Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Belshaw's World - Patrice Newell’s The River

Jim Belshaw is on holidays. While he is away, Jim’s column is featuring some of his previous writing. This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on New England Australia in August 2006.

In my last post, New England Australia – writers, I mentioned that I was reading Patrice Newell's book the River, the story of the Pages River in the Upper Hunter. I can hardly wait to finish to read her next book, Ten Thousand Acres.

I did not realise when I started reading that Patrice was quite famous. I bought the book because it was another book on New England. Now I am loving it.

It's not just that she writes well, and she does. It's not just that I am learning new things, and I am. Here, and so far, I especially like her catchment stories. But her writing is (unexpectedly) like an old and familiar friend.

I began this blog because I wanted to save and present the broader New England that I loved, a New England that I feared was becoming lost. While Patrice may not realise it, her writing is saturated with that New England, reminding me also of just how integrated New England was though links and cross links.

I may not always agree with her. I have a more positive view of former State National Party Leader George Souris, and not only because we went to the same school. But whether I agree or not, so much of her writing creates particular resonances.

Patrice writes of the architect Horbury Hunt who designed a number of buildings in her immediate area.

Hunt's building across New England include St Mathias's Church, Denman (1871), St John's, Branxton (1873), the Anglican Cathedrals at Armidale (1871) and Grafton (1880) and Booloominbah at Armidale (1888). Along with the Maitland Pender family who designed buildings such as Belltees and Saumarez, Hunt has left an indelible imprint on New England's built landscape.

Patrice also speaks of the Burning Mountain near Wingen where a long burning underground coal seam creates a volcano like area.

I first read of this in a 19th century news magazine held in The Armidale School library, then a repository of many ancient publications that today would be antiquarian finds.

Many years later, I dragged my then very young daughters up the hill, standing in the spot Patrice describes looking over the Pages.

This, mind you, was not a success. It was very hot, and they did not share my enthusiasm.

She describes the Wright family graves. I have not seen these, but years ago after having read Judith Wright's Generations of Men for the first time I searched for and found Dalwood, the family home described in the book. It was then semi-derelict, but enough remained to give a real feel.

She mentions excursions with Helen Brayshaw to find Aboriginal sites along the Pages.

Many years ago I trained with Helen under Isabel McBryde.

In 1960 Isabel was appointed to Australia's first titled position in Prehistory and Ancient History at the University of New England.

Up to that point the few pioneering Australian prehistorians had worked in a scatter gun fashion on isolated sites across the country. From these digs they tried to create cross-country cultural sequences. This made sense if but only if the Aborigines were homogeneous across the continent, which was not the case.

Working under the influence of her mentor, John Mulvaney, Isabel pioneered the study of Australian prehistory at regional level. In doing so, she gathered a group of students around her including Helen and myself to provide help.

We went on weekend survey missions across the North Coast, Tablelands and Slopes, took part in digs during some vacations, worked as research assistants during others sorting and recording Aboriginal implements. It was fun.

In 1965 Sharon Sullivan completed the first pre-history honours thesis under Isabel's guidance. 1966 saw the first full pre-history honours class. Many of Isabel's students including Helen and Sharon went on to distinguished careers in Australian prehistory and archaeology.

My own route was different, taking me into economics and work with the Australian Treasury. But I retained my very fond memories of the earlier period.

Patrice's writing brought this whole past flooding back.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 22 September 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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Newcastle's spring of discontent

Sitting here in Santorini so far from home, Australia seems very remote. Still, I did finally get to check emails plus do a limited media search.

I won't be able to post properly until I get home, but I was struck by the rising tide of agitation in Newcastle against Sydney control. There comes a point when the totality of errors and neglect reaches critical mass, when no matter what a Government does it's all just too late. I think that Newcastle is at that point now.

It's actually quite interesting in a historical context. Each wave of new state agitation since the 1850s has come from a different area. It seems to be Newcastle's turn now.

Anybody who reads this blog will know of my personal support for New England self-government. Speaking objectively, it is difficult to know with certainty how Newcastle discontent will play out. What can be said with certainty is that, for the first time in several decades, a Northern or New England new state is back on the Newcastle agenda. It is going to be fascinating to watch developments.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Belshaw's World - Simon Crean, Dr Rob and my daughter's 21st

As I write, Ms Gillard is announcing her new ministry.

By the time you read this column, the details will be far clearer than they are just at present. Still, I could not resist a few comments.

I know that many people in the electorate were upset by Mr Windsor’s decision to back Ms Gillard. The comments’ columns on the Northern Daily Leader dripped a fair bit of vitriol.

Regardless of individual views, Regional Australia is back on the political agenda in a way we have not seen for a number of years.

Mr Crean as the new minister is a very experienced operator with a known interest in the area. I think that’s good.

In a short historical post on his blog, fellow campaigner for regional development Paul Barratt wrote:

When the Coalition came to office in 1996 one of the departments established under the new administrative arrangements was the Department of Transport and Regional Development. In 1998 this was changed to the Department of Transport and Regional Services. Someone had taken issue with the thought that a Coalition Government would have any role in regional development (presumably the market would provide, as it always does) – it would just play some sort of a role in relation to service delivery in the regions (for which there was always precious little money).

Paul is right, of course. Semantics is very important in public policy because of what it signals about thinking. To my mind, this 1998 change in wording marked the end of any real focus on regional development.

Now that we have regional development and decentralisation back on the mainstream political agenda, Minister Crean can expect a fair bit of unsolicited advice and analysis.

I think that this is very important. If newspapers, columnists, bloggers and researchers, to name just a few, don’t respond, then the issue is likely to slide again.

I think that most agree that current policies have not worked so far as Regional Australia is concerned. The challenge now is to find new ways of working.

Friday, Gordon Smith emailed me of the death of Rob Robertson-Cuninghame. I felt quite sad.

As my mother grew older, she used to say “it’s getting drafty round here, dear.” By this, she simply meant the way in which the inexorable process of aging and death was taking away the people she knew.

