Saturday, December 29, 2007

Anthrax outbreak near Scone, Upper Hunter

I was struck by a report (and here) that there had been an anthrax outbreak in the Upper Hunter, killing a number of cattle. I did not know that anthrax is a relatively common occurrence, with an anthrax belt from Victoria along the Western Slope to about Moree.

The outbreak in the Upper Hunter is unusual since this is not a known anthrax area, with the last reported outbreak in the 1940s. However, anthrax can survive dormant in soil for very long periods.

In the latest case, it seems possible that the recent drought breaking rains exposed the bacteria.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Season's greetings to all the New England diaspora

I still have some part completed posts to bring up, but it is now Christmas eve. If I wait until all the back posts are complete it will be past Christmas. So I will run this post now and bring the others up over the break.

This blog began back in April 2006. Since then I have written some 224 posts on New England issues. I hope that I have played a small part in raising awareness on New England issues and in helping to keep the million or so - no one knows exactly how many there are - New England expats in touch with home.

I am looking forward to 2008. My feeling is that the blog is finally starting to play a useful role.

I wish all New Englanders everywhere the best for Christmas and the new year. May 2008 be a great year for all of us.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Life and Circuses

Photo: Gordon Smith, grave of Mary Ashton, Hanging Rock.

To quote Gordon's post:

I hadn't realised that the hamlet of Hanging Rock holds a link to a well known Australian Circus. Ashton's Circus still tours the country, but here at Hanging Rock, lies the grave of Mary Ashton, the young wife of circus founder James Ashton. She died in 1852, just days after giving birth to a daughter - the baby died a few months later. At that time Hanging Rock was a hive of activity due to its gold mining activities. It must have been a sizeable place as the circus performed over a period of 14 nights.

As a child I used to dream of running away to join a circus. It was one of those silly dreams, my hand-eye coordination is dreadful and I have no feel for heights. Still, it shows the the romance of the circus.

Circuses such as Wirth's and Ashton's toured on a regular basis, playing in big towns and small. This was a world of excitement and romance. Small kids would gather around as the tent went up, thinking how to persuade their parents to take them.

There is so much more entertainment today, but the romance lingers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

New England's Universities - Academic Standards, Admission Marks and Competitive Strategies

I see from the Newcastle Herald (21 December) that the University of Newcastle's academic senate has expressed concern about the impact of lowering 2007 academic entrance requirements.

By way of background, at the start of 2007 the University reduced the UAI entry point cut-offs for entry by an average of 5.78 per cent in order to increase student numbers. This led to an 22.8 per cent increase in the number of offers made to students.

Without being fully aware of all the dynamics, I am inclined to share the senate's concern.

Each of New England's universities faces a different market problem. In my view, each has to aim for quality rather than quantity.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New England Australia Film - entry page

Photo: Christopher Horsey, Adam Garcia, Matt Lee and Lee McDonald in Fox Searchlight's Bootmen (and here, here), a New England film released in Australia October 2000.

One of the difficulties we face in not having our own New England Government is that there is no mechanism to promote the film industry in New England.

In saying this, I am not saying that New England can have its own unique film industry. That would be just plain silly at a time when the Australian film industry as a whole is still struggling to establish a viable commercial identity. However, a New England Government could do two things.

First, it could facilitate film making, including the use of New England locations. That way, we get at least a small slice of the pie.

Secondly, it could ensure that New England people at least have some access to visual material set in or about their own area. This is totally lacking at the present time. New Englanders have no idea as to what films have in fact been made in their own backyard.

As a first step in addressing this gap, I am establishing this page as an entry page for posts about New England films.

The Films

1949. Sons of Mathew. This Charles Chauvel film was filmed mainly in South East Queensland but combines the history of two adjacent areas. Entry point to the posts here.

1953. Captain Thunderbolt. The Cecill Holmes film Captain Thunderbolt is about the life of the legendary bushranger. It was shot in and around Armidale and Uralla with a cast including Grant Taylor and Bud Tingwell. Post here.

1957. Smiley. Filmed at Gundy in the Hunter Valley, Smiley is a classic Australian children's film about a mischievous boy living in the small Australian country town of Murrumbilla. Always getting into pranks, Smiley wants a bike. This he finally gets, but with many misadventures along the way. The film's cast includes Ralph Richardson, John McCallum, Chips Rafferty and Bud Tingwell, with Colin Petersen as Smiley.
1957. The Shiralee. Filmed at Gundy in the Hunter Valley and based on the novel by D'Arcy Niland, The Shiralee tells the story of a man and his daughter. When Jim Macauley (Peter Finch) finds his wife with another man, he takes their young daughter (Dana Wilson) and hits the road. With a young child as his responsibility, he finds he can't be quite the fancy-free wanderer that he had been. Nominated for two BAFTA awards, the film has become another Australian classic.

