Most of us have attended meetings where the minutes of previous meetings are read (or taken as read) and notes of the meeting in progress are taken by the poor soul acting as secretary. Taken down and filed away, most such minutes never again see the light of day until, by a mysterious process known as the passage of time, even the most boring of meetings’ minutes are transformed into valuable historical documents.
Such a transformative process has long since occurred with the numerous minutes of the meetings of both the Shire of Wallarobba and the Municipality of Dungog – the two predecessors of today’s Dungog Shire Council. Safely stored away in the Council’s storage rooms are the 13 volumes of the Wallarobba Shire (handwritten until the 1930s) ranging from 1906 to 1958, as well as the even more numerous volumes of the 4 square mile Dungog Municipal Council dating from 1893 to 1958 (the minutes from the Municipalities’ foundation in 1893 until 1904, at first missing, have now been located).
Why does time make such records more interesting? It is true enough that many of the entries merely record week after week of boring procedural matters – the tenacity of such procedures being perhaps of greater interest. But salted away in the pages of these volumes are abundant indications of how things were once done and of issues formerly considered vital that inform us just how much things have changed, or not. All this is despite a terseness and efforts to avoid or obscure controversy characteristic of minutes then and now.
Having had the opportunity to give these records a cursory inspection, only a few examples of the many gems they contain are possible here. Like a mine or an archeological site, much digging and shifting of debris is required to extract the valuable material. And even then the bits considered of value are very much in the eye of the beholder.
Take Wallarobba Shire, whose first meetings took place in the Dungog Court House in June 1906. Of what value is it to consider that this began what is perhaps a unique record for any Shire? Unique in that its councilors seem never to have held a meeting within the boundaries of their own district except in the sense that the whole of Dungog Municipality, where Wallarobba Shire’s meetings were always held, was enclosed within the Wallarobba Shire boundaries. This was a circumstance not unremarked at the time, and one of the first votes the permanent Shire council held on December 18th, 1906 was to determine if Vacy or Dungog should be Wallarobba Shire’s ‘head quarters’ – the Vacy motion was declared ‘lost’.
Over the next 52 years up until its final meetings in June 1958, the Wallarobba Shire councilors discussed issues of road repairs, street lights, sanitary collection, pastures, the lack of provision for fish migration in the proposed Seaham Weir, and the need to place the rates notices of family individuals in separate envelopes. These issues were often raised by local committees such as the Carrabolla or the Chichester Progress Associations, or the Clarence Town P & C Association (which in 1958 was investigating the issue of street lights), as well as individuals and even the local branches of political parties.
One feature that strikes the modern eye is the number of instances when local residents carried out road and other work, requesting only that the Shire provide the materials. Twelve ‘voluntary workers’ for example carried out in late 1957 ‘tar patching’ on the streets around Gresford, and requested ‘further supplies of bitumen’ so they could do more. Similarly the residents at Chichester were willing to attend to the road running past the Anglican Church if ‘some pipes were provided’.
Equally the minutes of the Dungog Municipal Council provide a wealth of information and possibly some mysteries. Does anyone know the nature of the ‘speed limit discs’ that in February 1919 were voted to be installed on ‘half a mile of the most congested street in town’ for a six months trial? The simple note in 1919 that this ‘was the first meeting held in six weeks owing to the epidemic’ is a reminder of past hardships endured. While the Town Clerk’s 1956 report on the forced handing over of the profitable electricity supply to the new county council system (a government policy that forced Dungog Municipality’s dissolution), with its talk of ‘no last minute reprieve’ is a reminder of the relative status of small councils such as Dungog.
Dungog Council is to be congratulated for preserving so well these local history records. Council’s record officer Shaun Chandler should be especially thanked for his willingness to dig out these wonderful minutes and make them available for inspection. Of course few are likely to take the time to sift through the many thousands of pages of these minutes. But it would be well worth the time of those interested in the history of the settlements of the Williams, Allyn and Paterson rivers – not just Clarence Town, Dungog and Gresford but Salisbury, Glen William, Eccleston, and many more – to investigate some of these volumes, prizing out an occasional gem, or using them to provide background to the slice of history they may be looking into.
Dungog Shire is, as we all know, a special place and one reason for this is its ability to preserve much of a past we should not forget. Minutes and other written records are one way of preserving and cherishing a past that for good or ill has made us what we are today.