New England, Australia

Friday, March 16, 2018

New England Stories - Camp Victory and the Casino Boys

Netherlands East Indies troops march Melbourne 1943

Over the first part of 2017 I wrote a series of posts on my history blog telling a little of the story of Camp Victory and the Casino Boys.

The story begins with the fall of the Netherlands to the Germans and then switches to the Netherlands East Indies where the Dutch Government in exile and the Netherlands East Indies are trying to strengthen local defences in the face of a looming Japanese threat. With the fall of the Netherlands, elements of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) government and forces escape to Australia.

.In Australia a government in exile is created, the only official one ever created on Australian soil, and bases established. One, Camp Victory, was located outside Casino.

Among those who came to Camp Victory in 1945 were a group of young Dutchmen brought to Australia for pilot training. With the war winding down their training was constantly delayed.

As news of the Indonesian declaration of independence reached Australia , Indonesian soldiers serving as part of the NEI forces refused to continue service.

Now fighting to re-establish its control of the East Indies, the NIE government interned the mutinous soldiers. At Camp Victory, the Casino Boys were given basic military training and found themselves guarding troops who weeks before they had been fraternizing with.

The political situation was incredibly messy in Indonesia and in Australia with accusations that Camp Victory had become a concentration camp.

Finally, the interned soldiers were repatriated to Indonesia and most of the Casino Boys returned to Holland to complete their pilot training. There, missing Australia, most made arrangements to return as quickly as possible. They became a tight knit group known to all as the Casino Boys.

The posts that follow only give a taste of the story. They are listed in date order so that you can follow the story through.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

APVMA announces site for its New Armidale national headquarters

On 12 March the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)  named 102 Taylor Street and 91 Beardy Street as the site for the authority’s permanent office in Armidale. The site includes the former Armidale Club building and then extends at the back to Taylor Street.

The announcement was made on site by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. David Littleproud MP, the Member for New England, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP, and APVMA Chief Executive Officer, Dr Chris Parker.

A purpose-built, two-storey office will be constructed by the Stirloch Group (Stirloch), a developer based in Queensland and Victoria that has considerable experience with large government developments.

“This is a significant milestone in the APVMA’s relocation from Canberra to Armidale,” Dr Parker said.

“The APVMA has made a long-term commitment to deliver agvet chemical regulation from regional Australia for the benefit of our clients and stakeholders. We have signed a 15-year lease with Stirloch, with possible extensions.

“Our move to Armidale now has real momentum. We have 15 staff at the interim office at 246 Beardy Street, and that number will double by the end of March.

“More staff will relocate from Canberra and more jobs will be advertised that I hope will attract local talent from Armidale and the surrounds to help us deliver robust regulation and top rate services to Australia’s agvet chemical industry.”

The APVMA will have around 150 staff based at the permanent Armidale office once construction and fit-out is complete in mid-2019.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Terry Crowley and the cracking of the mystery of the Anaiwan language

In Australian National Indigenous Languages Convention - a New England perspective (28 February 2018) I mentioned attempts to revive the Anaiwan Aboriginal language spoken on the southern parts of the New England Tablelands.

Last year I wrote a series of columns in the Armidale Express on Terry Crowley and the Anaiwan language. The language was something of a mystery to linguists because it did not seem to be related to other Aboriginal languages. It was Crowley as a young postgraduate student who cracked at least part of the mystery by showing that it was related to coastal languages.

Over at the New England history blog, I  have now created an entry page so that you can follow the series through in sequence. .

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Australian National Indigenous Languages Convention - a New England perspective

A map of New England's Aboriginal languages. It is not complete. Yaygirr spoken at the mouth of the Clarence is missing, for example. 
The first  was held on the Gold Coast in February 2018. The convention focused particularly on the way digital technology might be used to support language survival and revival.

Key note speaker Craig Ritchie, CEO of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), suggested Australia could follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which introduced the Māori Language Act in 1987, thereby giving Māori official language status.

SBS reports (link above) that Craig Ritchie told the crowd that Australia needed to follow New Zealand's lead by bringing language into the public domain, making culture more visible in public spaces such as airports, and weaving simple greetings or words into news broadcasts or television programs.

“We’ll know we’ve succeeded when they’re using Aboriginal language on Home and Away," he laughed.

While the role of technology was a major focus throughout the convention, there were counter views.

