Open discussion on the evolution of Australian and New Zealand Thought

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.

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