Monday, October 30, 2006

New England Australia - Festivals

Photo: Inverell Saphire City Festival crowd scene

Note to Readers: This page has now been replaced by an updated page.

From Newcastle in the south to Tweed Heads in the North to Moree in the west, local festivals form a key part of New England life and should therefore be recorded and promoted.

My problem in doing so is a simple one. There are literally hundreds of such Festivals, making it very difficult for me to keep track. As a first step here, I thought that I might start by simply recording some of them. That way I have a list that I can use as a base to extend and update.

A very much first pass list follows. Dates are indicative and will be updated, new festivals added as information is obtained.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New England Australia - Stocktake on Transport Posts 24 October 06

This stocktake provides an overview of posts dealing with the development of transport within New England.

Previous Stocktakes

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Uralla - Thunderbolt Country Fair & Talent Quest 11 November

Photo: Captain Thunderbolt

I have very fond memories of Uralla built up over many years.

Great grandfather Goode free selected land at Arding to the west of Uralla near the Rocky River gold fields and was one of those who signed the document congratulating Constable Walker on shooting the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (Fred Ward) in Kentucky Creek to the south of the town.

When grandfather David Drummond came to Armidale as a farm labourer he met and married Pearl Goode. There is a story - probably apocryphal - that the entry in John Goode's diary for the day read: "This morning dug spuds. This afternoon Dave and Pearl were married. This evening dug spuds".

As children we were often taken on drives to Uralla and around the Arding lanes, collected fruit from the orchards, climbed all over Thunderbolt's rock to the south of the town. We went to the Uralla show. Later Aunt Kay was active in the Uralla Pottery Club so I always went to the opening of their annual exhibition.

These memories came flooding back when I learned that this year's Thunderbolt Country Fair and Talent Quest will be held on Saturday 11 November. As a child I thought that Thunderbolt was uniquely Uralla. I now know that he roamed widely across New England, but certainly he occupies a special place in the Uralla and Armidale districts.

Cecil Holmes 1953 film Captain Thunderbolt was shot in and around Armidale and Uralla with a cast including Grant Taylor and Bud Tingwell (and here for Bud's web site including his new blog). The locals were fascinated and lined up to take part as extras. Grandfather Drummond provided Thunderbolt's horse, dad became foreman of the jury, while two aunts were in the coach that Thunderbolt held up. We all trooped off to the world premier held at the Capitol Theatre in Armidale.

Because this year's Fair coincides with Remembrance Day, an RSL Parade in Memory of the Fallen will take place at 11am.

Then the Thunderbolt Country Fair Parade starts at 12.30pm (I have always enjoyed this parade), followed by market stalls, a Rotary Club barbecue, entertainment and talent quest. Performers under the age of 21 will compete for the major prize of a day's recording at Keystone Recording Studios in Armidale, valued at $1200. The talent quest will run from 1pm to 5pm.

For children, there is face painting, horse and carriage rides and a jumping castle. Kids and brave adults can try out the mechanical bull for a wild ride.

First prize in the raffle is a fantastic 30 minute helicopter tour of the scenic gorges with Fleet Helicopters.

Fireworks will fill the skies at around 8.30pm, then the bands will battle it out for supremacy at the Top Pub for $1,500 in prize money.

While in Uralla take some time to browse around the stores and galleries and to visit attractions such as Hassetts Military Museum or McCrossin's Mill, one of the best small museums in Australia with its Thunderbolt collection as well as its fascinating Chinese collection. The Chinese played a significant role in New England's mining rushes.


The Thunderbolt Country Fair is on at Alma Park, Uralla. Uralla is on the junction of the New England Highway and Thunderbolt's Way and is a 20 minute drive from Armidale; a five hour drive from Newcastle; six hours from Sydney; six hours from Brisbane; and three from Port Macquarie.

For more information on the Thunderbolt Country Fair and Talent Quest, accommodation and other attractions in the region, please phone the Uralla Visitor Information Centre: (02) 6778 4496 or email:

Friday, October 20, 2006

Davis (Bill) Hughes

Short post just to say that a little while ago I posted a short story on Bill Hughes on my Personal Reflections blog.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Statement of Editorial Policy

I am carrying this statement on each of my blogs.

There has recently been a fair bit of discussion (here, here, here and here, for example) about problems and issues associated with blogging.

