Saturday, July 31, 2010

Round the New England blogging traps 16 - Hunter Valley sojourn

Newcastle Harbour

One of the things that I have always liked about Newcastle, apart from its very difference to the world in which I grew up, is the accessibility, the feeling of closeness,  to the Harbour.

This photo from Newcastle Au Photos City & Hunter draws this out very clearly. Isn't it a great photo?

I was going to leave this blog here, and then I thought of something that happened during the week.

David Roberts from UNE's Heritage Futures Research Centre sent me an article that he and Erik Eklund from Monash University were preparing on the treatment of Newcastle's Coal River Heritage Project.  Now before going on, I want to insert another photo from Newcastle Au, one that has absolutely nothing to do with convicts, but is still linked.

The following photo shows a group of terraces from Newcastle East. Newcastle East The photo could have come from North England, and indeed many of those who came to Newcastle were from this area.

But how does this industrial shot link to convicts? Well, for a number of complicated reasons, Newcastle has in some ways been written out of Australian history.

The core of the draft article on the Coal River Heritage Project is the difficulty in gaining recognition that Newcastle was a major convict centre in fact worthy of recognition.

In similar vein, Australia's industrial past and Newcastle's role within it is rarely dealt with today. I stand to be corrected, but I see very little on it. With the exception of the occasional passing reference or footnote, Newcastle really does not exist in historical terms.   

Concluding, this really is a great photo blog. Just take a bit of time and browse the various tags.

I continue to enjoy Sharyn Munro's The woman on the mountain. Sharyn has a real love affair with wallabies! She has also just been visiting south east Victoria. As I read Magical Mallacoota, I thought of my last visit there all those years ago.

I was reading Wollombi Valley On-Line when an odd thought occurred to me.  The trigger was a story:  Womens Spirituality Workshop. Wollombi

This, by the way, is a shot of Wollombi.

Living in Sydney as I am just at present, it's easy to forget that the desire to discover spirituality is one of the themes that appears across New England's alternative life style settlements.

The University of Newcastle's Cultural Collections blog continues to provide a range of fascinating material. As just one example, the story Henri Rochefort – Noumea to Newcastle is not just a fascinating yarn, but also provides both a slice of French history and a visitor's snapshot of Newcastle in 1874.

Staying in the Hunter, it has been a little while since I visited Gaye's Snippets and sentiments. Gaye's blog is a gentle, personal, blog with a nature focus; it is always a pleasure to read. Re-visiting, I discover that they have bought a house further north in Baradine, a small community near the Pilliga Scrub, an area that Gaye has always enjoyed. While they will be staying in the Hunter for the present, the aim is to retire to Baradine.    

All for now.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New England's vanished towns - Kookaburra


In some ways, the New England landscape is littered with the remains of past settlements. 

Gordon Smith has been exploring the Carrai Plateau, a huge granite area surrounded by steep escarpments that drop to Kunderang Brook and the Macleay River.

The little settlement of Kookaburra was a tiny saw milling centre. This photo shows the Kookaburra Fire Station. Gordon wondered just what might have been stored inside!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Around New England's Universities July 2010

I suddenly realised that I haven't done a news round-up on New England's universities since February. It seems an opportune time to do so now, for as I wrote in Are the wheels starting to come off in Australian higher education?, all Australia's universities face a period of fundamental change.

Starting with Newcastle, on 25 June the University released details of 901 mid year offers of places broken up as follows:

  • Callaghan campus: 663
  • Central Coast campus (Ourimbah): 165
  • Port Macquarie campus: 7
  • Distance education: 66

I haven't been able to find equivalent numbers for UNE or SCU.

On 1 July, more than 2,000 students from high schools across the Hunter, Central Coast, mid-north Coast and Tablelands-North West regions visited the University of Newcastle's Callaghan campus for the annual Schools Visit Day. This type of visit is a major activity for all our universities as they seek to attract students.

On 10 July, Newcastle released details of a $100 million program including new on-campus accommodation of 750 beds, refurbishing and upgrading existing on-campus accommodation (960 beds), and 400 extra car parking spaces. The new accommodation facility will be located adjacent to the existing on-campus accommodation precinct.

One of the drivers here has been the high cost of rented accommodation for students within Newcastle. Sydney universities face similar if more intense problems; both the University of New South Wales and Sydney University are expanding student accommodation, increasing their competitive threat for New England students. 

One of the University of Newcastle's strengths lies in the engineering and technical arena. In this context, the University has appointed engineering heavy-weight Dr Alan Broadfoot as the director of the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER).

NIER will comprise laboratories, workshops, offices and five industrial-scale pilot plant workshops. The facility will encompass University Priority Research Centres and research groups that will explore energy production, distribution and efficiency. Research will also be carried out in the areas of mining, minerals and minerals processing. The $40 million NIER project is funded through $30 million from the Australian Government Education Investment Fund and $10 million from the University.

In another move, the University has announced that Researchers from the University of Newcastle will lead a new multi-million dollar Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence to pioneer new scientific approaches to geotechnical engineering design. With Australian Government funding of $14.4 million, the Centre of Excellence in Geotechnical Science and Engineering will focus on creating science-based tools for predicting the safety of offshore and onshore geostructures, including oil and gas platforms, roads, railways, tunnels, dams and port facilities.

Finally on Newcastle, congratulations to The University of Newcastle Chamber Choir for winning gold in two categories at the Sixth World Choir Games in Shaoxing China. Around 420 choirs with over 10,000 performers from some 80 countries participated in the Games.naidoc2010_web

Both Southern Cross and the University of New England featured NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) week activities. NAIDOC takes place across Australia during the first full week of July  and is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians in various fields.

At SCU, there were a variety of activities at the Lismore and Gold Coast campuses (and here), while at UNE the Oorala Aboriginal Centre organises a flag-raising ceremony every year as part of Armidale’s NAIDOC Week celebration.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme focuses on “unsung heroes”. 

Speaking at the ceremony, student Kerrie-Anne Maunder celebrated the achievements of her grandmother, Vilma Ryan, as a political activist, community worker, lecturer, and campaigner on a wide range of Aboriginal issues including land rights, social equity, and the education and welfare of children.

