New England, Australia

Friday, May 29, 2020

Musings on the end of New England's local and regional media

On 17 April 2020 (Reflections on the suspension of the Armidale Express and other ACM mastheads) I discussed the implications of the suspension of newspaper publication by Australian Community Media. I concluded:
I hope that this break in printing might actually force us to ask what we want from our papers, to challenge the papers and especially management on the service they provide, to answer the question why they are important to us. I accept that this is naive view, but I am tired of managements that treat papers as simply another masthead.
Following that post, we learned that as part of its changes, ACM had closed the Express office in Armidale. It had been the Express office since the early part of the twentieth century. To recover capital, Fairfax had sold the office in 2015. The office was sold on the basis of a secure lease to 2019 plus 3 x 5 year options until 2034. Now the office was unceremoniously exited. The local historical society managed to save some of the bound back copies now stored in the meeting room.

On 18 May 2020 in a post on my history blog I provided a consolidated list of posts on the history and changing role of the media in Australia's New England. In that post I also mentioned that I was writing a series of columns on the history of the New England media. These will start to come up shortly.
 
In my 17 April post I mentioned the suspension by News Corp of publication of most of its community and regional media. Now the company has announced the next stage of restructuring. The following table provides details of New England newspapers that will now be digital only or have ceased publication entirely. 

Tweed Daily News
Digital only
Ballina Advocate
Digital only
Byron Shire News
Digital only
Coffs Coast Advocate
Digital only
Grafton Daily Examiner
Digital only
Lismore Northern Star
Digital only
Newcastle News
Digital only
Coastal Views
Ceasing publication
Northern Rivers Echo
Ceasing publication
Richmond River Express Examiner
Ceasing publication

To this list we can add two Queensland newspapers with strong historic connections to New England. 

Warwick Daily News
Digital only
Stanthorpe Border Post
Digital only

I am not blind to the challenges posed by evolving computer and communications technologies including most recently the internet. On and off I have been writing about it since the 1980s. However, I am also very conscious about the ways in which the metro centred corporates with their focus on maximising gains or minimising losses across empires have effectively destroyed the ethos of the country press including the capacity of papers, radio and TV to provide a broader regional voice. In so doing, they have eroded the loyalty of the very audiences on which their commercial survival depends. 

This is not a new process. It began more than fifty years ago. In 1950, every newspaper and radio station in the broader New England was locally owned. When TV came, local or regional ownership was mandated as well, Staff at all levels identified with their communities, saw their roles in local and regional terms.   

By 2000, local ownership was restricted to a few independent newspapers. The ability of local media to define local roles, to cooperate on broader regional issues while being extremely competitive, slowly vanished. Their capacity to grow people diminished too. A remarkable number of New England people across the media have gone onto significant careers.

I suppose that I am in an unusual position. 

My family has had connections with the New England media for many years. As a sometimes political and community activist I have worked with the local and regional media in the North and in Canberra, Queanbeyan and Eden Monaro to try to achieve community objectives. To use an example outside New England, I was constantly in and out of the offices of the Queanbeyan Age carrying press releases and talking about particular concerns. I expected the paper to carry this material and indeed it did. 

As a regional historian, I rely on the newspaper records. As a regional historian, I have written on the history of the New England media and the country media in general. As a regional historian, I have read the board papers of Broadcast Amalgamated, of the Armidale Newspaper Company, of the early days of TV New England. I have seen the way in which they responded to commercial problems including isolation, small scale and access to advertising. The story of the Country Press Association is an example of response, one which enriched Australian life far beyond the local. 

As an analyst and commentator on New England issues, I have watched the way in which the combination of localisation with corporate processes has slowly destroyed my ability to report and analyse. I have watched the way in which the rise of pay walls has diminished the richness of the New England media environment, the capacity to report properly. I have watched the way in which individual outlets have lost all independence. 

At times, this process has brought tears to my eyes. I did not expect to be monitoring and writing about the end to so many dreams. I did not expect our past, the very structures of local and regional life, to be swept away. 

I don't know where to go from here. 

