New England, Australia

Monday, March 23, 2015

Polling shows Coalition ahead in NSW, but suggests Labor to win Ballina

The latest Fairfax/Ipsos poll shows the Coalition leading Labor by 54 to 46 per cent on a NSW state wide two-party-preferred basis. With the Coalition apparently set to win, the focus has now turned to individual seats that might change with a special focus on the National held Northern Rivers seats of  Ballina, Lismore and Tweed where the backlash against coal seam is especially strong.

Recent Reachtel polling suggested Labor is set to win Ballina, despite a National's margin of 24.6 per cent. An interesting feature of the Ballina poll is the shift in the Green/ALP vote. At the last elections, the collapse in the ALP vote saw the Greens out vote Labor. Now the Green vote is slightly down, while the ALP vote has resurged. 

Outside the Northern Rivers, Tamworth is another electorate where environmental issues are important. Here the Green vote has traditionally been very low. The main interest in Tamworth is whether or not independent Peter Draper can regain the seat he lost at the last state election. 

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Collating the stories behind New England's writers

The Armidale Express has just featured Janene Carey's latest writing project.

Following publication of her latest book, A Hospital Bed At Home which attracting praise from author Helen Garner, .Janene hopes to take on the enjoyable yet daunting challenge of collating the stories behind the region’s greatest writers.

The new project will be in collaboration with the New England Writer’s Centre, and aims to showcase writers who have portrayed the region and its people, as well as writers nurtured here who have achieved fame elsewhere.

“It’s not going to be a scholarly book, it’s for a general audience,”Janene said. “So there will be anecdotes and snippets of [interviews] and hopefully [it] will be written in a colourful, engaging way.” From my viewpoint that's a good thing, for it will help give us the back story to the writing itself.

One of the people Janene would like to interview is Shirley Walker whose book, The Ghost at the Wedding, won the 2009 Asher Literary Award.
I haven't actually read Shirley's book. I have to say that it sounds interesting from the Penguin blurb.
"Three generations,two world wars,one family
The young men who worked in the canefields of northern New South Wales in 1914 couldn't wait to set off for the adventure of war. The women coped as best they could, raised the children, lived in fear of an official telegram. They grieved for those killed, and learnt of worse things than death in combat. They bore more sons to replace those lost, and these were just the right age to go off to the Second World War.
The Ghost at the Wedding chronicles events from both sides of war: the horror of the battlefields and the women left at home. Shirley Walker's depictions of those battles – Gallipoli, the Western Front, the Kokoda Track – are grittily accurate, their reverberations haunting. Written with the emotional power of a novel, here is a true story whose sorrow is redeemed by astonishing beauty and strength of spirit."
So much to read!


This is the way that Janene wrote of her contact with Helen Garner on her blog. I have taken the liberty of quoting the piece in full:
Last week I went to a couple of public events connected with the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference at the University of New England. Iconic Australian writer Helen Garner was a special guest. I spoke to her after a lecture on Judith Wright, and gave her a copy of A Hospital Bed at Home. As homage, really. I love her writing, especially The Spare Room. 
The next day, I went along to the other public ASAL event, Helen Garner in conversation with literary critic Susan Lever. When I arrived for the pre-talk refreshments, Anne Pender from UNE was chatting to Susan Lever, and she introduced us. Susan’s first words to me were, “Oh, are you the Janene who gave Helen a book? She’s been telling me all about it; she’s been reading it all day!” 
When I spoke to Helen before her talk my head was spinning so much that I can’t even remember exactly what her compliments were. She said something about the clarity and directness of my writing, and the way the emotion was handled. I suggested that she’d had a strong influence on my style and she laughed and said, “That might be why I like it!” 
Anyway, this week I plucked up the courage to contact her through her publisher and ask if she would consider giving me a quote for the cover. I thought it quite likely that she would refuse as she must be asked so often. But she emailed it to me within a couple of hours of receiving the request. Actually, I have two – what she sent would fit on a back cover, but I was keen to have it on the front, so she allowed me to trim it. 
So the front cover now says: “An articulate, practical account of the work of love in the face of death.” – HELEN GARNER.  
The longer version that has gone online is: 
“A quietly articulate, intensely practical account of the work of love in the face of death: a guide for the timid and a challenge for the confident.” – HELEN GARNER (Author of The Spare Room)

You can see why Janene was chuffed. By the way, if you want to buy A Hospital Bed At Home you can find out how here. I haven't bought my copy yet, but will do so next pay.

