Tuesday, November 30, 2010


For all those councils forced to merge in the name of efficiency and effectiveness, timing is everything. Faced with local opposition, the NSW State Government has decides that Uralla, Armidale-Dumaresq and Guyra councils will not be merged. Sadly, the detailed Armidale Express story is not on-line.

Down in the Hunter, the State Government has announced that it will review the operations of the Port Stephen's council.

Hat tip to North Coast Voices for their post  ABC1 "Family Confidential" episode on the Mundine Family of Baryulgil at 8pm on 20 December 2010. I suspect that most New Englanders don't know where Baryulgil is. It's an interesting story. I will do a companion post.

I am totally bogged down in my project on New England Social Change 1950-2000. I find that the only way I can get things done is to be totally obsessive until I have a roll on.

I am even boring my Express readers on it in this week's column.

It's quite exciting actually, for I think that I can say something new.


There is fuller article on the council merger story in the Guyra Argus.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dan Castle's film Newcastle

A short post to record two things:

Results from Wednesday's forum on overcoming division

Last Wednesday's Forum on overcoming division in New England (Wednesday Forum: Overcoming division) attracted some interesting comments.

My old consulting colleague Neil Davidson likened the way that towns or areas had fought for things against each other to the mutual disadvantage of all to the old cold war MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) concept. He suggested:     

Instead of 'divide and conquer', what if we actually considered what a working regional system under a peak oil, peak water, climate instability, global financial collapse style but collective regional resilience model might look like? What if people actually got together to discuss what each could bring, not what each would get? What if people deliberately set out to develop collaborative and collective mutual advantage, rather than independent MAD-style 'advantage'?

It strikes me that if there are individuals that are interested (but perhaps can't admit it openly, for fear of showing their less-than-combative colours to their 'comrades'!) perhaps there is an opportunity to look at how to develop the capability and maturity to collaborate and innovate in the face of some pretty mutually assuredly destructive and compounding future threats. Sooner or later it is those within our regions that we will be turning to - not those potential investors to whom we competitively bid for contributions from outside our regional systems.

The vagaries of the existing process should forewarn us that when we need them most it is unlikely that we will receive any assistance from them - my bet would be on building local collaborative and interdependent trust, capacity, capability and maturity.

As consultants, Neil and I have worked together on a variety of regional development issues. However, there are some issues in what Neil says that can be illustrated from other comments.

The idea of regional sustainability is something of a common theme in regional discussions. It features in the Northern Inland Regional Development Plan as an example.

My first problem lies in the way we seem to be going in the opposite direction. Here I want to quote part of what Lynne said:

Having just done the Armidale - Bellingen drive, there is surely need for cooperation.
Bus only 3 times a week at $50 each way and rather hectic as well as odd times. Coming back in son's car we faced the shambles of Dorrigo Mountain.

Old issue I know and it seems in even further decline to me. Even to the matter of public toilets on the way. esp now that Ebor Servo had their doors locked. The three councils involved in this distance plus RTA can surely find some common points.

I can see quite a lot of the problems but, as usual, not the remedies.

Another recent issue for us was an emergency dental situation for one of the little children who was injured at an Armidale School and had to go to Tamworth for treatment. No dentist available at Armidale that day or for follow-ups. Public transport was not available either.

To achieve immediate economies in service delivery in areas such as health, we are reducing services in certain locations, centralising in others. All this depends for its success upon the motor vehicle.

As Lynne indicates, we already have a problem with public transport that can make access difficult for those without cars. But what happens when, as Neil suggests, peak oil hits us and private transport costs rise sharply? Are we, in fact, deliberately creating non-sustainable systems? Is the only solution then re-location of people?

Clearly, improved public transport is important, a broader issue. However, we also need to look again at the structure of services.

I have argued previously that one problem with current approaches to service delivery is that it saves costs on one side by shifting costs into consumers. The first is measurable, the second less so. The money saved in the delivery of a specialist service can be calculated, the extra time and travel costs imposed on patients is ignored.

Lynne also raises a smaller point, the need for agencies, councils, to cooperate. The three councils Lynne refers to are Guyra, Armidale-Dumaresq, Bellingen. Why must one council pay the costs if benefits are shared?

In a different comment, Mark wrote:

On a bureaucratic government level, there are government departments that are broken up into regions that include the "Northern/New England/Norhern Tablelands-coast" such as NSW Police and Hunter-New England Health. These bureaucracies have many workers who see Macquarie St as an enemy. Also, these workers, represented by unions, may start a campaign against Macquarie St. Unions are quite hostile towards the current govt.

There is also the common issue of coal seam gas extraction and the wholesale coal exploration on the Liverpool Plains. This is an easy unifying issue.

Transport, health, education and law enforcement are other common issues.

The newly introduced Metropolitan Transport tax grab on every NSW resident who owns a car is directly subsidising Sydney projects. An easy unifying issue.

Yes, divide and rule can be exploited with the examples above however, if we were to petition each LGA and each state member with similar demands irrespective of their political allegiances, this would at the very least show that the region, as a whole is united in their stand for a better deal collectively.

Mark is obviously putting together different things, but his comments do illustrate a number of issues 

I know from my own experience that many regionally based public servants do get very frustrated at the way they perceive head office as ignoring their regional needs.

Part of the problem lies in the way that any any integrated, centralised system has to make judgements about priorities across the larger whole. Inevitably, this means ignoring or over-riding local or regional interests. Part of the problem lies in the concentration of resources in head office. Part of the problem lies in the absence of any effective mechanisms for integrating across administrative divisions.

If you map all the agency boundaries onto a single map, New England emerges as an entity simply because New England or Northern NSW is a geographic entity. But with differing boundaries for each agency, with no recognition of the broader entity, with an absence of integration, the broader identity is lost.

One of the reasons that I argue that we need a broader New England or Northern focus is simply to force fragmented agencies to respond.

My support for New England self-government will be clear to anyone who reads this blog. Equally, it won't be surprising that my focus attracts others who support the same cause. However, this is a longer term objective. We are stuck with what we have for the moment, we have to try to do what we can to force existing systems to respond.

In another comment, Rob Cannon wrote:

The most common way to unite the people of this region is MONEY. Show them what is gathered by both levels of Govt. and how and where it is (not) being spent and they will gather around to change things. To see the grabs for money by the state govt. so that they can fix up the mess in Sydney is harming this area a lot.

Rob is right. Similar arguments have been advanced by Ian Mott, among others. The growth of new state support in the Hunter is directly related to the way that the area's mining royalties support Sydney. Yet there is also a problem.

Because so many of the head office jobs are in Sydney, because New England now has so many poor areas (fourteen of the poorest localities in Australia are now located in New England), the raw data will show that at least some areas of New England are being subsidised by tax payers elsewhere.

This is comparative static analysis. It ignores, among other things, the dynamic effects that can come from shifting jobs. Yet the reality is that the stats will be quoted and used against us. Again, this illustrates the need for us to develop a common position, to force others to respond.

I think that last Wednesday's forum generated some useful results. I will pick up some of the issues raised in later forums.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tillegra dam scrapped

It appears that the Tillegra dam has been scrapped - http://newcastle.iprime.com.au/index.php/news/prime-news/tillegra-dam-plans-scrapped. More later.