At a micro level, what happens to the internet archives of closed outlets? I know that newspapers are no longer the source of record in the way that they once were, but they are the only record we have. The internet may have improved our access to information, but it has also destroyed the survivabilty of the very information on which we depend. 

More broadly, now that our newspapers have abdicated their local and regional roles, now that they have effectively given up, what might take their place? How do I as an activist committed to our local and regional past, present and future get my message across? How do I communicate? How do my older friends find out what is going on? How do we find the resources to create the information and structures to that people depend on?

In my own way I am trying to fill the gap especially through Facebook groups. But I just don't know what might fill the gap in a real sense. I am just one person! In the end, perhaps, we are going back to the nineteenth century and the rise of the newspaper press. 

Just as there was a gap then, now we need new localised mechanisms. I wonder what form they might take? 
  

   

Friday, April 17, 2020

Reflections on the suspension of the Armidale Express and other ACM mastheads.

ACM's daily newspapers. Source Canberra Times

Covid-19 has claimed another victim. On 14 April, Australian Community Media (ACM) announced that as a consequence of the impact of covid-19 and associated shutdowns, it:
  • was temporarily closing its printing sites in Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga and Tamworth  from April 20 until June 29 2020
  • was suspending publication of a number of non-daily newspapers. Limited news coverage would continue on websites of publications affected by the temporary shutdowns  
  • had given notice to landlords of more than 30 small offices around the country that it intends to exit lease arrangements
  • had stood down staff affected by the suspensions of printing and publication.
The printed editions of ACM's 14 daily newspapers including the Northern Daily Leader and Newcastle Herald would continue, along with the weekly editions of the company's leading agricultural publications, such as The Land in NSW, Farm Weekly in Western Australia and Queensland Country Life.


The suspended newspapers include the Maitland Mercury and Armidale Express, the second (1843) and third (1856) oldest newspapers in NSW.

The ACM changes followed the earlier decisions by News Corp Australia to pause production on 60 community newspaper titles in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia from April 9 and by the Nine group  to cease printing several of its magazines and lift-outs. In making the changes, News Corp offered a migration strategy to try to encourage readers to switch to the the electronic version.

During this same period regional commercial TV broadcasters signaled their intention to cancel regional news services in the absence of direct financial assistance.

The Commonwealth Government has apparently announced announced a $50 million package to support public interest journalism across TV, newspapers and radio in regional and remote Australia.  This appears to be a repackaging and extension of an existing scheme. At this point, I have been unable to find any real details on either Communications Minister Fletcher's or the ACMA websites.

Discussion

 I suppose that I should begin with a declaration of interest and indeed bias. I have been a columnist for the Armidale Express for many years and have a long family connection with the New England media. Those who follow my blogs will also know that I have been very critical over many years of the strategies adopted by media groups and especially those owning country media in responding to changing technologies and markets. One side effect has been loss of market position and relevance within the communities they serve.

I make this point now because in direct personal and on-line discussion I have found to my consternation that while some agree with me that action is required to preserve local and regional media, others say why does it matter? They haven't provided real news for years.

I know that some of my colleague will bristle at this. They have tried to provide reporting and maintain focus in a world of constant corporate shifts, of big city and enterprise games, a world in which the purpose of local and regional media as defined by people like Ernest Sommerlad has been lost. One measure of this is the sheer discontent among a significant proportion of their present and ex customers.

I have tried to explain to my sceptical friends and contacts why I regard the preservation of local and regional media to be of fundamental importance. To extend my argument, I am going to take a city and then a country example.

The Southern Courier, a previous weekly free News Corp paper with print now suspended, services south eastern Sydney. It's fairly typical of the breed, full of glossy real estate ads and promo advertorial along with some local news stories. It must sound an unlikely example for me to pick to illustrate my point.

For my present purposes, the population in south eastern Sydney can be broken into three groups.

The first is those who just live there, They may like their area, but their focus is elsewhere. They have little interest in local news. To them, the paper is just junk mail that ends up in their letter box or as waste on the lawn.

The second somewhat smaller group is those who have some connection with the area. Their children may go to school there, they may be involved with some local group, they may have some interest in what's on, what the councils are doing. They will pick the paper up and then put it in the trash.

