Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Belshaw’s World: A strange deity strikes again

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 17 June 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.

Back in February in The wicked wiles of a strange deity I spoke of the strain of moving. Well, it’s happening again!

We moved in February because my three girls wanted a house with more space. I could understand their position. But to achieve this, we had to go up a fair bit in rent.

Then, on top of this, were several thousand dollars in removal costs. After almost nine years, the old house had to be properly cleaned. Then there were the direct removal costs. Add to this the costs of fixing the new house – an out door setting, getting the computer connections right (we are a modern wired family) and so on.

When we took the new house we had to accept a six months lease. We checked that this was in fact a long term lease, that the lease would be rolled over. We were assured that this was the case.

That assurance was wrong. There has been a change in the owners’ circumstances and they want to move back in. So we have to move out.

Out of a sense of masochism I checked the latest Armidale rentals. As at the time of writing this post, the most expensive letting I could find in Armidale was $450 per week. This is less than we were paying in the old house – a smallish three bedroom bungalow. Our moving costs plus extra rent mean that we have paid close to this again on top of the basic rent.

Let me be clear about this. The current top Armidale rent is around $450 per week. With moving costs, our average six month rental will have been around $1,000 per week. To me, this is an almost obscene amount of money to pay on housing costs.

Now Armidale people might say why don’t you come home? You obviously love the place.

The first answer to this is to say we cannot earn as much money in Armidale.

We are a modern multi-income household in which every one is expected to earn to some degree to support our Sydney life style. My wife is CEO of a professional association, I earn as a consultant/contractor/writer, eldest works in a pub. Youngest is, so to say, between jobs. She gave up one position to try to get another closer to Macquarie University where she is studying and has yet to find this.

Okay, so three out of four are working. I am actually not happy about this. The fact that so many university students have to work to meet the cost of their university studies does not make me happy. It detracts from the university experience. Still, them’s the facts.

In reality, we don’t actually need to earn as much money in Armidale. If we were to go to Armidale, we could reduce our collective family income by post-tax $30,000 and still maintain the same living standard. Add in other things like transport time, and we would be miles in front.

Why, if this family might be better off in Armidale, have we not returned? This introduces another set of dynamics.

I have failed to sell Armidale to my family. Both daughters love Armidale and still think of it as home, but neither wants to move there.

There are family reasons for this. Youngest’s case is especially instructive.

Some years ago I argued in an email exchanges with Ingrid Moses as then VC that UNE should focus on its role as one of Australia’s few remaining real universities. This meant, among other things, creating a focus on Arts. I got no where.

Youngest chose Macquarie because she wanted to do Ancient History. I argued Armidale because this was an area where UNE was strong, very strong, compared to Macquarie. She chose Macquarie because, unlike UNE, she could get a degree in Ancient History. The name of the ticket was more important than the content. UNE had the content, but could not offer the outcome required.

As I was writing this column I got a phone call from Armidale. My caller was worried about the future and wanted to talk. I agree with her concerns.

In my next column I will set out the problems Armidale and UNE face. In my following column, just what I believe needs to be done.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Gordon Smith's St Peter's Cathedral Armidale

Back from Canada, but still very jet lagged.

Gordon Smith St Peters Cathedral Armidale 2 While I was away, Gordon Smith came back from his outback tour and ended his rather wonderful series of photos on Armidale.

This photo is another autumn shot of St Peter's Anglican Cathedral.  

Even those who do not know the city will appreciate the beauty of the photos. You can find the full series here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Canadian sojourn

I am really really enjoying my time in Canada! More on New England when I get back.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Clement Hodgkinson's Two Expeditions to the Bellinger 1841 & 1842

Sheila Pegum kindly sent me this book, an excerpt from Clement Hodkinson's Australia from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay (1845).

I really enjoyed it. The full book is on line here.

I fly out today, so this short note will be the last post for the next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Views of a past world – Barool, Treefield and Highcliffe

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 10 June 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. The column provides a personal perspective. For those that are interested, in Sunday Essay - church, state and social change in Australia I looked in more detail at Kenneth Dempsey's work, along with two other books.

It’s Sunday morning and I am looking at a blank monitor. I have just completed a major blog post – around 3,800 words – looking at three books relevant to New England’s history. I am again written out, but I have a column deadline to meet.

