Friday, April 30, 2010

New England - a community of regions

In another comment Newcastle's Heritage Problems, Greg wrote:

All this confirms the depth of feeling that is running throughout the north against the Sydney centric government in Macquarie Street. The challenge will be to harness that and create a genuine sense of "New England" as more than just some vague, ill defined region in the north of the state, but rather a community of regions with shared history and common purpose.

The idea that Greg put forward of New England as a community of regions is a very important one. To show this, I thought that I would explore the concept within a framework set by New England's history.

In some ways, the concept of regional identity at a sub-state level is a shadowy one, formed within institutional and cultural structures that operate centrally whether from Brisbane, Sydney or, increasingly, Canberra. These determine what will be taught, heard and delivered. Further, in electoral politics and in delivering services, all Governments use administrative boundaries that vary with time. These, too, affect the way people think and feel.

All this can make it difficult to determine specific regional identities. Clearly they exist, but what do they mean?

This issue was a central concern in High Lean Country, the recently published history of the New England Tablelands and Western Slopes. Subtitled Land, People and Memory in New England, the various writers explore aspects of New England history including thought and writing through to present times.

The book ends on a somewhat uncomfortable note. In the epilogue, 'a high lean country/full of old stories', Iain Davidson asks the question whether New England can survive as a concept in a different world.

Noting that a region's identity depends on shared identities, on the importance of common icons, Ian suggests that that there was a time when David Drummond's vision of the unifying power of education might have achieved greater unity within New England through the proselytising power of the Armidale Teachers' College and the University of New England, adding and perhaps it did. However, times change and Ian is pessimistic about the future.

For reasons that I will outline in a moment, I have a somewhat different view to Ian. However, for the moment, the book illustrates the difficulties associated with the establishment and maintenance of regional identity. If the more narrowly defined New England is struggling, what does this say about the broader New England?

Within Eastern Australia, there are four broader areas at sub-state level that have had a persistent sense of broader identity - North Queensland, Central Queensland, New England and the Riverina. Not coincidentally, these are also the areas that have had persistent separation movements, seeking self-government. A key distinguishing feature of all four is size and distance from the state capital.

New England is the most geographically diverse of the four. It has its own hierarchy of regions, each with a somewhat different history. Yet despite that diversity, despite rivalries between and within regions, despite the cultural and demographic changes of the second half of the twentieth century, New England has retained an identity. Even now, if you look at the overlapping and ever changing combination of boundaries of NSW agencies, New England keeps peeping through the mists. 

Further, the two great geographical axis that have dominated New England's history - east-west and north-south - are still there as they were in Aboriginal times. The present area health services reflect the two north-south axes, the New England independents the easy-west axis. It is no coincidence that it is only in New England that the independent movement established a clearly defined geographic footprint.  To understand this, we need to look at geography.

The New England or Northern Tablelands, the largest tablelands in Australia, dominates New England geography. In geographic terms, New England consists of the Tablelands and the surrounding river valleys. This provides a fundamental if sometimes ill-defined unity.

Pretty obviously, there was no such thing as New England in Aboriginal times. New England is a European construct. Indeed, the name New England itself originally applied just to the Tablelands - the whole area in the first European period was called the Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North. It wasn't until the 1932 Maitland New State Convention that the name New England was adopted for the whole of the North. From that point, people spoke of "the New England" to distinguish the Tablelands from the broader North.

In Aboriginal times, the Tablelands was a marchland area between west and east. To the west lay the extensive territories of the powerful Kamilaroi language group, one of a series of related riverine languages. Here geography facilitated north-south movements. To the east and south were a number of large language groups whose territories broadly reflected river valleys and extended into the Tablelands' river headwaters. The smaller Tablelands language groups sat between the two.

Aboriginal patterns of seasonal movement and human interaction were both north-south and east west. Today, Armidale has one of the most diverse Aboriginal populations in NSW because of the presence of people from Tablelands, coastal and western language groups all of whose original language boundaries were on or near the city.

With the arrival of the Europeans, settlement came in two broad streams, one inland from the Hunter Valley and then to the coast, the second along the coast and then inland. This created two sets of linkages.

From the entrepot centre of Maitland in the south with its nearby port at Morpeth, a stream of human and economic connections ran north. A second stream ran along the coast to the emerging northern river ports and then inland. I say human as well as economic connections because locational and family connections meant that many people had family or personal connections with other parts of the North.

Because of geography, the coastal strip from Taree to the Hunter Valley had fewer inland linkages. Here the orientation was more to Sydney. This explains why new state support was always lower in the Manning as compared to the river valleys further north.

The coming of the Great Northern Railway reinforced the north-south axis at the expense of the east-west one, but otherwise left the pattern unchanged. Initially the railway benefited Newcastle at the expense of Maitland, making Newcastle the economic hub for the inland-north south axis. However, the opening of the line to Sydney with freight rates set so as to attract Northern trade from Newcastle to Sydney, quickly reduced Newcastle's power. This led to continuing resentments.

The growth first of mining and then of industry in the lower Hunter Hunter introduced a new element with very different cultural, social and ultimately political attitudes from those developing elsewhere in the Hunter or further north. This became Labor Party heartland, whereas the Progressive/Country Party became dominant further north.

Progressive/Country Party dominance combined with the identification of that Party with the emerging New State Movement facilitated cooperative action further north, as well as the emergence of a Northern or New England identity.  However, the divisions between Country and Labor Party, together with identification of Country Party and New State Movement as linked identities, was to be disastrous at the 1967 plebiscite. Drawing from the lessons of the 1930s when the Country Party and the New State Movements merged to form the United Country Party, the New England Movement formed after the Second World War was non-party political, but was not able to overcome the past.

Localism has always been pronounced in New England. The emergence of the towns created town merchant classes whose future was bound up with that of their town. Town fought town for trade and facilities. Attempts, for example, to gain east-west rail links failed because of rivalry over routes. No-one could agree. At the same time, the growth of farming in the second half of the nineteenth century introduced a range of different groups into New England serving different markets and different interests.

Unlike other areas such as Victoria where the Country Party remained a farmer party, the New England Progressive/Country Party was able to combine different farming and grazing interests across Northern New South Wales into a single party. At the same time, regional development campaigns launched by Earle Page focused on the Northern Rivers but then spread west along the east-west axis, creating the soil for the re-birth of new state agitation. This actually captured and combined town interests, providing a base for common agitation for development.

Much later, the creation first of the Armidale Teachers' College and then the New England University College reinforced the process because it bought together students from all over New England, while providing a coherent regional development focus.

Localism remained important, as did broader regional divides, yet the unity existed. When I was an undergraduate at New England I didn't worry about the sense of regional identity in the way Iain did later in High Lean Country. It just was.

My family was involved in New England development, I was a fairly fanatical new stater, I had close friends from all over New England and not just the Tablelands, and while I did visit Sydney from time to time, my personal playgrounds were all over New England. I have tried to capture some of this in my writing, however imperfectly.

Today the links that bind have declined. Even the regions in within New England have become fragmented. The once great Northern Rivers is increasingly subdivided into Richmond-Tweed with the Clarence, the big river, allocated to the Mid-North Coast. The once great Hunter Valley is increasingly treated for statistical purposes as Newcastle/Lower Hunter and the rest. Newcastle itself is classified for planning purposes as part of Greater Sydney. Yet the underlying unity imposed by geography is still there, still drives.

Finishing now by returning to Greg's point. New England is indeed a community of regions, as well as localities.

You cannot write a proper history of the Tablelands without referring to the Hunter and North Coast. You cannot write a history of the North Coast without referring to the Tablelands. The Universities of Newcastle and New England combine in a joint medical school that directly reflects one of the old north-south axis. You can't understand the rise of the New England independents if you do not understand history and the east-west axis. You cannot look at the history of any Aboriginal language group within New England without reference to adjoining language groups. And so it goes on.

