Open discussion on the evolution of Australian and New Zealand Thought

Monday, 24 December 2007

Season's Greetings

Christmas tomorrow, marking four months exactly since the first post on this blog. Now, 25 posts later, Rafe and I are still feeling our way.

This is quite a complicated blog to develop simply because of the combination of a vast canvas with limited time. In 2008 I hope that we will be able to add further contributors, thus speeding the content creation process.

To our still very small number of visitors, season's greetings from Rafe and I. We hope that you have a peaceful and happy Christmas and a great new year.

Friday, 21 December 2007

History of the NSW HSC English syllabus

In November I mentioned a post that Neil Whitfield had written on Professor Sam Goldberg and the Leavisite tradition. Now Neil has written another interesting post looking at the history of the HSC English syllabus in NSW.

Don't be put off by the title - Right wing education critique is historically inaccurate and perpetuates myths. While Neil has put this post in his rants' category, the historical material is interesting.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Rural Research in Australia - a note

Another short companion piece, this time to Rafe's story on Jim Vincent. I found the story interesting for a number of reasons.

To begin with, it illustrated how much science has changed.

Our previous scientists lived in a constrained world, one in which scientific endeavour had to be restricted to very limited budgets. The total Australian university spend on scientific research at the time that Jim Vincent began his work was probably less in real terms than the spend today at a single Australian university.

Is this significant? I don't know. I only know that it has struck me a number of times when I read material on Australia's earlier academics and research scientists.

I was also struck, again, by the scale of Australia's success in early applied science.

At national level, the need for an Australian national research institute was first raised in debates about nationhood in the late 1890s. However, the first serious attempt to create a national research institute began in 1916, when Prime Minister Billy Hughes’ Government established an Advisory Council of Science and Industry to advise on the establishment of an Institute of Science and Industry.

The Institute was launched in 1921 to undertake scientific research, review existing research and disseminate scientific information. The Institute had limited funds and failed to develop.

In 1925, under the influence of Deputy PM and Country Party Leader Earle Page, Prime Minister Bruce convened a conference. He invited Sir Frank Heath, head of the British Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, to advise on the reorganisation of the Institute. Their reports led to the passing of new legislation in 1926 to establish the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

With an Executive Committee of George Julius, David Rivett and Arnold Richardson at the helm, CSIR was to become one of the most comprehensive scientific organisations in the world.

Many Australians forget just how much Australia has contributed to scientific research. The national payback and especially in agriculture has been huge.

Modern Australians also forget that debate about environmental issues, about land degradation and improvement, is not new. Wadham and Wood's pioneering study on land utilisation was in fact published first in 1939. Today's debate replicates many elements of the earlier debate.

The description of pasture improvement struck a chord, too. In 1950 in New England the carrying capacity on native pastures was one sheep per acre. Fifteen years later it was three sheep per acre.

We can debate issues associated with the replacement of native pasture. The reality is that in 1950 you could make a decent living off 1,000 merino sheep. Twenty years later you needed three times that number just to survive.

Science allowed Australia to grow so that we continued to feed and cloth more than seventy million people world-wide. Today we debate whether or not this can continue.

My personal view is that we have barely scratched the productive land-mass of the Australian continent. At this point I do not want to debate this, beyond saying that the continued work of scientists such as Jim Vincent are central to our future.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Jim Vincent, one of our quiet achievers

Dr Jim Vincent made a fleeting appearance in Australian literature as the model for the schoolteacher 'Bill Sinclair' in Kylie Tennant's prize winning 1935 novel “Tiburon”. This was set in a small country town where the P&C of the school wanted more emphasis on cultural studies rather than the practical arts championed by 'Bill Sinclair'. In real life Jim Vincent's first job after graduating from Sydney University in 1933 was to teach Agriculture at Canowindra in the central west of NSW.

In 1986 Vincent's colleagues honoured his 75th birthday with a conference and the papers were collected in a memorial volume. This is a testament to the world-class achievements of Australian research in microbiology, and also to the impact of a fine teacher and researcher who provided inspiration and guidance for much of the local work in this field.

In soil-plant relations and agricultural science generally Australian researchers have a wonderful record. Their efforts have fed through into practical developments and farming practice has been transformed by successful research and development, with massive implications for the economy and thus for the welfare of all Australians. It is widely known that the Australian economy rode on the sheep's back (and lately on the backs of wheat farmers and miners as well) but it is not equally well known how much this ride depends on applied scientific research by Vincent and others like him.

Those who think that Australian farming is based on soils of great natural fertility need to think again. Much of the continent can be described in the terms applied to the site of the first farm in the colony "the bulk of the soil is shallow and sandy with outcrops of rock at too frequent intervals". Almost all the soils in Australia are low in natural fertility, lacking nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, the three major nutrients needed for plant growth. Many also lack one or more 'trace elements', which, like vitamins, are required in minute quantities for healthy plant and animal growth.

Phosphorus in the form of 'super' (superphosphate) is provided out of a sack but nitrogen has so far been too expensive to supply in this manner over large areas. The answer has been provided by special strains of bacteria which colonise the roots of legumes such as subterranean ('sub') clover and extract nitrogen from the air for the use of the plant. This 'fixed' nitrogen then builds up the fertility of the soil when the clover dies or is eaten by animals.

Some decades elapsed between the discovery of the potential benefits of sub clover and its widespread use in improved pasture because the performance of the clover was at first highly unreliable. This is where Vincent and his colleagues came in. The situation improved dramatically when the role of the bacteria in the root nodules came to light, followed by techniques to inoculate the seed with compatible varieties of bacteria.

A 1990 interview with Jim

Jim, the purpose of this interview is to draw attention to some of the outstanding Australian work in rural research and to some of the distinguished agricultural researchers who are only known to the narrow circle of their associates.

Well I don't regard myself as especially distinguished, just a good middle of the road scientist.

In any case, the work of "good middle of the road" biological scientists does not get the public recognition it deserves.

Yes, and this lack of recognition is reflected in recruitment. Agriculture just does not have the financial pull of accounting and law. This is shown in the cut-off mark for entering schools of Agriculture and the situation with Science is worse. Vetinerary science is not so bad because people expect to make a good living in private practice.

How did you come to be recruited into agriculture? Did you come off the land like so many of our rural researchers?

I didn't actually come off the land, though I was born at Narrabri [a small country town]in 1911. My parents had a small shop that was burnt out in a big fire and they came to Sydney when I was a few months old. Some of my mother's relatives share-farmed and we stayed with them sometimes so I got to know about the hard lot of the share farmer.

I went through Parramatta High School and I don't recall having any special interest in agriculture. Late in my final year Waterhouse (Professor of Agriculture) sent out letters to all the high schools to tell prospective university students about his department. This letter was posted on the board at school and it took my fancy. So along with three other students on teachers scholarships I went off to study Agriculture at the University of Sydney.

Most successful people can look back and identify a "significant teacher" early in their career.

At Sydney University it was Waterhouse. He was not only a very good teacher but he was very good at research on the applied side.

And in due course you became a school teacher.

After graduation I was posted to teach Agriculture at Canowindra District Rural School. This was a lower level high school which did not take people through to matriculation, though they may have taken a certificate at the end of year 9.

Your career as a school teacher did not last very long.

In a little under 2 years I was back to fill a vacancy for a lecturer in Biology at the Teachers College. This was just one of the many fortunate events in my life. At the time I was the youngest lecturer ever appointed.

Two years later Waterhouse had another hand in my career. He recommended me for one of the Pawlett Scholarships that were awarded for studies overseas.

I was supposed to do a post-graduate diploma course in Soil Microbiology at Kensington but when I arrived the course was no longer running. They sent me on to the School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine where I took on a new and demanding discipline of semi-micro analytical work.

In the second year I did the Postgraduate Diploma in Bacteriology. This was a very prestigious school with two world leaders, Topley and Wilson on staff. At the time they were developing serological techniques to classify the various strains of Salmonella. (Salmonella was a big public health problem at that time).

When did you start work on root nodule bacteria?

My interest in Rhizobium firmed when I went from London to spend a semester at the University of Wisconsin which was then a leading area for the study of root nodule bacteria. Two of the staff, Baldwin and McKay, wrote the standard text for the area and some good early work on the biology of nitrogen fixation was done in the department.

How did you find Sydney when you came home?

Back in Sydney in January of 1939 there was a heatwave. The roads were melting when I reported in to Sydney University and nobody much was there. I had a small financial problem, with no pay until the end of the month and daily expenses to meet. Waterhouse lent me some money to tide me over.

The question was, what sort of work to get on with? It had to be simple because the universities had next to no research money in those days, just a lot of manpower (your own). Waterhouse helped out, yet again, by giving me a small centrifuge, not a very sophisticated machine but it was my pride and joy.

For teaching purposes I wanted to demonstrate various serological tests that I learned in London and but I didn't want students playing about with Salmonella so we moved over to Rhizobium.

What was the focus of this work?

I concentrated on root nodulation work, improvising a greenhouse by stacking tubes by the window and so on. I grew Rhizobium on slopes during the day, harvested in the afternoon, took the material home and did tests in the evening. This involved carting tubes and serum around, and an agglutination bath borrowed from the medical school (it never went back). My mother was staying with us at the time and she helped by washing out the tubes during the day so they were dry for the evening.

What was the purpose of the tests?

To rapidly establish the compatibility of various strains of clover with different strains of Rhizobium.

Can you explain a little more about the importance of compatibility between the plants and the bugs?

To obtain nitrogen fixation in the field the clover plants must first of all be infected (invaded) by Rhizobium bacteria. Then these have to form active colonies in nodules on the roots. This is where the actual nitrogen fixation occurs. A natural soil may contain up to twenty varieties of Rhizobium and only a few may be compatible with a particular species of legume. In addition to the matter of compatibility, infection depends on adequate numbers of Rhizobia and on various characteristics of the soil, especially on its degree of acidity, which must not be too high.

The immunological techniques that I learned in London were important to rapidly establish which strains of Rhizobium were compatible with various plants such as white clover or sub clover.

I understand that you had to stop this line of research during the war.

Early in the war there was a certain amount of agitation especially among young scientists to be put to work more effectively in the war effort. This intensified after the bombing of Darwin as the Japanese seeemed to be coming rapidly closer on all fronts and Australia suddenly became very civil defence minded.

Eric Ashby, later Sir Eric, was then Professor of Botany at Sydney. He egged on the Government to do something and one of the results was that I went to the Research and Experiment section of the Commonwealth Department of Home Security.

My job was to go around and talk to scientists and get them involved in various committees where their expert advice could be useful. A great deal of material was coming from the UK on civil defence precautions but a lot of it had to be modified for local conditions.

For example you wanted engineers, physicists and human physiologists to work on slit trenches. The thermal and ventilation requirements for trenches here are quite different from Britain. It was very hard to work out the heating-up characteristics of air-raid shelters because the temperature gradients in the vicinity of shelters are described by very complex mathematical equations. Fortunately we found a man in Tasmania called Jager who knew all about these things.

I gather from your Noel Foldsworthy Memorial lecture "Lab Coat and Gum Boots" that not all scientists are equally at home with the "gum boots" of applied research.

The lab. coat is often the more favoured attire. It was interesting to see the differences between scientists in their capacity to grasp the essence of practical problems that required quick and simple solutions. Some had a quick practical focus, others just wanted to do esoteric research on what they regarded as the fundamentals. Of course what is required is a balanced dual contribution between fundamental investigation and application. These two sides of our science are needed, like the head and the tail of a coin, for it to have value.

You also moved into other areas, like the milk supply.

Milk and also the microbiology of food preservation. One of the senior men in London had worked on the quality of British milk. Back in Sydney I inquired about the local situation and I was horrified to learn that they only tested an occasional sample using methods that were many years out of date. I wrote to the Milk Board and at first received no response but I kept at them and a couple of years later they helped to set up a Milk Board Research Scholarship. The first incumbent was Bob Morton, just back from the Navy and one of the most brilliant students we ever had.

You mentioned that Waterhouse obtained research money from the millers and the wheat growers. It seems that the rural industries have been quite good at supporting R&D in contrast with the general failure of business to back these things.

The Commonwealth Bank had a section to foster rural research. When there was not enough money in the wheat pool to be worth distributing to farmers they would allocate the interest and some of the capital to research, some of which came to our projects at Sydney University. Other funds came more directly from the various industry levies - wool, wheat, meat, dairy. I managed to obtain grants from most of these.

You were good at writing grant applications?

Maybe. More to the point, I was fortunate in being able to show a striking response to innoculation of legume seed on the North Coast and the North-west area. After that my work was not limited by funds. It was small budget work and at that stage in the 1950s it was possible to do a lot of work with simple equipment.

What was the nature of your work on the North Coast?

In the Lismore area they were introducing sub clover by seeding directly into the established Paspalum grass. If the sub did not form effective nodules to fix nitrogen from the air then it had no chance in competition for soil nitrogen against the grass. It was quite easy to pick the plants that did not have nodules because they turned red or yellow with the classical nitrogen deficiency symptoms.

Where did this lead?

It led to the major innovation of innoculating clover seed with a suspension of the appropriate Rhizobium. Then the seedlings did not have to depend on bugs from the soil.

Innoculation of clover seed with Rhizobium was a step in the right direction but it did not always work?

I was called in to help with a problem where supposedly inoculated clover seed failed to form nodules. Nobody had checked the quality of the inoculum. The strain in use by the Dept tended to mutate to a non-nodulating strain and over a period of time the cultures became practically useless.

The valuable lesson that emerged from this was the need for continuous quality control on the inoculum. This recognition led to the establishment of an agency to regularly test the inoculum being provided by commercial firms to the farming community. Some of the standards devised in the course of this work became accepted world wide.

Three commercial seed firms provided funds, the State Department did the field testing and obtained material. The University of Sydney housed the facilities and one or two people were employed to work in the agency. After ten years or so the whole unit moved to the Department and assumed Australia-wide responsibilities for testing and quality control on Rhizobium.

You worked in an area where Australia had a high international profile.

There was a time in the 1960s when Rhizobium work in Australia was leading the world. The monographs produced during this period were dominated by Australians.

The US pioneered much of this work but they did not need to set the same standards because their soils are naturally richer in Rhizobia and there is less need for inoculation. During the time of "the great antibiotics hunt" the American micribiologists all went looking for new antibiotics and the area of nitrogen fixation fell into a rather sad state. Since then the US has caught up due to weight of numbers and funding.

The Rhizobium Newsletter was a significant innovation, first edited by Kevin Marshall in 1956. He is at present in the Chair of Microbiology at the University of NSW. This was a vehicle for informal communication of preliminary findings and work in progress. At first it circulated locally and later it went world wide. The last edition was in 1981 when cost increases, especially in postage, helped to kill it.

You and your colleagues had a hand in the International Biological Programme.

This was the biological counterpart of the International Geophysical Year, except that it ran for more than a year. The subject was defined as 'The Biological Basis of Productivity and Human Welfare' and a major aim was to lift agriculture in the countries of the Third World.

Biological nitrogen fixation had a good representation in the programme with two major volumes of papers. I also wrote a little book (IBP Handbook No 16, A Manual for the Practical Study of Root-Nodule Bacteria). This was published in 1970 and was later translated into Spanish and Chinese.

All of this is a fair record of achievement. Do you have any general thoughts on the attitudes and habits required?

I suggest that young graduates need to be prepared to adapt and develop into areas of responsibility quite different from those envisaged during their time at university.

When I went into teaching I had no idea that I would do anything different. And I threw myself into it. When I went back to the Teachers College that was tremendous and things just fell out of that.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A Note on the Orr Case

In my short post on Philosophy at Melbourne University I mentioned the Orr case.

By way of background, Sydney Sparkes Orr was appointed as professor of philosophy at the University of Tasmania in 1952. In 1956 he was summarily dismissed on the grounds of misconduct, including allegations of sexual misconduct. From then until near his death in 1966, Professor Orr campaigned for reinstatement.

The Orr case raised great passion because of its linkages to academic freedom. However, I was not aware of the complex institutional background, including Professor Orr's immediately preceding agitation for a Royal Commission into the governance and management of the University of Tasmania.

Those who are interested can find information about the history of the University here written from a perspective sympathetic to Professor Orr. W D Joske's ADB entry on Professor Orr provides a harsher perspective.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Australian Legend - a personal note

Rafe's post looking at some writing on the Australian Legend raised some interesting issues. I thought that I should write a short companion piece, adding context especially for readers not familiar with Australian historiography.

Published in 1958, Russel Ward's Australian Legend remains one of Australia's best known history books and was republished back in 2003. The SMH article in the cited link provides an interesting context to the book, while the Australian Government's Cultural Portal provides a short if incomplete and partial introduction to the bush legend.

I have a direct interest in Russel's work at several levels.

He was one of my teachers at the University of New England and in fact forms one element of the New England intellectual tradition that I started to explore in a yet to be completed series. I was also fascinated then and now by the Australian character, although my interpretation was a little different from Russel's.

I do not have time in this short post to write a detailed historical analysis. Instead, I just wanted to point to a few threads that interest me.

All groups, nations included, have their own legends, constructs that they use to interpret the past.

In recent years I have worked mainly as a management consultant. Part of my work has focused on understanding the nature of organisational change and renewal. Central to this has been the nature of organisational cultures, the way in which this impedes or facilitates change.

I make this point because I sometimes feel that in this post-modern world in which the study of history has fragmented and lost a degree of relevance as a consequence, historians have become very uncomfortable in dealing with legends. They want to critique the legend itself, rather than looking at what is.

Take, as an example, the Turner frontier thesis, a thesis that formed a building block in Russel's thinking. In simple terms, Turner argued that the American culture and character had been formed in a positive way by the moving frontier. Russel adopted this concept to some degree and applied it to Australia.

Today, at least in Australia, this type of thinking makes us very uncomfortable because we see the moving frontier through a prism set by indigenous-non-indigenous relations. How can we attribute positive attributes to something so maligned? Yet the frontier thesis has an existence at several levels independent of any questions of Aboriginal-non-Aboriginal relations.

To say that something - the moving frontier - has negative elements, should not deny its broader features, including its role in influencing and supporting intellectual ideas.

Then, too, Russel was writing from and influenced by a particular tradition, one that still retains some mythic powers.

In an earlier work that I have not been able to check so am writing from memory, Professor Moses suggested that there had been three main schools in Australian historiography, old left, new left and imperial.

Russel belonged firmly to the old left stream. Influenced by Irish Catholicism as well as ideas coming out of England, this school saw the creation of a new Australian identity as a central issue. This is the world of Eureka, of trade unions and the 189os strikes, of sometimes rampant Australian nationalism.

Russel's emphasis on mateship, on egalitarianism, comes in part from this world. This is also the world of Bernard Smith, whose pioneering work on the history of Australian art argued that the history of Australian art lay in part in the creation of a distinctive Australian identity.

The position was always far more complicated than Russel allowed. The books that Rafe referred to in his post draw some of this out, including the influence of city based intellectuals and writers. Many of these in fact came from the country, but they formed a distinctive radical group. Much more was involved than just the itinerant bush worker.

Russel also ignored what Moses called the imperial stream in Australian historiography, although Russel himself with his Adelaide connections, with his moustache and formal manners, really came from part of the Australian establishment.

The imperial stream saw Australia and the evolution of the Australian character in the broader context of the history of Great Britain and the Empire. This is the world of Mary Grant Bruce in children's writing, of Charles Chauvel in film.

The imperial stream was just as Australian as the old left tradition. Whereas the old left tradition saw Australian identity evolving in some ways in opposition to the mother country, the imperial tradition saw the Australian identity as part of but better than that holding in England. A selection of the best from home plus Australia's own unique elements.

This view was in fact mirrored in the UK in both official and popular writing where the tall, lean, laconic competent colonial became a popular figure.

There is a strange analogy here to the Australian Aborigines.

All groups measure themselves to some degree by the way they are perceived by those around them.

The constant negative presentation of indigenous problems, as was pointed out in an Oceania article back in the 1960s, affects Aboriginal perceptions of themselves. Australians as a whole were far more lucky, because their presentation in the broader Imperial environment was largely positive from the very beginning. This fed back into Australian perceptions of themselves.

In all, Rafe's post opens up some very major topics!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Checking out the Australian Legend

For a lot of the 20th century the image of the Australian bushman exerted a deal of fascination in some intellectual circles and it certainly resonated with me, growing up on a farm and thinking of myself as a bushman and a pioneer. This is a review of three books that look critically at the Australian legend from different angles.

