New England, Australia

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. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Impact on New England of the proposed redistribution of Federal seats

In the first decade of the twentieth century when New South Wales had 28 seats in the Federal Parliament, inland New England had two seats. On the latest proposed redistribution of Federal seats, New South Wales will have 47 seats. inland New England will have just one seat. That's a measure of relative decline, but there is more to it than that.


The Australian Constitution (section 24) lays down the basis for the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives. The critical starting point is the number of senators. The number of members in the House of Representatives is to be twice the number of senators. After that, the distribution of seats among the states is based on relative population. The constitution is silent on the seats for territories such as the ACT, but each seat for the territories reduces the number of senators available for the states.

Within the constitution, the process of determining the allocation of seats is set by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 as amended from time to time. There used to be a provision that allowed for a weighting for country seats, but that was replace by what was called "one vote, one value."  This is enshrined in Section 73 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.  This provides:
  • The allocation of seats between states based on the latest population subject to the absolute number not exceeding that set by the constitution 
  • the calculation of an average divisional (electorate) enrollment for the state or territory as a whole based on the number set by the number of seats in each state or territory
  • the definition of electoral boundaries based on that number taking into account things such as community of interest. 
  • To provide some flexibility,. the actual numbers in each electorate (division) can be in the range 3.5% higher or lower than the average In special circumstance (this is not defined), this variance can be extended to 10%.  
  • In no case, can the total number of seats exceed the number of seats allocated by the constitution.  

The New South Wales population as a proportion of the Australian population has been declining. Within NSW, the New England proportion of the NSW population has been declining. That long term structural decline is one of the drivers for those of us supporting New England self government. We don't accept that decline as inevitable We want to do something about it. The effect is that NSW loses seats and that, within NSW, New England loses seats.

In November 2014, the Electoral Commissioner issued his determination stating that New South Wales would lose a seat for the next election, reduced from 48 to 47 seats, while Western Australia would gain a seat, increasing from 15 to 16 seats. The draft boundaries subsequently released for NSW proposed  the abolition of one seat within the broader New England, the lower Hunter Seat of Charlton. This change was associated with significant boundary shifts summarised in the table below drawn from the ABC.

On the North Coast, all the seat boundaries have had to shift south in order to gain numbers. In the Hunter boundaries have gone all over the place, partly as a consequence of the seat lost, partly because of the boundary shifts in the North Coast seats. Inland, the seat of New England has lost Gunnedah to to the seat of Parkes, gained Gwydir Shire from Parkes plus the Upper Hunter. Parkes has become a mega seat in geographic terms, occupying most of Western NSW and growing from 257 to 402 thousand square kilometres. All of New England's Western Plains plus some of the Western Slopes are now submerged in Parkes.

Responses to the proposed boundaries closed on 13 December with almost 800 responses received. The Commission has to finalise boundaries by February 2013.

Electorate Old Margin % New Margin % Comments
Charlton ALP 9.2 - Abolished, see Hunter.
Cowper NAT 11.7 NAT 13.1 Shifts south, losing areas north of Coffs Harbour to Page while gaining Port Macquarie from Lyne.
Hunter ALP 3.7 ALP 6.2 Gains most of the electorate of Charlton, loses Maitland and Kurri Kurri to Paterson, Kandos and Rylstone to Calare and areas around Scone to New England.
Lyne NAT 14.8 NAT 14.2 Loses Port Macquarie to Cowper and gains Forster-Tuncurry and everything north of Port Stephens from Paterson.
New England NAT 20.7 NAT 20.2 Loses Gunnedah to Parkes while gaining areas around Scone from Hunter and Bingara and Warialda from Parkes.
Newcastle ALP 8.8 ALP 9.4 Loses Beresfield and Woodberry to Paterson, gains areas around Wallsend from Charlton.
Page NAT 2.5 NAT 3.1 Loses Ballina to Richmond in exchange for areas around Nimbin, while also gaining areas between the Clarence River and northern Coffs Harbour from Cowper.
Paterson LIB 9.8 ALP 1.3 Transformed into a notional Labor seat after losing Forster-Tuncurry and everything north of Port Stephens to Lyne while gaining Maitland and Kurri Kurri from Hunter and Beresfield and Woodberry from Newcastle.
Richmond ALP 3.0 ALP 1.8 Loses the area around Nimbin to Page in exchange for Ballina.
Shortland ALP 7.2 ALP 7.1 Gains areas around the northern end of Lake Macquarie from Charlton.


