Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Newcastle revitalisation

One of these days, I have to find the time to spend a weekend in Newcastle with camera and map, just walking the streets. I make this point because the collapse of the GPT deal that would, in theory at least, have revitalised the Newcastle CBD  has led to some very conflicting comments.

The impact of change and especially the continued growth of large shopping centres on central town areas within New England has been quite profound, from the Newcastle CBD to the Armidale mall to Lismore. At a personal level, I find the shopping malls quite useful, but I really don't like them. They transform variety into a standardised pap that is the same wherever you go.

I suppose that I have become something of a passionate supporter of Newcastle revitalisation. I have never lived in the city, just visited over a long period. Yet it has been important enough to me during that time to want to see it emerge from the shadows that have so often surrounded it as a distinct entity in its own right.

Now someone from Newcastle might say, rightly, that of course it's a distinct entity. I would fully accept that criticism. My point is that nobody outside Newcastle really knows that it is!

When I look at the comments on the Newcastle CBD revitalisation, I am struck by just how inward looking they are. To be fair, I have applied the same criticism to other New England centres such as Maitland or Armidale. We all suffer from border myopia.

Accepting that I do not have the detailed knowledge of Newcastle that I should and that I am writing as a sympathetic outsider, I would make just three points about Newcastle CBD revitalisation.  

First, Newcastle is, or is not, a a centre in its own right. To my mind it is, a place with a distinct history and culture. I know this because I research and write about it. If it is, then there needs to be an overall Newcastle strategy that builds upon Newcastle's special features. This then provides a context for CBD revitalisation.

Secondly, if people won't immediately come as visitors to the CBD, then you need to bring them as residents. My feeling is that central Newcastle potentially provides a rather wonderful urban living environment. If I'm right, you don't necessarily need a grand plan for urban revitalisation, simply a planning environment that encourages inner city living. Get people, and vibrancy follows.

Thirdly, while there is nothing necessarily wrong with grand plans such as that put forward by GPT, a lot of the best development comes from organic, incremental, growth. Start small, and let the flowers bloom.

Here I noticed the way in which light vs heavy rail became a show stopper. Now my personal view is that Newcastle should be cautious about getting rid of heavy rail because once it's gone, you can't get it back. I am also influenced by what I see as a fact, that once people from Sydney or other places have to change trains, you lose people.

In my vision of Newcastle CBD, I see loaded trains unloading people in the city centre so that they can enjoy the essential city. I don't see people doing this when they have to drag their luggage from one station to another, then try to fit their luggage into light rail designed for city computers.

Maybe I'm wrong. I am an outsider. What do you think?    

Monday, August 30, 2010

A new state for New England

Now that the combination of the independents with a resurgence of North Queensland new state interest has put new states back on the agenda, I have watched with a degree of bemusement as the same old arguments against are re-cycled.

It is now 150 years since the first attempt to create a new state in Northern New South Wales. From 1915, there were waves of sustained agitation for New England self-government. The name New England itself was adopted at a convention in Maitland in 1932. This agitation forced, among other things, two Royal Commissions in NSW, a Commonwealth Royal Commission into the constitution and the formation of an all-party Commonwealth Parliamentary inquiry into the constitution. The agitation also led, among other things, to the creation first of the Armidale Teachers College and then the New England University College to provide tertiary education for the North.  Map

In 1967, a plebiscite on self-government for Northern New South Wales was just defeated following fierce opposition by the then Labor Party in NSW. The Party was concerned that it would become the permanent opposition in Northern New South Wales.

The graphic shows the back of a New England New State Movement envelope. These are the boundaries as recommended in 1935 by the Nicholas Royal Commission.

The New England New State Movement collapsed in the bitter infighting that followed the 1967 plebiscite defeat. There have been a number of attempts since then to revive the cause, but these failed to grab. However, over the last six months, we have seen the slow emergence of a more structured campaign, with the drive coming from the Hunter.

Some years ago, I said to Jack Arnold (a fellow supporter of self-government for New England) that our biggest problem in reviving the New England New State Movement lay in the almost complete loss of folk memory over the years since 1967. In essence, we had lost our history. That was part of the reason that I began this blog in April 2006. I wanted to preserve and re-present the New England story, to provide a vehicle for the re-articulation of common concerns. Since then I have blogged away with a combination of current events, Northern hisNew-State-_00002tory, new state stories and straight Northern promotion.

For those who know nothing of the New England Movement, History of the New England New State Movement 2 - defining New England, provides something of a short introduction.

This flier sets out some of the arguments used by the Movement to justify its cause. They remain valid today.

One of the problems now, and this applies in North Queensland as well, is that, in forgetting our past, the arguments now begin again from scratch. Listening to the media commentary, I felt a strong sense of deja vu. Our opponents are using just the same arguments! Just as bad, supporters are also reinventing the wheel. I have heard very little from North Queensland that references current activities back to the past.

Certain things have changed in the 43 years since the plebiscite defeat. New England's relative structural decline has continued, despite population growth along the coastal strip. The area has become more fragmented. Commonwealth-state financial relations have changed.

Perhaps the most important change since 1967 is that we now know that most of the arguments used to support the No case have been invalidated by time.

Labor would not have been in a permanent minority. Fear of loss of the preferential access to the Sydney milk market that swung the vote in the dairy areas of the lower Hunter and around is no longer relevant. Those farmers lost that access anyway and quite quickly. The arguments that our needs could be met by the Sydney Government have been invalidated by time. They haven't been.

Another thing that has changed is that we now have a far better understanding of the way existing systems work against us. I explored this a little in my Why I Remain a New England New Stater series. It is no coincidence that some of us like me or Paul Barratt remain new staters. It's not just our emotional ties to the North, it's also the fact that as former senior public servants we know how the system works. In addition, my own work on the history of New England threw a clear lime-light on the gains

As new state support began to increase in New England, old arguments began to emerge. There was also a strong interest among new Hunter supporters in the MovemHRCP2419-New-State-Float-1963ent's past. It quickly became clear that there was a simple need to document and explain past arguments, leading to my still to be completed New State Arguments series. Even at this point, I hope that you can see that the arguments now suddenly put forward against are both old and in some ways simply crass.  

The next photo shows a new state float from Newcastle in the lead up to the 1967 plebiscite. The Young Northerners Club was a youth group that began in Newcastle and then spread north.

Even at this level of detail, I hope that I have demonstrated that the New England self-government cause is not new; that the arguments for and against have been well thrashed out in the past; and, most importantly, that the desire to create new states is not a strange idiosyncratic phenomenon, but reflects deeply long held views that reflect both a sense of regional identity and a desire to reform the Governmental systems in this country to better meet the needs of the people.