The strength in Greg's idea of New England as a community of regions lies in the fact that it provides a framework for analytical purposes. You can look at the Hunter as a region with its own history and problems. You can then look at it as part of a broader identity. I think that this is helpful because it reveals new issues and approaches. In turn, this helps us manage if not overcome problems of localism and narrow regionalism.  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why the Hunter wants out from NSW

In a recent comment on Newcastle's Heritage Problems, Greg wrote:

It is nearly one year since this blog was posted so this reply is hardly timely. Yet in the months since, the decline of the CBD of Newcastle is showing no sign of being reversed.

Newcastle is indeed one of the great jewels. It has a stunning mix of architecture from convict to early colonial through Edwardian, art deco to modern - all nestled in between a stunning coast line and a busy working port. Newcastle people are fiercely proud and parochial about their town.

Sadly neglect has been the case for some years. The 1989 earthquake, the 2007 Pasha storm, a cash strapped council and an indifferent state government which has systematically bled the Hunter of mining royalties while returning little, have all played their part. It is hard to believe that the CBD of a metropolis of 540,000 people could come to this while being at the centre of a mining and export boom.

Newcastle has very little in common with Sydney and has a very distinct character and identity of it's own. Yet even though it is the natural gateway to New England, the city has rarely looked too far past it's Hunter hinterland.

Perhaps the time has come at last to change this perspective. The city was duped into voting NO to New England secession in 1967 and consequently a great opportunity was missed.

It is vital not only for Newcastle but also for New England that the decline of the Newcastle CBD be reversed and that the city take it's place as the jewel of the New England crown. It is hard to see where the required leadership will come from under NSW which has become even more Sydney centric, if that is possible.

The issue of northern secession is being talked about again and this time it may be Newcastle which leads the push

Then in a comment on the new England New State Movement Facebook page, Nathan wrote:.

Firstly we need proper representation by our elected officials. I find nothing more frustrating when the Minister for the Hunter only ever pulls out the party line, reads the press release and won't answer any other questions. If she hasn't read the press release yet then she just replies with she is on her way to Sydney or what ever other excuse to avoid answering any questions. Its about time our local members banded together and demanded what the Hunter is rightfully entitled to.

The way i see it is that our MP's are too busy trying to be looked upon favourably by the movers and shakers in the back rooms of Macquarie Street to ensure pre selection for the next election rather than do what they were elected to do and that's represent their local constituent.

They all know, they are MP's in the Hunter so the odds are in their favour on being re elected because, people still continue to vote they way they always have and still hold their hatred for the Liberal Party.

The problem in the Hunter, Newcastle in particular is that the only option we have rather than Labor is an independent, where their preferences go to labor anyway, to its just a default vote to labor.

As much as people might not like the Liberal Party, they are the alternative government of the state and people need to just think, its may not be the solution in an ideal world but it has to be done for the greater good for the region.

Ideal solution is that the Hunter and New England Region forms its own state. But as you have stated elsewhere its a medium term goal. In the meantime, we need to swing like the branches on a windy day.

As Nathan says, full self government has to be a longer term objective. But what people forget is that the very existence of new state agitation forces people and organisations to address broader concerns.

Slowly, and very slowly, we are getting to the point that local resentments might one again force broader action.   

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reforming the New England New State Movement

Postscript: I am going to leave this post as the front post for a few days so that it doesn't get submerged. Attracting comments on blog posts is always a chancy business. But it does provide an opportunity for people to join the discussion already started in comments by Nathan, Greg and Peter.
When I first started this blog I thought, naively, that if I just started telling the New England story then the movement for self-government would start to reform. After all, the case seemed self-evident to me.

It didn't take long for me to realise that this was not going to happen. As I said in an email to a friend in Armidale, we have lost so much of our history and all its supporting arguments that people don't know what we are talking about. Even now, if you search "New England New State Movement" on Picture Australia, the main national on-line photographic record, you will find just one photo and that without a context.

I also realised that with the decline of the movement, the North had lost the capacity to see itself as a whole.

Localism has always been a problem in New England. Towns and regions fight each other and become victims of a system that plays one against the other. They gain a sporting field here, a public toilet there, but lose the capacity to identify and address broader systemic problems. The objective of the marginal seats game is to find the minimum cost way of capturing specific votes in specific area.

Given all this, four years ago I set myself two objectives.

The first was to capture and represent New England history, to refresh a past that I thought was important and that had been lost. The second was to provide a broader public policy perspective, to analyse issues from a broader Northern or New England perspective. In doing both, I also hoped to sell an area that I loved.

The impact of my writing has been small. However, and very slowly, there has been some gain in traction. Recently, events in New England and especially in the Hunter Valley have started to force the pace.

In a comment on New States and Ontario, an anonymous commentator wrote: 
Jim, the mood in Newcastle and the Hunter is one of anger and resentment. Whereas the Hunter was the stumbling block for New England in 1967, it could now be the springboard. It is the jewel in the New England crown that would guarantee the instant success of the new state.

I for one am looking for a new state movement to be reborn and would join it an support it with enthusiasm. We are overdue for it. Perhaps we could start with an unofficial referendum throughout the north with the next council elections. A strong YES vote would give us the platform to push for a new secession referendum.
Now a single comment does not mark a change. However, this is in fact one of a number of comments here and elsewhere that show that attitudes are shifting, that people are beginning to say that enough is enough.

Reforming the new state campaign will not be easy. The twentieth century New State Movement was so powerful so quickly because it combined a New England print press that really started the cause through combined action with new local and regional political leadership who, unbound from the past, believed in and were able to capture the new enthusiasm.

These things do not exist today, although elements are there.

To grow today, any New State Movement has to be viral, to work from bottom up. The internet provides a platform here, one that did not exist before and that has the capacity to substitute for the role previously played by the newspaper press. However, and as happened in the 1920s, this has then to be turned into organisational form at an on-ground level.

In an email received this morning, a correspondent wrote:

Whether it is a Hunter new state or a combined Hunter New England new state, the time has come for this issue to be revisited and I would like to see the new state movement reformed with the objective of getting a new referendum back on the agenda as soon as possible.
I hope that we can take this further. Northern NSW deserves to be in control of it's own destiny at last.
We gotta get out of this state!
My advice to all those feeling this way is threefold:
  1. Talk to your friends and neighbours to see if you can form a branch. The movement itself doesn't presently  exist in a formal sense, but that doesn't stop you forming a branch. These can later combine to form a movement.
  2. Use all your local media to promote the idea. Comments on newspaper stories, letters to the editor etc.
  3. Participate in the on-line fora that are just starting to re-emerge such as the Facebook page or indeed this blog.
For my part, I will act as a clearing house and continue to provide both background history and policy analysis.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Three things I still have to do in New England -1 Railways

There are so many things to see and do across New England that I have barely scratched the surface. So I thought that I might just record some of the things that I haven't done, but would like to. Think of it as an indulgence on my part.

SteamfestThe Great Train Race 2009

Attended by 80,000 visitors, Maitland's Hunter Valley Steamfest 2010 was on last weekend.
In 1983 the last coal operating steam haulage freight service in Australia was closed on the South Maitland Railway Line, effectively ending a century old institution.
In response to this closure, the first Hunter Valley Steamfest was held in 1986. Since then the event has grown and grown. There are train rides, displays and events.

The photo shows the Great Train Race of 2009.

There are so many things to see and do around Maitland that what I would like to do is to also use Steamfest as an excuse for local touring.

 Werris Creek Railway Museum

Further north of Maitland on the Great Northern Line, Werris Creek was the first railway town in NSW; purpose built for the rail industry and it remains the last such town.

Building on this theme State Rail developed a proposal to establish the Australian Railway Monument at Werris Creek as a cultural heritage feature that would reinforce the community’s links with the railway and generate an economic stimulus for the town.

In 2000 Dr Stuart Sharp a renowned Rail Heritage officer requested a public meeting with the Werris Creek community to discuss and seek their support for a vision that he had for the “Australian Railway Monument”. The plan was enthusiastically embraced by the community and the State Government injected an initial $1.3 million into the concept allowing the preliminary work to commence.