Dr Robertson-Cuninghame was not just a nice bloke, but an intelligent man who made an enormous contribution to this community.

From time to time in this column, I have written about the challenges facing us in preserving and developing the University of New England.

For those few people who read this column on a regular basis, I can sound pretty obsessive about UNE. I am not alone in this, for UNE has a remarkably loyal group of alumni. However, without Dr Robertson-Cuninghame, I am not sure that I would have had a university to be obsessive about!

Early September is the heavy birthday period in the North-Belshaw household, with three birthdays in two weeks. This year it’s youngest’s twenty-first.

When I was a kid, twenty-firsts were a very big deal. Now kids get two shots at parties: at 18 and 21, yet twenty-firsts are still a big thing.

Catherine, one of Clare’s friends, came round to collect photos for the inevitable rolling slide show. Looking at the photos brought back so many memories.

There were the girls at Marsh Street, the shots at Montessori. Eldest in her Newling uniform, then both girls in their NEGS uniforms on the day they started there.

Talk about a trip down nostalgia lane.

As I listened to the speeches while watching the slide show, I thought how proud I was of my daughter, of how far she had come.

I am sure that all parents will understand how I felt.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 15 September 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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Travelling on a jet plane

If you read this today, I will be in the air somewhere towards Europe. I don't think that I will be able to post while away, although I do hope that I will be able to respond to comments, if with a lag.

Just to keep my regular visitors interested, I have written a few posts to come up while I am away. This includes my Armidale Express columns. These, too, have been written in advance.    

Friday, September 17, 2010

New England's Aboriginal artists

My thanks to Peter Firminger for this one.

One of my favourite blogs is Will Owen's Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye. This blog is an education on Aboriginal art and beyond into Aboriginal culture and history. However, it does have one weakness from my perspective, its remote area focus.

While I am interested in Aboriginal art in a general sense, I also want to know more about Aboriginal art connected with New England.  Like many other aspects of New England life, this is actually quite hard to do because the information is not readily available.

Now we have Storylines, a three-year (2007-2009) ARC funded survey of ‘non-remote’ Indigenous artists that includes material on New England Aboriginal artists. Before proceeding, two quotes from the research: 

 To give a sense of where within each state these artists came from, the various birthplaces supplied to the researchers were categorised into regions, based on ABS divisions. Of the artists with birthplaces in NSW, more were born in Sydney than anywhere else in the state (27), followed by the North Coast 14, the New England/North West 12, Richmond Tweed (Northern Rivers) 11 and the rest scattered across the state or with only ‘NSW’ given as place of birth. In every other state in the survey, the opposite pattern was found.

Then on language groups: 

There were some startling disparities in the numbers of people identifying with particular language groups. In NSW, 36 of the 126 people who provided this information gave Wiradjuri (Waradgerie, Wirradjeri) as at least one of their language groups, 29 gave Kamilaroi (Gamilaroi, Gamillaroi, Gamilaraay, Kamileroi, Kamillaroi, Gamilarray, Gamiaraay, Goomeroi)[1], 16 Bundjalung and 15 Dunghutti. Smaller numbers, often as few as one or two persons, reported affiliation with another 32 NSW language groups.

If you look at these two quotes, you can see the New England influence. In terms of birth place, the identified New England regions (North Coast, the New England/North West, Richmond Tweed (Northern Rivers) total 37. In terms of identified New England language groups (Kamilaroi, Bundjalung and Dunghutti), sixty out of 126 NSW artists had a New England affiliation.

The raw statistics need to be treated with care. For example, artists born in Sydney may actually come have affiliations elsewhere in the state given earlier in-migration to Sydney. I say earlier, because there is presently Aboriginal migration from Sydney to home country.

The growth in Sydney's Aboriginal population now primarily comes from natural birth among those who have previously made their homes there in combination with self-identification. If an Aboriginal person has a non-Aboriginal partner, their children may choose to be classified as Aboriginal.

Further, the earlier disruptions to Aboriginal society that forced groups together, mean that a number of Aboriginal people can claim connection to more than one language group, so that the number of reported language affiliations may be greater than the number of artists.   

Accepting all this, the relatively large numbers with New England connections is not surprising, given that Aboriginal New England had a very large population relative to other parts of NSW. What is more surprising is the distribution of painters. The number of Kamilaroi linked artists is larger than the relative size of the Kamilaroi population, while the very big Gumbainggir language group is not separately identified. We cannot know whether or not this is represents the on-ground position, or is simply a skew in those responding to the survey.

The report itself contains information and conclusions that provides a framework for analysis. However,  movement beyond this to look in more detail at area linkages, probably requires more detailed sorting at individual artist level. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New State arguments 13 - too many politicians

One of the standard arguments against the creation of new states has always been that it will increase the number of politicians. This has always been a hard argument to attack, not on the facts but on the prejudices embodied in the claim.

Back in the 1920s, the New State Movement responded with a double barreled argument.

Barrel one was that each person would still vote for the same number of people; state members, federal members plus whatever system of local government was in place. Whether the actual number of politicians increased depended upon the number of members in the New England parliament as compared to those in the NSW parliament representing the same area.

Barrel two was the actual cost per head to taxpayers of our system of representative government. This was quite low, an insignificant amount in the totality of Government spend. It would remain tiny even if the number of members was greatly increased.

Today, we have a further argument.

In both state and federal houses, the number of electors per member has greatly increased compared to the past. If you accept, not all do, that a key role of the MP is to represent his or her electorate, then the increased size of electorates makes it harder for the MP to actually represent that electorate. Yes, we have increased resources available to MPs meaning that costs have risen, but actual representation has dropped for most electors.

You can argue whether or not this is a bad thing. I think that it is. Regardless of that, it is hard to mount an objective argument against new states on the grounds of increased number of politicians.           

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let the fight for regional development begin!