The next photo looks like just a lunch group, and indeed it was. However, it was not without significance.

This is the first formal meeting of the re-emerging Northern or New England New State Movement. The people present come from different parts of the Lower Hunter, Armidale and Sydney.

Local Government has been driving Hamilton New State Lunch 7 August 10 1the move in North Queensland. In New England, we are working bottom up, a much slower process. Not one member of this little gathering had in fact met prior to the lunch. Our links were formed by the internet.

The sense of enthusiasm was palpable. Indeed, we all had cameras because we wanted to record the event!

The outcome of the meeting was the formalisation of a steering committee with members across Northern NSW to guide the overall reformation of the Movement, along with the creation of a Hunter Valley Branch. Small stuff I know, but when you have lost your past you have to start small!

From our collective viewpoints, just having people to talk to who shared the concern for Northern self-government and for Northern development was quite wonderful.

So far, we have been keeping the discussions somewhat below the radar.  From my viewpoint as the group historian, it has been wonderful having people who want to learn about our past to provide a base for our future. We have to educate ourselves and re-create agreement on common issues before we can launch in a hugely public way.This is actually not easy, because so much has been lost. nla_mus-an5865364-s3-v

The next graphic shows part of the original anthem of the New England New State Movement.

I suppose like most anthems, it has a rah-rah element. yet I remember  how moved I was as a sixteen year old when I first heard it.

I was an usher at the Armidale convention that launched Operation Seventh State, the large campaign that culminated in the lost 1967 plebiscite. The lights dimmed, the spotlight shone on the New England flag, while an operatic singer sang the anthem.

Today we are building from a much smaller base. Yet the idea of working for New England, fighting for New England, fighting for our liberty still resonates. We want freedom within the Federation, freedom to do our own thing and to make our own mistakes.

None of us are naive. We know how hard it is to get real change. But if you don't try, nothing happens. In trying to reform the movement, our present objectives are two-fold:

  • By networking people across New England, we hope to create a common focus that will force Governments to take New England needs into account. Here we are trying to overcome the factional pottage based marginal seats approach that simply fragments.
  • We also hope to make the achievement of another plebiscite a major issue at the next NSW State elections.        

If you would like to join us in discussing New England's future, there are several things that you can do:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Short break in transmission

Because of other pressures, it will be Monday before I can post again.

In the meantime, a reminder that Wednesday Forum: New England's greatest needs is still open. I see that Greg has already commented. What I would like to do with this, is to take the comments in one Forum and then use them as a basis for the next. It would be nice to think that that way we might generate an evolving discussion thread.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preserving New England's past


One of the best things to come from New England's sense of regional identity and all the movements it spawned was the establishment of the New England University College, later the University of New England. Without this, our sense of our own past would have been greatly impoverished.

The photo shows then University Archivist Alan Wilkes in 1964 in search of records.  

In 1947, the Warden of the New England University College (NEUC), Dr Madgwick wrote to the Under Secretary of Justice of NSW stating ‘This was all very silly.’ He was referring to a decision that records located in the Armidale Court House could only be researched by NEUC staff and students at the State Library in Sydney  over 500 kilometres away). Local access to historic records was forbidden.

That decision was overturned.

In 1960, University Librarian Frank Rogers briefed the first full time UNE archivist R J McDonald in these terms:

Collect all research material likely to be of value in throwing light on the historical, economic and social development of Northern New South Wales from the earliest European settlement until recent times.

Note the reference to European settlement. In fact, 1960 was the year of appointment of Isabel McBryde as the first lecturer in prehistory. Fourteen years later, New England was the best documented region in Australia in regard to Aboriginal pre-history.

Today when New England is so much diminished that even the name has shrunk in popular recognition, our history survives only because of this past work.  

Note on sources

This post is drawn especially from “This is all very silly” : An interesting start to a regional archives.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Forum: New England's greatest needs

You are advising the New England independents. What are the three most things that you would like them to argue for?

I ask this question because I have just completed a post on my personal blog, New media, independents and change, looking at the new climate created by Australia's hung parliament. We have a chance to do new things, but we have to give them guidance.

So what are the three things you consider most important?    

Monday, August 23, 2010

Time for a New England manifesto

Yesterday in Elections a chance for New England? I mused about the possibilities that the current political imbroglio offered to gain a greater focus on New England needs. I extended this a little this morning in  Northern Daily Leader: Second-term support a must. AE1279-60-New-State-Flag-2

Just to provide a context for the discussion, this photo shows then New England New State Movement campaign director Ulrich Ellis raising the New England flag.

Since my first post, there has been email traffic on the best way of getting the independents to support the new state cause, including constitutional change to make the creation of new states easier.

We know that Bob Katter is a new stater, we think that Tony Windsor is, but we are not sure about Rob  Oakeshott.

There has also been discussion about the best way of using the current opportunity to get a focus on New England issues over and beyond new states. The difficulty we face here is that the independents need more than generalities if they are to work beyond, indeed within, their electorates. A further difficulty is that the erosion that has taken place in the idea of New England since the Movement went down in 1967 means that thinking has fragmented to the very local.

We need to put forward something to the independents something that will help them articulate a broader view. I have written a fair bit on this, but I wondered what you think.

What would you like to see included in a broader New England manifesto? We need a campaign document that will not just guide the independents, but also provide a platform across the broader North.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Elections a chance for New England?

In a post on my personal blog,Three Amigos and the future Australian Government, I discussed the outcomes of the federal election as we know them to this point.

If, and it's still uncertain, Messrs Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott actually do end up with the balance of power, then we may have a chance to push New England causes. Two of the three come from New England, while Mr Katter both supports self-government for North Queensland and is also sympathetic to regional development. There is also a cross-bench National from WA who, so far, has been largely ignored by the media.

I often complain that New England needs are ignored. I also suggest that this is due in part to the way that existing structures work, fragmenting thinking and making it difficult to see common needs. Part of the answer to this problem lies in constitutional change. However, part also lies in our own capacity to articulate common needs and possible solutions.

The current more fluid political climate provides an opportunity to mount a push on broader New England issues. We need to take advantage of this. To do this, we need more debate about needs and possibilities.     

Friday, August 20, 2010

Elections, Aborigines & the need for change

Bear with me if I express a purely personal view that is nothing but opinions, no evidence or real argument.

I have just finished a post on my personal blog, End of the Nats? This followed an earlier post on this blog, Coalition wipe-out in the North? 