The Sydney Morning Herald provides more details here. The Newcastle Herald has a pretty much identical story.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000

I am cross-posting this post on both my Personal Reflections and New England Australia blogs.

In earlier posts on both blogs (Meander, with a special focus on Ulrich Ellis, Blogging meander), I mentioned that my my focus in the New England history project had switched to social change in the period 1950-2000. As part of this, I have been bringing up relevant past posts and then repeating them with an introduction on the New England History blog.

Doing it this way, the posts do not constitute rigorous history. They also have a high personal component. Still, collectively they do build a picture. I have gone back and included the comments that the original posts attracted because they add to the picture.

Doing it this way also reveals gaps. There are elements that I have written on in glancing fashion only. I have to decide how to handle this.

The material that I am presenting may be partial but is, I think, unique and maybe even important. This may sound a large claim, so let me explain.

I think that the material is unique because I am trying to address a wide range of changes in an integrated way within a frame set by one broad and varied but linked area. In doing so, I am also trying to put those changes into an historical context. I am not sure, I stand to be corrected, that anyone else has attempted this.

I think that the material may be important because, in writing, I am trying to show how decisions made in government offices in Sydney or Canberra, in board rooms in Sydney, Melbourne, Dublin, Newcastle, Tamworth or Armidale, in Vatican City, can change lives for ever.

This is not a story of conspiracies, although some in New England may see or have seen it in that way. Helplessness in the face of sometimes diabolical change breeds conspiracy theories. Rather, it is the story of the way in which fundamental changes at different levels work themselves out on the ground.

It is also the story of the way in which ideas, abstractions, influence the way things work themselves: economic policy, industry policy, competition policy, free trade, protection, neoclassical economics, privatisation, the market, efficiency, effectiveness, outcomes, outputs etc, are all abstractions.

This is all dry stuff, but the BHP steelworks in Newcastle closes; councils are merged; colleges of advanced educations closed; county councils vanish; assets are sold; eras end so fast that nobody has time to notice.

As an historian writing on New England, I am not concerned with the rights and wrongs of particular ideas or policies, although I have views that I argue in other contexts. My job is to try to explain what happened from a New England perspective.

I recognise that my claims to possible uniqueness and Importance are substantial ones. I leave it up to you to make the decision. You will find the entry point for the on-going series here: Social change in New England 1950-2000 Introduction.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Problem with ABC's NSW Stateline

A number of people have complained to me about the lack of Northern NSW coverage on the ABC's Stateline program. Every so often you will get a big story such as Newcastle renewal hits the wall, but generally Northern issues are relegated to around the regions snippets.

The difficulty is that Stateline programs are, as the name says, state based programs. Sydney makes up the majority of the viewing audience, while the political stories are also generally Sydney-centric since that is the primary concern of those inhabiting Macquarie Street and the nearby Government offices.

This means that Northern NSW, the broader New England, rarely gets a look-in. Further, those stories that do run are highly localised.

Because I am presently living in Sydney I have some, if often marginal, interest in Sydney stories. However, like those who have complained to me, I get frustrated at the absence of reporting on the areas that I am really interested in.

What really gets up people's noses is that the million and a half or so people living in Northern NSW get only a tiny percentage of the local coverage as compared to, say, Tasmania or South Australia.

I suppose that it's too much to hope that we could get our own Northern NSW Stateline?  


As it happened, Stateline did run a Newcastle story Friday night linked to current Newcastle City Council troubles. It's not on-line yet.

Independents changing the face of politics, 5 November, was actually a New England story, although short on real context. The follow up interview with NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner can be found here.

On 1 October, Tillegra Dam under consideration reports on that Hunter project.

When I get a chance, I will work back through the NSW Stateline Archive to check in detail the full range of stories with some link to Northern NSW and the context.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Belshaw's World - short term gain, but lame in the long run

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 17 November 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

People are meant to become more conservative as they growing older. I seem to have gone in the opposite direction!

Like all of us, my own views span.

On some of the current symbolic issues such as the monarchy, I have become more conservative. I am far more pro-monarchy today than I was twenty years ago. On management and social policy issues, I have become more radical.

All this gives rise to an odd, sometimes uncomfortable, feeling. People attach labels. As a monarchist, I am expected to have all sorts of other views; often, I do not.

This column is not about the monarchy. I leave that to others to argue! I am simply using it as an illustration.

Many things combined to reshape my views. This column tells the story of one of those things.

After we first came down to Sydney, I did some outplacement work for a Sydney recruitment firm.

This was very much the modern white collar equivalent of piece work. The practice charged a fixed price for every candidate based on the package of services purchased. I was paid a proportion of this.

This made for a very unstable income. The money I earned depended on the work coming through the door and that fluctuated. It also meant that there was constant pressure to do things in minimum time.

Those selling the firm’s services were paid a percentage of sales. To get the sale, they would effectively price cut, selling the package that the client would accept even though they (the sales people) knew that more would be required.

This created a constant tension for those of us concerned with delivery. Did we deliver just the purchased package, or should we go beyond this to provide the extra support that we knew would be required?

If we did the second, we reduced our own incomes. Our hourly earnings fell, but we also tended to get less work since work was allocated first to the high producers.

The firm had a candidate focused ethos. This was more than just words. However, there was an irreconcilable conflict between the ethos and the firm’s business model.

Many of the candidates I dealt with were the human rubble remaining from organisational restructuring.

The 1980s were a period of fundamental change in the Australian economy. This change coincided with a global change in management approaches that emphasised efficiency, measurement and process. This was reflected in the way executives came to be rewarded by performance pay based on the achievement of generally short term targets.

The Keating recession, the one we had to have, reinforced the impact of the changes. Organisations cut staff and then cut again. New words emerged – process re-engineering, corporate restructuring, outplacement.

Markets rewarded corporations not just on the basis of past performance, but on the basis of prospective profits flowing from cost cutting.

New dynamics were created.

Announce a restructuring and cost cutting program and your share price will rise. Deliver by cutting costs sharply so that your immediate profits after redundancy costs rise. You have delivered, share prices rise. Performance bonuses based on profits and share prices rise.

In my outplacement work, I was dealing with those left behind.

The hardest case I had to deal with involved a senior manager retrenched by a national bank.

He left school early to join a bank. Over the next forty five years he rose through the ranks, mainly in administrative roles. His bank was his world.

Following a bank merger, his corporate position was abolished and he was retrenched. The personal effects were devastating, a devastation accentuated by his continuing failure to get another job. He was seen as just too old, lacking the skills required for a modern work place.

By the time I saw him, he was in a state of total despair. The hardest thing was just convincing him that he actually had still useful knowledge and skills.

This story actually had a happy ending, one not due to me. Fraud prevention, an area he had worked in, came into market demand. With skills short in this area, he was actually searched out and offered a job.

The work I did as an outplacement consultant was wearing, if sometimes satisfying. However, I found a bigger problem in the work.

By 1996, I was convinced that current management approaches could not work in the long term. They had, in fact, become a super Ponzi game.

I will explain why in my next column.

Newcastle Labor concerns

My thanks to hunternewsfeed for this one.

Poor Labor cannot put a foot right at the moment. It appears that the rank and file are upset over the decision not to run a pre-selection campaign in Jodi McKay's state Newcastle seat.

