Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring

Judith Wright is probably New England's best known poet.

Her poetry, especially her earlier writing, has always resonated with me because it says something to me about the world in which I grew up, a world still deeply imprinted on my soul. I thought therefore that it might be fun to take some of her poems and use them as a window to look at different aspects of New England.

I suspect that many Australians still think of Australia's traditional Aborigines as simple hunter gatherers living in an ancient and unchanging landscape, although there is growing recognition of the complexity of their social and spiritual life. In fact, within the limits set by their tools and available food supplies they were also sophisticated builders.

The Bora Rings of New England and south-eastern Queensland are examples. As Sandra Bowdler pointed out, these earthen rings of eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland are significant ritual structures and are probably unique in the world as hunter gatherer constructions of known function which constitute notable monuments in the landscape.

Sandra goes on to describe them:


The earthen rings known as “Bora” are usually part of a complex of two or three rings, linked by a path or paths. They were used in what Sutton calls “man-making ceremonies”, that is, male initiation ceremonies. In the literature, we find that the large ring in the complex was usually part of a relatively public ceremony, with women looking on; the smaller ring was the site of the major initiation rites, for initiated men and initiates only. The purpose of the third ring is not as well documented in the literature. It has been suggested that these are women’s rings, but it is not clear to me that this was always the case. Bora sites were often (always?) associated with carved trees.
The average size of a large ring is about 25 - 30 m across, and a small ring 10-12 m. There is a wide range of variation however. The earth is mounded up to a height of c.25-50 cms. Usually there is a path, often to the south-west from the large ring, connecting to smaller ring.

Judith's poem starts by painting a picture of a Bora Ring now alone in the landscape:


The song is gone, the dance
is secret with the dancers in the earth,
the ritual useless, and the tribal story
lost in an alien tale.

Only the grass stands up
to mark the dancing-ring, the apple gums
posture and mime a past corroboree,
murmurs a broken chant

The hunter is gone, the spear
is splintered underground, the painted bodies
a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.
The nomad feet are still

The rider halts, feeling that the ghosts are still present.


Only the rider's heart
halts at sightless shadow, an unsaid word
that fastens in the blood the ancient curse,
the fear as old as Cain.

It is a wonderfully evocative poem. But it is also a very European perspective with its emphasis on the vanished Aboriginal past. In fact, that past was still present.

I am not sure when Judith wrote this poem, but at the time there were almost certainly New England Aborigines alive who had passed through traditional initiation at one of the Bora sites. Further, the knowledge of the sites and their significance has continued to be passed on.

Here we can compare Judith's words with the much later 1996/1997 Aboriginal description of a site near Bellbrook quoted by Sandra:

“This site is known as the passing out ground for initiates of the Thungetti tribe. It is one of several initiation Grounds in the Bellbrook area where different stages of the Bora ceremony took place. As such, it is still highly sacred to the Aboriginal elders residing at Bellbrook Mission, and is considered to be one of the most important of the initiation sites in the area”

Entry Page for Posts about Judith Wright's poetry

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Aeropelican - Anthony Lawrence's poem

On 15 January I outlined the history of the New England airline Aeropelican originally established to fly between Sydney and Belmont, Newcastle. I mentioned that I had flown this route, one of the most beautiful in Australia.

I see that the New England born poet Anthony Lawrence has written a poem, Aeropelican, that describes this flight. The plane takes off:

All seats on this fourteen-seater have windows,
the portside view a brief slideshow
of Sydney's northern beaches and beyond --
Broken Bay with its sea-going lion's headscrubbed green with altitude,
then to an entrance of lakes,
where silt makes a dye-fed film of arteries threatening closure

The plane comes in to land:

The rest of the flight is unfocussed
as a Newcastle skyline when Newcastle smoked.
The landing, like takeoff, is all loom and fade.
Coming in over Belmont, three boys stand by their rods
to wave from the end of a breaking wall.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines

The predominant role of anthropologists from 1929 to 1945 (and indeed, to the present) in interpreting Aboriginal society, analysing its ills, and in recommending ameliorative policies, is remarkable. In fact, the Canadian historian K.A. MacKirdy commented in 1966 that ‘[Australian] historians generally have been content to leave the study of Aborigines to the anthropologists and then to ignore the anthropologists’! Adam Shoemaker

Any anthropologist who has worked on Native Title claims, or similar activity, in south eastern Australia is likely to have come across the anger of indigenous groups confronted with "academic" interpretations of their rights interests, customs and traditions which differ from their own view of these important aspects of their lives ....

Indigenous groups, not surprisingly , are highly indignant about having their claims, and the primarily oral traditions on which they are based, judged against the writings of the initial colonisers themselves and on occasion react even more strongly against later "academic" interpretations of territorial interests best epitomised perhaps by the work of Norman Tindale. Rod Hagen

I was browsing around to try to find out more on New England's Bundjalung people when I came across a reference to the papers of Malcolm Calley. This took my mind back.

Back in 1966 while I was doing my honours thesis on the economic structure of Aboriginal life in Northern New South Wales at the time of European intrusion I read Malcolm Calley's PhD thesis on Bandjalang Social Organisation with fascination.

My thesis was a study in ethnohistory, using historical records to try to understand the economic structure of aboriginal life. These were necessarily written from a European perspective. In writing I was also influenced by the conflict between Karl Polanyi and my cousin Cyril Belshaw on the applicability of economics to non-money using societies.

So while I was a member of Isabel McBryde's pioneer prehistory group at the University of New England, I was still writing very much from a European, anthropological and historical perspective. As an aside here, I was going to insert the link I had used before to a story about Isabel's work, but find that for some reason the Australian Archaeological Association has taken the page down. I must say that's a real nuisance.

At the time I was writing there was great suspicion among historians about the role of oral history and tradition as an evidence source. There was also a view that the Aborigines of Eastern Australia were too far removed from their tribal past for current memories to be a valid guide to traditional life.

To me, the striking thing about Malcolm's thesis was the way it demonstrated that oral tradition was still in fact worthy of study as a way of understanding past Aboriginal life.

The details I have on Malcolm's life are skimpy and I wish I could say more.

Malcolm John Chalmers Calley was born in Sydney around 1932. In 1955 he gained an M.A from Sydney University with a thesis ‘Aboriginal Pentecostalism', completing his PhD thesis in 1959. In the 1960s and 1970s he was a Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Queensland during which time wrote extensively about Indigenous Australians. He died in February 1983.

Malcolm's work with the Aborigines is typical of the important role that anthropologists as compared to historians played in academic Aboriginal research as well as the promotion of new views about Australia's indigenous peoples.

I can attest to this from my experience when I was doing my own limited work on the Aborigines over the period 1963 to 1966. All the academic writing I used came from anthropologists and, to a lesser extent, prehistorians.

I can also understand the Aboriginal position as summarised by Rod Hagen in the second of the introductory quotes. However, that quote also links to something that concerns me at a personal level, the nature of the interaction (at least as I perceive it) between the Aboriginal community and certain parts of the academic and intellectual elites in the broader Australian community.

There is no doubt that the treatment of Australia's Aboriginal people has been quite awful. This needs to be and is being addressed in research and writing. But it has led, again as I see it, to a kind of cringe on the part of certain researchers and writers that is adversely affecting both the subjects selected for study and the research itself. It is also leading to a negative response in parts of the Australian community that is equally distorting in the opposite direction. The net outcome is bad for all sides.

In saying this, I am not making a comment about political correctness, simply expressing a continuing practical frustration.

In writing about the history of New England I need to talk about the history of New England's Aboriginal peoples. I want to understand and express the sweep of New England Aboriginal life past and present. I cannot do so. The basic factual information is simply not there - or at least not easily accessible - because everything is being twisted by and to fit differing perceptions of Aboriginal-non Aboriginal relations.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Southern Cross University - Bundjalung Nation Mapping

In December a new project was launched at Southern Cross University intended to give indigenous communities a greater say on how their traditional lands are managed and preserving the wisdom of Elders.

The new project is a joint venture between the University, the Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Natural Resource Management Committee, Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, and Department of Environment and Conservation National Parks and Wildlife Division.

The project has seen the creation of a highly secured, user-friendly computer-based record keeping system through which communities can record and own their cultural knowledge. It is designed to be administered and controlled by indigenous communities, with important or significant information only able to be accessed by those persons delegated by the local Aboriginal community.

Communities can record oral, visual and written histories, photographs, films and any other kind of digital media about their cultural places and landscapes and file them on the database for the benefit of future generations.

“A few years ago I became extremely concerned that Indigenous cultural knowledge and traditions were not being recorded or passed on to the younger generation,” said Dr David Lloyd, senior lecturer in the School of Environmental Science and Management and cultural mapping project manager.

“It seemed this would be lost within a very short time if some real effort was not made to preserve it.“

After consultation with indigenous communities they decided to work cooperatively with us and use modern technology to record their ancient wisdom, heritage and cultural traditions.

“The first community we have worked closely with are the Aboriginal people of the Tweed-Byron region and we are now encouraging other communities to get involved.“

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sydney Government's Coastal Planning Strategies


New England's neglected inland. Photo Gordon Smith

With the release of the draft Mid North Coast strategy (story), the Sydney Government has now released strategies for the entire current NSW coastal strip. You can access all the strategies here.

Having looked at the strategies, there is something almost obscene about the way the Sydney Government is ignoring NSW outside the coastal strip. The whole focus is on directly controlling anticipated population growth along the coast, nothing about building population elsewhere.

Some facts first.

At the moment, the NSW population is around 6.8 million. Of this:

  • 4.1 million live in Sydney
  • over 166,000 live on the South Coast
  • 280,000 live in Illawarra
  • 300,000 live on the Central Coast
  • 515,000 live in the Lower Hunter
  • 330,000 live on the Mid North Coast as now defined by the Sydney Government
  • 228,000 live on the Far North Coast
  • leaving around 800,00 in the rest of the state.

Let's track forward. According to the Government's projections, in twenty five years:

  • Sydney's population is projected at 5.3 million, up 1.2 million or 29 per cent
  • the Central Coast population is projected at 226,000, up 60,000 or 36 per cent
  • the Illawarra population is projected at 328,00, up 48,000 or 17 per cent
  • the Central Coast population is projected at 370,000, up 70,000 or 21 per cent
  • the Lower Hunter population is projected at 675,000, up 160,000 or 31 per cent
  • the Mid North Coast is projected at 424,000, up 91,000 or 31 per cent
  • the Far North Coast is projected at 289,000, up 61,000 or 26 per cent.

If we look at the totals, the Government is projecting a population increase in the coastal strip of 1.69 million, 1.2 million (71 per cent) in Sydney. If my maths is correct, this equates to an average annual increase in the coastal strip of 68,000, of which 48,000 will be in Sydney. The population increase in the New England coastal strip is projected at 312,000, around 13,000 per annum.

All the various strategies focus on controlling and accommodating the population growth as projected. The various commentaries on the strategies, positive and negative, focus on the adequacy of the proposed response to that population growth.

Having set the scene, let me go to my concerns.

To begin with, is this population growth in fact likely?

Last financial year the NSW population increased by 59,000. This means that the projected population growth in the coastal strip of 68,000 requires a significant increase in the current total state population growth. It also seems to imply a very low, even negative, population growth in the rest of the state.

Leaving aside the rest of the current state for the moment, NSW as an entity is presently losing people especially to Queensland through internal migration. These losses are offset by new overseas arrivals.

Taking 2005-2006 as an example, NSW gained 40,492 from natural increase (births minus deaths) , lost 23,970 through internal migration, but gained 42,231 from overseas migration for a net gain of 58,753.

On this simple maths, achievement of an average annual 68,000 population growth requires an extra 9,000 per annum to come from some combination of increased natural growth, increased overseas migration or reduced internal migration. This is possible but far from certain.

There is, however, another way the coastal strip population projections might be achieved in statistical terms, and that is through internal migration from inland NSW to the coastal strip. This appears to be implied in some of the wording in the strategy documents. There is no way of checking this because the Sydney Government does not have an equivalent strategy document for the rest of the state.

I think that this apparent implicit assumption is a real problem.

Despite discussions generated by the drought, inland NSW already has the infrastructure required for a larger population. As a simple example, Armidale's current water supply could support an urban population of 75,000, three times the city's current population. Yet we have nothing that looks seriously at inland development.

This links to a broader problem with the planning process, one that that I have already referred to in the context of the Mid-North Coast Strategy, the absence of any real focus in the strategies on economic development itself. There is no certainty that required jobs will be created in required areas as assumed.

This links to another issue, the way in which a strategy or planning process carried out in isolation from other critical variables can actually lead to distorted outcomes.

None of the planning documentation that I have seen actually discusses the various demographic drivers likely to affect population outcomes, nor are there any discussions of alternative scenarios. None of the documentation looks at issues associated with changing population composition that might flow from different combinations of outcomes from the demographic variables. There is little discussion about the flow on effects of the various planning assumptions.

The difficulty in all this is that specific investment decisions based on flawed planning then create new self-fulfilling but sub-optimal outcomes.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sydney Government releases draft Mid North Coast strategy



Photo: South West Rocks, tourist destination, Mid North Coast

The Sydney Government has released its 25 year strategy for the Mid North Coast. The Sydney Morning Herald story on the strategy can be found here, the strategy itself here.

In a series of earlier posts dealing with the Government's ten year plan (here 1, here 2, here 3) I set out the needs that the Plan needed to meet, concluding that it did not meet those needs. On the surface, and I still have to do the detailed analysis, this strategy suffers from similar weaknesses.

The strategy postulates that the population of the Mid North Coast will rise by 91,000 new residents to be accommodated in 58,400 new dwellings. Lack of jobs is already a core problem on the Mid North Coast. So you would expect that job creation would be a key element in the strategy. It is not.

The strategy assumes that a certain proportion of jobs will come from extra employment required to service the increased population. That leaves a significant gap that the strategy does not address in any way other than some comments on the need to increase industrial land. Hardly a solution.

Another gripe. When did Grafton become part of the Mid North Coast? It is and always has been part of the Northern Rivers. I do wish that the Sydney Government would stop fiddling with regional boundaries for its own administrative convenience.

Guyra - the Birds of Bradley Street



Photo: The Birds of Bradley Street

I have just done an update on the Regional Living Australia blog on an earlier story I ran on the Birds of Bradley Street, a rather remarkable group of women including tree changers who between them have transformed the Northern Tableland's town of Guyra.

The update and earlier story (link included in update) are worth reading as an example of the way in which local activism can have positive effects to the benefit of the entire community.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Aeropelican - a classic New England airline case

Apology: My apologies to anybody whoreceived multiple feeds on this one. I ran into some editing problems.

Photo: Aeropelican Metro 23 19 passengers

In an earlier post I mentioned that Newcastle airline Aeropelican was to begin services between Inverell and Sydney, with connections also to Newcastle at the weekend.

Now I see from the Northern Daily Leader (Tamworth) that Aeropelican is thinking of establishing a service linking Tamworth, Armidale and Newcastle.

The Aeropelican story is a fascinating one that is in many ways typical of the story of civil aviation in New England, although this story is perhaps most remarkable in that Aeropelican came back.

In 1957 the late Keith Hilder operated a DH90 aircraft out of Broadmeadow aerodrome, an inner suburb of Newcastle, which was also the home of the Royal Newcastle Aero Club.

Following advice to the Club from the Australian Department of Civil Aviation that the Broadmeadow field was to close, a search began for alternative sites, with a final choice between Rutherford and Pelican.

The Club chose to go with Rutherford, but Keith decided to develop an alternative site at Pelican around 20k south of Newcastle that he hoped might be used as a base for Sydney-Newcastle air services in competition with the existing service using the RAAF base at Williamtown to the north of Newcastle.

The 27 acre site lay between the sea and Lake Macquarie, was swampy and covered with tea trees, cabbage palms and general scrub. In 1959 after a series of complicated moves Keith obtained a 25 year lease over the site and began development. The land was cleared, drains dug, and thousands of tons of chitter from the nearby mines brought in to provide fill. Soil was then added and grass planted, forming a grass strip.

While all this was in process, Keith applied for a Flying School and Air Charter Licence. After long delays, this was finally granted in July 1962. With flying training and charter operations underway, Keith turned his attention to obtaining a license to operate scheduled services between Sydney and Pelican. Again there were long delays, with a full license not being granted until June 1971.

Services began using an 8-passenger Cessna 402 aircraft. Then in April, 1976 Aeropelican introduced its first DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 100 aircraft to its fleet of Cessna 402's. However, Keith Hilder never really saw the DHC-6 in scheduled operation, as he was admitted to hospital 2 days after the arrival of the aircraft, dieing 3 June, 1976.

The Hilder family continued developing both the Flying Training School and the scheduled air service. The first DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft proved ideally suited to the short sector high density flying demanded by the route, with a second Twin Otter purchased in 1977 and a third in 1978.

In 1980 the Hilder family decided to sell the entire Aeropelican operation to Cootamundra based Masling Airlines, then owned and operated by Jack Masling, another pioneer of regional aviation. Then in August 1981 Aeropelican was acquired by a company jointly owned by TNT and News Limited, ultimately becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Ansett Australia.

To this point Aeropolican's history, growth followed by merger or sale, had conformed to the traditional pattern of New England's airlines. However, it was to avoid the final stage, disappearance.

Aeropelican operated in a specific market niche and Ansett maintained it as a separate identified operation. Following the collapse of Ansett, Aeropelican was placed into voluntary administration. It was then sold in April 2002 to International Air Parts Pty Ltd, allowing the company to resume its independence as a specialist niche operator between Newcastle and Sydney, although flights now go to Williamtown rather than the old pelican field.

This Newcastle-Sydney route, one that I have flown in fact landing at the Pelican strip, is one of the most visually beautiful in Australia.

Now Aeropelican is spreading its independent wings, hopefully avoiding the problems that others have experienced.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"the king" passes - Death of David Armstrong


Photo: Southern Lawns, Booloominbah, University of New England. David Armstrong requested that his ashes be scattered here or at the adjoining deer park.

The end of 2006 saw the death of David Armstrong, one of New England's more colourful characters whose life was marked by passion and controversy as well as great achievement. I did not really know David, so the story that follows is drawn especially from Roy Masters' obit in the SMH (11 January).

David Patrick Armstrong was born in Bingara in 1941, son of Gywdir and Joan and grew up there with his parents and younger brothers Dennis and Ron. Roy records that while Dad Gwydir was named after the river, he was better known by the nickname "Ceidle", the name of the Lebanese haberdasher who visited Bingara by horse drawn cart. Gwydir acquired this name because he used to chase after the cart and be rewarded with a biscuit.

David started at the University of New England as a student in 1959, probably one of the first students from Bingara, studying there until 1961. I have described the intensity of UNE campus life during the fifties and sixties in a number of posts on this and my personal blog - too many to list here. Certainly David enjoyed himself, acquiring the nickname "the king".

In 1962 David joined the University's Department of Continuing Education. Reflecting the interests of the University's founders as well as the passions of early staff, New England had established a strong track record in adult and continuing education.

David acquired this passion for adult education, a passion that was to continue for all his adult life. One of his innovations while at Armidale was the creation of a radio farm forum educating 600 Northern Tableland farmers through radio and weekly tutorials.

After five years at New England, David moved to Toronto in Canada to further his studies in adult education. Upon completion of his PhD, he was appointed in 1972 at age 30 as director of the Prahan College of Advanced Education in Melbourne.

He described Prahan as "run down" and claimed to have turned it around. Indeed he did, although Roy Masters refers somewhat tartly to David's "fondness for self-aggrandisement", his capacity for presenting himself as larger than life.

Some time during this earlier period David married Valmai and had two children, Mark and Sally. This marriage broke up. David remarried Virginia Henderson, who Roy notes became central to the most volatile periods in David's life.

Along with Don Chipp, Armstong and Henderson conceived the idea of the Australian Democrats, officially formed in 1977 at the Melbourne home of Sid Spindler. Virginia Henderson became the Party's first campaign director, while David Armstrong wrote Don Chpp's campaign speech and acted as his adviser.

In 1980 Virginia and David moved to Sydney as chief of the Australian Bicentennial Authority under the chairmanship of John Reid, also chair of James Hardy. This marked the start of a difficult period for David.

There were tensions between David and the Authority Board. In 1986 he was sacked by the Board; one reason given was that he spent to much time out of the country. Virginia and David's marriage broke up. Then in December 1987, twelve months after the couple separated, Virginia married John Reid. David was bitter, although he was overjoyed when he saw how much of his original program was retained in the Bicentenary program.

In 1987 David was appointed CEO of Community Aid Abroad, a position he held until 1992, more than quadrupling the organisation's annual budget. David then spent four years working for the University of Melbourne first as director of the University's International Office and then warden of its graduate centre, reversing the declining numbers of international students. This was followed by a period as CEO of St John of God Services Victoria and then a similar position with St Francis of Assisi Aged Care.

Eighteen months ago David had a stroke, restricting his activities. However, he and Virginia were reunited after she and John Reid divorced, spending his last Christmas with she and son Luke.

In his final letter returning to his New England roots, David wrote: "At a convenient time, the ashes should be scattered on the southern lawn of 'Booloominbah" or in the deer park."

Looking at David's career as a whole, the boy had come a long way from his Bingara roots. As Roy notes, while David's most public post - CEO of the Bicentenial Authority - was a failure, his major contributions to adult education and education, to politics and the community sector went largely unseen.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New England's Aborigines - Moree Success Story


Photo: Message from Moree, ABC TV

Earlier this week ABC TV had an inspirational short piece on the work of Dick Estens. This followed an earlier ABC documentary, Message from Moree.

The western New England town of Moree is the centre of a rich agricultural district. At least 17 per cent of the population of Moree Plains Shire is Aborginal.

There have been strong past divides between Europeans and Aborigines in Moree, with high Aboriginal unemployment (up to 65 per cent) and limited opportunities creating a viscious cycle of social deprivation.

Dick Estens, a local cotton grower, believed that the only way to overcome racial divides and Aboriginal social deprivation was by finding Aboriginal people jobs. Seven years ago he launched Aboriginal Employment Services in the face of great scepticism from both sides of the racial divide. Both the documentary and the later follow up story trace the outstanding success of Esten's work.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Newcastle's Aeropelican to fly to Inverell

I was pleased to see from the Inverell Times that Newcastle based Aeropelican will start services between Inverell and Sydney in February, replacing the services previously provided by Big Sky Express.

Weekday services will go direct, with weekend services via Newcastle.

Newcastle, the Lower Hunter & the Tillegra Dam

When I first heard that the NSW Government proposed to build a major dam in the Lower Hunter to meet the water needs of the Lower Hunter and the Central Coast I assumed that Newcastle and the Lower Hunter had a serious water problem, so I took it all on face value.

Today's Sydney Morning Herald carried a story suggesting in fact that the Lower Hunter did not have a problem, that Hunter Water had said previously that the dam was not needed in the immediate future. So now I was curious.

I went to the Hunter Water web site. Here I found that there were no water restrictions, that restrictions did not come into force until water storage reached 60 per cent as compared to a current level of 82.5 per cent. I also found that the main dams were over 90 per cent full.

So why, then, was the dam to be built? Here the site carries the official story. I must say that I found this unconvincing. Yes, the Central Coast has a problem. Why, then, are Hunter consumers being asked to pay a cost? I was left with the uncomfortable conclusion that the announcement was in fact a stunt to take attention away from the Milton Orkopoulos affair.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Transport Pioneers - The Robinson Family: a further note



Photo: Passenger vehicle used by Robinson Bros Motor Service, Kempsey.

As I dig into New England's past, I find it interesting that the influence of certain families keeps on recurring in particular sectors.

In earlier posts I spoke of the Robinsons and Virtues in the context of New England Airways and the development of civil aviation in New England and beyond (see stocktake on transport posts). Now reading Marie Neil's Valley of the Macleay (Wentworth Book, Sydney 1972 pp-79-80) I found out that the Robinson family's connection with New England actually began in the Macleay Valley.

Around 1859 George Robinson came to the Macleay Valley, soon after selecting land at Jerseyville in the Macleay delta downstream from Kempsey. He and his brother John ran a river boat service for some years (river transport was critical to Valley transport and communication) until the partnership was dissolved and George became a storekeeper at Jerseyville.

No less than four of George's sons were to become well-known in the early days of motor transport on the North Coast.

George A Robinson who was to go on to found New England Airways began conveying passengers in a sulky or buggy. In 1910 he began a charter service using a two cylinder Talbot car (and here) followed by a four cylinder Clement Bayard (here, in French I'm afraid) used to provide a twice weekly passenger service to Taree.

In 1911 George A acquired a vehicle capable of carrying ten to twelve passengers on the run and was joined in the venture by brother William T Robinson. George A was to move to Lismore and leave the partnership, although I am not sure of the exact chronology of events since Robinson Bros also (I think) operated out of Lismore.

William carried the business on, adding more vehicles and extending runs to Newcastle and Grafton before he too left the district, moving to Grafton where he later became mayor.

In addition to George and William, Walter and Albert Robinson also became involved in land transport, running early mail and passenger services between Kempsey and South West Rocks.

These early days of motor transport could be strenuous and adventurous. The often heavily laden cars travelled over unformed dirt roads that were often rough, dusty when dry, boggy when wet.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tamworth and the History of Country Music



Photo: Max Ellis and John Minson, "Mr Hoedown"

In a post I wrote on my personal blog about Australian Idol, I talked about the impact that Tamworth and Tamworth country music had had on the development of Jessica Mauboy.

At 14 Jessica's well-developed skills as a vocalist helped to secure first place in the Road to Tamworth competition, where Jess had the opportunity to meet local country legends: "Part of the prize was to go to the Tamworth Camerata Junior College, the music school. That was so fun. We got to meet Beccy Cole and Kasey Chambers. They just had a talk about how they developed through their music. I was really into that. It gave me confidence and made me love music more.”

The evolution of Tamworth as the national country music centre has played a significant role in developing Australian talent.

Tamworth Camerata (and here) is unique in Australia, and possibly the world, as the only recognised country music school for junior performers where they learn from the best in the business. It is widely acknowledged as a ‘feeder’ for the grown-up version - the CMAA Australian College of Country Music, as many Camerata graduates progress to college and further afield in the pursuit of their careers.

Following up this earlier story, I was pleased to find Max Ellis's site on the history of country music in Australia.

I will write fuller posts on the country music story later. For the moment, I simply wanted to note that Tamworth and country music sit at the intersection of several very different New England themes.

Max himself is the son of Ulrich Ellis, a significant figure in New England's history because of his role as Earle Page's political secretary, his political writing and his role with the New England New State Movement.

When Max began his country music development work, he was working for Tamworth radio station 2TM. Owned by Broadcast Amalgamated Ltd (BAL), 2TM was part of the New England Radio Network and played a key role in the early development of country music.

In doing so, it carried on a another theme in New England's history, the way in which the then locally owned media promoted the New England interest.

BAL itself is a very interesting story, one that I wrote up in part some years ago because my grandfather, David Drummond, was on the board and the board papers themselves form part of the Drummond holdings in the University of New England Archives.

Founded by the Higinbotham's, another of the pioneering New England media families, BAL grew from one radio station into a chain, then sponsored the formation of TV New England and East Coast TV. The board papers show very clearly the nature of the challenges faced in building and running a radio business in Regional Australia as compared to the metros because of the smaller populations involved. The also show the business acumen of Mr Higinbotham in defining solutions to meet those challenges.

Tamworth country music itself is an example of this. The launch of TV New England damaged 2TM's radio audience, leading Max Ellis (Max was then working for BAL) and the station to look for new promotional opportunities. Tamworth country music was one outcome.

This brings me to the final theme, one of great interest to me, the reasons why some communities develop, others do not. Here Tamworth has always been an interesting case study because of the way that community generated a series of new businesses. I explored this in another story on my personal blog, "A Town like Alice: development and creativity at community level."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Githabul People achieve Native title deal

A major native title deal has been agreed by the NSW Government giving the Githabul people joint control of 19 national parks and state forests in Northern New England.

This forms part of the biggest native title settlement struck on the eastern seaboard in terms of area and includes many picturesque NSW parks and the World-Heritage listed Border Ranges and Toonumbar national parks.

The Githabul's traditional territory covers more than 6,000 square km straddling the New England and Queensland borders around Mt Lindsay. The Queensland Government has opposed the claim and is not covered by the agreement.

I had some difficulty in working out the Githabul's exact territory simply because the on-line records are variable with multiple spellings for same language groups. AITSIS (IdE.14) records the language as Gidabal with the following alternative spellings: a-bool Giabal Gidabul Gidjoobal Gitabal Gomaingguru Kidabal Kidjabal Kit Kitabal Kitabool Kitapul Kitchebal Kittabool Kuttabal Kuttibal Kuttibul Noowidal Paiamba Kitabul Kuthabal.

I also have a problem because I am not sure of the relationships/territory/overlaps between the Githabul, Badjalang (AITSIS Id.E12: I have always said Bandjalong) and Gumbainggirr AITSIS Id.E07). As best I can work out:

  • The Badjalang are recorded at the following localities: Ballina; Baryugil; Clarence River; Coraki; Moonim; Rappville; Richmond River; Tabulam; Evans Head.
  • The Githabul are recorded at the following locations: Clarence River; Drake; Killarney; Logan River; Rathdowney; Richmond River; Spicer Gap; Tabulam; Tooloom; Unumgar; Urbenville; Woodenbong.
  • The Gumbainggirr lie to the south of the Badjalang and are recorded at the following locations: Bellingen; Coff Harbour; Glenreagh; Nambucca Heads; Nymboida River; One Tree Point; South Grafton; Urunga; Woolgoola.

I will provide more on this story once I get more details.