New England, Australia

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Introducing the Walcha artists

Walcha artist Ross Laurie in his studio
Monday 20 November 2017. With financial support from The Greater Bank, the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) took a large group of volunteers down to Walcha to experience that town’s artistic development.

Hosted by leading Walcha artists, the visit was organised by NERAM as the annual excursion for the volunteers who support NERAM’s operations, providing them with an opportunity to meet local artists and see how they work in their studios. NERAM’s Robert Heather records:
“This year with the support of a donation from The Greater Bank we could organise a much bigger bus to carry everyone from Armidale down to Walcha where we could visit the artists in their studios, take a walking tour through the Walcha Outdoor Sculpture Gallery and have a great day in a beautiful location.”
The story in the Walcha News (NERAM Volunteers visit Walcha for an artistic journey) provides a very good overview of the visit. The photos by Darrel Whan are especially good. When you look at the story, do browse the photos. I would love to have been on that trip.

To add to the story, I thought that I would tell you a little about Walcha and its artistic life.

Walcha lies in the Southern New England Tablelands, You can reach it from Tamworth (around one hours eleven minutes), Armidale (52 minutes), Gloucester (just under two hours) or Port Macquarie (two and a half hours). It’s far enough away from bigger centres to preserve its own sense of identity and remoteness, close enough that Walcha people can visit many places including the beautiful national parks near the town.

The distance is important because it has both limited the town’s growth and created a sense of distinctiveness.. The big pastoral families that dominated the town’s early growth were always seen as distinct, snobbish even, compared to those to the north.

At 1,067m, 3,501 ft, Walcha’s climate is cool, sometimes cold. This plus rain makes it a fertile area for both cattle and fine wool merino.

Like many New England towns, Walcha went through a period of decline as economic forces worked against country growth. Then decline stabilised and slow growth began again. All this makes it an unlikely place to become a significant artistic centre. However, the town has also been quite an entrepreneurial place over an extended period.

Angus Nivison, Walcha studio, painting "Star Turn" 2016.
Two things seem to have contributed to Walcha’s artistic growth.

The first was the decision by children of local families including Ross Laurie and Angus Nivison to practice their artistic craft there. The second was the decision by prominent sculptor Stephen King and his partner painter Julia Griffin to establish their base there.

In 1996, Stephen approached Walcha Council asking it to collaborate with him to create a fountain sculpture for McHattan Park in the centre of town. The decision to accept his offer and install Walcha's first sculpture lead to the suggestion by Council to form the Walcha Arts Council to facilitate an ongoing public art program.

A plan was conceived and drawn up by the Walcha Arts Council and was adopted by Council into its 1998 Management Plan. The result was the Open Air Sculpture Gallery. This now consists of 49 different pieces of art situated all around the town.
Stephen King, winning entry, Sydney's Sculpture by the Sea 2013
In parallel, other artists were drawn to the town including Kate Durack, Paula Jenkins, James Rogers and Myf Gulliver. A gallery, the Walcha Gallery of Art, was established to provide a local base for the growing artistic community.

I don’t have the knowledge to describe them all nor the resulting work, beyond noting that they have established distinct styles that reflect local conditions as well as broader artistic trends. I have talked about Julia Griffin’s work before.

Julia Griffin, Rain on the Uralla road
There is a real story here, one that that deserves broader national coverage.

To do it myself, I would need to immerse myself in Walcha, soaking up life, atmosphere and style.

Perhaps one day!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Round up of local history stories across the New England media no 2


Photo: patrol post, Greta Migrant camp
Over on my New England History blog I have begun a regular round-up of stories from the local media on local history. This is the second in the series.
My aim is to build another resource that can be tapped to by those wishing to explore the history of New England or of their specific region or locality.

By their nature, many of these stories cannot be relied upon to be absolutely accurate, but they are useful in providing information and ideas.    

