New England history matters: Personal stories reveal times of change

War photographers, New Guinea: (Back left) Damien Parer, Frank Hurley, (front left) Maslyn Williams and George Silk.
War photographers, New Guinea: (Back left) Damien Parer, Frank Hurley, (front left) Maslyn Williams and George Silk.

My writing on domestic life and childhood has taken me deep into nostalgia territory, as it has for some of my readers.

This has not been helped by the Armidale Families Past and Present Facebook site!

Founded and moderated by Elizabeth Pollard, the membership has exploded to almost 2200.

The majority of members no longer live in Armidale, but are enjoying exchanging reminiscences and sharing photos. It is, all agree, quite addictive.

From my viewpoint as an historian, the site and others like it add to the already great depth of historical material on the broader New England.

We need many more historians if we are to capture and present the story of our past over the last 30,000 years to the level that it deserves.

They are stories of personal and family change set against a backdrop of major change at local, regional and national level.

That requires broader action. For the moment and to continue the childhood and nostalgia theme, I thought that I would share with you over coming columns five stories about growing up or coming of age on the Tablelands during the 20th century.

Four of the five are based on autobiographical pieces. The writer’s age varies, although all were born before World War II. Maslyn Williams was born in 1911, Judith Wright in 1915, Binks Turnbull Dowling in 1923, and Judith Wallace in 1932.

To their stories I have added a fifth, that of Peter Woolnough, better known by his stage name Peter Allen. Born on February 10, 1944. Peter carries our coverage into the 1950s.

Four of the five were born in New England, the fourth (Maslyn Williams) was born in the United Kingdom.

Three of the five became writers, the fourth a songwriter, singer and cabaret star. The fifth (Binks Dowling) was the daughter of a writer.

Of the five, only Binks Dowling remained in New England.

Each story is different, describing different aspects of life during formative periods in the subject’s life. They are stories of personal and family change set against a backdrop of major change at local, regional and national level.

Yet there are similarities between them.

All four have an element of nostalgia, a feeling of looking back. Four of the five have an element of loss.

Only one, that of Maslyn Williams, is totally sunny. Only one, Judith Wright, involves an explicit and sometimes acerbic rejection of a past that yet retains its hold over her.

In the short compass of these columns with my 500 word limit I can do no more than sketch a few key elements in each story. Still, I hope that they will be of interest and encourage you to read further into the fascinating story that is New England’s past.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ (New England life) and http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/ (New England history)

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