Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Belshaw's World: Black tea and pearls of wisdom from the old bloke

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 23 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.

This photo from cousin Jamie’s collection shows men picking fruit in the orchard at Glenroy, Kentucky. The year is 1948.Orchard, Glenroy, 1948

Working in this orchard was my first paid job. I was just about to start university. For a dollar an hour I thinned the fruit, removing small apples to allow the bigger ones to grow.

The job was a bit of a culture shock.

To begin with, I had to start work at 7.30am, a very early hour for someone like me used to going to bed late. At seven, I would leave the house carrying my lunch and a thermos full of tea and walk across the paddocks and up the hill to the orchard.

I was working with an old bloke, at least he seemed old to me, who was something of a Uralla identity. At smoko we would roll a cigarette and then drink our tea while he chatted. I took to drinking tea black with no sugar because that was the way he drank it.

I learned some weird and wonderful things over the weeks we worked together; stories of prospecting, of secret gold finds, of long past district scandals.

All of this came rushing back to me recently because of a story I was researching on carbon farming.

I had been noticing an increasing number of references to carbon farming, a farming process that captures CO2 in the soil, reducing green house gasses while increasing soil fertility. I had also noticed that some of the National Party parliamentarians were attacking plantation forestry, arguing that changed farming techniques were a far better way of capturing CO2 than locking large areas up in softwood plantations.

As I dug down I found a fascinating story of challenge and change, a story largely ignored by the city media. This is a world where individual visionaries are trying to change the way we manage the land, in so doing struggling against conventional wisdom and the way this has become enshrined in legislation and regulation.

The remarkable story of Peter Andrews and his campaign to re-hydrate the Australian soil was well covered in one of the most popular ABC Australian Story series.

The story of Dr Christine Jones, is less well covered. She is a retired CSIRO soil scientist who has spent the last two years campaigning around Australia trying to interest farmers in adopting carbon farming techniques. The claims made by Dr Jones are quite startling. I quote:

“This year Australia will emit just over 600 million tonnes of carbon. We can sequester 685 million tonnes of carbon by increasing soil carbon by half a per cent on only 2% of the farms. If we increased it on all of the farms, we could sequester the whole world's emissions of carbon.”

Reading the stories of the work of Andrews, Jones and their disciples was absolutely fascinating. I followed the on-line story over two years of the experiments of one WA wheat farmer in the application of Peter Andrew’s natural farming sequence approach. One outcome was reduced salinity.

The reason my research on carbon farming brought Glenroy and the New England past back to me lies in the role of farmer or grazier as experimenter, innovator.

There is, I think, a growing modern urban view that sees the farmer in some way as a landscape destroyer, guilty of raping the continent. This view leads naturally into a focus on control, on limiting the things that farmers can do with their land.

Of course there have been farming mistakes. There has also been a continuing tension between the constant need to improve productivity and the need to maintain the land for the long term.

In all this, it is easy to forget that, at least so far as the New England is concerned, it is the farmers and graziers themselves that have been at the heart of land management and improvement.

There is a good story here that needs to be told. But this will have to wait to another column!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Death of Virginia Chadwick

Virginia Chadwick I simply wanted to record the death of Virginia Chadwick (1944-2009). The SMH story on her death is here, the obituary here.

I first met Virginia when she was NSW Tourism minister and I was chair of Tourism Armidale. I found that she was one of that small number of Newcastle people who campaigned for the New England new state cause at the time of the 1967 plebiscite. There were not enough, and we went down on the Newcastle vote driven by fierce ALP opposition.

As chair of Tourism Armidale I was arguing at the time that we needed to reinstate the new state cause for tourism reasons if nothing else. In a crowded world, Armidale and New England needed to differentiate themselves. One way of doing that that was to go in direct opposition to Sydney, to interest people to come because we were different.

Virginia understood my point, although as a minister in the Sydney Government her hands were somewhat bound.

It is easy to be wise in retrospect. If I had known what a failure NSW tourism branding was to become I would have pushed a lot harder. Then in my role as Chair I was trying to be polite, to gather Government support for the local cause.

Sometimes you have to cut through.

I failed as chair of Tourism Armidale. I did so because I tried to work within a broken system. I should have tried harder to persuade Virginia that NSW had to fund a separate New England tourism promotion. Alternatively, we should have gone it alone, rejecting any form of Government support.

