Thursday, December 31, 2009

New England Story - Leslie Hubert Holden and the DH 61 Giant Moth Canberra

Holden DH61 Armidale John Caling kindly sent me this photo taken by Leslie Henderson, his mother's step-brother and a keen amateur photographer.

John wrote:

Hi Jim,

The above attachment is a scan of a pic of a de Havilland DH61 Giant Moth taken at Armidale. I am afraid I do not know where or when. My Mum told me that this was the first passenger aircraft to land in Armidale. I do know that QANTAS purchased two of these aircraft but withdrew them from service in 1935 because of unreliability problems. These two aircraft operated out of Longreach so the one in the pic is obviously not from QANTAS.

The picture made me curious. If you look at the clothes, you can see it's quite early. Men's hats remained relatively constant. However, the women's and especially the girls' hats suggest late twenties or early thirties. So I started doing some digging.

The plane in question - VH-UHW - was purchased by Leslie Hubert Holden in 1928.

L H Holden was very much in the tradition of the early fliers well summarised in the song:     

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines.
They Go Up, Tiddly, Up, Up.
They Go Down, Tiddly, Down, Down.

According to Carl Bridge's entry In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Holden enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in May 1915 and went to Egypt as a motor driver. In December 1916, now in France, he was one of the first batch of 200 volunteers to train in England for the Australian Flying Corps.

Carl suggests that Holden's mechanical sense and his calm but adventurous nature made him a natural pilot and he quickly won his wings as a lieutenant. Flying a D.H.5 in No.2 Squadron, A.F.C., he saw the first Australian air action of the war over St Quentin on 2 October 1917.

Throughout the battle of Cambrai in November he strafed the enemy front line from a height of fifty feet (15 m); three of his machines were 'written off' under him. In one encounter, the famous von Richthofen fired at him from below; the bullets ripped up through the floor and tore his leggings. Holden nursed the badly damaged plane home, losing a wing on landing. His ability to return alive in wrecked aeroplanes earned him the nicknames of 'the homing pigeon' and 'Lucky Les'.

After returning to Australia in June 1919, he became Sydney manager of Holden's Motor Body Builders, the Adelaide company formed by his uncle H. J. Holden, with his son (Sir) Edward W. Holden. However, bitten by aviation bug and with financial support from friends, he bought a D.H.61 biplane in 1928 which he named Canberra.

Flying the Canberra, Holden operated charter flights from Mascot, Sydney. In April 1929, he was engaged by the Sydney Citizens' Relief Committee to fly to north-western Australia in search of (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm who had disappeared while flying to England. Holden found them on a mud-flat on the Glenelg River near the Kimberleys and returned a hero. However, when newspapers accused Kingsford Smith and Ulm of a publicity stunt, the Sydney committee refused to cover his expenses!

In 1926 gold was discovered at Wau in the then Australian mandated territory of New Guinea. A rush began. Attracted by the aviation opportunities, in September 1931 Holden and the Canberra made what was probably the first flight from Sydney to New Guinea to begin a successful air-freight business.  

Returning to the Armidale photo, if we look at the dates it must have been taken between 1928 and the September 1931 flight to New Guinea. My feeling is that the photo may actually have been taken on the flight to New Guinea.

In 1932, Holden returned to Sydney to purchase extra aircraft and to form Holden Air Transport.  Tragedy now intervened.

In September 1932 Holden joined a New England Airways plane in Sydney to fly to Brisbane. He was killed on Sunday 18 September 1932 when the New England Airways Puss Moth crashed near Byron Bay.

This was not quite the end of the story. In New Guinea, the locals raised 25,000 pounds to continue Holden Air Transport.

And what happened to the Canberra itself? On 2 November 1934, it hit a building in Rabaul and was destroyed by fire.


This story is drawn especially from Carl Bridge's entry on L H Holden in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. The Australian National Library has a number of photos of the Canberra. A fascinating picture of aviation in New Guinea at the time can be found here. You can see a Holden Air Transport badge featuring the Canberra here. The De Haviland archives have details of the fate of all DH planes. For posts on New England aviation including New England Airways click here.      

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Belshaw's World - Ampol, New States and Soccer

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  23 December 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I noted with pleasure the decision by Northern NSW Football to reintroduce our own state knockout cup. However, it carried my mind back to the past.

A while back, I was doing some research on the Walkley Awards.

Named after Sir William Walkley, the Walkleys are Australia's top journalism awards. My father-in-law, Jim North, was president of the Australian Journalists Association. The AJA founded the awards, and I just wanted to look at their history.

The research reminded me of a New England linkage and a possible explanation to something that has always puzzled me.

Born in New Zealand, Sir William founded what would become Ampol Petroleum.

While Ampol has faded from the scene now, it was one of Australia’s major petrol chains, proudly asserting its Australian ownership in opposition to the dominance of foreign oil companies.

Now how does this link to New England and to soccer?

In 1961, the New England New State Movement launched Operation Seventh State, a major fund raising campaign to support a new self government drive. I acted as an usher at the launch, wearing my first ever suit borrowed from my Uncle Jim.

Our target was to raise 100,000 pounds, a very large sum in those days. We were successful, leading to a very major campaign culminating in the 1967 self government vote.

As part of the campaign, the Movement decided to mount a major car drive on Sydney. The aim was to flood Sydney with thousands of demonstrators in the domain matched by press advertising. We did indeed do this.

Because it was a car drive and demonstration, the decision was also taken to swamp parking spots around the Domain even though this would incur fines.

The drive was organised with military precision by a team headed by General MacDonald from Wallabadah Station as marshal.

To get to Sydney for the demo, I decided to hitch-hike. Arriving at Maitland late in the afternoon, I realised that I was not going to make Sydney until late. I also had not arranged anywhere to stay.

Checking the train time tables, I found that there was an early morning train to Sydney. I decide to take this.

With that settled, I wandered down to Maitland’s main street and went to the pictures, spending the rest of the time in the Railway Station waiting room. Then, in Sydney, I shaved and washed at Central and on to the demo!

This was, in fact, my second New State demonstration.

I organised the first at the request of ABC Four Corners to provide them with some TV footage. They were doing a story on the New State Movement and needed visual material.

Hastily grabbing a dozen or so friends, we prepared placards and marched up Beardy Street shouting slogans in front of the cameras. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

So what's the linkage in all this with Ampol?

While we were asked not to talk about it, and no-one did, Walkley’s Ampol provided free petrol to cars participating in the New State Drive. As I remember it, the company also offered to pay the parking fines.

The answer to the thing that had puzzled me?

A little later, the Australian Soccer Federation acted to separate New England from NSW, creating a Northern NSW State League.

This survives to today. Only in soccer does New England have a state presence.

I never knew how this happened.

Now that I have read Sir William's ADB entry, I suspect that I have the answer. He was a major driver in the Australian Soccer Federation.

This is my second Christmas as an Express columnist.

Last year I had just started. Now I seem to have settled into it.

I know that some readers at least enjoy my ramblings. That’s why I continue.

To you and yours, I wish you a merry and safe Christmas and a great new year. Let’s see where 2010 takes us!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Belshaw's World - picture a place where the message mattered

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  16 December 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I have always been fascinated by the way people think.

Sometimes this has been useful. You cannot sell consulting services nor bring about effective change if you not understand the thoughts and feelings of those you are dealing with.

At other times, this fascination has been a dratted nuisance. When working professionally, fascination with the way people think may be useful, but if and only if it’s controlled. Become distracted, lose sight of the main objective, and things can crash and burn.

Pretty obviously, getting to understand the way people have thought in the past is important in writing history. It is also very hard to do because the present creates a sometimes unseen and often impenetrable barrier to that past.

Today we live in a world of what I call visual wallpaper. Images submerge us to the point that they blur; only the striking stand out and then only for a short while.

In these circumstances it is easy to forget just how recent this emphasis on the visual is.

The world's first illustrated weekly, the Illustrated London News, began in 1842. The first crude colour printing dates to 1843, the first photograph appeared in a newspaper in 1880. This is all very recent.

When visual images were rarer, they had far greater power.

Colour reproductions of contemporary French painters greatly influenced the Australian impressionists. The fact that the colours were in fact slightly wrong was neither here nor there.