Armidale's Callum Clayton-Dixon, a founding member of the Anaiwan Language Revival Program, labelled himself a "cynic" when it comes to technology. In his view, while technology had proven useful to document language and raise awareness for programs, it shouldn't be relied upon as a teaching tool. He cited an example at a school in Armidale where he encouraged students learning Gamilaraay to download the language app: "they used it for a day, didn't touch it again".

"You don’t revive a language with an app, you revive language with people," he said. If it's a choice between online versus on land, the focus should be learning on land, on country, "embedding language through cultural activities".

Federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield says while technology wasn't the answer, it is an “important part of the toolkit that we have” a government, we clearly recognise the erosion of language that needs to be addressed...Digital technology does have an incredible capacity to support the preservation and the teaching and the transmission of language.

Minister Fifield said the government's immediate priorities were to:
  • Develop career pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language workers and linguists;
  • Improve digital literacy in communities, and;
  • Identify projects that will best support and maintain language. 

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I have been interested in the topic of Aboriginal languages for many years with a special focus on New England..I am not a linguist, but came to the topic as an historian.

I have a lot of sympathy for the idea of formal language recognition, but Australia is not in the same position as New Zealand where Māori is a single language if with some mutually recognisable dialects. This is a far different position from Australia with its many different languages each containing dialects.

Māori is also in a different position to most of the Australian languages because it is still a significant spoken language at a scale far exceeding any of the Australian languages. Even then, Māori is struggling to expand its reach, although the presence of Māori language schools does hold out longer term prospects.

Back in 2011 in New England Aboriginal life - process of language destruction I looked at the process of language destruction that had affected New England's languages. This was part of a bigger paper I had written on New England's Aboriginal languages. It's a sad story. One of the sad parts was my underlying feeling of lost opportunities.

In 2008, Peter Austin provided a history of research into the Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) language. The 1960s saw considerable interest in Aboriginal languages as part of a new interest in the history and traditional culture of Australia's Aboriginal peoples. Then there were still a few old people who could remember the original language, holding out the possibility of proper documentation for later use. This was not unique to Gamilaraay. Down on the North Coast there were many more speakers of local languages. Then interest dropped away as interest in Aboriginal studies shifted to the frontier and questions of subsequent black-white relations. By the time interest in Aboriginal language revival emerged in the 1980s, a considerable opportunity had been lost through the death of those who remembered.

Just scoping all this this, I did a quick scan through the 2016 census results. The numbers are iffy and I have found no consolidated data. However:
  • The most widely spoken NSW language is Wiradjuri with 355 speakers in NSW, 432 around Australia.
  • The most widely spoken New England languages ranked in order are Gumbaynggir (72 NSW, Australia 166), Bundjalung (NSW 81, Australia 106), Gamilaraay (NSW 61, Australia 92) and Daianggatti ( NSW 33, Australia 35). 
That's a very small base to work from, much diminished from fifty years ago.

As Cornish demonstrates, language revival is not an easy task even where you have official backing. Where you have dialects, what do you choose? How do you overcome internal conflicts? How do you encourage use and for what purposes? How do you manage language change even if it takes you away from the original, recognising that a living language must change. And how do you encourage use where, as is usually the case in Australia at least, each language is seen as a cultural artifact belonging to a particular group with the implicit message others keep out?

Language survival and revival depends upon use. Even a small language will survive if it covers all the domains of life. As usage contracts, survival comes into question even in larger languages. Language also depends on the number of native speakers, those who learned the language at home. Even today, Cornish only has 300-400 native speakers.

The problems faced by Australia's Aboriginal languages have been accentuated by official policies which have ranged from official discouragement to neglect to piecemeal and inconsistent interest.The problems are compounded because so much of the work on language revival has in the end depended on small local groups operating with minimal official support, making it hard to maintain continuity.I'm not sure that the Australian Government's latest initiative isn't just the latest extension of the past.

I will return to my biases. While I am interested in the general question of language revival, the bench mark I use is the Aboriginal languages of the broader New England. On this benchmark I award policy a present fail.

 I haven't checked back to find the posts, but ten years or so ago I argued that the most useful thing Governments could do was to create an official web site for each language group that could record and make available information about thst group. This would have required not just web costs, but also research and administrative support I did not deal with governance issues in making the suggestion.

I happen to agree with Callum's point that language revival is about people, not technology. Callum circulated the Gamillaray app with little effect. When the Gamillaray language website first came out, I circulated details around the Aboriginal organisation that I was working with at the time with considerable excitement so that those with connections could listen. There was very limited interest.

