Saturday, May 30, 2009

University of New England Summer Schools - 1960s, 1970s

Shirley Mckechnie Amidale Summer School dance classes2 My thanks to Paul Barrett for alerting me to  an article in the NLA News, April 2002, on the UNE summer schools of the 1960s and 1970s.

This photo shows Shirley Mckechnie (b.1926) at the
Armidale Summer School dance classes (
Shirley Mckechnie Papers, Manuscript Collection MS 9553).

Wrtten by Michelle Potter, then Curator of Dance at the National Library, the article gives a national importance to the schools that I was unaware of.

She begins the article with a quote:  

The University of New England is widely acknowledged as having made a significant, pioneering contribution to dance education in Australia. This has been achieved by a series of residential activities held as part of the University’s Summer Schools programmes in the arts—a salient feature of the adult education activities conducted by its Department of Continuing Education.

Potter notes that this rather formal statement appeared in an article entitled ‘Ballet at the University of New England 1966–1976’ in the Journal and Proceedings of the Armidale and District Historical Society in January 1977. She continues:

Written by Bernard James, director of the continuing education program at the University of New England (UNE) at the time, the article outlines the history of four momentous summer schools organised by UNE and held on its Armidale campus in 1967, 1969, 1974 and 1976. James’s clearly written and important account captures little, however, of the excitement generated by the Armidale summer schools, where creativity was fostered, where some of Australia’s most prominent artists made contributions, and where the talents of aspiring choreographers, dancers, writers and historians—some, such as Graeme Murphy, now with an international reputation—were nurtured.

Potter records that a little of the history of the Armidale summer schools is documented in two collections of personal papers held by the National Library of Australia—the papers of Peggy van Praagh (MS 7223) and Shirley McKechnie (MS 9553).

Both played seminal roles in the development of the summer schools. Van Praagh was, at the time of the inaugural school, co-artistic director with Robert Helpmann of the Australian Ballet. She was the artistic force behind that first school and much of the subsequent development of the summer programs. McKechnie, a dance educator who would go on to play an instrumental role in the establishment of dance as a subject of tertiary study in Australia and who is now a professorial fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts, took a major role in the two schools of the 1970s.

Potter goes on to describe the schools. I won't repeat the whole article, but it provides an interesting perspective into one part of Australia's (and New England's) cultural past. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Can Armidale re-earn its place?

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 20 May 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.

During the week I received a letter from Armidale that disturbed me somewhat. I won’t go into the details, the letter was private, beyond saying that the writer found Armidale an unfriendly place and felt that this drove people away.

There is no doubt that Armidale can sometimes be a rum old place. The complaint that Armidale people can be unfriendly and even cliquey is not new, nor is the complaint that Armidale is resistant to change. Both have some truth.

I think that we need to be aware of this and work to counter it, because Armidale’s sometimes reputation as an unfriendly even arrogant city does the place considerable damage.

There is no doubt that Armidale people can be capable of great warmth and hospitality.

The launch of the Colombo Plan in 1950, a plan developed especially by Australian officials, brought 40,000 overseas students to Australia, many to Armidale. There was something of a culture shock on both sides.

The warmth displayed by Armidale people to the newcomers during the 1950s and 1960s was, in retrospect, quite remarkable. Armidale gained friends around the world.

How, then, do we reconcile this with the city’s reputation as an unfriendly place? Here I want to point to just a few things.

To begin with, all people mix with those they feel most comfortable with.

Armidale’s role as and educational and administrative centre means that it has a shifting population. Armidale’s own young leave to join the great New England diaspora. Students leave as their courses come to an end. Staff at the university and schools move on.

You would think that this constant stream of arrivals and departures would make Armidale welcoming to newcomers. In practice, there is a divide between those who see the place as their long term home and those here for shorter periods. Newcomers have to earn their place.

Some years ago I was good mates with the daughter of a local grazier. Her father had to bring something into town and was chatting to Dad over the back fence. “When did you come to Armidale”, he asked Dad. “1938” was the reply. “Why, you are almost a local!”

For such a small place, Armidale and district have also had a remarkably complicated social structure: Roman Catholic vs Protestant, town vs gown vs country, big grazier vs smaller grazier or farmer. And so it goes on.

Many of these divides have, thankfully, declined with time. None of us would like to go back to the sectarian divides of the past.