I publish and mainly write four blogs, each serving a different purpose. In doing so, I try to be accurate. However, recently I made some mistakes of fact and interpretation in a story. They were pointed out to me and I have corrected them.

This case provided an excellent illustration of the need for care. I thought therefore that I should provide a statement of principles governing my approach to all my blogs. Each blogger has their own approach. This is mine.

All my blogs are intended to stimulate interest in and discussion on particular topics. They provide an opportunity for me to place ideas, thoughts, information and research on the public record. I spend a fair bit of time thinking about individual stories and want my readers to value the visit experience.

I also believe that blogs are a way of encouraging civilised conversation. To this end:
  1. All my blogs contain a mix of fact, analysis, recollection and opinion.
  2. I try to check my facts. However, I will make mistakes. Where I do so, I will make corrections to the story and, if necessary, acknowledge the mistake.
  3. There will also be mistakes in my analysis. Again, I am happy to recognise and discuss such errors.
  4. While I try to be objective, I recognise that my own values and opinions colour my writing. I will try to write in such a way that the reader can properly indentify my views and biases and hence make their own judgments. This holds especially when I am arguing a case.
  5. When writing as an analyst, I try to deconstruct the elements in a discussion so that I can properly present issues and approaches. I will try to do so independent of personalities.
  6. Since I want to encourage civilised conversation, I will try to treat my visitors with courtesy even where I disagree with them. I reserve the right to delete comments where those comments are nasty or may create legal problems, but I will never delete a comment just because I disagree with it.
  7. As part of civilised conversation, I will try to recognise other's ideas, to contribute to relevant discussion on other people's blogs and to answer promptly emails arising from my blogs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New England Australia Aviation Pioneers - the Virtues

Photo: Australian National Airways Captain Keith Virtue posing with DC-3 VH-ANR "Oana". Keith Virtue was the first Australian pilot to accumulate 20,000 hours.

Source Virtue family collection, from the Cuskelly site. This site includes a range of aviation related material, including the story of Adastra, another of Australia's pioneer aviation companies. The Sydney based Adastra was founded in 1931, finishing its life in the 1970's shortly after its acquisition by East West Airlines and the relocation of its HQ to Tamworth.

My thanks to Bruce Robinson and to John Lee from Chicago for more material on New England Airways and those associated with the company. I am still absorbing this. In the meantime, a brief snippet on another part of the pioneer story, Keith Virtue, who was a pilot with New England and went on to a long and distinguished career in Australian civil aviation.

Thanks to Bruce and John I now know that there is a biography of Keith that also covers the early days on New England Airways and of Airlines of Australia, Joan Priest's Virtue in Flying. (Angus and Roberston, 1975). So I have put this on my list to find, read and report back.

As I presently understand it, Keith was the youngest of ten boys and grew up near Lismore. An elder brother Ralph was also a pilot with New England and was killed in the NEA plane crash that also saw the death of pioneer aviator Leslie Holden plus another. I understand that there is a memorial near the crash site.

Again as I understand it, Keith married one of G A Robinson's daughters. By the end of his flying career Keith had established what was probably a world record of around 40,000 commercial flying hours, a title later taken over by his nephew Jason Hassard, 42,000 hours. I think that Jason was also a pilot with Airlines of Australia.

I will write more later. In the meantime, checking material reminded me that one of Australia's most famous air crashes involved an Airline of Australia Stinson flying btween Brisbane and Sydney in 1937. The plane crashed on the Lamington Ranges shortly after take-off from Brisbane. A search failed to find the wreckage.

Nine days after the crash, Beaudesert grazier Bernard O'Reilly set out on foot to find the plane. Through his superior bush skills he found the crash site and, to his surprise, two survivors in desperate need of medical attention. After making them comfortable, he left them to organise a rescue party. The full story can be found in the Queensland Government archives.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

New England Airways - Follow Up

Photo: New England Airways, Avro10s, photo courtesy of Bruce Robinson.

While this blog has a historical focus, one of the nice things about it is that I am not bound by the canons of academic discipline. Yes, I do try to observe proper standards, but because I do not want an academic career (it's a bit late for that!), I do not have to subject myself to the whole rigmarole. I can go where I like.

My aim when I started was to capture and document the New England experience before it was lost, hopefully drawing others in. I am starting to get there.

In earlier posts I spoke of New England Airways (here(1) and here(2)).

