Thursday, July 27, 2006

New England Australia gorge country

In my last post I provided some references on the Country Party to support my historical analysis.

I was going to continue the historical theme, but an email from Nicole Payne (John Campbell Communication & Marketing - reminded me that this blog is meant to be about the life and culture of New England, not just its history. Nicole's email contained some wonderful pictures of New England's gorge country plus some supporting information.

In previous posts (see Geography of New England: overview, Geography of New England: impact of Great Diving Range) I have spoken about the region's geography and especially the impact of the the Great Dividing Range and its rugged eastern edge on New England's life and history.

The fast flowing coastal rivers have cut huge gorges through the escarpment, some stretching into the centre of the New England Tablelands. This creates a varied mix of spectacular country including major national parks running from the Barrington Tops in the south up to the Queensland border.

These parks can be accessed from either the coastal valleys or from the various Tablelands cities and towns. Each place offers access to different types of spectacular country.

There is not space in this entry to provide complete information - that deserves a number of entries. However, two examples will give an initial taste.

At Walcha on the Southern New England Tablelands, Oxley Explorer offers tours using "okas", 4WD vehicles seating up to 13 people, of some of the most spectacular of the gorges east of Walcha including the Apsley Gorge of the World Heritage listed Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

Sixty four kilometres north of Walcha, the Central Tablelands city of Armidale offers access to another set of gorges. There Fleet Helicopters offers a number of helicopter tours across the local gorge country.

This includes Heli Adventure transport, a specialised service for independent travellers and groups who want to be dropped into rugged and wild country. Fleet Helicopters can provide transport, food and equipment drops for camping, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and fishing.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Country Party - annotated bibliography

As foreshadowed in my post of Friday 14 July 06 (The past is always present: the Country Party continued), this post provides some references on the Country Party for those interested in reading further.

I recognise that accessing some of the references may not be easy. Fashions change, and many are now long out of print.
  • Aitkin, D A, The Colonel: A Political Biography of Sir Michael Bruxner, Australian National University Press, Canberra 1969. Bruxner was one of the founders of the NSW Country Party and its leader for many years. A good read.
  • Aitkin, D A, The Country Party in New South Wales. A study of organisation and survival, Australian National University Press, Canberra 1972. An interesting book for all those interested in the study of politics.
  • Bayley, W A, History of the Farmers and Settlers Association of NSW, Farmers and Settlers Association, Sydney 1957. Bit of a pot boiler, but provides some insight into one of the founder organisations of the NSW Country Party.
  • Belshaw, J D, David Henry Drummond 1890-1930: The formative years, Armidale and District Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, No 22, March 1979, pp19-42. Drummond was one of the founders of the NSW Country Party.
  • Belshaw, J D, Journalist, Political Agitator and Theorist, Public Servant and Historian - and obituary of Ulrich Ellis, Armidale and District Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, No 25, March 1982, 99147-160. Ellis was a fascinating man who devoted much of his career to the Country Party and New State Movement.
  • Davey, Paul, The Progressive, Country and National Party in NSW 1919 to 2006, Federation Press, Sydney 2006. I have yet to read Paul's book.
  • Ellis, U R, The Country Party: A Political and Social History of the Party in New South Wales, F W Cheshire, Melbourne, 1958. This and the following reference on the Australian Country Party are written from the perspective of the involved insider.
  • Ellis, U R, A History of the Australian Country Party, Melbourne University Press, Parkville, 1963.
  • Graham B D, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1966. An interesting book because it draws out clearly the diferences between the various state parties and the reasons for those differences.
  • Harman, G S, Graziers in Politics: The Pressure Group Behavious of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales, PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1968. A study of the second major founder (and funder) of the Country Party in NSW.
  • Page, E, Truant Surgeon, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1963. Biography of one of the Party's founders.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wool in New England - an aside

Over the last week I have been putting up a story on the Regional Living Australia site focused on exploring the wool track across New England -

Using a mix of text, photos and URLs I have tried to link the history of wool with communities and attractions across New England to help people explore the New England wool track. I hope that this will help bring this element of New England's history alive.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The past is always present: the Country Party continued

In my post of Friday 7 July I began looking at the Country Party in New England, the second of the major political parties in New England during the twentieth century. This followed a brief post on the Labor Party.

Just to summarise and restate.

If we look at the New England electorates, state and Federal, over most of the twentieth century we find Labor Party dominance in the industrial electorates around Newcastle, Country Party dominance elsewhere in New England. I also suggested that the past was always with us, even if we did not always recognise it. A key point here is that a knowledge of the past helps explain current developments, including differences in patterns between areas.