The table below summarises the political impact of the changes based on votes at the last election. Not unexpectedly, the Liberal Party wishes to see changes, To get the results they desire. they propose transferring Glen Innes and Tenterfield into the coastal seat of Page. This then allows restructuring of the proposed boundaries on the Coast and in the Hunter. The effect would be, I think, a reduction of one ALP seat in return for a Liberal seat.

Party Previous New
ALP 5 5
National 4 4
Liberal 1 0
Total 10 9

Not unexpectedly, the sheer increase in the size of the seat of Parkes has drawn opposition. The intent of the one vote one value changes was to get rid of the previous bias towards country seats. The effect of one vote one value has been to reduce the effectiveness of country representation. How one responds to that depends on the weighting placed on the local role of the MP.

The sheer scale of the changes on the North Coast and in the Hunter has drawn widespread criticism because of the ways in which the boundaries split local government areas and all the ancillary things such as tourism promotion bodies.Instead of working with one MP, people will have to work with two whose territories include competing interests.

Inland, the main objection has come from Gwydir Shire who wish to be in Parkes on the grounds of community of interest especially with Moree.

There are no easy answers. Further, the position is only going to get worse with current population trends. At either the next redistribution or the one after that, I haven't fully crunched the numbers, NSW will lose another seat and again that will come from New England. Getting half way decent local representation is becoming an increasing problem.   

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Armidale's a day on the green

By all accounts, today's  a day on the green held at Petersen's Wines on the outskirts of Armidale was a great success. It's a beautiful venue.

Mind you, it was hot. Armidale may be known as Balmydale for several reasons, but one is definitely the normal summer climate. But this time! Not as hot as its been elsewhere during the current heatwave, mind you, but at 33c still very hot. You would definitely have needed a hat.

Promoted by Roundhouse Entertainment, a day on the green began in Victoria with a first show on Australia Day 2001. Now a day on the green runs in the summer months from October – March with around 30 concerts per season in major wine-growing regions around Australia.

Before going on, local State MP Adam Marshall was clearly enjoying himself!

In addition to the Petersen's Armidale wine gig, there are two other vineyards with New England connections, Bimbadgen Wines at Pokolbin, Sirromet Wines in the Queensland Granite Belt.

It's remarkable how few people realise that Queensland's Granite Belt is actually the most northern part of the New England Tablelands. That border really creates a very peculiar myopia!

Both Bimbadgen Wines and Sirromet Wines host more events than Petersen's for a very simple reason.

Pokolbin is about two hours from Sydney, attracting visitors from there as well as Newcastle and the Lower Hunter. Stanthorpe is about two and a half hours from Brisbane.and attracts visitors from there as well as the Darling Downs. Unlike Pokolbin which competes with Orange and Mudgee as well as Canberra area vineyards, Stanthorpe has the South East Queensland market to itself.

While smaller, the Armidale event is now drawing people from across Northern New South Wales, making for a considerable crowd.  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Regional development: Austarm success story

Rather a nice story on Queensland Country Life about New England woolgrower turned Rob Ward.

Mr Ward's Austarm Machinery sources hardy Australian-built tillage, seeding and spray equipment and ground engaging tools for buyers in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

From his base at Armidale, Mr Ward identifies and sources gear across eastern Australia to meet orders from customers as diverse as land barons in Kazakhstan, to mixed croppers in Botswana and agricultural aid initiatives with African villages. Australia's minimum- and zero-till revolution of the past three decades has contributed significantly to his export success.
I will leave you to read the full story. I found it interesting as someone who tried to establish an international business from an Armidale base and knows how hard it is. After initial success, the business finally went down in the recession of the early 1990s. We were one of a number of Armidale start-ups at the time that centred on high technology or professional services and that, for a period, seemed likely to give Armidale a new economic base. In the end, most closed or moved, in part because of the cost effects of very high air fares for businesses that depended on constant domestic travel. In our case, air fares were our second biggest expenditure item after salaries. 
I must try to write up the story of those days for they have lessons for development discussions today. . For the moment, Austarm seems to have a business model that is location independent but firmly based on Australian technical advantage.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New England and the cloying effects of imposed uniformity