What is perhaps less well recognized in discussions on social class in Armidale is that the city’s divides actually represent very different world views and experiences.

Back in Armidale on one of my periodic visits, I was chatting to a friend in the History Department staff room. She complained that country people were very unfriendly, that they did not accept university people.

As it happened, I was having a drink with Uncle Ron and some of his country friends that evening at the Newie. When I mentioned the conversation, the group responded that they were happy to be friends, but the university people had no interest in their concerns. They had nothing to talk about.

Different worlds indeed.

Another complication for Armidale has been the rise of what I think of as the big fish in small pond syndrome.

In many ways, Armidale got a free-ride during the fifties, sixties and seventies as the expansion of university education drove growth. Both university and the city became soft, insular, complacent, living off past achievements. Both struggled as the world changed during the 1980s and 1990s.

When I became Chair of Tourism Armidale I was struck at the resentment towards Armidale across many parts of New England generated by the city’s perceived arrogance and insularity. This really made things hard.

My personal view is that Armidale has to re-earn its place.

This means becoming more welcoming to those who come to the city. It also means reaching out to help other New England communities achieve their objectives.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The poetry of Judith Wright

Just at present I am getting a fair number of visits from searches on Judith Wright's South of My Days.

Just a reminder that there are several posts on Judith Wright. You can find the entry page for all the posts here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More on Bud Tingwell

In Bud Tingwell's New England connection I said that Captain Thunderbolt was made in 1953. I found an interview with Bud where he said that it was in fact made in 1951. He said:

The other real pioneers were Colin Scrimgeor and Cecil Holmes, they got together to make a film called Captain Thunderbolt which Grant Taylor and I did in 1951, just after we finished Kangaroo. That was a year before Grace did it, and technically they claimed they were making a television film, but it was good enough to release as a feature film in the cinemas. So that, I suppose, was the first proper attempt at elevision, although it got sidetracked into the cinema.
The whole interview is worth reading because of the insights it provides into the history of Australian film and TV production.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Jottings on New England’s history

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 13 May 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.

It is Sunday evening. I am sitting at the computer feeling quite uninspired. It’s not that I don’t have things that I could write about. I just don’t want to write about them. I am written out.

Instead, I thought that I might simply chat about some of the things that I have been researching.

I have just finished some material on the Chinese in New England during the period 1848-1853.

The earliest known Chinese immigrant to arrive in New South Wales was Mak Sai Ying. Born in Guangzho (Canton) in 1798, he arrived as a free settler in 1818 and purchased land at Parramatta. Initial numbers were small, with just 18 identified Chinese settlers prior to 1848.

Then between 1848 and 1853 nearly 3,000 indentured Chinese labourers were imported into the colony in an attempt to solve labour shortages. This is prior to the big influx that came with the gold rushes.

At least two Chinese workers entered into services of J Pike of Pikedale run in the Granite Belt in September 1849. By 1852 Chinese workers were thinly spread on various runs across New England.

It must have been quite difficult and sometimes dangerous for these new workers.

In May 1852, the Phoenix sank on its way to the Clarence River with 12 Chinese on board. A thirteenth was found wandering the beach with the Aborigines. He was reportedly quite mad, although no-one knew how he had got there.

So how did he get there? Almost certainly he came from one of the ships taking indentured Chinese labourers to the new colony. But did the ship sink, or did he simply run away because he could no longer bear the conditions?

By one of those strange circuitous routes, my search for information on the Chinese led me to Annie Maria Baxter.

She apparently had an affair with Crown Lands Commissioner Robert George Massie between July 1841 and July 1843. She was an inveterate diary writer. Her husband, who later committed suicide, ripped out the pages of her diary on the affair but left the rest.

Now neglected, Massie was a not insignificant figure in our regional history. His notes on his activities could have been written by one of today’s public servants.

Annie Marie Baxter herself was born in Exeter on 24 November 1816, daughter of James Hadden, an English army officer. She married Lieutenant Andrew Baxter of the 50th Regiment in England on 8 February 1834, and soon afterwards travelled with him to Van Diemen's Land on board the convict ship Augusta Jessie.

In September 1838 Andrew Baxter's regiment was transferred to Sydney and then to Port Macquarie. Two months later Baxter sold his commission to take up land near Kempsey.