Virginia was a very considerable success in her personal and professional life. I remember her well.  

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The colours of New England

By accident of political geography, most people think of New England in north-south terms. When thinking of New England in colours it is better to think west-east.

New England's colours do change north-south. However, those changes are more gradual because New England's main geographic regions - coast, tablelands, western slopes and plains - run north-south. The traveller sees changes, but these are gradual, muted. Travelling west-east we transect zones, crossing sharply from one to another. Differences standGordon Smith south of Bourke out more clearly.

This photo by New England photographer Gordon Smith shows the country south of Bourke. The ground is bare, red to ochre tones. The trees have an olive green hue. The flat plains in this region make for a vast sky that can be intensely blue. The passage of the moon casts a glow across the plains. On moonless nights the panoply of the stars stand out bright against a black sky.

The same things are true further east. But as you move east there are more lights to dull the stars, more hills to break the the sky.

New England's rainfall declines east to west, so you as you move east rainfall and hence ground cover increases.

The following photo was taken only a few hundred kilometres from the first one. You can see the same flat plains, the same olive colouring, but now there is grass.

During good times, these paddockColwells 18th1s are under wheat. The photo was taken in drought. During drought, the colour of the grass changes. It becomes greyer, sometimes almost transparent.

Eldest went to this property for the twins' twenty first.

The twins boarded at her Sydney school. We went though almost the entire school period without realising that we were part of the same extended family.

The party was a real culture shock for many of the city girls. They had never been to the country, let alone a big country property in the midst of a severe drought.

The New England Tablelands forms the central core of New England. Rivers flow to the west from the Tablelands, separated by ranges. These ranges provide another element in the colours of New England. In the distance, they appear a hazy blue. Close up, they acquire a more olive green tone.warrumbungles   

This photo is of the Warrumbungles. You can see the colour gradations.

In the far distance you can see the hazy blue. Close up, there is a golden colour fading into olive green.

Gold is another colour of New England. The gold of wattles: while their colour merges with the olive green of the trees, wattle still stands out. Beyond this, many of the trees have a yellow tinge, as do some of the soils.

The western river valleys that lie between the old remnant western mountains begin small in their New England Tablelands headwaters but then broaden and flatten. At 1.2 million hectares, the Liverpool Plains is vast in its own right.

Black soils, red soils, yellow soils support the New England wheat crop. Remnants, a painting by New England painter Harry Pidgeon remnantsHarry Pidgeon, shows the colour patterns.

Now on the Liverpool Plains another colour, the black of coal, is in competition with the the varied hues of soil and crop for dominance. The battle between farmer and miner has been a harsh one that continues. 

The rivers that flow through these valleys to help form the Darling River can be slow and meandering. At times they cease to flow entirely. Then, at flood, they can carry enormous volumes of water submerging towns and farms alike. Movement becomes impossible. It is no coincidence that the debut album of New England song writer and singer L J Hill was called simply Namoi Mud.

These rivers are now the centre of another clash of colours whose epicentre lies far to the south. The diminishing muddy brown of the once mighty Murray River competes with the white of the irrigated New England cotton crop, the gold and yellow of irrigated wheat and sunflower. To some degree the agricultural expansion of New England is being wound back to feed the water needs of people living thousands of miles away, to satisfy the demands of urban environmentalists, to solve the problems of a much bigger but grossly over-used river. New England has more water, that's the key. Harry Pidgeon edge

As the rivers approach the tablelands agriculture merges into bush; gold is replaced by live green. Another Harry Pidgeon painting, Edge, captures the transition.

  We now enter another world.

The Northern or New England Tablelands stretches from the Barrington Tops and Liverpool Range in the south to just past the Queensland town of Stanthorpe in the north, a strait line distance of over 440 kilometres. This is Australia's largest tablelands area, one whose sheer size makes for its own variety.

We have now entered the world of the New England poet and writer Judith Wright whose family established a chain of pastoral properties extending from the family head properties on the eastern edge of the Tablelands up the plains and slopes into Queensland.

