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!   

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