Back in October 1919 I wrote on the economic, cultural and social benefits of family, local and regional history.
Achievement of these benefits depends upon a network of historical societies, family history groups, museums and archives spread across Northern NSW. Within that network, the University of New England's Heritage Centre occupies a very particular place.
The Centre's history is a remarkable one. I will share a little of that history with you over the next few columns
In 1938, the still small staff at the newly established New England University College faced considerable challenges. The College was founded to become the Sydney University of the North. It was expected to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of the North. It was expected to provide a high quality university education to its new students.
Staff took these responsibilities seriously, but lacked access to books and other resources necessary to support teaching, research and extension activities. An effort began to build local resources that students could use and that would also support research. This extended from history and economics into other disciplines including geology and geography.
Initially progress was slow, but momentum did build. The first Master of Economic on New England's history appeared in 1940, followed by Desmond Long's BA Honours thesis, the History of New England 1832-1861. With time, these theses in history and other disciplines would become a critical resource.
Long went onto a Master's thesis on the history of colonial New England, in so doing building up descriptions of source resources in various locations. He also wrote on the professional issues involved in the writing of regional history.
In 1946, the Northern Daily Leader and other papers reporting on Long's work carried an appeal for old records from any area of Northern NSW to be supplied to the History Department. The appeal noted that such records were often stacked away in homesteads, often brought out only to be destroyed.
In 1943, Jim Belshaw (Head History & Economics) and Alan Voisey (Head Geology & Geography) had attempted to establish a NEUC Research Bureau. This failed because of lack of money, but with the ending of the war, funding became available to fund a series of research monographs focused especially on the history of mining.
Writing in 1951 in the NEUC Regional Research Report, Belshaw described the area of geographic coverage as the Tablelands, North Coast, Upper Hunter and Western Slopes and Plains. This remains the formal coverage of the Heritage Centre today.
Belshaw also expressed the hope that, with time, the NEUC might be able to make some contribution to the welfare of Northern New South Wales.
Read more on the importance of history by Jim Belshaw in October 1919: