Sunday, September 17, 2006

Afternoon tea Oz style in the Paterson Valley

A ritual when I come to stay with my friends Cam and Jean. Recent rain has transformed a brown landscape to green.

Via Culcairn and Cookardinia to Canberra….

In Australia members of the Coleman family have been teachers or academics in every generation. My great-great grandfather, Joseph Coleman began teaching at Kurrajong Denominational School in 1865. His two sons also became public school teachers. Most of the schools they taught at were one teacher primary schools and many were in quite isolated communities. Joseph’s grandson, Horace Coleman, also became a school teacher, his last school being Cookardinia. Today Cookardina is a blink and miss place – just two sign posts on the road, unless you slow down to take a close look or follow the sign to the local cemetery. If you do go to the cemetery you will see some distinctive Australian architecture (see photo).

Coming over the ridge from Culcairn there are magnificent views of the Cookardinia valley (although it is probably not called this). I am not sure if my Coleman ancestors appreciated it or not.

On the 25th June 1923 there is on Horace’s teaching file a medical certificate saying: ‘This is to certify that Mr Horace Coleman is suffering from threatened nervous breakdown and it has been on my recommendation that he applied for leave’. His wife had died suddenly, aged about 38, a few days before. The following year is a telegram addressed to Mr Melville, Inspector of Schools, Albury, dated 22nd July 1924 saying: ‘Mr Coleman teacher Cookardinia passed away last night. Dulcie Coleman’. Dulcie was just 17 and her sisters Iris and Myrtle, 12 and 10 respectively. Horace was 43. It was a hard life.

Rural Australia is still a hard life for many – I passed several mobs of cattle out in the ‘long paddock’ (the roads and travelling stock routes) that are used in times of drought. The countryside was green but it will be a green drought without further rainfall.

On the Murray …Corowa and Australian Federation

In the 1890s economic activity was being constrained by the taxes and tariffs that the States were imposing on trade with each other. This was in part the impetus for the 1892 Federation conference in Corowa. As an aside, one of Daniel Coleman’s sons-in-law, Edward Hyde McGuiness, was a tax inspector, and may have had something to do, indirectly with the Corowa conference. The bridge over the Murray joining Wahgunya with Corowa was one of the main crossing points from Victoria to NSW.

Another of Daniel’s sons lived for a time in Corowa and, as I had never been there, this was my next stop. Of the many motels in town only one had broadband access! It just happened to be in Edward St where Edward Daniel Coleman and his family had lived just before, and during the early part of World War 1.

The historical sources were a disappointment – a continuing theme of my trip I am afraid. What I particularly found distressing was how alienated local communities seem to be (both physically and intellectually) from material and understandings about their history. Rather than politicians like the PM exhorting more effective teaching of history in schools they might do well to fund local communities to build up their resources – both social and material.

Early morning on the banks of the Murray was a joy.

Exhortations and ….................

Outside Bendigo, Victoria:

‘Let the peace of God disturb you’

For motorists on the freeway between Sydney and Newcastle, NSW

I't is better to be late than meet a deadline. '

(Perhaps this should be built into academic terms and conditions!!).

In Wagga Wagga, seeing this church and associated ‘business activity’, something not common twelve years ago, I was reminded of comments by Brasilian and Ecuadoran colleagues that the best way to make money in their countries was to start a church!

Talbot in 1860: D. Coleman, restaurater, Scandinavian Cresent

The wattles between Ballarat and Talbot were stunning. Clunes and Creswick seem intriguing places to be explored on another visit. Daniel Coleman, a brother of my great-great grandfather, married Anne Darcy, spinster, 21, born in County Tipperary, at Back Creek, Amherst (north of Ballarat), District of Carisbrook, on the 5th February 1860. Back Creek was the alternative name for what is now known as Talbot. Amherst, about three miles from Back Creek, was the main centre of mining in the area in 1865 with about 4600 people in the vicinity. In that year Talbot had a population of about 3400 with 18 hotels, including the Nil Desperandum, the United States and All Nations!

Today there are about 300 people in Talbot but is has a good café, an interesting museum, with committed staff who opened-up especially for my visit, an internet resource centre (open sometimes) and an intriguing bookshop (Slightly Bent Books) on the corner of Camp St and Scandinavian Crescent!

It was a worthwhile visit, however short - meeting Marie and her husband, finding a record for a D Coleman who had a restaurant on Scandinavian Crescent in 1860 – possibly Daniel?? There is often some reciprocity in these situations – from my research I was able to provide the name of the local Catholic Church, which no-one seemed to know - it had been deconsecrated many years ago and perhaps there were not too many Catholics about!!! Or perhaps no-one had been interested before – local history seems in a vulnerable condition in Australia, dependent on enthusiasts and the good will of volunteers. There seems little systematic support from local, state or Federal government – I am sure much is in danger of being lost.

Patterns that connect

Driving from Ballarat to Corowa via Creswick, Clunes, Talbot, and Maryborough, Bendigo, Shepperton and Yarawonga there were some patterns that connected me to the Australian landscape more than others. The bark patterns of the eucalypts, angophera and other native species was one.

In some places the colours of Europe jarred, beautiful as I have found them in other contexts.

Paul Rosenberg, following Gregory Bateson, is also concerned with patterns that connect.

Journeying for emergence....on the 'Coleman trail'

For various reasons I have, till now, missed my 'summer' holidays. So I set aside much of September to rectify things. My starting point was to drive from a wet, grey Melbourne - very welcome rain I might add - to Ballarat on the trail of my elusive Coleman ancestors. I had no firm plan and no arrangements made for the first part of the journey.

The Coleman's, my paternal grandmother's family, came from Clifden in County Galway to Australia during the 1850s. They probably came during the goldrushes and the Victorian goldfields was probably their first destination. Ballarat is a pleasant city but a bit like a large home when the kids have gone away - it is hard to fill it out, and one retreats into the main spaces leaving nooks and crannies unattended. In Ballarat miners found some of the richest sources of gold in the history of Australia - fine public buildings followed, expressions of wealth and a European statement on the (relatively) new continent.

In a research sense I struck gold that afternoon in the Ballarat Library - in records of the Ballarat East Clerk of Petty sessions. I await with interest the records to see the nature of the misdemeanours of my Coleman forbears!

Ballarat revealed misdemeanours of another type. I am being metaphorical here in relation to the lack of attention by firms and government to broadband and community access. I am staggered by how 'unconnected' so many parts of Australia are when a decade or more ago we seemed to be ahead of the game. There is no internet cafe in Ballarat. In my hotel, which was not cheap, I was promised wireless access, but in the end it was down as was their own direct connection in the lounge. Hotel staff did not seem concerned, but as I sat sipping red wine in front of the fire, numerous vistors, including UK tourists, were left frustrated. They may not be back!