New England, Australia

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bias against the bush in Australian refugee resettlement

In November of last year I reported (From Africa's Great Lakes to Mingoola's Field of Dreams) on Mingoola's successful attempt to settle African refugee families. It had been a bit of a battle because of the belief among officials and refugee agencies that refugees had to close to support agencies and that mainly meant the city. I wrote at the time:
This business of need for adequate support services for refugees has become a major difficulty that actively impedes families moving to country areas . The need to provide adequate (ie modern) housing and support services can actually place refugees in situations where they have good housing and support services but are isolated from the surrounding community without access to work.
In February this year, Armidale was rejected as a location for Syrian refugees on the apparent grounds that the city lacked the necessary support services. I almost went ballistic on this one because the city has very good facilities and access to support.

Meantime down in Tamworth, the Syrian Refugee Project began work early in 2016 to create welcoming conditions and supports for Syrian refugees to allow them to settle in Tamworth.

By mid-April, Project representative and Multicultural Tamworth president Eddie Whitham was expressing acute frustration. Quoting from the Northern Daily Leader of 20 April, 
Mr Whitham and project chief Brian Lincoln have even been actively pursuing the issue through the available channels, but so far it has all been to no avail. 
“We have written letters and made phone calls asking what is happening and when we can expect to get some refugees to settle – so far there has been no answers coming back,” Mr Whitham said. 
“We want to see four families come to Tamworth because we are ready for them now. We could take a dozen families progressively.” 
So Tamworth is ready too, but simply can't get an answer. While all this has been going on, it appears that some 4,000 Syrian refugees have been settled in Sydney's Fairfield. This is partly a matter of refugee choices, but I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that we have a clear pattern of exclusion of non-metro options.  

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Australia's largest under 12 rugby competition about to kick off in Armidale

The next TAS (The Armidale School) Rugby Union Carnival, will be held on Saturday 8, Sunday 9 April. Now in its thirteenth year, the carnival has developed into Australia's largest under 12s rugby carnival.

The Armidale Express reports that this year there will be over 900 players from 45 school and club teams grouped into five divisions based on teams of similar ability. Over the two days, 110 games of rugby will be played on eight school ovals, proudly prepared by TAS grounds staff over recent weeks.

While carnival attracts teams from a very wide area including the metros, it especially important for country teams such as the Moree Junior Bulls who have participated in every carnival since its inception.

According to Moree Junior Bulls coordinator Cath Keen, the team loves heading to Armidale to take part in the massive competition.
“It is competition from bigger regional centres, they’re playing against kids from all over New South Wales and parts of Queensland,” she said. “It’s more competition and it’s great for them to see how other kids play and what the standards are.” 
There has been a lot of media coverage about the problems that smaller communities have faced in maintaining sporting competition in all codes because of diminishing numbers of young people. There has been less coverage of the problems that good country athletes face at both school and club level in accessing good coaching and proper competition.

At school level, the problem is compounded by the growing gap in pupil numbers between country and city schools. It is very hard, for example, in rugby union to compete against a city school which may have 2,000 boys if you only have 300 or even 600. The problem is further compounded by the growing professionalisation in school sport. Mind you, its not just a problem for country schools. The smaller city schools struggle as well, as evidenced by the problems over recent years in the NSW GPS (Greater Public Schools) rugby competition. .

I think TAS deserves commendation for the way that has been prepared to make its grounds and staff available to support not just regional sporting activities, but also academic and cultural activities.      .

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Munnmorah's falling stacks marks continuing end of an era

Sunday 26 March 2017 Munmorah Power Station chimney stacks falling (photo ABC) The Newcastle Herald piece by Scott Bevan has a good description of the technical difficulties involved in bringing the stacks down.  
 The demolition of the Munmorah chimney stacks was the symbol of an end of another era.

Vales Point (1963-64) was the first of the big Northern power stations followed by Munmorah (1967-69) then Lidell (1971-73), Eraring (1982-1984) and Bayswater (1985-86).

