New England, Australia

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The craziness of NSW's latest regional tourism structures

I despair sometimes. Over the last six years on this blog I have written many posts on failures in NSW tourism promotion, at least so far as Northern NSW is concerned. Just to summarise my previous complaints:
  • the subdivision of tourism branding into Sydney and NSW doesn't work because NSW is too disparate to have an identifiable tourism brand and in any case hasn't been given the money to promote it
  • the constantly fluctuating boundaries of NSW regional tourism bodies, the constant chops and changes in names, structures and branding strategies, has made it impossible to develop coherent sustained local or regional tourism brands and strategies. 
  • The Sydney centric focus of branding conceals a fundamental conflict between the desire to maintain Sydney as hub and the needs of other areas that are, in fact, in competition with Sydney. 
  • At least so far as Northern NSW, the broader New England,is concerned,  the various strategies and chops and changes have totally destroyed any chance of creating a strong brand to rival Sydney and have fragmented cooperative marketing and product development.
The latest Sydney Government changes just continue this process. Since I am being so rude, here is the link to the explanatory statement. Please read it and tell me that I am wrong. I would be very happy to debate the issues involved.

The following map sets out the latest boundaries. Comments follow the map.

Now when you look at the map, you will find that New England is subdivided into three areas:
  • Destination Sydney Surrounds North (including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and the Hunter)
  • Destination North Coast (from the Mid-Coast to Tweed Heads including Lord Howe Island)
  • Destination Country and Outback NSW with everything inland from Riverina Murray as defined to the border including all of inland New England. 
While Destination North Coast at least has the advantage of an historical geographic unity, the same cannot be said for the other areas. After years of struggling to maintain a distinct identity, Newcastle and the Hunter are now classified just as Destination Sydney Surrounds North. Can you imagine the board meetings where the Hunter tells the Blue Mountains to go away because we want to attract traffic from you?

Destination Country and Outback NSW is, if anything, worse. Can you imagine just three staff even with extra board members making sensible decisions across a such a broad area lacking any community of interest? Or any sensible decisions at all? And how on earth are the New England Tablelands and Western Slopes and Plains, areas that are different in their own right but have been jammed together by previous NSW Government decisions, going to form common views in competition with the Cnetral West or Dubbo? It beggars belief. 

And how are we going to get cooperative action that will promote Northern NSW as a whole? Well, I guess that we don't exist.

As I said, I have given you the links so that you can correct me.  So far as I am concerned. this strikes me as crazy stuff. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Election sees status quo in the broader New England

It's becoming easier and easier to follow New England election results with the progressive decline in the number of our seats, state and federal. It's hard to believe, but New England now has fewer Federal seats than South Australia.

In 1967, our population was larger than Western Austraia's, well in front of South Australia. Now South Australia has eleven Federal seats, while New England has nine with part falling in the seat of Parkes.

With seats down one from the previous Federal election, the results this time were broadly status quo:

  • Labor 5 (Hunter, Paterson, Richmond, Shortland, Newcastle)
  • National 4 (Cowper, Lyne, New England, Page) plus part of the National held seat of Parkes. 
I will do a full report once we have the final figures.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

New NERAM exhibitions - Views of Landscape and Home

On Friday, the New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale opened its latest series of exhibitions.

Views of Landscape looks is a new exhibition looking at the traditional genre of landscape. The painting from the exhibition is Elioth Gruner's Winter afternoon, Bellingen 1937.

Views of Landscape explores a number of themes related to landscape painting including a feature wall of rare paintings of local landscapes dating back to the 1930s including depictions of Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Uralla and other New England locations .

“In 1921 the artist Elioth Gruner passed through the New England region on his way north, setting up his easel, painting the landscape as he went and reputedly staying with farmers and graziers in return for giving them an artwork to keep,” said curator Robert Heather, Director of the Museum. “Later in the 1930s he returned to the region and obviously travelled along the Waterfall Way because a series of gorgeous landscapes he painted then are now in the Howard Hinton Collection here at NERAM.”

“The Howard Hinton Collection was originally assembled as a teaching collection for Armidale Teachers College and Hinton wanted to make sure that it included all of the key painting themes of his era,” said Mr Heather. “Looking through this collection of over 1000 artworks we have wonderful examples of portraits, still life, nudes, landscapes and seascapes to choose from for our exhibitions.”

“In this exhibition we explore the way in which artist’s views of the landscape have evolved from the traditional English countryside of nineteenth century painter Samuel Palmer through to the contemporary interventions of Christo around Sydney Harbour in the late 1960s and the work of contemporary urban artists today such as George Gittoes.”

“This exhibition includes works by leading Australian artists including Arthur Streeton, Elioth Gruner, Adrian Feint, Margaret Olley, Lloyd Rees and many others that will enable our visitors to experience a range of high quality landscape painting, prints and drawings.”

A second exhibition explores the idea of Home. This is Raphaela Rosella's One day I’ll go home and meet my mother 2016, colour photograph.

This exhibition brings Armidale’s international communities together with the Aboriginal and broader communities by creating connections around the idea of ‘home’ through art, music and stories.
The exhibition opened with a welcome to country by Aunty Barbra and a performance by the HOME drumming group.

It features large scale photographic portraits by award-winning photographer Raphaela Rosella with images, personal stories and creative contributions collected from and created by community members during Beyond Empathy’s HOME project in 2015.

HOME was a multi-arts project that included the creation of a community choir and drumming group, photographic portraits and storytelling, with the choir and drumming group creating a forum for connection by meeting and performing regularly.

“Raphaela Rosella’s powerful photographic portraits form the heart of this exhibition which explores how a number of different communities have made their home in Armidale and the New England region,” said NERAM's Robert Heather.

Beyond Empathy use ar tforms that resonate with participants and aims to disrupt old ways of thinking and empower marginalised people to engage with their communities, create new narratives and shift perceptions.

The HOME project was supported by the Multicultural NSW Unity Grants program and will be on show at NERAM until Sunday 14 August 2016.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on Joyce v Windsor in New England in the context of New England's fight for statehood

This looks like a Tony Windsor billboard, but in fact its the opposite. It's one of dozens on both sides that has sprung up across New England.

This reflection began with a private Facebook post that Helen Dale suggested that I should publish. 

The post first. 
"I really should put this one on my public FB pages, but its a really personal comment. 
I have just watched on ABC iview the 4 corners program on the contest between Joyce and Windsor for New England. If you want to see what a real election campaign looks like and not the ersatz stuff you so often see in the city you should watch. 
This is a very large electorate now that stretches from the Upper Hunter to the border. Its also a very diverse electorate in which the locals and, to a lesser extent since local ownership vanished, the local media have strong views and expect their candidates to know them. 
The hot button issues here are different from those you would expect from the national campaign. The NBN is a real sleeper issue in the country. Armidale got the NBN, Tamworth was next, but the election of the Abbott Government and Mr Turnbull as communications minister and the consequent changes to the NBN cost Tamworth their connection. The people who are hurting, the Tamworth business community, traditional National supporters are angry. It doesn't matter what national arguments are mounted, when your business is hurt by a Government decision, you react. Why can't we have decent coms? 
This is an electorate where climate change, coal seam gas and coal have become important sectional issues because of the Liverpool Plains where prime and beautiful agricultural land and livelihoods are affected. The audience at the Tamworth Q&A program was not representative nor did Mr Joyce handle certain questions well, but it caught the passion. 
This is also an electorate where the refugee and border election issue does not play out quite in the same way as Western Sydney or, at the other end of the spectrum, the inner suburbs of the metros. The pro-refugee groups are quite strong, while there are many local connections with individual refugees. This tempers the migration debate in what is, in some way,s a conservative if independent leaning seat. 
The hurts and resentments created by My Windsor's support of the Gillard Government, the sense of betrayal, are still there, if somewhat moderated by time. So is the National Party base, as well as national issues like jobs, health and development. This is an area that in many ways has simply not shared in Australia's economic growth. So they want results, tangibles, specifics, not generalised policies or programs. A program for jobs doesn't help if the result is no jobs in New England. 
Polling suggests that the Labor vote at around 7% and the Green vote at around 4% have collapsed, actually eclipsed by the non-Windsor independent vote. Mr Joyce is holding in the high forties, but he has to be in the very high forties with so many preferences against him. 
This is not an unsophisticated political campaign. You don't mount a potentially successful campaign against the Deputy Prime Minister without substantial resources. Mr Windsor's own reactivated political machine is backed by volunteer and special interest groups inside and outside the electorate. They are expert at the use of social media. Mr Joyce is fighting back, but is struggling a little. 
I hesitate to pick a winner. Personally, and even though I have such a high opinion of Mr Windsor, I hope that Barnaby wins. 
Whichever way it goes, I couldn't think help thinking how much I love electoral politics, how many scenes in the Four Corners program I recognised. Professionally, I can accept generalised performance measures. Personally, I need to translate the things that I still strive for into results for people."
In a comment, Carlo Ritchie wrote:
"I have to say that I'm on the other side of the fence to you Jim. Though I respect your thoughts on the matter. As someone who is very passionate about the potential and future of the New England, I do not see the vehicle to the future being driven by Barnaby Joyce. The last four polls have all predicted that a hung parliament is likely, in which case, Turnbull will maintain the government until a no confidence vote. In that circumstance, the seats that will be the most strongly advantaged will be those on who's vote the Government depends. A vote for an Independant isn't a vote for the Labour Government, or a vote for the Greens, or a vote against the current government in fact. It's a vote for New England. It's a vote for an independant vote and it's a vote for our voice to be taken to Canberra, not for the voice-piece of Canberra to come to us.
Like me, Carlo is a supporter for self-government for the broader New England, In a letter to the Glen Innes Examiner, Carlo wrote:
The North should be Independent. 
A vote for an independent is not a vote for the Labor Party. Nor is it a vote for the Greens, or the Nationals for that matter. It is a vote for the New England. It is a vote for an independent voice amongst the bickering of the two party system. It is a vote for our voice, rather than the voice of Canberra. 
The North should be independent. I am not the first person to think it, nor to suggest it, in fact it’s biggest proponent was Sir Earle Page, founder of the Country Party. Back when the Country Party first formed government in 1922 they used their political leverage to remove then sitting Prime Minister Billy Hughes. The highest office in the country brought down by a handful of land holders who wanted a better deal for their constituents. 
That is the power that the National Party once wielded. Now, in 2016, our voice in Canberra, Barnaby Joyce, leader of the National Party, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and the Deputy Prime Minister, the man legally and constitutionally empowered as the final say on Agriculture and Water for this country, can’t stop a mine on the doorstep of his own electorate.  
As we get closer to the election, polls are telling us that in all likelihood we may end up with another hung parliament. In which case, Malcom Turnbull will remain as leader unless a no confidence motion is successful. A motion that both Rob Taber and Tony Windsor have said they would not support. In that case, it is those seats on whom the Government depends for their vote that will benefit the most. In such circumstances, it is the Independent Voice that will be heard against the din.
Debbie asked in a question:
Jim, why, personally, do you want Barnaby to win? For "party political" reasons? or policy?
Now Debbie knows that I am traditional Country Party. I describe myself in that way because while I tend to support the National Party since I believe that regional Australia needs a voice, I am far from a died in the wool National Party supporter.