The third and by far the smallest group is the community activists, the ones who are really interested in general and in particular causes including council activities. To them, the Southern Courier has been critical. How so? Well, the paper with its local focus provides a vehicle that is read by councillors, state and federal parliamentarians and by those in the mass media interested in stories with a local flavour.

Save Astrolabe Park demonstration

Astrolabe Park lies at the end of the street I used to live in in Daceyville, Sydney. It's an open space area that is also one of the few leash-free dog areas in Sydney.

With space now so scarce in Sydney for playing fields, the proposal was that the Park should be taken over for sporting fields. This was a serious challenge involving major sporting codes who wanted to establish high performance facilities.

For some obscure reasons, the locals plus dog owners from elsewhere were outraged. I became involved about twelve months before I returned to Armidale when I was, quite literally, bailed up be a neighbour that I knew in the street: "you will help won't you, Jim." I did so and in so doing met more people in that little suburb than I had in the previous five years. I am still a member of the Friends of Astrolabe Park

In the end the Park was saved, at least for the present. I'm not sure that it would have been without the Southern Courier because that provided the initial platform. In treating the Southern Courier as just another masthead, in thinking that it can provide the same service with subscription behind a paywall, News Corp has guaranteed its extinction at least as an effective voice and probably its very survival itself. 

Not unexpectedly, Armidale is my second example.

Many of the points I made about the Southern Courier apply to the Armidale, but more so. For many and especially older residents, the print Armidale Express is their only source of local news.  Most are not active on-line. They may listen to the radio or TV news which carry some local stories but the print Express whatever its imperfections is central especially when it comes to things such as hatches, matches and dispatches.

Like many people in Armidale I am active in the on-line world.  It is quite a vibrant world that does give me a lot of local news, allows me to promote my own causes, but it's quite imperfect because it is actually quite limited.

I was talking to friends today in town who belong to the it does not matter if the print Express closes group. I challenged this, pointing out that so many people still relied on it. I asked them where they would get their news? You see, one issue is that the news pyramid actually depends on the existence of a solid initial source point. Take that away and you have a gap that cannot be filled.

Can the e-edition of the paper substitute? If we ignore the older people who will die out, it may at least partially in the longer term. But it's not there yet and may never get there. I am drifting into strategy questions that link back to the start of the post. So keeping things simple.

If at this point the print edition vanishes, then it will leave a gap that cannot be easily filled, that will impoverish local life in ways that cannot be easily seen. This applies to other papers as well.

I hope that this break in printing might actually force us to ask what we want from our papers, to challenge the papers and especially management on the service they provide, to answer the question why they are important to us. I accept that this is naive view, but I am tired of managements that treat papers as simply another masthead. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Stockton Beach revisited

Back in 2008, I carried a post, New England Story - Stockton Beach, telling a little of the story of Stockton Beach.
Photo: Cabins threatened following erosion at Stockton Beach near Newcastle. Photo Save Stockton Beach
I was reminded of this by an ABC story Newcastle beachside cabins in danger of toppling into sea after wild weather. There have been erosion problems for some time.

I was glad to have been reminded of my original post for its quite a good yarn. Some of my points were challenged in comments and especially the existence or otherwise of Tin City. I haven't resolved this. However, Tin City remains a recognised shooting location for some of the scenes in the first Mad Max movie.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Introducing Armidale Diaries

One ABC National Radio programs that I really like is The Fitzroy Diaries: Dispatches from the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne. The ABC describes the program in this way:
Award-winning audio fiction series from the ABC. Walk the streets of Fitzroy, Melbourne, shaped by gangsters, migrants, Aboriginal activists, the working poor. Now, it’s fancy shops and hipster bars. Until you really look.
Now I'm not totally sure about the fiction part. I think that its more observations, imaginings and anecdotes that paint a vivid picture of life in Fitzroy. I find it fun. Having just moved back to Armidale, I thought that it might be fun to try the same thing here. I also thought that it might be a break from the historical or analytical stuff I normally write, something that would give me more freedom to experiment and roam.