At school and at University it would have been incomprehensible to me that I would voluntarily write the equivalent of a major essay just for my own satisfaction. It would have seemed even stranger that I would then write some more to meet a print deadline.

Yesterday I was sitting on the train and suddenly realized that it had arrived at my stop and was about to leave again. I hastily shovelled my book into my overloaded briefcase and got off.

The book I was reading was Kenneth Dempsey’s Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town.

The book looks at the Barool circuit of the Methodist Church from 1905 to mid 1967. In addition to Barool, the circuit includes Treefield, a farming area near a former gold field. Not far away is the educational centre of Highcliffe, apparently located on the coast.

Ken Dempsey changed the names, but it’s all pretty well recognisable.

Gran came from Treefield, she married Fah in the Treefield Methodist Church, she and her sisters went to Sunday School in Treefield when staying with their grandparents.

At Treefield Mum and one of her sisters apparently fell in the mud while wearing their pristine white Sunday School dresses. Fell? Mmm. Somehow I don’t quite believe this!

Ken’s book actually made me quite uncomfortable. After all, the laity he is talking about includes many members of my own family on Gran’s side, while I went to the Methodist Sunday School in Highcliffe and was a member first of the Order of Knights and then of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at the end of the period covered by the book.

I am far more sympathetic to the Barool laity now than I was when I first read this book all those years ago.

Under first James and then Richard Udy, the Armidale Methodist Church and especially the MYF was a source of new ideas. University and town young people mixed in a very special way that combined new and old.

I was seen as a bit of a radical. I still remember Mrs Udy worrying about my apparent friendship with a girl, let’s call her Jenny. She felt that Jenny would be better suited to Bob.

Now Mrs Udy was right, but what she did not know was that Bob and Jenny were in fact going out. When I picked Jenny up every Wednesday to take her to University I was not only providing her with a lift, but was also acting as a decoy to confuse those who wanted to match make! Bob and Jenny did marry, and I still have the jumper she knitted for me as thanks, although it is now very worn.

It is hard looking back to capture the strength of the religious views I held at the time.

The Vietnam War had begun, conscription had been introduced, and I had to decide what to do. I was opposed to military service on religious grounds. Given this, I felt that I should refuse even to register.

Richard Udy helped me work though the issues. We finally decided that I should register as a CO, but also offer to serve in a missionary role for two years should I be called up. I wasn’t, and the issue went away as I became caught up in the new world of Canberra.

There was a price to pay later, however.

In 1972 I decided to run for Country Party pre-selection for Armidale. My previous views on military service and the Vietnam War became a major issue, and I spent the second half of the pre-selection campaign fighting on this single issue. I clawed back to almost win pre-selection, but it was very hard.

I said that I was far more sympathetic now to the Barool laity than I was when I first read the book.

I think that this is because I have come to understand their positions and concerns far more clearly than I did in those days when everything seemed so black and white, so clear cut.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Posting lags

For the next week or so, posting is likely to be a bit skimpy because I am going overseas. Just for a week, but all the things involved have made life a little disrupted.

Friday, June 12, 2009

City living New England style

Moore Street Armidale


This photo by Gordon Smith shows Moore Street, Armidale.

Just to set a context, the Mews on Moore apartments are right in the centre of Armidale's CBD, backing onto the Beardy Street mall.

Living here, you can just pop downstairs and you have pubs, shops, cafes etc all within a few minutes walk.

I prefer a garden. But for those who like a city life style without the noise or crowding, this is remarkably civilised living.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Declaring war on Woolworths – and Coles!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 3 June 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.

Some time ago I decided to launch my own personal war on the big supermarket chains. The trigger was a little thing.

I went into Woolworths at Eastlakes to buy a bottle of Reschs Pilsener. Now I accept that my liking of this beer is a strange, personal, quirk. Many don’t like it. When I wrote about all this in a blog post, I was gently chided by an old friend for my bad taste in beer!

All this said, it is my taste that matters to me. So when I found the beer gone from the shelves I asked why. It appears that it no longer sold enough to warrant stocking. Then I found the same thing happening at Coles.

I snapped, for this was the last in a long line of similar straws, enough straws in fact to thatch a fair size building. Product after product that we had bought had gone. Our favourite brand of chocolate milk; we haven’t bought chocolate milk since! Pork crackling. Favourite wine brands. Cutlets with the fat still on them.