All this said, the proposed websites would have provided a base that people could draw from, one that could be maintained. The latest discussion of on-line apps and new approaches seems to me to suffer from three weaknesses: it ignores questions of infrastructure; it ignores people and demand; and most importantly, it ignores questions of continuity.  .  .    

In NSW we have had new initiatives such as language nests in schools. On the ABC we have constant hammering on the importance of language. At Federal level, we have the desire to marshal new technology to the cause. But what has been actually happening on the ground?

The Gamillaray website seems moribund. The Muurbay Aboriginal language and Culture Cooperative, an organisation that has played a major role in language revival, seems to me to be struggling a little. You can study one NSW language, Gamilaraay, at university level. I found a few TAFE courses. It all strikes me as very bitsy and messy.A poor base from which to build new approaches.

I now want to go back to Callum. He is an activist who want to bring Anaiwan back. This is no easy task because this was a small and distinct language. But it was activists who brought back the other languages.

At the moment language policy is top down, unstable, initiative driven. It seems to me that we are better off focusing on platforms that will help activists such as Callum do their thing, that will support them. They may fail, but we will still be better off. That's the only way i can see us really making progress, at least so far as New England is concerned.

Update 17 March 2018

Interesting website from the Juluwarlu Aboriginal Corporation about their work with the Yindjibarndi people from Western Australia's Pilbara region. While the site is still in development, it gives an interesting picture of working up from the base in cultural and language development.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Canberra Times sleazes over Armidale and APVMA

Photo. Gordon Smith. Armidale Street Scene
One of side-effects from the Barnaby Joyce affair has been further blow-back on the proposed move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale. The Canberra Times has been running a constant campaign against the move. One can accept that. it's a local paper defending its patch. However, on 21 February it ran a piece Developers swoop on lucrative deal to house APVMA public servants in Armidale repeated in the Age that can only be classified as Canberra sleaze.

These may sound like strong and partisan words. After all, I am on record as supporting the move. Further my links with the city and my support for Northern Development are well known. I am not an objective observer. I suppose that I should note as well that worked in Canberra for twenty years living in Canberra and Queanbeyan, so I know the other side quite well.

To make my point, I will now repeat the whole piece interposed with comments and information. I leave it to you to decide whether or not my assessment is correct given my stated biases. .

The piece begins

The prospect of a new office block to house nearly 200 public servants in Armidale has developers fighting hard for a piece. Up to four sites are thought to have been short-listed for the lucrative build.

When the federal government called for bids to build and own a new headquarters for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority last year, local and interstate developers set their sights on the small town. Ten proposals were put forward.

Three sites and four development proposals were short-listed late last year. Among the frontrunners are sites with colourful histories in a town that has attracted more than its share of unwelcome headlines.

It's understood a preferred bidder is now in detailed negotiations as bosses race against an ambitious plan to have most of the authority's public servants working in the chosen office block by mid-2019. A decision is expected on the site by the end of February.


In a way, this opening sets the tone.

As I understand the tender, I haven't seen it, it involves developers putting forward proposals to construct the required office facilities and then to lease them to the APVMA. The Commonwealth is not paying the construction costs. While developers will no doubt build in a profit margin for costing purposes, their return will come from the consequent rental streams. I presume, and it is a presumption, that following completion they will sell the building to a super or other fund seeking a steady income stream.

Hopefully, and the report seems to imply that this is the case, there will be competition among developers, thus keeping costs down. One concern expressed earlier was that lack of competition would force the Commonwealth to meet the capital costs up front.

The project is being built in a "small town". For those who don't know Armidale, it is a university and education city on the New England Tablelands midway between Sydney and Brisbane with a population of about 23,000. It is also a place that has been through some tough times.The Dawkins reforms plus changes in boarding demand (the city is home to three boarding schools, down from five at its peak) cost the city a 1,000 jobs in the 1990s. The city went into free-fall and has only just fought its way back and above its previous population peak.

The project is a substantial one, but this needs to be kept in perspective. Current development projects just completed, under construction or about to begin construction include:

  • The $6 million TAFE Digital Hub, the headquarters for TAFE's digital service delivery  across NSW. Thanks to the hard work of Tony Windsor, the previous member for New England, Armidale became a first NBN test site. All the main city has fibre to the premises.
  • The redevelopment by the University of New England of its residential college system. The next phase of this has a reported price tag of around $21 million.
  • The $65 million construction of a Rural Medical Centre in the Hospital precinct to support doctor training.
  • The construction of a new High School at $65 million.
There are others. The only purpose of the list is to put the APVMA build into some perspective. It's big, but in proportion.