I want to write a little more about the reasons why I think that Janene's new project is important, why we all hope that she gets grants to complete the work, but that will have to wait to a later post. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

2015 NSW State election - New England thread

I haven't commented to this point on the NSW State election campaign. I thought that I should create a thread that I can add to and on which people can comment if they so wish.

This graphic comes from the ABC Vote Compass. The question asked was: "How do you feel the economy in your electorate is doing now as compared to 12 months ago?" As Antony Green notes, voters outside Sydney feel that their local economies are doing significantly worse than those living in Sydney.

I will add more material to this post as the campaign proceeds.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Life style Uralla's mini-housing boom

I see from the Armidale Express that Uralla is experiencing something of a mini-housing boom.

Twenty-nine dwellings were approved in the town last year, the highest number of dwelling approvals in a decade. With five dwelling approvals in January plus a 60 lot subdivision application expected to be approved by March, the trend looks set to continue.

Driving around Uralla on a recent trip, I was struck by the continuing if slow transformation of the town. With the decline in the town's rural service function and then the collapse in growth in nearby Armidale during the nineties, the town's economic base was badly damaged. Slowly, and the changes here go back to the early eighties, Uralla has been reinventing itself as something of a lifestyle centre, creating a special atmosphere.

 These types of processes are slow. However, they do build with time. One of the reasons I have supported the continued retention of Uralla Shire despite arguments for local government mergers based on the now standard mantras of "efficiency and effectiveness" lies in the way that it has helped preserve a Uralla focus. I think that's good.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

UNE makes John Ryan Emeritus Professor

Over on my personal blog, John Ryan appointed Emeritus Professor records my pleasure at the honour rewarded John.

I am presently writing something on the history of history in New England. Triggered partly by the death of Lionel Gilbert, I will bring something up on that later, the short series looks at some of those who have recorded our past. John is one such. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Joe Eisenberg’s portrait

Eisenberg I see from the Newcastle Herald that artist Rachel Milne was painting a portrait of Joe Eisenberg for entry to this year’s Archibald Prize competition.

That story really took me back. Joe is presently Director of the Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG). However, when I first met him he was Director of the New England Regional Art Museum

Joe spent twent years in Armidale, with two children born there as were mine. I mainly knew Joe professionally, but our children were an added link.

Its not all beer and skittles being a director of an Australian cultural institution. Joe did a pretty good job in Armidale  within NERAM’s funding limitations, building the institution’s reach. Joe Eisenberg Janis Wilton He has clearly done a good job at Maitland, too.

Searching, I found a really good bio of Joe originally published in the Newcastle Herald in September 2012.  

This is a photo of Joe with Janis Wilton, his wife. An historian, Janis has done a lot of work on New England's Chinese heritage. This is an example of her work.

It’s nice to write a simple uncomplicated post that brings back memories. Mind you, I haven’t visited MRAG yet. Clearly a gap that some of my Hunter friends will, justly, suggest that I should rectify as soon as possible!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Background briefing – New England’s environment wars 1: the Liverpool Plains and Watermark Coal

Employing some 150,000 people, Shenhua Group is a leading Chinese state owned mining and energy company.

In October 2008, Shenhua Australia Holdings Pty Limited and Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Limited were registered in Australia in October 2008 as subsidiaries of Shenhua Overseas Development & Investment Co., Ltd, which serves as a global vehicle for outbound investment and project development on behalf of Shenhua Group. In that same month, Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Ltd (Shenhua Watermark) was granted Exploration Licence (EL) 7223 by the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Mineral Resources.

Watermark Coal map  Shenhau is now trying to develop a major coal project on the Liverpool Plains and is facing considerable trouble in so doing.

The Project

The company describes the project in this  way. 