John Docker's book on the 1890s is a revelation. Those who think that the bushmen, pioneers, radical nationalists and male chauvinists of “the legend” dominated the scene will be amazed at the picture that emerges. Feminism, anarchism, socialism, republicanism, and anti-religious free thought in various forms were running strongly, with other more esoteric currents of orientalism and mysticism. One of these was the myth of Lemuria created by Madame Blavatsky of the theosophists. This was a theory of a Golden Age on a lost Southern continent where the spiritually elevated Lemurians created the wisdom that pervaded the ancient cultures of India and the Levant. According to Docker’s account these ideas spawned a batch of Australian novels and joined with the works of Rider Haggard and Bram Stoker to inform much early Australian science fiction writing.

John Carroll and others also demolish quite a few myths about the national identity and especially the legend of the Bushman. A paper on the nomadic tribes of urban Britain identifies the pathological roots of some bushman characteristics such as restlessness and irresponsibility which were modified or idealised for the purpose of the legend. A chapter argues that some superficially attractive features of the semi-nomadic bachelor existence ascribed to the bushmen were projections by alienated urban intellectuals who occupied a “sleazy urban frontier” of boarding houses, pubs and radical meeting places. Maps indicate the concentrations of boarding houses in central Sydney of 1890 and the close proximity of the premises of various socialist, republican, land-reform, freethought and literary organisations.

Boris Frankel was trying to reshape the political culture. That was a few years ago and I am not sure where his project got to after this book, published in 1992. Frankel was brought up on a radical nationalist version of the Australian legend and his concern was to find a more up-to-date vehicle for the radical reforms that he desires. He ssw himself as a custodian of the Enlightenment project of emancipation and this book sets out to defend humanist values from a number of deadly enemies - cultural relativists, cynical postmodernists, economic rationalists and the Old Right.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Philosophy at Melbourne University

When it come to philosophy in Australia, Sydney had often made a lot of noise (think of John Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University for some thirty years, and, it's said, the inspiration behind the Sydney Push): Adelaide has been a site of innovation (birthplace of a view of the nature of the mind that came to be known internationally as Australian materialism) and Canberra has been a centre of solid, analytical professionalism. But what about Melbourne? Alan Saunders, The
Philosopher's Zone
, ABC Radio National.

This quote comes from the introduction by Alan Saunders to a talk by Tony Coady from the University of Melbourne on the history of philosophy in Australia with a special focus on Melbourne. You will find the transcript plus audio here.

Tony's talk provides an interesting introduction to another thread in the evolution of Australian thought.


In a comment, Rafe noted that Jim Franklin had published a remarkably researched history of philosophy in Australia. You will find Rafe's earlier review of the book here.

I have not read this book, but the reference made we wonder how all this compared with philosophy at New England. Here I did Philosophy 1 in 1963 and then, later, Ted Tapp's Philosophy of History course. Both had a major influence on my thinking.

Looking back, Philosophy 1 was quite rigorous. From the mists of the past, it also seems to have had a different flavour certainly from that holding at Sydney, UNE's previous parent, and perhaps from that holding elsewhere in Australia.

The course included an introduction to philosophy that started with the Greeks and worked forward. There were also distinct ethics and logic sections. In logic, we looked at both Aristotle and symbolic logic. I found the symbolic logic very useful later in understanding computers and computing.

I found the references in Tony and Rafe's material to Professor Orr interesting because of what it says about shifts in Australian attitudes. My perceptions of the Orr matter were formed growing up in an academic household at a time when the imbroglio was still current. The central issue as seen then was one of academic freedom.

I mention this because I found the comments on Professor Orr jarring.

I had not thought about this case for a long time, so my own core views on it are really as previously formed. There appears to be a clear gap between those views and current perceptions.

Now that the Orr case is vanishing in the mists of time, it might be interesting to look at it at some point simply because of the way in which it might highlight changing perceptions.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The University of New England's contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition - early threads 1

Your primary purpose, of course, is to study for a degree, otherwise you will waste a great valuable time, your own and your lecturers, much public money, and in these days of restricted entry deprive some other student of a coveted place. University study does not consist in the passive absorption of information but in the dynamic pursuit of knowledge which arises from the clash of informed minds and the unrelenting refusal to accept first appearances as final truths.. You are entering a community of scholars where your own contributions will be accepted. It is surprising how often your teachers can be stimulated by a brilliant idea or an illuminating phrase from a first year student. Ean M Fraser, Orientation Week Handbook, University of New England, 1963.

The establishment of a university college in Armidale in 1938 did not just happen. This was not just the first regional university college, but the first new university institution established in Australia for a long while.

Once established, it provided the precedent for the establishment of new institutions. But New England itself owed its own creation to a very particular juxtaposition of circumstances.

The early history of the Country Party has been well outlined by writers including Ulrich Ellis, Bruce Graham and Don Aitken.

Ellis himself was unique at the time he wrote and indeed is still unusual. A journalist, political agitator and propagandist and a long standing staffer to Earle Page, Ellis used his pen as a weapon. One output was his histories of the of the NSW and Federal Country Parties. As a player, Ellis's works were partisan, but his writings were also informed by direct knowledge and experience.

Don Aitken himself forms part of the New England intellectual tradition, a tradition set somewhat outside the bounds set by what I, as someone who also belongs to the New England intellectual tradition, would call the metro conventions.

Don's early writings explored the way in which the NSW Country Party formed.

Central to Don's analysis was the emergence of the idea of countrymindedness, the way in which local needs such as education, the idea of city oppression, long held ideas about the virtues of country life, all combined to create a political mix of sufficient strength to overcome (to some degree at least) deeply held local rivalries.

Bruce looked more broadly, at the early history of the Australian country parties. His writing brought out a different point, the differences between the parties. The Victorian party with its radical populist small farm base, its requirement that parliamentarians sign a pledge of compliance with party policy similar to that required in the Labor Party, was a very different beast from the NSW party.

Like Victoria, the new country party movement in NSW appealed to and drew support from small farmers. However, in NSW the party also attracted support from the more conservative grazing interests. Further, in Northern New South Wales and in Northern NSW alone, the movement managed to combine not just rural but also town interests, in so doing becoming the dominant political force outside Newcastle and the lower Hunter where the Labor tradition remained dominant.

The distinguishing feature in Northern NSW was the parallel rise of a movement dedicated to the achievement of self government, statehood, for Northern NSW. While drawing from many of the same well springs as the country party movement, new statism appealed especially to town dwellers and the town elites. The two movements were different. However, the Progressive Party as the NSW Country Party was then called, was able to capture the new state feeling, giving it a base that extended across geographical and economic divides.


I want to get this up. I will add references later.

Return to introductory post.

Friday, 9 November 2007

University of Newcastle, Cyril Renwick and the Hunter Valley Research Foundation

Musing, I was preparing some very basic historical material on Newcastle University, just a few dates really. However, this got me thinking on some broader issues.

I have begun a series on the University of New England and its contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition. But what about Newcastle?

The roots of this university date back into Australian industrialisation during and after the First World War. This is a university established in a truly industrial centre. How did this affect it?

Like New England, it had an extension and development role in its immediate environment. Professor Renwick and the Hunter Valley Research Foundation are the classic example. But beyond this?

Still on Professor Renwick, school text books can tell us a lot about thought at the time the book was published. Books are linked to curriculum determined by education authorities as well as the author's own views.

Professor Renwick's 1958 book The Economic Pattern An Elementary Text-book for Australian Readers (Longmans Green and Co) was the NSW economics text book for a number of years.

I remember this book. Modern readers would, for example, find its discussion on the institutional role of the union movement strange. It is a snapshot into a different, more polite, Australia.

None of this is very profound. But I would be interested in hearing from readers who can extend the Newcastle story.

Monday, 5 November 2007

The University of New England's contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition - introduction

Our society is unique among Australian universities in the residential system, and only though your full participation in college, social, club and other activities will you realise completely your part in it.

By all means work - you have enrolled principally for academic reasons, but a university is not merely a degree factory - academic success is not synonymous with education in the fullest sense of the word. We hope you will keep this in mind and join wholeheartedly in extracurricular as well as in academic aspects of university life. Orientation Week Handbook, University of New England, 1963.

Each Australian or New Zealand university has a different tradition. Each has been formed in part through interaction with its immediate world, as well as the broader academic world. Each has contributed in different ways to community life, as well as the development of thought in the two countries.

You can see hints of this on this blog even at this early stage in its evolution. One example is the series on the transmission of ideas and the New Zealand Worker's Educational Association. Part of this story lay in the influence of Canterbury College. Then again, why were the followers of Leavis more successful at Melbourne than in Sydney?

The University of New England has its own particular place in this mix.

At the time of the Orientation Handbook from which this quote was drawn, New England was still the only fully autonomous Australian university outside a capital city. While the University had already pioneered distance education, it was also almost entirely a residential university so far as its full time students were concerned.

The student mix itself was very different. Apart from the relatively large Colombo Plan cohort, nearly all the students were drawn from farms, villages and towns across Northern NSW. For many, this was the first ever family contact with university life. To the University, a core part of its role lay in giving these students access to the academic, intellectual and cultural traditions of the University world.

This was the only University in the country where the majority of students and staff voted Country Party. The students were, by Australian standards, unusually religious - the various Christian groups on campus collectively formed a very major presence.

Yet it was also a very tolerant University with close integration between overseas and local students. With a brief exception when the University of New England New State Society became the largest society in membership terms, the Overseas Students Association with its local affiliate members was the largest student society on campus.

When Russell Ward's appointment to a post at the University of New South Wales was vetoed by its VC on the grounds of his perceived Communist Party affiliations, New England's Council with its strong Country Party connections approved his appointment to a post in history at New England, an irony not lost on Professor Ward.

The University was both international and intensely regional.

International, because many of its staff had overseas qualifications; because they and the University saw the University as part of an international academic tradition; because New England people could already be found in dozens of countries round the world; because the University was already involved in a range of international activities. Intensely regional because the University had been established to serve the people of Northern New South Wales and saw this as a living mission.

In 1963, the University was just entering a period of major change, although this was not recognised at a the time.

Within fifteen years, the emergence of mass University education together with the Vietnam War and the social and economic changes of the 1960s and 1970s, would sweep away some of its special features, including the green gowns that all undergraduates had to wear to lectures and formal functions. Today UNE is very different, but despite all the changes it does still retain some of the special features and traditions of its past.

Against this background, I thought that it might be interesting to explore some of the University's history and traditions. In doing so, I do not intend to write a history of the University. Rather, I want to provide a snap shot of another part of the Australian and New Zealand intellectual tradition.

Posts in this series

11 November 2007, The University of New England's contribution to Australia's intellectual tradition - early threads 1

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sam Goldberg, F R Leavis and English at Sydney University

Interesting post on Neil Whitfield's blog, Old teachers never die, on Sam Goldberg, Challis Professor of English at Sydney University. The post has links to other posts Neil has written about Professor Goldberg.

An inspiring teacher, Professor Goldberg was part of the Leavisite wave. Whereas this group established a strong base at Melbourne University, Sydney proved more resistant. Neil's post provides an insight into the story.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Anthropology and the Freeman - Mead Controversy

Photo: Derek Freeman. New Zealand anthropologist. Born August 15, 1916 Wellington New Zealand, died Canberra July 6,2001.

In some of my first posts on this blog I spoke of the influence of New Zealand economists on the global stage. The first post in this series can be found here. In this post I want to look in an initial way at another thread in New Zealand and Australian thought, the role of the anthropologist.

My entry point here is the Freeman/Mead controversy.

By way of background to readers who may not be aware of this, Margaret Mead became perhaps the most famous anthropologist of the twentieth century because of her writings on sexuality among young women in Samoa. Dr Derek Freeman later challenged her conclusions, igniting a global controversy that spread well beyond the discipline of anthropology itself.

Nothing like sex to spark interest!

Without debating the rights or wrongs of the case, the controversy centred on the the relations in anthropology between the observer and the observed in interpreting cultural matters.

Did Mead's informants lie to her? Did she allow her own perceptions and values to affect not just the questions she asked, but the way in which she interpreted the answers? And, in any case, how does the very presence of the anthropologist distort cultural patterns?

Conversely, to what degree were Dr Freeman's observations affected by his own close relations with Samoans now aware of Mead's writings? Did the adoption of Christianity itself lead to another distortion?

These questions are all relevant in an Australian context. As I outlined in a post on the Australian anthropologist Malcolm Calley, Australian anthropologists have been very important in raising interest in indigenous issues when the matter was still being largely ignored by other professions, including historians. This remains true today.

In later posts, I will explore in a little more detail the history of anthropology in both countries.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Our Modern obsession with measurement - the case of publish or perish


I wrote the following post last November (2006) on my personal blog. I am repeating it here because the rise of citation indexes and of the term "publish or perish" is an example of a broader trend in Australian and New Zealand thought, our obsession with measurement.

We can see this obsession across all aspects of life. It appears in public policy in the input/output/outcome model. It appears in terms such as key performance indicators. We can see it in concepts such as performance pay. Then there is our obsession with rankings from school exam results to the BRW top lists.

Now my personal view is that this obsession has become quite pernicious. So how did it arise and spread?

Publish or perish and the rise of the citation index is an interesting case study - another modern term - because it shows the process at work in one area.

The Post

This post was meant to continues my notes to myself on changes in public administration since the war (previous post). However, I have been on some weird and wonderful web searches since then giving me enough material for multiple posts.

I have felt for a long time that the seventies were the tip decade marking the break between the previous long continuity of Australian history and the Australia of the present day. Much of my writing on this blog including the earlier migration and current current confessions of a policy adviser series is concerned in one way or another with tracing this process of change.

While all the evidence so far supports my 7os tip hypothesis, to really make my case I need to trace the pattern of change across different dimensions including changes in the use and meaning of words.

In my last post I spoke of the rise of measurement as an all pervasive mechanism. In this context, one of the things that I was musing about was the changing position of academia, an area that I have known very well over a long period starting as a child in an academic household. This is an area where measurement has become pervasive and indeed arguably even perverse.

To try to provide a measure of this (I, too, like measurement!), one of the first things that I thought of were citation indexes.

In the words of the University of Southern Queensland Library (I do like quoting Australia's universities headquartered in regional areas!):

Citation Indexes are compilations of all the cited references from particular groups of journal articles published during a particular year or group of years. In a citation index, you look up a reference to a work that you know to find journal articles that have cited it, although you can also search by concepts and authors. Cited reference searching is a fast and efficient way of finding journal articles that relate to your research.

Citation indexes can be useful. Again to quote the USQ Library:

While most users think of indexes as merely a means of recovering information, index compilers have long been aware that indexes--especially those for scientific literature--serve a vastly more important and often unstated purpose. That is, they reveal connections between ideas or concepts that were not considered before.

That is true, but as anybody in management knows, what you measure is what you get. So treating citations as a performance measure means that those being measured have an incentive to maximise citation performance. Here I was interested in the history of citation indexes as a way of assessing impact. To quote Thompson Scientific:

While the first proposal for the SCI (Science Citation Index) was made in 1955, it was in the 1960s that ISI (Institute For Scientific Information) applied for and received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a Genetics Citation Index. As a result of this multidisciplinary project, we published the first SCI covering the 1961 literature) in 1963. We then went on to launch a quarterly service that eventually proved successful. Since then we have indexed the literature back to 1945 and now the CD-ROM version of SCI is updated monthly and the online and magnetic tape versions are updated weekly.

In 1973, we made SSCI® available. It now covers the social sciences literature back to 1956. The index deals with topics such as anthropology, economics, sociology, educational research, and information sciences among other fields. A&HCI® was introduced in 1978. A&HCI provides access to disciplines as varied as archaeology, linguistics, philosophy, musicology, literature, and others in the arts and humanities.

Advances in modes of access have also been made over the years. In 1974, the SCI became one of the first large-scale databases available online via DIALOG. Other ISI databases followed. In 1988, SCI (and later SSCI and A&HCI) became available on CD-ROM. This new technology and increased data storage capabilities enabled us to implement a variety of access and browse features unique to our citation-based searching. Enhancing the power of citation searching through bibliographic coupling, you can navigate the literature by exploring papers that share one or more references.

If we look at this history, we can see that the rise of the citation index paralleled the rise of interest in measurement, going on-line in the seventies as the new computing and communications technologies became available.

By the time I became CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) at the end of 1997 the citation system was very well entrenched.

At the time we were worried that the College's scientific journal, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Ophthalmology, was dropping down the citation list. The journal really needed to be in the top ten globally to attract the required level of scientific and clinical articles, so under the leadership of the editorial team the journal was renamed Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology and effectively relaunched to achieve the required citation level.

This material does provide a guide as to the history of citation indexes and some indication as to their impact, but more is required. So I decided to look at the term publish or perish, now a very common term in academia.

While I found many references, it proved very hard to trace the origin of the term. The only on-line dictionary reference I could find (Source) suggested a mid nineties date. I knew that this could not be right because I was using the term in the eighties, so I continued searching. Finally I found an article by Eugene Garfield, What Is The Primordial Reference For The Phrase' Publish Or Perish'? (The Scientist, Vol:10, #12, p.11 , June 10, 1996.)

Eugene's work traced the term to at least a 1942 book by Logan Wilson with the same connotations as today. So the term has been around for a while at least in the US. But we can also be reasonably sure of is that the term was not common in the sixties since I did not hear reference to it, but was being referred to in the eighties. So like citation indexes, its rise does parallel the rise of the measurement movement.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Andrew Carnegie, Autodidacts and Australia's public library system - yet another peg in the sand

Yet another peg in the sand.

In an earlier short post Rafe referred to the Mechanics Institutes. Today we take our public library system for granted. Yet their existence owes much to two autodidacts, self taught men.

One made his money from the establishment of US Steel. The second was a farm labourer turned who became arguably the most influential Australian education minister of the twentieth century. Both were obsessed with the importance of education. In combination, they played a major role in the creation of Australia's public libraries.

More later.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

From deserts the prophets come - another peg in the sand

This line from A D Hope is also the title of a 1972 book by Professor Geoffrey Searle.

I have a strong feeling at the moment that we (in this case Australia) is in the process of creating another and in this case very English myth, the influence of the desert. Not the outback, the desert.

I have no problems with myths, but in this case I thought that it might be interesting to explore the real role of the desert as such in the evolution of Australian thought. Hence this peg in the sand for later use.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

History of Science and Technology in Australia - a note

As a thought break after writing the posts on the New Zealand WEA and the transmission of ideas (here 1, here 2, here 3), I was musing over some of the ideas raised in Rafe's post on science in Australia and the supporting links.

First, a resource. As part of the burst of historical writing associated with the Bicentenary, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering produced a very useful condensed history of technology in Australia. I mention this because I find this type of general history very useful in providing background on particular topics in Australian history.

Take transport as an example.

Subtitled "How distance shaped Australia's history", Geoffrey Blainey's The Tyranny of Distance (21st century edition, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney 2001) explores the ways in which Australia's vast distances have shaped our history and thought.

We all live in a prison whose walls are set by our experience and the time in which we live. These walls stand between us and an effective understanding of past times. We know this, but we do not always understand it. Checking basic facts about things such as technological change in particular areas can be critical.

One key fact linked to the development and spread of knowledge about science and technology in the Australasian colonies is simply transport time and costs.

There is, I think, still a common assumption that this limited transmission of ideas. As we saw in my discussion on the New Zealand WEA, this was far from true. But the transmission mechanisms were different.

Ideas spread throughout the Empire and beyond quite quickly. Mail - books, letters and journals - was central. Yes, there were lags, but these were less critical than we might think today. Further, because the volume of printed material was so much less, that which was produced was read and argued about in a way that rarely happens today.

Here I remember my father towards the end of his academic career saying that in some ways he felt sorry for modern economics students. Compared to his student days including his PhD studies at Manchester, they had far more to read, many more topics to study, less time to think. The position is worse today, leading to a crowding out effect in which ideas and depth can get lost in information static.

There is another factor here, the role of the academic gatekeeper.

In his material Rafe questioned why certain scholars were less influential than they deserved to be. As I see it, the modern academic system has become very rigid. This is of course a statement of opinion. But let me tease it out a little because it bears upon changes in the way Australians and New Zealanders now think.

There have always been intellectual gatekeepers. However, I think that their influence has increased in the sense that it is arguably harder for the outsider to break in.

This influence comes along several dimensions. One is simply influence on what is studied and why, something that has become more important in this crowded, specialised, age. A second lies in the academic selection process itself, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement - number of articles, citations and patents. A third lies in the vocational and the applied.

All this can make it harder for new ideas, the unorthodox, to break in.

Returning to travel and travel times, longer travel times did make certain types of interaction harder. I was reminded of this a while ago when I looking at the history of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists. It took a long time to emerge as a national body, in part because travel time and costs did act as a real impediment. But this travel problem was not all negative.

Today people jet in and out. Then fewer travelled, but those who did travelled for much longer periods. So personal interaction was harder, but also tended to be longer and more intense when it did occur.

We can see this in the case of the global travel patterns of Canterbury College graduates. The global influence of that College especially in economics and anthropology dwarfs, I think, anything that can be offered by today's Gang of Eight.

As I said, musings. A stake in the ground for later discussion.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Transmission of ideas and the New Zealand Workers Educational Association 3

Photo: Walking on White Hot Stones. New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907, Christchurch. This may seem an odd photo to illustrate this article. However, it does link to a theme later in this post, the involvement of New Zealand academics with Pacific issues. From the seventies and especially the eighties, Australia was blinded to the Pacific by our focus on Asia. New Zealand remained a Pacific country.

This post concludes my brief discussion on the transmission of ideas, using the New Zealand WEA and some of those associated with it as an entry point.

In this post I want to extend my analysis, first tracking back into the story to introduce some new people and issues, then tracking forward to look at international issues. To avoid overloading with hyperlinks, references are included at the end of the post.

In the earlier posts I suggested that education at all levels appeared far more advanced and accessible in New Zealand in the early years of the twentieth century than in Australia. I think that this is important because it helps explain why New Zealand with its small population relative to Australia had such a disproportionate influence in areas such as economics.

I made some preliminary comments here in my first post. I now want to amplify these a little.

In 1906 Australia's population was around 4 million, that of NSW around 1.5 million, that of Northern NSW - the area later defined by the Nicholas Royal Commission as suitable for statehood - around 400,000. I have included Northern NSW for comparative purposes because it is a major sub-state area with its own history and is also the location of the first Australian moves into decentralisation of higher education.

In 1906, the total population of New Zealand including the Maori was 936,309. I do not have population figures for Canterbury as a whole. However, in 1906 the population of Christchurch and its immediate environs was 67,878.

Canterbury College was established in 1873, the second university institution in New Zealand. By the end of the First world War Canterbury with its relatively small population was serviced by an extensive school system, a university and a teachers college. Some measure of distance education was already available, with the growing WEA providing an adult education network.

In NSW by contrast, there was one university plus one teachers' college servicing 1.5 million people. Northern NSW with its 400,000 people lacked any higher educational institutions.

The Armidale Teachers College would not be established until 1928, the New England University College in 1938. Both were the first higher educational institutions in New England and the first non-metro institutions in Australia. In adult education, the mechanics institutes and equivalents described by Rafe in his post provided a limited and fragmented service compared to the WEA in New Zealand. There were technical colleges, but their scope was limited, especially outside the capital cities.

This is not a comparative history of education in both countries. My point is that in those days the universities and the cultural institutions that clustered around them were arguably far more important than today in the development and transmission of ideas. We can see this in Christchurch.

In some ways, Christchurch in the first part was a very English and Empire city. Yet according to the Christchurch city library web site, in the 1890s and early 1900s, the city was "buzzing with new ideas, full of radicals, reformers and eccentrics". It became a Liberal stronghold in 1890 and remained so for the next 20 years. Fabian socialist and architect of many of the Liberals’ social reforms, William Pember Reeves was a Christchurch member of parliament.

Christchurch was also been the cradle of the temperance and suffrage movements, the home of leading suffragists Katherine Wilson Sheppard and Ada Wells, as well as their parliamentary advocate, John Hall. It was the home of the trade union movement and of artisan radicalism, led by men like Thomas Edward Taylor, another Christchurch member of parliament who would later become mayor.

In all this mix, Professor James Hight (1870-1958) found a solid and permanent home.

Born at Halswell near Christchurch where his father was a farm labourer who then acquired his own small farm, James Hight completed his teacher training at the teachers' college, then went to Canterbury College on an English Exhibition. Among his fellow students at the time was Ernest Rutherford who would later be described as the father of nuclear physics.

After a period teaching in Auckland, Hight was appointed lecturer in political economy and constitutional history at Canterbury College in 1901 and with the exception of one year on exchange, remained there for the rest of his working life.

In 1908 Hight was appointed to the new chair of history and economics. When the chair was divided in 1919, he became professor of history and political science with John Condliffe taking the new economics chair.

Professor Hight was obviously an influential teacher. I have already mentioned his influence on Professor Condliffe who in turn influenced Horace Belshaw. These were not the only cases.

Sir Douglas Copland was one of the best known and most influential Australian economists of the first half of the twentieth century. While he is best known for his Australian work, he was in fact a New Zealand whose earlylife displayed the pattern we have already seen in Hight, Condliffe and Horace Belshaw.

According to biographical notes prepared by the Australian National Library, Copland was born on 24 February 1894 at Otaio, between Timaru and Waimate in the Canterbury Plains, one of sixteen children of Alexander and Annie Copland, wheat farmers from Scotland.

From 1899 to 1906 Copland attended Esk Valley Primary School and spent the next six years at the Waimate District High School. He then studied teaching at the Christchurch Teachers' College, before gaining Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees at Canterbury College.

By the time he left New Zealand in 1917 to take a position as lecturer in history and economics at the University of Tasmania, Copland had taught at his old high school and at Christchurch Boys' High School. In addition, he also tutored for the Workers' Educational Association and worked as a Compiler in the Census and Statistics Office of the Department of Internal Affairs.

Copland's love of teaching and fascination with economics stems from these years - in particular from his work on his father's wheat farm and the research for his M.A. thesis, 'The progress and importance of wheat production in New Zealand'.

We can see in fact see the same pattern in my own father, Professor James Belshaw, although because he was younger than Horace the institutions were different.

Born in Canterbury in 1908, he too followed a path through teachers' college into university. In his case he was involved with the WEA in Auckland, completed two masters degree in history and economics by distance education while teaching at a small one teacher school outside Auckland, and then followed in the footsteps of Condliffe and brother Horace to England to complete his PHD.

Under the terms of the scholarship, he had his choice of university and could have chose, like Condliffe and Horace Belshaw, to study at Cambridge. However, because Horace had studied at Cambridge, James Belshaw chose Manchester.

After completing his PhD, James Belshaw worked briefly in the League of Nations and with the New Zealand Department of Labour before accepting in 1938 the foundation lectureship in history and economics at the newly established New England University College. There, like Hight, he settled in, later becoming foundation professor of economics when New England gained full autonomy.

Copland's departure for Australia in 1917, my father's in 1938, is a sign of another feature of these earlier New Zealand economists. New Zealand could train them, but was too small to retain them. However, in their moves around the world they carried the New Zealand influence with them, making major contributions to academic and public life.

We can again see this by looking at briefly at the patterns in their later life.

About 1925 Condliffe, still professor of economics at Canterbury college, was a member of the New Zealand delegation to the first conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations. In 1926 he accepted the newly created position of research secretary for the IPR, travelling extensively in Asia. Then in 1931 he was invited to join the economic secretariat of the League of Nations, writing its first World Economic Survey.

Condliffe was now part of an eminent group of economists who were to shape international discussion on trade, monetary order and economic policy in the three decades after 1935, arguing that continued expansion of world trade was a necessary condition for world peace and prosperity.

In 1939 Condliffe accepted a professorship in economics at the University of California, Berkley. While California would now remain his base, he retained his New Zealand connections. His later New Zealand focused publications included The welfare state in New Zealand , a revision of New Zealand in the making, a book on the New Zealand economy and a biography of his friend Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck).