I am very careful on this blog to avoid party political positions, for this feeds into the issues I put on the table in yesterday's Wednesday Forum: Overcoming division.  By the way, I have already got some very good comments here that give me material for later discussion. But do feel free to comment further.

I haven't met Jodi McKay. I cannot make a judgement on her personal views. However, I would say that as Minister for the Hunter I would like to see more comment on the way that the Hunter might be developed. I would also like her to address the question of the way that the Hunter might better integrate with areas further north.

To the present, the focus has really been on the integration of Newcastle with the various Sydney metropolitan strategies. 

What about it Jodie? Willing to try something new?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday Forum: Overcoming division

I spend a fair bit of time researching New England's history. Division is one constant theme, division between towns and regions.

The Northern Tablelands' towns fought each other over the best location of the railway to the coast. The end result was no railway.

Towns fought each other over the location of facilities. The end result was poorer facilities.

Regions such as the Tablelands or Northern Rivers regarded each other's problems as separate even where particular activities or facilities actually depended on achieving a greater mass, one that could only be achieved through combined action.

Politicians and political parties have played off these divisions. In a world where power depends upon enough individual seats to gain a majority, they gave something here, took something there, all driven by the need to be in power. Today it is called the marginal seats approach, but it's not new.

Charting New England's relative and in some cases absolute decline over the last fifty years, I keep seeing things that could have been addressed by cooperative action, but failed in the absence of that action.

What do you think might be done to encourage unity on common problems? I have my own ideas, but would like to hear your views before putting pen to paper. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No post today

I did not post yesterday nor will I be posting today. I need time to catch up on other things, especially emails where I am miles behind. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More on New England's Battle Song

Back in February 2010 in Battle Song of New England I talked about  the New England New State anthem. I have reproduced the original post below so that you don't have to click back. Now I have more information on derivation.

Ulrich Ellis's biography (Ulrich Ellis, A Pen in Politics, Ginninderra Press, Charnwood ACT 2007) records:

One day, following my return to Canberra from the Armidale Convention (1949), I travelled to an East Gippsland development conference in Orbost. My companion was Leo Barry, of the Snowy River Shire Council, a tall, heavily built cattleman with a limp who called me before breakfast, at 6 a.m., waking me with a glass of whiskey. It was after my return journey with him from Orbost that I conceived the idea that I should write a song for the New England campaign. I transferred at Bombala to an old train and, while travelling towards Queanbeyan, at snail's pace, wrote on a piece of paper in my bag with the letterhead 'National Council of Women of the ACT' - my wife had been president of this body - the lines and chorus music of a battle song for New England. One of our friends in Canberra, Joy Harvie, wrote the music to accompany my verses but it was a long time - 1952 - until the song was endorsed by the New England Movement's executive. Since then other versions have been arranged, one of them by John Antill, who composed the music for the ballet Corroboree. (pp 212-213)   

I had no idea that there were other versions. Having heard the original, I would like to hear them.

The original post follows:       

The words and melody of the Battle Song of New England, the anthem of the New England New State Movement, were composed by Ulrich Ellis and arranged by Joy Harvie around 1952.

I first heard it as a sixteen year old at the convention in Armidale that launched Operation Seventh State, the major campaign that finally forced the first plebiscite. I say the first, because I still hope that there will be a second.

The Town hall was darkened, a spot light was shoe on the flag, and the battle song was sung by a very good singer. All very melodramatic, but effective none the less.  

The words of the New England Anthem follow:

Everywhere we hear a rousing song
Half a million people march along
New England is decreed
From the Hunter to the Tweed
Our cause is justly strong

We will raise the
Banner of New England
Work for New England
Fight for New England
We will raise the
Battle cry of freedom
Fight for our Liberty

Buccarumbi to Coraki
On the mountains you will hear the cry
Out upon the plain
You will hear it sung again
At Collarenebri

From the western borders to the sea
Tamworth links her fortunes with Taree
Thy join us in the fray
On the Hunter and Macleay
New England will be free

Where the Clarence sparkles in the sun
Where the Northern Rivers swiftly run
Where the Gwydir flows
By the cold Ben Lomond snows
Our Victories will be won

Soft Pacific breezes on the shore
Drive the fleecy breakers to a roar
Multiply and rise
Till they echo in the skies
They sing for evermore

The following reproductions from the Australian National Library show the original with music.

Sheet one


Sheet two


Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's in a name - the case of New England

It's very interesting the way definitions affect perceptions. The use and abuse of the name New England in Australia is a case in point, one that causes me constant problems.

Growing up, there were two New England's. The first, often called the New England, covered the Northern or New England Tablelands. The second, the name of the prospective new state, covered the Tablelands and the surrounding river valleys in NSW including the Hunter River.Flag

This map from the Sydney Morning Herald (1954) shows the boundaries of the broader New England as I knew them. This was also the map used on the back of new state envelopes and in publicity material.

When I began this blog to record, discuss and promote the life, culture and history of New England, I automatically used the broader definition. These are, with a few exceptions, the broader boundaries that set the geographic coverage of the history I am writing at the present time.

However, I now find that I face a real and continuing problem in the active denial of the validity of my use of the word New England.

The Wikipedia page on New England (New South Wales) can be taken as an example. While a little of the wording from my first personal edit explaining the broader concept,survives, my wording keeps on being edited to get rid of or limit any explanation or discussion of the broader concept. There, and in other discussions, there is an active denial that my use of the word New England has any validity. So let's look at a few facts.

The New England Tablelands, Australia's largest tablelands, does not as is often presented finish at the Queensland border, but extends into Queensland. If you want to talk about the New England region of NSW then it stops at the border. If you want to talk about the Tablelands in geographic terms, then you need to include the small portion in Queensland. Its actually very hard to find material on the Tablelands as a whole because of border truncation.

One of the issues I faced in defining the coverage of my general history was just how to treat the state border. It makes no sense to use a line on the map when that line did not exist for the Aborigines or for the early European settlers. For that reason, I define the broad field as the Tablelands and the river valleys to the east, west, south and north flowing from the Tablelands, linked geographic units. Once the border goes through and acquires political meaning, my focus narrows because of the political and other impacts of the border. Even then, I still have to deal with some Queensland issues.

One side effect of this is that I cannot call the book a history of Northern NSW because it both is and isn't.

Initially, the areas covered by the book were called variously the North, Northern Districts or Northern Provinces, a geographical descriptor obviously based on relative location to Sydney. The area covered by these terms essentially covered the area from but including the Hunter north and initially extended into what is now Queensland.

From the 1850s, the emergence of various pushes for self government for the North introduced another set of boundary issues, for the borders proposed varied over time. The early twentieth century movements all used the term the North, but the discussed boundaries often excluded the Hunter and sometimes the Manning. So now we have two if varying definitions of the North.

I had thought that the first recorded use of the name New England for the whole area came at the Maitland Convention in April 1931. However, I was wrong. It was the precursor Armidale convention in February 1931 that decided that the name New England should be applied to the whole area seeking self-government. The boundaries set included the whole North with the exception of a small area around Newcastle, with the proposed boundaries dissecting the Hunter.From this time, the name New England as well as the North came to be used for a variety of purposes.