Now I know that many readers are not National Party supporters. I am not saying that you should be. However, I hope that you will bear with me when I say that the Nats decline makes me sad.

As an historian but also someone who campaigns for Northern development, I find the old Country Party a good thing. They had a focus and they delivered. So I find the Nats decline sad.

I also find the betrayal of Northern interests by the ALP sad.

Now my Country Party background means that I spent a fair bit of time fighting against the ALP, but I never doubted the Party's support for the working man, however much I might have complained about their approach. Nor, as I studied history, did I doubt the validity of the things that they fought for. You only have to look at the history of coal mining in the lower Hunter to see what I mean.

When the ALP fought against a yes vote in our new state referendum, I thought that the Party was betraying the interests of the people it claimed to serve in the interests of power, but I could still understand their position because I saw it in a historical context. I had no real idea that those who voted no at the Party's request would fail to gain any of the promised return, that once the referendum had been lost the need to meet local needs could be put aside in the interests of holding power elsewhere.

I have a lot of sympathy for the New England independents. Their rhetoric captures many of the things that I believe in at a purely personal level. Yet they have failed, at least as I see it, to develop any coherent view outside a very narrow range of issues. Certainly, they have failed to develop any coherent view of the North as a whole.

The same thing applies to the Greens. There I read with interest from Chris Parker's Facebook page that the Green's had released an NSW indigenous policy. When I looked, this contained the following elements:              

  • Amending the Constitution to formally recognise Indigenous Australians
  • Ending the Northern Territory intervention and put in place measures that genuinely help people to overcome disadvantage
  • Ensuring that Indigenous Australians are partners in the development and implementation of public policies to advance their rights and aspirations.

Do you know, even if every one of these bullet points was delivered, it would not do a damn thing to address the core needs of New England's indigenous peoples.

This is an area that I am quite passionate about. If you look at  Reflections on the end of the Housing NSW/AHO Aboriginal mentoring program you will get a little bit of the feeling as to why.

In Sydney outside certain narrow localities, Aboriginal development is an abstract issue because the proportion of the Aboriginal people is so small. This is not true of New England. It's not just that the overall proportion of the Aboriginal population is growing, but that in some areas it is so high (Moree Plains is an example) that local development is inextricably dependant upon Aboriginal development. You cannot have one without the other.

This is a very different world. It all comes back to jobs, education, development and suAborigines Home the Island Urungapport. But no-one sees it.

This photo is of an Aboriginal family of an island in the Bellinger near Urunga. I could give many such photos.

Maybe saying that no-one sees it is unfair. Many do. But no-one comes up with solutions because they cannot recognise that solutions must be geographic specific.

My interests are definitely geographically specific. While I agree that we must have advancement for Aborigines in the Kimberly's, I want to know what is happening to the Aborigines in Moree or Kempsey. That is my country.

Did you know, I think that it's true from a simple analysis, that Aborigines in inner Sydney have access to far more services than those in Moree or Tamworth or Kempsey? Why? They are simply closer to the current levers of power. A riot in Redfern creates a Minister for Redfern, while far larger numbers elsewhere are ignored.

There are no easy answers in current structures. Those of us who care have no choice but to dig away, trying to bring change.                   

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bryan Pape runs for Senate (NSW)


This morning youngest came in to tell me that one of our friends had decided to run for the senate for NSW. This led us to check all the candidate lists. I then discovered that Bryan Pape was running.

No doubt I should have known this, but it had escaped my attention.

Bryan doesn't have a snow flakes chance in hell of getting up. He is running as a single person, so to vote for him you have to vote below the line. Then, clearly, he does not have a lot of organisational backing. All this said, he is worth considering for a first preference vote.

Bryan is a strong new New England new stater and lawyer who has been campaigning for constitutional reform for some time. Central to his argument is that our constitution has become distorted by the imbalance in financial powers.  As Professor Geoffrey Sawer once said: “those who spend, don’t have to justify the taxation and those who tax don’t have to justify the spending”. Bryan wants this clarified.

In recent times, Bryan is best known for bringing a case to the High Court challenging the Rudd Government's stimulus payments. He was not opposed to the stimulus payments as such, rather to the way in which it was being done. He lost the case, but the High Court did put something of a warning shot across the bows of the Commonwealth on the assumption that it could spend money however it liked.

As I said, Bryan can't win. Further, voting below the line is a pain for many because it involves numbering all the squares. Still, a vote for him remains worth considering.

Belshaw's World - Drummond's uphill election battle

Drummond may have gained Progressive Party pre-selection, but he still faced a hard battle to gain election for Northern Tablelands.

Under the new electoral system, three members were to be elected. Drummond considered, accurately, that the Labor vote would be disciplined and that their number one candidate, Australian Workers' Union organiser Alfred McClelland, would certainly be elected first. He also considered, again accurately, that Colonel M.F. Bruxner, the Progressives' star candidate, would be elected next. This left Drummond contending for third place against a galaxy of candidates, including two sitting members, F.J. Thomas and H.W. Lane.

If that were not difficult enough, each Progressive candidate had to organise his own campaign committee and pay for his own personal expenses including publicity, printing, advertising and travel. This was no problem for the wealthy and popular Bruxner, but it was quite another matter for the still poor and struggling Drummond.

During the campaign, a local stock inspector described the Drummond campaign organisation as 'one newspaper and a handful of cockies'. They may only have been 'a handful of cockies', but their loyalty and work were vital.

The support given by Drummond's old friends from Mt. Russell, the Coshs, was particularly important. Supported by brother Arthur, Leonard Cosh appointed himself Drummond's advance agent and political secretary. Their uncle, Stephen Cosh, provided transport.

Stephen Cosh had recently lost his wife. He offered to drive Drummond around the electorate free of charge 'except for petrol and a tyre or two', subject to the condition that he would not stay in hotels because of his nervous condition.

This offer was a Godsend to Drummond, who had a store of inexhaustible energy and a powerful voice, but little money.

Their normal practice was to move from meeting to meeting, up to ten in a single day. Drummond would usually speak in the open air, then adjourn to a room with his local committee to sign scrutineer and other forms and lay out the plan of organisation. After the meetings were finished, he and Stephen would retire, often as late as 1 am, to a quiet place in the countryside to spend the night.

They had always to be ready for the unexpected. Arriving in Ashford one night, they found the whole village in darkness, for the circus was in town and the whole countryside was at it. With no chance of coming back, Drummond asked the manager if he could speak at half-time. The manager responded dubiously, “that if I could stand it he supposed he could.”