The Australian Railway Monument and Rail Journeys Museum (ARM/RJM) was officially opened on October 1 2005 and has developed into a considerable success.

As a general comment, we really don't sell the remarkable story of the Great Northern Railway at all well. This was in fact one of the great engineering achievements of the nineteenth century.

The Dorrigo Railway

This one is, in a sense, a work in progress.

The Dorrigo-Glenreagh line opened in 1924 as a first step in an east-west rail link. The line was finally closed in 1972 after flood damage.
I have to say that this is another of those Sydney Government decisions that, in hindsight, was arguably dumb.
In Queensland, the Cairns-Kuranda line was kept open and has become a a very significant tourist attraction. This line is at least as beautiful.

At the time it was closed, no one forecast just how big a tourist area the North Coast and especially Coffs Harbour would become. Even now the line might still lose money in terms of its direct costs. Yet track forward another twenty years, and I suspect that it could be quite profitable.

In any event, we lost another tourist attraction.

There are two museum organisations at each end of the railway.

On the east, the Glenreagh Mountain Railway, known as the GMR, was established in 1989 as a heritage railway. It has run services along part of the track, but has had to suspend pending further work. It still maintains museums.

Inland, the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum was established to create a museum and restore a railway service. After a brief opening period it shut its doors to the public, but still exists with one of the largest historic rolling stock collections in NSW.

I would love to know more about the story of both organisations. I would also love to visit.
In the meantime, and I know that I sound like a broken record on this one, if we had our own Government this line would come into its own as a major tourist attraction.  

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book honouring Arnold Goode launched

In my first Armidale Express column recording my impressions of Armidale after a long break, I mentioned that one of the first people I saw when I arrived at the University to deliver my paper was cousin Arnold Goode.

Arnold told me that a book in his honour was to be launched in Uralla. I thought how well deserved that was given his role as a local Uralla/Rocky River/Arding historian. A little later in the bright New England autumn sun, I walked with John Ryan across to the University Printery to see the book that was to be launched in Arnold's honour, a book on nineteenth-century gold mining and its impact on the history, folklore and landscape of the region. Arnold Goode, Rocky River, with mining tipping frame

Now Jim Scanlan has posted the story of the launch on the UNE media blog. The photo used as the frontispiece on the book shows Arnold with a mining tipping frame near the entrance to the long tunnel at the Rocky River gold fields.

Golden Words and a Golden Landscape, by J. S. Ryan, Arnold Goode, Robert Haworth and Peter O’Donohue, is subtitled “Essays on Uralla gold mining history and a Glossary of the miners’ language in Australia from the 1850s to 1905: a volume in honour of Arnold Goode, local historian”. It is a joint publication of Arts New England, the University of New England’s School of Arts, and Uralla Shire Council.

The book was launched at McCrossin’s Mill Museum in Uralla, a very suitable site given the unique nature of this museum.  

At the heart of the book is a unique 100-page glossary, compiled by John Ryan, of words and phrases that have a special significance (technical and social) in the context of nineteenth-century gold mining, collected from the published writings of Rolf Boldrewood, author of Robbery Under Arms. The book also contains essays on historical, archaeological, and “bushranging” themes related to the gold-mining era in Uralla.

In his Foreword to the book, Alan Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of History at UNE, says: “It is a combination of linguistic, geographical and archaeological learning - sense of language plus sense of place - and as such is a model of its kind, and a highly valuable contribution to our knowledge of the history of Australia and of New England.”

UNE’s Professor Jennie Shaw, who officially launched the book, reinforced this assessment of the book’s significance. She said that, in tracing the influences of the gold-mining era on the character of Uralla, it was “an important contribution to the social history of the town”. Professor Shaw is both Head of the School of Arts at UNE, and Director of Arts New England.

Both Dr Ryan and the Uralla Shire Mayor, Councillor Ron Filmer, paid tribute to Arnold Goode, President of the Uralla Historical Society, for his tireless and meticulous work in preserving historical, industrial and social records of the Uralla region, and facilitating a wide range of research on the region’s economic, social, and natural history.Arnold responded by thanking the contributors to the book, which he said he would “cherish”.

Councillor Filmer provided a Preface for Golden Words and a Golden Landscape, in which he speaks on behalf of “the myriad supporters . . . who all hold such an enormous debt of gratitude to Arnold Goode for his on-site interpretations of the past, thereby keeping alive the deeper understanding of our distinctive and dynamic identity that has come down from colonial times”.

Dr Ryan spoke about Mr Goode’s family connections both to the working of the Rocky River goldfield and to the founding of the University of New England. (Those family connections include the University’s principal founder, D.H. Drummond.) He emphasised the vital role of Uralla - particularly in its active enthusiasm for adult education - in creating a social climate conducive to the founding of the University.

After talking about the social “freedom” (including “the need to recognise societal inequities”) that developed on the goldfields, Dr Ryan concluded that “gold revenues and societal wealth made possible the four passionately democratic university foundations - in Sydney, Melbourne, Dunedin, and Armidale”.

Friday, April 23, 2010

UNE passings - death of Cherry Robertson

My thanks to Gordon Smith for alerting me to this one and for sending me Jim Scanlan's email to UNE staff.

I was saddened to hear of the death of Cherry Robertson, someone who will be well known to many past UNE people.

Cherry died in Armidale on Friday 16 April. She was in her 100th year. Her four children – Suzanne, John, Richard and Stephanie – were with their beloved mother when she died.

Geraldine Edith (Cherry) Johnstone was born in Balmain, Sydney, in August 1910 and married Hugh Malcolm Robertson at Griffith, NSW, on Christmas Day 1936.

Cherry joined the staff of UNE in 1956 and played a major role in the establishment of two of the University’s residential colleges – Robb and Drummond. She is remembered by many for her intelligent, generous and compassionate service to the welfare of students at UNE over several decades.

Cherry published her first book in her UNE experiences in 1982. Long Youth Long Pleasure: Adventures clip_image001behind the scenes at the University of New England 1956-80 (Lightning Press) is a personal account of life at UNE that brings to life some of the detail of what was and is a unique institution. I have my autographed copy in front of me as I write. Then in 2009 a further book of writings, Cherry Robertson: Episodes in the life of a very special person, was published, illuminating  her achievements in those years, and in many other aspects of her well-lived life.

Cherry and Mack were good friends with my parents and often came our place for things such as Christmas Eve drinks. I know that she will be greatly missed. 

A Committal Service for Cherry was held at Piddington’s Funeral Home, Armidale, on Wednesday 21 April, followed by a Thanksgiving and Memorial Service at All Saints, Thalgarrah. Sadly, I could not be there. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Belshaw's world - socials gone in a puff of smoke

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 14 April 2010. 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 for 2009, here for 2010.

While in Armidale, I heard that there was a move to cut out smoking in outdoor eating areas such as the Mall.

I guess it depends on what you want.

If you want a smoke free environment, please do so. If you want to maximise your visitor numbers and their spend, don’t.

It’s not just that smokers go less, stay for shorter times and spend less. So do their non-smoking friends when accompanied by smokers.

This does not mean that a particular venue should not go smoke free. That’s a commercial judgement. Other things being equal, the venue may attract more non-smoking customers, thus offsetting the loss of smoke revenue.

If all venues go smoke free, overall revenue declines.

At a personal level, one of the reasons that I find it so hard to give up smoking beyond the fact that I don’t like to be told what to do, lies in its association with many happy memories.

Smoking is deeply embedded in Australia’s social history.

I wonder how many Australians remember the term smoke social? I was reminded of it because I came across references to it in material that I was reading a little while ago.

This was a term applied to organised social gatherings, often but not always dinners.

They were held as celebrations, as organisation get to togethers, even fund raisers covering a wide range of activities. Sometimes the smoke social was added to another activity, such as annual general meeting and smoke social.

I could not find a history of smoke socials. However, a web search suggests that the term was strongly Australian, although it was also used in New Zealand. I could not see any references outside these two countries.