I decided to launch a campaign against the big supermarkets, using my blog to point to alternatives. Refusing to buy store brands, shopping at smaller outlets, paying a little more for service and for quality.

As you might expect, with time and other pressures I fell back into doing what was convenient, although there were some permanent changes in my shopping habits. Then something happened that re-ignited the rage.

Saturday afternoon I decided to do the main weekly shopping then rather than the normal Sunday morning round. I went first to the big Westfield shopping centre at Eastgardens, but parking was impossible. Instead, I drove to Woolworths at Eastlakes.

Frustration. A lot of the goods that I usually buy weren’t there. There were store brands in some cases, but little choice beyond that. The vegetables were bedraggled, the choice restricted. There was no rosemary, very few greens. I left with the shopping half done.

Now before you think that this is an attack on Woolworths, I have noticed the same things at Coles. I don’t know who does the buying, but they do not do it very well. Too often there are vacant shelves, too often few goods outside the store brands.

I really think that we as consumers have to fight back. Individually, we are all powerless. Together, we dictate the market place.

So how do we do this?

First, don’t buy store brands.

I am not saying make a martyr of yourself. Some store brands are very good value. There have been times when we were really broke that the store brands were important in keeping us fed within budget. Still, the store brands are a key weapon that the chains use to improve their leverage over other suppliers and their profit margins. So don’t let them use that weapon.

Second, buy local or small. Find, for example, the green grocer or butcher who you like who has good produce. Buy at the farm gate. The best chooks I have ever eaten came from a local Armidale producer.

Third, and I think that this is very important, when you find a local supplier who is good, promote them among your friends

We all know that small does not necessarily mean good. Small can mean good, but there are also some very ordinary suppliers. If you promote the good, then you also place pressure on the others.

Do not be afraid to tell your favourite stores, farms etc that you like them, giving the reasons why. Do not be afraid to tell them that you are promoting them. Do not be afraid, too, to make suggestions about things that they might do to improve.

What else can we do to improve the position?

I am running out of space, so I will keep this short.

If a chain does not stock your favourite brand, ask why. People are generally too frightened to do this, but it is important. An individual complaint has no impact. Multiple individual complaints do.

Then, and this deserves full post to give it meaning, expect the local branches of the chains to act local. Too often, the centralized decision making within the chains means that local management has little power. This needs to be turned around.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Newcastle's Heritage Problems

It is now several years since my last proper visit to Newcastle. I have been there twice in the last few years, but I was running workshops and just went from the airport to the venue. This means that I am not in a position to properly comment on a story by Debra Jopson in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

For those who do not know Newcastle, the old central city has always been Newcastle's jewel. This is an area of historic buildings, including buildings dating from the City's past as a penal settlement. Now it appears tNewcastle POhat this is under threat.

The photo shows the historic, now vacant and apparently vandalised, Newcastle post office.   

According to the story, Newcastle's centuries-old inner city has about 150 empty buildings. Hunter Street, the main street, presents a parade of boarded shopfronts and vandalised buildings once considered architectural gems. Nearby, the city's shopping mall is in deep decline.

I said that I could not comment properly, but if true the story suggests an unfolding tragedy.

The last time I spent a few full days in Newcastle, I was struck by the apartments along the river, blocking out the water. I was also struck by the decline in the CBD. Things seem to have got worse.

Poor Newcastle. In 1967 we lost the New England New State plebiscite on your vote when you obeyed the directives of the then Sydney ALP Government and voted no. I understand the deep tribal and class loyalties within Newcastle, the reasons why you followed orders even though it was against your own economic interests.

I take absolutely no pleasure in your problems. Newcastle is New England's big city, one of the keys to the history of Northern New South Wales. I was very young when I first visited Newcastle, and I loved it. It was so different.

Since then I have watched Newcastle's growing emasculation.

It's not all bad. In pure life-style terms, Newcastle still offers one of, if not the greatest, combinations in the country. Dare I say it?, possibly even better than Armidale! I stand to be corrected, South Australians might challenge me, but to my mind there is no other place in Australia that offers such a combination of city and country. Newcastle also has a vibrant cultural life.

So, as I said, its not all bad. Still, if Debra Jopson's story is in any way correct, there is a fair bit of work involved in re-building central Newcastle.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Distant memories of a now vanished North Coast - Ministering to Maclean


   I am not sure when I first visited Maclean. I was very young on one of those North Coast trips with my parents. I do know that we visited the Harwood sugar mill (photo).