Ms Lyn Walford, representing the local Aboriginal community, spoke about the highly successful, community-based Aboriginal Rugby League team based in Armidale - the Narwan Eels - as “unsung heroes”. She invited those at the ceremony to view an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of the “Eels” on   display in the Oorala Aboriginal CeMichael Brogan, Kerrie-Anne Maunder, Professor Jim Barber, and Lyn Walfordntre while continuing their NAIDOC Week celebration over morning tea.

The photo shows from left the Acting Director of the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, Michael Brogan, Kerrie-Anne Maunder, Professor Jim Barber, and Lyn Walford.

New England has a very big Aboriginal community and especially in the North Coast and North West regions.

While I have always been interested in Aboriginal history, working with Aboriginal people over 2009 while also researching Aboriginal history as part of my broader history of New England has given me a much greater awareness of Aboriginal issues; see Return to country as an example.

Staying with Southern Cross, one feature of the University's press releases is an emphasis on the sea, not surprising given its location. Examples include:

University press releases also feature outreach activities such as public lectures at main centres.

Finally with SCU, lobbying by the University has paid off with Coffs Harbour to be included in the 19 centres for the National Broadband second stage roll-out. The area including and around the University of New England was included in the first NBN pilot studies.

I sometimes not sure just how many New Englanders understand the importance of their universities to development across New England.

Turning to to UNE, the press releases again have a different feel. Monitoring the releases as I do, by the way, UNE actually has the best PR approach of all three.

If Newcastle is technical and industrial, Southern Cross sea, then UNE is agriculture. Of course, all three are more than this, but the rural side continues to come through strongly at UNE as it has from the University's early days. If we look at the media releases over July, we find:

However, looking at the pattern of press releases over time, UNE also has four distinctive features as compared to both Newcastle and SCU: the releases are more varied, while there is a greater emphasis on campus life, on international reach and on the humanities.

This partially reflects the University's history, but also its strategic positioning, for in some ways UNE is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Australian university students are far more stay at home than, say, their US equivalents. Lacking the bigger immediate local catchment areas available to Newcastle (Newcastle, Lower Hunter and Central Coast) or Southern Cross (Gold Coast, Northern Rivers, Coffs Harbour), UNE has to attract students and especially on-campus students from other places in the face of fierce competition. While UNE does compete with SCU and NU for New England students, it actually has to attract students from other places who would otherwise go to their local university or universities. This affects every element of the University's competitive strategy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why we need a New England research institute

Today's post on my personal blog was Issues with spin.

My last two Belshaw World columns - Belshaw's World - true wisdom rarely the sum of bland numbers and Belshaw's World - round holes, square pegs and a region cruelled - discussed the way policy is developed with a special focus on the reasons why policy so often disadvantaged country Australia. I concluded the second post:

To my mind, the single most important short term solution to current ignorance about and neglect of Northern NSW and its needs lies in the creation of a properly funded research institute to generate the ideas and the information required to force changes in current policy approaches.

One of the reasons why spin sometimes works is that those involved in the spin actually control both information and the policy levers. There are no alternative views to challenge.

Those who read this blog will know that I consider that self-government for New England is critical to getting a proper focus on New England needs. In the meantime, we do need a way of generating alternative views.

In suggesting that we need a New England research institute, I am not proposing an alternative to existing vehicles such as the Hunter Valley Research Institute. Rather, I am suggesting the creation of a broader vehicle that will work in tandem with them and compliment their activities.

For my proposed research institute to work, it must be properly funded. I have not attempted to work out numbers at this point, but my guess is that we need an annual income stream of over a million dollars per annum.

I would be interested in comments as to the best way of achieving this.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Formation of the Armidale Newspaper Company

On 22 July, Gordon Smith carried this post on his Old News from Armidale and New England blog.

"Armidale Newspaper Company Limited

Friday 12 April 1929, The Sydney Morning Herald


The following companies have been registered, shares (except where otherwise stated) being of the value of £1 each:

The Armidale Newspaper Company, Limited, capital £30,000; to purchase, acquire, take over and amalgamate, or carry on the business of the Armidale Express Newspaper at present carried on at Armidale by P. C. G. Hipgrave and J. B. McKenzie, and the business of the Armidale Chronicle Newspaper at present carried on at Armidale by A. Purkiss. First directors: R. B. Austin, E. C. Sommerlad, H. F. White. Registered office, Armidale, N.S.W."

Now as it happens, I can provide a little more information on this story. I quote from Drummond's life 5 - The Minister: 1927-1929. The footnotes will be found in the original post. 

"In those pre-radio and television days, the local press was the main source of community information.[65] Originally even the smallest towns had their own independent newspaper to press the interests of town and district. However, from the first decade of this century rising wages, the development of new and costlier technology, and growing competition from the metropolitan dailies began to threaten the financial survival of the country press. Papers started to close or merge, while a number became daily publications. These new country dailies were aggressive. In the North the Grafton Daily Examiner and Northern Daily Leader combined with the Lismore Northern Star and the Murwillumbah Tweed Daily to form the Associated Northern Dailies. An office was opened in Sydney to sell advertising space and a joint rate was offered to advertisers willing to advertise in all four papers. In 1931 the Maitland Daily Mercury joined the group.

Competition from the Northern Dailies combined with that from the Sydney press to increase the pressure on the other newspapers still being published on a tri-, bi- or weekly basis. This competition was not all one-sided. In September 1926, for example, Sommerlad wrote to Drummond with glee that the Glen Innes Examiner had

.. got a good one on Tamworth yesterday, in connection with the rail smash. Armidale passed the word on that Tamworth were sending a special edition up, to arrive about 7pm. I got busy & made a fine display of stuff in the short time available. Then hired a motor-bike and sent 350 copies to Inverell, having rung Knapton to get a dodger out in the meantime. The street was blocked with people waiting for copies & we made a great sale - & a great scoop.[66]

Despite such successes, the pressure on the smaller papers grew. Again the response was merger, associated with the closure of the smaller papers. In 1923 Sommerlad merged the Glen Innes Guardian into the Glen Innes Examiner, following this in 1926 with the merger of the Inverell Times and Inverell Argus. A new company, Northern Newspapers Limited, was formed to take over both the Inverell papers and the Glen Innes Examiner. Sommerlad became Chairman and Managing Director, while the other directors included Harold Knapton (former proprietor of the Inverell Times) and Drummond.