I first came across a reference to New England Airways back in 1982 when I was doing my PhD thesis. I was fascinated. I knew Don Shand and the story of East West Airlines (story), but I had never heard of New England Airways. Yet here was a pioneer airline of some substance holding the Sydney-Brisbane mail contract that had somehow vanished. I could not do anything about it at the time, so put it aside.

When I launched this blog and came to write something for the first time on New England aviation I made finding out something about New England Airways my first priority. While the on-line historical record was skimpy it did allow me to fill in some gaps. In turn, this led Bruce Robinson, the grandson son of New England's founder George A Robinson, to contact me. Now we may be able to fill in some gaps.

Does this matter? I think that it does very much and not just from a New England perspective.

Today when airlines are the bus lines of the sky, we forget the romance and the physical and commercial risks associated with this early period. Nevile Shute, one of my favourite authors, brings this early period alive in many of his books. New England Airways was a major player in this early period and deserves to be remembered for that fact alone.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Celtic culture, bushy beards and plenty of Felicity

Photo: Felicity Urquhart

While I was thinking further about New England history, email to remind me that this year's Glen Innes Land Of The Beardies Festival will be held from 3 to 12 November.

Each spring, Glen Innes celebrates its unique Celtic heritage with its Land of the Beardies Festival, a rare and entertaining mix of Celtic culture, typical Australian pastimes and traditional events.

Along with the program favourites like the Beard Growing Contest, the strongman events and the street parade, the special highlight this year is a performance by the multi-award winning country singer Felicity Urquhart on Saturday, November 11.

The Festival kicks off on Friday November 3 with the opening of the Outback Memorabilia display in the Town Hall. On Saturday November 4 the major event is the ABCRA Rodeo at the Glen Innes Showgrounds, when riders from around the state compete for major prizes.

During the week, the Glen Innes History House offers a fascinating insight into the region’s heritage.

On Saturday November 11, the day begins with Market Stalls and a Celtic Pet Show, followed up in the afternoon with the lively street parade, which winds it way towards King Edward Park, where you’re guaranteed a full evening of family fun and entertainment.

This includes the beard-growing contest with sections for the longest, scruffiest and most eccentric beards; a truck parade and show; a Ulysses Motorbike Club display; and a concert by Felicity Urquhart supported by rising star Aaron Bolton. The night ends with a fireworks display.

Felicity Urquhart recently won three awards at the Telstra CountryWide Southern Stars 10th Annual Australian Independent Country Music Awards in Mildura.

Festival Chairman Alan Goldsmith said it was an absolute thrill to secure Felicity for the Festival.

“We expect Felicity’s appearance will bring even greater numbers to the Festival,” he said.

“We think this year’s program really offers something for everyone and trust people will find our Festival an enriching experience.”

Glen Innes Economic Development and Tourism Manager Wendy Fahey said the Festival gives visitors the chance to see some of the region’s other attractions.

“It’s an opportunity for visitors to come to Glen Innes and see the Australian Standing Stones – which are unique in the southern hemisphere, our World Heritage national parks, fossick for sapphires in the State’s richest region, fish for Murray cod, or simply enjoy our Heritage main street and tourist drives,” she said.

The saphires are not to be sneezed at. One of Australia's best prospecting areas runs along the western edge of the New England Tablelands between Glenn Innes and the nearby town of Inverell whose own Saphire Festival will be held from October 20 to 29.

Exactly how you go about unearthing them, though, requires just the right kind of advice. Here Glen Innes Tourism has just produced a new fossicking brochure that makes your chances of striking it rich just so much easier. Even if you don’t, this brochure will give any first-time fossickers a decent head start.

The “Fossicking in Celtic Country” brochure includes a guide to all the fossicking sites and reserves within easy driving distance of Glen Innes, a detailed map, rules and regulations, instructions on how to fossick and equipment required, a list of local gem sellers and a guide to gem festivals. Copies can be obtained by contacting Glenn Innes Tourism.

Location Details

Gelnn Innes sits at the junction of the New England and Gwydir Highways and is around four and a half hours driving time south of Brisbane, an hour and a quarter north of Armidale, around seven hours driving time north from Newcastle, a bit over eight hours north from Sydney, around two hours west from Grafton.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Onset of the Great Depression - NSW: how to present?

Photo: NSW Depression Dole camp

In my last post I said that I would talk about the 1932 secession moves within NSW. I have been held up by a few practical issues.