Second Gillard ministry sets out ministers in the second Gillard ministry  as sworn in. It includes a link to the administrative arrangements, the formal document setting out who is responsible for what.

In various posts on this blog, I have suggested that the new environment provides an opportunity for new approaches to regional development, including a chance to address New England problems. By New England I mean the broader New England, not just the Tablelands or Mr Windsor's electorate.

This will not be easy. In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, Our highly taxed and deprived country folk, and other myths, economics editor Ross Gittins sets out what has in fact been the dominant conventional wisdom. I have great respect for Mr Gittins, but his writing ignores systemic factors that have discriminated against regional Australia including New England.

In another story, this time in the Australian, Sean Parnell says in part:

Treasury modelling and briefings obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws show that northwestern and far western NSW, and the Wimmera and Mallee regions of Victoria, are expected to have fewer people in 2031 than in 2006, despite the nation's population rising by 8.8 million during that period.

"Although the focus has been on population growth, there are large areas of Australia, especially in the wheat-sheep farming areas, where there is projected to be only small population growth or even population decline," Treasury officials told Mr Burke in an executive minute in April.

This is a small example of what I mean.

I deal with demographic projections all the time. The problem is that when used for planning purposes, they ensure that those who are expected to have will be given. In that sense, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don't get me wrong, We have to to use them, but we also have to recognise their weaknesses. As an example, the ABS projections for inland New England on which Treasury bases their advice are, on my analysis, highly unlikely to be correct.

There is a further problem. Planning based just on projections actually accepts the past as the status quo. It addresses what has been, ignoring what might be.

We are not going to change thinking through emotion, although emotion has its place. Rather, we have to challenge both the conceptual underpinnings and the use of evidence.

This is not easy.

It's partly a question of resources. There just aren't very many people available to crunch numbers in alternative ways. Consider, as an example, two posts I wrote in April:

These posts challenge aspects of conventional thinking. Behind them, lay hours of number crunching, sitting with spread sheets sorting and analysing in different ways. I am not pretending that I am right, simply that I an consciously trying to test. For every person like me, there are one hundred working with numbers in the conventional way, who have to deliver outputs set within conventional bounds.

This brings me to the second problem, the way in which conventional ways of thinking determine the questions to be asked. The problem here lies in the way in which those ways of thinking condition action and analysis in often unseen ways. I use the word unseen advisedly.

All forms of thinking are based on logical structures. Thought builds up from a base of assumptions and ideas. Mostly, these are simply taken as a given.

If you challenge a conclusion on evidentiary grounds that is in fact really based on ideas and assumptions buried deep below, then the person challenged is highly unlikely to accept your views. Rather, they will try to massage your conclusion into a form that fits with those deeply buried assumptions and ideas.  

This adds to the difficulties for those of us trying to present alternative views. We have to constantly disentangle, to deconstruct, to work out not just what is being said but why, what does it really mean?

As I said, not easy. Still, if we are to take advantage of the way that things have opened up, we have to try. We have to fight with logic and evidence, using this to support arguments based on emotion and feeling.

Let the fight begin! 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Belshaw's World - winds of change blurred lines in the sand

At present, I am trying to revise and finalise the paper I delivered in Armidale in July on New England’s Aboriginal languages.

One of my problems in so doing is that modern Australians have been trained to think in discrete units. We see boundaries, for example, as firm lines on a map, languages as single entities – English, French and so on. We recognise the presence of dialects, but we see these as part of a bigger whole.

Aboriginal New England was not like that. Languages shaded into each other, while boundaries could shift and overlap depending on the nature of relationships.

I hadn’t realised how much my own thinking had been affected by current approaches until I came to try to understand the distribution of Aboriginal languages across New England. I had to consciously challenge my own thinking, to try to think of land and relationships to land from an Aboriginal perspective.

The interesting thing about our tendency to think of things in discrete sharply defined units is that it’s actually quite new.

In medieval Europe, for example, power was personal, cascading down from the pope through church lords, kings and princes to a variety of lower level feudal relationships.

In this world, political, administrative and territorial boundaries shifted all the time like an ever changing patchwork quilt. Boundaries were often shaded, shared and could overlap.

While boundaries have always existed in one form or another, the emergence of the idea of boundaries as fixed lines on maps was progressive and directly associated with the rise of what we now think of as the nation state. Boundaries were there to delineate national territory, to help enforce central control.

One side effect of this was the way in which language came to be associated with political boundaries. Germany equals Germans who speak German. During the age of Empire, fixed boundary lines spread across the global map.

By the time I went to school, all this was well entrenched in thinking. It seemed the natural order. This meant that I struggled a little in trying to understand European history at school.

How did I make sense of a world in which the Holy Roman Empire, for example, was made up of some 300 territorial entities linked in a whole series of relationships?

One of the things that’s interesting at the present time in looking at Europe is that many of the older relationships from that past, less defined world, have been coming back.

Languages that had been in decline are being rediscovered. The very nature of the nation state is under challenge, squeezed to some degree between a rising sense of localism whether based on ethnicity, language or geography and the larger sense of European identity expressed through the European Union.

I hadn’t realised how complicated all this had become until I had cause to look at modern Spain. There you have a variety of types of territorial units where the desire for local autonomy or even independence jostles uncomfortably with the sense of Spanish identity.

You can map Spain in various ways – territorial units, ethnic groups, language. The result is a mosaic of overlapping entities on which the fixed if changing lines of administrative and political entities sit quite uncomfortably.

Aboriginal Australia is no different.

The desire of modern Australia including law and politics that things be measurable, that ownership be proved, sits quite uncomfortably with the actual realities of traditional Aboriginal life.

As happened in Europe with the growing dominance of hard line, fixed boundaries, those affected try to adjust to fit the new reality. New entities sometimes described as Tindale tribes emerge.

Tindale tribes are named after the anthropologist Norman Tindale who attempted to map Aboriginal tribes on the assumptions that such entities existed based on common language and occupying defined and mutually exclusive territories.