The 1935 Nicholas Commission recommended boundaries for New England that included all the Hunter, but cut out some parts of the far west. These boundaries were accepted by the movement, 

New state agitation died down, but then resumed again at the end of the war. Again, the naming issue was addressed. At the 1949 Armidale convention delegates considered a range of names. New England topped the poll with seventy five votes, followed by Oxley with thirty-one. Use of the name New England to describe the whole of the North in a particular context continued.

Following the defeat at the 1967 plebiscite, the movement maintained the name but redefined the boundaries to exclude the Hunter. There were now three geographic versions of New England, again two versions of the North. When the movement collapsed exhausted, use of the name New England progressively contracted towards the Tablelands. The name North continued if, in a somewhat attenuated form, to describe the whole area up to the Queensland border.

All this creates considerable complications from my viewpoint.

At a purely personal level, I continue to use the names New England and the North interchangeably as I have done all my life, using the term that makes the most sense at the time.

At a professional level, I use the term New England in discussions on developments prior to 1788. It's not a perfect term, after all it is a European descriptor, but it has the advantage of geographic specificity. From 1788 to 1931 I generally use the term the North since that was the most common descriptor unless the context demands another term. After 1931, I use both New England and the North, with the term used depending upon the context.

At both a professional and personal level, I find that I get annoyed when people want to apply current usage to the past despite the sometimes invalidity of so doing.

New England is not just the Tablelands. The North is not just Northern NSW. The New England Tablelands do not finish at the Queensland border. And so it goes on.          

Friday, November 19, 2010

Blogging meander

This morning I had to go into the city for a meeting with a client on an on-line information project, then to Ashfield for lunch. Tomorrow I go to Newcastle for a new state meeting, so I'm kind of time squeezed.

There is just so much wonderful stuff around to write about that time is an issue.

In Is the New England lion Finnish? I reported on follow up to my radio interview on ABC New England North West. A little later Max Ellis contacted me and then sent me a copy of his Dad's autobiography, A Pen in Politics, a book that I had wanted to get for some time.

I reported on my initial reactions to the book in a post on my personal blog, Meander, with a special focus on Ulrich Ellis.I read the book on the bus this morning, I read it wandering through the city streets to the office, I read it on the train to Ashfield and then waiting in the office foyer for my colleague, I finished it on the train back to Central. 

Part of the interest, of course, lies in my own knowledge of history and of Ulrich and the people he was writing about. These are not just names, but people who occupied a place for both good and evil in my own personal firmament. But it's still a good read.

  The book will force me to change some of my writing, for in spots I can see that I was just wrong.

In terms of my New general England history project, and as I mentioned in the Ellis post, I have shifted my focus for the moment to the social history of New England in the period 1950-2000. Social Change in New England 1950-2000 2: Don Aitkin's What was it all for? reports on a study that is both a local story, that of the Armidale High School Leaving Certificate Class of 1953, and a major piece of work on social change at national level.

I am the type of person who needs a degree of externally imposed deadlines to keep me focused. I therefore emailed colleagues at UNE offering to give a seminar paper on New England social history 1955-2000 in the School of Humanities Classics and History Seminar Series next year. If I give the paper, it will be co-badged with the History Futures Research Centre; I am an adjunct of the School and a member of the HFRC.

Miss Eagle liked my post Round the New England media 13 Nov 10. She wrote:

I just l-o-v-e-d this post. As a small town girl trapped in a big city (Melbourne) I loved this round up. My favourites were the Tweed Heads tourist road idea and the need for the scales at Byron. Please keep up this excellent work.

Now, I wonder if there could be imitators for a communal blog with round-ups (rounds-up?!) like this. But then perhaps the northern NSW coastal strip is a world of its own!

I tried to answer the second as best I could.

It's actually quite difficult to do both media and blog round-ups because of the time involved. They tend to slip for that reason. Still, I might aim to make them fortnightly on alternative weeks.

I am not sure who J Bar is beyond the fact that he has a photo blog, Sydney - City and Suburbs, that I sometimes follow. It was therefore nice to get a general positive comment attached to one story, Wollombi Corroboree 2010.

Over lunch at Ashfield, my colleague commented on just how much I wrote. There is a serious purpose to my writing, but I also write because it's fun!  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wollombi Corroboree 2010

My thanks to Peter Firminger for this one. This is the video from this year's Wollombi Corroboree. You can learn more from the Wollombi Valley Arts Council web site

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Belshaw's World - inner city dwellers put the choke on car ownership

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 10 November 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

The city of Sydney describes itself as a city of villages. I would argue that Sydney as a whole is better described as a city of tribes.

Saturday we drove to Galston, an hour’s drive north from where we live, for an engagement party for one of Helen’s school friends.

It was raining as we battled our way through the traffic, finally reaching the far Northern suburbs.

This is mixed country on the urban fringe. Huge houses on tiny blocks sit cheek by jowl with the semi-rural.

Sydney has been wet, very wet. The party was held at an old nursery; its established old gardens were very green and really quite beautiful in the drifting rain.

The engagement itself was a mixed one, crossing two of Sydney’s most deeply entrenched tribal barriers.

The groom to be comes from Galston , the bride to be comes from the Eastern Suburbs, a geographically bound area that looks to the sea and the shops.

Galston and the surrounding areas are very different. Here people have been attracted by somewhat cheaper housing and the chance to enjoy a more rural life style.

I drifted between the two groups, listening to the differing conversations: the importance of the sea and good coffee (Eastern Suburbs); getting eggs from a neighbour (Galston); school stories from both, but again very different in terms of location and topic.

Today, Sydney dominates the NSW population. This was not true in the past.

Sydney once had less than half of the state population. The population of Northern NSW alone was once larger than that of Sydney. As a consequence, a remarkable number of Sydney families actually have a country connection.

The grandfather of the bride to be grew up in the dairying areas of the North Coast where his father managed butter factories. The other side came from the central west. Again, there were differences between the two tribes.

The Eastern Suburbs’ country connection is more remote.

When we first moved there, I was struck by the number of people who were second, third or even fourth generation Eastern Suburbs, whose partners were also Eastern Suburbs. You just don’t get the population turnover that you find in, say, Armidale. This makes for a certain parochialism.

The Galston country connection is more recent. Some of those I talked to still had working farms. Unexpectedly, I found myself rolling a cigarette (I can still do this, just) and chatting about shooting, feral pests, water buy-backs, the ending of the drought and current grain prices.

The contrast couldn’t have been greater.

One of the things that fascinates me as a social analyst is the way that Sydney’s tribes reinforce themselves. Take the Inner West as an example.

Those coming here are attracted by the inner-urban life style. They are likely to be less interested in the sea, more by certain ways of living. They are also likely to come from certain occupations such as the public service and the caring professions and have certain common attitudes. In turn, this attracts more people of like minds.

After each census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes a social atlas for Sydney. This looks at a whole series of statistical indicators. You can actually map the tribes of Sydney from those indicators.

Sydney’s tribalisation is interesting, but it also creates problems for those who live elsewhere in ways we don’t always see.

Take a simple thing like car ownership.

Cars are important to those in the country. Statistically, the proportion of the population with driving licenses and cars is very high.

By contrast, in the inner city with its better public transport, the proportion of the population owning cars is lower and declining. This affects public policy.