The first episode, Armidale Diaries 1 the smoke rolls in, appeared yesterday on my personal blog. My old friend Noric Dilanchian wrote on my public face book page:
Jim’s mise en scène. The style works. Recalls quirky French rural townlife films of old, one from the 1980s that I recall by Claude Chabrol. Awaiting this style’s evolution. 
Stretch target, find a videography and music researcher to deliver audiovisual justice for the smoky scene you set.
Mise en scène literally means the arrangement of the scenery, props, etc. on the stage of a theatrical production or on the set of a film or, alternatively, the setting or surroundings of an event. That's not a bad definition, but I think of it in terms of the texture of life within a frame. 

I am going to try to run the series every Thursday. in terms of Noric's challenge, think of it as something like a script that audio can be added later.  

Monday, November 18, 2019

Stories Connect - Armidale, the Ezidis and creative expression

Back in August 2017 (Armidale to settle 200 refugees - overview and discussion) I reported that Armidale long fight to become a refugee resettlement centre had finally been successful.
Khalid Adi and his family colouring in. Photo Armidale Express.
Two years later Armidale is home to some 400 Ezidis.

Earlier in 2019, the New England Writers' Centre launched Stories Connect, a major program focussed around encouraging creative expression and making connections between newly- resettled Ezidi refugee families and other members of the Armidale community, through the sharing and creation of stories, pictures and music.

Supported by generous grants from the Regional Arts Fund, the Country Arts Support Program, Create NSW and Settlement Services International, with much-appreciated support from Armidale Regional Council, Arts North West and NERAM, Stories Connect launched in June. Over several months it featured a range of activities and events, from creative workshops for school age children and teenagers to community storytelling sessions; from the creation of documentary photographs by emerging photographers.

Stories Connect showcased the wide range of local talent and potential, both within the Ezidi and wider segments of the Armidale community. It’s been a great success, culminated in a popular exhibition at NERAM (the New England Regional Art Museum). Now a short documentary film has been released showcasing the project. It's rather good.

I have been asked not to embed the video because the Centre wants people to view it on its website. You will find the link here. The Armidale Express story on the launch of the NERAM exhibition is here

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Fires, drought and climate change within New England

The land has been on fire. Across the broader New England fires have raged with loss of property and life. ABC Coffs Coast reproduced a poem by Armidales' Troy Gerdes based on I love a sunburnt country that caught the situation.

"I love a Sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains.
But I’ve gotta tell ya mate, I like it better when it rains.
The countryside is dying and there’s just no end in sight, and just to rub salt in the wounds, the bush has caught alight.
The landscape is on fire from Brisbane to the Gong
And everybody’s asking “where the hell did we go wrong?
But we can get through this one if we help each other out, take care of your neighbour , that’s what Aussies are about.
The rain is going to fall again , the good times will return. But living in Australia means at times it’s going to burn.
So if you need a helping hand, just give a mate a call. We’re all here to help you out and catch you when you fall.
The RFS, the SES, the Firies, and police, all put their lives upon the line to help to keep the peace.
So hats off to these heroes and thanks for all you do
And I hope when this is over we can make it up to you!"

The fires have been dreadful. Last night's NBN News, (the link is to NBN News general site; I couldn't find the specific story), contained some of the most gripping and dramatic coverage that I have ever seen. They deserve an award for the coverage.

Community reaction to the fires has been truly remarkable in terms of those who fought and those that responded to events in whatever way they could. 

I would have followed the story anyway, but now living back in the area  I followed with particular interest. Exactly where were the fires, what did it all mean, who did I know who lived in the immediate area? I followed the social media feeds from people I knew especially on the Tablelands wondering if changing wind directions would bring the fires towards them.

The fires have become caught up in the debate about climate change especially among the political warriors of left and right, but also among worried citizens.

The fires have been hailed, if that's the right word, as exceptional, a much misused word, evidence for climate change. This has led to responses pointing out, correctly, that there have been worse fires and that the fires of themselves prove nothing.

The problem with these generalised discussions is that they lack practical content. If anything, they sidetrack discussion on the problems we face.

To avoid becoming caught in unnecessary arguments over climate change, I suppose that I should make my own position clear. 

As an historian, I am well aware that climate varies over time. As a simple example, sea levels have varied by around 130 metres over the last 100,000 years. I therefore have no problem with the idea that the climate may change. Indeed, I would expect it.

I also find the idea of human induced climate change intuitively plausible because I find it hard to see how the pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution could not have an effect. I accept too, if cautiously, that part of the effects of climate change is likely to be increased variability in climate, more extreme events. However, this is where my problem with some of the discussion on the New England fires comes in.

Climate change is a macro problem and has to be dealt with first at that level. This requires action to limit the emission of green house gases.

My personal preference here has been some form of carbon tax because it provides a market mechanism. The tax could have been set low and then adjusted as more evidence became available. Among other things, this would have taken a lot of the heat out of the debate over coal.

This is a macro debate. Accepting that climate change is happening, it is already clear that the effects will be a geographically distributed, creating a pattern of winners and losers. If one is going to respond in a sensible way to things like changes to the risk of fire in a particular area, one has to know what the changes might be. Otherwise discussion becomes sound and fury signifying nothing. Generalised statements won't cut it except at a very high level of generality. 

This is where the debate over the Northern fires come adrift. They lack real policy content because we just don't know what the specific effects of climate change might be in the broader New England. Here I want to put forward a specific hypothesis based on history over the last few thousand years that is potentially testable by those more knowledge in climatology than me.

Northern NSW is generally wetter than Southern NSW. The reason for that is that the area lies in the overlap between northern and southern weather systems. The dividing line is traditionally based on a line running inland from around Port Macquarie. South of that line, southern patterns dominate. North of that line to the Queensland border, systems overlap. Further north, northern weather patterns dominate.

I accept that this simple analysis is a gross generalisation. I stick my head up with a degree of trepidation. However, given all this, what happens if the effect of climate change is to move the northern systems north, the southern systems south? The result is likely to be a drought/fire zone in what was a previously a relatively well watered area.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Art Connections (31 Oct to 4 Nov 2019) - a creative journey through the New England North West



Created by Arts North West, Art Connections (31 Oct to 4 Nov 2019) is a large-scale arts trail experience and coordinated open weekend showcasing the diverse arts and cultural venues of the New England North West.

This event connects communities and highlights the significant contribution made by artists and cultural workers to the region’s economy and community identity.

Nestled in the mountains of the New England and scattered throughout the plains of the North West are numerous hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Creatives busily working away on their kitchen tables, in the garden shed, a shop in the main street, converted shipping containers or a purpose-built studio, drawing inspiration from the landscapes and environments that surround them in the beautiful New England North West to make and produce unique and diverse works.

Art Connections, has been developed to capture the creative venues of the New England North West, from the larger-scale venues such as commercial galleries and volunteer-run museums to the quirky artists run initiatives and studios off the beaten track, compiling a comprehensive database disguised as the North West Arts Trail Directory and Open Weekend.

Art Connections is more than one event – it is, in fact, a series of over 50 destinations across almost 100,000 km2. It will bring visitors into the smaller villages and towns of the New England North West, to explore and experience regional New England. This project connects communities and highlights the significant contribution made by artists and cultural workers to the region’s economy and community identity.

These trails will reveal what locals have known all along, there is something special and unique about our region. The self-drive Open Weekend on the weekend of the 31 October to 4 November provides the perfect opportunity to meander through the picturesque changing landscapes of the New England North West, the environment in which creativity and inspiration is drawn from.

Arts North West covers an enormous part of the New England North West. From bustling regional centres, to rural towns and remote villages, the vast differences between these communities include the obvious; size and location but there is an overarching similarity between them all, individuals and collectives building community identity through the power of creativity.

Artstate Tamworth will be held as part of Art Connections featuring a number of interconnected activities. 

You can download a copy of the Art Connections directory here or pick up a hard copy at one of the many participating venues and tourist centres. 

Monday, September 09, 2019

Return to Blogging

Cross posting to the Personal Reflections and New England History blogs.

Well, I am now in Armidale. I still don't have the internet working properly, that requires connecting to the NBN, but can access the internet using a hot spot created on the mobile. This is potentially very expensive, but meets my immediate needs.