The problem is that there really were no such entities in the rigid and mutually exclusive way defined by Tindale. However, legislative and administrative requirements have in fact forced Aboriginal people to behave as though there were.

I do not have an answer to this type of problem.

It is extremely hard to define more flexible, boundary free approaches in areas such as Native Title when the administering system depends upon the existence of defined boundaries that can, in some way, be proved in a court of law.

Still, I would like to think that more flexible approaches could be developed.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 8 September 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, September 13, 2010

Round the New England blogging traps 18 - mainly political

Richard Torbay paid a rather nice tribute Dr Rob Robertson-Cuninghame AO (1924-2010). Because I know that many people are interested, I am using my post UNE Passings - death of Rob Robertson-Cuninghame as an entry point to add information as I get it.

Staying with Richard Torbay, I see that he has agreed to chair a NSW Joint Parliamentary Committee to review parliamentary procedures. Because this also bears upon what is happening in the Federal Parliament, I am quoting the release in full:

Speaker Richard Torbay has welcomed the move by the Premier, Kristina Keneally, to further reform parliamentary procedures in NSW.

He said he would accept her offer to chair a Joint Select Committee on the issue and is pleased that it has the support of the Leader of the Opposition, Barry O’Farrell, and other Members.

Mr Torbay, who was appointed as an Independent Speaker in 2007, said that a number of reforms had already been put in place and Standing and Sessional Orders have been previously amended to include:
• The Legislative Assembly already reads each day the prayer and Acknowledgement of Country at the commencement of the Parliament.
• Family friendly sitting hours have been introduced and Friday sittings of parliament have been formally incorporated into the parliamentary program.
• Several changes have been made to the way Parliamentary committees operate including a requirement for the Government to Committee recommendations to report within six months
• Proceedings in the House have been streamlined by introducing the ‘consideration in detail’ stage
• Legislation in NSW has already been passed allowing the Speaker to exercise a deliberative and casting vote and allowing the Speaker to speak on the floor of the House as required.
• Re-written Standing Orders into plain English
• The Government is now required to formally respond to petitions signed by 500 or more persons.

Mr Torbay said the Premier had contacted him and asked him to consider, among other procedural matters:
• the Speaker be Independent of the government and if the Speaker is a member of the government for the Deputy Speaker to be drawn from the Opposition.
• time limits on questions and answers in Question Time and requirements for answers to be responsive to questions
• Opposition leaders be entitled to ask supplementary questions
• appropriate time be allocated to debates, member’s speeches and consideration of private members bills
• recognition of traditional owners be made at the beginning of each sitting day
• there be oversight of bills by committees
• the number of sitting weeks be set.

Mr Torbay said, “I welcome this opportunity to further improve Parliamentary Procedures and processes and I am keen to work with all Members of Parliament.

“As soon as I receive the Terms of Reference I will convene the first meeting as soon as practicable and look forward to presenting the recommendations to the Premier and Leader of the Opposition,” said Mr Torbay.

On North Coast Voices, Clarrie Rivers reported on a trip inland. The posts in order are:

In Armidale, Clarrie Rivers coincided with my column in the Armidale Express: Belshaw's World - time to repeat the new state question. I think it fair to say that CR's reaction as expressed in What's in the news in Armidale? Part 2: The New State Movement ... still! was somewhat under-whelmed.

The post attracted comments from fellow new staters, two of whom are on my blog list, Ian Mott and Peter Firminger.

In a post on his Regional States blog, The myth of new state duplication costs, Ian attacked the idea that new states must increase costs through duplication. A related argument, but not from a commenter on the NCV post, was expressed by Paul Barratt in Australian Observer: Over-governed, yes, but not in the way you think.

Peter Firminger is an environmental and community activist in the Hunter Valley dedicated to building the Wollombi and Broke communities. I often mention Peter in these round-ups because he highlights stories and ideas relevant to his area. Now in Rural Blogging he looks at a new topic, in so doing identifying general sites that I had not seen and will follow up.

I do like the way in which my fellow bloggers broaden my knowledge!

I realise that I have run out of the time allocated for this post without even having scratched the surface. Still, I will have to leave things here.   

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Welcome to visitor 40,000

Welcome to visitor 40,000 who arrived today. He or she searched on Google for Bellingen blog, found Bellingen organises to save hospital, and appears to have left for the Save Bellingen Hospital face book page.

40,000 is not a bad number. I feel quite pleased! 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

UNE Passings - death of Rob Robertson-Cuninghame

Gordon Smith kindly but sadly sent me news of the death of Dr Rob Robertson-Cuninghame. The VC's advice to the university community follows.

It is with great sadness and a sense of deep loss that together we formally announce the passing of Dr Robert Clarence Robertson-Cuninghame AO in his home this morning. Our deepest sympathies, and those of the University, are extended to his wife, Patricia, and to his family.

Known affectionately across campus as “Dr Rob”, he served this University in an official capacity through his involvement with UNE Council for more than 25 years. This included service as Deputy Chancellor (1971-1981) and then as UNE’s longest serving Chancellor from 1981 until 1993. From the point of his succession he remained keenly, passionately and centrally involved in the University’s Alumnus.

The University of New England remains our name today in significant part because of Dr Rob’s determined fight for its retention in 1988, when UNE proceeded to amalgamate with the Armidale and Northern Rivers Colleges of Advanced Education. In a letter of September 1988, Dr Rob responded to a proposal that the consolidation of these two institutions should lead to a renaming of our University, stating that:

“We are especially respected by the international community for our contributions to distance education, being one of the pioneers of this form of learning throughout the world …  We believe that one of our major assets is our name.”

Jordon, M., 2004, A Spirit of True Learning: The Jubilee History of the University of New England, UNSW Press, 2004, pp 225-6, Copyright of UNE.)

We thank him for his leading contribution to our history and reputation as a leading institution in distance education.

Dr Rob’s tireless contribution to this University will be remembered affectionately today and in the future.