The earliest references I could find dated to the 1890s, the latest references to the 1940s. It seems to have vanished during the Second World War.

The term indicates the importance of smoking as a social activity. Its decline well in advance of the modern anti-smoking movement is an indication of social change and especially growing wealth.

Even before the imposition of current taxes on tobacco products, smoking was expensive.

In earlier days, the big cost lay not just in the tobacco, but in the cost of matches. Australians simply could not afford to smoke a lot.

There were also problems with smoking at work. This was due not so much to work rules although these did exist, but to the fact that so much labour was physical. You couldn’t work and smoke at the same time. Smoking was done in breaks.

In the period immediately after the Second World War there was more money, while clerical work expanded. Smoking did too.

Actually, smokers themselves must bear some of the blame for some of the anti-smoking campaigns.

Growing up, I was taught to ask if the people I was with minded if I smoked. This was a matter of common politeness to non-smokers. During the 1950s, smoking came to be seen as a right, regardless of the views of others.

Smoking also came to be seen as a sign of the modern woman.

Smoking was very much a male activity. Women did not smoke in public.

In my father’s dairies, there is an entry recording his shock as a young man at seeing a woman smoke on the Ashburton (New Zealand) railway station.

Smoking by women became a sign of the modern woman, a rejection of female stereotypes.

There were special cigarettes for women. Multiple coloured Sobranies are an example.

Woman smoke and drank like men. I’m not sure much has actually changed here, beyond the form of expression!

Smoke socials have vanished, but the period survives in the continued use in Australia and New Zealand of the term smoke-oh or smoko to describe a work break. This term, too, seems to date to the 1890s.

Smoke-oh itself has been in decline, killed not by the anti-smoking movement, but by the fact that so few of us now take structured work breaks. We no longer have the time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Implications for New England from health reforms

I have just finished a post on my personal blog, Unpacking the Rudd Government health care changes. I wrote it to try to clarify my own thinking.

One of the problems for New England from the changes is just what the changes might mean at local level. This is quite complicated, but I think that locals need to watch this like a hawk. I thought that I might tease this out a little, taking Bellingen Hospital as a case study.

By way of background for those who don't know Bellingen, the services at the local hospital have been cut back. The fight now lies in the best way of recovering some of them, preventing further erosion.

The new health care approach provides for direct funding to local hospital networks. Generally, this will be on an activity basis - a specified price paid for a particular type of service delivered. The more services, the more paid. However, there is provision for bulk funding for regional/rural hospitals in some cases that might otherwise be disadvantaged under the arrangements.

In addition to these changes, the Commonwealth is taking over full responsibility for primary health care and for aged services.

Now what might this mean for Bellingen and the surrounding area? Well, based on my experience we can put forward some tentative conclusions:

  1. The decline in services offered at Bellingen hospital means a decline in the potential revenue from activity based funding.
  2. The ability of a hospital network to access bulk funding depends upon the way the network is defined. A network that includes a relatively large base hospital such a Coffs is less likely to receive bulk funding, more likely to be on a fee for service basis. This applies across the whole network. In this event, the capacity of smaller hospitals to get any extra cash will be reduced because it means taking cash away from bigger hospitals who have "earned" that cash from bigger volumes of services.
  3. This adds to the urgency for Bellingen Hospital to re-build its service offerings in advance of any move to the new arrangements. It's now become an absolutely time critical issue.
  4. The issue of just what local hospital network and the boundaries of that network Bellingen might belong to also becomes quite critical.
  5. Given that the existing area health services are to be abolished, this will affect their planning and willingness to do new things. I do not mean this in any way as a criticism. It's just going to add to inertia.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fragmentation of NSW revisited

In a comment on The fragmentation of NSW, Jacus wrote:

As a Novocastrian, in exile in Canberra, I agree with a lot of what you say, and would be interested in hearing more. Especially in terms of how such a change could take place.

A simple question, but one not easy to answer.

At a first level, the subdivision of NSW into new states would help, as would the very regeneration of new state agitation itself. However, the fragmentation that has taken place in NSW affects its parts as well, including New England. So there is an issue here.

The processes involved in the subdivision of NSW are not especially complicated in constitutional terms, although a number of practical issues do arise. The real problem has always been politics. That is why the various new state movements have argued for constitutional changes to make it easier to overcome the politics.

If we work on the basis that subdivision will take time, then the question arises as to how the governance of NSW as presently constituted might be reformed. What might be done to make the existing system work better?

A number of things could be done here. However, they will not be easy to achieve for the same reason that subdivision itself is difficult. They require the central government in Sydney to devolve power.

I will attempt to provide an answer to Jacus, but first I need to complete my analysis of New England's changing demography.   

Monday, April 19, 2010

New England's environmental wars

In Belshaw's position on climate change, a post on my personal blog, I responded to a challenge from a reader of my Armidale Express column by setting out my personal views on climate change.

Following this, I have just completed an Express column on climate change. For those outside Armidale, this will come on line here on Wednesday 28 April.

I have referred a couple of times to the environmental wars now raging across New England. These are very real, for New England is in fact at the front-line of the fights that we are already experiencing over the policy responses to climate change.

I have decided to do several columns on the climate change issue. I am not a conventional climate change sceptic, so the columns will not deal with the debate over the reality of climate change. Rather, my concern lies in the policy issues and what they might mean for New England.

New England is important for it is a microcosm of some of the battles that will occur. The broader issues and challenges are already being fought out there. However, and speaking just from a New England viewpoint, New England also illustrates the way in which generalised policies can have adverse on-ground impacts.

  There are no easy answers in some of this stuff. However, I think it important that we at least recognise the issues so that we have some chance of working through to choices and solutions.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More Hunter calls for separation from NSW

I am on a bit of a Hunter Valley roll at a moment.

In January I reported on Hunter Valley calls for a Northern NSW New State. On 14 April I reported on The importance of regional environmental impact statements, a post that dealt in large part with problems created with coal development in the Hunter. Then in Background briefing - Hunter Coal, I looked at the overall pattern of coal development in the Hunter.

Now the expropriation of Camberwell Common has led to further calls in the comments for separation from NSW. The momentum is slow, but increasingly clear.

As I said to Peter Firminger in a comment on the new New England New State Movement Facebook page, I support a broader New England new state on both practical and emotional grounds. However, if the only way to get the Hunter Valley out from under Sydney is via regional government, I would support that too.

In the The fragmentation of NSW I suggested some of the reasons why NSW as presently constituted had passed its use-by date. How can the Sydney Government manage an entity that no longer makes sense, if indeed it ever did!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Background briefing - Hunter Coal

My Wednesday post, The importance of regional environmental impact statements, reported on moves to try to gain regional environmental impact statements as a way of assessing the combined effects of various mining developments underway in the Hunter Valley and beyond.

An interesting article by Di Sneddon in the Singleton Argus (Thursday 9 April) provides a perspective on the scale of development. I will just provide a brief summary here; the article is worth reading in full.

In 2,000, Hunter Valley coal production was 67 million tonnes, rising to 112 million tonnes in 2007/2008. This increase is reflected in a rise in coal royalties paid the NSW Government from $197.03 million ten years ago to $1.227 billion in 2008/2009.

With seven new mines under construction, five proposed expansions of existing mines plus two new proposed mines, you get a feel for the way the industry is exploding. You can also see why mining royalties are so important to Sydney, for this is the Government's main growth revenue. Without this growth, the recent drop in State revenues from other sources would have had even more calamitous effects.

The improvement in the Australian economy is now benefiting Sydney. Even so, mining royalties remains a major growth area. Watch the fall-out here from the likely recommendations of the Henry Tax review that royalties be replaced by some form of national resource rent tax.

The growth in mining flows over into local employment. Back in 1990 coal mining in the Hunter Valley provided 4,400 direct jobs. That figure almost doubled for 2007/08 to 8,384.        