I am trying to write from a New England perspective. This means standing outside the conventional metro frames.

When I came to look at the 1932 secession material - and it is already on blogger in draft, all I have to do is publish - I decided that I should write something about the onset of the depression to set the scene. But the Great Depression was not a uniform experience - measures of unemployment varied from 15 per cent to over 40 per cent depending on area. So one needs to factor this in. Further, there were particular factors that made the NSW state government especially vulnerable - the use of London overdraft finance for example.

No Australian government was equipped to handle the Great Depression. The policy tools developed by John Maynard Keynes did not yet exist. Governments frayed and collapsed. I need to explain this. But in doing so, I face another problem.

I checked with my daughters (19,17). They have no idea who Keynes was. He has vanished. The entire folk memory - the common memory of events and people - has gone.

I first really became conscious of this problem about two months ago when I was writing some material on the wool industry. A friend, late thirties so finishing secondary education in Sydney about 1975, asked me why. She had no idea about the previous importance of the industry or its linkage to Australian history. I then ran some tests asking people about the meaning of words in Waltzing Matilda. It appears we sing the song without knowing the meaning of the words.

I complain about the discontinuity in New England history, the way the past has vanished, but there appears to be a much bigger problem at Australian level. This is not just an issue of knowledge of Australian history itself, but rather more a series of cultural shifts that appear to have progressively cut people off from their shared past.

While I have written on elements of this on Personal Reflections, my concern here is a purely practical one. What does it mean for the way I write? How much additional information must I provide?

At the very least, I need to do some re-writing. Some of my material was written over twenty years ago. I would stand by most facts and interpretations, at this level the material has stood up pretty well to the passage of time. However, I clearly need to add more explanatory material.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The New England New State Movement and Regional Movements in Australia 1

Graphic: New England New State Movement Anthem, National Library

We will raise the banner of New England
Work for New England, Fight for New England
We will raise the battle cry of freedom
Fight for our Liberty
Part of the New England Anthem

Way up in the north of Northern NSW
There is a new state movement that's sort of on the go
But what will be the capital of this new state of ours?
That is the burning question that's being worrying them for hours
Will it be in Armidale, Tamworth or Bendameer?
Or will it be in Grafton the place where they make beer?
Song, University of New England Student Review, 1960s

This is the first part of what was a much longer post, so long that it became absolutely unreadable. I am therefore breaking it up into multiple posts that I can run over the next week or so.

One of the questions I sometimes get asked, usually out of a vague sense of curiosity since the issue now seems so remote, is why I support a New England New State.

When the Grazier's Association in NSW again suggested new states a year or so back, the metro media was confused about the idea, even those supporting the idea had little sense of the history.

There is a historical discontinuity that grows worse. Nearly all of the leaders of the post war New England Movement are now dead. There has been little academic research that I am aware of over recent decades not just on New England, but the whole Australian regional experience and history.

Regional development has become popular again, but the policy arguments largely ignore past experiences. Those now arguing in favour of regional governments in place of states have, I think, little idea of just how old this argument is, of the differences between that and the new state concept, of the way in which the various issues have been debated in the past through newspapers, public meetings, journals, Royal Commissions, pamphlets and books. An entire slab of the Australian experience has been effectively deleted from both living memory and the pages of history.

Australia's Regional Movements

The New England New State Movement forms part of what I call the regional movements, political, social and cultural responses from regional areas to the challenges they face and especially those flowing from metro domination. The regional movements in NSW that led to the separation of Victoria and Queensland are early examples of regional movements, the rise of the independents in NSW and Queensland the most recent example. Politicians such as Richard Torbay or Tony Windsor sit squarely in a long tradition.

There have been many regional movements between the successful Queensland and Victorian separation movements and today's independents: the other attempts to create new colonies during the nineteenth century; the Decentralisation Leagues that sprang up in the 1880s in Victoria and New South Wales; the regional development and decentralisation campaigns of the early part of the twentieth century; the Country Party; the creation of county councils in NSW; the various twentieth century new state movements across Australia; the populist movements of the depression period including Western Australia's attempts to secede from the Commonwealth and the threatened secession from NSW of New England; the regional councils movement associated with post war reconstruction; the various regional university movements; the growth centres concept of the Whitlam Government.