Inner city attitudes to the car are very different from those holding elsewhere. They seek to control and limit motor vehicles, they support restrictions intended to reduce death rates, they are pro-pedestrian.

The things they argue for are not necessarily bad. It’s just that their needs and attitudes are different from those who depend on the car.

Objectively, they can see the importance of motor vehicles to people who do not have access to public transport. Subjectively, they downplay this in their own minds.

Inner city people are articulate and, on average, better educated than the population as a whole. They also have better access to the levers of influence, including the public servants who live among them. Increasingly, they set the agenda in this area.

While one can debate the costs and benefits of each measure, the practical effect is to make it more difficult and expensive to get and hold a license, more expensive to buy and run a car. This disadvantages those most dependant on the car and especially those on lower incomes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paul Barratt's Travelling North

Like me, Paul Barratt is a New England émigré. Like me, he bangs the drum on New England issues.
Travelling North tells the story of his latest return to his homeland.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Update on The Save Bellingen Hospital Campaign

It's been a while since I reported on the campaign to Save Bellingen Hospital.

If I understand the campaign Facebook page and official website correctly, real action on the official side appears to have been in a state of stasis pending the formation  of the area health network, with campaign actions focused there plus continuing efforts to help the hospital.

In the meantime, problems at Coff's Harbour continue the pressure to re-open Bellingen Hospital's Emergency Department. I thought here that I would just quote a recent entry from the Facebook page.

Jenny Edman: Have just read todays Advocate, so a few weeks ago Coffs Campus was inundated with sick people, surely that should send a message to the NCHS that Bellingen needs to open it's ED department, if our locals had to travel all the way from Dorrigo or Bellingen to have to wait up to 9 hrs to be seen by a Dr is ridiculous, shame a 100 fold on NCHS, until next year it is still working for the mid north coast.

Frank Bolte: What do you mean Dorrigo people can't even get to bello or C/h Monday to fridays during the day. Waterfall way is closed. I feel sorry for them

Mary Peters: i waited five hours / ambulance refused to take me to bello hosp! i wasnt seen i got back to bello myself for injection because of anaphalactic reaction! im disgusted... as i could see for myself how many ppl in waiting and in ed / no one saw anyone in that five hours where was the doctors! four nurses pushing an empty bed laughing and police standing there with ambos discussing how bad the system is all in earshot of the patients / simply a disgrace really!

Tasha Lee: What about dundurrabin thats 20 mins from dorrigo. i am due to give birth in febuary thats a looong drive to a woman in labour and i read last week there wasnt even a peadeatrician on duty for a full week they were sending women to john hunter hospital to give birth. now if i even make the hour and a half trip down the mountain into coffs im not going to make it to john hunter especialy considering my last daughter was born in bello 20mins after i arrived total labour time 1hour 20 mins. not knowing where my baby will be born is causing a great deal of anxiety for me

For those who don't know the area at all:

  • When the mountain road is closed, the nearest hospital to Dorrigo is in Armidale, 124k or 1hour 40 away by car. 
  • When the mountain road is open, Dorrigo is 29k, roughly 21 minutes, from Bellingen. If you come from other parts of the Dorrigo such as Dundurrubin, then extra travel time is involved; Dorrigo sits at one side of the Plateau adjacent to the escarpment to the coast.
  • Bellingen is 35k, 32 minutes from Coffs. Dorrigo is 64k from Coffs, 53 minutes, plus any travel time from elsewhere on the Plateau.

All distances and drive times are approximate depending on location and weather.

Some of these drive times may not so sound long to Sydneysiders with the city's traffic congestion. However:

  • Those in the area have seen the closure first of the Dorrigo hospital and then the downgrading of Bellingen Hospital through centralisation of services, adding to the time and difficulty of accessing hospital services. Obviously, those on the Dorrigo plateau have suffered the greatest impact.
  • Coffs Harbour Hospital is large and over-stretched. There are simply not the alternative nearby base hospitals that you would find in Sydney. John Hunter, the other hospital mentioned, is in Newcastle, a five hour drive away. If you have to travel that distance, I would have thought Armidale a better option, although it may not have the capacity.
  • Not everybody has access to cars. Public transport is limited, taxis expensive. I am not sure how many ambulances are available, but I would have thought that the number was not large relative to potential peak demand.

The crux of the Bellingen argument, then, is not just that they have been losing services, but that everybody in the Valley and on the Plateau, and indeed the whole Coffs Harbour hospital catchment area, would be better off if certain services were restored to Bellingen Hospital.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Round the New England media 13 Nov 10

It's actually been five months since my last snap shot of some of the stories across New England.

In Lismore, the Northern Star reports that about one-fifth of Lismore’s water is being lost because of cracks in the council’s ageing pipes, with almost 60 per cent of water in Nimbin leaking before it reaches homes. The water lost, about 18% of the total, is worth an estimated $1.5 million per annum. In a comment on the story, Cletus huffed:

Why worry about infrastructure in a crumbling city when we could have a shiny new art gallery so the hobnobs and city officials can eat cheese and drink wine while getting their pictures taken for the local papers.

The Northern Star also reports that the police had a weighty problem when their scales proved inadequate to weigh a crop of seized cannabis. Fortunately  a local green grocer came to the rescue!

In nearby Bryon Bay, environmental issues continue to be important. Here the Echo quotes State Green's member David Shoebridge on planning issues:

‘It is simply outrageous that the developers can choose to bypass Byron Council and have their development assessed by the Minister for Planning. Why should a Minister in Sydney decide West Byron development?’ said Mr Shoebridge.

In an opinion piece, Echo editor Michael McDonald calls for the legalisation or at least decriminalisation of marijuana. "It’s probably flogging a dead horse", he says, " but we ageing Bohemians tend to swim against the tide of conformity as a matter of habit."

I find that Michael has an Echo blog. I have added it to the list. I do like like the idea of an aging bohemian!

North in Tweed Heads on the border, the Tweed heads Daily reports that three decades after Simon Anderson revolutionised surfing with his thruster surfboard, surfers are returning to the board designs it almost wiped out. It is, apparently, good news for shapers like Full Force owner Scott Barber because it makes working life a lot more interesting: "thrusters didn't suit everyone", Scott said. Now "many surfers had turned back the clock and wanted to ride single fin and twin fin boards again."

Staying in the Tweed, Tweed Tourism is hoping a Federal Government-funded project will put Tweed on the map for driving holidays. Richmond MP Justine Elliot and Senator Nick Sherry have joined forces to create the $670,000 project named the Legendary Pacific Coast Touring Route.The aim is to encourage people to jump in their cars and drive the corridor between Sydney and Brisbane.

I was a bit surprised at this one. As expressed, it didn't seem to make a great deal of sense given existing congestion on the Highway. Maybe I'm missing something.

Staying in the Northern Rivers but moving south to the Clarence, the Grafton Daily Examiner reports that Doctors are keen on the new GP super clinic due to begin construction shortly. According to the project manager, one "remote doctor is looking forward to moving closer to the coast and Grafton is very appealing in itself ... it has good schools and is a nice town.”

This seems a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Grafton is indeed a nice city. However, the attraction of doctors from one area of need to another is a zero sum game. We need more doctors in New England full stop, something that I have commented on before.

