New England New State Movement

Last updated

Flag used by the New England New State Movement Flag of the New England New State Movement.svg
Flag used by the New England New State Movement

The New England New State Movement was an Australian political movement in the twentieth century. Founded as the Northern Separation Movement, the aim of the movement was to seek the secession of the New England region and surrounding areas from the State of New South Wales (NSW) and the establishment of a new State of New England. While popular at first and the subject of two Royal Commissions, the movement was unsuccessful, and was defeated at a referendum in 1967.


Geographical description

Because New England has never had a formal identity, its claimed boundaries have varied with time. In broad terms, it covers the humid coastal strip including the Hunter Region [ citation needed ] to the Queensland border, the New England Tablelands and the immediately adjoining Western Slopes and Plains.

In economic and geographic terms, New England forms a natural unit that has survived to the present day.

In political terms, the boundaries have varied. The initial separation discussions excluded the Hunter, in part because of tensions between the industrial and mining heartland of the lower Hunter and the rest of the area. This created a problem because an urban/industrial centre like Newcastle and the Hunter were seen as an essential part of New England, or any new state, in economic and geographic terms. The boundaries recommended by the 1935 report of the Nicholas Royal Commission into areas of NSW suitable for self-government included Newcastle and the Hunter. [2] These boundaries were adopted by the New England New State Movement and used as the basis for the 1967 self-government referendum.


New England was first called Northern NSW, the North, the Northern Districts or the Northern Provinces. The name New England was applied to the Tableland area forming New England's core. The Tablelands are known as the Northern Tablelands, the New New England Tablelands or sometimes just the New England to distinguish them from the broader New England area.

The name New England was adopted for the whole area by the Northern Separation Movement at its 1931 Maitland convention. From there its usage spread, contracting again as the new state movement went into decline after 1967.

New state agitation

Earle Page, founder of the New State movement and later Prime Minister of Australia EarlePage.jpg
Earle Page, founder of the New State movement and later Prime Minister of Australia

The first separatist agitation occurred during colonial times at the time of the separation of Queensland from NSW. While this was followed by outbreaks of agitation, these remained sporadic.

This changed in the twentieth century. Agitation began again at Grafton towards the end of the First World War led by Earle Page, a local doctor and later a prominent politician, rising to caretaker Prime Minister of Australia. This was picked up a little later by Victor Thompson, editor of the Tamworth Northern Daily Leader who launched a sustained newspaper campaign that involved papers as far south as Cessnock in the lower Hunter. This led to the creation of a formal movement. In 1922 a formal request to the Commonwealth was made by the lower house to establish a new state in northern New South Wales. [3] One outcome was the 1924 Cohen Royal Commission into New States.

The Cohen Commission ruled against to the movement and it went into decline, resurging at the start of the Great Depression. [4] This forced another Royal Commission, the Nicholas Commission. While this recommended in favour, [2] the movement was again in decline as economic conditions improved.

Agitation started again at the end of the Second World War and this time was sustained by permanent staff. In 1953, 21 councils defied the state government and held unofficial referendum on the issue of a new state. The people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the referendum. [5] In 1961 the movement launched Operation Seventh State, raising over AU£100,000. This allowed more staff and greater agitation.

This acceptance of boundaries determined by the Nicholas Commission proved to be the movement's critical strategic error. It assumed that a state was not viable unless it was dominated by a large urban population on the English/London model. Yet, the evidence from similar federations like Canada and the USA revealed numerous successful "farm states", like Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, with comparatively small capital city populations tied to a single, essentially rural community of interest. This metrocentric mindset ensured that two quite distinct communities of interest were being pressured into a doomed arranged marriage. It was also the very antithesis of an "act of free choice" as that choice involved imposing a majority rural will over a geographically distinct urban community. A new state proposal based in most part on boundaries formed by those Local Councils with majorities that actually wanted the change would have acquired a critical momentum.

Premier Robert Askin and the Cabinet believed in 1966 that a secession referendum would win, so they had the upper Hunter Region and Newcastle included within the boundaries of the proposed new state before putting it to a vote. [5]


A referendum of New England electors was held on 29 April 1967. The 'no' vote was led by the Australian Labor Party who campaigned hard. The referendum was narrowly defeated with 54% voting 'no'. [6] The very high 'no' vote in the Labor strongholds of Newcastle and the Lower Hunter offset the majority 'yes' vote elsewhere, although the no margin was not high. The threat of restricted access to the highly regulated Sydney milk and dairy products market also boosted the 'no' vote in rural areas.

