The death of Australian writer and cultural icon Richard Neville attracted widespread attention.
Looking at the reporting, two things stood out. The first was the genuine liking for Richard Neville as a person.
The second was the sense of nostalgia, the memory of times past that Neville had in some ways personified.
In later columns, I will tell you a little of the story of counter-culture in New England. For the moment, I just note we all have periods in our life that stand out as formative, often hazed in a golden glow. For many of us - not all - that’s childhood and young adulthood.
I was reminded of this by four books that I have been re-reading. The books are all set on the New England Tablelands.
Each is a story of childhood or young adulthood in a country setting. Spanning many years, they tell stories of personal change against a backdrop of major historical change. Each tells us a little about our own story.
The period from the early 18th century to the start of World War II saw a period of economic expansion followed by consolidation.
There were major shocks: the depression of the 1840s, that of the 1890s and the 1930s; there was war. During those periods, many lost their properties, some their lives, yet the social system they established seemed solid.
Decline followed in the great remaking of Australian society from World War II through to the end of the 20th century. By the end of the 20thcentury, the society that had seemed so secure had been largely relegated to history.
I have spoken before about writer and filmmaker Maslyn Williams. Born in England in 1911, Williams came to Australia in the 1920s to work as a jackeroo on a large station near Tenterfield. His Mother's Country is an almost lyrical account of his experiences during this period, one that I described as a New England classic.
Written in the third person, his account shows life on the station and in the nearby town from the perspective of someone who could mix across social divides. Maslyn’s experiences created a love of Australia that would keep him here for the rest of his life.
Half a Lifetime is a very different book. Born in 1915, poet and writer Judith Wright was a member of a family who had major pastoral interests in the Falls country to the east of Armidale and in Queensland.
Written towards the end of her life, half a lifetime is a partial account of her life up to the death of husband Jack in 1966 covering childhood, school, her experiences at Sydney University and then in Queensland.
The historical span of half a lifetime is greater than the other books, stretching over 140 years from the arrival of George and Margaret Wyndham in the Hunter Valley in the late 1820s. It is a more acerbic and reflective book than the others, written by a woman looking back and reflecting in part on the formation of her own views.
I will look at the remaining books next week.
Jim Belshaw’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ (New England life) and http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/ (New England history)
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