Moving west to Moree, the Moree Champion reports on the death Maynie Mavis Jean Saunders, nee Cutmore, who played a significant role in improving local race relations over the last 60 years. Moree has a very large Aboriginal population, over 22% of the total Shire population. It was the centre of the famous Sydney University student rides of the 1960s. It would be nice to see a fuller obituary on Mrs Saunders' death.

Staying in Moree, a steering committee has been nominated to help oversee an operational future for the Dhiiyaan Indigenous Centre. I have written a little on this one before. I don't understand the local issues surrounding the Centre. I do understand that the Centre has played an important role in family reunion, family history and the promotion of Kamilaroi identity. Hopefully, the new steering committee will make some progress.

At a time when so many small country communities have been in decline, it is good to see from theGolden Grain Hotel Pallamallawa Champion that Pallamallawa has been growing. Located some 30km east of Moree on the banks of the Gwydir River, 2km off the Gwydir Highway between Moree and Inverell, the village seems quite dynamic. 

The photo shows English backpacker Matt Simpson with Golden Grain Hotel owner Adrian Johns, open and ready for business. Good to see a backpacker get that far west.

Staying in the inland, I don't think that the weekly Coonabarabran Times is online, something that is unusual in this day and age. However, ABC New England Northwest certainly is

In a sign of the times, Glen Innes based Eastmon Photos will close its six retail stores in Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Glen Innes, Inverell and Tamworth with the loss of 30 jobs. Eastmon can no longer compete with the on-line photo developing market.

ABC also reports that Armidale born chemist and microbiologist Professor Jillian Banfield has received two of the world's most prestigious scientific awards.They are the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science, plus one of five L'Oreal-UNESCO awards recognising exceptional women in science. Congratulations.

It has been a long time since the Murray-Darling system experienced a really big flood. For this to happen, you need saturated ground followed by more rain. A report in the Northern Daily Leader suggests that Tamworth now risks a perfect flood. The entire Peel River catchment, from the head of the Peel at Nundle, and all tributary rivers all the way to the Tamworth levee bank, is at saturation point. Every on-farm storage, dam, creek and Chaffey Dam are at full capacity. And the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts Tamworth is likely to receive up to 300mm by the end of January.

The rain also threatens the grain crop. After the best winter season in living memory, continued wet conditions are now damaging the crop.

It's not just in the Hunter Valley that coal gas seam projects are causing trouble. The proposal by Eastern Star Gas to build a pipeline to carry gas from ESG’s Narrabri coal seam gas project to a proposed gas-fired power station at Wellington has been met by protests from local farmers. However, the Eastern Star approach seems a little different from that adopted in the Hunter. Eastern Star's John Anderson stated: "As a home-grown Narrabri company which plans to have a long-term presence in the region, we are determined to work closely with the local community on a permanent basis.”

Turning now to the Mid North Coast, the Bellingen Courier-Sun reports on the planned opening of the final 400m stage of the Urunga Boardwalk which now extends for almost 1km from Urunga township to the Pacific Ocean, terminating on a viewing platform resting on top of the training wall.

In Bellingen, around 100 residents gathered in Church Street Friday 5 November to oppose a proposal by Council to progressively remove camphor laurel trees from the café precinct.

This one pits different environmental views against each other. Greens Councillor Sean Tuohy (the only councilors present) said he voted for the removal of the camphor laurels because “I regard them as a weed that destroys the environment”. This view was not shared by those protesting. “If you’re a Green, stand up for the trees.”

Staying with environmental issues, the Macleay Argus reports on the spread of the noxious tropical soda apple weed in the upper Macleay.

Farmers first noticed the weed growing in the area about three years ago, but it is the past 12 months that have been of most concern. A five-fold increase in the number of plants led the Mid North Coast Weeds Committee to develop an emergency control plan to try to halt the spread which threatens prime agricultural land.  Crews from all over New England have joined the effort, but more help is needed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Round the New England blogging traps 20 - potpourri

I am very behind at the moment on everything, including posts on this blog. Still, I wanted to do a quick New England blog round-up since it is over three weeks since my last one. 

My blog reporting really is a bit of a hit and miss affair. It's not just that it's sometimes irregular, more that I don't know how representative my coverage is, given that blogs rise and fall all the time. At present I have fifty blogs on my list. That may sound like a lot, but its actually not once I exclude blogs that haven't posted since my previous round-up. I really need to do some more blog searches to find out just what I'm missing.

As you might expect, the inclusion of Newcastle in Lonely Planet's top ten cities list has attracted attention and not just from me.

On Canon of Medicine 2.0, a blog written by a student from Sydney now doing medicine at the University of Newcastle, the news was greeted with acclaim. In Lonely Planet: Newcastle one of the hottest cities in the world!?, Marcus Westbury responded in a similar if lengthier way. He put his views about Newcastle this way:

I love Newcastle. I love its culture. I love its creativity. I love its natural environment. I love it’s old buildings. I love its fading beauty. I love its creative community. I love its unpretentious awesomeness.

Craig Wilson from Media Hunter joined the chorus. In Newcastle named among world’s best cities by Lonely Planet, he wrote among other things:  

I’m proud to come from Newcastle. It’s town that has never had it easy. We’ve taken our lumps over the years (earthquake, major industry withdrawal, flooding) and have been poorly neglected by government at both State and Federal level despite contributing significantly to the economy. We don’t complain, and we just smile at those who condescendingly dismiss Newcastle as an unfashionable old steel town.

Why? Because we all know how bloody good it is to live here. And now Lonely Planet is letting the cat out of the bag.

Those who read this blog will know that I am not a Newcastle person, coming from further North. Still, I know the city well. My own biased take was set out in my Armidale Express column:

As it happened, Monday’s announcement by Lonely Planet that Newcastle had been listed as one of the world’s top ten cities for travel in 2011 has really put the cat among the pigeons when it comes to tourism promotion.

In the parlance so beloved by officialdom, NSW has two tourism brands, Brand NSW and Brand Sydney. Both brands are tired, neither has worked very well.

There has been little room in this two brand world for a more differentiated tourism strategy. Newcastle people have long complained about this.

Now, in a single blow, Lonely Planet has created a third and rival brand, Brand Newcastle based on life style and the visitor experience. I think that that’s a good thing.

And so I do!

I have only just discovered Marcus Westbury's blog. I had never heard of the Renew Newcastle Movement, nor of the plan to take the Movement national. Wow. Here is something that I must write about. In the meantime, please visit Marcus's blog.

In 5 facts about digital life – post #14 on Media Hunter, Craig has continued his fact series. While the individual facts sometimes seem trivial, they provide a picture of the evolving digital world. You can find the whole series here.

When Craig first began, the blog provided information and comment on the Northern media. This has dropped away for reasons that I can understand.

This is a professional blog linked to Sticky Media. Craig may be a proud Novocastrian, but his firm operates in a national and global marketplace. He needs to reflect that. Further, and as I know from my own experience in operating a national consulting business out of Armidale, to be typed as local or even regional can be a kiss of death in a nation that counts everything outside the main metro centres as second rate.

Changing directions entirely, Jeremy Fisher is a writer and Senior Lecturer in Writing at the University of New England. Until December 2009 he was the Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors. As you might expect, his blog is about writers and writing. Just at present, his posting is irregular. I hope that that changes.