South of my day's circle, part of my blood's country
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue leaved and olive, outcropping granite -

Notice the colour. This is a different world, both softer and harsher than that further west. The photo of Cooney Creek by Gordon Smith captures the way in which mist can gentle the countryside.Gordon Smith Cooney Creek

Tableland's granite adds a new colour, gray. Granite is gray or sometimes gray white. Granite soil can be very poor; clean, lean, hungry country to use Judith's words.

The early European settlers liked the Tablelands in part because it reminded them of home.

The high value of wool built dynasties that in many ways aped the world of the home countries. They modified the landscape through planting, introducing new colours - the deeper green of elms and oaks; the change of colour that marked the seasons. Ivy covered buildings.

There is an enormous difference between the harsher reds, yellows and golds of the western slopes and plains and the reds and golds of a Tablelands autumn. Red and gold - we can see the difference in the differences between Tamworth and Armidale.

St Peter's Gordon Smith  Armidale, still the capital in waiting for the self-governing New England state so many of us have sought over so many years, is in some ways a genteel city.

This photo, again by Gordon Smith, shows red, gold, green and blue framed around Armidale's Anglican cathedral.

Not everyone likes Armidale. Greg Shortis, one of the Armidale poets, wrote:

Scabrous little dump,why should I give a stuff
About your aldermen and your counterculture
Making great stumbles forward into the future?
Why should I stumble over your great poets?
That bushranger was right
Who observed people travelling in your direction
From behind a rock.

This type of jaundiced view is not uncommon. To many Tamworth people in particular, Armidale is conservative, genteel, behind the times. To many Armidale people, Tamworth is brash, commercial.

The gold of Armidale's autumn colours contrasts with the gold of Tamworth's golden guitar award.

It is no an accident that Tamworth should have become Australia's country music capital. As capital of the Liverpool Plains, Tamworth grew from farming. Australian country music is a music especially of the slopes and plains. Armidale preferred folk or jazz, Tamworth country. Armidale is a world of pastel colours, Tamworth colours are brighter.  

To the east and south of the Tablelands the palette changes again. Now we enter the world of the coastal, eastern flowing rivers.

The Hunter Valley in the south is a world of different colours again. While not New England's biggest coastal river valley, the Clarence is 8,800 square kilometres as compared to the Hunter's 8,500 square kilometres, it is New England's longest. From Murrurundi at the head of the Valley to Newcastle at the Hunter River mouth is almost three hours driving time south and east.

Belonging to New England by history, the Valley is increasingly joined to Sydney for planning purposes. The old joke about NSW standing for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong has become increasingly true. An arbitrary line has been drawn through the middle of the Valley. The Upper Hunter is allocated to the rest of NSW, the Lower Hunter to GreEmirates Park 07ep-headquarersater Sydney.  

As the road drops down from the Liverpool range into the valley, the mountain bluffs stand out, ringing the valley. We have entered horse country. The green of irrigated fields, the white of fence posts, the horses grazing, stand out.

The photo shows Emirates Park at Murrurundi. This is one of the oldest studs in the valley. Further south, Scone lays claim to be the horse capital of Australia. Nearby Gundy is the headquarters of the Packer Family's polo interests.

Like the Liverpool Plains, black is the new gold in the Hunter. The huge coal seams that stretch up the Valley and onto the Liverpool Plains The huge coal trains that wend their way south to the clogged and overcrowded port at Newcastle are gray by paint and coal dust. The only colour comes from the dusty engines and the sometimes graffiti on the rolling stock.

As in the Liverpool Plains, coal has become an environmental flash point.

The grape and olive growers whose vineyards and plantations dot the Hunter and provihunterwinede both the colour and taste that attracts visitors, protest about the potential damage to their crops. In Newcastle green protestors attempt to block expansion, a view not shared by miners further up the Valley.

At Newcastle we reach the point of interactions between sea blue, sky blue and people.

Coastal sky blue is not the same as that further inland. Clouds and haze mute the colour to some degree. The night sky is not the same either. Lights, cloud and haze mute the colours. People rarely look up at the giant bowl of the night sky.

From Newcastle north along the coastal strip to the border the key colours are blue, green, gold and brown. The blue of sea, sky and the nearby ranges; the varying shades of green of the vegetation; the gold of the beaches; and the generally brown rivers flowing from the mountains to the sea.