Drummond had probably not been actively involved in Sommerlad's business activities before accepting the appointment to the Northern Newspapers' Board. However, he played an active role in the next stage of the consolidation process, the merger of the two rival Armidale papers, the Armidale Express and the Armidale Chronicle.

In 1928, a financial adventurer, William John Beckett, formed a new company to launch a chain of newspapers around Australia. Armidale was apparently mentioned as one of the key centres in the Beckett proposals. Beckett's notoriety created immediate concern: realising 'that at all costs Beckett must be prevented from getting a foothold in the North',[67] Sommerlad and Albert Joseph (the founder of the Northern Daily Leader) agreed that the Tamworth Newspaper Company and Northern Newspapers should jointly sponsor the merger of the two papers. In Sommerlad's view, this outside intervention was necessary 'since the two Armidale proprietors were so mutually jealous there was no possibility of the amalgamation being brought about except by an outsider.'[68] Drummond's newspaper experience had already suggested to him that merger would be desirable,[69] and he fully supported Sommerlad's plan.

In February 1929 the Tamworth Newspaper Company Board refused to participate in the agreement, probably because of tensions between Tamworth and the other parties involved.[70] With Tamworth's withdrawal, Harold Knapton wrote to Sommerlad saying Northern should now pull out unless they owned the 'whole show' since he doubted the capacity of the Armidale promoters to succeed in a larger newspaper.[71] Drummond disagreed,[72] and the parties decided to proceed. On 10 April 1929, The Armidale Newspaper Company Limited was formed with Dr. R.B. Austin (Chairman), E.C. Sommerlad (Managing Director) and Colonel H.F. White as initial directors.[73] W.S. Forsyth, the main Armidale promoter, wrote happily to Sommerlad that he was 'pleased with the entire outlook.'[74] Drummond and three others were appointed to the Board at the first directors' meeting,[75] and then, on 2 September 1929, the first edition of the merged paper appeared.[76]"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New State arguments 12 - the importance of history

One of the difficulties those of us who want self-government for New England face in getting our message across is the loss of our own history. The reasons for this are complex, but link to the combination of demographic change with changing research and publishing fashions.

Normally, historical memory is preserved through a combination of folk memory, schooling, books and coverage in media, film and television. Demographic change and especially the rise of coastal populations means that there are a large number of people in New England who have limited historical connection to our past. The folk memory has diminished.

New England history is not covered in schools, while publishing, media, film and television coverage links to what is popular at the time. New England stories are not.

On the research side, academic interest in local and regional history within New England peaked around 1980. From that point, the number of theses at all levels dealing with aspects of New England history tailed away sharply. Since theses are the key raw material for later writing, the number of books and articles declined.

The loss of history was greatest at the broad regional level. Local and family history groups continued their work, although increasingly distribution of the results was limited. Coverage of local work in bookshops declined.

One side-effect of this loss of history is that the self-government cause came to be seen as a quaint anachronism from the past, rather than as a central element in New England history that had had national ramifications. A second side-effect is that many of the arguments and ideas developed over time were lost and had to be re-discovered by those becoming interested in the self-government cause.

The loss here was not just local. There is something rather sad, for example, about the way in which every renewed interest in population distribution and decentralisation over the last thirty years has effectively started from scratch. It is as though the detailed arguments put forward not just by the New State Movement, but by all those concerned with country or regional development, have been effectively locked into a sealed vault concealed from the present.

I make this point now because in reproducing my biography of the New England leader David Drummond, I have reached the point where I have just published the detailed story of the Nicholas Royal Commission. This now means that I have covered a large slab of New England history and politics from early settlement by the Europeans through to the mid thirties. This includes the history and impact of the Northern/New England separation movement.

Those interested can find the entry point for the series here: Decentralisation, Development and Decent Government: the life and times of David Henry Drummond, 1890-1941 - introduction.   

Friday, July 23, 2010

Belshaw's World - round holes, square pegs and a region cruelled

My last column began a discussion on some of the reasons why Government so often failed the needs of people in general and country people in particular.

In that column I discussed the way in which priorities are set at state level. I suggested that current institutional structures worked against effective country development.

To illustrate my point, I focused on the way priorities are set on a state-wide basis, on problems of data and the way in which inter-acting decisions had compounding effects at local level. One example I used was the way in which reductions in local hospital facilities could result in reduced age care facilities because they meant the centre no longer met the service criteria required for the funding of those aged care facilities.

I also pointed to the way in which mechanistic projections based on past trends could entrench, bring about, those projections.

Problems are compounded by the use and misuse of performance indicators. The difficulty is that, by their nature, these are based on statistical measures that are in fact averages across broad geographic areas, a state or the nation. They ignore regional variation. Further, the indicators are often interdependent in ways that may be unclear.

Once you set an indicator, you are bound to try to achieve it. The practical effect is that resources will be devoted to activities likely to have the greatest impact on the indicator, and that generally means the bigger population centres.

The growing role of the Federal Government complicates matters further. It, too, centres its approach on indicators, those things that can be measured. However, it uses national indicators that then get broken down at state level. These can cross state-priorities.

Perhaps the greatest misuse of indicators at Commonwealth level lies in the blind application of ARIA, a statistical measure of remoteness. It has no validity beyond this. Yet the Commonwealth uses it to determine certain funding allocations and to measure progress.

Say you want to improve health services to rural people or provide certain types of housing or increase the proportion attending university.

The current Commonwealth approach is to target funding to some combination of ARIA classifications, remote plus very remote for example, or these two plus outer-regional. This creates arbitrary on-ground boundaries for service delivery and benefits that cut through regions. You may be eligible, an equivalent person 20k away, not.