I don’t know about you, but I now find the constant emphasis on the visual increasingly bland and boring.

The modern Government “policy” document - I put policy in inverted commas because many contain very little policy – with its generally pastel colours and obligatory photos – is instantly recognisable and just plain dull.

I had cause to look at one of these the other day. Stripped of its photos of happy people, design elements and multiple headings, the actual word count was about the length of this column.

This emphasis on the visual has begun to affect the way we think in a variety of ways.

To begin with, in a world of Photoshop and edited images, we no longer trust the visual in the way we used to. The photo that once was a photo is now a creation.

The process of distrust is slow but cumulative.

A month or so back I used a striking photo to illustrate a story. One of my readers pointed out that the photo had been Photoshopped. He was right.

In this case it didn’t matter to the story, but I was still cranky because I had failed to pick it up. It increased my distrust of the visual.

Don’t get me wrong, by the way. I actually like some elements of the emphasis on the visual because it provides new ways of explaining things. It’s just that, for the present at least, it’s becoming an increasing impediment to real thought.

I discussed some of this in an earlier column on the twittering of English.

In a professional sense, a lot of the work that I do requires me to go to the heart of a matter whether it be a policy or a commercial issue. Time is money, and I need to do this as quickly as possible.

The need to strip out the visual is therefore an added nuisance.

I have absolutely no problem with the use of the visual to aid marketing or to provide entertainment. But when words themselves are the core explanatory vehicle, then visual wrapping can actually impede real understanding.

Maybe you think that I am being too harsh? Well, let me encourage you to try an experiment.

The next time you go to a presentation, a conference or information session where visual aids are being used, focus on the words.

Try to find one simple thing that you do not understand. Then ask the presenter to explain it. You will be surprised as to how often you throw them completely!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A happy Christmas to all

I am leaving today for Mt Hotham for a Drummond family Christmas. This is the first time for a long while that this side of the family has got together and I am looking forward to it.

I will not be able to post. When I get back after Christmas, I will bring the latest Express columns up and then resume normal posting.

I have enjoyed this blog over the year, even if posting has sometimes been a little irregular. I have also enjoyed the interaction with readers and fellow bloggers including GordonLynne and Paul. All three have led me to write posts, something important in maintaining a blog as a living animal.

I look forward to continuing and broadening interaction in the new year.

To all my readers, may you have a very happy and safe Christmas and a succesful new year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Northern NSW State Cup revived

One of the interesting side effects of our campaign for self-government for New England was a decision by the then Australian Soccer Federation to give us our own state soccer organisation. While the new state movement is presently quiet, Northern NSW Football has continued as its own state organisation. 

I see that Northern NSW Football has decided to introduce a State 'knockout' Cup competition for next year, the NNSWF State Cup. I do love the fact that New England still has its own state in soccer!

The competition is open to all men's Northern NSW Football Premier competition clubs and senior zone member clubs. Given New England's size, the competition will be divided into two pools, the Northern Pool and Southern Pool.

The Northern Pool will comprise of club teams from Mid North Coast Football, North Coast Football, Northern Inland Football and Football Far North Coast.

I wish them every success.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Belshaw's World - towards a history of the broader New England

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  9 December 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I am really pleased!

I am now an adjunct associate lecturer in the School of Humanities at UNE. I applied for an honorary connection with UNE to provide structure for a major project I am working on. The adjunct position was the outcome.

Given this, I thought that I would talk a little about the project itself, since you keep seeing bits of it in this column.

I am writing a history of the broader New England over the last 50,000 years.

What is now called the Northern or New England Tablelands is Australia’s largest tablelands area. From the Tablelands a series of rivers run to the west, south and east.

The Tablelands and those rivers form the heart of my story.

Our perceptions of geography are a funny thing.

Look down from high in the air over the Tablelands, the natural pattern stands out. On the ground, however, things are very different.

The creation of Queensland neatly excised the northern tip of the Tablelands. This was not without significance.

The northern portion of the Tablelands become a separate entity, Queensland’s Granite Belt, while down on the coast the new political boundary split the traditional territory of the large Aboriginal Bundjalung language group.

This had quite significant effects that continue to this day; the January 2007 Githabul land rights deal, for example, had to be limited to the NSW portion of traditional Githabul territory.

In recent times, the Tablelands/rivers entity has become very blurred as a consequence of demographic change.

The majority of modern New Englanders are now coast huggers, facing the sea with their backs to the mountains. To many of them, the blue rim of the mountains is a mental boundary.

This is the world that places Armidale, as the ABC so often does, in the North West.

Geography does continue to exercise its influence, you only have to look at the ever-changing NSW agency boundaries to see this, but it is much harder to see.

This means that the introductory chapter to the history will need to include sufficient material on New England’s geography to at least set a framework.

This is also important for readers with no knowledge of the area. I am trying to write a history that will stand alone as a story for the general reader.

The main part of the book will be broken into three parts: Aboriginal New England, Colonial New England and then New England in the twentieth century.

When I did my first outline, I was going to include the section on the arrival of the Europeans and the subsequent Aboriginal responses in the first part of the book. Here I hit a real mental block in that the knowledge of what was to come kept distorting my thinking about what still was and what had been.

To overcome this, the Aboriginal New England section will finish with the arrival of the Europeans. I found this tremendously liberating, because it meant that I could focus on telling the story of Aboriginal New England as it was.

This approach will also, I hope, make it easier for readers to understand just how devastating the subsequent European invasion was and why.

At the other end of the book, I had to decide where to close.

My problem here lay in the fact that the last decades of the twentieth century were a period of fragmentation and decline. I just couldn’t see how to handle this.

The break-through here came with Don Aitkin’s What was it all for?, for the book provides an interesting example of social history pointing and counter-pointing between the local and broader change.

Reading the book, I realised that the general writing I had done on economic and social change in Australia actually provided its own framework.

In a later column I will give you a taste of some of the themes and issues that make the history of New England between the European invasion and the end of the twentieth century so interesting.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lynne's story

In The colours of New England I tried to give you a feel for the pattern of visual differences across New England using a combination of visual material and words. Those variations are matched by differences in life style.

The hot summer morning of the inland when a swim in a dam or creek provides a relief for kids, the mud squelching between toes. The heat of the afternoon when a tree provides blessed relief.

To the east on New England's coastline the style is a little different. The upper valleys can be just as hot at times with the heat shimmering over the rivers and creeks, but further east the sea breezes bring relief, the huge expanses of beaches and estuaries provide a different playground.

I started trying to bring the coast alive in my distant memories of a now vanished North Coast series. As with so many series, this remains a work in progress.

In  Looking at New England life style I mentioned a series of posts that Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite was putting up, I asked you to read them and said I would write a comment in my next post. That next post has been a little delayed, in part because Lynne was putting more material up.

In combination, Lynne's posts provide a story of a life. It hasn't always been an easy life, and the difficulties involved are somewhat understated, inferred. Now while the demons are still there, Lynne has come through to a calmer period in which her successes as a mother, her success in fighting through, have in some ways been rewarded.

Lynne's world and mine may seem very different. I come from a New England academic-political family with extended links. This gave me opportunities whose scope is only now clear in retrospect. Lynne was born in Sydney and came to New England via a different and apparently more complicated path. Yet our lives lap and over-lap in location, experience and indeed even in some shared demons. I read Lynne and understand.

Blogging brought Lynne and I together. Then I saw the resonances. That is the reason why I have so often featured Lynne on this blog.

Lynne's series of posts also provides an unusually good picture of one slice of New England life.

As I suggested at the start of this post, the cadences of life vary across New England.

I now live in Sydney. There is no time and very little peace. This contrasts with the slice of life that Lynne describes.

My North Coast memories series seeks to capture a vanished world. Lynne's posts describe that world as it is now. There are many similarities.

The world Lynne describes is not for all. Many people like the anonymity and buzz from city life. Yet to me Lynne's world has many attractions because I just like doing the things she describes.

Please read the posts and enjoy.     

Friday, December 11, 2009

India to create 29th state

I see that India is to get its 29th state. In Australia, we still have to see New England gain its own self-government.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Belshaw's World - Armidale’s Greek community

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  2 December 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Column fifty. Hard to believe what I let myself in for when I gaily accepted Christian’s invitation!