Established in 1874, this is the oldest operating sugar mill in Australia. I was very impressed. I had never seen a big factory, and really liked sugar.

Then, years later, I became friends at school in Armidale with the son of the Anglican minister in Maclean. He was boarding and lonely, I too was something of a misfit, so we hit it off.

His mother invited me to come and stay with them during the school holidays, something that was to become something of a tradition.

I must have been about thirteen that first time.

David and I joined the motor coach that went to Grafton down the long winding dirt road from Armidale. The dusty road crawled through the little timber towns with the dust coating the leaves of the trees. This is one of the most beautiful roads in Australia, but I fear I was more concerned to get there!

We were met at Grafton by Mr Kemp and driven down to Maclean. I am not sure where the parsonage was now, up the hill from River street I think. I do know that we used to walk down the hill and wander along the street to town.

The wharf fascinated me. There were faded signs from the North Coast Steam Navigation Company. I did not know then that the steamers had stopped visiting Maclean just a few yearSS Pulganbar Macleans before.

The photo shows the SS Pulganbar docking at the Maclean wharf. Completed in 1912 for the Clarence run, the ship serviced the area until there was rail connection, thereafter going to Byron Bay.

I am not sure when this photo was taken, probably the 1920s or 1930s from the clothes. It is quite a big ship as compared to the Fitzroy that I wrote about in North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy.

My first and clearest memory of Maclean is the mosquitos. They were huge and numerous, coming out in the early evening. We had mosquito nets over the beds, something that I had never seen before, and the mosquitos used to gather round them in clouds. Playing mahjong or cards in the evening, coils kept them under some control.

I am not sure of the size of the Maclean parish, but in addition to his services at Maclean Jack Kemp would go every Sunday to deliver a service at one or the other of the many small towns round Maclean.

The Clarence River really does deserve its nickname, the Big River. There were so many nooks and crannies, side roads through the cane fields. We did not have to go to the services. Mr Kemp would drop us off, and we would start walking back to be picked up after the service was over.

Mr Kemp's stipend as a minister was not large, so Nan Kemp did a fair bit of baking. She made the greatest Anzac biscuits; David and I were allowed a ration of these. I still love Anzac biscuits. Later, at Molong, she taught me to make Johnny Cakes, something that I still like but now rarely make.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Belshaw’s World: The importance of local history

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 27 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.

The recent death of Bud Tingwell marked the severing of another small link in the chain between Armidale’s present and its 20th century past. I suspect it went unrecognised.

Three to four generations is about the maximum period that the past exists in living memory.

On Dad's side, my grandfather and grandmother were born in working class England in the middle of the industrial revolution. On mum's side, my grandfather was born in Sydney at a time of depression that followed the 1880s building boom, grandmother into a free-selector farming family that had come to Rocky River during the gold rushes. My daughters live in the middle class world of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

This simple family history spans some 150 years marked by major change. There is obviously a huge gap between working class Wigan in Victorian England and life in Sydney today, yet my daughters retain some living access to it simply because it is still in my living memory from family stories. This will cease once I die.

Outside this living memory, a society has to rely on other mechanisms to preserve its culture and access to its past. If we look at a traditional Aboriginal community, for example, there was a complex process for maintaining and passing on the knowledge and traditions of the group starting with the education of the young.

This is equally true in Australia today, although the transmission mechanisms are different. When I look at my daughters, for example, their knowledge of Australia's history and culture comes a little from their family, more so from school, more still from friends and from exposure to the various forms of media.

Note that I haven’t included history books. I don’t think either has read any Australian history in the last few years. This is partly a matter of time, more so of interest.

If you look at the shelves of the big book stores, the Australian history that is included is issue or topic driven. There is nothing that actually attracts them in the patchy offerings on show.

The reasons why published Australian history has, as I see it, declined in influence are complicated and beyond the scope of this column. The effect is that what we can loosely call mainstream published history no longer provides an effective bridge between Australia’s past and present.

Not all is lost, however, because of the rise of interest in family and local history.

There are probably more people writing and researching history now than at any time in Australia’s history. These family and local histories play a vital role in the recreation and preservation of our memories of the Australian past.