At this time we can reflect on his immense legacy through UNE Council, the UNE Union, and his championing of advances in adult and outreach education. We also remember him as an outstanding academic, historian, and one of the finest members of the New England community.

Details of his Memorial Service will be circulated to all as soon as they are made.

I know that so many of those associated with UNE will remember him as a true gentleman whose total services to our university are hard to match. I will post further details as I learn them.


Richard Torbay posted an extremely nice tribute to Dr Robertson-Cuninghame.  

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yabbies, oysters and nostalgia

Just at present, I seem to be susceptible to attacks of nostalgia.

One of the searches that brought a visitor to this blog was on yabbies. Nostalgia attacked.

I wonder how many New England people have been yabbying in dams or creeks with a bit of meat on the end of a string? Quite a few, I suspect.

The problem with this approach is that you don't get enough for a feed. Also, when we first started to do this, we didn't know how to cook them. So it was all about the hunt.

Far more satisfying was the approach adopted by my uncle. Half a 44 gallon drum with holes poked into the bottom was dropped in the dam with bait inside. After a little while, we pulled it up. This got lots of yabbies, enough for a full feed cooked by my aunt.

Then this got me thinking of oysters.

I was a kid before the coastal population really exploded, when it was possible to walk along a breakwater and open oysters. They were always gritty (we usually broke the shells) and salty, but I acquired a real taste for them that I still have. My wife and daughters, by contrast, dislike oysters.

As part of my historical research, I have been re-reading some of Isabel McBryde's archeological reports on New England, including the dig at on the shell midden at Wombah near the mouth of the Clarence. There were thousands of these middens scattered along the North Coast.

In her Wombah report, Isabel thanks us by name for putting up with difficult conditions. You know, I don't remember these. I just remember the fun!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Reactions to Mr Windsor

My main post today is on my personal blog, The independents' quid pro quo. This was a response to a question from Ramana, an Indian blogging friend.

While I still haven't had time to look properly at the detail of the regional development package agreed between the two independents and the Government, writing the post did at least give me an opportunity to start fleshing out some views.

The reaction to the decision to support the ALP expressed in comments by some in Mr Windsor's electorate has been quite savage. You can get a feel for this if you read the comments on the Northern Daily Leader editorial, Why Windsor is right. One of the milder comments and the editor's response captures the conflict:

I read with interest your article regarding why you believe Mr Windsor made the correct decision, please allow me to elucidate to you why he was wrong and indeed correct some of your unreasonable assumptions. Firstly, Mr Windsor was wrong because he represents an electorate that more closely aligns itself with the conservative side of politics. That is the primary reason. Windsors disingenuous blather regarding it not being about political ideology is trite in it's condescension. There are sides to politics for a reason, and generally that reason is because the "other" side is anathema to those who have opposite political ideals. Want more? The Coalition won the primary vote. Labor incidentally only attained an 8% primary in NE. The Coalition won more seats. The Coalition to this point has won the two party preferred. Cont.

Ed note: Mr Windsor is an independent - a political position with a long and distinguished history. Your argument would reduce him to a poll-driven robot (something akin to his view of the major parties).

Posted by windsors wrong, 9/09/2010 2:21:23 AM, on Northern Daily Leader

All of those years ago when I was active in the Country Party/National Country Party, one of the constant problems faced by those like me who wanted to bring about longer term change for the future of the Party, lay in the fact that some of our greatest supporters were anti-Labor first, Country Party second.

This created a constant tension: the Party was expected to deliver, but could only do so so long as it did not upset arrangements with the Liberals too badly. This gave a very narrow window in which to move.

Whether one agrees with the independents' actions or not, it's going to be interesting to watch events unfold. It remains my feeling that all this does give us an opportunity to get a greater focus on needs across the broader New England.


In a post today on Australian Observer, Regional development: a bit of history, Paul Barratt reminded me of the decision in 1998 to change the name of the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Development to the Department of Transport and Regional Services. Such a minor thing, just the substitution of the word Services for  Development, yet quite significant.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wednesday Forum: the regional development deal

You will find the deal struck between the two New England independents here: Agreement between the Australian Labor Party and the Independent Members. The PDF version in the Australian may be easier to read.

I set out my initial reactions in Country independents, regional development and spin. I wasn't being negative in a general sense, simply expressing my concern about the way the regional development numbers were presented. I don't think $10 billion is in fact $10 billion in the way it has been written up.

In an earlier post, I said in part:

Finally, we would like both Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to apply a key test to any specific initiatives that might be considered:

Will the proposal have any real longer term impact on New England development, or is it just a band-aid? We have seen too many of the second, too few of the first.

In asking this question, we would also like both MPs consider broader New England needs.

There are many shared problems across the North that would benefit from being addressed in an integrated way, instead of the fragmented and itsy approach that has applied.

Taking the regional development proposals in the agreement (annex B) and looking at it just from a New England perspective, do you thing it meets these tests? What do you like/dislike about the proposals? 

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Paul Barratt speaks

Like me, Paul Barratt is one of those New Englanders whose personal connections are deeply entwined with the North. We link and interlink in just so many ways. Both of us had to leave New England, in Paul's case  for a very distinguished career in the Commonwealth Public Service.

I mention this because Paul has just completed a series of posts directly relevant to New England concerns. In date order, they are:

One of the things that I struggle to get across sometimes is that New England has its own political and intellectual traditions that are not the exactly same as those holding elsewhere in Australia. We think and care in slightly different ways.

Both Paul and I in our own ways represent those traditions. Now, in our writing, we try to get this across, to preserve and develop something that we believe is of value.

You won't find the names, the events, the traditions that we value, in today's conventional history books. That history is written by others who, for reasons of locale or fashion, do not share our concerns. We write in part to redress this.

I think that's important. Once we lose our past, we are truly lost.       

Monday, September 06, 2010

Just a moan

For reasons I won't bore you with, I really don't feel like a serious post today. I am just serioused out! I also have this week's newspaper column to do, and my mind is a blank.