To the degree that they are still written about, many of these various movements are presented as populist conservative in a historical frame determined by metro focused conventions. Thus the potential secession moves - the break up of NSW - in the period leading up to the dismissal of Jack Lang are presented, if even recognised, as a footnote within a frame set by New Guard and Old Guard, radical and conservative responses to Lang.

These moves were much more than this because they drew from an incipient sense of regional nationalism, were led by dominant regional leaders, had press support and were set within a historical frame created by years of political endeavour. They had also defined a constitutional base for irregular action based on the case of West Virginia, drawing from advice provided by J G Latham among others.

Coming Posts

In my next post I will look briefly at just how close NSW came to break up in 1932, writing not from the conventional metro perspective, but looking at it as a New Englander who could have wished for a different outcome.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

New England New State Movement - Reference Sources

Photo: New England flag

I have established this page to provide a source of information on material relating to new states in general, the New England Movement in particular. I will update progressively.

  • Kingdom of New England. An entertaining alternative history site. Following a declaration of independence from Australia on 19 February 2006 and a bitter civil war, New England's status as an independent nation was confirmed by the Treat of Wellington in 2011. Initial relations with Australia were tense, but have improved following New England's victory in the five days war (2032) with Australia supported by locally based US forces.
  • Potential New States Home Page. A web site discussing possible new states in Australia including some historical material.
  • New States for Australia. Web site arguing the case for new states within Australia.