But wait, it gets worse.

All Government agencies need boundaries for planning and service delivery purposes. Those boundaries are determined by particular service delivery and planning needs and vary from each other and over time.

Of itself, there is nothing wrong with this. However, it adds to an increasingly crazy patchwork on-ground quilt of policies, programs and structures, a quilt that lacks both vertical and especially horizontal integration.

Vertical integration means the way in which policies, programs and structures link from top to bottom. Horizontal integration refers to the way in which policies, programs and structures link across service areas and geography.

Present arrangements are increasingly bitsy and ad-hoc. There are no real mechanisms for achieving coordination within regions or between regions on matters of common interest.

I am very aware of these problems because of the work I have done at community and official levels and as a consultant. I see them all the time.

I began my last column by wondering how many Armidale people knew just how important the University of New England had been in providing the intellectual firepower that allowed us to challenge conventional wisdom on country and regional issues.

Knowledge is power. If we want effective regional development, then we have to be able to challenge conventional thinking through evidence.

Given the lack of horizontal integration, this has to be done at a broader regional level. So long as responses are locality, electorate or even narrow regional based they will fail.

They will also fail if they are just “country” or “regional” in the broad sense, for then they are likely to get caught in the same general geographic traps as current approaches. They have to be geographically specific.

The original strength of the University of New England from a Northern perspective lay in the commitment of its staff and its broader regional perspective. One of the tragedies of the failure of the networked university, but also one of its causes, lay in the loss of that broader perspective.

To my mind, the single most important short term solution to current ignorance about and neglect of Northern NSW and its needs lies in the creation of a properly funded research institute to generate the ideas and the information required to force changes in current policy approaches.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 21 July 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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why our history is important to New England

Just back from Armidale to deliver a paper. I recorded some of my reactions in Return to country. This dealt in part with the role of the University of New England in recording the history and culture of the area. I concluded my post with these words:

I think that one of the best things that we can do for Aboriginal kids is to give them back their history. Not the generalised history you often see, but the actual specific local, regional and language group history.

The first New State manifesto said in 1920:

In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area.

When people say to me that the idea of New England statehood either makes no sense or is dumb because it cannot be achieved, I say don't be silly. Of course constitutional reform is hard. But if it hadn't been for the New State Movement, we wouldn't have had the University of New England. And if we hadn't had the University of New England, then Aboriginal kids in Northern New South Wales would have had no access to their own history.

I think that this is kind of important. We may not have a new state now, but we also have lots of positive results from previous agitation.

In the two papers I have delivered in Armidale this year, the listening audience has been quite old, old enough to remember some of the things that were done in the past. The younger demographic has no memory of past struggles. Their history has been truncated, cut off. 

To my mind, this is a very real problem. If we cannot explain our past, then New England will vanish, squeezed between Sydney and the national.

I think that this would be a tragedy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Belshaw's World - true wisdom rarely the sum of bland numbers

This is the first of a two part series.

I wonder how many Armidale people know just how important the University of New England was in providing the past intellectual firepower that allowed us to challenge conventional wisdom on country and regional issues?

I mention this because an email exchange with John Pigrim on UNE work triggered the need to explain why Government as presently structured so often fails the needs of people in general and country people in particular.

As a teenager, I believed that there was something of a plot against country people, that things were weighted against us.

The majority was in Sydney. So long as Sydney controlled things, we must be disadvantaged.

There was and is some truth in this. However, it wasn’t until I started working inside the system that I realised that the institutional structures themselves worked against the type of results I wanted.

This is best illustrated by examples. I have disguised them to avoid identifying specific agencies. Aged care should not necessarily be read as aged care.

Cash is short. All Government agencies have to set priorities.

Say you are dealing with aged care. You look at data and set priorities for the State as a whole. This means focussing on areas of greatest need. However, this can create local problems.

Take a small country town that has raised money for an age care facility. It wants a small grant to complete the project, a grant that offers a very high rate of return measured by contribution to aged care. The government gets $10 for every $1 of state funds, far higher than most equivalent projects. The application is rejected on priority grounds, even though the need is there.

In setting priorities, is not just the relative need that is important, but also the cost of delivering services and the standard of care.

Like aged care, the health service is short of funds. Further, it faces rapidly rising costs, along with growing demand for increasingly complex services. To manage this, it centralises services, withdrawing services from certain country towns.

We now have a double whammy.

Assume that the community we talked about actually meets the state wide priorities for aged care. However, those facilities cannot be provided because withdrawal of services from the local hospital means that the application cannot meet the criteria required for Government funding for aged care facilities.

Now I want to look at a broader question. How are state wide priorities set?

Priorities begin with data. While data can be drawn from many sources, the census is the most readily available source. So agencies begin with census data and then crunch it in various ways.

To understand aged care needs, you begin with the population structures as revealed by the census. You then compare this with the existing distribution of aged care facilities. This gives a rough measure of relative needs, including relative gaps between needs and facilities.

You also need to know what is likely to happen in the future.

To do this, you generate projections based upon existing population structures and trends. You use these projections to create estimates of future needs. Comparing these to the current position helps you can decide where funding should go.

I am sure that all this sounds very reasonable, and at one level it is. However, there are problems.

To begin with, all taxpayers are entitled to get a return for their money. But what happens if you are in a low priority area such that the services you pay for are not in fact provided?

Nobody can ensure exact equivalence, nor is this necessarily sensible. However, some form of balance is equitable.

Then, too, the statistics themselves are uncertain. The aggregate numbers conceal considerable differences. A population pyramid may provide some guidance as to the numbers likely to enter the aged care system, but actually tell you very little about the exact pattern of services those people may require.

Finally, the approach adopted is mechanistic. It assumes that what was will be, the past determines the future.

Things change. If you base planning on the past and on projections based on that past, you are going to be wrong.