Despite this defeat, four New State candidates stood for election at the 1968 state election and gained 0.80% of the total state vote with Garry Nehl, in the seat of Clarence, winning 35% of the primary vote. However this was a brief twilight in the campaign and, exhausted, the movement again went into decline for the next four decades.

21st century revival

Ian Johnston's proposed flag for a New England state, which appeared the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 January 2005 New England, Australia Flag (Ian Johnston Proposal).svg
Ian Johnston's proposed flag for a New England state, which appeared the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 January 2005

The movement underwent a resurgence in 2004, primarily in response to State (Labor) Government shire amalgamations and farmers responses to new vegetation management policies. The Annual General Meetings of NSW Farmers passed resolutions to investigate the feasibility of a non-metropolitan state in both 2004 and 2005. A task force was formed chaired by then NSWF President Mr Malcolm Peters. Some polling was commissioned and a convention was held but little further effort appears to have taken place.

A group of dedicated activists continue to agitate for a new state in the area. It is being carried out in an informal sense or through social media such as a dedicated Facebook page.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Coral and Tasman Seas to the east. The Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay Territory are enclaves within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In June 2020, the population of New South Wales was over 8.1 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.3 million, live in the Greater Sydney area.

Armidale City in New South Wales, Australia

Armidale is a city in the Northern Tablelands, New South Wales, Australia. Armidale had a population of 24,504 as at June 2018. It is the administrative centre for the Northern Tablelands region. It is approximately halfway between Sydney and Brisbane at the junction of the New England Highway and Waterfall Way. The traditional owners of the land of Armidale are the Anaiwan Peoples.

New England (New South Wales) Region in New South Wales, Australia

New England is a vaguely defined region in the north of the state of New South Wales, Australia, about 60 km inland from the Tasman Sea. The area includes the Northern Tablelands and the North West Slopes regions. As of 2006, New England had a population of 202,160, with over a quarter of the people living in the area of Tamworth Regional Council.

New England Highway Highway in New South Wales and Queensland

The New England Highway is an 883-kilometre (549 mi) long highway in Australia running from Hexham at Newcastle, New South Wales at its southern end to Yarraman, north of Toowoomba, Queensland at its northern end. It is part of Australia's National Highway system, and forms part of the inland route between Brisbane and Sydney.

Main North railway line, New South Wales Railway line in New South Wales, Australia

The Main North Line is a major railway in New South Wales, Australia. It runs through the Central Coast, Hunter and New England regions. The line was the original main line between Sydney and Brisbane, however this required a change of gauge at Wallangarra. As of 1988, the line closed progressively north of Armidale with services gradually withdrawn till 2004, with the main route between Sydney and Brisbane now the North Coast line.

Division of New England Australian federal electoral division

The Division of New England is an Australian electoral division in the state of New South Wales.

Richard Torbay Australian politician

George Richard Torbay, an Australian politician, was an independent member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing Northern Tablelands from 1999 to 2013. Torbay was the 30th Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, serving from 2007 until 2011, and was the first independent member to be Speaker of the House since 1913. Prior to his election to State parliament, he served as Mayor of Armidale City Council from 1995 to 1998.

Geography of New South Wales

New South Wales is Australia's most populous state, located in the east coast of the continent. It is in the southern hemisphere between latitudes 28 and 38 degrees south of the equator and longitudes 143 and 154 degrees east of the Universal Prime Meridian. The state is in the warm temperate climatic zone.

Electoral district of Northern Tablelands

Northern Tablelands is an electoral district of the Legislative Assembly in the Australian state of New South Wales. It is currently held by Adam Marshall representing the National Party, following a by-election triggered by the resignation of independent member Richard Torbay. The electorate currently includes Uralla Shire, Armidale Regional Council, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell Shire, Gwydir Shire and Moree Plains Shire.