At the time of the new state plebiscite in 1967, Vales Point  was included in the southern end of the New England boundaries which included the Lake Macquarie catchment. One of the vexed issues at the time was the price to be placed on NSW assets in New England, how much debt the new state should have.This would have become a bigger issue with the construction of the other stations.

That is now all water under the bridge, of course. Still, it somehow seemed appropriate to record Munmorah's passing.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Japan's Nihon University may establish campus in Newcastle

According to the Newcastle Morning Herald, Japan's Nihon University has chosen Newcastle as its first bricks and mortar university in Australia.

If you read the tone of the editorial, you will see that the paper is playing it's role as Newcastle's booster. I have no complaints with that, and indeed it is a sign of Newcastle's progressive maturation.

Newcastle has always had its own character, but for too long its been under the shadow of Sydney, a lesser city often ignored and indeed subsumed into a strange entity called Greater Sydney. It's been interesting watching the changes in the city over the last few years, including the growing role of the University of Newcastle in supporting change.

As the editorial notes, Nihon will add to Newcastle's depth without distracting from Newcastle Uni.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Importance of Cundletown's new Coptic Church

 The singing of traditional Coptic hymns plays a big part in each mass. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
I am constantly fascinated by the diversity of life across Northern NSW, the broader New England. A case in point is the opening of the St Mary and St Pope Kirolos the 6th Coptic Christian Orthodox Church in Cundletown as reported by Emma Siossian for ABC Mid North Coast.

The Copts are one of the oldest Christian groups in the Middle East and still constitute a significant minority of the Egyptian population.. The Coptic Orthodox Church  is one of  the orthodox churches that formed in what was then the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire during the schisms that marked the early Christian Church. I have read a little of Byzantine history, including the religious disputes, and find the whole thing remarkably complicated!

Photo: The old Cundletown dock yard
Cundletown near Taree in the Manning Valley lies a long way from Egypt. While young by Coptic standards, Cundletown is a historic village in its own right with its colonial remains.

The linkage between the Cundletown and Coptic Egypt is provided by Dr Moheb Ghaly, a long-time Manning Valley surgeon born in Egypt.

Over very many decades, the combination of political instability with religious persecution led to the emigration of many Egyptian Copts, some of whom settled on the North Coast. Like many other Copts, Dr Ghaly used to travel to Sydney for services. Now he worked to establish a church where local Copts could worship.
Local resident: "This will bring more people and families to the area. It's our community, it's us, it's our identity."  Dr Ghaly outside the new church. 
I have no doubt that the new church will assist in attracting new Egyptian Coptic residents. There is now a long history of such chain migration in New England including the Germans and Scots that came to New England from the 1840s-1850s and then, much later, the Indians who came to Woolgoolga

At a time when many parts of New England are struggling to attract people, when it's just so hard to get people to move from the metros, the creation of such community infrastructure, the welcoming of new people, is important in attracting new residents who, in turn, will attract new residents.The North gains from increased population and from added diversity to New England life.   .      

Monday, March 13, 2017

New natural history museum adds to Armidale's attractions and diversity - but can we fix Beardy Street?

The University of New England's new natural history museum is about to open.

Announced back in June 2015, the museum is intended to be a showcase of a new $27 million Integrated Agriculture Education Project precinct. The museum features the skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur, and a diverse collection of animals, plants, and meteorites, building on the collection previously held by the Zoology Museum.

Armidale has two main museum/cultural precincts. The first centres on Kentucky Street in the south of this city and includes the New England Regional Art Museum (photo), the Armidale and Region Aboriginal Centre and Keeping Place and the Heritage Centre. The second covers the museums and displays at UNE to the north-east of the city.

These are not Armidale's only museums and cultural centres. The Armidale Folk Museum in the centre of the city is one of the oldest and best folk museums in the country.

I still live in hope that Armidale Regional Council can revitalise the centre of the business district with its bookshops, cafes and galleries. Poor planning decisions over a long period have fragmented the small CBD, turning it from a vibrant centre to something of a desolate pedestrian absent zone dominated by relatively small shopping malls at each end.