In this context, I pointed to the way in which conservative grazing and more radical farming interests combined to form the Country Party in NSW. Of itself, this made the NSW Party more conservative than some other Country Parties and especially the Victorian Party which was dominated by radical and populist small farmers.

I also pointed to the way in which New England's geography allowed the Country Party in New England to combine mixed farming and grazing interests into a large compact block of seats spanning different primary producing areas, In turn, this helped draw in town elites, making the Party the dominant non-Labor Party in New England outside Newcastle.

This was not the case elsewhere in country NSW. There different geography combined with religous differences (the higher proportion of Irish Catholics more inclined to support Labor) prevented the new Country Party from establishing a dominant position. This made it easier for Labor to win seats, easier for the varying city based non-labor parties to gain a position. This created an electoral pattern in NSW in which Country Party support across the rest of NSW rose and fell with electoral tides while generally holding firm in New England.

The importance to the Country Party in New England of its capacity to combine interests and continue its dominance of local leadership was dramtically illustrated in 1941.

Following resolution of the turmoil of the Lang years, NSW Labor made a conscious and succesful effort to target leaders in country NSW, recruiting as candidates just those people who would have stood as Country Party candidates. This led to a major victory in the 1941 NSW elections in which Labor penetrated even New England areas that had been previous Country Party heartland.

Before carrying this story forward further, I need to outline the history of the New England New State Movement in the twentieth century since this is inextricably linked to the rise and later decline of the Country Party. We also need to look at the history and role of the media in New England and especially the newspaper press.

Before doing so, I will provide some references on the history of the Country Party in my next post.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Country Week 06

I was going to continue the story of the Country Party. However, and as indicated on my main personal bog Personal Reflections -, during the week I received an email from Peter Bailey telling me that the new Country Week web site - - was up. I thought, therefore, that I should say something about Country Week because it bears upon one element of the New England story, the problems involved in combining different regional interests.

The Country Week Expo will be held in Sydney from 11-13 August. The Country Week concept is a simple one. Areas within regional NSW find it hard to attract people and investment to their areas from Sydney. A key problem is that there are deeply entrenched metro views about the attractions of city life as compared to the regions, views holding regardless of on-ground reality. Cities and regions try to compensate for this through individual Sydney promotions, but these are generally too small to get above the static level in a large and complex metro marktplace.

The Country Week concept is a simple one. To overcome this scale problem, why not get all regional areas to combine in a single high intensity promotion of suffiicient scale to attract attention? However, this has proved no easy task.

The cities and regions within NSW all see themselves - to some degree correctly - as in competition with each other. This makes extended cooperation difficult.

We can see this clearly when we look at the history of New England. There often intense competition between centres has made it very difficult for New England interests to combine to define and achieve shared objectives. This competition has been strengthened by the natural tendency of Sydney Governments to buy political favours through selected funding - a school here, a playing ground there - thus accentuating competitive divides. Attempts to overcome these divides form another of the recurrant themes in New Engalnd history.

The remarkable thing about Country Week is the way in which Peter Bailey and his team have been able to overcome this deeply entrenched competition to combine sufficient of regional NSW to make Country Week a leading expo. This has been no easy task, requiring constant travel and persuasion. Pleasingly, New England councils have formed the core of Country Week

The Expos are fun and well worth a visit.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The past is always present - the Country Party

In my last past I said that I found it interesting the way traditional patterns hold on, just as interesting the way they change suddenly. I took the Labor Party in New England as my first example. This post looks at the Country (now National) Party, the other major political party in twentieth century New England.

Whereas Labor emerged from the industrial movement among working class Australians who saw the need for a party to represent the working class, the Country Party emerged from the industrial movement among farmers and graziers who saw the need for a party to represent country Australia.

Just as New England's history made New England Labor different from that elsewhere, so that history made New England's Country Party different.

New England has been Country Party heartland. For much of the twentieth century, the Party dominated New England's political landscape outside Newcastle and the lower Hunter. The majority of the Party's parliamentary leaders, national as well as state, came from New England. During periods when swings against the Party reduced numbers elsewhere, New England largely held firm. Today the National Party in New England is clearly in trouble, but that trouble comes not just from Labor or Liberal Parties, but also from growing movement to elect independents to Parliament, a movement headquartered in New England.

Part of the reason for the Country Party's relative success in New England lies in demography.

To the south and west of Sydney, Irish Catholic chain migration was an important in early European settlement. By contrast, Scottish and especially Scots Presbyterian chain migration was important in New England's European settlement north of the lower Hunter.

So the Irish Catholic population that played such a role in the development of the Labor Party was significantly weaker in New England, the English and Scots population stronger. This translated into different voting patterns, with the base Labor Party vote weaker in New England as compared to the central west and Riverina.