The marriage was not happy, nor did the prospect of pioneer rural life did not please Annie who had found Sydney crude in comparison with Launceston: She wrote:

'I suppose that about the end of next week we shall have to leave Sydney for the bush--what I shall do there God only knows! I shall be so miserable--no books to read! or any person near me that I care about'.

The Baxter home at Kempsey, Yesabba, was a bark hut, occupied when only half the bark roof was on. To add to Annie’s discomfiture, it rained almost incessantly for the first three weeks.

Perhaps we can understand why she became involved with Robert Massie.

Massie himself appears something of an unknown figure, with very little information about him available on-line. This is a real gap, given that he was quite important in our history.

All this may sound very obscure. However, history is about people, not just dates, trends and current issues of concern or models of thought.

At a purely personal level, there is a certain joy in pealing back the veil of the past, seeking to understand not just what happened and why, but also how people thought and felt.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bud Tingwell's New England connection

Bud Tingwell Homicide

Australian actor Bud Tingwell died last Friday, 15 May 2009. This photo shows him playing a part in the Australian TV series Homicide,  Australia's longest locally made TV series.

Bud's life will be carried at length. In this post, I just wanted to note two England connections.

In 1953, he played the part of Alan Blake in Cecil Holmes' feature film Captain Thunderbolt. This part has been forgotten in all the coverage about his career, including his move overseas.

I spoke of this film in Belshaw’s World: Bushrangers and cattle duffers, because it was very much a local movie.

This was Holywood come to Armidale. People lined up to be extras. Thunderbolt rode my grandfather's horse in one scene, my father was chairman of the jury, two aunts were in a robbed stage coach.

Thanks to the Wollombi Valley blog, I find that there is a much later connection. In 2008, a film starring Bud Tingwell won the 2008 Wollombi Valley short film festival.

Assuming that I have everything right, the film you tube should follow.    

If you would like to leave a message for the family in Bud's blog you will find it here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Round the New England blogging traps - 6

Dear it's hard to build up a coherent picture of developments in New England when the place does not even exist in a formal sense. Talk about divide and rule!

I know that there are many New England blogs that I am missing, too many of those that I have listed also drop out with time, but I am slowly building a base that shows both the diversity and unity of New England life.

Starting with two new blogs on my list.

Drew Hopper Photography has some great photos of the Mid North Coast region, while Wollombi Valley focuses especially on this historic part of the Hunter Valley.

Over on Jenny's Blog, the news of the Lake Keepit Soaring Club keeps coming. I don't understand all the jargon, but Jenny's writing is enough to want to make one go gliding!  Just to quote an excerpt:       

Ian Barraclough turned up in PPH the supercup from Warnervale. I said to him quick, get a glider I'll tow you up. He said no get yours I'll tow you.  I gave in and got the Mosquito out, but it was 3 o'clock before I got airborne. There was good streeting and I was able to follow one down to abeam Mullalley. I turned back, and got some more lift on the way back late in the day, and managed a glide to Manilla before gliding back to Lake Keepit in perfectly still air at the end of the day. Ian was thoughtful enough to clear the kangaroos off the strip for me. 170 km - could have been much further with an earlier start.

And all this without an engine!

On the UNE senior management blog, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) Eve Woodberry discusses the Rudd Government's 40/20 vision for higher education. That is that 40% of Australians will hold a Bachelor qualification by 2025 and to increase the proportion of students from low SES backgrounds to 20% by 2020.

A key thing that I had not fully realised is that the achievement of the 40% part will require older students to go back to university.

There is a dreadful irony here. Many more older students used to study and to UNE's benefit. Many of those students had very little money, but because of low fee structures they were able to re-charge their minds. Changes to Commonwealth policies on university fees effectively squeezed many of this group out. Older people simply cannot recove20090505ourroadr the cost of a university education from extra life time earnings.

Still in Armidale, Bronwyn Parry romance writer extraordinaire, has bought an iPhone! The blog is interesting because this is a working academic who morphed into a romance writer.

The photo shows the scenic route home for Bronwyn. I see that Bronwyn shares a love of late afternoon light with partner and fellow blogger Gordon Smith.

Sticking with Armidale, Peter Rohde worries that the new Australian Government broad band plan will simply be a waste of money. I, too, have some reservations. However, I do not think that use of the extra band width  will be limited to movies, music and porn! The first two will be important if my daughters are any guide, but you don't need high bandwidth for porn. Unless, of course, it involves music and video! I suspect that, as as happened before, demand will evolve but in ways we cannot see now.

