Sunday, April 24, 2011

New England, Australia turns five

This blog turned five on 8 April.

My first post on 8 April 2006 was simple entitled On New England. There I wrote:

This blog is dedicated to the history, culture and activities of the New England region of Australia.

In many ways New England does not exist. In the words of the Australian poet A D Hope, New England is an idea in the heart and mind.

In formal terms, the term New England is used to describe the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Here locals talk of "the New England." But the term is also used, and this is the way I use the term, to describe a much broader region that has maintained a struggle for self government - the right to govern itself within the Australian federation - since the middle of the 19th century.

We have come close at times, but success still eludes us. The forces of the status quo are very strong. So I thought that a site that focuses just on New England might provide another voice.

My second post, nine days later, was entitled Towards a History of New England. I wrote:  

In this, the first of several posts, I want to start looking at the issues involved in writing a decent first history of New England. Not the Northern Tablelands, but the fuller new state New England. This is not an easy task simply because of the absence of a formal political entity. Here Scottish history is instructive.

While born in Australia, my grandfather was a proud Scot. So over the years I received as presents many books on Scottish history. I found these easy to follow so long as Scotland existed as a unit in its own right, much harder when it became simply a region of England or the UK. The problem? How do you write about something that does not exist!

In thinking this challenge through, I think that the starting point has to be the original aboriginal inhabitants. New England is a European construct. The aboriginal nations (language groups) obviously did not think of New England. However, they did have to respond to the European intrusion.

So what was aboriginal New England like? How did it evolve in the thousands of years prior to the European invasion? Here we have to paint a picture of the changing interaction between people and a changing landscape, because the landscape itself was not static, changing in long waves with geological and climatic change, as well as shorter waves under the impact of the aborigines themselves.

Then we have the immediate impact of the Europeans and the nature of the aboriginal response. From this point, the aborigines become a sub-story, but one that needs to be written as an important thread in the New England experience.

So in those first two posts I defined two of the themes that form the core of this blog, our fight for self determination and our search for and discovery of our own history.

901 posts later I have added other themes - a critical analysis of public policy issues affecting New England, the presentation of some of the depth and complexity of New England life, the promotion of specific New England causes. I have added a weekly column in the Armidale Express plus the New England history blog.

For a considerable period after I first began writing I wondered if anybody would come. Perhaps New England's decline was terminal, perhaps it was just all too late.

I no longer feel that. Over the last two years in particular I have watched the growth in interest in New England. I do not want to overstate this, nor do I wish to pretend that all those involved in the regrowth share my particular vision. But, in combination, it is starting to make for a powerful force. 

When I began, the new state cause seemed dead. Now it is slowly reforming. When I began, no one seemed interested in New England's history. Now I know others are. When I began, there was no one I could debate New England policy issues with. Now there are. When I began, I had few readers and little spread. My readership is still small, but I have now had over 52,000 visitors to this blog. 

Over the thirty year after we lost the 1967 self government plebiscite the very idea of a New England or Northern identity declined. We became a shadow that could be comfortably ignored as irrelevant, a quaint piece of history.

When I look back on Scotland and the books that my grandfather gave me including the early history of the Scottish National Movement, the ideal of Scotland as an entity was effectively ridiculed in Westminster. It took years and years, many decades, before the ideal started to become a reality. Indeed, in political terms New England was in front for a period.  

Who in the 1950s could envisage a Scottish cultural and political renaissance? Yet that is what happened.

My inclusion of the word cultural was quite deliberate. New England does have its own history and culture. Of course, this is more muted than in Scotland with its longer history. Further, it has been effectively submerged, written out. There is nothing to present it in its similarities and differences to those living in New England. And those who do not see their past lose it.

God willing, over this blog's next five years I hope to continue the main themes already established. I want to continue to fight for the sense of New England identity. I want to document and demonstrate the things that have made New England unique, distinct, to the point that no one can deny them. I want to bring New England back to life.       


Caroline Chapman said...

Well done on 5 years! Wow, the time has flown. There are so many people with links to this area that the New England will always remain relevant. Cheers, Caroline

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you Caroline. The time has indeed flown! New England will always remain relevant in that sense. I just want more!

Greg said...

Congratulations Jim. You have played no small part in keeping a history alive and reviving the dream of self government. I hope that we achieve it sooner rather than later.


Jim Belshaw said...

Amen to that, Greg, and thanks!