This column is an edited version of material John Hamel sent me, reproduced with his permission.

“Hi James,

This is a blast from the past, one of your old MYF mates.

A few years ago I did a talk for the Historical Society on my memories of Beardy Street in the war years and into the fifties. Here are some of the cafes as I remember them, the people connected with them.

Nicks was at the eastern end of Beardy St. It was owned by Nick Feros and run by him, his wife and daughter Maria. They used to live at 130 Marsh St where Kentucky Fried is now.

Maria married John Kouvelis (I`m almost certain of the spelling), and the newly- weds went to the South Coast (possibly Nowra). Nick and his wife sold the café to the Rologas brothers. It then became the Seven Brothers, the winning entry from a competition. This was submitted by the late Bob Herbert, a noted Armidale playwright.

An interesting sidelight is that Jack Feros, Nick`s brother, ran a café in Uralla, and yet another Feros relative (brother or cousin) owned a hotel in Dorrigo. Sons Tasos and Theo Feros are ex-students of Armidale High School.

The next café was midway between Marsh and Faulkner St, about where Dooner`s Furniture is now. Called the Minerva, any packet brought from there used to have ‘Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom’ on it. It was operated by Sam Sourry and family.

The Sourrys eventually sold the café to Mick Calaitsis, a very big dark-complexioned man. The brothers, John and Peter, then opened a men`s wear store at 180 Beardy St that was successful for many years until they sold out and retired to Sydney.

The IXL café (184 Beardy St) was owned by the Comino family. Senior members were George senior, Chris, Manuel and Basil. Members of Chris’s family were Peter (poncho) and George, who were both at AHS when I was there, and their sister Irene (I think that was her name).

Peter and George both became school teachers.

Another Comino (Jack) ran a corner store in West Armidale. His family was Peter, Helen, Leo, Theo, George and Kathleen.

Peter, in my class at at AHS, did his time at Cameron and Kirk before establishing his own practice, P. J. Comino & Co, in Sydney. Sadly, Peter died just over 12 months ago. I think his brothers are still running the business.

Another Comino (Perry) came from Guyra to operate a mixed business almost opposite the Cathedral Hall in Rusden St. His children, another George and Judy, were again AHS students when I was there.

The Nectar was on the northern side of Beardy St, 155, between Faulkner and Dangar.

Operated by bothers Cornelius (Con) and Charlie Tzannes. the shady side of the street meant wasn’t very successful as a café. During the war years it was one of the few places where dark chocolate blocks could be bought. With shortages and food rationing, chocolate was most acceptable. Later, the Tzannes operated a rabbit freezer at the rear of the café.

On the southern side of Beardy St (218) between Dangar and Jessie St, almost opposite the Capitol Theatre, was the Olympic café. This was operated for a time by people named Pearson, and then, in later years, by Charlie Pavlou.

He had quite a successful business, so when Woolworths came and wanted to take over the complete half block in the area, Charlie dug his heels in and refused to move. Woolworths had the other buildings demolished. This left Charlie`s business standing out like a sore thumb. It was dubbed by the local press as ‘Charlie`s last stand’.

Eventually Woolworths built their business around Charlie. Charlie eventually sold out and went to Sydney, as did the Tzannes brothers.

The Blue Grotto operated just up the street at 214 Beardy St. They used to make beautiful iced coffees, and you could also get nice continental chocolates.

In the Capitol Theatre building Nick Feros of Nicks, used to operate a part-time ice-cream and lolly shop, but it only opened when the Theatre held matinees.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

UNE passings - death of Madge Brown

Many of the older UNE people will remember Madge Brown.

A post on my personal blog, Another shift in personal direction, death of Madge Brown, ageism, reports on Madge's death. The post is drawn in part from Paul Barratt's blog. Apart from personal memories, Paul's post contains links through to several other obituaries.  

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Looking at New England life style

One of the things that I talk about from time to time is the changing New England life style and the way it changes between areas. Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite has just completed a rather nice series of posts that draws out one slice.
The posts follow below in order. I will comment on them in the next post. In the meantime, please read and tell me what you think of them.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Belshaw's World - Just a yarn among friends

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 25 November 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I really miss having a beer at the Newie with Uncle Ron and his friends. But then, a fair bit of my life has been marked by beers at various Armidale pubs yarning with friends!

Still, now that I am so far away and in a world remote, let me at least lean against the bar with my beer and yarn with you, my readers.

I suspect that few Armidale people realise what a really big deal the Aboriginal knock-out carnival was, just how well Armidale did in holding it.

For the last few months I have been doing some contract research, mainly ad hoc number crunching stuff mixed with policy advice, for an Aboriginal organisation.

I am still a smoker, so from time to time I gather downstairs for a chat with my smoking colleagues. In the two months before the knock-out, it was a regular topic of conversation, building as the date approached. Many wanted to go, but could not find accommodation.

The search for accommodation was a regular topic, one that I tried to help with by suggesting lesser known possibilities. The news that Council was providing camping spots was welcome, but still left a gap despite the efforts of the Information Centre.

The weekend arrived, and the whole thing went off remarkably well. Narwan, the Council and all those involved well deserved the praise they received. It added to my pride in my home town.

I wonder how many Armidale people know the important role that Armidale has played in Aboriginal advancement.

Some of this has come through tragedy, the death of children that forced reform. Then there is the role of activists and idealists, I use the word idealist advisedly, over many years. Beyond this is the role of UNE academics whose work drew Aboriginal Australia from the mist of the past to a tangible presence that could be touched by all Australians.

I have written of this a little before and will do so more in the future. I think that there is a story here that needs to be well told and better remembered.

One of the things that I love about writing this column is the feedback I get from time to time, including answers to my questions.

Following my last column on the Greeks in Armidale, both Jack Arnold and John Hamel sent me material on Greek cafes in Armidale; before going on, a correction and a question.

The correction: one café I referred to was the Nectar, not the Niagara.

The question: when was the first Greek café established in Armidale?

Retuning to my main theme, my last contact with John Hamel was many years ago. His email carried me back to the now distant days of the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

What an interesting group that was. Some were from Armidale, more from other places, brought to Armidale by education. Then, from Armidale, we dispersed all over the world.

John Coulter is an example.

A year back he contacted me after forty years because of a story I had written. From Teacher’s College and the MYF, John’s life has taken him on many twists and now to semi-permanent residence in Beijing where (among other things) he translates technical articles into Chinese.

Turning to another correspondent, Bev Betts wrote:

“Great article, yesterday on the Greek Cafe…….At Taree, Forster, Armidale, Tamworth, and Moree, great Lebanese Families were wonderful retailers, and still are”.

Bev’s email reminded me of a story. I may have the facts wrong, but this is as I remembered it.

Many years ago Bruce and Vee Halpin were on holiday. Bruce was then a senior executive at Richardson’s, Armidale’s biggest department store.

Sitting on a bus in Lebanon, they fell into conversation with a passenger.

“Where do you come from?” the other passenger asked. “Armidale”, Bruce replied.

“I have a customer in Armidale”, the other passenger said. “Who?” Bruce asked.

“Richardson’s”, said the other passenger!

I would love to write something on the Lebanese connection for Bev once I have finished the Greek theme.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dust storm over Armidale


I was quite struck by this recent photo by Gordon Smith showing a recent dust storm over the University of New England. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Doctor shortages across New England

I see from the Newcastle Herald that complaints continue about shortages of GPs in the Hunter.

Charlton Federal MP Greg Combet blamed 12 years of "poor workforce planning" by the former Howard government for a national shortage of general practitioners. "The Rudd Government is taking steps to turn this situation around and here in the Hunter there has been an increase in the number of GP training places this year," Mr Combet said.

The doctor shortage problem is not just a Hunter issue. With a very few exceptions in coastal areas, doctor shortages can be found across New England and seem to be getting worse.

There is some truth in Mr Combet's suggestion that poor work force planning under the Howard Government contributed to the problem.

Dr Wooldridge, federal health minister in the Howard Government from 1996 to 200,1 actually concluded that there were too many GPs and that this was leading to problems of over-servicing. The number of places at universities were cut, while it was made harder to get a full practicing certificate with access to medicare. In retrospect, this has to be one of the most stupid Government decisions on record.

My own sister-in-law who completed medicine at Newcastle during this time chose to opt out from general practice. It had become too hard. Instead, she splits her time between working as a doctor on cruise ships, then working as a casual doctor in hospitals during the other half of the year.

However, the problem is deeper than Howard Government mistakes because it links to broader systemic problems. I will write a little more on this in a later post.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Don Aitkin's What was it all for?

Those who read across my blogs will know that I have been reading Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005). It is one of those books that has been responsible for multiple posts.

The first post in the series was Train Reading - Don Aitkin's What was it all for? 1. Then came Decline of the professions in Australia. Sunday number two of the Train Post will appear. I also plan to do two further posts on other blogs. I do so love a book that crosses all my multiple interests!

I mention the book here because it tells the story of social change in Australia over the last fifty years in part through a prism set by the experiences of the Armidale High leaving certificate class of 1953.

At the end of the book, Don has an appendix that summarises the experiences of the class of 53. I plan to do a post on this blog on his material because it draws out one aspect of what I call the New England Diaspora. Simply put, most of us have had to leave New England. We have had no choice.

The cost to New England from this loss of talent is profound. The story of the class of 53 brings this out.   

Friday, November 27, 2009

Feeling a little sad

Izzie with books I am feeling a little sad today.

You see, I have been browsing Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite's photos on Facebook.

I am, I suppose, an old-fashioned type of person.

I don't want a modern brick venereal house that crowds out its block. I can do without a microwave, although they are helpful. I don't mind the odd draught. I object to spending multiple hours each day travelling just to preserve a "life style".

The things that I value are just those that you cannot get in Sydney. A sense of belonging, of community. A biggish house with plenty of space for books.

My family is locked into this place, rusted-on. I cannot enjoy driving to Bondi Junction to spend hours in a nondescript Westfield shopping centre looking at shops and especially clothes. The artificial light and air conditioning quickly creates a sense of oppression.

Don't get me wrong. I love the city life style. I love London and Paris and Rome, I enjoy visiting Venice, New York, Florence or Melbourne. It's just that I enjoy them as visitors. I even enjoyed Sydney when I did not live here! 

I am a fairly simple person. To me, dropping down the road and the feeling of interaction are central.

I have to accept that I can no longer have the life style that I once knew. It just is. But the sense of loss is there all the time. It hurts, sometimes as today it hurts very badly. I just don't know.          

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Newcastle, Niagara and the Greeks in Australia

Note to readers: A week since my last post! This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 18 November 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.
I have been re-reading William Claridge’s The Pommy Town Years: Memories of Mayfield and Other Tales of the Twenties.

I bought the book on a trip north through Newcastle to Armidale with my then young daughters. I wanted to buy a local history and it was the only Newcastle specific book I could find.

Before I go on, a few questions that someone may be able to answer.

I was trying to remember the Greek cafes in Armidale during the 1950s. I know that the Rologas’s had Nicks on the south eastern side of Beardy Street. A little way up on the other side of the road was, I think, the Niagara, although I cannot remember the name of the family that owned it.

In the next block on the southern side near the Richardson end was the Cominos’s IXL. In the following block across the road from the Capitol Theatre was another. I am not sure of the name (the Capri?), nor can I remember who owned it.

Can you help me with the details?

Now this may seem a long way from the opening paragraphs of this column, but there is a connection.

To write a history of the broader New England as I am presently trying to do, I need to understand the history of Newcastle, the North’s great industrial city. Always part of the North yet also separated from it by its own clannish working class culture, Newcastle was neither fish nor fowl.

Proudly trade union and Labor, yet Newcastle did not and does not quite fit in with the dominant Labor tradition and power structures. English, Anglican and Protestant, not Irish or Roman Catholic, Newcastle’s roots lie in the industrial culture of Northern England. This is the world my Belshaw grandparents came from.

In reading William Claridge’s memoirs, I am trying to understand a little more of the complicated threads in Newcastle’s history.

William Claridge was born in Bristol in 1909. He came to Australia in 1920 when his father emigrated as part of a group of John Lysaght Bristol workers recruited to set up a new Lysaght plant in Newcastle making galvanized iron. A second group of workers came from Lysaght’s Welsh plant at Newport.

By the time the Lysaght group arrived in Newcastle, that city had moved a long way from its original migrant roots. There was in fact considerable distrust among the generally local born and very clannish Newcastle workers for these new Pommy arrivals.

The attachment of the name Pommy Town to the new estate Lysaght built for its workers was quite derogatory at first. At school, young William was involved in constant playground fights. It took time for the new arrivals to be accepted.

William Claridge’s book is interesting not just as a story, but because it focuses on the detail of local and industrial life. This is where the Greek connection comes in.

I knew from Geoffrey Blainey’s Black Kettle and Full Moon that the Greeks had really introduced fine dining to Australia. It would be hard, I suspect, for modern Australians to get their minds round the fact that the heyday of Australian café society with its huge Greek eating establishments was probably the period between 1890 and 1910, a flowering that was then largely snuffed out by war.

The Greek influence was not limited to Sydney or Melbourne.

I now know from the notes to Mr Claridge’s book that the first ever Niagara café was opened in Newcastle in 1898.

Angelo Burgess (Bourzos) came to Australia from Greece via the US. There he had been impressed by two things: American novelties such as hamburgers, milkshakes and ice-creams and the Niagara Falls. The first provided the menu, the second the name.
In 1911 the Karanges brothers, one of whom was Angelo’s godson, emigrated to Newcastle. When Angelo Burgess died, Theo Karanges took over the business, while brother Michael opened his own Niagara café a few kilometres away.

Theo and Michael were followed by many more in a chain migration from their original village.

By the 1920s, the period Mr Claridge focuses on in his book, Newcastle had no less than 25 Greek owned cafes!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Belshaw's World: Nerds, Geeks and the decline of science

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 11 November 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.
Last week my wife was away. With the TV free, eldest and I watched Beauty and the Geek Australia.

I am actually a bit of a sucker for reality TV. It also gives me something to watch with my daughters. Mind you, and this will not surprise you, female tastes are somewhat different from those of us mere males. I cannot share the fascination for Project Runway!

Watching the program took me in an unexpected direction. Just what is the difference between geeks, nerds, dorks and indeed boffins?

Searching around, I found one part definition that attracted my fancy: a nerd is someone who is very intelligent, a geek is someone who is very knowledgeable, and a dork is someone who argues the difference!

This left boffins.

I actually have a very soft spot for boffins. Growing up in a university environment, I knew a fair number. They were also the people who played such a key role in wining the Second World War.

Pouring myself another glass of red wine, my thoughts continued to wander.
I don’t know whether you realise this, but in some ways we seem to have come to the end of the scientific and technological revolution that has formed the core of a lot of our thinking over the last two centuries.

This may sound an odd thing to say given the apparent current obsession with new technology. Yet I think that it’s true.

When I asked eldest just what she would rank as modern scientific advances, she listed vaccination (China or India c200 BC, Europe 18th century), key hole surgery (1910) and computers (1936 first freely programmable computer).

For my part I thought of DNA (1953), nanotechnology (term first used 1959) quantum physics (term quantum mechanics first used 1924).

Most of the major technologies that we use, and their supporting sciences, are far older than most people realise. Okay, you say, what about genetically modified crops? The first date here appears to be 1972, forty seven years ago.

Well, then, what about the internet? Even here there is a very long history, although the world wide web itself dates from 1990.

Each new scientific advance and the technology it spawns takes time for the effects to be fully felt.

Just at present, we are feeling the full impact of the digital revolution. For that reason, we still feel that we live in an age of technological change.

In some ways we do. It’s just that the really new is in decline.

Today we are good at adapting, less good at inventing something really new.
The reasons for this are complicated.

Part of the reason lies in the end of the love affair with science and technology, a love affair that in some ways peaked in the nineteenth century, but continued for decades after that.

If we take the internet and digital technology as an example, the modern young have about as much interest in this refrigeration technology. They see no romance in the technology. It just is.

Part of the reason, too, lies in our increasingly constipated and controlled approaches with their application focus.

I bear a share of the guilt here.

Actions that I took played a key role in the first decision that tied University funding to the creation of specific discipline places, in this case IT, instead of giving universities freedom in the allocation of funds.

I also played a significant role in the discussions centred on the need to make universities more focused on the commercialisation of research results.