Moving south from Armidale towards Tamworth, I had begun to think that Leannes World had entered the non-post blogging limbo. Then, finally, a new post appeared, a multiple month update. I felt for Leanne's garden failure. I, too, have experienced this.

Moving east and north to North Coast Voices, New England's most prolific blog measured by number of posts, I was about to chide the group because there was so little local content. But this blog, while it carries a lot of local material, is not just about the North Coast. It is a left of centre political blog written by people who come from the North Coast. Newcastle beach

It actually still occupies, I think, a very particular place in the Australian blogging spectrum. There are group blogs and there are left of centre blogs, but this one is the only one that is located in regional Australia and combines both.

Moving far south, newcastle city photos continues to be a great way of getting a feel for life in Newcastle and surrounds. I have been neglecting this blog. This photo shows wheel tracks  on a Newcastle city beach.

One of the things to remember about New England is that with a geographic area larger than that of England, it has great geographic diversity.  This affects every aspect of life.

I am running out of time. I will finish by wishing Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite every success in her move to Ulmarra.

For the benefit of non-New England readers, this is an old river port that has, in some ways, been caught in a time capsule. I look forward to Lynne's reactions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Bushrangers and cattle duffers

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 6 May 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.

According to Victor Crittenden’s entry on him in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Frederick Ward was born at Windsor in 1835.

He adopted the name Captain Thunderbolt in 1865. From then until his death at Kentucky Creek on 25 May 1870, he robbed across a wide area of Northern New South Wales.

In the years since his death, Thunderbolt has acquired a mythic presence.

The first feature film about him was made in 1910 and was simply called Thunderbolt.

The film opens with Frederick Ward, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and leading a horse, bidding a loving farewell to his sweetheart, Jess Anson, in front of her farm. In the words of the Australian film historian William D. Routt:

“The lane is dusty and crowded with riders. Something is urging them to leave the farmland and their true loves behind. The situation is one which might occur in a Western from 1910, or indeed from any year. Familiar trappings of the genre seem to be there: an awkward cowboy, a faithful heroine, hats, horses, partners waiting, trail dust. An instant later, however, and all that was familiar is made strange in an intertitle: “Ward Joins the Cattle Duffers”. As we read it, vistas blur. We sense that we aren't in Kansas anymore, nor in the Wild West either.”

Ward is arrested for duffing – an arrest which he indignantly protests and violently resists. His sweetheart goes insane and dies when she hears the news. Ward escapes heroically from prison to take vengeance on the authorities who have so mistreated them both. As the dashing and gallant bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, he dies a hero's death, shot by the police. It is not the thieving of cattle that is marked as wrong in this story, but the law that condemns the cattle thief.

This is all good stuff, even if some of it is only loosely connected to the truth.

Very similar themes appear in Cecile Holmes’ first feature film, the 1953 production Captain Thunderbolt. Made in Armidale and district, the film presents Thunderbolt as a heroic figure.

I remember this film well even though I was quite young. This film was a big thing, the first and so far only major feature film made in Armidale. Locals appeared in dozens of bit roles. The premier in Armidale’s Capitol Theatre was a major local event.

Thunderbolt is not New England’s only connection to bushranging or, for that matter, stock theft.

In 1838 and 1839, for example, Gentleman Dick and his gang ranged the Tablelands and Slopes before being captured in true wild west style in a shoot-out at Bundarra.

One of Australia’s most famous books, Robbery under Arms, was based in part on events that took place early in 1874 in the Inverell District. These became known to Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Browne) when he was police magistrate at Armidale.

Heroes or villains regardless, we have people and events captured in folk-lore, books and films that have become larger than life.

The Tablelands have a special claim to Thunderbolt, yet it seems to me that we are bad at selling the story. I stand to be corrected here; it is some time since I have read the local tourism material. Still, I make the assertion so that you can correct me if I am wrong.

The problem as I see it is that we localise instead of telling a story.

More than a dozen towns or districts across the broader New England can and do lay some claim to Thunderbolt. Uralla has a particular place because Thunderbolt was shot nearby and buried there, but it is still only one place.

This means that the visitor just sees bits. The Uralla tourism web site has some interesting material on it, but again has a very local focus.