David Drummond (politician) Australian politician

David Henry Drummond was an Australian politician and farmer. He was a member of the Country Party and served in both the New South Wales Legislative Assembly (1920–1949) and the Australian House of Representatives (1949–1963).

Northern Tablelands Region in New South Wales, Australia

The Northern Tablelands, also known as the New England Tableland, is a plateau and a region of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. It includes the New England Range, the narrow highlands area of the New England region, stretching from the Moonbi Range in the south to the Queensland border in the north. The region corresponds generally to the Bureau of Meteorology forecast area for the Northern Tablelands which in this case includes Inverell although it is significantly lower in elevation.

The North West Slopes region of New South Wales, Australia, refers generally to the area west of the Northern Tablelands, to the north of the Central West region and to the east of the Far West region. Despite its name, the region is in north-central New South Wales, corresponding generally to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's forecast area of North West Slopes and Plains. The administrative areas of the region include the city of Tamworth, Gunnedah, Moree, Narrabri and Inverell.

In the state of New South Wales, Australia, there are many areas which are commonly known by regional names. Regions are areas that share similar characteristics. These characteristics may be natural such as the Murray River, the coastline, or the Snowy Mountains. Alternatively, the characteristics may be cultural, such as a viticulture land use. New South Wales is divided by numerous regional boundaries, based on different characteristics. In many cases boundaries defined by different agencies are coterminous.

Niangala, New South Wales Suburb of Tamworth Regional Council, New South Wales, Australia

Niangala is a village located on the south-eastern edge of the Northern Tablelands area of New South Wales, Australia. It is on the Moonbi Range which is part of the Great Dividing Range, at approximately 1,300 metres (4,265 ft) above sea level. The village is in Walcha parish in Parry County. At the 2011 census, Niangala and the surrounding area had a population of 142.

Northern Tablelands Express Australian passenger train

The Northern Tablelands Express is a passenger train service in Australia operated by the New South Wales Government Railways and its successors since June 1941.

Adam Marshall Australian politician

Adam John Marshall, an Australian politician, is the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales in the second Berejiklian ministry since April 2019. Marshall is a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and has represented Northern Tablelands since a 2013 by-election, as a member of The Nationals.

Tamworth railway station, New South Wales

Tamworth railway station is a heritage-listed railway station located on the Main Northern line in Tamworth, in the Tamworth Regional Council local government area of New South Wales, Australia. It serves the city of Tamworth, and opened on 9 January 1882 when the line was extended from West Tamworth to Kootingal. It is also known as the Tamworth Railway Station, yard group and movable relics. The property was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.

Armidale Teachers College Historic site in New South Wales, Australia

The Armidale Teachers' College is a heritage-listed former tertiary college at 122–132 Mossman Street, Armidale, Armidale Regional Council, New South Wales, Australia. It was designed by the New South Wales Government Architect and built from 1928 to 1931 by the NSW Public Works Department. The property is owned by the Government of New South Wales, and currently managed by NSW Crown Lands pending a permanent manager. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 8 November 2006.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry Respecting Areas in the State of New South Wales Suitable for Self-Government as States in the Commonwealth of Australia, commonly known as the Nicholas Royal Commission, was appointed in 1933 to determine the suitability of regions of New South Wales to become federal States in their own right. The Commission, led by Justice H.S. Nicholas, found that both the New England region and Western NSW could support themselves as independent states. However, no action was taken as a result of his findings.

A referendum concerning the creation of a new state of New England from the northern area of New South Wales was put to voters on 29 April 1967.


  1. David Landini (13 October 2017). "New England New State Movement. Lessons To Be Learned". The Riverina State. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  2. 1 2 "Royal Commission of Inquiry Respecting Areas in the State of New South Wales Suitable for Self-government as States in the Commonwealth of Australia". State Archives and Records. Government of New South Wales. 2 January 1935. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  3. Totaro, Paola (28 July 2003). "History's lesson to the bush: if at first you don't secede, try, try again". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. "New States Royal Commission". State Archives and Records. Government of New South Wales. 6 April 1925. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  5. 1 2 "Altered states". The Sydney Morning Herald . 25 January 2005.
  6. "Referendum 29 April 1967". NSW Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 18 February 2011.
  7. Lewis, Daniel (25 January 2005). "Altered states". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 12 August 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2012.