In all this, I was seeking balance. I had no idea that the thoughts and actions that I and others were responsible for would actually destroy the “blue sky” thinking that is central to a real university and to the creation and advance of knowledge.

You see, once academic success becomes measured in the number of patents that you have been responsible for, the game is lost.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Good feedback for Belshaw's World

I am sorry for the delay in posting. Time pressures have worked against me. In this post, I just wanted to record how much I value the feedback I get, especially from Armidale readers for Belshaw's World.

Writing the column takes a fair bit of time, so feedback is nice.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blues Across the Bay

This one sounds rather fun.

We are riding at breakneck speed towards our 8 th annual Blues Across the Bay to be held on Saturday 21 st November this year.

This small event has secured itself into our hearts and minds and is now one of the annual highlights on the Central Coast calendar. 

Although Blues Across the Bay is only a very small event by festival standards, we do manage to pack a huge show into a 4-hour time period.  There is only enough space for 600 people but those 600 always go away with great memories of a special day.

Artists include Jack Evans and his amazing band playing some very edgy blues to warm us up for the afternoon.  Next, the amazing barrel-house piano-playing  and gravel-voiced Pugsley Buzzard will delight and entertain.  And to top it all off, the multi-award winning Australian Queen of the Blues, Gail Page with the wonderful Parris Macleod Band.

You can find more details here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Belshaw's world: In memory of Bruce Mitchell

Last month, Paul Barratt carried the story of the founding of the New England University College in a post on his personal blog. It’s quite a gripping story, and Paul told it well.

In writing, Paul drew his material from Bruce Mitchell’s book, House on the Hill: Booloominbah, Home and University 1888-1988. He did not know, I had only just found out, of Bruce’s death.

Like me, Paul now lives in a world far removed from the Armidale of our childhood. Like me, he tries to carry the New England dream forward, to keep the fire alight.

It somehow seems sad but appropriate that Paul should be drawing from Bruce’s work at the time of Bruce’s death.

Paul’s post is a sign of the way Bruce’s influence extended far beyond the quiet streets of Armidale

I first met Bruce many years ago at a dinner party in Armidale. I was back from Canberra for the weekend, so this was a chance to catch up with people.

Later he became one of my supervisors. For the two years I was a full time post graduate student, he was just down the corridor.

One of Bruce’s greatest strengths was his bubbling enthusiasm. Generations of Australian honours and postgraduate historians at the University of New England will remember this. He was just very interested in what people discovered through research.

Bruce did not try to tell you what you should write. His interest lay in getting you to write well what you had discovered through research. He would challenge, but it was your work.

I saw all this at first hand.

My PhD topic was a biography of my grandfather, David Drummond. I had intended to focus on Drummond’s public life. However, as I dug into the evidence I found my approach changing.

I realised that you could not understand the man or his life without understanding the relationship between his troubled childhood on one side, his love of the North on the other. The thesis became an exploration of the relationship between the man and the region that came to form the core of Drummond’s life.

In a strange way, this transformation in my own thinking mirrored a similar shift in Bruce.

Bruce’s original work was on Labor history and especially the history of the Teachers’ Federation. He became my supervisor because David Drummond had been NSW’s longest serving Minister for Education.

After coming to Armidale, Bruce fell in love with local and regional history. This love subsumed his original interests.

Bruce was insatiably curious, always prepared to chat about my work. His glasses down on the end of his nose, wispy hair upright, face alight, he would fire questions and make suggestions.

It is often forgotten today that the foundation first of the Armidale Teachers College and then the University College were linked to a vision, self government for the North.

While parts of that vision are presently lost in the mists of time, that part linked to the role that the new institutions might play in the intellectual life of the North has been delivered in spades.

I have not attempted to map all the theses, books and articles that owe their existence in part to Bruce. I can tell you that there are an enormous number.

I guess that for most Armidale people, Bruce’s work on local history will be best remembered.

This is important. However, his real legacy lies in the way in which he showed generations of students from New England and far beyond that their interest in family, local and regional history was both legitimate and important.

Postscript: As it happened, this column appeared in the Armidale Express on the same day as Bruce's obituary. The Express piece is not on-line, but the SMH obituary can be found here.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 4 November 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Armidale mum and writer's million dollar book deal

Sometimes there is a story that just makes one feel happy. This is one. I won't steal Sydney Morning Herald's Janene Carey's story. But do read it. You will find it here.

You know, for a city of 22,000 people, Armidale has a quite remarkable number of writers.

After posting, I received an email from Christian, the Editor of the Armidale Express. I quote:

Saw your blog re the million dollar mum. You will be pleased to know that the dear old Express actually beat the Herald to that yarn. Janene works for me and I sent the story to the SMH after we had run with it.

Janene has also left a comment on this post. All this adds icing to an already magnificent cake. Congratulations Janene!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Wollombi Valley on-line

In Wollombi, what began as a blog has now turned into a fully fledged community web site. The blog is still there, but now lacks posts.

Wollombi Valley is also on Twitter. From my viewpoint, this is very valuable because it makes it easy for me to keep in touch. 

Friday, November 06, 2009

Gordon Smith's camp oven

Gordib Smith-top-creek--camp-oven

Gordon Smith from lookANDsee took this photo of an old camp oven while exploring the Top Creek area in the headwaters of the Macleay River.

We often forget that a fire was the main form of cooking heat over much of the long history of human occupation on this continent.

The camp oven was really valued by the European settlers in New England because it allowed a wide range of cooking from bread to stews to roasts.

Camp ovens are still made.     

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Belshaw's world: the Twittering of English

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 28 October 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Earlier this year Clare (youngest) failed a hieroglyphics test. This led her to complain bitterly about the failure of her school to teach her basic grammar.

Then last week, NSW Premier Nathan Rees complained about the poor standard of official English in NSW. NSW public servants are to be put under a plain-English microscope to make sure the documents they produce are clear and precise.

In the middle of these two events came another compliant from one of the main industry lobby groups about the inability of new staff to write clear English.

A frequent response to these types of problems is to call for changes to the way English is taught at school. However, there is a far more fundamental problem.

Written English has simply been twittered.

For those fortunates who are still oblivious to Twitter, it is a sort of on-line SMS system with messages limited to 140 characters.

Kevin Rudd twitters. Joe Hockey twitters. Even Malcolm Turnbull’s dog has been known to twitter!

The problem is that twittering is simply the latest in a long line of new technology that has, in combination, ripped the guts out of written English.

A remarkably small number of people, NSW public servants included, actually write very much:

They live in a world of spread-sheets, of emails, of power point presentations. This is also a world in which written forms (briefing note, memo, ministerial, Cabinet minute for example) must comply with templates and rules; a world where every word is scrutinised for message.

In this world, you can tell the old fashioned because they still treat emails as a form of written English. The modern do not.

“Could you see me please” is replaced by “cd u c me pls”.

This type of truncation damages the capacity to write. However, it is the least of the problems faced by written English.

If you look at the school English curriculum, it aims to create a form of literacy in different types of media. The focus is as much on the visual as the written.

This focus accurately reflects the realities of modern organisational life.

I grew up in a world in which there were two main types of communication, oral and written. The approach to both was affected by the purpose of the communication and by the medium used.

The modern world is far more complicated.

The range of media has exploded. In a time poor world, the focus now lies in getting a simplified message across in the most time-effective way.

Of itself, this damages the capacity to write in a stand alone fashion. However, there is a more pernicious problem.

Each form of communication has to be learned, and this takes time.

When I started working, written English was central. All I had to worry about was how best to fit my writing to purpose.

Today I write across multiple media – web sites, blogs, print, even Twitter. Each requires a different style.

I also use a variety of software in preparing and presenting material. With constant changes in software, I face a constant battle in maintaining, let alone increasing, my skills.

Then, too, I have to spend time deciding just which media or combination of media best fits the purpose. Sometimes this is dictated. More often, I find myself involved in tasks that really belong to a visual designer.

Is it any wonder in these circumstances that the actual art of written English can get lost?

There is further problem. Just as people’s ability to write English has declined, so has their capacity to actually understand the written form.

We can see this most clearly in responses to the length of written documents. Acceptable length has tended to become shorter and shorter. People no longer have the time or patience to read as they once did.