1958. Smiley Gets a Gun. Again filmed at Gundy in the Hunter Valley, sequel to Smiley (1957).

1968. Koya No Toseinin (The Drifting Avenger). Filmed on location at Nundle, this Japanese western starred Ken Takakura, the Clint Eastwood of Japanese film., in search of revenge for his murdered family. The movie was apparently never released in Australia.

2007. Streetsweeper. Set in Newcastle and directed by Neil Mansfield, this film explores the beauty and ugliness of city street streets through the eyes of a "a loner who finds poetry in the ordinary", played by actor and co-writer Marin Mimica. Mimica is the only actor. All others are pedestrians who become unwittingly involved in the streetsweeper's journey.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why I remain a New England New Stater 8 - the electricity asset grab

Note to readers: This post is one in a series using personal examples to illustrate why I continue to support both agitation for New England self-government and self-government itself. Agitation, because its very existence forces forces the Sydney Government to consider New England interests. Self-government, because there are some things that we cannot achieve without this.

The Sydney media has been full of the Sydney Government's plans to privatise the NSW electricity system. I have very mixed feelings on this one. I suspect that it is both inevitable and desirable. But it also rubs raw a past wound.

Back in the nineteen nineties, electricity distribution was controlled by country councils, some of whom also had generation capacity. The Sydney Government put forward a reform program for the electricity sector.

At the time I was running a consulting business out of Armidale. I was also chair of Tourism Armidale. In the first role, I was interested in the electricity sector as a possible consulting marketplace. In the second, I was interested in the New England County Council as a source of tourism funding.

As part of market scoping I looked at the official Government material on the proposed reforms. Essentially these involved folding the distributors into larger corporatised entities. Two justifications were advanced.

The first lay in the national restructuring of the sector, including introduction of competition and the creation of a national electricity marketplace. This, it was argued, required larger entities. Smaller entities could not compete.

The second justification lay in enhanced efficiency. According to the NSW Treasury, the existing country councils were not subject to proper disciplines to earn returns on the assets they held. So consolidation and corporatisation would increase revenues while benefiting consumers.

Now I had problems with these arguments at the time. The New England County Council was owned by local councils and was formed through the acquisition of Council assets. Its growth had been funded by surpluses plus borrowings. The State had controlled and guaranteed those borrowings, but to my knowledge had never contributed a dollar of funding.

As part of its development, the NECC had built its own small hydro power station. This had been funded by its consumers through higher electricity prices, significantly higher than the state average. This investment had reached pay-back time. The NECC was quite profitable, generating funds for local projects, while its electricity prices were some of the cheapest in NSW.

Local concerns across NSW about the plans, about the Sydney Government's grab for assets, were ignored. So what happened?

The first thing that the Sydney Government did was to increase borrowing against the assets, thus generating cash for its own purposes. The second thing was to strip money out through dividends, creating more cash for its own purposes.

In the drive for efficiency, many jobs were cut, in cases such as linemen over cut, creating later shortages that impeded efficiency. There was also underinvestment.

Did consumers benefit? This is hard work out accurately. Certainly bigger industrial users did.

Did the original local owners of the assets benefit? Almost certainly not in the case of NECC. The area lost higher level jobs, plus access to the surplus that had been available to fund local activities. I also suspect that local electricity prices have increased more than the state average simply because they were low to begin with.

Would self-government have prevented this asset grab? Perhaps not, because the Sydney Government's approach was in part part of a broader trend in public administration. But we would have had a much higher certainty of local benefit since funds would have been spent within New England, not sucked away to help fund the inefficiencies of the broader NSW system.

Return to introductory post

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Federal Election 2007 - Final results for New England's seats

I am now in the process of uploading the final election results for the various New England seats on my election post. This will take a little while.

Once I have completed the task, I will prepare some consolidated tables to provide an overview.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Congratulations to UNE's (and Kempsey's) Phil Schubert

I see from the Macleay Argus (11 December) that Phil Schubert has graduated from UNE with a combined bachelor's degree in arts and law.

Phil studied at the now defunct Collombatti Rail Primary school and then Kempsey High. He gained early admission to UNE through the Principal's admission scheme.

I mention Phil because he combined study with extra-curricula life, something that I as a UNE alumnus value highly. Phil was President of the Students' Association in 2004, a member of the University Council 2004-2206, and recipient of the New England Award for services to the university community.

My congratulation to Phil and his family including dad Graeme and grand mum Nettie.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Newcastle's Vibrant Cultural Life - entry page

Photo: Central Newcastle viewed from Stockton across the Hunter River.

Newcastle, New England's biggest city with a population of 289,000, lies towards the southern edge of New England, 153k (2 hours) north of Sydney, 394k (4 hours 50 minutes) south of Armidale.

Newcastle is often seen just as an industrial city - Australia's original steel city - and increasingly as simply an outer part of the ever expanding Greater Sydney metro conglomeration.

Newcastle is indeed an industrial city. This is an integral part of its culture, one that distinguishes the city from other parts of New England. But part of Sydney it is not. Newcastle always has been and remains its own very distinct entity.

It is hard for those living in Sydney to see and recognise Newcastle's distinguishing features.

Sydney and Newcastle have little in common in terms of history or culture. The Sydney media carries few Newcastle stories. Few in Sydney think of Newcastle as having a distinct cultural life of its own. Yet the city does, one arguably different from any other part of Australia.

I say this with a degree of frustration because, living in Sydney as I now do as part of the New England diaspora, I find it difficult to keep across Newcastle activities.

To fully understand a place like Newcastle you need to live there, or at least visit regularly. I do not and presently cannot. Still, accepting that I will make errors, I am establishing this page to provide an entry point for future posts about Newcastle cultural life.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Clarence Valley Protest, North Coast Voices, and the election results

I think that Judith Melville (A Clarence Valley Protest) is entitled to a degree of satisfaction from the Federal election results, as is the Labor team from North Coast Voices.

Dealing with Judith first, the ALP has promised not to dam the Clarence, so now with three North Coast ALP members the river appears safe. A warning to Judith, though, from a seasoned campaigner.

This issue won't go away. New England remains the wettest part of NSW. If the climate change projections are even in part right, expect further water fights within the next ten years, possibly within five or less years.

North Coast Voices campaigned hard for the ALP. Here I have been impressed by the way since the election that the blog has been prepared to take a critical view of specific actions of the new Government.

I have written a lot on New England problems. Many parts of coastal New England are caught in a poverty trap. I look forward to NCV campaigning on their behalf.

Monday, December 03, 2007

New England Tablelands, Western Slopes and Plains - events calendar January 2008

For the benefit of those thinking about visiting New England's Big Sky Country - the Tablelands, Western Slopes and Plains - in January, a list of local events follows.

1 January – Wallabadah New Year’s Day Races

A traditional bush racing experience, held every year since 1852. Wallabadah Racecourse Phone Gerard Smith 0428 924 880.

1 January – Inverell Cup Race Meeting.

Inverell Race Course. Phone 02 6722 1139.

6 January – Jellicoe Park Markets, Moree

There’s something for everyone at the markets with indoor & outdoor plants & seedlings, fresh fruit & vegetable produce, home baked goods, clothing, handcrafted furniture, poultry, a selection of food stalls, craft & novelty items, beading supplies, jewellery & crystals and much more. Phone Tourism Moree 02 6757 3350.

13 January – National Tomato Day Festival, Gunnedah

The Bowling Club, Conadilly Street. This annual celebration of the tomato is an institution for backyard growers, who compete for the glory of such titles as biggest, reddest, tastiest and oddest–shaped tomato. The contest, held annually since 1978, developed from an argument between two locals over who had grown the biggest tomatoes in their backyard. Phone John Campbell on 02 6742 0400.

13 January – Tamworth Rotary Cup Race Meeting

Eight race program at the Tamworth Racecourse, with funds donated to charity. Phone Bruce Kneipp 02 67661666.

13 January – Quota Monthly Markets, Quirindi

Roselea Park. Phone 02 6747 1490.

12 January – Glen Innes Horse Racing

Glen Innes Racecourse. Six program meet, live band, BBQ and bar. Phone Brendan Campbell 02 6732 4503.

18 January – Somerton Cup, Gunnedah

11am at Riverside Racecourse, Oxley Highway. Family friendly with all you could need for a great day at the races. Contact Debbie Watson or Rod Dugan 02 6742 0093.

18 to 29 January – Lamb and Potato Festival, Guyra

This annual festival celebrates the local produce and serves up lamb and potatoes in as many ways as you can imagine. There’s also craft and variety stalls, great food, non–stop entertainment, wine tasting, antique machinery displays, talent search and sheep shearing demos. Phone Guyra Council 02 6779 1577.

17 to 19 January – Walcha Campdraft and Rodeo

Contact Karen O’Brien 0428 840 425.

19 January – Gunnedah Country Markets

From 8.30am at Wolseley Park, Conadilly Street, Gunnedah. Entry is Free. There will be a wonderful choice of goods to be purchased, from delicious cakes/jams, pottery and craft to second hand goods/books/clothes. All are welcome. Stall fee is $15.00. Contact 02 6742 2565.

19 to 28 January – Telstra Country Music Festival, Tamworth

A ten day celebration through one of the broadest and most exciting musical styles around. Visitors can expect to select from around 2,500 events representing Country Music. 70% of events are free, admission prices for other events vary, Check ahead for prices. Phone Tourism Tamworth 02 6767 5300.

19 January – Deepwater Horse Racing

Deepwater Racecourse, New England Highway. Contact Simone Sloman 02 6734 5076.

20 January – Sapphire City Markets

Campbell Park, Inverell Contact: 02 6722 2067.

20 January – Toyota Star Maker Tamworth

Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre. Australia's premier and most prestigious country music talent search. See the nation's top twenty best new talent perform. Phone 02 6762 2399.

22 January – Australian Bush Laureate Awards, Tamworth

These awards recognise excellence in published and recorded Australian bush poetry. Phone 02 6755 4300 or visit

21 to 23 January – ABCRA Junior National Finals Rodeo, Tamworth

Tamworth Showgrounds Indoor Arena. The best junior cowboys and cowgirls take centre stage at the ABCRA's Junior National Finals Rodeo, vying for National Title honours, competing in Campdrafting (Australia's only truly unique horse sport) Bull Riding, Steer Riding Barrel Racing and Breakaway Roping.

24 to 26 January – ABCRA National Finals Rodeo

Tamworth Showground Indoor Arena – Showground Road, Tamworth. Australia's premier rodeo event. Watch the top 15 competitors in each event – Bull Riding, Saddle Bronc, Bareback, Team Roping, Rope and Tie, Steer Wrestling and the three Ladies events, Barrel Racing, Breakaway Roping and Steer Undecorating battle it out over three nights of action packed entertainment. Great live country music artists perform each night following the rodeo performance. Phone Diane Hallam 02 6766 5863 or visit

26 to 27 January – New England Sheep Dog Trials, Tenterfield

For more information, contact Patti Ainsworth, Tourism Manager at the Tenterfield Visitors Centre on 02 6736 1082.

26 January – Annual Duck Race, Tamworth

Peel River, Tamworth. See more than 1500 ducks race down the Peel River. Phone Tourism Tamworth 02 6767 5300.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Gunnedah

Events include annual a raft race, pet parade, triathlon event, trivia night and Australia Day Gala. Phone Gunnedah Visitor Information 02 6740 2230.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Tenterfield

Phone Karen Stewart 02 6736 1744.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Gwydir Shire

Phone Gwydir Shire Council 02 6724 2000.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Glen Innes

At the historic Glen Innes Showground. Phone Lisa Reed 02 6732 5967.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Moree

Family fun day held in Kirkby Park, Moree. Phone Tourism Moree 02 6757 3350.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Narrabri, Wee Waa and Boggabri

Phone Narrabri Tourism 02 6799 6760.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Armidale

Phone Armidale Tourism 1800 627 736.

26 January – Australia Day Celebrations, Inverell Pioneer Village.

Old Time Sports, Musical Entertainment, Bush Poetry, Citizen of the Year Announcements, Displays, Food and Drink Stalls. Commencing at 4pm. Phone 02 6722 1717.

26 January – Wallabadah Aussie Bush Fair

This festival began in 2006 and due to its success is now an annual event. Browse the stalls, join in the fun and games, stroll the First Fleet Memorial Gardens or simply sit back and relax to the live bands. A great day for the family! Contact Tania Hartigan 02 6746 5606.

27 January – 35th Toyota Golden Guitar Awards

Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre – Greg Norman Drive. The Australian Country Music Industry's night of nights, with the annual presentation of Golden Guitars recognising recording excellence. A gala concert featuring the cream of country music artists. Tickets from Tourism Tamworth 02 6767 5300.

28 January – World Youth Day, Bingara

World Youth Day is a world–wide gathering of Catholic youth from all over the globe. Although it is a gathering of Catholic youth, all youth are most welcome. Up to 2,000 people are expected in Bingara to attend the celebrations. Phone Bingara Visitor Information 02 6724 0066.