20100925-13-42-08-mt-hyland-nature-reserve--in-the-rainforest--fungus Bronwyn Parry is another New England writer, one that I mention often. Bronwyn hasn't been well; Deadline distractions - and a winner records her efforts to progress her latest book before her operation. We wish her well.

On lookANDsee, Gordon Smith, Bronwyn's partner, continues his photographic exploration of the Northern Tablelands, this time with a focus on fungus. 

This mean looking creature is a bracket fungus.

There is a fair bit of angst around the Hunter just at present on environmental issues. On the Newcastle Australia photo blog, Julia uses irony in a plea for better planning. By the way Julia, just at the moment, whenever I click on a photo or a post title or archive on the side bar, even if I click on comment, I get a message asking me if I want to make a particular web address as home page. Something wrong?

On Wollombi Valley (and on Facebook too), Peter Firminger continues to support the campaign against coal seam gas mining. Sharyn Munro (The woman on the mountain) shares Peter's general environmental concerns. In Scenic drive she records  her reactions at the drive through the Hunter valley's open cut mines.

It's actually quite hard for someone not living in the Hunter Valley to keep track of all the environmental and planning issue around at the present time. There are just so many of them.

Staying in the Hunter but with an Armidale link, in the Ultimate Shehan, Bolting Bear records a very strange dream he had. The story begins: 

I took a nap this afternoon after returning to the hostel, and I had a dream.

Basically I was in a small house with two companions, a male rhinoceros and a female pygmy elephant, both capable of speech. They were actually intergalactic warriors on some mission, but they had taken those forms for some reason that now escapes my memory.

Now if this were my daughter, I would say that she had been watching too much Sanctuary!

In Voting, Bolting Bear explains his reservations about voting. He also notes that he thought of joining Sporting Shooters Association of Australia upon his return to Armidale, but was puzzled about the views of the Shooters & Fishers Party on immigration. Indeed, he wondered why they had a policy on this issue at all.

While it does seem like a reasonable statement, personally I suspect that people are uncomfortable with immigration because of the increase in numbers of ethnic minorities and foreign cultural practices, rather than an actual fear of a shortage of resources. We export a lot of food, and my understanding is that there are skills shortages in a number of different fields, Medicine being one. Also there is the ageing population.

Reading Bolting Bear, he is into hunting but with bow and arrow. It's clearly a very modern bow complete with lights and a sight. However, I did wonder whether or not there might be a possible link with my old Armidale blogging friend Le Loup and A Woodsrunner's Diary.  I really do enjoy this blog. While I have no desire to get dressed in historical clothes and go adventuring with historical equipment, it is fun to read.

Turning to matters political, and as I have already mentioned on my personal blog, North Coast Voices has just turned three. My congratulations.

It has, I think, been a little while since I mentioned Lynne. In nellibellingen she has continued to record details of her life in the Bellinger Valley. One thing that struck me, though, in A WEEKEND ALONE was the cost of the bus fare between Bellingen and Armidale.

The two places are 154k apart, around the same distance as between Sydney and Newcastle. The return train fare between Sydney and Newcastle is $15.60. The return bus fare to Armidale is $90. Yes, there is more traffic on the Newcastle-Sydney run. However, train fares are subsidised, bus fares are not. It's one og the things that makes life difficult.

Enough for now.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Belshaw's World - not such a lonely planet in a cafe full of cobbers

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 3 November 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

Eighteen months ago we promised to take Clare (youngest) to Greece. She is studying Ancient History at Macquarie University.

It proved to be a bit of a battle to get there, but we had promised, and finally we went. In doing so, we decided to focus on the Greek Islands. I had always been interested in the Islands, partly for historical reasons, partly because they are the ancestral home of so many Australians of Greek descent.

I write a fair bit about history because I love it. That’s one of the things I can blame on my old school history teacher, George Crossle!

The history was fun.

The Greek Islands are saturated in history. Each island has its own history, stretching back thousands of years.

The ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri on Santorini had running water several thousand years before Armidale! Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

The sea was central to Akrotiri’s prosperity. Its merchants traded across the ancient seas, visiting exotic lands. The things they saw were recorded in art, some of which has survived to this day.

The history of the Greek Islands is a bloody one. The sea could bring prosperity, but it also brought threats. Over the years, competition among the varying powers led to occupation and re-occupation of the various islands. Long periods of peace were followed by bloody war.

There is something very modern about this competition. It resonates.

Venice acquired control of Crete in 1204AD as part of the distribution of spoils that followed the sack of Constantinople. Like the Athenians before and the British later, the Venetian maritime empire depended on trade and control of the sea. Huge fortresses were built, but in the end power depended on the navy.

Venice’s strategic position was always complicated. It was constantly threatened by bigger powers, caught in the ever changing web of political and religious rivalries between east and west.

Venice responded with a mixture of force and diplomacy. To assist this, a constant stream of secret intelligence and diplomatic reports flowed back to the city from different parts of its empire and beyond.

Today, visitors to Venice or to the old Venetian provincial city of Rethymno on Crete marvel at the faded grandeur. What struck me was just how long Venice survived. After all, it ruled Crete for four hundred years.

Despite my interest in history, my attention was constantly attracted by other things.

I was travelling with four women, all addicted to shopping. I suspect I speak for most males when I say that shopping is not a spectator sport. Still, this gave me plenty of time to gaze around, to watch the passing parade.

Tourism is central to the Greek economy, more so to the Greek Islands. Many of those islands would have been completely de-populated without the combination of tourism with remittances home from migrants in countries such as Australia.

Partly because of our high dollar, the Australian presence is very noticeable.

On Santorini, I was attracted to a local café by a huge din. I found myself watching the last five minutes of the first AFL grand final, surrounded by fellow Australians. Not one but two cafes broadcast it live. Both were crowded.

Over the trip I chatted to many tourists from various nationalities including Australian, asking what drew them to the Greek Islands. Of course they all mentioned things such as ancient sites, but in the end it came down to what I can only describe as the experience.

I have suggested before in this column that one of the reasons for failure in New England and NSW tourism lies in out failure to focus on the tourist experience. We obsess about attractions and events, but lose sight of the broader picture.

As I watched and chatted on the various islands, I started jotting down notes for a new series on tourism promotion. Then, when I came back, I got out the guide books to compare the Australian and Greek equivalents. The comparisons were quite stark; Northern NSW really suffers as compared to its Greek equivalents.

As it happened, Monday’s announcement by Lonely Planet that Newcastle had been listed as one of the world’s top ten cities for travel in 2011 has really put the cat among the pigeons when it comes to tourism promotion.

In the parlance so beloved by officialdom, NSW has two tourism brands, Brand NSW and Brand Sydney. Both brands are tired, neither has worked very well.

There has been little room in this two brand world for a more differentiated tourism strategy. Newcastle people have long complained about this.

Now, in a single blow, Lonely Planet has created a third and rival brand, Brand Newcastle based on life style and the visitor experience. I think that that’s a good thing.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Belshaw's World - Obsessions with Reading

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express. 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

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 Personal Reflections in August 2009.

There was a time in recent years when reading, other than that which had to be done, dropped away. Reading for pleasure diminished to a small field; fantasy, a few pot boilers, re-reading old favourites. The last was really dominant. I knew the books, they were old friends, and I could escape drifting within the covers without thinking too much.