A remarkable number of the new settlers that have moved to the coastal strip in recent years live in a narrow strip/ To many, the distant blue of the ranges marks a barrier. The colours of New England have shrunk, the palette reduced to just a few colours  

In some ways this is the world of the ABC TV series East of Eden. While loosely set in and filmed around the now very trendy resort centre of Byron Bay, this series was marked by a disconnect with real life. One viewer wrote:

They were too new-age, too involved with themselves. Frankly, I thought they were a bunch of tossers, and it seems, going by the ratings, that a lot of other viewers thought likewise.  

While I don't fully share this view, East of Eden does mark a truncation of the view of coastal New England in the external world to a narrow slice.

Again, the best way of seeing the changing colours of New England is to keep moving east. As we move up onto the Tablelands from the west the trees change colour. There is more green and olive green, less light green or brown. 20081019-08-25-31-acrossTheRidges

Moving further east, the Tablelands are deeply marked by huge gorges cut deep into the country by the rivers and streams flowing to the coast.

We have entered the world of the escarpment where, as this photo by Gordon Smith shows, ranges pile on ranges moving from blue-green to blue with distance. Then, suddenly, the roads drop sharply as they wind their way down. Now we have the different green of ferns, clear running water, the sound of bellbirds. This some of New England's most beautiful country.

I have often wondered why people spend so little time in the upper reaches of the coastal valleys. Some parts are well known.

This painting by Elioth Gruner shows the Bellinger River Valley looking back to the distant mountaGruner The Bellingen Riverins. This valley is well known, with the town of Bellingen now well known counter-cultural centre. Other parts such as the Upper Macleay are less recognised.

The distance between mountains and sea varies enormously. In places, the ranges crowd the coast.

In others and especially in the Hunter and Northern Rivers - the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed - the hinterland is substantial. Grafton itself, once the dominant river port, is just under an hour's drive away from the river mouth at Yamba.  

Perhaps the first thing that an inland person notices about the coast is just how green the grass is. The upper river valleys can be very brown, but green is dominant. This holds true, too, for the sugar cane fields from Grafton north. 

The next thing an inland person notices are the rivers themselves. To inland eyes these, and especially the Clarence, are big rivers.

The sheer size of the Clarence makes for great visual varietClarence Rivery in the physical and built landscapes.

The many little villages such as Ulmarra nestle in the countryside or on the banks; there is a constant sense of discovery.

Still moving west, we finally finish at the ocean.

The red/yellow soils that began our journey have now been replaced by yellow sand.

We have travelled around 8oo kilometres in a straight line, much more if our detours are included. It's time to end the journey and have a beer! Or, in my case, prepare lunch.  

Friday, September 25, 2009

Welcome to visitor 25,000 - and the colours of New England

Well, this blog has finally clicked over 25,000 visitors. I have two counters on this blog, but the second higher one includes my own visits. Visitor 25,000 came from the US via a link on from 18th Century Historical Trekking,1680-1760 (Australia). One thing that is nice is that I now have a small number of regular visitors. Not a lot, but at least some people come back.

Yesterday having finished Harry Pidgeon's Naturally Touched Cooks Hill Gallery, I found myself on the bus jotting down notes on the colours of New England. Within limits of space and especially time, I am constantly looking for new ways to bring New England alive, especially for those who do not know the place.

Did you know that the colour gradients in New England run west-east? Or, if you prefer, east-west.     I have to think about the best way of presenting this. In the meantime, another painting from Harry Pidgeon's current exhibition at the Cooks Hill Gallery. Called simply edge of town, this painting would be instantly recognisable to most Australian. But it is only one scene from New England's variety.

Harry Pidgeon edgeoftown

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Harry Pidgeon's Naturally Touched Cooks Hill Gallery

Harry Pidgeonslopeswest

My thanks to Paul Barratt for bringing to my attention the latest exhibition by New England painter Harry Pidgeon.  This will be open until 12 October at Mark Widdup’s Cooks Hill Galleries in Newcastle.

This painting, slopeswest, shows the New England Tablelands merging into the patchwork quilt of the Western Slopes and Plains. The different soil colours in the fields together with sky and horizons makes for some very attractive and striking scenery.   

Harry Pidgeon at Cooks Hill provides an introduction to the artist, as well as links to past exhibitions. Harry Pidgeon exhibition: Naturally touched provides links to the exhibition, while Harry Pidgeon’s opening at Cooks Hill reports on the opening.