I will deal with the final sentence, "Among the frontrunners are sites with colourful histories in a town that has attracted more than its share of unwelcome headlines" a little later.

The piece continues

As Barnaby Joyce struggles through the crisis that has overtaken his political future, there could be pitfalls aplenty for the Canberra bureaucrats trying to give effect to his decision to move the veterinary medicines group to his home town of Armidale. In a small town (population 29,000), where new government buildings are an uncommon windfall and the small development community is coloured by remarkable tales, the choice is perhaps more fraught than most.

While no one in Armidale would name or officially confirm the short-listed bidders, there are limited options and few secrets. Among sites believed to be in the running are a building owned by the brother of Phillip Hanna, a well-known Armidale businessman who has hit the news more than once over his close links to Richard Torbay, the former NSW state MP who was to be the Nationals' federal candidate for New England.

Torbay's candidacy collapsed over his relationship with disgraced Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. And, in a neat circle that seems to encapsulate the Armidale community, his withdrawal cleared the way for Joyce to stand for the lower house seat in 2013, launching the ministerial career that led to the pesticides authority's move from Canberra to Armidale.


It will be five years next month since Richard Torbay's career collapsed in spectacular fashion. He had been a hardworking and popular local independent member who then chose to run for New England for the National  Party. One day he was running, the next he had stood down, a few days later he was subjected to nationally televised ICAC (NSW Independent Commission against Corruption) raids.

Mr Torbay was linked to Eddie Obeid through family connections. Part of the allegations made at the time was that his campaign as an independent had been facilitated by Labor Party money organised by Mr Obeid.

None of us know the truth. Five years down track, ICAC has still not taken any action against Mr Torbay, a delay that has become something of a scandal in itself.

Following the ICAC imboglio, Mr Torbay withdrew completely from public life. There is no evidence that he is in anyway connected directly or indirectly with the current tender.

Phillip Hanna is a member of a local Lebanese business family. Moses Hanna established a local retail business that developed into Armidale's second department store. Phillip, himself a controversial figure, supported and funded  the New England independents including Richard. We will come back to his involvement in the tender a moment. For the moment, and on the evidence provided by the Canberra Times. it appears to have been peripheral.

On the surface, it would appear  that the Canberra Times is drawing some rather long bows in their attempt to present what can only be described as the corruption of Armidale life.  

The piece continues

Hanna's name has come up in relation to another site in the running to build the authority's new headquarters, but it's unclear whether he's behind the bid. The lease of that site is in dispute after a deliberately lit fire in late 2016 destroyed the club that operated there and resulted in the club owner leaving town, deeply sceptical about how business is done in Armidale.

A third site is owned by grazier Peter Maguire – who is no relation of Greg Maguire, the Armidale businessman in the news for providing free accommodation to Barnaby Joyce and his new partner.

Peter Maguire's plan is to knock down buildings on four residential properties on the corner of Rusden and Markham streets, opposite the TAFE, and build the headquarters there. He wouldn't comment.

And the fourth site locals believe was in the mix is at 124 Taylor Street, where the local council approved an application for serviced apartments, but the deal to operate those apartments hasn't been completed.

The empty block is owned by Melbourne businessmen Bret Hartwig, Peter Breckenridge and Richard Minc. Hartwig would not name the developers behind a bid to build the authority's headquarters on his block, but he believes the bid didn't make it past the short-list and has lapsed.


This reporting appears broadly factual.

The piece continues - the fire at the Armidale Club

 First, to the property at 91 Beardy Street, where Kate Richards' Armidale Club was destroyed by arson in September 2016. Richards says couldn't restart her business after the fire. The owners told her the building was uninsured and couldn't be rebuilt.

But she says she has a 25-year lease on the site, signed in July 2015, and she insists the lease stands – a claim that complicates any new building on the site.    

Property owner Gary Burgess, who owns it with his son Greg, would not comment on the bid this week.

"There's three or four others in the running and I don't know which one's going to get it and I don't want to say anything about it. You would be the same if it was your bit of land," he said.

Asked whether Richards was still the leaseholder, he said "no, no, no, no, no" but would not elaborate.

As for Richards, she knew nothing about the club site being a possible new home for the authority until contacted by The Canberra Times.

