New England, Australia

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Australia's largest under 12 rugby competition about to kick off in Armidale

The next TAS (The Armidale School) Rugby Union Carnival, will be held on Saturday 8, Sunday 9 April. Now in its thirteenth year, the carnival has developed into Australia's largest under 12s rugby carnival.

The Armidale Express reports that this year there will be over 900 players from 45 school and club teams grouped into five divisions based on teams of similar ability. Over the two days, 110 games of rugby will be played on eight school ovals, proudly prepared by TAS grounds staff over recent weeks.

While carnival attracts teams from a very wide area including the metros, it especially important for country teams such as the Moree Junior Bulls who have participated in every carnival since its inception.

According to Moree Junior Bulls coordinator Cath Keen, the team loves heading to Armidale to take part in the massive competition.
“It is competition from bigger regional centres, they’re playing against kids from all over New South Wales and parts of Queensland,” she said. “It’s more competition and it’s great for them to see how other kids play and what the standards are.” 
There has been a lot of media coverage about the problems that smaller communities have faced in maintaining sporting competition in all codes because of diminishing numbers of young people. There has been less coverage of the problems that good country athletes face at both school and club level in accessing good coaching and proper competition.

At school level, the problem is compounded by the growing gap in pupil numbers between country and city schools. It is very hard, for example, in rugby union to compete against a city school which may have 2,000 boys if you only have 300 or even 600. The problem is further compounded by the growing professionalisation in school sport. Mind you, its not just a problem for country schools. The smaller city schools struggle as well, as evidenced by the problems over recent years in the NSW GPS (Greater Public Schools) rugby competition. .

I think TAS deserves commendation for the way that has been prepared to make its grounds and staff available to support not just regional sporting activities, but also academic and cultural activities.      .

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Munnmorah's falling stacks marks continuing end of an era

Sunday 26 March 2017 Munmorah Power Station chimney stacks falling (photo ABC) The Newcastle Herald piece by Scott Bevan has a good description of the technical difficulties involved in bringing the stacks down.  
 The demolition of the Munmorah chimney stacks was the symbol of an end of another era.

Vales Point (1963-64) was the first of the big Northern power stations followed by Munmorah (1967-69) then Lidell (1971-73), Eraring (1982-1984) and Bayswater (1985-86).

At the time of the new state plebiscite in 1967, Vales Point  was included in the southern end of the New England boundaries which included the Lake Macquarie catchment. One of the vexed issues at the time was the price to be placed on NSW assets in New England, how much debt the new state should have.This would have become a bigger issue with the construction of the other stations.

That is now all water under the bridge, of course. Still, it somehow seemed appropriate to record Munmorah's passing.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Japan's Nihon University may establish campus in Newcastle

According to the Newcastle Morning Herald, Japan's Nihon University has chosen Newcastle as its first bricks and mortar university in Australia.

If you read the tone of the editorial, you will see that the paper is playing it's role as Newcastle's booster. I have no complaints with that, and indeed it is a sign of Newcastle's progressive maturation.

Newcastle has always had its own character, but for too long its been under the shadow of Sydney, a lesser city often ignored and indeed subsumed into a strange entity called Greater Sydney. It's been interesting watching the changes in the city over the last few years, including the growing role of the University of Newcastle in supporting change.

As the editorial notes, Nihon will add to Newcastle's depth without distracting from Newcastle Uni.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Importance of Cundletown's new Coptic Church

 The singing of traditional Coptic hymns plays a big part in each mass. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
I am constantly fascinated by the diversity of life across Northern NSW, the broader New England. A case in point is the opening of the St Mary and St Pope Kirolos the 6th Coptic Christian Orthodox Church in Cundletown as reported by Emma Siossian for ABC Mid North Coast.

The Copts are one of the oldest Christian groups in the Middle East and still constitute a significant minority of the Egyptian population.. The Coptic Orthodox Church  is one of  the orthodox churches that formed in what was then the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire during the schisms that marked the early Christian Church. I have read a little of Byzantine history, including the religious disputes, and find the whole thing remarkably complicated!

Photo: The old Cundletown dock yard
Cundletown near Taree in the Manning Valley lies a long way from Egypt. While young by Coptic standards, Cundletown is a historic village in its own right with its colonial remains.

The linkage between the Cundletown and Coptic Egypt is provided by Dr Moheb Ghaly, a long-time Manning Valley surgeon born in Egypt.

