Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Belshaw's World - return of New England

Documentary film maker Mathew Harvey (Kangabear Pictures) has begun the development of a film looking at the North and the question of Northern or New England identity, including the fight for self government.

Mathew was attracted to the project because he thought that there was a story there that had been neglected.

In an email to me earlier this week, he said that he had just been watching the YouTube the other day and had seen the 'Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall' song by Coldplay.

That song has been a considerable success.

The video clip has had 22 million views. Another clip with just the song has had close to 13 million views. The song has hit number 14 in the States and the band is the biggest rock/soft rock band in the world at the moment.

Now the point here is that the song heavily samples Peter Allen's 'I Go to Rio'. This led Mathew to wonder how many kids in the New England would even know this, or who Peter Allen was. He went on:

“Australian society in general doesn't know the impact of New England artists/musicians because most of them don't even know that New England exists outside of being the federal seat of 'that politician Tony Windsor'

who gave us the Gillard government’.”

Mathew is right of course, and that’s part of the reason for his documentary. However, there is an interesting sea change underway.

I began blogging on New England issues back in April 2006. By New England I mean the broader new state New England, not just the Tablelands. In turn, this led to this column, with the first Belshaw’s World appearing at the end of 2008.

When I began writing on New England issues it was actually quite lonely in the sense that nobody came. Our North really seemed to have gone for ever, swept by the tides into the dustbin of Australian history. We didn’t exist and nobody was interested.

Slowly that changed, so slowly that at first I wasn’t aware of the change.

Through the miracle of the internet I began to gather readers who also provided comments. I found that there was real interest in the history and character of the North, the broader New England.

Page views on the New England Australia blog grew from a few hundred a month to well over 5,000 a month. Once again, people were talking about New England issues.

I am not suggesting that the increase in interest was solely due to my efforts, although I think that I helped. Other things were important as well.

One was simply peoples’ desire to know something about their own past. A second was growing dissatisfaction with the way NSW was governed, meaning that people once again started looking for alternative structures.

Most writers, certainly all historians, draw from previous writers.

As I sit here in the early morning, it’s a bit after 4am, I think of those New England writers and especially political writers who have gone before me. You see, I draw from them all the time.

I think of Victor Thompson scribbling away in the cramped Tamworth Observer office penning the editorials that would launch a new state campaign.

I think of David Drummond seeking donations to fund the publication of his pamphlet on constitutional change and then telling Ernest Sommerlad not to destroy the type because Drummond hoped for a new print run.

“I have received your terribly fearsome letter”, Sommerlad wrote before patting Drummond down.

I think of Sommerlad himself writing the first ever book on Australian journalism, one that articulated the special role of the country press.

Then there was Ulrich Ellis whose typewriter went with him everywhere.

As we lost our history, all the many New England writers exited stage left. It wasn’t just political writers, but all writers.

Measured by theses and journal articles, interest in New England history actually peaked in the 1960s and early 1970s.

From the start of the 1980s it went into long term decline.

The University of New England, once the powerhouse of New England research and writing, lost its own focus. Even today, it has a much diminished view for an institution that once saw itself as the Sydney University of the North.

New England is back, but it will take time to rebuild. We are just at the start of the process. Yet I take great comfort in the fact that we are back.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 23 November 2011. 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, here for 2011.