After such a long delay in blogging, the move was creating distractions and delays long before the intensive move period, traffic to my blogs has declined greatly. I have to rebuild and that will take time.

I will write about the move, after all it has been a big and all consuming one, but for the moment I simply want to record that I am back blogging.

I look forward to a return to regular posting, to the on-going conversation with blogging friends old and hopefully new!

Monday, July 29, 2019

New England Writers' Centre announces a major new opportunity for writers living in the New England Federal Electorate

In partnership with Varuna, the National Writers’ House, and with the support of the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, the New England Writers’ Centre is delighted to announce a major new opportunity for New England writers.

Applications will open on August 5 for the inaugural Varuna/New England Writers’ Centre Fellowship, which, through a competitive process, will offer the Fellowship winner a week’s inspirational writing residency in the beautiful surroundings of Varuna, in the Blue Mountains. The Fellowship package will offer full board and accommodation at Varuna, funds towards travel, a one-on-one consultation with a Varuna expert and more
.
The Fellowship will be open to all writers, at any stage of their career, and working in any literary genre, who are either currently living in the New England region (defined as the federal New England Electorate) or who have previously lived there for at least five years. Assessment of applications will be conducted by a panel of New England-based literary professionals to establish a shortlist of three finalists. From this, Varuna will select the winner, to be announced in early December, with the Fellowship to be taken up in 2020.  For all details of the Fellowship and information on how to apply: see here.
‘We’re so delighted to be partnering with New England Writers’ Centre on this new fellowship,’ said Veechi Stuart, Executive Director of Varuna. ‘Supporting the arts in regional Australia is key to what we do, and we’re keen to be part of the rich tradition of poetry and writing that New England inspires.’ 
We are very grateful for the support of the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, whose generous sponsorship has helped to make this inaugural Fellowship possible.  The Copyright Agency is a not-for-profit rights management organisation that ensures artists, writers and publishers are fairly rewarded for the reproduction of their work. Its Cultural Fund provides grants to creative individuals and organisations for a diverse range of projects which aim to enrich Australian cultural life.
New England has indeed many writers. I used to be able to follow them all, but that became impossible a few years ago  with all the growth. I hope that this initiative really pays off.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Canberra's growth continues to shift relative economic power and influence from Northern NSW to the south

In December 2016 I examined the Ernst & Young cost-benefit evaluation of the proposed move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale.
Proposed Canberra High Rise
It's fair to suggest that I was not impressed with the way E&Y presented the costs of the move compared with the benefits, I thought that it was shoddy analysis in methodological terms. I also thought that it ignored the dynamic benefits of the move, something I was going to write more on.

For a variety of reasons, including time and the rapid unfolding of events I did not follow up. Now I want explore one element of what I was going to say, the implications of Canberra's continued growth. The trigger here was a 27 May 2019 piece by Katie Burgess, The areas in Canberra flagged for intense urban infill. To quote from one part of the article. 
Canberra's population increased from about 375,000 in 2012 to 402,500 people in 2016, but is expected to rise by a further 7000 people a year to 589,000 by 2041. 
Around 100,000 new homes will need to be built between 2018 and 2041 to meet that demand, the planning strategy says, equating to nearly 12 new homes a day. Canberra Times
When I moved to Canberra to work, the population was around 65,000, a bit over four times Armidale's population. Armidale plus Tamworth's population was around Canberra's total. Now in considering the population of the ACT, you have to consider the over-flow effects. When I moved to Queanbeyan to live, it's population was quite a bit smaller than Armidale, Now it's population is around 37,000, well over Atmidale and not far from Tamworth's. . 

When I moved to Canberra, inland New England had two full seats and bits of others, Canberra had one seat, Now Canberra has three seats, inland New England one and a little bit of another. Between now and 2041, and ignoring flow-on effects, Canberra is expected to add around another 187,000 people, more than the present population of inland New England. By then in the absence of change, inland New England will be down to one seat that will have to spread east and west to maintain the required numbers.     

While many factors have contributed to these trends, the single over-whelming one is the decision to establish a capital at Canberra. 