At interval, Drummond bounded into the ring with a small wooden box. "Ladies and Gentlemen”, he said. “My name is David Drummond Progressive Candidate at the forthcoming State Election. Take a good look at me and make up your mind what you think of me. Vote Drummond No. 1". He then grabbed the box and made a fast exit before the bottles etc. began to fly!

Drummond’s political message was simple. His theme was always 'Decentralization, Development and Decent Government'. He usually finished by saying that “'Parties, Platforms and Policies' existed for only one reason, 'the good government of the people.' When they ceased 'to serve this end they should cease.'”

The Northern press with its new state emphasis played an important role in the Progressive's campaign. Progressive candidates such as Drummond were generally already separatists, and could therefore both identify with and be identified with the Thompson led newspaper campaign for statehood for the North.

Press support was particularly important for the lesser known Drummond.

Drummond's old friend, Ernest Sommerlad, supported him strongly through his paper the Glen Innes Examiner. In addition, Sommerlad persuaded the supporters of F.J. Thomas, the sitting member for Gough (Inverell and Glen Innes), to exchange preferences with Drummond.

This preference deal proved critical, for on 20 March 1920, Thomas’s preferences put Drummond into Parliament.

The result was a surprise to many. As The Land put it some years later:

“Mr Drummond was a young farmer of Inverell. He had ideas, and had been active in the Farmers and Settlers' Association. No one knew much about him, but that was of no consequence. He proceeded to tell them. There were no widely signed requisitions for him to contest Northern Tablelands. They were not required. He had made up his mind. He informed the electors he knew about politics, and would be able to run the country as it ought to be run. At first he was not taken seriously, but he was quite confident the people would elect him to Parliament, and they did.”

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 11 August 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

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coalition wipe-out in the North?

Last week I complained about neglect of the North in Election campaign ignores New England. In this post, I want to look at what the straws in the wind say about the likely outcomes across New England. At present, of the eleven seats, six are Labor, two each independent and National, one Liberal. Three of the eleven seats are classified as marginal.

The first somewhat surprising result comes from a Tweed Daily News/Northern Star poll of 400 respondents in the Northern Rivers' seat of Richmond, presently held by ALP's Justine Elliot with a margin of 8.9%. The results suggest that Justine Elliot is in trouble: excluding the undecideds, they show 30 per cent for Labor, 26 per cent for Liberal challenger Joan van Lieshout, 9 per cent for Nationals and 10 per cent for the Greens.

As Poll Bludger's William Bowie notes, the poll appears to have been conducted in-house and should thus be treated with caution. In his view, it suffers a problem common to such polls: an undecided rate of 24 per cent, presumably resulting from a failure to twist respondents’ arms with a follow-up “leaning towards” question.

Another reason for caution lies in the release of a substantial marginal seats poll this morning by the Sydney Morning Herald. This suggests that the ALP may gain the National Party held Mid North Coast/Northern Rivers' seat of Cowper plus the Liberal Party held Hunter Valley seat of Patterson. The divergence in poll results between Cowper and Richmond is quite marked. Sadly, we don't have figures for Labor held Page, even though it is technically a marginal seat.    

In addition to these seats, independent Tony Windsor who holds the Northern Tablelands/Western Slopes seat of New England is talking up the chances of independent John Clements taking the Western Slopes/Plains seat of Parkes from the Nationals.

Given the National's margin (13.5%), this would seem unlikely. However, Tony is an experienced politician, while the New England independents (the party you have when you are not having a party) have considerable machine resources. For that reason, and accepting that Tony wants to promote John's chances (I think that he is a former staffer of Tony's), Parkes has to be watched.       

What can we say about all this?  Well, accepting the imperfections involved, I think that a couple of points can be made:

  1. On the surface, there would appear to be a chance of the ALP gaining between one and two New England seats. On the worst case scenario for the Coalition, the results might give the ALP eight seats, independents three, wiping out the Coalition at Federal level in Northern NSW. On the best case scenario for the Coalition, they are just likely to hold present numbers.
  2. State Labor is is on the nose across New England. I don't think that there is any doubt of this. However, the likely results suggest that voters are differentiating. Here the problem for Messrs Abbott and Truss lies in the differential on-ground impact of their policy proposals, something not helped by the mental lock-in created by the marginal seats approach, nor by their failure to focus on broader New England needs. Take broadband as an example. It doesn't take loss of many votes in Coffs Harbour (an area to benefit from ABN, lose from Coalition policies) for the Nationals to lose Cowper.
  3. If the Nationals do lose their last coastal seat, more so if they also lose Parkes, it would mark the last stage in a historic shift in the area that once formed Country Part heartland.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's cold in them, thair, hills


I was struck by this photo from Gordon Smith. Gordon's caption reads:

The view, looking north from the track leading to our house, one fine frosty morning. This year’s lowest overnight temperature saw the thermometer dip to -11.2 degC (11.8 degF) in Armidale.

That's cold, although if my memory serves me correctly, it's not Armidale's coldest temperature. The figure 9 degF sticks in my minds. Still, 11.8 is cold enough.

Judith Wright's South of My Days remains by far the best description of a Tablelands' winter, capturing the very essence of the Tablelands itself.  

Monday, August 16, 2010

Memories of New England archaeology

I am not writing a major post here today. The post I wrote on my personal blog, McBryde, Hoddinott and the story of New England's Aboriginal peoples, has largely exhausted me!

It is hard now to believe just how little was known when Isabel began her studies into the pre-history of New England. It is also a bit hard to believe just how much fun her work was.

My original desire to become an Australian prehistorian was swept away by other interests and demands, leading me in directions far removed from Australian prehistory. Yet here am I all those years later back where my studies began.

If I can find some of my early photos, I will write a New England story not on the serious stuff, but on the joy of involvement in that early archaeological work.

Youngest is presently interested in becoming an archaeologist, but her focus is the Mediterranean. By contrast, we wandered around the New England countryside in Landrovers, staying in tents, old homesteads and shearer's quarters.

It's all part of one slice of New England life: drinking OP rum because it was just so bloody cold; the vast sweep of the night sky as the flames from the camp fire spread sparks into the cold night air; bogging on North Coast tracks trying to enter areas really only accessible in dry times; the discovery of mysterious trails that may, or may not, have been Aboriginal; the pleasure of a shower and shave at a caravan park after a week's camping.

As I said, fun!          

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New states, history and the sense of Northern identity

One of the things that's interesting but also a bit depressing about about the present growth of interest in new states is the way it draws out our own loss of history.

There are four major regions in Australia at sub-state level that have had a very strong sense of their own identity over time - Riverina, Northern NSW, Capricornia and North Queensland. Not coincidentally, these are also the regions where the desire for statehood expressed through separatist agitation has been a regular manifestation of the sense of identity.