She has spent 18 months fighting the loss of her business and, after waiting for the coroner's report on the fire this month, she now plans to sue Burgess for loss of profits and failing to insure the building.

Richards says she spent $80,000 setting up her club, ran it for little more than a year, and just two weeks before the fire she was granted a hotel licence, upgrading it from a club.

Armidale coroner Michael Holmes, reporting in February, found the fire was deliberately lit but did not name a suspect. The police did settle on a chief suspect – an Armidale security guard who shot himself the next day.

Police discounted Richards and her associate Allan St James as suspects, saying the pair were underinsured, had just received an expanded licence, tried to restart afterwards and had been trading well.

They also discounted building owner Gary Burgess, saying he had nothing to gain because the building was uninsured.

They dismissed the idea that the rival Sky Nightclub had started the fire, saying there was no evidence, everyone had an alibi, the Armidale Club was not a real commercial threat and the nightclub had since closed down in any case.

Police also rejected as unlikely that the fire was random, centring their suspicions on a security guard who worked at both nightclubs and at the Armidale hospital.

Police said there was circumstantial evidence of his involvement, including a dispute with a former club employee over a mobile phone that he believed had been left at the club, and his mental state at the time. His new mobile was left at the site after the fire, and he was linked with the bottles of whiskey used to start the fire in the early hours of the morning.

The coroner, though, described the man's suicide as "the matter of real coincidence", saying his death was related to "unresolved personal issues". There was no evidence tying the guard directly to the fire, the coroner said.

Under the heading "A coincidence", the coroner also referred to the competing clubs, saying there was no evidence either way on the suggestion a competitor might have been responsible.

Richards says "very strange things have happened" over the club, including rumours that someone had drawn up development plans for her site before the fire. She says a group of men were at the site the day after the fire and told her they were valuing it.

And she says Hanna approached her within weeks of the fire with an offer to buy her lease, which she was prepared to sell, but he never followed through with a concrete offer or deposit. She says Hanna had told her the site – which includes a large car park behind – was too small for the pesticides authority.

Richards says she tried to buy another hotel after the fire, but lost out to a rival venue, which came up with the $37,000 deposit before she could. The rival never settled on the purchase.

At that point, and after a house break-in, Richards decided it was time to leave town. She has started again with her partner in Adelaide.

"There was certainly a lot of things that were very odd," was how she summarised the rise and fall of her Armidale club.

The Canberra Times does not suggest the fire was connected to the authority's bid. The Coalition's plan to move the authority was an election promise at the July 2016 election, but the order to move wasn't made until November 2016, two months after the fire.

If it is a frontrunner in the bid to house the public servants, it is unclear who is behind the development, with no one prepared to put a name to the bid.


Again, this appears to be broadly factual reporting. Founded as a men's club, the Armidale Club later became a popular music venue but then went broke before restructuring. The fire remains a mystery, in fact a tragedy for those involved.

Again you have the attempt to maintain continuity with the overall theme both through the fire and Phillip Hanna's initial inquiry. The comment from final owner Garry Burgess suggests that the site is still in the mix. The Burgess' are another Armidale family with previous links to retailing. There is no suggestion by the Times  that Mr Burgess has in any way acted improperly.

The piece continues

Another option is a building owned by Robert Hanna, brother of Phillip Hanna, at 121 Rusden in the middle of the town. It is beside the family's historic department store and Robert Hanna said the single-storey building is vacant at the moment, with a car-parking building adjacent, and a structure strong enough to take extra floors on top. The Armidale business community believes this site is complicated by the existing building and tight time frames, so is perhaps an unlikely option.

While Robert Hanna owns the building and says it would be his development, Phillip Hanna has prepared the bid for him. Phillip Hanna would not comment for this story.

Phillip Hanna is known not only for his links with Torbay but made headlines in 2008 when he was given a three-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to firing a rifle at a fellow developer the year before.  


This is again smear by insinuation, going back to Phillip Hanna's past, repeating the linkage with Richard Torbay.

Factually, 121 Rusden is not besides the "historic department store' but on the other side of the block. It's actually quite a good site, but may be ruled out by the difficulties.

The piece finishes

The pesticide authority's entry into New England was marred by controversy when its staff were found working in a McDonald's early last year. Now, 15 public servants, eight of them locals, are in temporary digs shared with Centrelink at 246 Beardy Street while the new office is commissioned. It will not be government-owned but leased from the winning developer.