Back in 1990 coal mining in the Hunter Valley provided 4,400 direct jobs. That figure almost doubled for 2007/08 to 8,384. Then there are the flow-on effects to other areas of the local economy, as well as investments in new rail and coal loading facilities. This helps explain why the Hunter economy as a whole held up so much better than than that of metro Sydney. 

However, there have also been costs, costs that have led to increasing concerns.

At one end of the spectrum, we have environmentalists who just want to stop coal and who consequently try to blockade coal exports from Newcastle. At the other end, is the coal industry who want expansion now regardless. In the middle are a whole range of concerns that try to temper growth with costs.

Di's article provides a historical summary of recent environmental concerns. I think that we can summarise the overall pattern this way.

The Hunter has always been a premier agricultural area and was Australia's first prestige wine area. In recent years, it has become a major tourist centre as well as a sea/tree change destination. Mining threatens this.

   While Sydney reaps benefits from taxes, the direct economic costs at local level associated with expansion (road congestion, need for new schools etc) have not been adequately catered for. The mining royalties go into the general tax pool and are then allocated across the state as a component of total state wide spend based on perceived state wide priorities.

I have written quite a bit on this one. The practical effect is that the Hunter does not get the resources required to meet direct economic costs. Indeed, my impression is that these costs are not even calculated.

Mining creates a series of local affects. Some of these are health linked (dust problems in Singleton is an example), others relate to visual appearance, history and life style. These effects can be quite dramatic and drastic at local level.

The sudden loss of the 120 year old Camberwell village common is an example. Sydney says that the locals did not want to negotiate. Their position was clear-cut. They just wanted to preserve a community asset already under threat.

One can argue rights or wrongs here. However, what I would argue quite strongly is that when your head is in the trough, you do become very insensitive to anything that might interfere with your feed. And that's what's happening.

What might be done?

Well, I don't think that the environmental purists blockading ships have much to offer from a purely local viewpoint. Their agendas are far broader.

What needs to be done is the creation of a broader Hunter coalition that recognises the economic benefits of mining, that aims to subject the claims put forward to detailed analysis and has the influence to force payment of compensation and of the funds required for local investment.

Of course, this may exist. While I know the Hunter pretty well, my current knowledge is drawn from newspaper and blog reports. However, I don't get the impression of coordinated action.

Perhaps the Hunter Valley Research Foundation could be commissioned to undertake a purely factual study? Political action with facts is generally more effective.             

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Belshaw's World - Armidale needs to be more friendly

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 7 April 2010. 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 for 2009, here for 2010.

This column finishes my reactions on my return to Armidale.

Did you know that there were a number of facebook pages connected in some way with Armidale? I am a member or fan of four of them.

It’s fun. I know so many of the names and can share the experiences, even though most (not all) are of the younger generation.

Given my comments on the Mall in my last post, one group I have just joined was Save the Mall.

I suppose that I am really an outsider now, remote from Armidale’s day to day concerns. But as an outsider I am, possibly, more objective. Anyway, the Mall issue led me to write a full blog post on the future of the Mall.

A link follows at the end of this column. For the moment, I just wanted to note that my column received one very negative comment. I quote:

“Because it's a boring, unfriendly, small minded dump! Always has been, always will be. The best thing about A'hole is the view in your rear view mirror as you leave (hopefully never to return)”.

I have dealt with this before.

Some people do find Armidale unwelcoming and unfriendly. We need to change this.

It’s easy for someone like me; even though I now live outside the city I have such long and deep connections. It can be very hard for someone new trying to break in.

Enough of a lecture!

Returning to my motel on the Friday, I decided to go for a pub crawl!

Armidale has changed so much that I had no idea where people gathered on a Friday night. Looking at all the pubs in the centre of town, I decided that if I had a seven at each one, I could get round the lot without getting too drunk.

That’s a story in its own right.

I hadn’t attempted to order a seven of beer for many years. It used to be that a middy was standard, a seven or schooner the exception. Now, in our wealthier age, a schooner is standard. I got my sevens, but the pubs scrabbled to find the glasses!

Walking out of the Westwood, I only got as far as the White Bull. There I was hailed by PC.

I have known PC for many years. The last time we met was on a street in Sydney near where I then worked as CEO of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists. I had no idea that he had returned to Armidale.

So I joined PC and his partner I. for a drink that turned into dinner. Apart from catching up on more Armidale gossip, they talked about disability services, an area in which both now work.

I. told me a quite inspirational story that opened my eyes as to what might be possible. I have promised to write something on this and will do so, although probably as a blog post rather than a column. I say this because the blogs get far better search engine coverage.

By the way, you may have noticed that I mention some people by name, some by initials. The rule I follow is that I use names where the link is in some ways professional, initials where the link is personal.

Saturday morning I went down town to look at the Autumn Festival procession. Given the start time, I decided to have lunch at the Newie since the procession went by there.

Before recording my reactions to the procession, a professional note.

From my experience, one of the big problems with special events is the lack of flow-on effects to businesses in the area. Too often, I hear the complaint from business people that their business actually falls.

This lunchtime, I was the only customer at the Newie bistro. As the procession finished, everyone went home. Indeed, the Newie shut its doors to customers pretty much as the procession finished.

Part of the problem lies in the dynamics of events. But part of the problem lies in the failure of businesses to capture the opportunities.

Here you have lots of people brought downtown. If you really want people to stay, you have to persuade them. So put on specials and events. Make it a day out.

This may not work the first time. It will work if the focus is maintained.

The procession itself was fascinating. I kept rushing outside to take notes and photos.

As I watched the various schools and national groups pass, I thought that this was another untold Armidale story. But that’s a story for another column!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The importance of regional environmental impact statements

Peter Firminger drew my attention to a story posted on Wollombi Valley Against Gas Extraction (WAGE) by Graeme Gibson.

I have spoken before about the environmental wars raging across New England. I have also discussed the way in which they create patterns of winners and losers, without adequate compensation being paid to those adversely affected. Mining royalties, for example, have recently been the only revenue growth area for the Sydney Government, yielding it revenue while many of the costs are bourne locally.

I am cautious about commenting on local issues where I do not know the details. I am also aware of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) principle. However, in this case Graeme made a broader comment that I think is of considerable importance.

At present, EIS's are project specific. However, where you get a number of projects, individual EIS's can be a very inadequate tool for measuring aggregate effects. The reason for this lies in what economists call externalities, the presence of costs and benefits extending beyond the project that are not always easily captured or measures.

A good project specific EIS will try to at least recognise and assess these. However, where you have multiple projects, external costs and benefits can compound in ways that may go unrecognised. Take a road system as an example. If traffic effects are considered serially on a project by project basis, then the total costs may never be recognised properly.

In his post, Graeme states:

A community deputation to Minister for Mineral Resources, Ian Macdonald on 23rd March, 2010, proposed that before there was any further mineral development of the Hunter Valley, that the NSW Government require a full Environmental Study of all current, future and cumulative impacts of coal mining, coal seam gas exploration/extraction, hot rock power stations and Defence Forces activity. The full submission can be found at (189kb PDF)

This idea of a regional EIS strikes me as very sensible in circumstances where multiple projects are known. To my mind, it is the only way of fully assessing total impacts.

Of course, all such studies are subject to weaknesses. Further, they may make development more difficult, a not inconsiderable objection. But without them, aggregate effects simply cannot be assessed properly.      

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New England New State Facebook group

I have started a New England New State Facebook group. I don't expect this to gather members in the short term. My objective is to create another longer term platform for discussions on New England development issues.

I don't care whether members support my belief in self government for New England. I simply want to create a platform where we can discuss issues relevant to the development of New England.   

New England demography 2 - problems with projections

On 1 April in New England demography 1 - rise of the coast I began a review of New England's changing demography using the latest ABS regional population figures.

In it, I noted that between June 2001 and June 2009, the estimated residential population of New England grew by 107,875 or 8.5%. This growth was just fast enough to maintain New England's share of the total NSW population (19.22% vs 19.23%). However, this growth was entirely concentrated on the coast. 