In response to Debbie, I said: 
It's complicated, Debbie. Carlo set out the alternative view below. At a national level, the most likely outcomes at the moment are a coalition return, a less likely Labor win or a minority coalition government dependent on the Xenophon block - the polls suggest that they could end up with up to three seats. 
At electoral level, Barnaby has supported New England self government, while the possible shift to Armidale of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority would be a major local game changer for the city and university. On Tony's side, I am supportive of a number of his stances but would be more comfortable if he had a clearer Northern vision. If the coalition is returned with a majority but Tony elected, then I don't think that he will have a major influence. Hence Barnaby. If Labor wins, then the pendulum shifts towards Tony. If its a minority coalition government, it could go either way. 
Note that I haven't really mentioned national issues. I am pretty one-eyed, I guess, but for the life of me I lack the skills to work out how to balance the differences between the two sides. I straddle them. Whichever one gets in is likely to leave me dissatisfied!
In an election where all parties are focused on the marginals, where Nick Xenophon's rise for is creating benefits for South Australia, where we are told we must focus on "national" issues, I come back to this point. Northern NSW has been in long term structural decline.

Politicians respond on a seat by seat basis, never addressing the question of what, if anything, can be done to address the decline. Even Mr Windsor is actually focused on his narrow patch. He goes local, or national, but forgets the bit in the middle.

Why should I be happy just because South Australia is a state and gets attention, New England is not and does not? We have wanted to manage ourselves for over 150 years.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The poetry of Les Murray 1 - introduction

I have been reading Les Murray, The best 100 poems of Les Murray, Black Inc, Collingwood 2004. I have referred to Les Murray before on this blog, but this was is first time that I have taken the time to really taste his poetry. 

Wikipedia records that Leslie Allan "Les" Murray was born on 17 October 1938 at Nabiac on the Wallamba River, 24 kilometres south of Taree and 25 kilometres west of Forster/Tuncurry on the Mid North Coast. 

Today Nabiac has a population of around 600 and services the surrounding communities of Wootton, Failford, Rainbow Flat, Dyers Crossing, Krambach and Coolongolook.

Murray grew up in the neighbouring district of Bunyah. He attended primary and early high school in Nabiac and then attended Taree High School. 

