Saturday, October 31, 2009

James Barber appointed as UNE's new VC

Professor Barber

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

  You can find the details here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Media Hunter - a great blog

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

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

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

I have been thinking how best to handle this.

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We do need to be planning for this now.

We face particular challenges at a purely regional level.

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paul Barratt on Booloominbah and the early history of UNE

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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

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

I want to start this column with a simple statistic.

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

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

Keep this number in mind.

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

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

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

How could it be otherwise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tingha Community Regeneration Project update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hunter Valley Development collapses

Kristina Keneally on site


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

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

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

In all, a bit of a mess.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

To Port Macquarie the interesting way

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

I really do love driving around the back tracks.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Armidale School (TAS) changes its organisational structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

The changes are expected to come into effect in 2010.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

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

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

You can access the project here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it for a moment.

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

Ten years, another two million Australian expatriates. Remarkable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what would I propose?

Quite simple, really.

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

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

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

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Internet Frustration

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

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

Ah well. I am out of time this morning.   

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A tired triumvirate

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

How would you caption this?

I'm so tired

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottling was a big thing in our house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this fit with Italian food?

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

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

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Round the New England blogging traps 11 - Tablelands and coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 02, 2009

The role of the New England Press - and the need for change

Those who read this blog will know that I publish a weekly column in the Armidale Express, Belshaw's World. As part of this, I had a bit of a go at one point to Christian, the editor, about the the disappearance of the editorial from the paper.

Growing up, the Express editorials used to infuriate me because of what I saw as their bias. However, the paper always distinguished between the editorial, the official opinion, and the reporting. Further, the editorial was used for campaigning and commentary - the opinion.

I never expected to miss those editorials. Yet I came too. Their passing represented the shift of the paper from paper to commercial product.

Lindsay Foyle had a rather good post in the New Matilda about the decline especially of the print media. My view is that the papers (and TV) have lost their way. The media forms as well as informing their audience.

I spend a fair bit of time searching the on-line editions of the New England media. I don't think that they do a very good job.