New England is also different in terms of geography and climate. It is the wettest portion of NSW. The valleys in New England's humid coastal zone are far larger than those in Southern NSW, the immediately nearby tablelands larger and wetter than those in the south.

This facilitated settlement, so that New England's population was both larger and more compact. At the time of Federation, probably one person in four in NSW, one in ten of all Australians, lived in New England.

These differences in geography and demography played themselves out during the formation of the Country Party.

Within rural Australia the wheat farmers and their organisations were by far the most radical farm group. I have spoken previously of the importance of transport costs. The spread of the railways allowed land near the new lines to be opened up for wheat. These new farmers became radicalised as they struggled with recurrent droughts and the vagaries of international markets.

This was most pronounced in the west and south of NSW. Wheat production for export markets came a little later to New England and those taking up land for farming were more likely to be aready established farmers.

In contrast to the wheat growers, the better established graziers and pastoralists and their organisations were more inclined to favour the status quo, less inclined towards radical solutions. This meant that much of the drive for the formation of a new political party to represent country interests came from farmers rather than graziers.

In Victoria where the grazing interests had largely been co-opted into the Melbourne establishment, farmers and farm organisations dominated the new Victorian Country Party. As a result the new party centred on farming areas and was by far the most radical of the newly emerging parties.

The position in New South Wales was different, especially in New England. Unlike Victoria, New England graziers were less absorbed into the Sydney elites, identified far more with their own areas, and were more likely to cooperate with the farming interests. So in NSW the Graziers Association combined with the Farmers and Settlers Association to form the new Country Party. This necessarily made the Party more conservative, something that could and did lead to tensions between its different wings.

There was another difference in New England itself as well linked to the geographical differences discussed earlier, and that is the relative importance of non-wheat farming interests, especially dairying, creating a chain of dairy seats along the coastal zone. So in New England the new Country Party combined the dairy seats long the coast, the grazing seats in the centre, the mixed farming and grazing seats to the west.

I will continue this story in my next post.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The past is always present

In a comment on my last post on the rise and fall of the paddle steamer, Geoff Robinson spoke of the change in electoral fortunes around Echuca. I commented that I found it interesting the way traditional patterns hold on, just as interesting the way they sometimes change quickly.

In cultural terms, the past is always with us even if we do not recognise it. Sometimes the past takes the form of a granite outcrop, the current Australian fascination with ANZAC day is an example, that all can see. At other times, its influence is far more subtle, largely unseen. Yet it can still be important. In other cases still such as the British empire, the granite that has marked the horizon for generations can suddenly erode in a few short decades.

Over most twentieth century New England the two dominant political parties have been the Labor and Country Parties.

Labor Party influence has been centred on the industrial city of Newcastle and surrounding mining areas. Makes sense, after all, that this should be so in traditional industrial terms. But somehow, at least as I see it, New England Labor has never quite fitted into NSW Labor. The reason for this is simple.

NSW Labor had a strong Irish Catholic influence. This stream controlled the party. By contrast, the immigrants who fed the industrial establishments in Newcastle and the surrounding mines, largely came from England and were Anglican or protestant. They shared the working class tradition, but still belonged to a different group.

There was another factor as well, the continuing conflict between Sydney and Newcastle over trade and commerce. The views of Newcastle Labor could conflict with the interests of the Sydney (Sussex Street) machine. Acute conflict or sense of neglect translated into support for independents.

In my next post I will look at the Country Party.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Rise and fall of the paddle steamer -inland river transport

In my last post I suggested that the history of inland river transport threw a clear light on economic competition between the colonies, competition that affected the history of New England. However, the rise and fall and now rise of the paddle steamer (the ships were all paddle steamers) is an interesting story in its own right.

1836 saw the establishment of the colony of South Australia. The possible use of the Murray River as a highway to draw traffic and business into South Australia from the pastoral interior attracted early attention. In 1850, just fourteen years after the colony's foundation, the SA Government offered a prize of 2,000 pounds each (a very substantial sum) for the first vessels to reach the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers. Two vessels, the Mary Anne and Lady Augusta, did so in 1853.

Between 1855 and 1859 a serious of adventurous voyages established the practical limitations of navigation along the winding sometimes tortuous river systems. A series of inland ports grew up: Bourke, Menindee and Wilcannia on the Darling; Balranald, Hay, Narranderra and Wagga Wagga on the Muurrumbidgee; Wentworth, Mildura, Swann Hill and Echuca on the Murray. Ultimately nearly 200 vessels were built to service the trade.

I have spoken before of the cost advantages of water versus horse or bullock drawn land travel. Even though the distances involved along the rivers were vast, the river vessels provided a more cost effective option for inland grown wool. This attracted freight, freight that the mercantile interests in each colony were keen to attract.

Initially Goolwa at the mouth of the Murray in South Australia was the main port. However, the river mouth created real problems for navigation, leading the South Australian Government to build a horse tramway (Australia's first public railway) from Goolwa to the nearby blue waters of the Southern Ocean at Port Elliot.

The freight business was too lucrative to allow South Australia's position to remain unchallenge. The Victorian Government quickly began to build a railway reaching Echuca in 1864. Echuca was only 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Melbourne, and the new line changed the shape of river trade. From this point, the majority of the steamers from the Murrumbidgee and Darling went upstream to Echuca instead of downstream to Goolwa. Measured by number of ships, Echuca became Victoria's second busiest port.

Fourteen years later (1878), the railway from Adelaide finally reached the Murray at Morgan. South Australia could again compete with Echuca, attracting Darling and lower Murray traffic. However, this newly acquired advantage was short lived.

NSW had begun its own railway building program. During the 1880s these lines at last reached the navigable waters of the inland rivers first at Wagga Wagga, then at Albury, Narandera and Hay. In 1887 the railway reached Bourke, a line directly designed to capture Darling traffic. Freight previously sent by ship to Echuca or Morgan was now sent to Sydney.

From the beginning of the shipping trade there had been discussions about the need for works to improve river navigability, especially on the bigger Murray. As early as 1863 an intercolonial conference resolved that action should be taken to improve Murray navigation. However, no action was taken.

NSW was the core diffficulty. While improvements to river navigation might improve the position of NSW pastoralists, they would also damage the revenues of NSW's growing railway system. It was not until 1917 that the states signed the Murray River Waters Agreement establishing the Murray River Commission. The new Commission began work on river improvements in the twenties, but by then the growing number of motor vehicles had sounded the final death knell for river shipping as a major transport mode.

Some shipping survived. However, the real resurgence of the paddle steamer came not from freight but from carriage of tourists who provided a far more lucrative marketplace. Today, steamers such as the PS Adelaide shown in the photograph and operated by the Port of Echuca again ply the Murray.

Source: Australian Heritage Commission, australia our national story, Chapter 2, "Ports and Shipping, 1788-1870,

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Inland river transport - an aside

I have just been reading with interest the story of the rise and fall of shipping on the Murray Darling River system.

While some of its headwaters lie in New England and some New England wool was probably shipped out on it, the Darling River itself lies to the west of New England, the Murray River far to the south. Much of the history of shipping on the broader Murray Darling river system is therefore peripheral to the history of New England itself. However, there is one feature that is relevant.

The navigable parts of the Murray Darling system flowed through three colonies/states, NSW, Victoria and South Australia. During the colonial period, each was completely independent with their own taxation systems. Each colony maintained a series of boarder posts collecting tariffs on goods entering the colony. Each competed with the others for control of trade.

The history of shipping on the Murray Darling throws a clear light on this competition. This is relevant to New England because, as I suggested in an earlier post, its history too was affected by fights for control of trade and economic activity.

As an economist as well as historian, I am well aware of and indeed agree with the general arguments in favour of competition as a device for improved economic performance. However, as an historian I can also see that just because something is does not mean that it was preordained to be. Those who control the levers of political and economic power can and will shift the playing field in their direction. General arguments about the state or national interest (essentially my interests versus yours) have a long and sometimes slippery history.

I will therefore write up the history of inland shipping in a later post.

Photographic Frustrations part resolved

I managed to part resolve the photographic frustrations mentioned in my last post by a simple change in search methods.

I had been searching using general terms, ships grafton, for example. By searching on specific companies, North Coast Steam Navigation Company for example, I found a lot of new material not just on ships and shipping, but also articles on people and activities in some way associated with the companies. I ended up downloading several hundred pages of material - I still find it much easier, faster and more enjoyable to read printed pages - for later reading.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Photographic Frustrations

It is almost a fortnight since my last post. I have not been completely idle. I have been frustrated.

I decided that I should start adding photos to the site. A photo really does tell a thousand words in bringing dry text alive. So I started trawling the web looking for public domain shipping photos in the first instance. I could not find any.

It is astonishing that regional centres in New England - Grafton is an example - that have a rich history do not provide photos in support. What does it matter if the photos are copied? Every attributed copied photo spreads the story. But I don't think that the real problem lies in worries about copyright. I think it's just that they have not thought about it.

If anyone out there can help me find photos, please help.

More positively, I have used some of the background material I have been collecting on the wool industry to start a new section, "On the Wool Track" on the Regional Living Australia site - see