New England Archival Material

  • MS 7990 - AITKIN, Don, 1937- (5 boxes) Academic and Country Party historian. Original minutes, correspondence, financial records and notes relating to Australian Country Party (N.S.W.) activity in the period 1919-72, especially in the New England district. Includes State records of the Progressive Party, Annual Conferences, Central Council and Central Executive, and Electorate Councils and a large body of Gunnedah Branch records. Other documents, including press releases, relate to the New England New State Movement, elections and election broadcasts. Available for reference. List available (14 p.) Australian National Libary
  • BETTER COMMUNICATIONS LEAGUE: RECORDS. Minutes, correspondence, reports, maps, brochures, political speeches, submissions, newspaper clippings and other papers related to the activities of the League in forwarding its aims and objectives. According to its constitution, those objects were: "to take whatever steps may be necessary or desirable to obtain better communications for the northern portion of this State, but with initial emphasis on the completion of a) a new, modern highway between Glen Innes and Grafton, b) the construction of a deep sea port at Iluka c) the building of a railway linking Inverell and Glen Innes." A detailed provisional listing of these records (8p.) Is available in the Archives. c.1938-1978. A245 University of New England Archives.
  • DODD RECORDS, 1876-1918; AND THE NEW STATE LEAGUE, (GLEN INNES) RECORDS. Includes records of the Glen Innes branch of the New State League, 1920-23. These include the Minutes of the inaugural meeting (24 May, 1920) constitutions, correspondence, leaflets, accounts and a petition. 9 vols., 9 folders. 1920-1923.A275. University of New England Archives
  • DRUMMOND, DAVID HENRY: PAPERS. A large and miscellaneous collection of papers of the late David Henry Drummond from every period of his political life. Many of these papers discuss two of his major interests, education and constitutional issues. A complete list of this material is available on request. a member of the Joint Parliamentary. 20 Volumes, 37 Boxes. 1874-1965. A248. University of New England Archives
  • MS 1006 - ELLIS, Ulrich, 1904-83 (12 folders). Political Secretary to Earle Page and Director, Federal Country Party Secretariat. Documents relating to his career as a journalist and his association with the Country Party, 1900-1961. Material includes: newspaper clippings; correspondence; notes and sources on the formation and history of the Country Party, as used for his study A History of the Country Party in Australia; election papers; collections of speeches by Arthur Fadden, John McEwen and Page; subject files on the constitution, transport, water resources, centralism and postwar reconstruction. Also documented are Ellis' work on the executive of the New England New State Movement and the political figures Lyons, Menzies and Bruce, and academic Don Aitkin. Available for reference. List available (5 p.). Australian National Libary
  • MS 748 - ELLIS, Ulrich, 1904-83 (14 boxes). Includes: Australian Country Party (N.S.W.). Annual Conference record of proceedings, 1949-51; summary of decisions on resolutions submitted, 1951-52; notes on White Australia Policy. Available for reference. List available (7 p.) Australian National Libary
  • Farrell, Tom Papers. Newcastle business man and community activist. Includes new state papers. University of Newcastle Archives
  • MS 8471 - GRAHAM, Bruce Desmond, 1931- (2 folders). Academic and Country Party historian. Notes on oral history interviews made in 1956-57 while he was writing his history The Formation of the Australian Country Parties. The interviewees include Page, Weiley, Vincent, Bruxner, Buttenshaw, Budd, Main, C.L.A. Abbott, Latham and Bruce; emphasis is given to the activities of the New South Wales division of the Party. Also included are some documents relating to the New England New State Movement.
    Information pertaining to interviews is available for reference; restricted access to documents concerning the New England New State Movement. List available (4 p.) Australian National Libary
  • GUNDY See under Northern New States League: papers, 1921-24 Waverley Station, Gundy: records, 1914-1961 1921-1924 & 1914-1961 A219 & A271. University of New England Archives
  • HARRISON, P.N. Papers-New England New State Movement 1950s and 60s
    1950's - 1960's. A1427. University of New England Archives
  • MS 7507 - NATIONAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA (148 boxes). Comprehensive collection of Federal, State, Electorate and Branch records, 1915-1983 (bulk, 1950-83) including: minutes; files; election material; documents relating to Young Australian Country Party.
    Restricted access. List available (19 p.) Australian National Libary
  • mfm G675, G7320, G7748 - NATIONAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA. Microfilmed minutes of Inverell and other Branch Councils, 1927-56. Restricted access to G675; G7320, G7748 available for reference. Australian National Library
  • NEW ENGLAND NEW STATE MOVEMENT, ARMIDALE: ANNE PHILP, INCLUDING ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS. Headquarters records of the Movement in three 4-drawer filing cabinets. An index to the files is available in the Archives. 3 filing cabinets
    various A547 University of New England Archives
  • NEW ENGLAND NEW STATE MOVEMENT: An extensive collection of papers, press clippings and printed material, meeting minutes and agendas, petitions and surveys, reports etc. Date range 1950s-1960s. 3 boxes. 1950's & 1960's. A1427. University of New Engalnd Archives
    1964 - 1970. A811. University of New England Archives.
  • NEW ENGLAND NEW STATE MOVEMENT: FURTHER PAPERS c.1962 A963 University of New England Archives
    1933-1961 A948
    . University of New England Archives
    1950's & 1960's
    . A1427.University of New England Archives
  • NEW ENGLAND NEW STATE MOVEMENT RECORDS. Newspaper cuttings and papers relating to the Cohen (N.S.W.) Royal Commission of 1924-5; correspondence (general and inter-branch); minute books, press releases and propaganda leaflets; convention papers. 1919-1960. A1. University of New England Archives
  • NORTHERN NEW STATES LEAGUE, UPPER HUNTER DISTRICT. Minute book of the Upper Hunter district council of the Northern New States League, covering the period from the inaugural meeting presided over by Mr H.L. White at Scone (llth May, 1921). The league was formed by the combined representatives of the movem ent from Aberdeen, Gundy, Parkville and Scone; representatives from other northern districts were to join in later years. Minutes end with the meeting of 15th May, 1924, when arrangements were made regarding evidence to be given before the New States Commission due to sit at Scone on the 6th and 7th June, 1924. 1 Volume. 1921-24. A219. University of New England Archives.
  • O'BRIEN PAPERS. (Re: New State Movement.). c.1963-68. A544. University of New England Archives.
  • PAGE PAPERS. A large and highly miscellaneous collection of papers accumulated over nearly 60 years in the life of an eminent and many-sided Australian. Speeches, press-releases, correspondence and notes on medical, political, social, economic and family matters conce rning Earle Page at various times in his long career. 8 boxes, 3 folders.
    1903-66. A1. University of New England Archives.
  • MS 1633 - PAGE, Sir Earle Christmas Grafton, 1880-1961 (ca. 250 boxes)
    Leader of Australian Country Party. Substantial collection of personal, semi-official and official documents, consisting of subject files of correspondence, telegrams, cables, cuttings, reports, memoranda, speeches, Cabinet papers, press statements, parliamentary bills, statistics, election material and notes. Topics covered include primary industry, taxation and banking, foreign affairs, national insurance, federalism, industrial relations, constitutional reform and referenda, social services, immigration, trade, new state movements, formation of the Bruce-Page Government, and the Country Party. Bruce, Bruxner, Casey, Latham, V.C. Thompson, Lyons, Paterson, Spender, Menzies and Fadden number in Page's various correspondents. Official and non-official papers available for reference; restricted access to Country Party papers. List available (43 p.) Australian National Libary
  • SCONE. See under Invermein Station, Scone: records Northern New States League: papers, 1921-24. 1855-1934. A226. University of New England Archives
  • WRIGHT, PHILLIP ARUNDELL, DIARIES. The personal diaries of Phillip Arundell Wright of "Wallamumbi Station" from 1906 to 1945. A breakdown of the contents of the diaries by year exists for a little under half of the material. 3 Boxes RESTRICTED 1906-1945. A635. University of New England Archives.
  • WRIGHT, PHILLIP ARUNDELL, DIARIES. RESTRICTED 1946-1970 A666. University of New England Archives