Monday, October 16, 2017

House prices in New England 2017

 Interesting piece by Jennifer Duke and Kate Burke in Allhomes, Out of breath': Newcastle, Wollongong join Sydney property price downturn. I have referenced it here because it includes housing price data for twelve New England locations over the last twelve months.

The results, summarised in the following table, show changes in the median house price for regional NSW. Armidale Dumaresq (1.7%) had the lowest percentage increase in New England, Ballina (14%) the highest.The table also provides an interesting snapshot of differences in median house prices.


Sept. 2017
June 2017
Sept. 2016
Quarter growth
Annual growth
Albury
$310,000
$299,500
$305,000
3.40%
1.60%
Armidale Dumaresq
$356,000
$356,250
$350,000
-0.10%
1.70%
Ballina
$621,250
$577,000
$545,000
7.10%
14.0%
Bathurst
$429,000
$417,000
$390,500
2.80%
9.90%
Byron
$820,000
$850,000
$757,500
-3.70%
8.30%
Clarence Valley
$380,000
$360,000
$338,000
5.30%
12.40%
Coffs Harbour
$485,000
$485,000
$431,000
0.00%
12.50%
Dubbo
$350,000
$340,000
$365,000
2.90%
-4.10%
Eurobodalla
$455,000
$450,000
$420,000
1.10%
8.30%
Great Lakes
$492,500
$515,000
$438,500
-4.60%
12.30%
Lismore
$370,000
$375,000
$340,000
-1.40%
8.80%
Newcastle
$595,000
$610,000
$525,000
-2.50%
13.30%
Orange
$366,500
$370,000
$348,000
-1.00%
5.30%
Port Macquarie- Hastings
$520,000
$500,000
$465,000
3.80%
11.80%
Richmond Valley
$275,000
$271,750
$250,000
1.20%
10.00%
Shellharbour
$650,000
$635,000
$557,000
2.30%
16.70%
Shoalhaven
$545,000
$525,000
$456,250
3.70%
19.50%
Tamworth Regional
$349,000
$340,000
$325,000
2.60%
7.40%
Tweed
$573,500
$579,750
$519,000
-1.10%
10.50%
Wagga Wagga
$350,000
$345,000
$322,750
1.40%
8.40%
Wingecarribee
$750,000
$800,000
$765,000
-6.70%
-2.00%
Wollongong
$740,000
$754,000
$649,500
-1.90%
13.90%
m

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Australian census 2016 - tracing New England's decline over time

The 2016 ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) census allows you to sort regionally. The results summarised in the following table provide a snapshot of New England's continued structural decline.

The regions selected cover the boundaries recommended by the Nicholas Royal Commission boundaries that were used in the 1967 plebiscite. They exclude some western areas that form parts of other statistical divisions.  .

To put the numbers in the table into historical perspective:
  • In 1911, New England's population was about 429,000. In that year, the NSW population was 1,699,376 (New England 25.7%), Australia's population 4,573,786 (New England 9.37%). In 1911, the population of Queensland was 623,123, South Australia 419,392 and Western Australia 293,923. The initial new state boundaries excluded the Hunter. The Cohen Royal Commission (1924) estimated the population in that initial area at 359,000, so more than WA and a bit behind South Australia.
  • By 1950 with decentralisation and separation agitation relaunching, the NSW population had increased to 3,242,057 with a significant proportion of that growth in Sydney. The Queensland population had increased to 1,205,418, South Australia to 722,843, WA to 572,649. I haven't calculated precise figures for New England, but it was something around 700,000. The area had declined as a proportion of the NSW population, had fallen significantly behind Queensland, but was still level pegging with South Australia and well ahead of WA.
  • By 1961 when Operation Seventh State was launched leading up to the 1967 plebiscite, New South Wales' population had increased to 3,951,65, again with Sydney attracting the lion's share of the growth. The Queensland population had jumped to 1,540,251, South Australia to 979,351 and WA to 755,213. I can't find my reference with New England's population, but I think it was around 760,000. Further down as a proportion of NSW, now well behind South Australia in total, but still level pegging with Western Australia. 
  • If we now track forward to the statistics shown in the table, you can see that New England's relative decline has continued. In 2011, its population of 1,371,776 was 6.38% of Australia's population, declining to 5.89% in 2016 even though the total population had increased to 1,425,728.. In 2011, its share of the NSW population had dropped to 19.83%, falling further to 19.06% in 2016. In 2016 South Australia, often considered something of an economic basket case, had a population of 1,676,653.   
In addition to these higher level changes, there have been major distributional changes. These are discussed following the table.  .