In Australian historical terms, we are talking big sweeps of history.

In Northern NSW, the first new state agitation was associated with the agitation that resulted in the separation of Queensland (1859). From then until the turn of the century, there were sporadic outbreaks that laid down a separatist tradition. Then, in the twentieth century, you has a renewed demand for statehood at Grafton in 1915 that flowed through into a sustained wave of agitation that lasted until the mid twenties. Then there was another wave from 1930 to 1935, followed by a further wave from 1949 to 1967. Since then, demand for statehood has resurfaced from time to time, with another still small wave underway now.

How does all this link to loss of history? Well, if you look at the discussion presently taking place in North Queensland, you will see that there is very little reference to the past. To a degree, everything is being discovered afresh.

Does this matter? I think that it does and at several levels.

To begin with, there is no point in re-inventing the wheel. Most of the arguments for and against statehood have been well thrashed out and over a long period. Of course, their exact manifestation has changed as circumstances change, but the core arguments have not changed.

This loss of history is most damaging to those supporting self-government, for it allows the anti-side to present the desire for self-government as a strange minority view, a quirk, rather than the long running expression of regional desire. It also allows the anti-side to get away with flip and shallow expressions of opposition that have in fact been long-discredited.

The loss of history also matters because it accentuates divisions.

One feature of all the areas that have sought self-government in a sustained way is that they are large enough to have their own internal divisions. We can see this clearly in New England's history.

Attempts to gain east-west rail connections, for example, essentially foundered on the claims and counter claims of tablelands and coastal towns. Disputes over free trade and protection created divides between and within regions depending on the economic base, while political differences also divided. These divisions were in turn played on for purposes of power and politics.

The new state cause was one of the key unifying forces that helped create a unifying sense of identity. As the new state cause declined after 1967, so the knowledge of New England's history declined. The two fed on each other, accentuating division. I spoke of one aspect of this in a seminar paper I delivered in Armidale earlier this year. There I said in part:  

This paper follows my personal journey in attempting to write a history of the broader New England. I will talk a little about names and naming later. For the present, I simply note that when I talk about the broader New England, I mean the Northern Tablelands and its surrounding rivers to the north, south, west and east.

I say unrecognised, because the area that I am talking about has no formal identity. You will not find it on any map. I say now almost unknown, because the tides of history, and of fashions in the writing of history, have overtaken the area, its interests and activities. Things once considered important have been increasingly relegated to a sentence, a footnote, or just ignored.

Writing about an entity that does not formally exist in historical terms is always problematic. Yet in all the research and writing I have done, New England keeps peeking through as an entity. It does so because of the combination of, the interaction between, geography and history.

From Aboriginal times, New England has been marked by north-south and east-west patterns of movement centred on the Tablelands and river valleys. The patterns of early European settlement strengthened both the north-south and east-west links.

The relationships between those two geographic axis is part of the New England story. The first new state boundaries centred on the east-west axis. The airline name East-West Airlines reflected the east-west focus. Yet East-West ended up flying north-south, as had the earlier Lismore based New England Airways. Driven by geography, the later new state boundaries progressively combined both the east-west and north-south linkages.

Today, the administrative boundaries and patterns of political influence within New England still reflect those old geographic patterns, although the east-west axis has become somewhat attenuated as Sydney and Brisbane have grown in influence relative to the North.

The naming of and boundaries attached to New England reflect the shifting sands of history and of historical knowledge.

Initially the area was simply called the Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North, a geographical identifier based on relationships to Sydney. The creation of Queensland broke the geographic unity by putting a political boundary across the top of the North. The Aborigines suffered first, because that line bisected language groups; the same peoples were placed in different jurisdictions. Then the rest of the far North suffered because of the way that policies based on political divides came to affect the pattern of economic and social life.

From 1932, the name New England was adopted for the whole area as a specific local identifier independent of the previous Sydney connection. By 1967 there were two New Englands, the New England to identify the New England Tablelands and New England, the name for the whole area. Then, from 1967 as the new state cause declined and sense of Northern identity diminished, usage of the name New England diminished, shrank back towards the Tablelands and Western Slopes. The rise and decline of the name New England is itself a proxy for the rise and decline of the sense of Northern identity.  

The term North or Northern NSW continued, if becoming progressively sloppier and ill-defined. Yet despite all the administrative boundary changes, despite demographic, political and economic change, despite the decline in New England historical writing (this peaked around 1980), the idea of Northern identity continues.

In recent years, the writing of history about New England has once again been on the rise. Reflecting the fragmentation of the North, it's more localised than in the past. Yet it's there and is providing a renewed base for broader analysis.

I find it interesting that the new interest in our history preceded the renewed interest in the North and the new state cause. You see, in the past, the new state agitation actually preceded and indeed caused the writing of New England history. This time, and building on that previous base, a renewed interest in our history is actually refuelling our own sense of identity.

I find that kind of satisfying.        

Friday, August 13, 2010

New England Story - the making of Captain Thunderbolt

This is the story of a film seen through the eyes of a child. I was too young to remember the making, but I did go to the premiere. I also grew up on stories of the film. Like all child-hood memories, indeed all memories, the story is an imperfect one. Still, it might be of interest.

Armidale, June 1955. Crowds gather outside Armidale's Capitol Theatre for the world premiere of the first  major film made in Armidale. It is very much a local affair, with locals gathering in an air of excitement to see themselves on film. We are upstairs; the darkness falls and the film rolls. There is Dad as foreman of the jury, wriggling his nose; next day, students post a star sign on his door. There is Aunt Kay being held up by Captain Thunderbolt.

The National Film and Sound Archives describes the plot in these terms:

Adventurer Fred Ward is sentenced to hard labour for horse theft, escapes, and becomes a bushranger under the name of Captain Thunderbolt. Stealing mainly from squatters, he quickly becomes notorious. Sergeant Mannix is assigned to capture him dead or alive, eventually trapping him. After a long gun-fight, Mannix finds he has killed Thunderbolt's friend Alan Blake, and that Thunderbolt has escaped. Mannix passes off Blake's body as Thunderbolt's but the legend persists that Thunderbolt still roams free.

Local historian Robin Walker rudely remarked that any connection between the film and history was purely accidental! Still, the excitement lingered for days.

Frederick_Wordsworth_Ward Kentucky Creek, 25 May 1870. After a bushranging career that had taken him widely across Northern New South Wales, Frederick Ward (aka Captain Thunderbolt) is shot and killed by Constable Ward in Kentucky Creek near Uralla.