In my next column, I will extend my argument and then look at things that need to be done if we are to bring about change.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 14 July 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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pause in posting

I am running behind in finalising a paper I have to give in Armidale Tuesday next week. For that reason, and taking travel time into account, I will not be posting here until next Thursday. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Moree launches job site

I see from the Moree Champion that the town has created a web site to facilitate job matching. is an initiative of Leonard Holt Rob (LHR) and a program - "The Brolga Project" - piloted by Moree Plains Shire Council. The Project provides university students with work experience opportunities in rural and regional Australia.

The new site allows employers to advertise vacant positions and jobseekers to upload full profiles, thus adding to the range of information sources. 

The breakfast meeting held to launch the site was attended by employers and students who are either looking for work or will be soon - upon completion of their degree - and representatives from Moree Plains Shire Council and LHR.

Both and The Brolga project will liaise with each other in the future where their goals align.

Moree has had problems for some time in attracting workers. According to the census data, between 2001 and 2006, the Shire's population actually declined from 15,680 to 13,976. The most recent population estimates suggest that that decline has stopped. However, Moree needs to be able to fill job vacancies if the area's population is to grow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Belshaw's World - stop migration and you arrest Sydney's growth

It may be hard to believe, but at Federation the population of greater Sydney was a bit over 32 per cent of the total NSW population. Even then, the trend towards centralisation was clear.

The 1905-1906 NSW Year Book struggled to explain this. Why was it happening, it asked? Why was NSW already such a city focused, urban based state by global standards?

The reason the Year Book gave lay in the unusual centralisation of activities in Sydney.

Over coming decades, New England leaders fought for decentralisation to reverse this trend. New states were one answer, a variety of decentralisation activities another.

As late as May 1974, official projections prepared by the NSW Department of Decentralisation and Development suggested that the New England-North West population would grow to 238,708 by 2001. Tamworth would grow to 45,613, Armidale still faster to 47,301.

In fact, at the 2006 census the Northern Statistical Division had a population of just 172,395.

If we look at the broader New State New England, 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 per cent.

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 per cent. This is not a big increase, but a small reversal of trend.

Population stagnation in inland New England has been associated with a dramatic decline in the area’s visibility and political importance. Further, because so much planning is based on population projections, inland New England has slipped down the pecking order when it comes to Government services.

Many of us have tried to turn this around.

In 1994 and 1995, for example, we put together a bid for Commonwealth funding for a cooperative multimedia centre in Armidale. The idea was that this would build on the strengths we already had.

A number of us put a fair bit of skin into this. In my case, I acted as a full time unpaid CEO for a considerable period.

We sought support from local member Ray Chappell who was then Minister for Small Business and Regional Development. He obtained a small grant for all of the CMC bidders to help fund the preparation of business plans.

We went back to Ray and said we need more support. If we are going to win against the metro bids including the two Sydney bids with their greater resources, then we need support. We also said that if either or both of the Sydney bids got up, they would have far less long term development paybacks.

Ray explained that the Government could not discriminate between bids from different parts of NSW. All must be treated equally. Further, the Government had problems in providing broader support; this represented intervention.

The Armidale bid went down. Worse, Queensland who had backed their bidders got two CMCs, NSW got just one in Sydney.

This is not a criticism of Ray, simply a reflection on the way Government works.

Growth in inland New England requires direct support if the barriers to growth are to be overcome. That cannot be achieved if everyone has to be treated equally, including those who have benefited from the dynamics of the current system.

In my column of 14 October last year, I ended by suggesting that the migration points system should be heavily skewed towards inland Australia. While I was trying to encourage discussion, there was also a serious point.

All the big Sydney growth spurts have been associated with increased migration. This has fed into building and infrastructure development. Money makes money, so more people have been attracted.

During down times, Sydney’s growth slows to a crawl. People continue to leave Sydney for other parts of Australia including regional NSW, but the number of new migrant arrivals drops. Sydney’s growth drops.

This is why I support reduced migration even though I actually think Australia needs a bigger population.

Reduced migration will have little effect on New England’s population because the population dynamics are not dependant on overseas migration. However, it would strengthen New England’s relative position and, potentially, its absolute position.

In the early 1990s when migration slowed, non-metro NSW actually gained population share compared to Sydney. Stop migration now, and the same thing is likely to happen.

I accept that this is a parochial position. But then, I am parochial.

I see absolutely no gain in a migration program whose effect is to increase metro dominance. If we are to maintain migration, then I want to know how this will help New England.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 7 July 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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Update on Tamworth GP shortage

In February, in Tamworth GPs close their books I reported on the growing shortage of GPs in Tamworth. Two stories from the Northern Daily Leader provide an update - here and here

A few statistics from the two stories:

  • There are currently 42 GPs in Tamworth including part time professionals, equating to 32 full time GPs. Tamworth is short at least 12 GPs.
  • Between 1997 and 2007, 1.5 specialists joined the work force for every GP, while the number of specialists in training doubled.
  • The GP ratio for NSW is one GP for every 1035 people. In Tamworth, the ratio is one GP for every 1699 people.
  • Nationally 88 per cent of GPs live in cities where they provide services to 66 per cent of the population.

The GP shortage is not, of course, limited to Tamworth.

I discussed a few of the reasons for the shortage in my February post.

One of the key issues, one referred to in the latest stories, is life style. This is not so much a question of city v country, although that is an issue, but rather changing expectations and gender structures in both city and country. This means that we need more GPs than before to service the same population. Where, as is the case in many country areas, the existing medical workforce is aging, then problems compound.

There are no easy solutions. Even with increased training in regional areas, it will take a number of years before the problem starts to ease. Just to put this in perspective, UNE's School of Rural Medicine (the closest) presently has around 118 students. The current Tamworth GP shortage alone equates to 10 per cent of this number.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Power of Imagination

Just at present, we live in a world dominated by concepts such as efficiency and effectiveness, by measurement, by performance indicators. These things are important, but they have also had a damaging side-effect: they tend not just to limit action to those things that can be measured, but also to lock action into the past.

I mention this because in the research and writing that I have been doing on the history of New England, I am constantly struck by the way our history has been influenced by individual action by people who wanted to make things better. They imagined something better, and sought to achieve it.