I followed Paul and Harry through the Misses Cooper to Armidale Demonstration School and then to TAS the year behind. I didn't know Harry well. One year behind is actually a considerable gap at an early age. However, I find the similarities in early life patterns interesting  Harry Pidgeon dialogueboxes

The next painting is simply called dialogue boxes.

The Gallery records a little of Harry's career in these terms:   

When nature and art touch each other they become one, this is how Harry grew up in rural New England with its backdrop of thunderhead clouds, mountains, ravines, and small townships. Constantly going bush, observing nature, birds and animals he was always drawing and painting. As a keen observer of nature he was regularly painting outdoors by the age of seven with the Adult Art Education students from the Armidale Teacher’s College. From the beginning he loved the bush’s nuances and throughout his life has walked, camped, canoed, studied and painted its many discourses.

It was always Harry’s intention to be a painter and by the time he arrived at The National Art School in Sydney he was using watercolours with the force of oils. He was strongly influenced by the work of Paul Klee, Edward Hopper, Lyonel Feininger and Wayne Thiebaud, all of whom had early careers in the world of mass communications. It was no digression that after graduating Harry decided to join the then largest advertising agency in the world - the American owned J. Walter Thompson Company as a graphic artist and an art director working on national and international accounts.

In the early 80’s Harry segued to painting full time and over a 5 year period won more than 50 art awards in Sydney, Brisbane and interstate regional centres. Concentrating on exhibiting, his career now includes 28 solo or feature artist exhibitions and dozens of group shows. Galleries exhibited at include: Barry Stern, Trevor Victor Harvey, Holdsworth, Philip Bacon, Red Hill, Riverhouse, Schubert, Cooks Hill, Eddi Glastra, Bell Gallery and CAZ and Biota in Los Angeles USA.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Belshaw’s World: A closer look at Kamilaroi and language

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 16 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.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading Michael O'Rouke's three books on the Kamilaroi. Michael kindly sent them to me after reading one of my posts on the Aboriginal languages of New England

A Gunnedah boy who went to school in Armidale at De La Salle College, Michael’s writing is informed by a deep knowledge of the country as well as the historical sources.

The first book in the series, Kamilaroi Lands: North-central New South Wales in the early 19th century is a local/regional history, but of a very different type to most of those published.

Self-published by the author in 1997, the book is a detailed and painstaking exploration of the life of one Aboriginal language group at and in the period immediately following European settlement.

For those who do not know the Kamilaroi, they occupied a huge sweep of Australia from the Upper Hunter north along the Western Slopes and Plains into southern Queensland. Depending on the exact boundaries, we are talking about an area of more than 80,000 square kilometres.

You will sometimes see the name Gamilaraay used instead of the more traditional Kamilaroi.

Gamilaraay - gamil + array: literally no + having or having gamil for no – denotes a form of speech, the broader language spoken by the Kamilaroi as a whole. Even here, Gamilaraay could be used to describe the language (that speech which has gamil for no) or, by implication, its speakers (those who use gamil for no).

I find it easiest to continue to use the now traditional Kamilaroi to describe the people, reserving Gamilaraay for the language.

Michael's book starts with language.

He explores the ethnographic and linguistic evidence as it relates to the boundaries between the Kamilaroi and surrounding language groups. In doing so, he draws out the way in which names attached to area, to specific local groups, to language, all come together to confuse

He also shows how the distribution of Aboriginal place names adopted by the European settlers can actually help indicate the distribution of groups if you know the underlying language structures.

Michael then explores Kamilaroi social structures and ways of life. This is ethno-historical detective work. Suddenly we see traditional structures and relationships as they stood at a point in time emerging from the mists of the past.

When I first studied traditional Aboriginal life at University all those years ago I saw the anthropologists’ interest in kinship structures as obsessive and eye-glazing.

To some degree I still hold this view and for the same reason. It can interfere with understanding of other aspects of Aboriginal life.

That said, I do not think that you can understand the life of the Kamilaroi without understanding kinship structures.

The three level structure, to use the anthropologists’ terms, of moiety, section and totemic clan provided a framework that integrated all natural phenomena, not just the human population. In human terms, everything had a place and everything was in that place.