But was he shot or did he escape? The stories abound, gathering strength and confusion with the years.

Early 1951. Armidale. Cecil Holmes and his crew arrive in Armidale to shoot Captain Thunderbolt.

Born in New Zealand (and here) in 1921,Cecil Holmes was a trade unionist and communist with a strong sense of social justice who had made a name for himself in New Zealand as a documentary maker. In Australia, Holmes linked with fellow New Zealander Colin Scrimgeour, whose company Associated TV Pty Ltd was to act as the vehicle for Captain Thunderbolt. Holmes first feature film.

Interestingly since Australia did not yet have TV, the film was intended for international TV release, with a slightly longer cinema versioCaptain Thunderbolt Fred Ward Alan Blaken. Heart throb Grant Taylor was to play Fred ward (Thunderbolt), Charles (Bud) Tingwell his friend Alan Blake, Rosemary Miller as Joan Blake, 

The photo shows Ward and Blake poised for action. Unless I am very much mistaken, the shot is taken in the country across Rockvale Road from the Pine Forest. I cannot remember which, but one of them is riding my grandfather's horse! 

The film crew's arrival caused great excitement. Locals lined up to take part as extras, the crew scrounged the countryside to find locations and for authentic kit to use, sand was laid in Armidale streets to disguise the tar.

An article by Max Brown in the Sunday Herald 8 April 1951 described the scene this way:    

I SPENT three weeks with the Captain Thunderbolt Production Unit in real Thunderbolt country 200 miles south of the Queensland border this month and have seen the unit at work in Sydney.

The shooting of "Captain Thunderbolt"- the film, not the man- had the quiet, cultured New England town of Armidale in a buzz for a fortnight.

A notice offering £500 re- ward for capture dead or alive of the outlaw was posted on a board outside the town's erstwhile police station. Horsemen flourishing guns thundered up and down the dirt roads outside the town almost every day chasing mail coaches and buckboards.

Captain Thunderbolt The Armidale Court House was turned inside out over one week-end for the trial of the outlaw for horse-stealing, and half the University College faculty, including the vice warden, Dr. James Belshaw, filed into the jury box in period dress.

Armidale folk, riding comfortably on the sheep's back in shadow of the high stone factories of learning which dominate the town (Armidale is the only town in the State with more schools than hotels) were debating again whether the police shot Thunderbolt or his accomplice.

Several approached bearded, frock-coated members of the cast in pubs and in the street and told them that Thunderbolt, for all his law-breaking, was a saint compared with a lot of men in Sydney and Canberra nowadays.

The above photo from cousin Jaimie's collection shows some of the extras with Grant Taylor. In the middle is Kath Vickers (nee Drummond) standing beside Grant Taylor, Shirly Barratt (Paul Barratt's mum) front below Captain Thunderbolt, Mrs Blake, Aunt Kay Kay, Mr Craigie back right,, Frank Holloway (German lecturer) with the black glasses next to Kay, Mrs Blake (wife of the editor, Armidale Express) and Des Vyner with the gun.

The next photo is an actual still from the film, taken around the time of the extras' shot. It shows Mrs Blake and Aunt Kay being held up. You can see that the clothes are the same.

There was a long gap from filming in 1951 to limited cinema release. This reflects the distribution problems that have so often plagued the Australian film industry. The film did finally make a profit, but this took so long that Colin Scrimgeour's production company was forced to close.

The film was something of a Robin Hood affair. The National Film and Sound Archives describes it in this way:   

The feature Captain Thunderbolt is made with an originality and intelligence that separates it from most Australian features made to that time. Having a strong political undertone, it takes a stand on such issues as championing the underdog, mocking the colonial aristocracy, satirising xenophobia and racism, and exposing the blinkered brutality of power.

I am not sure about that. I think that there is a tendency to read back into films views formed by later history. Perhaps more precisely, when I saw the film as a ten year old and then again a little later at school, it fitted pretty well into the Robin Hood/underdog frame that was already deeply entrenched in Australian thinking.

Certainly I didn't see it as an explicit political statement, nor (I think) did those locals who took part in its  making or watched it. Certainly I have never heard comments along those lines. It was just a film, part of our history.

I would love to see it again.     


I failed to mention in this post the search for the discovery of the original movie that in fact started this post. See Search for Captain Thunderbolt for the story.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Election campaign ignores New England

I don't think that I am alone in saying that I find the current marginal seat focus annoying. I find it especially annoying because there is no focus on New England. But, then, New England does not exist!

The following table lists New England Federal seats by the swing required to change party. Of the eleven seats, six are Labor, two each independent and National, one Liberal. Three of the eleven seats are marginal.

Seat Party Swing Required
New England Independent 24.4%
Lynne Independent 23.9%
Newcastle ALP 15.9%
Hunter ALP 15.7%
Shortland ALP 14.7%
Parkes (part) National 13.5%
Charlton ALP 12.9%
Richmond ALP 8.9%
Page ALP 2.4%
Cowper National 1.2%
Paterson Liberal 0.6%

Looking at the list, its hard to believe that New England outside the Lower Hunter and Lake Macquarie was once National Party heartland. Indeed, one of the strongest ALP arguments against self-government at the 1967 plebiscite was that it would leave the ALP as a permanent minority party within New England!

The problem with the marginal seats approach is that it means that those who stay loyal are in fact penalised. The problem with the lack of formal structure for New England means that there is no mechanism for looking at or forcing consideration of broader issues. Tasmania's five seats, South Australia's eleven seats, get far more attention than New England's eleven seats. Further, New England has no senators, so instead of attracting attention here, the New England vote just gets subsumed in NSW.

You can see these things work themselves out all the the time. New England is resource rich, but this is largely ignored. Key issues such as decentralisation are largely ignored.

The one sleeper this election is the possibility that the three amigos, the three independents in the House of Representatives, may end up with the balance of power either alone or in conjunction with the Greens. Two of the three independents are from New England, while the third (Bob Katter) is a strong New States supporter   

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belshaw's World - memories of political battles past

My last column began one Sunday in 1919 when twenty-nine year old Inverell share farmer David Drummond was asked to stand for the newly formed Progressive Party in the multi-member Northern Tablelands, Legislative Assembly seat.

Drummond agreed to stand and then threw himself into organising for the new party. Early in 1920, the Party’s electorate council met in Glen Innes to consider the eight nominations that had been received. Party rules dictated that any member in good standing could run, but it was clear that only two candidates could be successful.

There was immediate pressure on Drummond to withdraw. He refused, and the candidates were packed off to the Municipal Council Chambers to decide among themselves who should withdraw.