Many of the people in question would have regarded the way the way I put their actions as fanciful. They were practical people seeking to solve a problem or meet a need. Yet the cumulative affect of their actions, the capacity to think of something new, was to make life better.

There is limited room in a measurement world for truly new things. Often, these things simply cannot be measured. Equally often, their effects can only be measured in hindsight. Just as often, their creation may HRCP1675-Opening-National-Park-1937 involve strenuous action to overcome barriers created by existing systems.

The photo shows the opening of the New England National Park in 1937. This park was not created by Government in response to environmental pressures, in an effort to gain votes. It was created because key local protagonists, practical people all, thought that it was important.

One of the things that I have found interesting in recent comments on this blog is the way in which the very idea of self-government, of new structures, of new ways of doing things, has started to generate new ideas outside the bounds set by current structures,

Some of those ideas may not be sensible. For example, the application of rigid cost-benefit analysis to the idea of re-building New England railways as a way of re-creating economic and social linkages  is likely to kill any action stone dead. Yet the very consideration of those ideas raises new possibilities. If you are going to do something new, you have to break out of current bounds.

HRCP4528-ATC-Ceremony This photo shows the dedication of the Armidale Teacher's College in 1929.

This College was founded because those involved had a vision, a country college for country kids. It was founded because those involved also had a vision of a self-governing New England. This was part of its creation.

The College just survived the depression. It's survival then laid the base for the creation of the New England University College, the first non-metro university. In turn, the new College and then University provided some of the intellectual firepower to support new things, including distance education.

In Who speaks for the Hunter?, I looked at some of the problems created by the Hunter Valley by current approaches. When I look at the comments on local media and on this blog, I can see that there are ideas around about Hunter development, about the way in which Newcastle and the Hunter might play a broader role in New England to the mutual benefit of both.

Again, not all these ideas may be sensible. However, they provide a base for further thought, for the imagining not just of what is, but of what might be.

More and more I think how can we marshal this? How can we break out out?

This is not just a new state comment, although it is in part. Rather, it is a plea that we should continue to refuse to bound by existing chains, to look for better ways of imagining the new.       

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The paintings of Julia Griffin

2007 Oxley Highway Julia Griffin

My thanks to Kelly Fuller (ABC New England North West) on Twitter for this one. This painting by Walcha artist Julia Griffin is simply called 2007 Oxley Highway. It really captures the light.

I spoke of the New England painter Harry Pidgeon in Harry Pidgeon's Naturally Touched Cooks Hill Gallery.

I then used Harry's work in part in the The colours of New England. This was an attempt to combine writing, art and photography to paint a picture of the way the colours changed across New England west-east and north-south.

There is quite remarkable variation in colour depending upon height, climate, landscape, human effects and soil. Those of us who know New England well may love our own area's best, but we do see the variation, know the colours.

In one of my historical posts, New England's literary tradition 2 - geography, I looked (as the name says) on the impact of New England geography on our writers and writing, This raises similar issues to New England painting.    Rain on the Uralla Road Julia Griffin

Like Harry Pidgeon's  paintings, Julia's paintings have a special focus on inland New England. This is very different country from that known by many modern New England coast huggers.

This painting by Julia, Rain on the Uralla Road, captures a scene and feel that I know very well. Unless I am mistaken, it is not far from the Kentucky turn-off.

I love the fact that Julia is providing another thread in the growing representation of New England.

If you would like to see more of Julia's work and that of her partner, sculptor and painter Stephen King, you will find their web site here.  

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Who speaks for the Hunter?

One issue that has been coming through quite strongly in comments on Hunter Valley media and also on this blog is the perception that planning and Government actions in the Hunter lack coordination and vision. I asked in response to one comment just what bodies were responsible for providing an integrated voice across the Hunter. My respondent wasn't sure, so I went to do some digging.

There is actually a Minister for the Hunter, presently Jodi McKay, the Member for Newcastle. The Minster's role is not very clear, nor is that of her portfolio. If you follow the portfolio link through, you come to the NSW Premier's & Cabinet web site. However, there is no identifiable structure that I can find within P&C that represents the Hunter Ministry. There also appear to be no ministerial press releases as such, although Jodi McKay's electorate web site has some in her role as member.

The NSW State Plan is meant to provide an over-arching framework for development and service delivery within the state. This includes a part labelled Hunter Local Action Plan. This is essentially a list of activities.

   NSW Planning has a section on its web site entitled Hunter Region. When you click on this you find that there is a Lower Hunter Regional Strategy. The rest of the Valley is not covered beyond an earlier assessment  on coal mining in the Upper Hunter.

Beyond any Hunter specific strategies, the Valley is affected by a myriad of dlg_MapHT other State activities and action plans. So I continued digging to see what might encourage cooperation and coordination between the various councils on one side and all the other bodies affecting the Valley.

Looked at in this way, I found:

I am sure that there are many other bodies. These were the ones I found through a quick search.

I accept that this post is an incomplete analysis. I think, though, that I can see why the Hunter appears so fragmented.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Moree gains Brisbane air service

I see from the Northern Daily Leader that Brindabella Airlines has launched it's Moree-Brisbane flights.

The photo shows pilots Captain Shane Carr and Captain Todd Kristenson welcoming Brindabella chief executive officer Michael Rasmussen on board the historic Brindabella flight.

I have written a fair bit on this blog about both the history and current position of civil aviation in New England. I really hope that this service succeeds.

Moree's location as the largest centre on the western side of New England creates problems for the town. It's not actually all that far west, about 428k or a bit over five hours driving time from the coast, but its far enough west to create service delivery problems with the way services are now structured. For example, it is a bit over three hours drive to the big base hospital in Tamworth. The time is much worse if you have to rely on public transport.

The service will allow Moree people to access Brisbane services. It will also give Brisbane people better access to Moree.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Queen petitioned for action to improve New England's railways


I see from ABC New England North West that Anthony Hardwick has organised a petition to the Queen to draw attention to the rail situation on the Tablelands and North West.

Now Her Majesty will not able to help because this is matter for her NSW Government. However, I do have a great deal of sympathy for Anthony's desire to attract attention to the issue.

