Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Far Country - Armidale Demonstration School 1955

One thing that I find so satisfying about blogging is that the way in which the slowly accumulating posts are starting to create a framework story on some of the things that I am most interested in. So many posts now add a little detail, extend, something that I have already said.

Bruce Hoy kindly sent me a photo of the year 5 class, Armidale Demonstration School, 1955, along with some information on his doings. I have now put up a story on this on the New England Australia blog. In this post, I thought that I would provide a little additional context.

History, at least as I see it, is about people and experiences. Here I want to capture and present aspects of the Australian experience before they are lost, to help people reach back into the past.

Back on 10 September 2006 in my first post in the Migration Matters series I referred to a rather good book by Don Aitkin looking at change in Australia through the prism set by the Armidale High School Leaving Certificate class of 1953.

The children of year 5, Armidale Demonstration School 1955, live in the same world as Don's 1953 Leaving Certificate class. You can see this in the clothing in the rather grainy and damaged black and white photo. Here there are no designer labels, no smart uniforms.

You can also see this in the composition of the class with children from all sorts of different groups and economic backgrounds sitting together. In fact, and this is an issue that I really still have to deal with, society on the New England Tablelands was highly stratified. But that did not stop mixing among groups in a way that is really alien today.

Today we reject the idea of social structure based on birth. Yet, at least as I see it, we have created structures that effectively stream children based on one determinant, access to money. Armidale Dem was very different.

Armidale was always different from other places because this was the site of the first experiment in regional higher education. Today the spread of higher education across regional Australia has caused major changes in regional life. This could not have happened without Armidale and the New England New State Movement. Here I quote from the NSW Heritage Register on the Armidale Teacher's College site, now UNE's CB Newling Centre:

The C B Newling Centre, formerly the Armidale Teachers' College, is of State significance. It was the first Teachers' College built outside the Sydney Metropolitan area to train country teachers for country service. The College played a significant role in the establishment of the University College of New England in 1938, leading to the establishment of the University in 1954. It is also physical evidence of the influential New England New State Movement and the role country politicians played during the 1920s and 1930s, particularly the Local Member of Parliament, D.H. Drummond, in the decentralisation of education. The New State Movement heavily influenced State politics between the 1920s and the 1960s, using political parties and dissatisfaction with services in regional areas, to further their attempts to secede from New South Wales. The Movement significantly improved infrastructure in the region, with the C.B. Newling Centre being the first notable example of their success.

I sometimes get smiles because I still want self government for New England, because I argue that without a strong New State campaign New England will continue to be ignored. Perhaps I should rest my case with this quote!

I also sometimes try to counter in my writing the idea that current Australian society is more outward looking, more mobile and more progressive than that of the past when in fact I think that the reverse is true. My view is that as Australia got bigger, we have turned in.

I mentioned eleven people in my post. None of them are still in Armidale. They have gone all over Australia and the world.

Finally, I think that the post brings out another theme, the complexity of Australian life.

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