I still have to work out how best to explain all this in simple terms that even I can understand. While the principles themselves are simple enough, the way those principles interacted in practice can be quite complicated.

Each man, women or child in the Kamilaroi world belonged at birth to one moiety, one of two sections in each moiety, one of the totemic clans. We know that there were at least sixty-four totemic clans divided between the two moieties.

This structure was expressed in people’s names.

Like all Kamilaroi, the 18th century Kamilaroi war leader, the Red Kangaroo, had three names. There was a personal name that has not survived. Then came his section name, Gambu, marking him as a member of the Gubadhin moiety. Finally, there was a totem name, Ganur or Ganura or “red kangaroo”.

Kinship was central to Kamilaroi life.

A person coming into a strange group for trading or ceremonial purposes was always allocated a kinship position if one was not already held. The kinship structure allowed all people including strangers to be allocated a formal kinship place.

The language used by Aboriginal people today – brother, sister, auntie, uncle – link back to these previous structures because they express relationships in formal kinship terms independent of actual blood ties.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Squatters Rest Tucabia


I continue to enjoy Lynne's blog exploring the Clarence Valley. This photo is taken at the Squatters Rest Private Museum at Tucabia.

At 8,800 square miles, this is a major river valley with great variety in scenery and life style. Lynne shows one slice.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Belshaw's world: On the enduring power of good teachers

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 9 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.

The following blog post was selected by one of my colleagues for his archive series. I thought that I would repeat it here because of its local connections.

Written in September 2007, the post deals with the way that good teachers have an enduring influence.

The Neil in the post is Neil Whitfield, the former English master at Sydney Boys’ High, an inspired teacher. The Blonde Canadian, someone who was neither Blonde nor Canadian, was herself a good teacher who finally left teaching because of the difficulties involved.

The post begins.

I see that Neil has started a new blog! This one focuses on teachers and teaching.

A little while ago I saw a rather wonderful post on the Blonde Canadian's blog about her teaching. This led me to write a heart felt comment and then write a post on the power of passion.

I think that teaching is a wonderful but badly underrated profession. The power of my best teachers has followed me down through my life. Many are now dead, but they endure in my memory.

Now that I am older and more reflective, I have started to record some of them to try to carry their memory on. I know that this will have limited effect, but it is my personal tribute.

Teachers like Mr Fittler who gave me room to grow in third and fourth class at Armidale Demonstration. Or George Crossle at TAS who helped instil in me a love of history and whose treatment of an essay on the White Australia Policy forced me to question my own unthinking acceptance of the status quo.

Brian Mattingley, the teacher who so influenced Alex Buzo and who gave me a love of English. Peter Brownie who challenged me intellectually by giving me university level geography work to read.

At University level, Isabel McBryde who not only created so much fun but gave me an interest in the Aborigines that holds to this day. Or Ted Tapp, whose reflective views on history provided an enduring foundation for my own thinking.

Not all great teachers are to be found at school or university. Here I think of Chris Sharah in the Commonwealth Treasury.

Chris was killed in tragic circumstances, an enormous loss. He not only saved my public service bacon at one point, that's another story, but he was absolutely punctilious in improving my English.

He used to take and red pen my writing, spending long periods explaining to me what he had done and, more importantly, why. The clarity and brevity of my minutes to the Treasurer improved greatly as a consequence.

In this current age, it is hard to imagine a Government Department that prided itself on the standard of its writing. Yet that is what Treasury then did, and may still do for all I know, seeking to present complex ideas in simple and sometimes elegant form.

At least in Chris's case, I was able to provide some payback.

After his death his brother came to work for me and then accepted a job in the private sector. John Stone as acting head of the Department directed that James be essentially put into isolation.

I thought that this was wrong, and fought it, refusing to comply. Finally Sir Frederick Wheeler, upon his return to duty, ruled in my favour. It was not easy as a section head to stand against the acting Departmental Secretary, but I thought it an important issue of principle. I also had the personal satisfaction that I was doing something for Chris.