Unlike other states such as Queensland, Sydney's approach to its rail system is narrow, pedestrian and boring. I am not saying that Queensland is perfect, far from it because it suffers from some of the same problems as NSW. But it has promoted its railways as more than just transport.

In posts and in comments on this blog, some of us have discussed ways in which New England's railways present and rebuilt, might be used to more effectively to link and promote New England. I wonder what you think? What would you like to see done? 

Newcastle, Gosford & the boy from Oz.

Back in February 2008 in I wrote of singer Peter Allen in Peter Allen, Armidale and Claire and Eileen Napier - an attack of nostalgia. Now I have a conundrum that my Newcastle readers may be able to answer.

On 25 June, the Armidale Express reported on a visit to Armidale by members of the Gosford Musical Society investigating the singer's live in advance of a production of the Boy from Oz due to start a four week run in Gosford from 6 August.

Now I see from the Newcastle Herald that that there is to be a Newcastle production of the musical running from 4 to 14 August. Does this mean that we actually have two productions of the same musical at the same time in close proximity to each other?   

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Belshaw's World - comings, goings and the end of big Australia

PM Gillard’s announcement that she was opposed to the concept of a “big Australia” marked another stage in the population debate that has been underway in this country over the last year or so.

As in all these things, it is not just the absolute number of people, but also their distribution in terms of geography and age that is important. In geographic terms, there are parts of Australia that can sustain, indeed need, more people, while other parts arguably do not.

Last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest estimates of the Australian population. We can use these numbers to scope some elements of the debate.

The ABS provides three estimates of the future Australian population, high, low and medium. The existence of three estimates helps explain the variations you will see in the numbers used by people in talking about future numbers.

The ABS estimated that the Australian population at the end of December 2009 was 22.155 million. It projected that by 2051 it would rise to:

  • High 40.087 million
  • Medium 34.213 million
  • Low 30.307 million.

Quite a big variation, isn’t it?

The three estimates incorporate different assumptions. Of these, assumptions about migration rates are the most important because net overseas migration is now the key driver of population increase. Net overseas migration simply means the number of new settlers minus those leaving the country on a long term basis.

The following table shows the relative contributions to Australia’s population growth in the year ended 30 December 2009.

Natural Increase   154,900
Add new migrants 508,000  
Less Australians leaving 230,300  
Net overseas migration   277,700
Total population increase   432,600

I suspect that in all the debate about migration and population size, very few Australians realise just how many people we now lose each year to emigration. Some return, of course, but many don’t.

The size of Australian emigration actually makes it far easier to cut population growth, if that is what we want. Even if we wanted to cut net population growth to zero, we don’t actually have to ban all new migration, simply reduce it to the point where negative net migration offsets the natural rate of population increase.

The following table shows what the numbers would have looked like in 2009 with a zero total population increase.

Natural Increase   154,900
Add new migrants 75,400  
Less Australians leaving 230,300  
Net overseas migration   -154,900
Total population increase   zero

This is a pretty extreme case. It would mean drastically cutting all classes of migrant entry, including both family reunion and skilled migration. However, what might happen if we cut immigration back to the point that it simply balanced emigration?

Natural Increase   154,900
Add new migrants 230,300  
Less Australians leaving 230,300  
Net overseas migration   zero
Total population increase   154,900

As you can see, in this case, we would still have admitted 230,300 migrants in 2009, but the total population increase would have been limited to the natural increase of 154,900.

Now what might this mean in population terms if maintained for, say, ten years?

Well, to begin with, on the 2009 figures, the total Australian population would be some 2.8 million lower than would otherwise be the case. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your viewpoint.

Equally importantly, the relative distribution of the Australian population would likely have changed quite noticeably. The faster growing areas would continue to attract people from slower growth areas, but the migrant intakes that presently replace them would not be there, reducing population growth.

Take NSW as an example.

In 2009, the state’s population grew by 115,798. Of this, no less than 83,787 came from net overseas migration.

With zero net overseas migration, the state’s population growth would have been just 32,051. Looking over a ten year time horizon and on the 2009 figures, the state’s population growth would fall from 1.16 million to 320,510. Sydney, in particular, would experience a sharp fall in growth.

In my next column I will look at the implications of this, with a special focus on New England.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 30 June 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

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Round the New England blogging traps 15 - crowdsourcing and the texture of life

I have really been enjoying Lynne's new nellbellingen blog, although it should perhaps be bellinger, since it is much about the valley as the town.

For those who don't know either, the town of Bellingen lies on the Bellinger River. The small spelling difference between the two is a constant source of confusion.

The Bellinger Valley is not a big one, a bit over 3,400 square kilometres. On the map, Waterfall Way marks the centre of the Valley. It runs from Urunga up through Bellingen to Thora. Beyond Thora, the road climbs the escarpment.  


The Valley is very beautiful. Bellingen itself has become a counter culture centre. Lynne's posts bring out the texture of life in Bellingen and the Valley rather well. Bello Bards deals with another aspect of local life, poetry. 

One of the things that I love about New England is the depth and texture of its life once you drop below the broad patterns imposed by main highways or well know tourist centres. I have tried to capture a little of this in my writing, but a constantly struggle with the size of the task!

The Bellinger Valley is one example, the Wollombi Valley in the south another. The Great North Road runs through Wollombi. I drove this convict built road a lot at one stage in my past, but have to revisit.

In the Valley, Peter Firminger continues to campaign for local interests. Peter is a member of the Cessnock-Kurri Greens, but is happy to recognise contributions from all sides. Conversely, he criticises those who ignore Valley interests.

The big issue at present relates to local planning powers. There are two related dimensions to this. One is the way in which Cessnock Council works. The second is the willingness of the Government in Sydney to over-ride local representation whenever they conflict with Sydney plans.

Further north, Gordon Smith continues his search for the Diggers Graveyard mine. Gordon lives on a block  with partner writer Bronwyn Parry to the east of Armidale. He spends a fair bit of time exploring the gorge country that forms the divide between the Tablelands and coastal strip.