This has led to a dumbing down not just of English, but indeed of the underlying thoughts themselves.

Here I compare the written internal English that I saw when I first joined the Commonwealth Treasury with today’s equivalent.

There is no place today for the sometimes long, often complex, but beautifully lucid writing that I saw come from some of the then Public Service mandarins.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Locals continue to object to Glen Innes wind farm

The Sydney Government's has approved the construction near Glen Innes of a $150 million wind farm big enough to power 25,000 homes. Funded by Babcock and Brown Wind Power and NP Power, it is apparently   the first of several huge renewable energy plants planned for the region.

The decision has not been welcomed locally. According to local member Richard Torbay:

The State Government seemed to prefer warring with communities on wind farm developments rather than negotiating reasonable and acceptable outcomes, Member for Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay said today.

He attacked the State Planning Minister’s decision to approve a wind farm near Glen Innes where two residences would be within 800-900 metres of the giant turbines.

Another six householders would be also be affected with their homes at 1.5 - 2 kms from the 130 metre high wind sails. Mr Torbay said he had raised the issue in Parliament 10 days ago urging the government to listen to community views.

“Today’s decision is unacceptable and flies in the face of Glen Innes Severn and Inverell Council guidelines that turbines should be at least 2kms from people’s houses,” he said. “The decision is also premature because it pre-empts the recommendations of the Upper House Committee inquiry into wind farms which is still in hearings.”

The Glen Innes wind farm is just one of the environmental battles presently raging across the North. I hadn't realised just how many there were. Perhaps another post?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

James Barber appointed as UNE's new VC

Professor Barber

The University of New England has announced the appointment of Professor James Barber as its new VC.

  You can find the details here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Media Hunter - a great blog

Media Hunter is, I think, a very good blog for all those interested in the world of social media, as well as its reporting on more local events.

At a purely local level, the blog provides sometimes tantalising hints of the differences in the media including viewing habits outside the dominant metro reporting.

At a broader level social media level, the blog's Newcastle/New England location has nothing to do with its content.

I have been thinking how best to handle this.

I generally write on this blog about New England linked issues, leaving my broader reporting to other blogs. To a degree, Media Hunter suffers as a consequence. I deal with it as a New England blog.

I am going to change focus a little. I need to think through how best to do this. So more later.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Belshaw's world: Savings, aging and the challenge of the future

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 21 October 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Last week I accompanied my wife to the second Sydney University Faculty of Economics and Business alumni dinner. The speaker was Chris Richardson from Access Economics, the topic “Has Australia dodged the bullet?”

The dinner itself was pleasant if a little long, with drinks on the lawns and then dinner in the Great Hall. Part gathering, part sales-pitch, it is the type of thing that Sydney does quite well. However, my real interest lay in hearing what Chris had to say.

As I said in this column at the time, I was quite angry with Chris and Access back in February for what I saw as quite alarmist head-line grabbing commentary. My own assessment was far more positive, and had been so from the beginning of the crisis.

By August, Chris’s assessment had changed. Australia had indeed dodged the bullet, although he expressed reservations that I agreed with and discussed in another column at the time. Now I wanted to see if his views had changed again.

They had not. However, he had some interesting things to say that I thought I might comment on.

The first thing that he drew out with some very interesting slides was the sheer size in the increase in net wealth that occurred across countries during the long boom. To put a simple number on it, net wealth grew from four times income to a peak in late 2007 of seven and a half times income.

This increase was associated with a twenty five year fall in interest rates. Both the cost of capital and risk margins fell, fuelling increases in asset prices. This went just too far.

The difficulty now is that the imbalances created within the global economy during the long boom have still to unwind. Question marks will remain over growth until they do.

The main imbalance presently concerning economists can be summarised as spenders vs savers. This is often expressed in terms of the US on one side, China on the other.

The long boom in asset prices allowed certain countries to spend more than they earned. This was funded by borrowings from countries that saved.

Many commentators, me included, have suggested that this could not continue. Back in 2001, I argued that the economy must turn down because such low savings rates were unsustainable. I was right, but had no idea at all as to just how long the process would take.

It is going to take time for these imbalances to be resolved.

In the meantime, as the threat of recession eases, other issues are coming to the fore. Here I want to mention just two cited by Chris Richardson.

The first is the practical implications of the Government’s commitment to cap increases in real spend in the post recession period to just two per cent.

This probably sounds okay, but it is going to force some hard spending choices given that spend in so many areas, health for example, is rising naturally by more than two per cent.

My personal view is that the two per cent cap is unsustainable. I am also concerned that some of the arguments being presented here in general discussion are, to my mind, misleading.

Issues here are beyond the scope of this article. For the present, we just need to be aware that there is a problem coming.

The second issue cited by Chris that I want to mention briefly is that of population aging and the inter-generational issues that it raises.

The baby boom after the Second World War, in combination with the later falls in birth rates, created a demographic dividend.

We had more workers relative to dependent groups, both the young who had to be educated and the old who had to be supported. This helped support rising living standards.

This process is now going into reverse. Australia will not be as badly affected as some countries such as Japan, Russia or the Ukraine, but the effects will be profound.

We do need to be planning for this now.

We face particular challenges at a purely regional level.

The North and North West are aging far faster than the Australian average. Down on the coast, population growth in some areas has been retirement driven. The Mid North Coast is one of the oldest areas in Australia.

Blind Freddy could see that New England faces very particular problems. However, this will have to be the subject of another column.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paul Barratt on Booloominbah and the early history of UNE

Paul Barratt's post Booloominbah provides a rather good overview of the history of this mansion and of the subsequent founding of the New England University College.

Paul's post brings out clearly not just the generosity of the White family, but also the incredible rush at the end in the face of the need to raise £10,000 to get the necessary Government approval. It's quite a remarkable story and Paul tells it well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Belshaw's world: keep the past alive as part of the present

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 14 October 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I want to start this column with a simple statistic.

At the last census, 43.5% of the Armidale-Dumaresq population lived at a different address from five years before.

This includes people who simply moved within the LGA. However, many of them are in fact new arrivals. At a rough guess, I would say that around 30% of the people currently living in Armidale-Dumaresq were not there when we moved to Sydney in 1996.

Keep this number in mind.

Friday of last week I went as handbag to Sydney University’s International House International Night. My wife is chair of the IH council. It was a good evening, but it left a bitter sweet taste.

Over the last five years I have been to many IH functions, perhaps six a year. I grew up in an academic environment, so I enjoy this. But it’s sometimes hard.

In case you haven’t already worked it out, I am a fairly one-eyed UNE supporter.

How could it be otherwise?

My grandfather helped found the place, my father was the first staff member to arrive in Armidale at the newly founded New England University College. I was a student at UNE. UNE has been part pf my life since my earliest memories. I care about the place with a passion that is total emotion.

As my wife’s handbag, I go to many Sydney University functions. I chat with its senior people who talk to me as something of an insider simply because of my wife. I am good, and preserve discretion.

A little while back, my wife suggested that I should apply for a senior planning position at Sydney University.

I do not think that I would have got it. My personal decisions over the last ten years have taken me too far outside the loop to make me a good conventional candidate. However, I couldn’t even consider it. Part of my role would have been to keep UNE in its place as a competitor. I couldn’t come at it.

In the Express of Wednesday 30 September, Prof Stanton had am obituary on the death of Frank Rickwood. I was very pleased to see it. I had, in fact, been meaning to write a story on it.

Frank Rickwood was part of a quite remarkable group, the early students of the New England University College. They came from all over New England, from the lower Hunter north. Most were the first generation to go to university.

That group of students achieved success that, in terms of their numbers, no other Australian university has arguably ever achieved. They with the then staff set the real UNE tradition.

I will write a story on this in due course. For the moment, I simply note that the little Armidale, little UNE approach that I have sometimes seen in recent years makes me very sad.

In the early nineties, the university was planning the opening of the T C Lamble building. Jackie Lamble was quite insistent that some of the old guard should be invited. We were, but only after a lot of pressure.

After the opening we gathered in the morning sunshine for a cup of tea. Still in my early fifties, I was the youngest there by a substantial margin. Most of those drinking tea are now dead.

As people talked about the way that the then UNE had abandoned its past, I suddenly felt terribly old, a relic of a past age.