Over very many decades, the combination of political instability with religious persecution led to the emigration of many Egyptian Copts, some of whom settled on the North Coast. Like many other Copts, Dr Ghaly used to travel to Sydney for services. Now he worked to establish a church where local Copts could worship.
Local resident: "This will bring more people and families to the area. It's our community, it's us, it's our identity."  Dr Ghaly outside the new church. 
I have no doubt that the new church will assist in attracting new Egyptian Coptic residents. There is now a long history of such chain migration in New England including the Germans and Scots that came to New England from the 1840s-1850s and then, much later, the Indians who came to Woolgoolga

At a time when many parts of New England are struggling to attract people, when it's just so hard to get people to move from the metros, the creation of such community infrastructure, the welcoming of new people, is important in attracting new residents who, in turn, will attract new residents.The North gains from increased population and from added diversity to New England life.   .      

Monday, March 13, 2017

New natural history museum adds to Armidale's attractions and diversity - but can we fix Beardy Street?

The University of New England's new natural history museum is about to open.

Announced back in June 2015, the museum is intended to be a showcase of a new $27 million Integrated Agriculture Education Project precinct. The museum features the skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur, and a diverse collection of animals, plants, and meteorites, building on the collection previously held by the Zoology Museum.

Armidale has two main museum/cultural precincts. The first centres on Kentucky Street in the south of this city and includes the New England Regional Art Museum (photo), the Armidale and Region Aboriginal Centre and Keeping Place and the Heritage Centre. The second covers the museums and displays at UNE to the north-east of the city.

These are not Armidale's only museums and cultural centres. The Armidale Folk Museum in the centre of the city is one of the oldest and best folk museums in the country.

I still live in hope that Armidale Regional Council can revitalise the centre of the business district with its bookshops, cafes and galleries. Poor planning decisions over a long period have fragmented the small CBD, turning it from a vibrant centre to something of a desolate pedestrian absent zone dominated by relatively small shopping malls at each end.

Beardy Street is the heart of the old Victorian city that constitutes one of Armidale's architectural gems. It should be the heart of the city, providing a central point for visitors and locals alike, a starting point for all the other attractions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Grains, Livestock R&D announcements - good news stories but a lost communications opportunity?

It's sometimes difficult to know what Government statements mean, primarily because they contain so little information. Two recent statements, both good news, are cases in point.

The first is a 10 year funding partnership between the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the NSW government. More than $130 million will be invested into grains research and development in NSW over the next 10 years, "meaning researchers will have more long-term certainty in their projects and jobs, and grain growers will continue to get the latest information for their decisions in the field."

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and GRDC chairman John Woods announced the bilateral agreement at the Department of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Training Centre at Calala yesterday.

Mr Joyce said the agreement would build on the current research and development partnership between the GRDC and government, and would secure research in Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Condoblin, Yanco and Trangie. There are 31 full time equivalent positions involved across these sites, about half of which are in Tamworth.

“The research and development will focus on two significant areas: winter crop pathology and winter crop agronomy and physiology,” Mr Blair said.

Reading the reports, this one primarily involves maintenance of existing research activities including presumably aspects of the work of DPI's Tamworth Agricultural Institute (TAI).

The second  announcement by also involving Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce
NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair dealt with the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s five-year co-investment in two research and development programs intended to benefit the sheep and cattle industries The photo shows Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair with UNE Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan and Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall at the launch. .

The first co-investment research and development program will focus on five key areas including improving supply chain efficiency, overcoming the nutritional limits to livestock genetic potential, improving reproductive performance, sustainability of livestock production systems and enhancing the feed base by optimising grazing and soil management.

The NSW Government is investing $17.5 million into the partnership with MLA Donor Company (MDC) – a fully-owned subsidiary of industry service company Meat &
Livestock Australia (MLA). The NSW Department will also invest an additional $5 million in the new National Livestock Genetics Consortium (NLGC) - an initiative among key livestock industry stakeholders seeking to achieve world leading rates of genetic gain to ultimately drive value chain profitability.

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the NSW Government is focused on supporting regional NSW and sees the five year commitment as a pivotal investment to grow core research initiatives that will benefit the sheep and cattle industries.

Under the collaborative partnership model, MDC will match the NSW Governments funding for research projects that address the five key red meat priorities. MDC has also given in-principle support to match the investment in the NLGC.