Commercial property real estate agent Neil Mortimer said the project had generated large interest from developers. Another, John Sewell, said the building was likely to be $3 million to $4 million in value and a "mini-stimulus package" for the town.

"Everyone had their fair crack to do it. It was a very transparent process," Mr Sewell said.

He described the move as "probably one of the best things to happen to Armidale in the last generation" and backed the Nationals' move to decentralise the Australian Public Service.

"The people who work at the APVMA will be the right people to live in Armidale," he said.

Armidale Regional Council mayor Simon Murray said the move held a large potential flow-on effect for businesses and the town's vibrancy.

As for the Canberrans who work for the authority, a deadline looms. The authority says it will ask Canberra-based staff "to signal their intentions" on whether they will move in the coming weeks.


The earlier McDonald's story was another Canberra Times beat-up. 

I was interested in John Sewell's comment that it was a $3 to $4 million project and thus a mini-stimulus package. I would have thought that it would cost more than that. If you look at the projects I described earlier, you will see how small that is relative to other current projects. Of course, the real prize is the jobs. 


 The Canberra Times attempted to present the process in terms of a process within a corrupt business community competing for a large prize. Now if we look just at the evidence as presented by the paper, we have:
  • an apparently transparent Commonwealth process
  • with three to four sites of which:
  • one may be the site of a former club burnt down in suspicious circumstance 
  • a second is owned by the Hanna family with some involvement from Phillip Hanna who has a previous collection with Richard Torbay
 Talk about a biased beat-up. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New England aviation - Rex faces problems on the North Coast

One side-effect of the downturn in posting here is that I stopped reporting on New England aviation matters. I am not going to catch up in one hit, but a brief update on Regional Express' (Rex's) North Coast problems.

In Taree, conflict between Rex and the Council led to the termination of the service and Rex's replacement by Fly Pelican. I think that Newcastle based Fly Pelican is now the only remaining New England headquartered scheduled airline. This story by the Manning River Times Ainslee Dennis will provide you with some of the background.

Further north at Grafton there is a dispute, well a discussion at least, between council and Rex on the future of the Sydney-Grafton service.  The Clarence Valley News' Geoff Helisma has the story.

It's hard to believe that Grafton was once New England's second largest commercial centre challenging Maitland for primacy. Grafton's decline was due to many things, some local and cultural, some locational, some sheer bad luck. Now the relatively small population of Grafton and the Clarence Valley makes the maintenance of air services difficult.

One feature of the Grafton discussion that interested me was the concept of community airfares. I would like to address this later for it provides a possible path to improve the viability (and cost) of local air services. Meantime, the Council seems to to be making things as difficult as possible, accepting that (as appears to be the case at Taree) Rex is not especially subtle in negotiation.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How new platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz might support New England development part 1

Inverell. 1904 heritage listed house available for short term stays via Airbnb
I tend to be something of a technology lagger. I have long used the web to source accommodation, but I hadn't used Airbnb or Stayz  to source accommodation until a European trip in 2015 inspired by the Rugby World Cup. Then I used Airbnb sourced accommodation because eldest was doing the bookings.

This trip was an economy daddy-daughter venture, the first joint holiday we had had since well before eldest moved to Copenhagen. For that reason, we shared a room in private homes that the owners had place on Airbnb  I was quite cautious about this, but it worked well. The interactions with the owners proved to be one of the fun parts of the trip.

Twelve months later, eldest and her partner put their own place in Copenhagen onto Airbnb. Now I was watching the process from the other side, getting a feel for what was involved in really making it work if you wanted to be an Airbnb host. It's not just a question of taking some photos, placing it on Airbnb and waiting for the bookings to roll in. A fair bit of work is required to both attract guests and then make them welcome.

Marsh House, Armidale. Built in 1863, this was the first house constructed in Armidale's historic Brown Street precinct.  
While I was now familiar with Airbnb and Stayz, I hadn't used these types of services in Northern NSW, the broader New England, until last year. Then visiting Armidale with a friend, we booked into Marsh House.

This decision proved to be a huge success. With approval from owners Hugh and Janey Fraser, were were even able to use the place to hold drinks for some of my local friends, something I had wanted to do as a way of catching up with multiple people on what was a short visit.

Glen Innes, the Bank Guesthouse c1874 available via Airbnb
Since coming back from Armidale I have spent enjoyable hours trawling through Airbnb and Stayz looking for places I might want to stay across New England from Newcastle to the border. I know that I am strange, but it has been fun

My first thought was the way it has widened accommodation choices in terms of price range, location and the nature of the dwellings themselves.