This is country that I knew quite well growing up. However, I did not realise the extent to which it had its own history. Gordon draws a little of this out in his posts. Diggers Graveyard: pest control is, I think, the first of the posts in the Diggers Graveyard series. If you go there and then follow the posts forward, you can follow Gordon's journey.

Archives Outside had a rather interesting article on Crowdsourcing for Archives and Libraries. I mention this not only because Archives Outside does carry New England stories, but because crowdsourcing itself is relevant to the New England web scene.

Crowdsourcing simple means using the web as a vehicle to capture mass volunteer involvement in preserving and documenting material. Wikipedia itself is an example of crowdsourcing.

The effect of crowdsourcing is to broaden content and contribution. For someone like me concerned with the preservation and presentation of past and present life in an area, the results are quite wonderful.  Gordon Smith's Old news from Armidale and New England is an example.

Drawing from digitised newspaper material, the blog has restarted the newspaper presses of the past. Lynne also uses this source.

I find this completely distracting. It's not just the references from time to time to members of my own family and especially my grandfather, nor even the fact that I knew or knew of so many of the people, it's the detail of local life. This is my country and I love it!

I have often complained about the way in which problems of selection, perception and bias in Australian historiography have cut so many of us off from our own pasts.

The internet in combination with techniques such as crowdsourcing actually give us control back. We can access our own past independent of the decisions of researchers, writes and publishers. As we take control, we build our own content that can then be used by others.

I think that that's quite a wonderful thing!   

Monday, July 05, 2010

CSR ends era

The $A 1.65 billion dollar bid by Chinese owned Bright Foods for Sucrogen, CSR's sugar division, really marks the end of an era.

CSR stands for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Founded in Sydney in 1855, CSR played a major role in the establishment of New England's sugar industry. As a kid visiting the sugar mills, I found them very impressive. They were, I think, the biggest industrial establishments in Northern New England. Certainly, they were huge to me.

CSR grew to be Australia's second largest company measured by turnover, and one of the top 200 in global terms. With diversification, sugar became a second string. Now, one way or another, CSR will exit its sugar interests.

I just wanted to record the passing. 

Friday, July 02, 2010

Welcome visitor 35,000

stats June 10 2 Visitor 35,000 arrived a few days ago. He/she came from Melbourne, arriving on the site after a google search on water blogs. This brought them to Water Wars - the Darling floods.

The attached graphic shows monthly visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red)over the last twelve months.

The last time I showed this graphic, there was a helpful presentational suggestion. Unfortunately, I am limited as to what I can do at present re editing.

The first post on this blog was in April 2006. Initially traffic was slow; 9,923 visits by end December 2007, then rising to 18,936 by end December 2008. 2009 was better still, but the traffic really accelerated from the start of this year. All good, I think! 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Belshaw's World - Lou, a New England story

Earlier in June I did a column on the 4th Dungog Australian Film Festival (Armidale Express, 2 June). This followed an earlier column (19 May) on New England’s rich film history.

Let me follow those columns with a question. Is the Belgrave actually going to show Lou, the movie?

I only have the web site to go by, but so far the answer appears to be no. Why is this important?

Well, to begin with, it’s a pretty good film. Just to quote a few excerpts from the reviews.

  • “A small film with a lovely heart” – David Stratton, At The Movies
  • “A notable Australian film which deserves the right kind of gentle applause” – Jake Wilson, The Age
  • “Nothing short of magic” – Jo Chichester, Vogue
  • "Exquisite" - Chris Kennedy, Canberra Times
  • Her film moved and delighted me." - Evan Williiams, The Australian.

Then, too, it is a New England film set and made in Murwillumbah. This is country that most New England people, inland or coastal, will recognise.

Growing up, I loved Australian films. I even organised an Australian film festival in Queanbeyan. Then I turned off Australian films.

I am not absolutely sure why. Partly, I think, there were some very bad films. There were also too many films that, while good, dealt with topics that I really didn’t want to watch!

I was not the only person to turn off Australian films. Australian audiences in fact turned off the local film industry en-masse. Finally, it got to the stage that to promote a film as an Australian film meant box office death.

This did not mean that Australians were not interested in local product. While film was going down, many Australian TV series were very successful. Further, many went on to global sales.

Australian films have always had a battle getting distribution.

Most people don’t remember, it was a very long time ago, but NSW Country Party leader Mick Bruxner was the first person to introduce legislation that attempted to require cinema chains to include Australian content.

Bruxner did so for several reasons.

He was worried at the way that US films were leading to the substitution of US terms for Australian terms. He had also been lobbied hard by his cousin, Charles Chauvel, about the difficulties faced by Australian producers.

Chauvel, a film maker with strong New England connections, was actually pretty successful in attracting money and distribution. His 1949 film Sons of Mathew, another film with New England connections, was a very big budget film for its time. Still, Chauvel knew the realities of life.

The 1950s really were dog days for Australian films. The failure of Captain Thunderbolt to get proper distribution was a sign of the times. Then came what now seems like a golden age for Australian film when demand was such that Australian films were common in local cinemas.

Today we are back to the 1950s in distribution terms. This is what makes it so hard for even a good movie like Lou, good films but without the drawing power of something like Animal Kingdom. Mind you, even Animal Kingdom had its battles despite the current popularity of the topic.

This is why Australian films have come to rely on viral marketing, despite the difficulties involved. This is also why the Dungog Film Festival has become so important.

The aim of viral marketing using tools such as Facebook or You Tube is to attract the support necessary to get and hold distribution. For its part, Dungog provides a platform to gain initial recognition because so many reporters and critics attend.

None of this will work if you don’t have a good film. Even with a good film, it’s still a chancy business, compounded by the fact that so many film people do not appear to know how to use the new media.

I have puzzled over this one, for you would think that they would. Part of the problem, I think, is that movies as such have become a bit of a ghetto in which those involved speak just to those involved.

Back in the eighties, I put it in advice to then Commonwealth Industry Minister John Button in this way: Government policy has created a game park for cultural lions. I then gave some examples that may be unfair to repeat.

Finishing, if you do get a chance to see Lou, please do so.

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