Each day I write a thousand or so words, sometimes more. Normally it's easy. Then you get funny days like today when the actual act of writing becomes hard.

It's not that I don't have things to say. Coming back from Newcastle Saturday I wrote down lots of ideas. I just don't feel like doing anything about them.

I am also very depressed about my main present writing project, a history of New England. After four years direct work, two years reasonably intensive work, I am (by my own count) eight months behind schedule. One of my blogging colleagues, Legal Eagle, has just submitted her 100,000 word PhD thesis in law. Reading her Facebook page, her sense of relief is palpable. I wish I could share it.

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems worthwhile? How do you handle it? 

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Round the New England blogging traps 17 - politics & pastoral

I quote from the University of Newcastle's Coal River Working Party blog:

We are nothing without our history, and our records, lay testament to who we are as a people.  All these things could become real if we wish them to be. Dreams are always dashed when someone say’s ‘its too expensive’ and the result invariably is we don’t do anything exciting.

I have to agree.

Staying on history, I see from Headlines from Armidale in Old news from Armidale and New England that, on 5 April 1988, cricketers from Newcastle defeated those from Armidale. No further information is given!

20100725-14-02-36-werrikimbe-NP--bobs-lookout--surveyors-blaze The surveyors trying to map New New England and especially the very rugged eastern escarpment faced a tremendously difficult job. This photo shows  Werrikimbe NP: surveyor’s blaze

nellibellingen has carried a range of historical posts. At the moment I haven't quite worked out how Lynne's various blogs fit together. Her BLOG IT ALL - THAT'S NEWS TO ME does provide something of a guide, but I'm still confused. I will write a proper story when I have!

Turning to more current events, in Bailed Up! Now into our 14th day of political uncertainty North Coast Voices calls on the independents to make up their mind. The blog's perspective is certainly less sympathetic than mine! I quote:

Now we are approaching a political climate in which supposedly considered judgement is beginning to give way to highway robbery as the three remaining unaligned seasoned independent MPs hold the nation and the two main parliamentary parties to ransom.

By contrast, in Tony Windsor’s gone to Tamworth, Paul Barratt writes:

The (very) Independent Member for New England has gone home to Tamworth to ponder the decision he should make about who should have the opportunity to form the next government.

I do not envy him the decision he has to make, but I know that it will be a conscientious one and, whichever way it goes, I expect that he will receive strong support from the local communities.

oakeshotts Another New England blogger, Dermott Banana, in Devil Calling, has a different take on that phone call made by Liberal senator Bill Heffernan to independent Ron Oakeshott. The photo from DB shows Mrs Oakeshott and two of their kids.

The post begins:

Last weekend, while the whole country wondered what the independent MHRs would do, Rob Oakeshott was driving to a ceremony in Lismore to commemorate the Sandakan Death March. His wife was in the car with him, and she answered his mobile phone. The caller said in a gruff voice he was the devil.

As we now know, the caller was Liberal Senator (and complete douchebag) Bill Heffernan. His defence for such inappropriate behaviour to Sara-Jane Oakeshott? He thought he was actually talking to one of the Oakeshott children. Yeah. Right. Coz that makes his behaviour more acceptable in some weird universe, does it?

In fairness, Messrs Oakeshott and Heffernan are meant to be friends, but it was still a dumb thing to do because the call seems to have been misunderstood. I understand from friends in the New England electorate that something of a phone campaign is going on to try to force the independents to side with Mr Abbott.

Wattle_Day_1 In National Wattle Day on Snippets and Sentiments, Gaye reports on National Wattle Day (1 September). Interestingly, my own family asked why some of our political leaders were wearing wattle. Here I quote from Gaye: 

In 1988 the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was made Australia's official floral emblem, and in 1992 the Commonwealth Government formally designated 1st September as National Wattle Day. It's also largely the source of our green and gold colours.

The celebratory day was chosen by our earlier generations to be an occasion "primarily to inspire and stimulate an Australian national sentiment". It was felt this could be accomplished by embracing such sentiment in a native flower, and uniting as a people on the day to do it honour.

The Wattle had been selected as the most suitable of our native flora because of its accessibility, occurring throughout the length and breadth of our continent.

I love the wattle. Given that my family did not understand, maybe we should be paying more attention.!

Pip Wilson's Wilson's Blogmanac has still not been updated. Bellingen based Pip was bashed up in one of those random incidents. The last I heard was some weeks ago when he was being moved from intensive care. I hope that he is okay.

After a gap since July, Bolting Bear has begun reporting again. BB is, I think, a medical student at UNE who also happens to be Muslim. Brisbane, as the name says, is the story of a trip to Brisbane. I like BB because he provides another entry point into the changing mosaic that is modern New England.

It has been a little while since I mentioned A Woodsrunner's Diary. This blog continues its eclectic mix of living history and historical trekking items. Primitive Skills. Stalking., for example, shows you how to get real close to a wallaby (kangaroo?).

Finally, Sharyn's The woman on the mountain has some good wallaby photos.   

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Belshaw's World - time to repeat the new state question

I generally avoid commenting on current events in this column, but this time I am going to break that rule.

Since the election, all sorts of emails have been flying around Northern New South Wales discussing just what the country independents might do. I will talk about these in a moment. But first, I want to make a few general comments about the position that the three country independents finds themselves in.

New England has its own constitutional tradition, one that Mr Windsor most certainly represents.

Part of that tradition is effective representation by the MP for his or her electorate. Country voters expect things from their MPs in a way that city folk do not. They are ours regardless of party, and we expect them to remember that.

Part of the tradition, too, is that once elected, MPs become members of parliament and are expected observe the traditions and values of parliament.

This may have been much tarnished by party politics, but it remains true. Parliament is our first protection against oppression by the executive, whether that oppression is expressed via the divine right of kings or the modern equivalent, the “national interest” as defined by the ruling party.