Link this back to my opening point, the way in which perhaps a third of the current Armidale population were not there in 1966.

From time to time I have worried about some of the content in this column, my focus on the past. Surely it is better to talk of current events?

Then I think about the turnover of people in Armidale. They cannot be expected to remember a past, a time of hope and achievement as well as worries, if it is not presented to them.

I think that this is where Prof Stanton, I and others like us come in.

It is our job to make the past live as part of the evolving present.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tingha Community Regeneration Project update

In February this year in Tingha - a case study in community regeneration, I reported on the efforts of Bob Neville and the local community to rebuild Tingha from the bottom up. I followed this in March with an Armidale Express column, Belshaw’s World: Overcoming the curse of local self-interest that dealt in part with the Tingha project. Then I gave another progress report, Tingha Community Regeneration Continues, at the end of March.

So how has the project gone since then? Pretty well, I think, if the latest newsletter is any guide. You will find all the newsletters here.

Any project of this type has to work along two dimensions.

Dimension one is improvement of the town's social and physical infrastructure. This type of work is part visual (cleaning up and beautifying), part social (building community links), part service (building local facilities). On the surface, the project appears to be tracking fairly well here.

Dimension two is economic,  you have to attract extra income if you are to create sustainable improvement. Here Bob Neville took the view that action was required on dimension one first before much could be done on two. Now the project is moving on the second. The project took over the local caravan park, and has now moved to establish a community nursery and worm farm based around the growing of feijoa fruit.

All this action takes time and persistence to build skills and get things in place. Both have been there in spades.

If I have a criticism, and its an intuitive feel only, the project needs to look more outside Tingha. Sometimes on these things you have to start selling the sizzle while the steak is still cooking.

Just as a matter of interest, I did a search on Tingha in the surrounding newspapers. Now here I was quite disappointed. Apart from sport, I had no idea just how strong Tingha was here, Tingha doesn't feature, nor does the project itself, nor do Tingha's attractions. Now not all stuff is on line, my own Express column is not, but even so I was left with the feeling that Tingha was not marketing itself very well.          

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hunter Valley Development collapses

Kristina Keneally on site


Sydney Government planning minister Kristina Keneally has been forced to announce the collapse of the 7200-home Huntlee New Town project, the biggest town development project in NSW.

I am probably not alone in finding all the complexities of this and other Hunter Valley developments quite confusing.

The bottom line in this case appears to be that the planning minister acted outside power and that, consequently, the development cannot proceed. This conclusion has implications for other already approved developments.

In all, a bit of a mess.

The Hunter does need more housing and this will always be difficult. But this particular project was fraught with problems from the beginning.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

To Port Macquarie the interesting way

You know, I do love the strange by-ways that my interest in blogging takes me. Like this story from Paul Barratt: To Port Macquarie the interesting way.

I really do love driving around the back tracks.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Armidale School (TAS) changes its organisational structure

I see from the Armidale Express (14 October 2009) that the Armidale School, one of NSW's nine GPS schools, has changed its structure.

The school was founded in 1894 as a private company by a number of shareholders who invested capital to provide buildings and operating funds. This company structure was common at the time. Totally dependant on fees and contributions from parents and old boys, the school struggled at several points in its history to meet student needs  and sometimes just to survive. meet  In 1950 the ownership of TAS passed from the private shareholders to the Anglican Diocese of Armidale as a way of giving the school a more secure future.

Over the last fifty years the school has faced many challenges. Changing educational demands due in part to changes in parent and student expectations as well as Government requirements meant that the school had to offer wider ranges of courses and different services. This meant that it needed to get bigger just to survive. At the same time, its traditional boarding base was being eroded not just by social change, the general move away from boarding schools, but also by changed Government policies and especially the Queensland Government's decision to subsidise boarding for country parents, but only if the kids went to Queensland schools. The flow of Queensland borders to Armidale schools effectively stopped.

Of all the Armidale schools, TAS responded in an especially effective fashion. The development activities that began under Gordon Fisher and were then carried forward under Alan Cash and later heads including current head Murray Guest have given the school a remarkably good base. These activities have been strongly supported by old boys and parents.   TAS Head Murray Guest with Bishop Peter Brain

To better reflect the different interests within the school community, TAS has now been restructured as a company limited by guarantee. This means that responsibility for governing the school will now be shared by the church, parents, former students and benefactors.

The Anglican Diocese of Armidale’s decision was made at the annual Synod held in Tamworth, voting to approve the diocese sharing responsibility for governing the School with the TAS Foundation, the TAS Old Boys Union and the Parents and Friends Association.

The changes are expected to come into effect in 2010.

The photo shows headmaster Alan Guest with Armidale Anglican Bishop welcoming the decision.   

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Virtual Coquun - Hunter River Project: a digital repository of early accounts and descriptions of the Hunter Region.

Almost by accident, I came across the University of Newcastle's Virtual Coquun - Hunter River Project, a digital repository of early accounts and descriptions of the Hunter Region. This strikes me as a very good resource for all those interested in the early history of Newcastle and the Hunter.

You can access the project here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Belshaw's world: a new direction in migration policy?

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 7 October 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

In September, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released population statistics for the year to the end of Match 2009.

The headline reporting focused on the size of the estimated increase in the Australian resident population, up 2.1% or just over 439,000 people on the previous year. Of this number, 278,200 came from net migration.

The size of the population increase was quite a remarkable number and, correctly, attracted considerable attention. However, there were some other elements to the figures that were less reported.

Australians have always been remarkable travellers. Our young in particular have always sought broader horizons.

Some return to this country, others stay overseas, returning only to visit. This group has had a major impact elsewhere. You only have to look at the Australian push that came to play such a remarkable role in English intellectual and cultural life to see what I mean.

Accepting that we travel, the numbers to the end of March show that no less then 224,600 Australians left the country on a long term basis. Now that’s a remarkable number.

Think about it for a moment.

It’s only a few years ago that the number of Australian living abroad passed the million mark for the first time. On present trends, we are now adding another million to that number every five years or so.

Ten years, another two million Australian expatriates. Remarkable.

I have no problems with Australians leaving the country. Quite the opposite.

Australia’s growing expatriate community is in fact a major national asset. Emotional links with home remain. You can take the Australian out of Australia, but you cannot take Australia out of the Australian.

But if nearly a quarter of a million Australians left the country, how did we achieve such a big population increase? Quite simply, we added 502,800 people through migration. Now that’s a truly remarkable number.

Again, think about it for a moment. It’s over 2% of our population. It means that one Australian resident in fifty did not live in this country twelve months ago.

Some of the new people are in fact Australians returning. Even so, it’s a major exercise in social re-engineering.

Am I opposed to our migration program? No, but I do think that there are some questions we need to ask.

To begin with, the impact of migration is not evenly spread. It mainly goes to drive metro growth.

Do we want Sydney to grow from four million to six or seven million?

I don’t. The place is bad enough at the moment. I hate to think what will happen with a fifty per cent increase in the city’s population.

Then, too, we have to look at the balance in the migrant intake. I think about this at two levels.

The first is the need to provide proper support to migrants and especially our refugee intake to avoid creating islands of disadvantage.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am clearly on the record as supporting our refugee program. My argument is that we are not matching our rhetoric with supporting policy and programs.

I also think that we need to look at the mixture in our intake.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I am a strong supporter of a non-discriminatory migration policy. It just worries me when we get very large numbers of particular ethnic groups concentrating in particular areas. We don’t want to create ghettoes.

So what would I propose?

Quite simple, really.

I think that the points system that we already have should, for a defined period, be heavily skewed in favour of non-metro areas.

A business migrant wanting to establish a business in, say, Moree should get far more points than one wanting to set up in Sydney. Ditto for skilled workers.

To avoid locking people in too rigidly – the Moree business may not work – migrants should be allowed to move so long as (and for a specified period) that move was to another place in Regional Australia.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Internet Frustration

For some strange reason, I am having difficulty accessing the Rural Press sites including the Newcastle Herald. A nuisance because I wanted to do a brief round the press update. I don't whether or not the problem is at my or their end.

It's frustrating because I have spent a fair bit of time trying to gain access. The SMH site is up, so its not a universal Fairfax problem.

Ah well. I am out of time this morning.   