Beardy Street is the heart of the old Victorian city that constitutes one of Armidale's architectural gems. It should be the heart of the city, providing a central point for visitors and locals alike, a starting point for all the other attractions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Grains, Livestock R&D announcements - good news stories but a lost communications opportunity?

It's sometimes difficult to know what Government statements mean, primarily because they contain so little information. Two recent statements, both good news, are cases in point.

The first is a 10 year funding partnership between the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the NSW government. More than $130 million will be invested into grains research and development in NSW over the next 10 years, "meaning researchers will have more long-term certainty in their projects and jobs, and grain growers will continue to get the latest information for their decisions in the field."

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and GRDC chairman John Woods announced the bilateral agreement at the Department of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Training Centre at Calala yesterday.

Mr Joyce said the agreement would build on the current research and development partnership between the GRDC and government, and would secure research in Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Condoblin, Yanco and Trangie. There are 31 full time equivalent positions involved across these sites, about half of which are in Tamworth.

“The research and development will focus on two significant areas: winter crop pathology and winter crop agronomy and physiology,” Mr Blair said.

Reading the reports, this one primarily involves maintenance of existing research activities including presumably aspects of the work of DPI's Tamworth Agricultural Institute (TAI).

The second  announcement by also involving Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce
NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair dealt with the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s five-year co-investment in two research and development programs intended to benefit the sheep and cattle industries The photo shows Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair with UNE Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan and Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall at the launch. .

The first co-investment research and development program will focus on five key areas including improving supply chain efficiency, overcoming the nutritional limits to livestock genetic potential, improving reproductive performance, sustainability of livestock production systems and enhancing the feed base by optimising grazing and soil management.

The NSW Government is investing $17.5 million into the partnership with MLA Donor Company (MDC) – a fully-owned subsidiary of industry service company Meat &
Livestock Australia (MLA). The NSW Department will also invest an additional $5 million in the new National Livestock Genetics Consortium (NLGC) - an initiative among key livestock industry stakeholders seeking to achieve world leading rates of genetic gain to ultimately drive value chain profitability.

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the NSW Government is focused on supporting regional NSW and sees the five year commitment as a pivotal investment to grow core research initiatives that will benefit the sheep and cattle industries.

Under the collaborative partnership model, MDC will match the NSW Governments funding for research projects that address the five key red meat priorities. MDC has also given in-principle support to match the investment in the NLGC.

This is clearly an important initiative and one that will further consolidate and develop the rural research in base in New England. Again, though, I had to dig round to collect information to try to understand what it really meant. .In the end, I think that I have worked it out roughly, although the respective web sites are not especially clear.

.I accept that I am something of an odd person in that I very rarely run press releases without some checking. It used to be the case that press releases came with backgrounders providing factual information. That seems to have dropped out.

In these particular cases, the stories would have definitely have benefited from the supply of additional information, especially for those who wanted to write more reflective pieces later for a broader audience. This is especially a pity at a time when things such as the move of the APVMA to Armidale has led to quite condescending attacks, at a time when the University of New England is struggling to sell its research story.

In this context, I note that UNE itself did not issue a parallel release for reasons that escape me. It is not my job to go through the UNE web site to try to establish linkages, although I did my best. It is UNE's job to sell its own story.

Even though these stories got coverage locally and in the farm press, I think that they were opportunities missed.
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tingha's Chinese past features on SBS

Held to mark Chinese New Year and to celebrate the town's Chinese past, this year's Tingha's Lantern Festival featured on SBS Television.

New England has a rich Chinese history. The first Chinese came as shepherds in the 1840s, then came an influx with the gold rushes during the 1850s to places like Nundle and Rocky River and then another rush with the tin boom of the 1870s. For a period, the Tablelands were the largest tin province in the world.

To mark the Festival and the SBS coverage, I thought that I should re-publish a History Revisited column, , that first appeared in the Armidale Express on 4 June 2104.