It used to be the case that you were limited to motel, hotel or a B&B. Now you can take a room in the family home or rent an entire historic house. You can accommodate one or sixteen. You can fish or use the vegetable garden while visiting local attractions. Your accommodation has become an experience in its own right. .
Walden Woods twelve minutes drive from Armidale CBD. You can access the well maintained home vegetable garden or go fishing for your supper. 
I recognise that these new accommodation platforms have created their own problems.

In popular tourist areas they have attracted properties to the holiday let market place creating rental pressures for those who live there. There are complaints from neighbours who object to the use of private homes or apartments for commercial purposes. Local moteliers can also experience difficulties.

I am more attracted by the opportunities.Too many of the new technologies have actually drained jobs and income from the North because they totally focus on economies of scope and scale, on cost reduction. The big get bigger, the rest are left out.

This has been a particular problem in inland New England. These new platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz provide a potentially potent weapon for fighting back, for the encouragement of economic development, for the small to develop their own niches.

In my next post in the series, I will look at how this might be done.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Problems with Fruit Bats

I hope that you had a happy Christmas and that 2018 will be a successful year for all of us.

Growing up, I thought that flying-foxes (fruit bats) were largely a coastal species. You saw the occasional one in Armidale generally dead hanging upside down from the power lines. I knew they were eaten by the Aborigines from the ethnographic record, but actually knew very little about them.

I was therefore surprised earlier to find that Tamworth had major problems with a large colony of Grey Headed flying foxes along the Peel River.  Now it's Armidale's turn, with a colony moving in on Tuesday 3 October 2017. To my knowledge, it's the first time in Armidale. As happened in Tamworth, many residents directly affected are up in arms, wanting the Council to take action, although there is not a lot the Council can do. .

Part of  the problem appears to lie in the way that the animal's natural habitats have been progressively reduced, drawing them into urban areas in search of food. I was a little surprised when I first read this because I wouldn't have thought that there had been major habitat changes around Armidale or Tamworth that might force such a move.

Reading the quite fascinating Wikipedia article on Grey Headed flying foxes, I discovered that the animals are in fact migratory, capable of travelling long distances in search of food. So habitat change associated with urbanisation on the coast might well force them well inland.

One thing that struck me here was the estimated size of the Tamworth colony. Recognising that estimating numbers is potentially prone to significant error, a claimed size of 100,000 animals for the Tamworth colony is very large indeed relative to an estimated total population of 200-300,000 and the normal colony sizes (100s to tens of thousand)

The Armidale colony too appears reasonably substantial if this NBN News photo is any guide, if much smaller than the Tamworth camp.  

Update 17 January

Update report from Armidale Regional Council

Friday, December 22, 2017

Memories of New England Christmas's past

Every New England family has its own Christmas rituals. As children, brother David and I had a fixed and very satisfying Christmas pattern.

Christmas Eve was open house at our place for mum and dad’s 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 shelf of the linen closet to decorate the tree and the house.

Downtown, David and I visited Coles and Penneys with our money clutched in our hands to buy presents. Later, with a little more money, we might visit Armidale’s two department stores as well, but the two variety stores were cheap!

On Christmas Eve, sometimes the day before, Dad would go out to Ryan's Cordials, Armidale’s 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.

Years later, my own children having heard the stories also insisted on pillow cases. This tradition continued long after Santa!

Once our 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, a block away in Mann Street.

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 weatherboard Federation located on a very large block. Originally built to face the north looking down on the town, 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 right, 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, then more rough grass finishing in the pine trees. 

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 grandparents kept, with all the trimmings. The Mackellars, (Mr Mackellar managed Foreglen, 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 were 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.

Mr Mackellar decides to move and Fah sells the property 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 again, dividing Mann Street into two flats, retiring from politics soon after. 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. Then Fah dies and Mann Street is sold.

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 more than 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 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. 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.

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.

These are big changes. Yet they happen in a time horizon that allows for adjustment. 

Our Christmas evening Marsh Street opening houses continue. Christmas now is a time for catching up with old friends, including especially 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 expatriates 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.

This is the story of one family, one group. Each family has their own rituals, repeating in their own way the patterns across the generations. At this Festive time, it pays us to value what we have, to enjoy our family patterns.

I wish you and yours the best of the Festive season.