On the coast including the Hunter, the estimated population grew from 1,052,430 to 1,159,970, up 107,520 or 10.22%. By contrast, New England's inland population grew from 211,306 to 211,641, up just 335 or 0.16%.

I also provided some historical material to indicate the scale of the demographic shifts that had taken place within New England over a relatively short period.

Since I completed that post, Sydney has released updated population projections for NSW through to 2036. These projections were completed in 2008 and are based on 2006 census data. You will find them here in both PDF and Excel format.

These projections show the population of what is called Northern falling from 180,000 in 2006 to 168,000 in 2036, down 12%. The population of what is called the North West is projected to decline from 139,000 to 123,000, down 16%. 

The projections have been greeted with chagrin. To quote the Northern Daily Leader:

NORTH West mayors have slammed population projections from the Department of Planning as inaccurate, misleading and potentially damaging to their towns’ reputations.

Before going on, the "North West" mayors referred to come from the North West as expressed in common geography, not the "North West" as defined in the projections. The "North West" as used in the projections covers a vast area in the west of NSW from the Queensland border as far south as and including Broken Hill. The mayors in question are in fact all from what is called "Northern" in the projections.

This is an example of what I referred to in passing in The fragmentation of NSW, the sometimes crazy and varying area definitions used in NSW for planning and administrative purposes, definitions that fragment.

Importance of Projections 

The mayors are right to be concerned.

The projections do make it clear that they are just that, projections, emphasising that they should not be used as forecasts. Yet the reality is that these projections will not just affect perceptions, but also actual resource allocation decisions.

The NSW Government has limited resources. Planners have to set priorities, taking current and projected needs into account. The fact that the "Northern" and "North West" areas now constitute such small proportions of the NSW population, the fact that the population is projected to decline, automatically affects priority ranking across every area of service delivery.

In theory, the projections could be adjusted to take varying local conditions into account. In practice, this can be quite hard to do. It's not just that the public servants involved lack local knowledge, a growing problem in NSW and Canberra, but also the desire to ensure that decisions are based in some way on "objective" criteria. This includes the increasing use of specific state wide "performance" indicators by both Sydney and Canberra, averages that then drive resource allocation decisions.

Derivation of the Projections

The NSW population projections include a detailed analysis of the assumptions used. I do not want to provide a detailed analysis of these, but we do need to understand some of the key assumptions that have to be made.

The first thing to note is that the projections include both population and household projections. I generally use population projections for the sake of simplicity, but household projections are very important for planning purposes.

If, for example, you are trying to estimate needs for social housing, then you need to know the future number and type of households. For example, you might want the number of households with people over 65 as a first step in calculating changing demand for older people's accommodation. By contrast, if you are estimating future school demand, then you want to know the changing number of people in different school age cohorts.

The second thing to note is that the area break-up for the household projections is different from that attached to population. The population projections use thirteen regions, whereas the household projections are based on four regions: Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong and then the rest of the state. I am not sure that there is any statistical reason for this; I think that it just reflects planning priorities. However, outside Newcastle it's not much use from someone like me who is actually interested in New England.

However, there is a broader issue here. The smaller the area used in calculating projections, the harder to do the calculations, the more likely it is that the projections will be wrong. It's not just that specific local events may intervene, development of new mines is an example, but that the reliability of the techniques used to generate the projections increases with size.

This links back to my point about the use of the projections. The broader the geographic area you use, the more accurate the projections are likely to be. However, the larger the area used, the greater the variety likely to be found on-ground within an area. You then need to find other techniques for making more precise resource allocation decisions within areas.

Turning now to the generation of projections, there are various techniques that can be used.

For example, I often use fairly rough back-of-envelope calculations for test purposes. So I might take the difference between the census populations in 2001 and 2006 and then simply project this. I then take those numbers and look at the oddities, the things that stand out.

To illustrate, between 2001 and 2006, the population of Moree Plains Shire declined from 16,233 to 14,682, a decline of 1,541 or 9.5%. This is a very large fall, large enough to affect the total population numbers for inland New England. If you simply extrapolate, Moree begins to wither away.

Now I don't believe this. Moree has faced very particular problems over recent years connected, among other things, with drought. The town has faced real problems in attracting skilled workers - a number of businesses have vacancies - but even so, a continued rate of decline of this scale is just not credible. Indeed, the ABS estimates suggest that while between 2006 and 2008 the population fell further from 14,682 to 14,401,it then stabilised. The 2009 estimate shows an increase of five, not a lot but still a reversal of trend.

This is rough back of envelope stuff. The more sophisticated approaches take into account:

  • The structure of the population at start point. The 2006 census is generally used here because of its accuracy.
  • The projected birth rate. How many kids will be born taking into account the number of people in the relevant age cohorts.
  • The projected death rate, taking into account any expected changes in longevity.
  • emigration as locally born leave, immigration from new arrivals.

A major problem in making projections is that the total NSW population is strongly influenced not just be the natural birth rate, but also by:

  • emigration, with a continued flow of people from NSW overseas and to other states. Within this number, Sydney generally has a net outflow, the rest of the state a small positive inflow.
  • immigration, with a heavy flow of people especially to Sydney.

These two variables affect not just the total population of NSW, but also the distribution of people within NSW. To manage this, a top down approach is generally adopted. Estimates are made for the total State population that then set a frame for the derivation of regional estimates.

Expressed in this way, you can see just how many uncertainties are involved. You can also see just how important our total migrant numbers are to the projections.

The latest numbers

I have previously argued that I thought that for inland NSW as a whole, changing structures meant that the previous contribution to Sydney and the coast from internal migration had passed its peak.

Now when we look at the numbers, we can see that between 2006 and 2009 inland New England gained numbers.

Between 2001 and 2006, the population of inland New England declined from 211,306 to 207,401,  a decline of 3,905 or 1.8%. You can also see just how important the decline in Moree of 1,541 was in the total number.

Between 2006 and 2009, the estimated resident population of inland New England increased from 201,401 to 211,641, an increase of 4,241 or 2.04%. This is not a big increase, but a total reversal of trend.

Is this population increase likely to be maintained, at least for the short term? In my view, yes. The bigger population centres within inland New England all appear to be stable or growing. Indeed, there is something of a boom underway.


Given all this, the idea that the population of "Northern" could decline from 180,000 in 2006 to 168,000 in 2036 strikes me as absurd. Without having crunched all the numbers in detail, the only way it could happen would be some form of disaster such as the total closure of the University of New England or a huge and long prolonged drought. I just can't see it.

I would, I think, argue that this is a case where those generating the projections should have checked them with on-ground analysis.

In my next post in this series I will look as some other aspects of New England's population.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New England hospitals under threat Rudd reforms

The following is a list of New England hospitals that are reported to be under threat as a consequence of the Rudd Government health proposals.

Inclusion does not mean that they are, simply that locals need to focus on them. 

District Hospitals

Ballina, Bulli, Casino and District Memorial, Cessnock, Gunnedah, Inverell, Kempsey, Kurri Kurri, Macksville, Maclean, Moree, Murwillumbah, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Singleton, Bellinger River, Byron Bay, Glen Innes, Gloucester Soldiers' Memorial, Quirindi, Scott Memorial Hospital, Scone, Wauchope.

Community acute surgery


Community acute non surgery

Bonalbo, Bulahdelah, Campbell Hospital Coraki, Cobar, Coonabarabran, Mullumbimby War Memorial, Nelson Bay and District Polyclinic, Tenterfield, Walgett, Wee Waa.

Community non acute

Bingara, Dunedoo War Memorial, Dungog, Guyra, Manilla, Merriwa, Tingha, Walcha, Warialda, Wilson Memorial Hospital, Murrurundi.

Psychiatric hospitals


Nursing Homes

Bourke District Hospital,

Multi-Purpose Hospitals


Sub Acute


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Regional councils vs new states

054876-100410-graphic-states The Australian carried an interesting story reporting on the results of a survey on attitudes towards the various levels of Government and associated issues of constitutional change.