Just before lunch it was proposed that the candidates should have a ballot among themselves to select the three or four most likely to succeed. Drummond rejected this.

Immediately after lunch the candidates, with Drummond dissenting, asked the Electorate Council to indicate which four were most likely to succeed. The Chairman, Colonel H.F. White, refused on the grounds that 'it would be really pre-election selection which they had come into existence as a Party to destroy'. The candidates returned to the Council Chambers.

The pressure was intense. 'We are getting nowhere', one candidate said angrily, 'Drummond is a beggar to argue'. As a number of candidates needed to catch the 5 pm southbound 'Glen Innes Mail', the other candidates agreed that they should hold a ballot among themselves to select the most likely four, but that the result should not bind Drummond. Drummond, 'heartily sick of playing a lone hand all-day', agreed, as did Council Chairman White. One candidate, Fleming, withdrew, leaving seven candidates in the ballot.

Drummond came fifth. Catching the south-bound 'Glen Innes Mail' that night for Uralla where Pearl and the children were staying at nearby Arding, Drummond realized that publication of the ballot result must damage his changes. He therefore decided to return to Inverell where the FSA District Council was meeting the next day to get its endorsement for his action. That decision changed his life, for waiting on the Uralla platform next morning he

.. met a farmer who casually remarked "All the other candidates are going down to meet Central Council tomorrow. I suppose you will be going". In a flash I replied just as casually "Yes I will be going" though it was the first I knew of it.

In many ways this deliberate attempt to exclude Drummond from the field is not surprising.

He almost certainly did not appear a good candidate to party officials. He was young, very deaf (and adequate hearing aids were still some years off); relatively unknown outside his own district and a non-smoker and non-drinker lacking in easy social graces. Equally, his stubbornness at Glen Innes had not endeared him to the other candidates or their supporters.

This stubbornness now came to his aid. He calculated that he just had time to travel to Inverell as planned: north by train to Glen Innes then sixty-eight kilometres across country, get a letter from his District Council stating that they still regarded him as a properly endorsed candidate, then get back to Glen Innes to catch the 5 pm south-bound train.

Next morning Drummond presented himself at the FSA's Sydney headquarters where the Party's Central Council was to meet. The Party's General Secretary (J.J. Price, also General Secretary of the FSA) tried very hard to convince Drummond that he should withdraw. Drummond refused, produced the Inverell District Council letter, and was asked to wait. From where he was sitting, he faced the lift.

At that moment one of the chosen 4 at the GI meeting stepped from the lift. I have often heard the expression "So & So was so surprised he literally tripped over his own feet". This was the only occasion on which I have ever seen it. I had been deliberately barred ... from information that the Central C'ncl would interview candidates that morning and here I was calmly sitting outside the Council room when I was supposed to be 400 miles away in the peaceful countryside.

While waiting his turn to speak to the Council, Drummond decided on his approach. He would 'pull no punches' and therefore delivered a vigorous speech finishing with a final shot that reflected both the divisions in the countryside and Drummond's own position as a small farmer:

You claim to be a Farmer's Party yet every attempt has been made to prevent the one bona-fide farmer from being endorsed as a candidate. At present your team consists of two Graziers, a store keeper & a money lender. If you think with this team you are going to beat the Labor Party which has one if not two genuine Farmers in its team, then I believe you will find yourself badly mistaken.

The appeal was successful. Next day it was announced that Drummond had been endorsed as one of the Progressive Party candidates.

In my next column I will tell the story of that first election campaign.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 4 August 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, August 10, 2010

An earlier New England New State Movement flier

This is a sheet from an earlier New England New State MovementNew-State-_00002 pamphlet.

The arguments really haven't changed. All that has happened is that the need has increased.

When this sheet was prepared, New England was still bigger than WA. Since then, we have just gone backwards.

At the time of the 1967 referendum, those opposed argued that continued membership of NSW would solve our problems.

If only that had proved to be true. It has not.

You see, even if self-government had not given the benefits we hoped, we would at least have been part responsible for our own destiny.

It is hard for those of us who fought then, and have seen the decline since, to accept the simple re-cycling of the type of anti-argument we saw then and again see today.

The anti case has simply failed. Time to let the pro case have a go.

Pressure for North Queensland state increases

According to newspaper reports (here for full story), pressure for a new state in North Queensland is growing. 

Next month, local government leaders in North Queensland will ask their counterparts across the state to give them vital support for a referendum to be held on the issue at the next state election in 2012.

At a recent North Queensland Local Government Association meeting, just two of 100 delegates voted against the motion

Backers including Richmond Shire Mayor John Wharton, Hinchinbrook Shire Mayor Pino Giandomenico, Mount Isa Mayor John Molony and Independent Federal MP for Kennedy Bob Katter hope for a similar reaction when they put the motion to the annual LGAQ conference next month.

"We just need a spark to ignite the fuse," Mr Katter said.


My thanks to Jack Arnold from Armidale for sending a further piece on the North Queensland story from ABC radio - Could North Qld be a separate state?

The story begins:

Demographer Bernard Salt says north Queenslanders have legitimate grounds for secession from Queensland on numbers alone - and their case may become even stronger.

Postscript 11 August

At last count, the comments section on the original story is now up to 124.It's interesting how the old arguments recur. It's also interesting how little history people remember.

In a later post,  An earlier New England New State Movement flier, I gave an example of a much earlier New England information piece, commenting that the anti case had simply failed. It was time to let the pro case have a go.


Belshaw's World - 1919: an election campaign begins

With the Federal election campaign now underway, my mind was thrown back to an earlier campaign. This is the story of that campaign.

One Sunday in 1919, twenty-nine year old share farmer David Drummond delivered the sermon at the church on a property near Inverell. Inverell stock and station agent Ray Doolin was in the congregation.

“We were looking for new candidates (for the Progressive Party), young men for preference”, Doolin later recalled. "Next day I got a few together … and went out to the farm. Drummond was working on shares ... He was very surprised and said he would give us an answer after he discussed it with Farmers and Settlers members and his friend Arthur Cosh.”

A few days later Drummond said he would stand.

The new party may have had a name, but they certainly had no political organisation. Drummond agreed to take on the role of electorate organiser for the newly created three member Northern Tablelands seat, subject to two conditions.

First, he later wrote, “that my acceptance would not invalidate my right to be a candidate. When I had received their assurance that I would still be eligible to contest at the elections, my next condition was that I would accept no payment for my services apart from out of pocket expenses.”

Drummond threw himself into the organising campaign. During the first six weeks, he covered all the Tablelands except for Tenterfield, where another candidate (Michael Bruxner) was well organised.