This is clearly an important initiative and one that will further consolidate and develop the rural research in base in New England. Again, though, I had to dig round to collect information to try to understand what it really meant. .In the end, I think that I have worked it out roughly, although the respective web sites are not especially clear.

.I accept that I am something of an odd person in that I very rarely run press releases without some checking. It used to be the case that press releases came with backgrounders providing factual information. That seems to have dropped out.

In these particular cases, the stories would have definitely have benefited from the supply of additional information, especially for those who wanted to write more reflective pieces later for a broader audience. This is especially a pity at a time when things such as the move of the APVMA to Armidale has led to quite condescending attacks, at a time when the University of New England is struggling to sell its research story.

In this context, I note that UNE itself did not issue a parallel release for reasons that escape me. It is not my job to go through the UNE web site to try to establish linkages, although I did my best. It is UNE's job to sell its own story.

Even though these stories got coverage locally and in the farm press, I think that they were opportunities missed.
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tingha's Chinese past features on SBS

Held to mark Chinese New Year and to celebrate the town's Chinese past, this year's Tingha's Lantern Festival featured on SBS Television.

New England has a rich Chinese history. The first Chinese came as shepherds in the 1840s, then came an influx with the gold rushes during the 1850s to places like Nundle and Rocky River and then another rush with the tin boom of the 1870s. For a period, the Tablelands were the largest tin province in the world.

To mark the Festival and the SBS coverage, I thought that I should re-publish a History Revisited column, , that first appeared in the Armidale Express on 4 June 2104.

Tingha's Chinatown 

Most of New England’s small settlements have vanished in the great rural depopulation, leaving little behind beyond a few posts. This is especially true of our mining towns, for there the town survived just as long as the rush endured. Once the miners left, the town vanished, the buildings moved or decaying into the landscape. Now the few remains lie forgotten, ignored even by neighbours, their history lost.

This remains true even where the original physical presence was substantial. Tingha’s China Town is an example. Heard of it? I bet not.

China Town ran on the creek bank along Amethyst Street. However, the Chinese population was so big that it overflowed across the town. At the height of the tin boom in the 1870s, Chinese boarding houses, stores, cafes, peanut shops, wine shops, herbalists, opium dens and gambling shops competed for space in Tingha’s overcrowded town centre.

How big was big? That’s difficult to estimate. At the height of the boom, 2,500 people packed into Tingha and its immediate surrounds. The population of the broader Tingha mining district was 7,000 of whom 2,000 were Chinese. My best guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Tingha itself had perhaps 500 Chinese residents, the remaining Chinese visiting as needs demanded.

Chinese celebrations were both noisy and colourful. One year, a huge paper marquee was imported from China and erected in the vicinity of the main joss house. It housed displays of various gods and devils and of humans being punished for their sins.

The display remained open for a week. On the seventh day amidst much ceremony, it was set alight. As it burned, fire crackers exploded; there was much gaiety until the whole structure was reduced to ash.

As the mines declined, people left, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Yet many Chinese lingered, leaving their imprint. That is why stores in so many towns near the tin belt carried Chinese names, names that linger to this day; Hong Yuen (Inverell), Kwong Sing (Glen Innes and Bundarra), Hong Sing (Stanthorpe) and Wing Hing Long (Tingha).

When Harry Fay died in Inverell in August 2012, the Northern Daily Leader spoke of his connection with Inverell's iconic Hong Yuen department store. After taking over the store in 1970 that his grandfather had run for sixty years, the paper said, Mr Fay had carried on the family tradition of honesty, quality service and community spirit. That’s not a bad epitaph.

In Tingha itself, the Wing Hing Long store survives as a museum,  preserving one aspect of Tingha's colourful Chinese past.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New England representatives in the new NSW Berejiklian-Barilaro Government

Earlier in the month, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced her new ministerial line-up. You will find the full list here. I thought that it might be helpful if I provided you with a list of those selected from the broader New England. They represent key targets if we are to argue for new approaches within New England.