Let me illustrate by a past example.

In 1961, the Menzies Government had a majority of one. Implementing the Government’s two airline policy, the then Minister for Civil Aviation told East-West Airlines that they must merge with Ansett. When the airline stated this, the Minister denied it.

New England member David Drummond knew that the airline’s story was true. What was he to do? If he denounced the minister, he risked bringing the Government down.

White and shaking, he rose in the house to denounce the minister. As he spoke, the empty house filled. With his known reputation for honesty, no-one doubted his word. The government survived, but the attempt to force the merger was destroyed.

Drummond was acting partly in the interests of his electorate. More, though, he was acting in the interests of parliament, in the right of parliament to have honesty from executive government.

Everything I have seen suggests that Mr Windsor is acting in the same way. He has articulated a set of principles and is attempting to comply with them regardless of immediate partisan positions. The electorate’s belief that he would do this was a key reason for his large majority.

Now everybody wants something from him. If he sides with Labor one set of electors will be upset, another if he sides with the Coalition. Both groups will be upset if he cannot deliver tangible benefits for the electorate.

In a sense, I am no different. I, too, want things from Mr Windsor and his colleagues, although they are a little different from the various wish-lists that have appeared in other places.

Even including the population growth along the coast, the broader New England has been in structural decline for many decades. No one has addressed this.

Taking this into account and chatting among the growing number of new state supporters across New England, we would like Mr Windsor and his colleagues to do three things.

First, we would like him to support the holding of a new constitutional convention to look at the distribution of state and commonwealth powers, as well as ways of facilitating subdivision within the existing Federation. Regardless of individual views, there appears to be general agreement that the current system no longer works.

Secondly, we would like him to support the holding of another new state plebiscite within Northern New South Wales. We new staters want this. However, there is another issue that extends beyond the fight for self-government.

Regardless of individual views on statehood, there can be no doubt that the very existence of the New England New State Movement forced governments to consider broader New England needs in a way that has not happened since the Movement collapsed after 1967. We need this pressure again.

Finally, we would like both Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to apply a key test to any specific initiatives that might be considered:

Will the proposal have any real longer term impact on New England development, or is it just a band-aid? We have seen too many of the second, too few of the first.

In asking this question, we would also like both MPs consider broader New England needs.

There are many shared problems across the North that would benefit from being addressed in an integrated way, instead of the fragmented and itsy approach that has applied.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 1 September 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, September 03, 2010

Our advice to Mr Windsor

My main post today, Politics, policies and principles, is on my personal blog. It is based in part on this week's Armidale Express column; this will come up later.

In both the post and the column, I have used the words "our" and "we". Yes, they are my views, but they also reflect the feedback and discussion through this blog and the email traffic flowing from blog posts and column.

This is quite exciting. The feedback challenges my ideas, adds to them. Slowly but surely, we are creating another view, one that focuses on New England interests. Not just New England interests alone, but New England interests as part of the mix.

In the post, I refer to the views expressed by Mr Walladge on the ABC's The Drum. Compare those views with the feeling that many of us had that the hung parliament provided an opportunity for new views. I quote one line:

But the flexibility that allows our major parties to bend over backwards to accommodate the views of bigots and lunatics and the politically fraudulent goes far too far.

Of course there will be special pleading, in Mr Katter's case a degree of eccentricity (I actually love this), confusion over issues. But compare this to Mr Walladge's spleen!

I have no idea how all this will work out. I do not think that we can necessarily expect Mr Windsor to accept the approach I suggested. He has many things to consider. I do know that if we are going to make progress, we have to break or at least manage the Walladge position.

We are involved in a fight over ideas. We have to challenge many of the conventional ideas, put forward argued alternatives, stop the lock-in imposed by presently dominant mind-sets. I find that exciting.         

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Richmond River Historical Society Museum wins national award

Congratulations to the Richmond River Historical Society on winning the ABC's Radio National's national 2010 Regional Museum Award. The citation reads:

The Richmond River Historical Society & Regional Museum, in Lismore, New South Wales, has been selected from this year's nominees as the winning entry. The Museum, entirely community-run by volunteers, was judged to have the best performance against the range of competition criteria. We were impressed with the inclusive approach taken to local history, incorporating Bundjalung Aboriginal history alongside pastoralist settlement, the rich maritime history of the Richmond River, and more recent changes. The Museum and Historical Society (supported by the Lismore City Council since 1936) demonstrates an impressive care of resources and imaginative development of its facilities.

In addition to maintaining a research centre, huge archival records and a permanent collection of 25,000 items (including paintings), the Historical Society has a strong commitment to publication and develops changing displays to engage visitors and a broad public. The close links with local tourism show a vital commitment to promoting the economy, history and identity of this region of north-western NSW. The Historical Society and museum is clearly demonstrating the importance of community service today as the front line for consolidating the value of historical resources, education programs and a strong cultural future.

As it happened, only yesterday was I able to buy a second hand copy of Louise Daley's Men and a River: a history of the Richmond River District 1828-1895, a book whose publication was subsidised by the Society.  

Congratulations, too, to the other New England museums that made the commended list - Port Macquarie Museum, Land of the Beardies History House & Research Centre, Quirindi Heritage Museum and the Australian Museum of Clothing & Textiles.

Belshaw's World - blank screens, spam and Captain Thunderbolt

Those of you who write on a regular basis will know what it’s like to have a blank screen day, one of those days when the words just won’t flow. To add to my woes, I have been suffering from a spam attack.

I woke up this morning with the need to write this column looming over me, and then had to spend three quarters of an hour going through deleting spam comments.

I am not quite sure why certain Chinese sex sites have decided that my blogs are a suitable place to lodge comments with links, but they have. The same applies to various purveyors of get rich quick schemes.

I don’t actually mind a bit of shameless self-promotion, so long as the promotion is in some ways linked to the original story. However, the link between various Asian beauties all described in Chinese and the question of whether or not Australia is a Christian country is, at best, uncertain!

My blog stats allow me to monitor the most popular posts on my various blogs.

Over the last month, by far the most popular post on my personal blog has been a post I wrote back in November 2008, Sunday Essay – the importance of quiet time in a crowded world, followed by a post from February 2008, Report of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, year ended 30 June 1940.

The two most popular posts on my New England blog in the same period were again older posts, Margaret Olley's New England connection and The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring.

I mention this because the spammers appear to be reasonably good at targeting some of the more popular posts, leading to the type of silly result that I referred to earlier.

The question of what people like to read always interests me, as it does most writers. After all, we all want to be read!

I write for two quite different audiences.

The first is that small group of regular readers, whether of this column or the blogs. I know many of this group because of comments or other feedback. Here I just try to be interesting, although my tendency to ride-off after my own hobby-horses sometimes detracts.

The second audience is that which comes to my writing through search engines. This is far larger, over 80 per cent of blog traffic.

People use all sorts of search terms to find the sites. Most come in, scan and then leave. They appear in the stats as one page view, 0 seconds.

I used to get a bit of a complex about this. Surely my writing was good enough to hold them for just a second?

The reality is that people coming in through search are looking for specific things. They can tell almost instantly whether or not the post in question has anything for them.

Far more satisfying are that very small number who stay and look.

Monday this week, for example, I had a visitor from Sydney who came in searching on Kempsey New England. That visitor stayed for almost fifteen minutes, with fifteen different page views.

Most satisfying of all are those who provide a personal response to stories.

A story I wrote on the search for Captain Thunderbolt drew a comment from David Donaldson. Now I had no idea who David was. I had to look him up.

It turns out that David, the first Director of the Sydney Film Festival, was a personal friend of director Cecil Holmes and had been driving the search for the lost film. In turn, this led me into further research and writing.

I have no idea whether or not a copy of the full 35m film can be found. I would like to think so, although I don’t feel confident. However, I had a lot of fun going through stills, looking at the shorts, identifying people and locations.

I never know with this type of thing just where I might end up.

To find a film still showing Aunt Kay (Kathleen Vickers nee Drummond) and Mrs Roy Blake (wife of the Express editor) that I could match with a photo of extras from the family collection is obviously satisfying.

Just as satisfying is the feeling that I can now put the movie into a better context.

Well, I seem to have come some distance from the issue of spam. Still, I now have a full screen. Time to finish this meander!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 25 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, September 01, 2010

Wednesday Forum: reforming the Federation

The last Wednesday Forum, Wednesday Forum: New England's greatest needs, generated some very good ideas, including a remarkably good comment from Greg from Newcastle. I will pick up some of the other ideas in later posts. Here I just want to focus on Greg. He wrote:

I think that we all recognize that our federal system of government is not working well. Some even believe that it is in the emergency ward on life support. We all want change in the way that government in Australia is delivered but we have no clear idea of what it should look like. We are too blinkered by the paradigms of the 20th Century.

Although it is my region that I am primarily concerned with, my wish list is not just relevant to, Newcastle, New England or even NSW, but for the whole of Australia, regional Australia especially.

To a large extent our problems are rooted in the same cause. That cause is a dominant central government which is now, to all intents and purposes, more a unitary rather than a federal government. It has total fiscal hegemony over lower levels of government raising more than 80% of all taxes. Yet it is the states and local councils which are the primary providers of government services, but without the independent means to deliver. They are financially coupled to the chariot wheels of Canberra which has formed an expensive double bureaucracy.

How can Canberra make and implement good policy decisions for Newcastle, Armidale, Port Macquarie or any of the other cities and towns of New England? Of course it cannot because it's policies are, of necessity one size fits all. Australia is too vast and it's communities too diverse and widely spread. Only states, regions and communities can best make those policy decisions at a local or regional level.

So my wish list is not specific to New England, but it is essential for New England to prosper and achieve it's potential. REAL power must be devolved back to lower levels of government (both state and local). The Commonwealth must observe it's proper powers under sec 51 of the constitution instead of forever making incursions into areas which were never intended to be part of it's domain.

In practice this means that the Commonwealth must reduce it's fiscal dominance and thereby it's undue influence over states, regions and communities to allow local people to make policy decisions as appropriate for them and their communities. In other words, it must pass a great deal of it's taxing powers back to lower tiers of government and exit policy making for regional domestic matters.

We need a new constitutional convention where we can debate and decide what our federation should look like, the number of states, their boundaries and the responsibilities and taxing powers of each tier of government. At the moment our federation is moving ever closer to a unitary system and the results are obvious - choking capitals and failing regions. Our way of life is under threat.

The independents find themselves in a unique position in Australian political history. It is within their power to force a constitutional convention where we can renew and reshape our federation to breath new life into it for the challenges of the 21st Century.

This is what I would like to see from the New England independents. It would be the greatest of tragedies if they squandered this opportunity to help shape New England and indeed Australia for the better.

Will history remember them as visionaries with great purpose? Or simply as political grand standers who had 15 minutes of fame? The ball is in their court.

Wow! You don't have to agree with all Greg's points to recognise that he has mounted a powerful argument, so powerful that I have picked it up in my Armidale Express column to be published today.  You see, even if you disagree with him, Greg has captured something that many Australians' feel: our Federation is not working properly, nor are current approaches likely to fix this.

Do you support the idea, as I do, of a new constitutional convention focused on our Federation? What do you believe should be included to ensure that the Federation properly represents all parts of Australia?

Blog visits take off

I will bring up the next Wednesday forum later today. For the moment, I just want to look at the blog stats for August.stats aug 10 2

The graphic shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) to end August. Both have been on an upward trend since the start of the year. However, the jump in August was quite remarkable!

Turning now to the most popular posts, the top ten over August were:

The post numbers actually measure those who came in via search engines or links. In addition, there are regular visitors who come direct to the blog. My stats here do not allow proper tracking, but average daily returns appear to be about twelve.