Drummond’s efforts met with considerable success except in Armidale, where ill-health (he had badly overtired himself) led to the failure of the first organising attempt. He returned to Armidale on Saturday 24 January 1920, and this time successfully formed a branch. He also met R.N. Hickson, a local architect and former New South Wales cricketer, who was to be his electoral secretary and a key supporter for forty years.

Drummond's speech at the second Armidale meeting was typical of his message.

The National Party, Drummond told his Armidale audience, 'was controlled purely by vested city interests and the Labor Party by the industrial interests of Sydney.' Since Parliament was controlled by city interests supported by the city press, the country had been neglected. Further, the pre-selection systems used by those city parties had degraded government and politics. The only solution was a party that represented country interests, that would provide cross country railways and ports, and stop the drift to the city. Drummond summarised the Party's policy as 'decentralization, development and decent government.'

With the organising campaign well under way, the Progressive's Electorate Council met at Glen Innes early in the year to consider candidates.

In addition to Drummond, seven nominations had been received from the branches: M.F. Bruxner (grazier and stock and station agent of Tenterfield); J.S. Crapp (grazier of Uralla); F.B. Fleming (grazier of Moree); P.R. Little (grazier and storekeeper of Bundarra); G.B. Ring (financial agent of Inverell); George Codrington (journalist of Inverell); and A. Piggot (orchardist and farmer of Inverell).

The meeting was to be a very difficult one for Drummond.

The Progressives, whose slogan was 'No pre-selection or pledge', were strongly opposed to any form of pre-selection of candidates. Any Party member in good standing was entitled to run.

That was fine, but only two candidates could hope to be successful in the three member electorate (Labor was assured of the third seat), while there were also financial problems associated with large numbers of candidates.

An immediate move was made to reduce the number of candidates by excluding Drummond. “It was apparent from the outset”, he later recalled, “that the other candidates ... with perhaps two exceptions ... [felt] that I had had a flying start and ... must be excluded.”

It was to avoid just this possibility that Drummond had gained the assurances from the president and secretary of the Council that his organising work would not invalidate his candidature, and he refused to budge.

The Council then packed the candidates off to the Municipal Council Chambers to debate who should withdraw. Just before lunch it was proposed that the candidates should have a ballot among themselves to select the three or four most likely to succeed. Drummond rejected this: he politely told the group that he had been invited to run, was correctly nominated, and until his Committee asked him to withdraw 'there was nothing doing'.

I will continue this story in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 28 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

Monday, August 09, 2010

Hunter Valley 1st New State lunch

Hamilton New State Lunch 7 August 10 1 Saturday was the first New State lunch in the Hunter Valley, a chance for people interested in self government for New England and who had mainly been communicating by email to meet and talk.

The photo shows from left to right Jack Arnold (Armidale), Merle Rawson (Wangi Wangi), Greg Howley (Eleebana), Mark Zaicos (Kurri Kuri), Jim Rawson (Wangi Wangi), Peter Firminger (Wollombi) and Jim Belshaw (Sydney, Armidale). Nathan Clarke (Mayfield West) was a late apology because his kid suffered a Saturday morning sport injury.

We met at the Sydney Junction Hotel, all a little conscious of the irony of the name, given the subject of the lunch! However, it was a very convenient location. I must also note, however, that the pub does not carry a single Hunter Valley wine! I wouldn't expect it to have wines from elsewhere in New England, but no Hunter Valley wines?

Discussion ranged quite widely, as you might expect. Not only did group experience vary widely, but so did views on issues. At one point, Greg did a poll of people's political affiliations: the seven present covered five different political groupings! The thing that united everybody was a common belief that the existing system did not work, that only self-government could give the North a true voice and that the loss of the 1967 plebiscite had proved a disaster for New England in general and the Hunter in particular.

Rebuilding something like the New England New State Movement is not something happens overnight. It's not just organisational issues. So much of our historical memory has been lost, the things that united, that an action like this actually depends in part on rebuilding knowledge of history.

There is no top-down drive for New England self-government. This is grass-roots stuff, a person here, a person there. All this takes time, sometimes a lot of time. However, it was interesting that no less than three of us brought cameras to record the lunch because we all felt that it was a historic occasion that should be recorded.

The next lunch will be in about a month's time. If you would like to come or to find out more, please email me on ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(au).   

Friday, August 06, 2010

Proposed boundaries for the NSW Local Health Networks

The NSW Government has announced proposed boundaries and operating arrangements for the NSW Local Health Networks required under the Rudd-Gillard national hospitals plan. The following graphic shows the boundaries and towns covered.


At this point I have not had a chance to make my own assessment of the proposals. Those who wish to make their own assessment can find the discussion paper here

Thursday, August 05, 2010

1926 Murulla Train Disaster

In my post on the Formation of the Armidale Newspaper Company, I said in part:

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.

Now what I didn't know until Gordon Smith's Old news from Armidale and New England provided the newspaper coverage was that the rail smash in question was one of the worst rail smashes in New England and possibly in Australia. I quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 15 September 200

The worst railway disaster in the history of New South Wales occurred shortly before midnight last night, when six runaway goods trucks crashed into the north-west mail between the village of Blandford and the Murulla siding.

The goods train had been pulled on to the Murulla siding to allow the north-west mail to pass, when the coupling joining the six rear trucks to the forepart of the train suddenly snapped. It is understood that the guard of the goods train was standing on the side of the line, directing the shunting operations, when the trucks began to move down the line. Although this official made a frantic effort to clamber on to the runaway trucks he was unable to do so, and they disappeared at a terrific speed round a curve in the line.

It was known that the mail train had passed through Blandford station, and those on the siding were sick with fear and apprehension, but powerless to avert the impending catastrophe. A few seconds later there was a deafening crash as the runaway trucks struck, with terrific force, the mail train, and telescoped several carriages. The red-hot coals from the wrecked engine fell on to and ignited several bales of wool with which the trucks were loaded. The flames most fortunately did not reach the smashed carriages, or a much more terrible disaster would have resulted.

The story is quite a graphic one. Today we expect official help to arrive quickly. Not so much then, with the passengers organising the initial rescue efforts.

If you would like to read more, see:

It really is quite a classic story.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Blog stats, reader interests July 10

Sorry for the delay in posting. I have been tied up on other things.Stats July 10 2

The graphic shows visits (yellow) plus page views (yellow plus red) to this blog for the year ending July 10. After a steady increase in traffic, July was down a bit.

Excluding the front page ( I do not have stats for this), the most popular posts in July were: