New England, Australia

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Life style Uralla's mini-housing boom

I see from the Armidale Express that Uralla is experiencing something of a mini-housing boom.

Twenty-nine dwellings were approved in the town last year, the highest number of dwelling approvals in a decade. With five dwelling approvals in January plus a 60 lot subdivision application expected to be approved by March, the trend looks set to continue.

Driving around Uralla on a recent trip, I was struck by the continuing if slow transformation of the town. With the decline in the town's rural service function and then the collapse in growth in nearby Armidale during the nineties, the town's economic base was badly damaged. Slowly, and the changes here go back to the early eighties, Uralla has been reinventing itself as something of a lifestyle centre, creating a special atmosphere.

 These types of processes are slow. However, they do build with time. One of the reasons I have supported the continued retention of Uralla Shire despite arguments for local government mergers based on the now standard mantras of "efficiency and effectiveness" lies in the way that it has helped preserve a Uralla focus. I think that's good.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

UNE makes John Ryan Emeritus Professor

Over on my personal blog, John Ryan appointed Emeritus Professor records my pleasure at the honour rewarded John.

I am presently writing something on the history of history in New England. Triggered partly by the death of Lionel Gilbert, I will bring something up on that later, the short series looks at some of those who have recorded our past. John is one such. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Joe Eisenberg’s portrait

Eisenberg I see from the Newcastle Herald that artist Rachel Milne was painting a portrait of Joe Eisenberg for entry to this year’s Archibald Prize competition.

That story really took me back. Joe is presently Director of the Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG). However, when I first met him he was Director of the New England Regional Art Museum

Joe spent twent years in Armidale, with two children born there as were mine. I mainly knew Joe professionally, but our children were an added link.

Its not all beer and skittles being a director of an Australian cultural institution. Joe did a pretty good job in Armidale  within NERAM’s funding limitations, building the institution’s reach. Joe Eisenberg Janis Wilton He has clearly done a good job at Maitland, too.

Searching, I found a really good bio of Joe originally published in the Newcastle Herald in September 2012.  

This is a photo of Joe with Janis Wilton, his wife. An historian, Janis has done a lot of work on New England's Chinese heritage. This is an example of her work.

It’s nice to write a simple uncomplicated post that brings back memories. Mind you, I haven’t visited MRAG yet. Clearly a gap that some of my Hunter friends will, justly, suggest that I should rectify as soon as possible!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Background briefing – New England’s environment wars 1: the Liverpool Plains and Watermark Coal

Employing some 150,000 people, Shenhua Group is a leading Chinese state owned mining and energy company.

In October 2008, Shenhua Australia Holdings Pty Limited and Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Limited were registered in Australia in October 2008 as subsidiaries of Shenhua Overseas Development & Investment Co., Ltd, which serves as a global vehicle for outbound investment and project development on behalf of Shenhua Group. In that same month, Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Ltd (Shenhua Watermark) was granted Exploration Licence (EL) 7223 by the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Mineral Resources.

Watermark Coal map  Shenhau is now trying to develop a major coal project on the Liverpool Plains and is facing considerable trouble in so doing.

The Project

The company describes the project in this  way. 

“The Project is located approximately 25 km south-east of the township of Gunnedah and 3km to the west of the village of Breeza. The Project is approximately 282 km by rail from the Port of Newcastle.
The Project generally comprises:

  • The construction and operation of an open cut coal mining operation extracting up to 10 Million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of Run of Mine (ROM) coal for a 30 year period;
  • The utilisation of an open cut mining fleet of excavators and rope shovels, supported by haul trucks, dozers, graders, blast hole drills and water carts;
  • Progressive rehabilitation of all disturbed areas;
  • The construction and operation of:
                 o      Coal Handling and Preparation Plant to process the raw coal;
                 o      Administration building, workshop and related facilities;
                 o      Train loadout, rail spur and loop to connect to the rail line to Newcastle;
                 o      Mine Access Road off the Kamilaroi Highway including an overpass of the
                          rail spur;
                 o      Water management and reticulation infrastructure; and
                 o      Communications and electricity infrastructure.
  • A workforce of up to 600 full-time equivalent employees during construction and  an average of 434 full-time equivalent employees during the operation of the Project.”

So it’s not a small project.

The Problem

Aeons ago, sentiments were deposited in a shallow sea stretching up from the Sydney Basin up into Queensland in a geological event called by geologists the Hunter-Bowen orogeny. The end result was huge coal deposits.

The deposits under the Liverpool Plains form the northern extension of what would become known as the Northern Districts coal fields. These coal fields are important in historical terms for, until quite recently, the Northern Districts dominated Australian coal production. Coal production around  While coal production around Gunnedah was relatively minor compared to the lower Hunter, it has been a significant feature of the local economy.  

Liverpool Plains near Breeza The Liverpool Plains are one of Australia’s premier agricultural areas with significant ground water supplies. The photo shows the country around Breeza. I have to say that it is usually more colourful than this! This looks like drought time.

The combination of large coal deposits and rich agricultural land set the scene for a major battle spearheaded by Tim Duddy and the Caroona Coal Action Group between locals and environmental groups and the Watermark coal development.

This is just one of the environmental battles that I have talked about raging across the broader New England, battles that together form what I have called New England’s  environmental wars.

Recent Developments

Last week the Watermark development was approved by the NSW Government’s planning processes. Federal environmental approval has still to be obtained. Now the stage has been set for a new battle. I will look at this later in the week in my second post in this background briefing.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Coal Seam Gas - AGL's Gloucester BTEX woes

AGL has suspended operations at its Gloucester coal seam gas (CSG) project north of Newcastle, to allow tests to be carried out. after the discovery of potentially toxic chemicals in flowback water .

Acording to ABC News (link above) AGL announced on Tuesday afternoon 27 January it was voluntarily suspending the controversial coal seam gas pilot program in Gloucester.

Late in 2014 the company performed test fracking operations on four pilot wells at Waukivory, just outside Gloucester.

The company said the chemical BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and three forms of xylene) was found in a sample of flowback water, taken from two of the wells and an above-ground tank. Flowback water is water returned to the surface after it has been pumped into the ground mixed with chemicals to open up coal seams.

AGL stated categorically that BTEX was not in any of the hydraulic fracturing fluids used in their pilot operation. It is, in fact, illegal under NSW law. Rather, BTEX occurs naturally in coal seams, although amounts vary across deposits.
Greens NSW mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham was  not impressed. AGL should now leave the Gloucester Valley, he said.  
"BTEX chemicals in the water are an absolute nightmare and the Greens want a permanent ban on coal seam gas and fracking in NSW," he said. 
"Coal seam gas is unsafe, unnecessary and unwanted.
"AGL should pack up and leave the Gloucester Valley for good following this latest pollution incident before they do any more damage to either their battered corporate reputation or our precious water. 
"How many more spills, leaks and accidents will it take before the government acts to ban coal seam gas?"
For more on this story see

Monday, December 29, 2014

Discovering Kempsey's Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery

I know New England quite well, but am constantly discovering new things. For example, I hadn't discovered the Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery  (DNAAG). The Gallery is housed in an annex of the Kempsey Visitor Information Centre designed by internationally renowned architect Glen Murcutt

This work, Brolga Chorus 1 is by Gumbaynggirr woman Alison Williams. While born in Sydney in 1968, Alison has obviously retained her North Coast connections.

Do have a browse of the Gallery's site. There are some very nice pieces there My thanks to Regional Arts NSW (@RegionalArtsNSWfor introducing me to the Gallery.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Images of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake

At 10.27 of the morning of 28 December 1989, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake hit Newcastle, Camera men Barry Nancarrow and Martin Adum recorded the event. Now the web site Newcastle Inspired has reproduced their images.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New England writers – Introducing Binks Turnbull Dowling’s For crying out loud

Binks Turnbull Dowling’s For crying out loud (published by the author, Dorrigo 1997) is another of those autobiographical memoirs of early life and young adulthood that have so enriched our understanding of New England life and history. It’s also a good if sometimes confusing read.

The book is broken into somewhat overlapping chronological segments. In part, these explore and describe Binks’ life up to her marriage. However, For crying out loud is also an examination of her parents, their personalities and the complexities of relationship, seeking to understand. The book is dedicated to the father that she greatly loved, a father she rarely saw after she was sent to Kotupna at the age of five, a father who died when she was fifteen. Finally, the book centres on life on Kotupna itself, a large station in the Fall country to the east of Armidale and the heart of the large extended Turnbull family.

In some ways, the book is a story of loss, one replicated by other New England writers including Judith Wright and Judith Wallace. Loss of family connection, decline and finally loss of Kotupna itself.

There are sad elements in the story that made me uncomfortable, a reminder of the uncertainties and complexities of life. Apart from the story of her parents, I wondered about the inarticulate nature of the Turnbull men, about the break-ups and relationship failures. Sometimes, it seemed to me that Kotupna had become a devouring beast.

I know that members of the Turnbull family would probably not share that perception. When Binks asked her mother years’ later why she stayed at Kotupna, Jean looked at her strangely and said simply “But I was happy”. The love they all had for Koputna, Binks is no exception, shines through.

The book ends with Binks’ marriage to Ian and the establishment of a long and obviously happy relationship. The book was written because their children insisted. I am glad they did.

In the next post in this series I will look in more detail at the book itself. 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Have you walked the Walcha sculptures?

This is generation stick by Walcha sculptor Stephen King.

For those who do not know Walcha, it is a small town (population about 1,600) on the southern New England Tablelands.

Some time ago, the Council decided to turn Walcha into an open air sculpture gallery.

While I already knew of Stephen King and had seem some of the sculptures,, I had no idea of their extent. In fact, a friend and I discovered all this by accident.

We were coming back from Armidale and stopped in Walcha for breakfast. After breakfast, we went for a short walk and discovered just some of the sculptures.

We had to go, a long drive lay in front of us, but we said that we would come back.

I have still to manage the time, although each time I go through Walcha I find a little more.

My friend and I have agreed and soon. We are coming back for a whole day just to walk the sculptures.