Ministers
  • Melinda Pavey, National Party, Member for Oxley, Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight
  • Adam Marshall, National Party, Member for the Northern Tablelands, Minister for Tourism and Major Events and Assistant Minister for Skills
  • Sarah Mitchell. National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Assistant Minister for Education
Parliamentary Office Holders
  • Trevor Khan, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Deputy President and Chair of Committees
  • Thomas George, National Party, Member for Lismore, Deputy Speaker
  • Andrew Fraser, National Party, Member for Coffs Harbour, Assistant Speaker
Parliamentary Secretaries
  • Kevin Anderson, National Party, Member for Tamworth, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Roads and Transport
  • Rick Colless, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resources and Western NSW
  • Catherine Cusack, Liberal Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Education and the Hunter
  • Ben Franklin, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy and Northern NSW
  • Chris Gulaptis, National Party, Member for Clarence, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Planning
  • Scot MacDonald, Liberal Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and the Central Coast
  • Leslie Williams, National party, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The work of New England photographer Joshua Smith

Resuming posting after the new year, New England photographer Joshua (Josh) Smith comes from Narrabri on the Liverpool Plains. He describes his work in this way:
"My goal is to tell the story of Australian farmers, who are the best and most sustainable in the world. Through my photography, showing the scale and beauty of what they do with our land."
As you will see from this example, his work is quite striking.


I hadn't seen any of his work until Canon Australia ran a special feature on it. The colour and composition struck an immediate chord, further illustrating the colours of New England.  This second photo is called Inbound to Wee Waa. I'm sure that you will see why I like him.




Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas in New England


Every New England family has its own Christmas rituals.

To most young, at least those lucky enough to live in stable middle class families, these seem unchanging. It is only looking back that we can see how quickly things change.

As children, brother David and I had a fixed and very satisfying Christmas ritual.

Christmas Eve was open house at our place for mum and dads' friends and their children.

Planning began days in advance. A suitable pine tree branch was obtained, put in an old iron pot and surrounded by packed down dirt. Mum got out the Christmas decorations from the top cupboard of the linen closet to decorate the tree and the house.

On Christmas Eve, sometimes the day before, dad went out to Ryan's Cordials, the Armidale soft drink maker, to get the soft drinks and mixers. Supplies of beer and spirits were obtained. The ice was broken up and put in the laundry tub or, later, eskies.

Mum got out the special punch jug and supporting glasses, pretty glassware only used at this time of the year. She then made her special and famous punch and then the sandwiches, especially cucumber and tomato.
People started arriving about 7pm. The Buzos, the Halpins, the Harrises, the Foxes and so on. We were allowed to help and played with the other kids. Then after people left, we tidied up and finished off the last of the cucumber sandwiches.

Christmas morning David and I woke early to see what Santa had brought us. In our case, Santa filled a pillow case (none of those small stockings!) that was left on the end of our bed. There were lollies, books and loads and loads of small toys. Even today, my own children insist on the pillow case, although this year for the first time they are actually Christmas stockings.
Once or parents woke - usually with a bit of prodding - it was time for present exchange. Then David and I settled down to play and read.

Mid morning it was off to Fah and Gran's.

Mann Street - we always called it Mann Street to distinguish it from Marsh Street, our house - was a children's paradise.

The house was a large one, located on a very large block. Originally built to face the north, the front of the house with its front steps dropping to the garden was in fact the back, the back the front.

Tall pine trees ran along the front and back fences, creating a paradise for children who liked to climb. I still remember the excitement when heavy snow caused branches on the trees at the front (always the better climbing trees) to crash to the street.
Looking at the house from the street the more formal gardens faced the street. There were small single car garages to the left and the right whose rooves could be reached by nearby trees, creating vantage points for kids playing hide and seek; home was always one of the big cement pedestals marking the end of the stairs at the other end of the house.

Facing from the street, gardens ran to the left and right of the house.

On the left, the flatter side, there was a gravel path near the house then a row of shrubs and gardens, a stretch of grass then a hedge. This was the side of the house we could break into as kids because the house was lower to the ground, allowing us to climb up the foundations.
On the left, a lawn sloped down to a gravel path (we loved rolling head over heels down this lawn) and then the garden shed. This provided another vantage point for our games of hide and seek.

At the front (back), the house was high from the ground with a veranda facing the north. There were in fact verandas on the south, east and north of the house. The verandas on the west of the house had been closed in.

On the high veranda at the front there were chairs for people to sit and watch the rest of the garden including especially the tennis court. It was here sometimes that I used to sit with Fah in the morning eating my porridge in the weak morning sun. Proud of his Scottish ancestry, he ate porridge with cream and salt, not sugar. I did the same.