I suppose that throughout my working life I have been a frustrated teacher. Certainly I believe that I have an obligation to pass my skills on, to encourage my people to think and question. In doing so, I would like to think that I am carrying on the influence of my key teachers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Graeme Blundell interviews New England romance/crime writer Bronwyn Parry

I see from Bronwyn Parry's blog that Australian actor Graeme Blundell has published a very favourable interview and story on Bronwyn's writing. The story is indeed favourable and well deserved. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Indonesia downgrades Australian degrees

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 2 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.

In June 2009 the Indonesian Government released new rankings for degrees from Australian universities. I was alerted to this by Tikno, an Indonesian blogging colleague, who was worried about the impact on the 14,000 or so Indonesian students studying in Australia.

Tikno’s concern lay in the fact that the ordinary bachelor degrees from major Australian universities are classified as associate degrees for Indonesian purposes. This means that Indonesian students returning to Indonesia find that their qualifications are not recognised when applying for jobs back home, especially in Government agencies.

I was quite startled by this and tried to find out more. After all, education is now our third largest export sector, and I had seen no references to this in the Australian media.

A check of the official Indonesian list of degree equivalences confirmed that ordinary Australian bachelor degrees do not qualify as full degrees.

There appear to be two reasons for this. Indonesian regulations require 144 credit points for a degree, whereas the ordinary Australian degree requires 120. Indonesian degrees also require a thesis, something that is generally required in Australia only at honours level.

From a story in the Jakarta Globe, it appears that the problem first emerged about four years ago. Mohamad Fahmi, interim chairman of the Indonesian Student Association of Australia (PPIA), is quoted as saying that his group wanted the Ministry of National Education to resolve the four-year-old issue.

“Some who have finished undergraduate programs here and returned home with high expectations are disappointed,” Fahmi told the Globe by telephone from Australia.

Indonesian officials defend the current position.

According to Fasli Jalal, the education ministry’s director general of higher education, “It is not fair for university students studying in Indonesia who have to finish a minimum of 144 credits, while other people who studied overseas, with smaller credits, ask for equal approval,”

Presently, students who graduate from undergraduate programs at Australian universities take an additional year at an Indonesian institution to fulfil the 144 credit point requirement. After that, they are officially holders of recognized bachelor degrees.

The question of equivalence of qualifications across borders has always been a difficult issue.

Australia has, rightly to my mind, been cautious about recognising certain degrees from certain countries in areas such as medicine. Indonesia is entitled to set and apply its own standards.

However, accepting this, I can understand the position of PPIA’s Mohamad Fahmi when the effect of the changed approach is to disadvantage Indonesian students already studying in Australia.

I also found it interesting that discussion around this issue actually centred first on questions of standards, not credit inputs to use modern jargon.

Ramana, an Indian blogger wrote:

“I am not qualified enough to comment on this without having more information…. What I do know is that there are a number of fly by night institutions in Australia that rip off unsuspecting overseas students by promising a lot, but not delivering. This is a matter of great concern here in India too. Many of our students go to Australia and return with qualifications that do not compare in quality to their literal equivalents in India.”

Ramana is actually talking about private vocational colleges, not universities, something that I pointed out.

However, the fact that I and others first interpreted this matter in terms of the standards of Australian education shows just how much damage has been done to Australia’s education reputation by recent events.

The entire education sector has been tarnished by the actions of a few.

I will be watching the statistics on overseas student numbers with interest. My feeling is that we are likely to see a significant decline.

Linking this back to one of my recurrent themes in this column, a recent story in the Financial Review began:

“All Vice-chancellors are deploying corporate style tactics to lift employee output and create leaner, more responsive workforces before a new era of performance-base funding agreements with the Commonwealth.”

Now compare this to what I have just written.

There is little room for students in a world of lean, mean, fighting machines!

UNE has again ranked high on the recent student satisfaction rankings. It does so because it is still, to my mind, a university.

This is UNE’s real competitive advantage. The issue is how to build on it.

Friday, September 04, 2009

ABS releases new population projections - implications for New England - 1

Note to readers: I felt a bit dumb about this post. I found the release referred to on a click-through. I read the release date as 09 when it was in fact 08! Now I remember it coming out.

I have let it stand because I want to comment anyway!

Today the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) released new population projections for Australia. The chart shows the results. Series C is low, series A combines higher migration with higher birthrates, while series A is sort of a mid point. Australian Population Projections September 09

As ABS points out, they are projections, not forecasts. I looked at this most recently in Belshaw’s World: Problems with projections.