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A tired triumvirate

I am simply not feeling like any serious posting tonight, so just a shot that has absolutely nothing to do with New England.

How would you caption this?

I'm so tired

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Belshaw's World: Reflecting on the pasta in a bellwether seat

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 30 September 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

We live, so I am told, in a modern multi-cultural Australia, replacing the staid food of the past with excitement and variety. This may be true, but I cannot see it. With marriage and kids, the food available to me has narrowed to a shadow of the past.

I love Chinese food, my wife dislikes it. I love rich thick casseroles. I am alone. My wife joins me in my general love of curries, but dislikes some of the curries I like best. My children dislike curries.

I love pea and ham soup. This may be an acquired taste, but it is mine. My family hates it.

I have been the main cook and bottle washer since we left Armidale in 1996. Given the conflict in food tastes, I have been driven back to a core menu that my mother in 1950s’ Australia would have found very boring indeed.

I see no solution to this problem. It just is.

But why am I complaining about this now? After all, the problem is not new.

As it happens, my wife has just gone back onto a diet. Our food world is now dominated by points, by the need to avoid the wrong foods. The olive oil/butter mix that I use to cook certain dishes is now verboten. Then, too, in moving house I re-discovered some of my old cooking notes.

I sat there and thought of meals past, good and bad.

The worst meal I have eaten was Chinese at a sailor’s joint in Launceston. I was sixteen and hitch-hiking around Tasmania. I went back to the boarding house and threw up.

The following morning, still very fragile, I caught a lift with a pea-picker. Sitting in the front of the truck with my legs curled around drums of petrol while he smoked and chatted, I worried vaguely about the risk of fire, but then concluded that this might be a welcome release.

The young are resilient. By lunchtime, three lifts later, I felt fine.

Some of the best meals I have eaten have been in Armidale.

Raspberries picked in the morning from the vines in the backyard. Mashed with cream and sugar, they made a fine breakfast. Or black cherries cold from the fridge before I left for TAS.

Bottling was a big thing in our house.

Year after year at the right season, Dad would be drafted to bring the kit down from the garage. A production line was formed – apricots, peaches, cherries, gooseberries were bottled and then put away in the pantry for later use.

All the different stages in my life are associated in some way with food.

There was the Vietnamese phase during my first period in Canberra.

The Vietnam war was raging. A number of my friends had fallen in love with Asia and had Vietnamese girlfriends. Every weekend we gathered and the girls cooked while the men chopped vegetables.

One Sunday in 1967 we gathered as usual in Richard’s flat. It was a mixed group, mainly Administrative Trainees and present or just past Foreign Affairs cadets.

The phone started ringing. The PM, Harold Holt, had vanished, lost in the surf. One by one the group left, called back to work.

Vietnamese was followed by an Italian phase, although the two overlapped.

In 1972 and almost by accident I tried to enter politics. I had always wanted to be a Country Party member of parliament, but it had not been high on my immediate priorities.

There was a dinner for members of the Country Party’s national executive.

Chatting to Bill Ford, the general secretary of the NSW Country Party, I said, in all innocence, just how does one start running for pre-selection for Eden-Monaro? Bill commented dryly you just did!

On the surface, Eden-Monaro was a forlorn hope for the Party. We had run once, in 1946, getting only 6.5% of the vote. However, the long standing and very popular Labor member Allan Fraser had just retired and there was a chance.

Having thus started, I decide that I would run for pre-selection and promptly left Canberra to live in Queanbeyan so that I lived in the electorate.

How does this fit with Italian food?

Well, Queanbeyan was one of Australia’s first multicultural communities with a large Italian population. I joined the Italo-Australia Club. This had a very good chef at the time, and I promptly fell in love with Italian food.

In all this, what is my all time favourite restaurant? Victor’s in Armidale. The reason why is another story!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Round the New England blogging traps 11 - Tablelands and coast

Congratulations to Bronwyn Parry on signing a contract for two new books. Well deserved. I complained in A fit of depression about my own slow progress in writing. Bronwyn has the good fortune now to work full time as a writer. That remains my dream.

While not a New England blogger, Kanani Fong had an interesting post on writing, Writing The Path.

With partner Gordon of lookANDsee fame, Bronwyn recorded a recent excursion20090920HaydensTrack into the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in Top Creek & Macleay River trip.

For those who do not know the Park, it is one of those dotting the New England Tableland's eastern escarpment.

It appears that once Bronwyn has finished the current Dungirri series - this is set in New England's Western Plains - her new book is likely to feature this country.

After a long posting delay, Peter Firminger's Wollombi Valley has posted again with A Fair Go for the Hunter Community Coalition.  The post begins:

A Fair Go for the Hunter Community Coalition consists of community groups whose objective is to halt the wave of bad planning by this NSW Government in order to get the best results for the Hunter community.

The new group will be launched on 8 October 2009 at the Newcastle Leagues Club. You can find the details in the post. I wish the new group well.

We have far too few locality blogs. I have argued for a long time that blogging is one way for individual areas to promote themselves. For that reason I was very glad to see a new post from Peter.

Sticking to locality or area blogs, North Coast Voices continues its mix of local and political. I tend to turn off the political commentary, I get enough of that anyway. However, to those of a different political persuasion from NCV, the blog is really worth while reading for its local content. K Roo's post, Calf confusion or why the little bull loves fence posts, is really very funny. I won't give the story away. just read it.

On the purely political, Clarence Girl's post Shame Rudd Shame: government gets a fail on pension increase was just so wrong on public policy grounds that it deserves a full reply. I know where she is coming from, I understand her motivations, but while I am in complete sympathy I think that we need to look objectively at the issues raised by the decision she refers to.

This post is a blog review: I will respond in another post that focuses just on the public policy issues.

Staying with NCV and indeed with Clarence Girl, Lowdown on the Joint Regional Planning Committee for the NSW North Coast deals with a very important issue, the Sydney Government's approach to planning and to the approval of developments. Two joint planning committees affect New England; one covers the Hunter, a second the rest of the North.

I am not close enough to the politics and public policy issues on this one to have a view beyond the common suspicion that pretty much everybody has about just about anything coming out of Macquarie Street at the present time. It's something that I really need to look at because CG, rightly, highlights its importance.

Staying on the North Coast, LYNNE SANDERS-BRAITHWAITE turns sixty this month and is planning a public party for Friday night 16 October at the South Grafton Emporium. Lynne wrote:

Call  02 6643 3524 to book a table if you would like to join us. Izzy and friends will provide the music , Peter Freeman the food and Annie Dodd, the Lady of the Emporium, has created a community atmosphere that is hard to resist. In fact – Don’t Resist it.

Happy birthday Lynne. I would love to go to actually meet you both; after this time, I feel that I know you both quite well! MEREKI, IZZY and ROBYN

Lynne's post MONDAY IN SEPTEMBER is all about Festivals. This photo shows Izzi with Mereki and Robyn.  Robyn owns Shellbound, one of the four indigenous businesses involved in this year's Wide River's Festival.

Lynne notes that Robin Bryant's JTD Merchandise is providing an umbrella for the four businesses involved. Looking at Robin's web site, I see that 5% of all merchandise sold goes to support the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-Operative

As it happens, I have been meaning for a while to write a little bit about Muurrbray as part of the story of the Aboriginal Language Revival Movement in New England.

The Clarence River marks the dividing line between two very large Aboriginal language groups.

To the north, the Bundjalung language with its various dialects was spoken in a huge sweep of territory north along the coast into what is now Southern Queensland and west onto the Tablelands. To the south, Gumbaynggirr was spoken down to and including the Nambucca Valley. It, too, extended onto the Tablelands essentially following the headwaters of the Nymboida. Like Bundjalung, Gumbaynggir had a number of dialects, including Baanbay on the Tablelands around Guyra.

Yaygirr, the language spoken at the mouth of the Clarence, was a Gumbaynggirric language, but sufficiently different to be classified as a language in its own right.               

    The Language Revival Movement began in the 1980s as a way of recovering languages that had either died or were in danger of extinction. Muurrbay played a key role on the coast, while there was a similar movement in the west concerned with the revival of Kamilaroi.

I really got side-tracked on this post digging around for supporting material. There are so many other things that I meant to write about, but these will have to wait until my next meander around the New England blogging traps.