Monday, January 19, 2009

Belshaw's World: A new column, but why is it Belshaw's World?

In Belshaw's World - a new venture I reported that I was now writing a weekly column for The Armidale Express, the third oldest newspaper in New South Wales.

The column is not in the on-line part of the paper, so I have decided to republish it here. That way it exists on-line.

The First Column

I was flattered when Christian Knight asked me to write a weekly column for the Express. But why me and why the title “Belshaw’s World”?

I have always been a frustrated writer. A bit over two years ago I started blogging, Since then I have written some 1,600 posts on my areas of interest. Some are short, mere notes, but many are quite long essays.

The topics reflect my interests and experiences.

I am an economist and historian by training. So economics and history feature.

After leaving UNE I worked as a public servant in Canberra, including over seven years as a member of the Senior Executive Service. During this time I ran several times for Country Party or National Country Party pre-selection, including one run for Armidale where I lost because of my views on the Vietnam War.

This means that I write a fair bit about public policy, public administration and politics. However, I do not write from a party perspective. My own biases are clear – I describe my political position as Country Party, New England populist or New England New Stater. But in writing I try to explain what is happening and why.

After leaving Canberra, my wife and I established a national consulting business in Armidale in mid 1987. This grew to 17 staff and almost a million dollars in fees, then failed in the crash of 1991. I know what it is like to try to do something new from a regional base and fail. I know what it is like to be broke. Again, I write about this.

We came down to Sydney so that my wife could take a job as CEO with a patent attorney firm. From this point I became primary child care.

I do not regret this. My closeness to my daughters is one of my most valuable assets. However, adjusting working style to this role did impose costs. I write about this.

I also write about the strange tribal customs of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and, more broadly, the fragmented world of modern Sydney. In a very real way, the old Sydney that I knew has vanished. Sydney is now a statistical construct.

Christian said that I could write about what I liked, that this was Belshaw’s World. Yet he also knew that New England was ever present in my writing.

By New England I do not mean the Northern Tablelands, nor that strange Sydney Government construct of Tablelands and a bit of the North-West that everybody seems to accept today as New England. I mean the new state New England.

To my mind, Armidale people and institutions live in a much diminished world.

I have a bias. While I am first generation New England measured by birth, I am third (my daughters’ fourth) measured by location.

On mum’s side, my grandfather, David Drummond, arrived in Armidale in 1907 as a farm labourer after being forced to leave school at twelve. He became a member of parliament and education minister, later described as the pre-eminent Australian education minister of the twentieth century.

My father, James Belshaw, arrived in Armidale in 1938 as one of the first staff members. There he met my mother, the first librarian at the College. Some said that Drummond had founded a university to find a husband for his daughter!

I grew up in a world in which dedication to New England was central. This was a world that was both intensely local and regional, but also national and international.

Word limitations prevent me explaining this in my first column. However, it sets a scene.

Let me finish with a question.

Who was the New Englander who was reported as Chief of Intelligence for Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and later became one of Australia’s first spies? A clue: he came from Kentucky.

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