I am very conscious of this just at present because my recent reading has been almost exclusively regional. As part of this, I must have read at least twenty local or family histories from the Lower Hunter to Stanthorpe.

Publication dates span some seventy years, while the standard of writing and research varies greatly. Yet together they paint a picture of life that you will simply not find in many of the present works with their often metro and topic biases.

There is a problem, however, and that is accessibility.

Most of the books I have read are either out of print or only available at a purely local level. I am lucky because I have quite a big collection built up over many years. Others are not so fortunate.

I have felt for a while that there must be some better way of making family, local and regional history accessible to a wider audience. I have yet to come up with a practical solution.

Oh, and what was the link between Bud Tingwell and Armidale?

He played the part of Alan Blake in Captain Thunderbolt.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ulmarra and the Clarence floods

Clarence floods 09

Photo: Izzy brings back the food.

Just a short note to say how much I have been enjoying Lynne's posts on the Clarence Valley floods. Since she and Izzy moved to Ulmarra there have been all sorts of interesting bits on local life.

There is just so much variety in New England life. I love it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Round the New England blogging traps - 7 Hunter Valley focus

Another update on New England blogs, this time with a focus on the Hunter Valley. I seem to have had a very Armidale focus recently, so I want to balance.

My historical thinking at the moment is very Hunter focused. Not Newcastle focused, this city's Valley dominance came later, but the role the Hunter played in the first fifty years of colonisation. You cannot write the history of New England without starting with the Hunter.

After a number of years Gaye has decided to move, so in future Snippets and sentiments061_Hunter_Valley_sunrise will come from a new location. This photo shows a final sunrise in that part of the rural Hunter that Gaye and Grahame have called home.

I can understand how she feels about her garden.

When we moved recently after a long rental period, the first thing the owners did was to remove all the mulch and composted soil to reduce soil levels back to level with the lawn. The second was to remove all the herbs. They wanted flat beds in which they then planted with plants from a nursery to give a tidy, pretty, feel. Half the new plants died in a week because the very sandy soil exposed to the atmosphere and with the top layer removed just compacted and dried out.

Dion Archibald on Art News Blog continues his musings on the world of art with some travel mixed in.  In Art and Spirituality Dion looks at the question of the impact of art on the viewer. I am not a painter. However, as someone who has looked at thousands of paintings over the years I have a far more more positive view than that which seems to come through the post.

I found the discussion in  Nicole Danes is a Scammer quite eye opening. Have a look and tell me what you think.

Peter Firminger's Wollombi Valley had a quite startling post. History be damned - Rothbury Riot will have to go - Shame Fosters Shame suggests that the trade mark decision on the use of the word Rothbury, something that I found a little startling anyway, will affect the use of the word outside just wine.

Surely this can't be right? I must check this one with one of my legal colleagues. My impression was that trade mark law would limit the use to wine.

NewcastleonHunter continues with some interesting material. Hi, new in town?, a post published back in June 2007, captures the Novocastrian's love of their own city.

Uni students lose ‘the gap’ deals with more current events, a combined protest by final year school students from Port Macquarie and Newcastle University over the changes to the Newstart allowance that make it harder for students to get the allowance.

This change was introduced in the last Commonwealth budget but largely went un-noticed because it was buried in the detail. It affects us personally as well, because my youngest is no longer eligible for Newstart. I haven't anDungog Film Festivalalysed the detail of the change, but on the surface it just makes it harder for kids to study.

Newcastle AU continues with its mix of photos and stories, including a number celebrating the recent Dungog Film Festival. This Festival with its focus on Australian film has become quite a success story, although this year there was some controversy of mining industry sponsorship.

Over the last few years mining has become quite a divisive issue in the Valley and further north on the Liverpool Plains. This is one of, if not the, world's largest coal provinces. The expansion of mining pits the Valley's traditional coal interests including workers against rural and green interests.

Over on Jamie Andrei's Digital Synergies, there have been a number of recent posts with titles like Twitter or blogs or social networking in plain English. They are short videos. I haven't checked them yet, but they look interesting.

I have time for just one more blog. As always, Media Hunter has been carrying some interesting stuff dealing with the new digital environment.

I have been meaning for a while to look back at some of Craig's posts on regional TV ratings. I haven't said much about the history of TV in New England, but there are some quite interesting stories here, including the way ratings variations continue, I think, to reflect various long running themes and differences within New England's history.

All for now.