Overall, 75 per cent favour reform of the present system - nine points up on 2008. Although there is no consensus on what should change, 42 per cent are attracted to the idea of regional governments, which would be bigger than local councils but smaller than state governments.

I find it interesting that two (NSW and Queensland) of the three states ranked lowest in performance terms are also those states that have had traditionally the strongest new state movements.

While the figures are all over the place and continue to indicate the difficulty of bringing about constitutional change, they also suggest a growing willingness to actually discuss change.

Traditionally, those who have supported new states have also supported constitutional reform. However, they have also had two concerns.

The first is the size of the proposed states. Too small, and their capacity to actually do things will be constrained. Too large, and we get the NSW/Queensland problem repeated. 

The second are the powers and finances to be attached to those states. Because one of the traditional drivers for new state support has been the constant willingness of Sydney, Brisbane or Canberra to override local and regional interests whenever it suited them, new staters want new states with constitutionally protected powers rather than regional councils with devolved powers that can be removed or overridden at any time.  

Over its long history, the New England New State Movement played a major role in constitutional debate. At state level, we have the Cohen and Nicholas Royal Commissions. At Federal level, the Movement forced the creation of the Peden Royal Commission and then, later, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into the Constitution.

All this means that most of the issues we are dealing with now have been thrashed out at considerable length, with New England history and thought forming a distinct and important thread.

I know that constitutional history and issues can be pretty eye-glazing stuff. Yet if we don't take into account past thought and arguments, we are highly likely to get worst possible outcomes. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

West Maitland Railway Station flooded 1930

Hat tip to Peter Firminger for this one. The following photo from Wikipedia shows the West Maitland Railway station during the big flood of 1930. If you click on the photo, you should be able to enlarge it.

Now when Peter gave me the link, he said that it was a photo of Maitland Railway station. When I looked at it, I thought Maitland too, but then I looked at the platform sign - West Maitland. Digging around, I find that the station was called West Maitland until 1 April 1949 when it was renamed Maitland.

Looking at the photo, I noticed the sign telling me to shop at Chant's next time and collect green coupons. I am sure that Maitland people do, but I don't know Chant's. I tried a search, but could not find anything. I vaguely remember shopping coupons, and again did a search. There seems to have been a company called Green Coupons Pty Ltd, but that was all I could find. My memory is that shopping coupons became very popular at one point, but then fell out of fashion. They are back today, of course, in a variety of guises including loyalty programs.

I was also fascinated by the mother with two children walking along along one of the platforms. They looked dressed for travel (people used to dress up), but it's hard to see a train arriving.

Finally, I was reminded of the important role Maitland played as a railway junction. I must write something on this at some point, including the now defunct private South Maitland Railway. This was mainly a coal line, but also carried passengers between Cessnock and Maitland. The line to Cessnock closed around 1975. I suspect that it would be quite useful now.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The importance of local empowerment

I have just finished quite a long post on my personal blog, Blogging, Facebook and Twitter. I just wanted to make a brief follow up comment here.

A number of years ago I was guest speaker at a meeting of the Uralla Women's Association. My topic was the best way of influencing Government. While I think that they enjoyed the talk, I also fear that I went over their heads.

My core message, one that I am still focused on, was the way the ordinary citizen or group could influence Government. I was trying to explain how this could be done in a practical sense. My difficult was that I knew a hell of a lot about the way things worked, but was struggling to get this across.

We used to live in a simpler world.

I remember at one point in the 1970s during the Whitlam years that Crookwell struck a problem with an entry permit for a British Rugby League player who was to play with the local team. I went to Ian Sinclair who sorted the problem.

During this same period, a Queanbeyan Croation family was having difficulty in getting a family member into the country. I solved the problem. Talking to the family later, they said that when told that I had helped, she said I will pray for him. It brought tears to my eyes. 

Government has become bigger and more complex since then, rules more rigid. The capacity of any single person to help has been reduced. This includes local members. Yet if you know how things work, things can still be done.

I suppose that one of the things I have tried to do, am trying to do now, is to empower individuals and groups, to give them the skills and knowledge they need to pursue their causes.

As a commentator on New England issues, I may not agree with the cause. I reserve the right to oppose. Yet, I would still strive to help them argue their cause in the best way.

Many people today feel helpless. Things are too difficult, Government too big, the opposition too strong. Yet, and this is as true today as it was fifty years ago, individuals and local groups can win. Indeed, I am astonished at the way in which the apparently impossible can be achieved.

In another post on my personal blog, Saturday Morning Musings - the importance of the small, I talked about the way in which action at the personal level could achieve long term effects. I am absolutely convinced of this.

Sometimes I get depressed. Then I think that it is both arrogant and silly of me to think that the world must listen. I just have to keep on going!          

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Belshaw's World - Armidale's CBD problems

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 24 March 2010. 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 for 2009, here for 2010.
Continuing my ramblings on my return to Armidale after a break of several years, I left the University for town just after lunch time on the Friday.

I had an appointment to visit the Express at 3, and decided to spend the intervening time just wandering the main street, following the paths I had known. I didn’t want to park at either of the shopping centres on the eastern and western edges of the CBD, so I drove around the central CBD looking for street parking.

Dear me, what a remarkable number of one hour parking signs Armidale now has! I am sure that there are good reasons for this, but it wasn’t much use from my viewpoint. Finally, I did what I had always done, and drove down to the Hanna’s parking area. I should have done this first, it was almost empty.

As I wandered down through Hanna’s Arcade to Beardy Street, I wondered how all the new parking and street arrangements affected visitor traffic. I actually found them confusing.

Armidale now seems to be at the stage that the city needs a map of the CBD itself for visitor use. I think that this would help visitors’ plan their activities.

I walked up Beardy Street to the Mall and then into the old Richardson’s Arcade. For a period we had our offices upstairs in the Arcade, with my own office overlooking Beardy Street.

The thing that struck me most during my walk was the number of vacant offices and shops. The old Richardson’s Arcade itself felt like a disaster area.

I know that there are particular reasons for this, including the new shopping centres and the move by some firms into new premises. I also know that, with time, population growth and new business starts will start to fill in the gaps.

Still, it was disappointing.

I think that the thing that has surprised me most about the central Mall and the immediately surrounding area lies in its failure to develop as a specialist shopping/eating area. It did start to go that way, then seemed to stop.

I might write on this one in more detail in another column. For the moment, I am just recording impressions.

While in the Mall, I mounted my usual bookshop raid. I do this on each trip, looking for new books connected in some way with New England.

This is another thing I have noticed over the last twenty years. Twenty years ago, the then Pidgeon’s as well as the main book stores all had small Armidale or New England collections. These have declined with time, and have now vanished. I was able to buy a few, but only because I already knew the titles.

Chatting in Reader’s Companion, I was told that this was due to books going out of print.

I am sure that this is part of the story, but it is more than that. I think that there has been a loss of focus. You see, I know from the Express and other sources that a range of new books have in fact been published. I would like to buy them!

Look, I accept that I have specialist interests. However, I am also sure from my own experience that visitors in particular are interested in and will buy local titles.

One book that I was able to get my hands on was John Ryan’s Tales from New England.

The book reviews the work of a number of writers with New England connections. I found the first chapter slow going, then became absorbed. As a result, I finished the entire book in one run over the Friday and Saturday.

I especially enjoyed the section on Robert Barnard.

The publication of Death of An Old Goat in 1974 launched Barnard's international crime writing career. The plot deals with the attempts by a young English lecturer, Bob Bascomb, to assist police in solving the apparently motiveless murder of a recently arrived visitor to the Department of English at the University of Drummondale.

The book is a sometimes very funny and satirical (if somewhat cruel picture) of life in Armidale and at the university in the 1960s. It is especially funny in places to those who know Armidale, because of the tendency to play spot the person!

It seems that I will need a third column to finish the story of my return to Armidale.

On a final note, did you know that two of the Australian finalists for this year’s Romance Writers of America's RITA Awards for published work are from the Armidale district?

My congratulations to Kelly Hunter and Bronwyn Parry.

Nundle's Chinese festival

Nundle Chinese Festival

One of the things that I have always wanted to do is to go to the Nundle Chinese Festival. I was reminded of this by a story in the Northern Daily Leader.

The Chinese have a long history in New England. something that I have only just begun to tease out. See here and here for example.

Perched on top of the range above the Hunter Valley, Nundle itself is a fascinating little town.

I first visited on a drive to Armidale when we decided to go a back-roads route. It really was worth the visit.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New States and Ontario

I am still digging away at demographic stats. In addition, the Sydney Government is reported to be due to release new population projections for NSW today.

In the meantime, I thought that I would report on the problems that have emerged in the Canadian province of Ontario. Ontario has an area of  1,076,395 km2 (415,598 sq mi) with a population of something over 13 million.

According to a report by Randy McDonald, the growth of Toronto, Ontario's biggest city, is now causing real problems of governance within Ontario with growing dissatisfaction in other parts of the province who see their needs being ignored. Sound familiar?

Given the difficulty of creating new provinces, one suggestion that has been made is that the provincial government should devolve power to a series of provincial assemblies within Ontario.

In rejecting the idea of new states in 1924, the NSW Cohen Commission concluded that the needs identified by those supporting new states could be better met by regional councils. The problem since is that  the Government in Sydney has always refused to create councils with the size and power required to have any chance of effectiveness. Its failure here during the Australian post second world war reconstruction period led to the regional councils movement turning into a renewed New State movement.

My advice to those living in Ontario would be to go for provincial separation with devolved powers to regional assemblies as a fall-back. You see, even though either may be hard to achieve, the act of campaigning forces attention to be paid to regional problems.

What was insufficiently recognised by those opposing the New England separation case in 1967 was that the existence of the New England New State Movement was the single biggest weapon providing a degree of unity in the North, while also forcing attention to be paid to Northern problems.

This has gone now. Those such as the lower Hunter dairy farmers who feared loss of preferential access to the Sydney market lost it anyway without gaining anything in return.       

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Inverell's problem with air services

I suppose that I have written a fair bit on this blog over time about both the history of civil aviation in New England and the problems involved in maintaining regional air services.

Part of the problem lies in the way economics works: every new requirement placed upon airlines and airports, every increase in charges at major airports, affects the economics of regional operations because the passenger base over which the costs and charges have to be spread is relatively small. I do wonder how much the latest safety requirements will add to the problem.

In recent years, Inverell has had a special problem.

Inverell is a moderate size town by New England standards. At the 2006 census the LGA population was 15,510 , the town population 9,749. For many years and when the town was a lot smaller, New England carrier East West Airlines maintained a daily Sydney service by linking Inverell and nearby Glen Innes (LGA population 8,780 at the 2006 census). Problems for Inverell really began when East West was taken over by the bigger and now defunct Ansett.

Inverell Council finally responded to the decline in air services by combining with Gunnedah Council further south to help create Big Sky Express as a community airline. Sadly, in 2006 Big Sky collapsed as a consequence of mismanagement in Transair, Big Sky's managing airline.

Early in 2007, Council persuaded another New England carrier, Newcastle based Aeropelican, to fly to Inverell. Aeropelican, itself an airline that had been almost destroyed via Ansett acquisition, was looking to expand its northern routes. The traffic wasn't there, and Aeropelican retreated, leaving Inverell without an air service.

Inverell's problem lies in part in its size, in part in its location. Inverell is an eight hour drive from Sydney. The nearest airports are at Tamworth (3 hours away), Armidale (1 hour 50 minutes) and Moree (1 hour 50 minutes). There are no services now to nearby Glen Innes. Brisbane at 5 hours 40 minutes driving time is far closer than Sydney, but state structures mean that Inverell people generally have to deal with Sydney.

The absence of air connections creates a real problem in attracting business to Inverell. This had led the Mayor to propose that Inverell should actually buy its own aeroplane to operate services. This has come under attack from some rate payers for reasons I understand. Yet without an air service, Inverell will continue to suffer disadvantage.

Inverell's size and particular location could well justify a Sydney Government subsidy on regional development grounds. This is not going to happen. In its absence, Inverell Council is going to have to continue to search for solutions.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Why history is important to tourism revisited

Continuing my update on past posts, Why history is important to tourism (13 March 2010) drew some interesting if depressing comments. 

Le Loup referred both to lack of interest in offerings - in this case living history displays - as well as the way in which donations of artifacts he had made had been left moldering. He concluded:  

Why people do not want to improve on their historical impression I have no idea, especially when it is being offered for free.

David referred to the experience of he and his wife in trying to first develop and then promote a Cessnock historical walks brochure. He concluded:

I would still like to see our brochure giving local tourists something to do in Cessnock before disappearing to the vineyards but since I no longer have a business in town myself there is little incentive to continue banging my head against the local apathy.

Peter Firminger wrote:

Tourism is a touchy subject in an historic place. To try and get past some of the resistance I am separating Tourists from Visitors and I think it's an important part of the process to identify the separate needs of the two groups. I wrote a bit about it in an article about (Cessnock Council) Planning and it is at this time, pretty much an unfinished thought.

You see what I mean when I say that the comments were both interesting and depressing?

I really can emphasize with these three experiences, because I have been through it all myself.

I suppose the first point is that change and improvement come about in part by accident, more because a small number of people persevere against all odds. Those of us who are committed cannot be sure that what we will achieve what we set out to do, indeed most of us are likely to suffer failure in whole or part. What we can be sure off, however, is that when we look at the totality of community activity, the successes come because of people like us.

The second point is that success often comes in unexpected ways, with often small things having long term effects in ways that we cannot foresee.

To illustrate with an example from my own experience, many years ago and in a very in a different world I recruited a 19 year old Canberran to the Young Country Party and introduced him to his wife to be, an Armidale girl. Many more years later than I care to count, Peter Bailey became a dedicated campaigner for country development and the founder of Country Week.

I did not get Country Party pre-selection for Eden-Monaro, a personal failure. However, my own endeavours then had a longer term payback for the causes I was interested in in a way that I could never have have foreseen. I tried to write about this a little in  Saturday Morning Musings - the importance of the small.

The third point is a practical as well as perceptual one. All local communities have their own dynamics and tend to be inward looking. Often, they fail to recognise just what might be important to outsiders. They may take pride, rightly, in a local park, yet fail to recognise that the park is irrelevant to those beyond the community.

I say rightly, because if you have worked for something and it adds to the community you have every reason to be proud. I say irrelevant, to the outsider because there are lots of parks. What is is that makes your park different?

Too often, the problem is further complicated by the desire of those who are satisfied with the status quo, who do not want changes that they might dislike, to oppose actively or passively. This bears upon the problem that Peter referred too.

I can completely understand those who are resistant to change. However, there are two problems.

The first is that change happens whether we like it or not. If we always oppose change, we condemn ourselves to reactive responses. We actually give away control. The issue is how the community manages change, how it takes a degree of charge.

The example I often use to illustrate this is Armidale in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then the city's growth seemed assured. Those who liked Armidale's life style and did not want to see it change opposed growth suggestions. Little did they know that structural changes already underway and especially in education would sap Armidale's growth to the point that the city's population would go into decline, that the very survival of the University would be brought into question.

The issues in Armidale's case that they should have addressed were what happened if things did go wrong, what did they want for the future.

If you read Peter's piece on Cessnock City Council planning, you will see that he is trying to address these types of issues by focusing on the role that visitors can play in helping support the infrastructure on which community life depends, by distinguishing between tourists and visitors. Now, as it happens, I disagree with the way he has defined things, that's simply a technical issue, but the principle is there.

Again, if you look at Wollombi in the context of Cessnock Council and its LEP, you can get a feel for the way in which the future of the Valley may simply be redefined independent of what locals think.

I think my key point about the importance of tourism apart from the additions it can make to the texture of local life, and that's important if managed properly, is that it it is another lever that can be used to give a degree of local or regional control.