In UK and the local benefits of devolution, I looked at the way in which devolution had benefited areas of the UK though greater local freedom and power. In this, the second of my posts reflecting on the lessons for New England from the experience gained on my European trip, I look at the cloying effects of the uniformity imposed on New England by current Governmental structures and practices, focusing especially on tourism.

To set a broad context for the discussions that follows, Scotland has an area of 73,387 square k, Wales 20,761 square k, England 130,395 square k. By contrast, NSW is 809,444 square k. So very much bigger.

England and especially Scotland and Wales glory in their differences. Difference from each other, but also differences within. These are matters to promote, to glory in, sometimes to fight over.

This is Jedburgh in the Scottish border country. Each part of the border country - the boundaries have varied over time - has its own character. This is expressed in tourism material, in books and other cultural material.

Centrally imposed variations in boundaries do affect local identity and complicate promotion, just as they do in Australia. However, UK areas seem better able to withstand these external pressures in retaining and presenting their heritage.

This is a scene from the English Lake District. In Australian drive time terms, it's quite close to the border country. The printed tourism material on the Lake District runs to hundreds of pages. Individual destinations promote themselves, but the focus is on the totality, on using a particular place as a base, but then moving around.

Further south, you find the same pattern in the Cotswolds, a stretch of hill country roughly 25 miles (40 km) across and 90 miles (145 km) long, stretching south-west from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath. The picture postcard villages are a major attraction, with the attraction lying not just in the individual locality but in the totality of nearby attractions.This is important because no centre has enough attractions on its own to justify a longish stay.

This applies even in the nearby town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace.  Stratford is about the same size as Armidale in population terms.

Mind you, Stratford is HQ of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Employing 700 people whose theatre has just undergone a £112.8 million upgrade. I wrote on our visit to Stratford in Watching Henry V on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

Armidale, by contrast, struggles to build a new library and theatre complex even though it is a major cultural centre. But then, neither the NSW or Australian Governments would even consider supporting something of the scale of Stratford's theatre extension in a regional centre.

Regional areas in the UK have certain advantages. Both populations and visitor numbers are higher. I haven't checked the number, but I suspect that Stratford gets more visitors in total than all of Northern NSW. I
suspect that the little village of Grasmere  in the Lake's District gets more visitors than any New England centre.

That said, we are left with a number of questions.

Why aren't local and regional differences properly recognized and promoted within the broader New England? Why don't people know about them? Why are all of the NSW "great cultural institutions" in Sydney? To put this last in perspective, the British Museum, truly one of the world's great cultural institutions, is actually a bit player in UK cultural and tourism promotion. There are no tourism promotions that focus on the capital cities as such unless, of course, they are funded by those cities.

I have really struggled with this, especially when I was actively involved in tourism promotion. I think that three factors are in play.

The first is the factional system of politics that evolved during the nineteenth century and which played local area against local area with benefits for votes. This translated into intense local parochialism only partially overcome by broader movements such as the new state movements. Each local area wanted to promote its own thing, even though this would be self defeating in the end. This continues today.

The second was the actual denial of regional difference. This worked its way through the school system with its emphasis, on uniformity but extended beyond that into various forms of official expression. Difference was recognised, but this was generally expressed in narrow geographic terms. The idea of historical or cultural difference was rejected.

The third was the differential in population terms between Sydney and individual centres elsewhere in NSW. Until quite recently, aggregate populations were not so dwarfed by Sydney. This was concealed by emphasis on locality as opposed to broader areas. More importantly, there were constant variations in regional boundaries and regional approaches dictated by central needs that made it impossible to create consistent approaches, especially in visitor promotion.

In all, the effect was the outcome I described in the heading, the imposition of a cloying uniformity. This still exists, nor is immediate change likely. Until change happens, improved regional performance is unlikely.  
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