Now for all the hyper-ventilation in the Canberra Times over the APVMA move, you can see that it has negligible impact in Canberra beyond a marginal reduction in the growth pressures facing the city, a marginal reduction in the new infrastructure spend.required to  ease growth pressures. For Armidale with a population around 24,500, the move is relatively more significant, but can still be absorbed without requiring additional infrastructure.

I now want to broaden my focus a little to bring in the remainder of New England, Hunter to the border by considering the dynamic effects of Canberra's growth, .

When I moved to Canberra, the trip to Sydney along the narrow highway took over four hours. Now it's down to three hours on the expressway and will shorten. Along that highway strip, the expansion of both Sydney and Canberra is slowly crawling towards each other, creating a single conurbation. The establishment of fast rail, this seems likely, will accelerate the trend. A Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne fast rail would further consolidate the dominance of the South-East.  

I remember the first grapes being planted around the ACT. Now the growing Canberra market, the most affluent marketplace in the country, has provided a base for rapid expansion that in turn draws visitors and adds to the tourist trade. While parts of the country are experiencing some rural depopulation, Canberra people are moving out looking for new experiences. Then down on the South Coast, Canberra is driving the development of coastal tourism. 

This southern growth process is being further driven by other factors. Wagga Wagga, one of the fastest growing cities in regional NSW, is only a bit over two hours from Canberra. Albury-Wodonga is a bit over three hours from Canberra, about the same from Melbourne. Further north, the line from Sydney to the Blue Mountains to Bathurst to Orange is another growth line. Bathurst benefited from early NSW Government shifts in public administration, while both Orange and Bathurst have benefited from relative closeness to Sydney facilitating weekend traffic and the growth of food and wine. Both Orange and Bathurst are presently a bit over three hours from Canberra.

I haven't attempted to fully analyse the way all these bit fit together, but perhaps i can use an example to illustrate, The growth of Charles Sturt University has been solidly based on its expansion in the regional cities of Southern and Central NSW. 

If we now turn to New England, we find a very different picture. In the south, the growth of Newcastle has been influenced by the growth of Sydney. In discussions including discussion on "regional development" Newcastle is often seen as an out-rider, a place to absorb Sydney population pressures. The linkages that once existed between Newcastle and the broader North have diminished to the detriment of both, in part because of the southern focus. 

In the far north, the rapid population growth in the Tweed Valley and, to a degree further south, have been driven by the growth of the South East Queensland urban conurbation, creating a degree of isolation and dislocation. Along the coastal strip between the Hunter and the border, the rapid increase in population associated with sea change including retirement brought people but largely without jobs beyond service jobs. Of course there are some pluses, but now these are some of the lowest income areas with some of the highest youth unemployment in the country. Unlike the growth  high income Canberra, the growth of say Coffs Harbour has had very few broader spin-off benefits. 

I find it interesting that the biggest infrastructure issue on the North Coast, the re-development of the Pacific Highway, is focused on a road whose primary purpose is to link Sydney and Brisbane. Of course it's important because the congestion on that road from through traffic has caused deaths and great local inconvenience. You can see why locals are concerned.But it's not actually going to add any new jobs of the type the coast needs. 

Inland, the towns and cities have been struggling just to hold. Growth has increased, but the puffery associated with each town's boosters with their local focus sets towns against each other. Armidale wants the APVMA. The Mayor oft Tamworth was critical because Tamworth needs jobs and this is special pleading for Armidale. Tamworth wants a university campus, its the only city of its size in NSW that does not have an equivalent. I don't see Armidale Council rushing to support. 

Meantime, the North's relative decline continued. This will continue until the North starts focusing in a more integrated way on cross-linkages and mutual support. Take the dynamic effects of the APVMA re-location as a simple final comment.

The E&Y study compared the local expenditure benefits by comparing the whole ACT with the then Armidale Dumaresq Council area. The ACT benefits would be greater because more of the flow-on effects would be retained there as compared to to the Armidale Dumaresq LGA. Let me turn that on its head. The dynamic benefits will be greater in Armidale just because the benefits from the spend will flow onto a wider area. That includes expenditure in Tamworth and on the coast. 

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