In 1957 he began study at the University of Sydney in the Faculty of Arts and joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve to obtain a small income. Speaking about this time to Clive James he has said: "I was as soft-headed as you could imagine. I was actually hanging on to childhood because I hadn't had much teenage. My Mum died and my father collapsed. I had to look after him. So I was off the chain at last, I was in Sydney and I didn't quite know how to do adulthood or teenage. I was being coltish and foolish and childlike. I received the least distinguished degree Sydney ever issued. I don't think anyone's ever matched it."

Murray developed an interest in ancient and modern languages, which qualified him to become a professional translator at the Australian National University where he was employed from 1963 to 1967). During his studies he met other poets and writers such as Geoffrey Lehmann, Bob Ellis, Clive James and Lex Banning as well as future political journalists Laurie Oakes andMungo McCallum Jr. Between times, he hitch-hiked around Australia and lived briefly at a Sydney Push household at Milson's Point. He returned to undergraduate studies in the 1960s and became a Roman Catholic when he married Budapest-born fellow-student Valerie Morelli in 1962. They lived in Wales and Scotland and travelled in Europe for over a year in the late 1960s. They now have five children.

In 1971 Murray resigned from his "respectable cover occupations" of translator and public servant in Canberra  to write poetry full-time. The family returned to Sydney, but Murray, planning to return to his home at Bunyah, managed to buy back part of the lost family home in 1975 and to visit there intermittently until 1985 when he and his family returned to live there permanently.

On his poetic inspiration, Wikipedia notes that twelve years after Murray's induced birth, his mother miscarried and died after the doctor failed to call an ambulance. Literary critic Lawrence Bourke writes that "Murray, linking his birth to her death, traces his poetic vocation from these traumatic events, seeing in them the relegation of the rural poor by urban √©lites. Dispossession, relegation, and independence become major preoccupations of his poetry". The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature writes that:
The continuing themes of much of his poetry are those inherent in that traditional nationalistic identity – respect, even reverence, for the pioneers; the importance of the land and its shaping influence on the Australian character, down-to-earth, laconic ... and based on such Bush-bred qualities as egalitarianism, practicality, straight-forwardness and independence; special respect for that Australian character in action in wartime ... and a brook-no-argument preference for the rural life over the sterile and corrupting urban environment.
I think that description is about right. However, what is perhaps less well recognised is Murray's role as a regional poet. He captures the cadences, the rhythms, of a life departed or now departing or at least threatened. He mourns and celebrates aspects of that life, descriptions that would be instantly recognisable to most people in New England, especially to those of an older generation.   

In my next post in this series, I will introduce you to some of the poems selected by Les Murray for his 100 best poems and link them to aspects of New England life. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

The story of Edward Trickett

The latest History Revisited column tells the story of Edward Trickett, a rower and Australia's first world champion. who is buried in Uralla.

Uralla's  McCrossin's Mill Museum has a display on Trickett and his life among its various exhibits.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Joyce v Windsor - a first poll

A very slow start to the new year for posting here.

Early in February in a post on my personal blog Placing Barnaby Joyce in his Northern NSW context, I mentioned the pressure on former independent member Tony Windsor to run against Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in the seat of New England.

I also referred to the GetUp! email seeking member advice on whether to mount a campaign to persuade Mr Windsor to stand against Mr Joyce. Organised by Liverpool Plains' farmer and environmental activist Rosemary Nankivell.(Twitter @nocsg), the GetUp! move is just one element in a rolling and very active campaign against coal mining and coal seam gas that I have mentioned a number of times over the year.

One of the things that interested me was the extent of Mr Windsor's continuing support within the electorate following his retirement. Now we have a partial answer.

According to the Guardian, a Reachtel poll of 712 residents in the seat of New England conducted on 11 January found 32.2% would vote for Windsor as their first preference if he returned – compared with 39.5% for Joyce.

The poll also found 11.2% would vote for Labor and 4.6% would vote for the Greens with 6.2% nominating others including other independents with 5.1% undecided. Labor and the Greens would likely preference Mr Windsor.

I have a number of problems with the poll. It's a small sample for such a large and diverse electorate. I don't know the margin of error, nor the weighting within the sample. Further, the poll appears to have been conducted before Mr Joyce became leader of the National Party. However, it does show that Mr Windsor retains substantial support.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Nathan Tinkler's Dartbrook coal play

I hope that you had a happy and peaceful Christmas.

The proposed sale of the mothballed Dartbrook coal mine Anglo American plc to the Nathan Tinkler controlled Australia Pacific Coal (Stock Exchange ticker AQC) for a price of up to $A50 million (here, here, here) has been greeted with a degree of incredulity and indeed anger in some quarters.