From the veranda there was a short stretch of down sloping land, mainly lawn, to another hedge and then a fence marking the dividing line to the back garden. On the left was the kitchen garden, then the tennis court and a stretch of rough grass where the cow grazed when we were very young. At the back of the tennis court was a small byre for the cow, more rough grass.

Back to Christmas. Upon arrival at Mann Street we exchanged presents with Fah and Gran and my aunts. This was followed by open house for my grandparent's friends and campaign workers. At the time I was born, Fah had already been a local Member of Parliament for twenty five years, so there was a constant stream of people.

Then lunch, usually a chicken from the birds my grandparent's kept, with all the trimmings. The Mackellars, Mr Mackellar managed Fah's property outside Armidale, always came in for Christmas with the family. At lunch we kids always ate separately from the adults in a small sun room off the dining room, separate but still in seeing and hearing distance.

We played in the afternoon while the adults talked. I remember one year a piper came in (Fah was very proud of his Scottish ancestry) and we all gathered on the veranda while the piper strode the lawns below.

Then back home for a rest. In the late afternoon we always went up to the Halpins for a drink. Vee and Bruce had been very long standing friends of Mum and Dad, while brother David and I were close friends with the Halpin twins.

Finally, home for a meal of left overs.

Time passes, things change.

Fah sells the property and the Mackellars move. Our aunts get married. Then Gran is killed in a car accident. My parents think about buying Mann Street but hold off because we cannot get a good enough price for our house. Then Fah marries Aimie, subdivides Mann Street into two falts, retiring from politics soon after. Then Fah dies.

These are big changes. Yet they happen in a time horizon that allows for adjustment. Our Christmas evening Marsh Street opening houses continue. Kay and Margaret bring their children back to Armidale. I form the habit of dropping into Mann Street for a drink with Fah and Aimie. No longer a child, I listen to Fah's stories about his dreams, experiences and achievements.

More time passes, more things change. I join the New England diaspora taking a job in Canberra.

New England has been draining its young for a hundred years.

In the absence of self-government, it lacks the public service positions that would allow people like me to serve local interests, as well the the state branch positions found in other states. We also have few major locally headquartered businesses.

All this means that New England's most ambitious young leave. As a rough order of scale, I suspect that if we take those born in New England plus their immediate children, the number of New Englanders outside New England is as great as those living in New England.

Now there is a new pattern. At Christmas time from Newcastle in the south to Lismore in the north, from Kempsey in the east through Armidale to Moree, thousands of New England's young return home to family for Christmas. Initially they travelled by train and especially the night mail trains, meeting friends on the train, later by car and plane.  
In my case I would leave Canberra by car as soon as work finished. If there was time, I would go through Sydney to see Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim, a new ritual, arriving where possible at Armidale in time for mum and dad's Christmas eve open house. However, sometimes I did not arrive in Armidale until 5am on Christmas morning.
Christmas now was a time for catching up with old friends, including especialy those living elsewhere. We talked, played tennis or sometimes golf, visited the pub. Then it was over for another year.

More time, still more changes. My parents die, then Uncle Ron, destroying part of the old rituals. There is a short gap and then I return to live in Armidale with my own family, recreating the old pattern although we do spend some Christmases in Sydney with my wife's family.

As with David and I, Santa leaves presents in a pillow case on the end of the bed. There is then the excitement as the kids wake up early to see what Santa has brought them. Over breakfast we open presents to each other. Then at either lunch or dinner time it is usually off to Aunt Kay's for the main Christmas meal.

Merinda Place, Kay's home, now plays the role that used to be played by Mann Street as the aunts and often their children gather. There are now far fewer returning expatriats of my generation as their parents retire away from Armidale or die, but it is still all reassuringly familiar.

Still more time passes, still more changes.

Time periods are shortening now. After eight years in Armidale we move to Sydney so that my wife can pursue a new career, but still we mainly return to Armidale for Christmas with Kay and my other aunts. My daughters are older, but there is still all the excitement of going back, of seeing Kay and the other family.

Then one by one my aunts die including Kay. With no immediate family left in Armidale, with no family home, Christmas is now largely spent in Sydney with my wife's family. There is still the excitement especially for Helen and Clare, some things are still the same, but I do miss the old rituals and the people that formed such an important part of my life for so long.

I hope that all this does not sound too morbid. It's just that Christmas itself is a time for looking back, for remembering blessings granted. As we used to say in a Christmas toast, to absent friends.

I hope that you and yours have a very happy Christmas and a great new year.