On the midpoint projections, the population of New South Wales is projected to reach 10.2 million people by 2056, an increase of 3.3 million people (or 48%) since 30 June 2007.

Series B projects Sydney to remain the most populous city in Australia, with 7.0 million people in 2056. This means that around 2.5 million of the 3.3 million increase will go to Sydney. We need to exercise a little care here. While the ABS talks about Sydney, they in fact mean the Sydney statistical division. This includes the Blue Mountains and Central Coast.

The ABS does not provide regional or local break-ups. However, we can draw from other trends to make some judgements.

The number actually show in a rather startling way the importance of to Sydney of overseas migration.

The mid range projections show Sydney attracting a bit over 54,000 overseas migrants per annum, the rest of the state something over 2,000. Quite a big difference isn't it?

Partially offsetting this, Sydney is projected to lose 34,000 people per annum through interstate migration. By contrast, the rest of NSW is expected to gain around 14,000 per from interstate migration. Those already living in Sydney continue to vote with their feet. Sydney rises or falls on Australia's migration program.

The NSW South will continue to gain in importance relative to the North. We don't have a capital, they do.The population of the Australian Capital Territory is projected to increase by 169,500 people (50%) between 30 June 2007 and 2056, reaching 509,300 people. As as happened over recent decades, this growth will flow through to population growth in surrounding areas. Increasingly, Canberra is taking over from Sydney as the metropolis for Southern NSW.

I will stop here until I have had a chance to analyse the figures further.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Information, access and the transmission of knowledge

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 26 August 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 was surprised to discover in a conversation with eldest that she had not been aware of the constitutional difference between the states and territories. Apparently the matter came up in a Politics’ tutorial discussion on gay marriage and the ACT.

I am not sure why I was surprised. You only have to look at things such as the debate on the republic to see just how thin real constitutional knowledge is. Still, it got me musing on the way knowledge is transmitted from one generation to the next.

All societies have mechanisms for transmitting knowledge, ideas, attitudes and beliefs between generations. These are central to society’s stability and continuity.

In oral societies such as the Australian Aborigines, transmission relied on memory, the transfer of the memory of the older generation to the younger. This was carried out in a variety of formal and informal ways, immersing the young in a still living past.

The invention of writing created another transmission mechanism because it allowed knowledge and beliefs to be recorded independent of memory. With writing came concepts such as schools, tutors and teachers, creating new transmission mechanisms.

Writing also brought new suspicions and discontents because it facilitated the spread of alternative views.

The religious schisms within the Byzantine church spread because alternative interpretations became more readily available, in time adding a new word – byzantine – to the English language.

Many of those in power were deeply suspicious of writing and indeed of schools. Ideas must be controlled in order to preserve social order and the true way.

The Reformation, one of the defining events in European history, centred in part on the desire to make the bible available to all. This helped drive the spread of printing, a further transmission mechanism.

Those promoting the new ideas were in fact just as zealous in defending the true beliefs as those on the other side. People must have access to the bible, but which bible?

One outcome was the King James bible, one of the most beautiful pieces of literature in the English language.

The influence of the reformation continued in the growing support for schooling. Again this was seen as a way of access to the bible and the truths of the Christian faith.

The industrial revolution brought a new phase. Increasingly education was seen in terms of its contribution to competitive economic performance among nations. The concepts of economic efficiency and of education as training had arrived.

This new increasingly secular education marked a completely new stage.

Increasingly, the education system came to be seen as the central mechanism for intergenerational transmission of knowledge, attitudes and ideas. However, the focus was utilitarian and on the now. Concepts such as the wisdom and role of the elders were relegated to history’s scrap heap.

Recent debates over values in education reflect social concerns about the role of education. However, to a degree they miss a key point.

Values cannot be separated from education. Yet the thing that drives longer term change is not so much debate about value, but what gets included/excluded from the curriculum.

Given that the education system is now the dominant inter-generational transfer mechanism, that which is not included dies, although the effects may not be immediately apparent.

This explains the personal venom of Australia’s recent culture wars. These wars may sometimes have been expressed in terms of opposing values and indeed disputes about facts and interpretation, but the real issue was just what information about our past should be included.

Such a simple thing, information, yet so important and so little seen.