Thursday, October 05, 2006

History of New England, Australia - Pause for Reflection

Having set the scene with an introduction to the history of New England's railways, I was going to discuss the rise of agriculture. However, I find that there are gaps, puzzles, about some of the structure that I have been using as a historical framework.

Part of this relates simply to dates. More precisely, the absence of them in some cases. Chronology, while somewhat in disfavour today, remains important. There is no point in arguing that a causes b if in fact b came first.

Take the question of freight costs. Yes, the railways were critical to the expansion of wheat production, especially for export markets. But it's not as simple as that. Agricultural expansion in fact began in advance of the railways, notwithstanding the very high cost of horse or bullock transport. The answer here appears to lie in the combination of mining with town growth, increasing the size of the immediate local market. But to check this, I need to say something about mining and its impact. Do the dates fit?

I also need to look again at the history of Newcastle because I have some gaps here. Again taking a transport example. The extension of the Great Northern Railway benefited Newcastle at the expense of Morpeth, that is clear. Again, it is clear that Newcastle lost out to Sydney once the bridge over the Hawkesbury River was completed. But the actual period in which Newcastle held economic sway comes back to railway completion dates and may have been shorter than I thought.

One of my very real difficulties is that there is so little stuff on line and that which is there is fragmented. This simply reflects the fact that no one has really focused on the history of the broader New England - at least no one that I am aware of - over the last twenty five years. That after all is why this blog came into existence.

At the moment I do not have the time or money for that matter to go back into the painstaking business of checking primary sources such as local newspapers or private papers held in the archives. I need to work from my own previous research, from personal knowledge and from what secondary sources there are, pointing to questions and gaps, at least creating the structure for future research.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

New England Australia - Railways Introduction

Photo: Northern mail train.

Returning to the history of New England, I began a post discussing the rise of agriculture then realised that there was a missing building block that needed to be filled in first, the railways.

In earlier posts I discussed the impact of transport costs on early European settlement (see here for a stocktake summary of earlier historical posts), pointing also to the way in which geography, transport and fights over transport helped shape New England's history.

The first railways in New England were the coal tramways in the lower Hunter. This was followed by the construction of Great Northern Railway - by far the largest construction work in New England in the 19th century - linking Newcastle with Tenterfield and the Queensland border. Spurs were built from this line to open new agricultural areas. Then the first decades of the twentieth saw the progressive completion of the North Coast line.

Railways, their construction and impact, were a constant theme in New England politics.

The railways encouraged the spread of agriculture, especially wheat, in inland New England, leading to the growth of centres such as Tamworth and Inverell.

The progressive construction of the Great Northern Railway had other profound impacts on towns along the route. Small local industries - soap works, breweries are examples - vanished in the face of increased competition. Traffic was diverted from the river ports to the new railway, briefly creating what Lazlo called an economic commonwealth centred on Newcastle, before the opening of the Hawkesbury River bridge diverted Newcastle traffic to Sydney.

In earlier posts (here and here) I looked at the history of inland river transport as a case study in inter-colonial rivalry, at the way in which transport policy was used to benefit commercial interests in the respective capital cities, to centralise traffic.

The New England railways reflected this pattern. Freight rates were set so as to benefit the whole system, and that effectively meant Sydney. Initially the rates were designed to attract traffic from rival transport modes. Then when the line from Sydney to Newcastle finally opened, freight rates on that line were set so as to divert traffic from Newcastle to Sydney. This effectively meant that some northern freight was initially carried at zero rates on this last stretch.

