Walcha celebrates John Oxley bicentenary

Dr John Atchison

Dr John Atchison

Retired University of New England academic historian Dr John Atchison OAM, will be the guest speaker at an Oxley Bicentenary dinner on September 8 at the Walcha Sports Club.

Dr Atchison says the absence of evidence of the Apsley Falls massacre does not mean it didn’t happen. “What it does denote is the challenge and urgency of recreating in close detail the early years of settlement,” he said.

“This is a particular challenge for the first decade in which so much happened. Evidence for this seems at present to be so sparse and invisible.”

His dinner presentation will touch on the contested and difficult nature of a current discussion of anything rooted in land and landscape and myths of explorers. 

“British Empire explorers had a total ignorance of the strict and well-established protocols between different Aboriginal groups about entering one another’s territory,” he said. “It took a long time for nineteenth century Australians to begin to come to grips with these issues. There was near invisibility of Aborigines for much of the routes travelled by Oxley in 1817 and 1818 and a close monitoring of the progress of the exploring party through millennia-long occupied lands.”

Dr Atchison believes local residents play an essential role in local history. His talk will focus on this and the significance of anniversaries.

“I’ll discuss the importance local residents, with their detailed knowledge of their localities and region, can and should play,” he said.

“How do we know where these guys went? There are particular problems in interpreting their maps, relating their notes and descriptions to landscape as we know it. I will also explain a little about my family links to Walcha - this also explains some of my interest in Oxley and his route from Mulla Creek to Mount Seaview via Walcha.

“Oxley’s 1818 traverse from Macquarie Marshes to the coast, marked one of the first major and official incursions outside the early settlement area, was one of the first in which horses played a major role and was influential in the pastoral expansion into the interior. The subsequent Australian Agricultural Company’s relocation inland to The Peel and Liverpool Plains, and their route via Nowendoc and Niangala, explains much of the first settlement and later development of New England.”