My name is Peter Barkley and I have become fascinated with the early history of the Northern Tablelands (New South Wales, Australia.) This interest came about after I had a heart attack about five years ago that led to a quadruple bypass operation. When I was recovering I started to read about early Australian history. If you are the same vintage as me (60 y.o.) and did some history at school you would be familiar with the Eureka Stockade and Ned Kelly but aboriginal people were very seldom, if ever mentioned when referring to history. So it was with astonishment I realized that there was a whole hidden and disturbing side to Australian history that not many people wanted to acknowledge.
During my recovery I also had trouble with medication side effects and fatigue so I could not resume my former occupation of handyman full time, as the work was too heavy. So I became involved with the University of New England Archive on a voluntary basis and started to work on an early record of the northern tablelands called Production and Resources of the Northern and Western Districts of New South Wales by William Gardner (1854). It was originally a two volume set of some 1300 pages that covered anything and everything of interest in northern New South Wales area but also included information from all around Australia, and even a description of the gold rush in California!
Some of the subjects he writes about include:
- Cotton growing experiments
- Livestock numbers, types, pasture, conditions and diseases
- Early settlers’ names and stations they started
- Town and district formation
- Aboriginal relations, language, customs, food, tools, names of geographical features etc.
- Plant/tree types & use
- Weather reports for at least 2 years
- Descriptions of climate, geography & geology
- Drawings of plants & properties
- Maps of various locations
- The gold rush, goldfields conditions, amounts produced
- Who the local magistrates, clergymen, postmasters & commissioners of crown lands were
The first documented European presence on the Northern Tablelands was in 1818 when John Oxley came through the Walcha area on his way to the coast. There is some archeological evidence for cattle hoof tracks in the Llangothlin (just to the north of Armidale) area in the mid 1820’s but whether they were a controlled herd or escapees is not known. Around this time the Australian Agricultural Company was given a huge land grant in the Tamworth area which displaced a number of squatters and they may have migrated up to the tablelands at that time. Official records put the European occupation starting in the area in the early 1830’s starting in Walcha, Bundarra, Armidale and moving northward over the next few years.
Aboriginal resistance to these invaders was persistent until, at least, the early 1840’s when the combined effects of introduced diseases, kidnapping, murder, massacres and the introduction of the native police drastically reduced the number of aboriginal people who were able to protect their relatives, hunting grounds and way of life from being destroyed by the invaders.
William Gardner (1802-1860) was living in the northern tablelands from the early 1840’s until he died in 1860 and worked as a children’s tutor on various local sheep and cattle properties. The notes he compiled were copious and written as information came to hand which leads us to the reason I was working on these books. Although there is a Table of Contents at the front he seemed to add pages to different sections as time went by. So the Table of Contents is difficult and in some places impossible to follow. There are three different sets of page numbers to contend with as well: 1 - the original Gardner version, 2 - from an unknown source and 3 - from the Mitchell Library and this is the only continuous pagination.
My assignment (should I agree to accept it!) is to produce a workable index and also to produce a digital key word index, so that researchers can obtain information without having to look through the whole 1300 pages to find what they are interested in. I believe this is why Gardner’s work is rarely used as a source material as it is just too difficult to work with. The information is all there and gives an insight into early European history but teasing it out is laborious and time consuming at best.
I would like to continue with this work so that everyone who is interested can have easier access to the information but I also need to pay the bills so I am seeking assistance through crowd funding. I am asking for $7200 which is four hours a week @ $35/hour for 12 months (+OzCrowd fees).
I have started a Facebook page called Northern Tablelands History and will be posting some of William Gardner’s work, as well as other interesting information that I come across in my wider reading, for that early period (1818-1850).