Economic concepts such as network economics or the multiplier had not then been developed, so people lacked the analytical tools that we have today to look at impacts. This is not insignificant. Had the multiplier (the way in which one dollar of spend creates further spend) been invented, the negative static financial analysis used to discredit the proposed Northern New State during the 1924 Cohen Royal Commission could itself have been discredited.

But while people lacked the tools, they were not blind to the practical effects of the railways and railway policies. The need for east-west linkages was a constant theme. From the Hunter Valley in the south to the far Northern Tablelands, from the 1880's to the 1950's, lines were proposed, some were approved by the NSW Parliament, construction even started in at least one case, none were finished.

The first part of what would become the North Coast rail line - in this case linking the Tweed with the Clarence and the rival river ports with their most immediate hinterland - was approved by the Parkes Government as a compromise to a rival east-west proposal. The problem in all cases lay in trenchant railway opposition on one side, rival and fragmented local interests on the other.

The North Coast line, built in fits and starts from Maitland to the Queensland border, finally allowed through traffic from Sydney to Brisbane from 1930, although a train ferry was still required at Grafton until the bridge over the Clarence was completed in 1932.

Blocked from east-west traffic, now facing direct north-south competition from rail, the North Coast ports entered their final decline. Of all New England's ports, only Newcastle would survive and prosper because of its industrial base and its role as a coal export port.

The bifurcation of New England into two north-south zones - an inland and coastal strip zones -was now complete, although it would take a number of years before the effects were fully felt, including the rise of the coast and parallel decline of the inland.

Initially Brisbane-Sydney rail traffic was carried on both lines. As a child I remember the haunting early morning wail of the Brisbane Mail as it passed through Armidale, of getting up early so that Dad could catch the Brisbane train. But traffic steadily passed to the upgraded coastal route, finally culminating in the closure of the Great Northern Railroad north of Armidale.

Initially, too, the New England Highway remained the main north-south traffic route. The Pacific Highway was narrow and winding and even in the 1960's punts were used to cross certain rivers, leading to longish waits. Again this period is imprinted on my memory in part because of the sounds, in this case the trucks changing gear in the early morning as they climbed the hill two blocks west of our home.

Again, even in the 1960's population structures in inland and coastal New England were similar outside Newcastle as New England's biggest city. While inland New England was losing young people (by 1960 as many people born on the Northern Tablelands lived elsewhere as lived on the Tablelands itself), Armidale and Tamworth were comparable in size to Lismore or Grafton as the biggest coastal cities, Inverell was bigger than Coffs Harbour.

Even though there were no east-west railways and in fact few tarred roads (the first tarred road to the coast dates from the early sixties), the east-west links established by history and maintained through the campaigns of the New England New State Movement were still apparently strong.

To my mind, the turning point came in 1967 with the narrow defeat of the New State plebiscite. Much of New England voted yes, with majorities over eighty per cent in some booths. However, the ALP, fearful of being locked into a minority position in any New England State, mounted a powerful campaign against.

Polling before the vote showed that if Newcastle people were asked the question, if there is to be a New England New State should Newcastle be part, there was a clear yes majority. If the question was rephrased to say, Labor is opposed to the New England New State, do you support it, the yes vote dropped to 30 per cent.

The anti-new state campaign by Labor gathered most of the Labor faithful in Newcastle and the coal mining areas into the no camp. There was also a strong no campaign among dairy farmers in the lower Hunter fearful of losing access to the Sydney milk market. Together, this powerful no vote was just sufficient to defeat the plebiscite.

The issue of inclusion of Newcastle in New England had been a vexed one among some New Englanders. However, the reality was that the Hunter had always been part of New England in geographic terms. Further, Maitland as the junction point for the Great Northern and coastal rail lines needed to be included, and you couldn't really put a state boundary through the middle of the Hunter Valley. All these factors had combined to lead the 1930's Nicholas Royal Commission, the second Royal Commission forced by the New Englanders, to recommend boundaries including Newcastle.

At the time of the defeat the New England New State Movement had been campaigning in a sustained way since the end of the Second World War. Well over a 100,000 pounds had been raised and spent on campaigning, especially since the launch of Operation Seventh State in 1961. Exhausted and dispirited, the Movement collapsed. With it went the political cohesion that had been holding New England together.

Since then, New England has fragmented into a series of competing localities and sub-regions. It has lost much of the sense of its own identity and has declined in influence across every dimension.

In a small way, this blog is an attempt to bring it back, to capture and present the New England experience. I was and remain a proud New Englander.