Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Belshaw's World - friends and the fabric of life

Hard to believe, but the first Belshaw World column appeared in the Express on 24 December, 2008.

Looking back over those three years, over the 155 columns written, started me musing on just why I did it.

It’s not always easy writing on such a regular basis. Sometimes I sit before a blank screen and wonder what to say. At other times, I just don’t feel like writing, yet write I must for I have a deadline to meet.

I worry, too, about getting the right balance in what I say in terms of variety and emphasis. This is a personal column, so I can write what I like. And yet, I also want to take my readers’ interests into account. Sometimes, all this isn’t easy.

Why, then, do I continue?

Looking back over the three years, I would describe the single most important thing I have gained simply as the gift of friendship.

All human beings value friendship. After our families, our friends provide the basis social support on which we all depend. They are there for us when we need them.

I can see this clearly looking back at my own life. Sometimes the examples are small, at other times more dramatic.

As a child when mum was sick, I remember how her friends gathered round to provide practical support such as meals for us.

Much later, I was overseas when mum died. By the time I returned, Aunt Kay and her friends had organised all the details of the funeral for me. We wouldn’t have coped without that support.

While I am an Armidale person, I have actually lived more of my life outside Armidale than in the city itself. Today, I live in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, part of the great New England diaspora. Yet despite that, Armidale remains deeply entwined in my life.

It’s an odd thing that people sometimes find difficult to understand. It’s just the nature of the connections.

Captain Thunderbolt may or may not have been shot in Kentucky Creek on 15 May 1870. I think that he was, but disputes remain.

Great grandfather Goode was one of those who signed the document congratulating Constable Walker. Today cousin Arnold continues documenting and promoting the history of Uralla and Rocky River.

Grandfather Drummond arrived in Armidale on a cold day in 1907 as a farm labourer. Twenty one years later he founded a Teachers College, thirty one years later he helped establish a University College, in so doing bringing my father to the city from New Zealand as the first staff member to actually arrive at the new college.

The people involved in the various political movements, the educational pioneers, are not just names in the historical record to me; they are people I knew, or at least knew of, as a child or young adult.

Robb, Earle Page, Dr Austin, Mary White, PA Wright, S H Smith, Newling, Tom Lamble, Edgar Booth to take a few examples are not just names of Colleges or buildings, but actual people.

I grew up in the world of the siblings, the children of the New England University College staff. Later I was an undergraduate student at UNE, then a postgraduate student. Today I remain connected as a UNE adjunct and a member of the Heritage Futures Research Centre.

All this may seem a long way from my opening remarks about the column and the gift of friendship, but there is a direct and tangible connection.

Inevitably given my own past, I write a fair bit about the history of Armidale and the broader New England, about life past as well as life present. Now here a remarkable thing happened.

Through the column as well as my New England blogs, I have actually re-established contact with many of my old friends and the people I have known across the now globally dispersed New England diaspora. I have also made new friends that I would not otherwise have met.

That’s a very important personal return for my writing efforts.

To all my readers, I hope that you had a happy Christmas and may 2012 be a good year for all of us.

To those who have emailed me or sent me material, my thanks. I am not always a good correspondent, but I really value your input.

And to my colleagues at the Express and especially Editor Christian Knight and Janene Carey, my thanks for your support and for making me feel part of a team.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 28 December 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.

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