“The Project is located approximately 25 km south-east of the township of Gunnedah and 3km to the west of the village of Breeza. The Project is approximately 282 km by rail from the Port of Newcastle.
The Project generally comprises:

  • The construction and operation of an open cut coal mining operation extracting up to 10 Million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of Run of Mine (ROM) coal for a 30 year period;
  • The utilisation of an open cut mining fleet of excavators and rope shovels, supported by haul trucks, dozers, graders, blast hole drills and water carts;
  • Progressive rehabilitation of all disturbed areas;
  • The construction and operation of:
                 o      Coal Handling and Preparation Plant to process the raw coal;
                 o      Administration building, workshop and related facilities;
                 o      Train loadout, rail spur and loop to connect to the rail line to Newcastle;
                 o      Mine Access Road off the Kamilaroi Highway including an overpass of the
                          rail spur;
                 o      Water management and reticulation infrastructure; and
                 o      Communications and electricity infrastructure.
  • A workforce of up to 600 full-time equivalent employees during construction and  an average of 434 full-time equivalent employees during the operation of the Project.”

So it’s not a small project.

The Problem

Aeons ago, sentiments were deposited in a shallow sea stretching up from the Sydney Basin up into Queensland in a geological event called by geologists the Hunter-Bowen orogeny. The end result was huge coal deposits.

The deposits under the Liverpool Plains form the northern extension of what would become known as the Northern Districts coal fields. These coal fields are important in historical terms for, until quite recently, the Northern Districts dominated Australian coal production. Coal production around  While coal production around Gunnedah was relatively minor compared to the lower Hunter, it has been a significant feature of the local economy.  

Liverpool Plains near Breeza The Liverpool Plains are one of Australia’s premier agricultural areas with significant ground water supplies. The photo shows the country around Breeza. I have to say that it is usually more colourful than this! This looks like drought time.

The combination of large coal deposits and rich agricultural land set the scene for a major battle spearheaded by Tim Duddy and the Caroona Coal Action Group between locals and environmental groups and the Watermark coal development.

This is just one of the environmental battles that I have talked about raging across the broader New England, battles that together form what I have called New England’s  environmental wars.

Recent Developments

Last week the Watermark development was approved by the NSW Government’s planning processes. Federal environmental approval has still to be obtained. Now the stage has been set for a new battle. I will look at this later in the week in my second post in this background briefing.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Coal Seam Gas - AGL's Gloucester BTEX woes

AGL has suspended operations at its Gloucester coal seam gas (CSG) project north of Newcastle, to allow tests to be carried out. after the discovery of potentially toxic chemicals in flowback water .

Acording to ABC News (link above) AGL announced on Tuesday afternoon 27 January it was voluntarily suspending the controversial coal seam gas pilot program in Gloucester.

Late in 2014 the company performed test fracking operations on four pilot wells at Waukivory, just outside Gloucester.

The company said the chemical BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and three forms of xylene) was found in a sample of flowback water, taken from two of the wells and an above-ground tank. Flowback water is water returned to the surface after it has been pumped into the ground mixed with chemicals to open up coal seams.

AGL stated categorically that BTEX was not in any of the hydraulic fracturing fluids used in their pilot operation. It is, in fact, illegal under NSW law. Rather, BTEX occurs naturally in coal seams, although amounts vary across deposits.
Greens NSW mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham was  not impressed. AGL should now leave the Gloucester Valley, he said.  
"BTEX chemicals in the water are an absolute nightmare and the Greens want a permanent ban on coal seam gas and fracking in NSW," he said. 
"Coal seam gas is unsafe, unnecessary and unwanted.
"AGL should pack up and leave the Gloucester Valley for good following this latest pollution incident before they do any more damage to either their battered corporate reputation or our precious water. 
"How many more spills, leaks and accidents will it take before the government acts to ban coal seam gas?"
For more on this story see

Monday, December 29, 2014

Discovering Kempsey's Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery

I know New England quite well, but am constantly discovering new things. For example, I hadn't discovered the Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery  (DNAAG). The Gallery is housed in an annex of the Kempsey Visitor Information Centre designed by internationally renowned architect Glen Murcutt

This work, Brolga Chorus 1 is by Gumbaynggirr woman Alison Williams. While born in Sydney in 1968, Alison has obviously retained her North Coast connections.

Do have a browse of the Gallery's site. There are some very nice pieces there My thanks to Regional Arts NSW (@RegionalArtsNSWfor introducing me to the Gallery.