New England Comparative Population Statistics
2011
2016

Population
% of Australia
% of NSW
% of New England
Population
% of Australia
% of NSW
% of New England
% increase over 2011
Australia
21,507,717



24,206,201



12.55
NSW
6,917,658
32.16
19.83

7,480,228
30.90
19.06

8.13
Greater Sydney
4,391,658
20.42
63.48

4,823,991
19.93
64.49

9.84
New England North West
182,559
0.85
2.64
13.31
185,787
0.77
2.48
13.03
1.77
Richmond Tweed
236,498
1.10
3.42
17.24
245,164
1.01
3.28
17.20
3.66
Coffs Harbour-Grafton
135,182
0.63
1.95
9.85
138,904
0.57
1.86
9.74
2.75
Mid North Coast
208,090
0.97
3.01
15.17
216,003
0.89
2.89
15.15
3.80
Hunter Valley exc Newcastle
251,865
1.17
3.64
18.36
269,688
1.11
3.61
18.92
7.08
Newcastle Lake Macquarie
357,562
1.66
5.17
26.07
370,182
1.53
4.95
25.96
3.53
Total New England
1,371,756
6.38
19.83

1,425,728
5.89
19.06

3.93


There have been important distributional changes within these aggregate figures over time. 

Up to the end of the seventies, the inland and coastal populations within New England outside the Hunter were broadly in balance. Then came the sea-change phenomenon which led to rapid growth in the coastal populations.To a degree, this growth was unstable and has now slowed because jobs did not follow the growth, leading to increased poverty. .

In 2011, the North Coast population reached 597,770, up slightly to 600,071 in 2016. Stagnation in the inland population meant that from rough balance, the New England North West population fell to 31.49% of the coastal population in 2011, down to 30.96% in 2016. 

The area was affected by fragmentation too from outside forces. The growth of Brisbane and the Gold Coast conurbation helped drive growth in the Richmond and especially the Tweed Rive Valleys. By 2016, the Richmond-Tweed population had grown to 245,164 or 17.2% of the New England population, roughly equaling the inland New England population including the Upper Hunter. 

In the south, two drive variables came into play. Sydney's growth extended into the Lower Hunter While Newcastle suffered from losses associated with the industrial restructuring of the 1990s including the closure of the BHP as well as Sydney blindness, its closeness to Sydney, its life style opportunities and the rise of coal mining and tourism all contributed to growth in Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and the Llower Hunter. The growth was lower than Sydney's, but high enough to increase the Hunter and especially the Lower Hunter's share of the New England population. 

In 1911, the population of Newcastle and the main nearby towns including Maitland and Cessnock was 71,000 or 16.5%  of New England's population.   In 2016, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie on their own totaled 25.96% of the New England population. The Hunter Valley as a whole totaled 44.88% of the New England population. 

The second southern driver, one not recognised because of border myopia, was the rise of Canberra.

In 1961, the ACT's population was just 76,000, although it had begun to grow rapidly. The population of the ACT plus what is now called the Capital Region, those areas most within Canberra's economic sphere of influence, was less than the inland New England population. In 2016, the ACT's population reached 403,468 with a further 224,288 living the Capital Region for a total population of 627,756. 

The effects have been quite profound, for it has shifted the economic center of gravity south. Lacking any major centre of economic gravity, New England has fragmented, drawn in multiple directions north and south with very little present control over its future.