680,000).
But this is misleading. The movement enjoys passive support throughout New England. There is a unity, a feeling of common interest, in New England which derives from a feeling of common neglect by the N.S.W. Government.
New England already has its own university, its own airline ("East-West-the Decentralised Airline"), and its own brand of beer.
The movement has asked the N.S.W. Government to hold a referendum to test the support for statehood, but the Government has so far refused. Last December, New England held its own poll in conjunction with local government elections conducted by many councils in the area. Much to everyone's surprise, a majority of voters (77 per cent.) favoured the establishment of a new State.
The arguments for a new State - mainly decentralisation; federalism rather than unification - can scarcely be refuted. The logical extension of regional development, a policy favoured by the N.S.W. Government, is state- hood. But is New England ready for statehood yet?
The New Staters are impatient: "of course" New England is ready on the score of population, area, industry and income. The N.S.W. Government is not so sure; at any rate, whatever its opinion about the rights or wrongs of statehood, it is unwilling to permit secession. And its permission is essential.
The Federal Constitution em- powers the Federal Parliament to "admit to the Commonwealth or establish new States." And the Federal Parliament may "with the consent of the Parliament of a State and the approval of the majority of the electors of the State voting upon the question increase, diminish or otherwise alter the limits of the State." Again, in the next clause, a new State may be formed "by separation of territory from a State but only with the consent of the Parliament thereof."
Clearly, New South Wales will be the final arbiter. The issue is not so much whether New England wants to leave New South Wales, but whether New South Wales wants to lose New England. And New England would be a very valuable territory to lose.