Under the terms of the deal, AQC will acquire:
  • Anglo American's 83.33% interest in the Dartbrook JV
  • a 100% interest in Anglo Coal (Dartbrook Management) Pty Ltd, manager of the Dartbrook JV 
  • a 83.33% interest in Dartbrook Coal (Sales) Pty Ltd, marketing agent of the Dartbrook JV (
The consideration for the acquisition includes:
  • a A$25 million cash payment
  • a royalty over AQC’s share of coal from the Dartbrook joint venture at a rate of A$3.00 per tonne of coal sold or otherwise disposed of and A$0.25 per tonne of any third party coal processed through the Dartbrook infrastructure, but capped at A$25 million (subject to escalation in accordance with CPI). 
  • in addition, the Company will be replacing approximately A$7.7 million in financial assurances in respect of the Dartbrook mining tenements.
You can see what Mr Tinkler is trying to achieve. Anglo American is in a degree of trouble world wide, and is seeking to slash 85,000 jobs. Dartbrook is on a care and maintenance basis, is quite surplus to requirements, while coal prices are very low. It wants out. From Mr Tinkler's perspective, the mining and transport infrastructure is there, while the coal is high quality thermal coal that can be extracted more cheaply if the present underground mine is replaced by an open cut. His aim is a low cost coal mine that will be profitable once coal prices recover somewhat, highly profitable is if coal prices increase significantly, creating either an asset for sale or a cash flow that can be used to support other projects. He is, in fact, trying to replicate the process that gave him his original fortune.

I am not privy to the numbers, but they could well stack up in commercial terms. However, the AQC statement to the Exchange seems remarkably sanguine on two points: the first the likelihood of community support, the second the expectation that environmental approvals will be relatively easy to obtain given nearby mines. Every Hunter Valley coal proposal now meets fierce environmental opposition, while too many people are owed money from Mr Tinkler's previous ventures to provide a basis of trust. Even the unions which normally support mining ventures because of the jobs provided are extremely cautious because of Mr Tinkler's involvement. .    

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Season's Greetings amid memories of Christmases past

I am shutting down for the Xmas break. Publication will resume on the thirtieth

Christmas is a very special time for all of us, marked by our own family rituals.

Growing up, Christmas began with a pine branch buried in a pot. Downtown, brother David and I visited Coles and Penneys with our money clutched in our hands to buy presents.

On Christmas Eve people came round to our house for drinks. We had to go to bed, but were allowed to stay up for a while to meet people.

Christmas Day dawns. On our bed is a Santa sack full of presents. We play with these waiting for our parents to wake up. They do, and we get our presents from them. One year this was an Indian outfit for us both, made by Mum using whatever she could find from sacking to old belts to feathers collected from the chooks and died.

Mid morning and we go down to Fah and Gran’s, a block away in Mann Street. This was always open house for our grandparents’ friends and electorate workers. The Mackellars who managed Forglen, Fah’s property, were always there with eldest my age. We talk to people and go outside to play.

Once people have gone, we get another set of presents from our grandparents and aunts. Then to Christmas lunch, always a roast chook. We kids sit in a little sun room off the main dining room.

After lunch we play, rolling down the grass slopes. Sometimes there are special events. I remember one Christmas a piper played, striding up and down the lawns at the back of the house.

Later we go up to the Halpins for late afternoon Christmas drinks.

Time passes. I am living in Canberra, joining the great New England diaspora.

Neville Crew’s 1960s’ research showed that for every one person living on the Tablelands there was one Tablelands’ born person living elsewhere. This pattern is replicated across the broader New England, from the lower Hunter to the boarder. As best as I can work out, if we count those born in the broader New England plus their immediate children, we are talking about more than a million people.

By bus, car, plane and train, many of us try to come home, meeting old friends.

The last time I saw Zivan Milanovich was on the train. Zivan’s dad Branco was groundsman at TAS. I knew Branco, but only in a formal sense. By contrast, Zivan and I were in scouts together, 2nd Armidale Troop. We were mates.

I suppose that 2nd Armidale still has a bob a job week equivalent. That year Zivan and I decided to clean shoes in Beardy Street. We stood there, but no one came. Finally we overcame our shyness, started spruking and approaching people. The cash rolled in. I think that we both learned an important lesson, the way in which you have to stand outside yourself to be successful.

Those Christmases were very special times as those dispersed over tens of thousands of miles came together.I know that you all have your own rituals and memories.

I wish you and your a safe and happy Christmas and a successful new year.