Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Belshaw's World - Just a yarn among friends

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 25 November 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 really miss having a beer at the Newie with Uncle Ron and his friends. But then, a fair bit of my life has been marked by beers at various Armidale pubs yarning with friends!

Still, now that I am so far away and in a world remote, let me at least lean against the bar with my beer and yarn with you, my readers.

I suspect that few Armidale people realise what a really big deal the Aboriginal knock-out carnival was, just how well Armidale did in holding it.

For the last few months I have been doing some contract research, mainly ad hoc number crunching stuff mixed with policy advice, for an Aboriginal organisation.

I am still a smoker, so from time to time I gather downstairs for a chat with my smoking colleagues. In the two months before the knock-out, it was a regular topic of conversation, building as the date approached. Many wanted to go, but could not find accommodation.

The search for accommodation was a regular topic, one that I tried to help with by suggesting lesser known possibilities. The news that Council was providing camping spots was welcome, but still left a gap despite the efforts of the Information Centre.

The weekend arrived, and the whole thing went off remarkably well. Narwan, the Council and all those involved well deserved the praise they received. It added to my pride in my home town.

I wonder how many Armidale people know the important role that Armidale has played in Aboriginal advancement.

Some of this has come through tragedy, the death of children that forced reform. Then there is the role of activists and idealists, I use the word idealist advisedly, over many years. Beyond this is the role of UNE academics whose work drew Aboriginal Australia from the mist of the past to a tangible presence that could be touched by all Australians.

I have written of this a little before and will do so more in the future. I think that there is a story here that needs to be well told and better remembered.

One of the things that I love about writing this column is the feedback I get from time to time, including answers to my questions.

Following my last column on the Greeks in Armidale, both Jack Arnold and John Hamel sent me material on Greek cafes in Armidale; before going on, a correction and a question.

The correction: one café I referred to was the Nectar, not the Niagara.

The question: when was the first Greek café established in Armidale?

Retuning to my main theme, my last contact with John Hamel was many years ago. His email carried me back to the now distant days of the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

What an interesting group that was. Some were from Armidale, more from other places, brought to Armidale by education. Then, from Armidale, we dispersed all over the world.

John Coulter is an example.

A year back he contacted me after forty years because of a story I had written. From Teacher’s College and the MYF, John’s life has taken him on many twists and now to semi-permanent residence in Beijing where (among other things) he translates technical articles into Chinese.

Turning to another correspondent, Bev Betts wrote:

“Great article, yesterday on the Greek Cafe…….At Taree, Forster, Armidale, Tamworth, and Moree, great Lebanese Families were wonderful retailers, and still are”.

Bev’s email reminded me of a story. I may have the facts wrong, but this is as I remembered it.

Many years ago Bruce and Vee Halpin were on holiday. Bruce was then a senior executive at Richardson’s, Armidale’s biggest department store.

Sitting on a bus in Lebanon, they fell into conversation with a passenger.

“Where do you come from?” the other passenger asked. “Armidale”, Bruce replied.

“I have a customer in Armidale”, the other passenger said. “Who?” Bruce asked.

“Richardson’s”, said the other passenger!

I would love to write something on the Lebanese connection for Bev once I have finished the Greek theme.

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