Tingha's Chinatown 

Most of New England’s small settlements have vanished in the great rural depopulation, leaving little behind beyond a few posts. This is especially true of our mining towns, for there the town survived just as long as the rush endured. Once the miners left, the town vanished, the buildings moved or decaying into the landscape. Now the few remains lie forgotten, ignored even by neighbours, their history lost.

This remains true even where the original physical presence was substantial. Tingha’s China Town is an example. Heard of it? I bet not.

China Town ran on the creek bank along Amethyst Street. However, the Chinese population was so big that it overflowed across the town. At the height of the tin boom in the 1870s, Chinese boarding houses, stores, cafes, peanut shops, wine shops, herbalists, opium dens and gambling shops competed for space in Tingha’s overcrowded town centre.

How big was big? That’s difficult to estimate. At the height of the boom, 2,500 people packed into Tingha and its immediate surrounds. The population of the broader Tingha mining district was 7,000 of whom 2,000 were Chinese. My best guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Tingha itself had perhaps 500 Chinese residents, the remaining Chinese visiting as needs demanded.

Chinese celebrations were both noisy and colourful. One year, a huge paper marquee was imported from China and erected in the vicinity of the main joss house. It housed displays of various gods and devils and of humans being punished for their sins.

The display remained open for a week. On the seventh day amidst much ceremony, it was set alight. As it burned, fire crackers exploded; there was much gaiety until the whole structure was reduced to ash.

As the mines declined, people left, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Yet many Chinese lingered, leaving their imprint. That is why stores in so many towns near the tin belt carried Chinese names, names that linger to this day; Hong Yuen (Inverell), Kwong Sing (Glen Innes and Bundarra), Hong Sing (Stanthorpe) and Wing Hing Long (Tingha).

When Harry Fay died in Inverell in August 2012, the Northern Daily Leader spoke of his connection with Inverell's iconic Hong Yuen department store. After taking over the store in 1970 that his grandfather had run for sixty years, the paper said, Mr Fay had carried on the family tradition of honesty, quality service and community spirit. That’s not a bad epitaph.

In Tingha itself, the Wing Hing Long store survives as a museum,  preserving one aspect of Tingha's colourful Chinese past.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New England representatives in the new NSW Berejiklian-Barilaro Government

Earlier in the month, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced her new ministerial line-up. You will find the full list here. I thought that it might be helpful if I provided you with a list of those selected from the broader New England. They represent key targets if we are to argue for new approaches within New England.

Ministers
  • Melinda Pavey, National Party, Member for Oxley, Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight
  • Adam Marshall, National Party, Member for the Northern Tablelands, Minister for Tourism and Major Events and Assistant Minister for Skills
  • Sarah Mitchell. National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Assistant Minister for Education
Parliamentary Office Holders
  • Trevor Khan, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Deputy President and Chair of Committees
  • Thomas George, National Party, Member for Lismore, Deputy Speaker
  • Andrew Fraser, National Party, Member for Coffs Harbour, Assistant Speaker
Parliamentary Secretaries
  • Kevin Anderson, National Party, Member for Tamworth, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Roads and Transport
  • Rick Colless, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resources and Western NSW
  • Catherine Cusack, Liberal Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Education and the Hunter
  • Ben Franklin, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy and Northern NSW
  • Chris Gulaptis, National Party, Member for Clarence, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Planning
  • Scot MacDonald, Liberal Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and the Central Coast
  • Leslie Williams, National party, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The work of New England photographer Joshua Smith

Resuming posting after the new year, New England photographer Joshua (Josh) Smith comes from Narrabri on the Liverpool Plains. He describes his work in this way:
"My goal is to tell the story of Australian farmers, who are the best and most sustainable in the world. Through my photography, showing the scale and beauty of what they do with our land."
As you will see from this example, his work is quite striking.


I hadn't seen any of his work until Canon Australia ran a special feature on it. The colour and composition struck an immediate chord, further illustrating the colours of New England.  This second photo is called Inbound to Wee Waa. I'm sure that you will see why I like him.