Many of the same patterns can be found in Horace Belshaw's later life, although his New Zealand focus was stronger.

Described by Frank Holmes in his NZDB article as New Zealand's most notable applied economist of his generation, Horace Belshaw was concerned that economics should be used to solve social, economic and public policy problems.

After returning from Cambridge to accept the chair of economics at Auckland in in 1928, and like Hight and Condliffe before him, he encouraged his students to examine current New Zealand issues and their wider social implications. He also remained active in the WEA, organising and directing several of the first WEA summer schools.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Horace Belshaw wrote extensively on the economic position of New Zealand farmers, their increasing indebtedness and possible reforms to the system of land tenure and credit, including the need for a central bank. In 1936 he directed a research project that culminated in what Frank Holmes has described as the encyclopedic publication Agricultural Organisation in New Zealand.

The depression hit New Zealand hard. In 1932 Horace Belshaw, along with professors Copeland, Hight and Albert Tocker, was appointed by the government to an economic committee to advise on measures to deal with the depression. Then in 1934 he accepted a position as economic adviser to the the mister of finance, Gordon Coates. This proved short lived, with the Labour Party winning the 1935 election.

In the late 1930s he became actively involved in moves for Maori improvement. He addition to discussing measures that would allow Maori to be self-supporting on their own lands, he argued for a generous approach to education, health and housing assistance for those forced to move to the cities. In 1939 he organised and chaired a successful conference of young Maori leaders.

In 1944 Horace followed in John Condliffe's footsteps to become research secretary to the Institute of Pacific Relations in New York and then in 1946 to California as professor of agricultural economics at the Davis campus of the University of California. His growing interest in rural welfare and agrarian reform in developing countries led to his appointment in 1948 as director of the Agriculture Division of the Rural Welfare Branch of the FAO.

When the headquarters of the shifted to Rome in 1951, he returned to New Zealand as professor of economics at Victoria University College, Wellington, maintaining his interest in Pacific and development issues.

Now here I want to pause in what might otherwise become a boring chronology to draw out a few threads that I found interesting, in so doing bringing this excessively long post to a conclusion.

The first is the interest in and involvement with the Maori and, more broadly, the Pacific among many New Zealand academics. This appears much stronger and more focused than the Australian equivalent. The second is the focus on agricultural and development economics and the role of applied economics in meeting community needs. The third is the way in which ideas and intellectual interests carried across space and time.

A few closing examples to illustrate these threads.

In Horace Belshaw's case, the interests created by his own background combined with the influence of Hight and Condliffe created a thread that ran through the family.

His brother in law, Vic Fisher who met his wife to be through the WEA, became curator of anthropology at the Auckland museum. One son, Cyril, became a world famous anthropologist specialising in the Pacific. A second son, Michael, also became an anthropologist, although he is probably best known in the US because of his work with wolves.

My father carried the interest in adult extension and in economic development through to his work.

There is, for example, a direct connection between the story that began in Canterbury all those years ago and the later establishment of agricultural economics as a major discipline at the University of New England. There is also a direct connection between the extension work and the community involvement that marked the early days of the New England College and the extension work and WEA model developed in Christchurch.

One could even argue that this blog itself is a direct lineal descendent of those early days!

Introductory post in series. Previous post.


Belshaw, James. "Decentralisation, Development and Decent Government: the Life and Times of David Henry Drummond, 1890-1941", PhD thesis, University of New England 1983. Material on the history of education in Australia is drawn from here.

Christchurch City Libraries, Christchurch 1906-1907

Fleming, Grant. 'Condliffe, John Bell 1891 - 1981'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

National Library of Australia, Guide to the Papers of Sir Douglas Copland, provided biographical material on Sir Douglas Copeland.

Holmes, Frank. 'Belshaw, Horace 1898 - 1962'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

Phillips, N. C. 'Hight, James 1870 - 1958'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007URL:

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Neil Whitfield's Friday Poem - Kenneth Slessor's Five Bells

I little while back Neil Whitfield and I were having a discussion about the "decline"/decline - the inverted commas are Neil's, the absence of them mine - in Australian literature. For those who are interested, you can find an entry point here.

One great outcome from my perspective was that Neil started a Friday Australian poem series. In response, I started writing a companion piece.

Last Friday, Neil took Kenneth Slessor's Five Bells. This is one of Australia's most famous poems. Do read it out loud.

Now this was actually a slightly difficult poem from my perspective. I first came across it at school and found it difficult. So it was many years since I had actually read it.

What to say that might be helpful?

To answer this, I started digging into the people, and especially the writers, who surrounded Kenneth Slessor, looking at the links and ideas.

I hope to write this up properly. In the meantime, a question.

One of the things that I am interested in is the differences in thought across Australia. Australia has never been a single uniform country.

In this context, why did so many Melbourne writers come (or seem to come) to Sydney in the period before the second world war? What was there about Melbourne life and society that caused this apparent shift?

Friday, 28 September 2007

Science in Australia

Following the theme of education and learning in the Antipodes, here are some comments on several Australian books about science and scientists. This is a review of a book of essays about the early development of science in Australia. These essays convey the impression of immense energy and industry. Clearly many people were hard at work in the archives preparing the way for future research programmes in the history of local science and technology. The book itself is a handsome and high quality production, combining some of the bulk and sheen of the coffee table volume with the compendious footnotes of the doctoral dissertation. The notes average a hundred per paper, making this book an excellent starting point for further reading.

This review describes a book written by a physicist on the wonders of science and its relevance to culture and religion. As the director of an observatory at Narrabri (NSW), and host at hundreds of half-hour tours, the author wrote:

To me it was profoundly unsatisfactory to send people away from this beautiful, highly sophisticated, and yet apparently useless instrument, surrounded as it was by thousands of sheep and a vast expanse of wheat, without having shown them that it was really part of an even greater world of which most of them were unaware, the ancient and invisible college of science.

This is the third book that he produced to make up for the lack of time on the tours. It is very clearly written and one has the feeling of a truly devoted and humane scholar speaking courteously and unpatronisingly as he presumably did with his visitors at Narrabri.

This book titled Life Among the Scientists is a more ambitious academic undertaking. Four researchers in the history and philosophy of science spent some time (spread over five years) talking to researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Research Institute in Melbourne. The idea was to challenge received views about the way science works. I think they did not succeed in their larger purpose but I hope they had a lot of fun.

The main purpose of the enterprise is to challenge received views of philosophy and methodology of science, but the writers have not engaged at all with the most robust and fruitful body of ideas in the field. This is a striking example of the phenomenon they describe as 'socially structured forgetting' or 'structural amnesia' (p 101). They have neatly excised Karl Popper and the whole tradition of evolutionary pistemology from their account of the philosophy and methods of science. But Popper's work surely represents either the orthodox view of scientific method (as accepted by a number of eminent scientists who took their philosophy seriously such as Medawar, Eccles, Monod and Einstein), or a formidable rival to the traditional form of Baconian induction, still championed by David Stove.