In writing this column I did a web search on Captain Thunderbolt. The first New England Tableland's site - Thunderbolts Way - was on page two.

Think how much more interesting it would be for the visitor if the bushranging story was told in a linked fashion across space and time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Drew Hopper Photography - a nice place to visit


Searching on one Of Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite's  links I discovered another very good New England photo blog, Drew Hopper Photography.    This shot shows the beach at twilight.

I think that Drew's blog makes a wonderful companion to Gordon Smith's lookANDsee.

Gordon's focus is inland, Drew the coast. Between them, they show a little of the visual texture of two close but very different parts of New England.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Aboriginal language groups in southern New England

Hunter Valley Aboriginal Groups looks at the distribution of Aboriginal language groups in Southern New England.

I only have to look at the far north of New England now including the extension into Queensland to complete a preliminary analysis across the whole territory. Obviously new issues keep coming up as I write, but I am increasingly confident that I am getting at least some understanding of patterns and relationships.

Once I have completed the overall framework, I am going to be in a much better position to start looking at the detail.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Chinese in New England 1848-1853

I mentioned that I was investigating the history of the Chinese in New England. I have now put up a first post - The Chinese in New England 1848-1853.

The post focuses on the pre-gold rush period.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Selling Armidale’s romance

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 29 April 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 my last column I suggested that Armidale had failed to sell itself to Australia. I also suggested that Armidale could draw lessons from Melbourne’s success.

If you look at the Victorian Government tourism advertising over at least the last ten years you will see remarkable consistency.

Whereas Sydney tries to sell iconic attractions such as the Opera House or the Harbour, Melbourne sells experience and romance wrapped around first English and then increasingly European themes.

Whereas Sydney tries to sells itself as a modern city, a place of excitement using bright colours and fast tempo, Melbourne uses muted colours and a slower tempo to present itself as a place of sometimes mystery where past and present merge in unexpected ways.

The Victorian and Melbourne Governments have been remarkably clever in backing this approach up in their planning and city development. The new precincts are integrated, while the re-development of the city lanes has created an ambience nothing short of fantastic.

By contrast, Sydney is something of a mess.

I am, I think, reasonably good at selling Armidale. In doing so, I draw from the Melbourne experience.

When asked what there is to see in Armidale, I ask how long can you stay? This attracts interest and usually makes people ask why.

I explain that Armidale is the traditional centre of a very large region with its own variety, culture and history. To really see this, the best way to go is to use the city as a base for touring. A week would be good.

Note that I am already setting up a perception about the city. It’s not just a stop point.

Assume, for a moment, that the person just wants to know about Armidale and its immediate district.

Then I will say something like Armidale reflects its history.

The city began as an administrative centre of a vast region that briefly stretched north as far as Torres Strait. Later it was the capital in waiting for those trying to get self government for New England, to break the Sydney Government’s control over the Northern Districts. It was also the centre of one of the wealthiest squatting regions in Australia.

Armidale’s old city reflects this past. Note the use of the words “old city”. The words are accurate, but they also create a sense of difference. How many Australian towns can claim an old city?

The old city was formed within the old town boundaries. Major public and commercial buildings centred on the main street, while town merchants and local squatters built homes and town houses on the north and especially south hills overlooking the town centre.

Some of these people were seriously rich. This is where I refer to Booloominbah as the headquarters of F R White’s pastoral empire, noting that even the smaller mansions had to accommodate a number of servants, as well as family members.

Most of these buildings and homes have survived. This explains the Victorian feel of the old city with its iron lacework and blue brick mansions.

You all know Armidale, so I won’t continue.

My point is, and this is the link with Melbourne, that Armidale can be sold on history and romance in a way that few Australian centres can. It cannot be sold on attractions and events.

We are actually very bad at presenting Armidale’s romance.

I think the problem is that most Armidale people don’t see it themselves, don’t understand their past.

Just at present the subject of Thunderbolt is of great interest to Express letter writers.

For the purposes of this column, it doesn’t matter whether Thunderbolt was an absolute villain (he wasn’t) or a Robin Hood figure (he wasn’t). He just has to be interesting!

On this, a question for you. Is there anybody left in Armidale who actually remembers the Thunderbolt movie?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Bogged down in history

Just at the moment my research and writing focus remains solidly focused on history. I am trying to consolidate some thoughts on the Chinese in New England.

On a more current matter, I seStream into Styx River Gordon Smithe that Gordon Smith has bravely attempted the Big Hill, the most direct road from Armidale to Kempsey. Brave chap!

This photo shows a little stream that finally flows into the Styx River.

In the background at the back you can see the main road. Main road? Yes, I fear that it is. If you want to go from Armidale to Kempsey and the Macleay River Valley, then this is still the direct route.

This is just part of the world that I am trying to bring alive in my writing. New England, the North, the Northern Districts, call it what you will, has an area of over 194,000 square kilometres. England is just 130,000. This is a huge area to write about at local level because you have to show the linkages, commonalities and differences.

To write about Newcastle, for example, you have to know the history of mining and manufacturing in Australia. I don't yet, although I know the broad patterns. Now I have to translate this into local understanding. I actually know Newcastle quite well, but I don't know the detail I need.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Distant memories of a now vanished North Coast - Coffs Harbour Surf Music

It is hard now to believe that the population of inland New England and the North Coast were once in balance. At the 1961 census, Tamworth (19,390 people) had just overtaken Lismore (19,010 people) as New England's largest centre outside the lower Hunter. Armidale (13,170 people) was still behind the North Coast's second largest centre Grafton (15,600 people), but was rapidly closing the gap. Coffs Harbour's population was 7,188, Port Macquarie's 6,110.

I make this point because in those days inland New Englanders saw the North Coast as their own playground. Yes, we went to other places for holidays as well, but most went to the North Coast. Each family had their own special spot.

At Yamba, for example, the James and Kay, Yamba 1961flats in one street carried the names of New England properties from the Armidale area. These flats were in fact owned by country people who bought them because Yamba was their spot.

My aunt and uncle were part of the Yamba group. This photo from cousin Jamie's collection shows James and Aunt Kay at Yamba in 1961.

Over forty years later the Drummond family gathered at Yamba in that street for Christmas in what would in fact be the last time before death decimated the sisters who had formed the core of the continuing family.

The Belshaw's were not a Yamba family.

We ranged more widely. Port Macquarie once, Urunga a number of times, Sawtell ditto. We also stayed at Manly in Sydney where Mum and Dad had been married and and at what is now the Gold Coast. Mind you, the Gold Coast was really an extension in some ways of New England made exotic by its Queensland location.

In all this, we did not stay at Coffs Harbour. I always thought of Coffs as a port town, not a holiday place, although many New Englanders camped there just next to the main beach. I would be in my forties before we first stayed in Coffs for a break just after Helen was born. Oddly, or perhaps not, Coffs is now Helen's favourite NSW coastal resort.

While we did not say at Coffs, our holiday focus on Urunga and Sawtell meant that we went there a lot. This was the big centre for food and shopping. As a kid I really liked the jetty area, hoping to see a ship. Sometimes we did, although the port was now very quiet because of the decline in coastal shipping.

Time passes. I am now at university in Armidale. The Beatles are all the rage. Very few of us had cars, so our focus was mainly campus and local. However, from time to time we would pile into one of the few available vehicles and head for Coffs.

The pattern was nearly always the same. Coffs was then about three hours away by road. We would drive down in the morning, arriving for a late morning swim and then lunch at the pub. The afternoon was spent drinking beer and listening to surf music.

From this distance in time, I have no idea how often the pub in fact had a band, nor could I really describe the music. My recollection is that surf music came out of the US in the late 1950s. Initially band, it had a strong beat. Vocals were then added.

While brother David bleached his hair, I had little interest in surfing as such and remained outside this particular cultural loop. This remains the case today. Even though we presently live in Sydney not far from the beach, I still think of the beach as somewhere to go on holidays. My wife and eldest are very different.

Back then, surf music was interesting in part because it was different. It was also an excuse to have a swim and drink beer. We would generally leave for Armidale in the late evening, sometimes staying till the pub shut.

The trip back was always less fun. Often as we reached the top of the mountain and headed inland across the Dorrigo plateau, the mist would come down. Those who know the Dorrigo will know what I mean.

Driving in thick mist is not pleasant. The mist diffuses the car lights. Put high beam on, and the world dissolves in white light. Kept on low beam, only the road just in front can be seen. When, as in this case, the road is windy, driving is slow and a bit jerky.

We would often reach Armidale late at night and, exhausted, drop into bed.


Over on my personal blog, North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy, provides a postscript to this story.