Today reading has once again become a passion, although the focus this time is mainly non-fiction. Writing, more accurately the desire to write, has been the driver. I am always looking for new ideas, as well as material to support or deepen my understanding of particular topics.

When I began what I now call my train reading, reading on the train to and from work, I did read a lot linked to the history of New England. However, I also deliberately chose older books from my shelves that I had not read before, books that had come to me from family collections.

My choices could only have been described as somewhat eclectic, deliberately chosen so as to be outside my immediate interests. A funny thing happened. I started choosing other books that might compliment in some way those that I had already read; a book chosen almost at random became the start of a chain.

Outside New England history, my train reading is not meant to be highly structured. I find it interesting that, despite my best efforts, it has started to connect and re-connect. It has, in fact, become a little world of its own: books widely separated in time, space and subject matter link in unexpected ways.

This world is sometimes far more interesting than the world around me. I become absorbed, lost. On the train I sometimes look up to find people watching me. No, I am not talking to myself, although I have to watch this given my habit when alone of saying things out loud just to taste the sounds. Rather, the sight of someone obviously absorbed and sometimes scribbling always attracts attention.

Strange this obsession with thought.

To this point most of my writing and thought has been object focused, deadline driven: prepare this briefing by, complete this advice by, make so many calls by.

I still keep time sheets, although I break time into ten minute blocks rather than the decimal based six minutes so loved by lawyers and accountants. To my mind, six minutes is just too short to have real meaning. However, now my time sheets actually record my growing obsession with reading and writing, as do my to do lists. Other things struggle to get in!

The real joy of my train reading is the freedom to go in any direction I want, to follow through threads that I would otherwise ignore. I actually have to discipline myself to do this. There are rules.

I will not read work related matter on the train unless I have a pressing deadline. I ration my New England history reading and also things like reading the Financial Review. Mind you, sometimes I actually have to allocate time to my straight professional reading because I realise that it is getting lost.

My train reading is a liberal education, a chance to explore. The act of selecting a book that I have not read and might not otherwise do so forces me into new ways. This is reading with purpose but without objective. This is luxury reading.

I am, fortunately, a very fast reader. Over the last few years my reading skills had actually dropped. I was still fast, but was in clear decline. Now my reading speeds are back to something approaching their old levels. This adds to my enjoyment.

I charge through a book, then stop, go back, find a linked point. Then onwards. Sometimes I stop and just muse.

You cannot read the way I do on-line. With exceptions, the computer is just too slow. The key exception is graphic rich text where the computer's bigger screen makes it easier to see things.

Recently I have been sorting books, discovering new ones that I have not read. I wonder, what next to select?

Mulling over water

Delayed in posting because I have been researching and writing a longish post revisiting New England's water wars. It's one of those issues that's been niggling at me for a little while.

I do hope to complete the post today, but it may be tomorrow.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Is the New England lion Finnish?

Yesterday in Saving New England from the dump heap of history I said that I had just done a short radio spot with Kelly Fuller on ABC New England North West on new state symbols. Finnish-colour-shield_31920109

I was pleased to find that ABC has put up a page on the story. This includes a mp3 of the interview with me plus an earlier conversation between Kelly and Max Ellis.

The interview with Max contains a very new piece of information. The New England lion was based not as I had thought on the Scottish and English lions, but on the Finnish lion! 

Now that's a new twist. There appear to be various versions of the Finnish lion; the graphic shows one.

Certainly the Finnish lion is a fearsome beast. Maybe that's just as well as we try to cut ourselves lose from NSW!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Saving New England from the dump heap of history

This morning I did a short radio spot with Kelly Fuller on ABC New England North West on new state symbols, a spot triggered by When was the New England rampant lion first raised?. She had already followed up with Max Ellis, Ulrich Ellis's son. Ulrich both devised the flag and wrote the lyrics for the New State anthem.

Listening to the broadcast, Max apparently has a recording of the anthem being sung that he is going to lend to Kelly. I will follow up with her to see if we can have it put on line. Given my voice, I dare not try to sing it myself!  

Those who are interested in the words and lyrics can find them in Battle Song of New England.

You know, it's interesting. Slowly but surely we are bringing New England's past back from the historical dump heap to which it had been assigned under the influence of changing historical fashions.  

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wednesday Forum: Leveraging Newcastle's inclusion in the Lonely Planet global top ten cities

In Newcastle makes Lonely Planet top ten global cities, 2011, I said of Newcastle's inclusion in the Lonely Planet 2011 top ten global cities from a visitor perspective:

I really was pleased, although the gains will be affected by the NSW Government's response. The biggest risk is that it will simply build the decision into its Brand Sydney strategy, essentially promoting Newcastle as a place to visit from Sydney rather than an end destination in its own right.

If it does this, benefits to Newcastle will be reduced because more people will come on short trips, fewer to stay. Just as bad, it will further increase the fragmentation in tourism promotion further north, splitting Newcastle from its hinterland.

What do you think that Newcastle might do to gain maximum benefits from its inclusion in the Lonely Planet top ten list? 

Blog Performance October 2010

stats Oct 10 2 The graphic shows blog traffic over the year ending October 2010. Yellow visits, yellow plus red page views.

In my last post on September traffic, I noted that after the big traffic increase in August, September numbers were down, in part I thought because I was away and could not post.

The decline continued in October. Hopefully, November will be better. 

The ten most popular posts over September were:

Excluding search engine traffic, the most referrals came from:

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Newcastle makes Lonely Planet top ten global cities, 2011

The news that Lonely Planet has ranked Newcastle number nine on its 2011 global list of best cities to visit has met with a mixed reaction in Sydney to the south. That city missed out again.

I really was pleased, although the gains will be affected by the NSW Government's response. The biggest risk is that it will simply build the decision into its Brand Sydney strategy, essentially promoting Newcastle as a place to visit from Sydney rather than an end destination in its own right..

If it does this, benefits to Newcastle will be reduced because more people will come on short trips, fewer to stay. Just as bad, it will further increase the fragmentation in tourism promotion further north, splitting Newcastle from its hinterland.   

Monday, November 01, 2010

A 1954 Sydney view of the New England New State Movement

Browsing the Sydney Morning Herald, I found this article from Monday 18 October, 1954. The slightly bemused tone is reasonably representative of SMH reporting of the time. Acceptance of the arguments, but somewhat dismissive of the outcome.


New England's Golden Lion Is Determined


New Englanders, or at least a goodly number of them, have chosen a golden lion rampant as the symbol of their desire for secession from the State of New South Wales.

Their lion, an angry beast with all claws extended, stands upright and brandishes a sword.

By contrast, the golden lion gardant on the N.S.W. coat-of-arms seems apprehensive; it clutches the State shield with both paws and looks back warily over its own shoulder.

That, at any rate, is the wishful interpretation of the two lions by members of the New England New State Movement.

Their description of New England's lion is justified by their own vigour and self-confidence; but their description of the N.S.W. lion is a little misleading.

The New Staters arc indeed vigorous. During the last five years, they have sent a deputation to the Federal Government, appealed by petition to the N.S.W. Government, and held their own referenda to demonstrate New England's desire for self-government.

They have, strangely enough, persuaded visiting Texas oil man, Mr. Hugh Cullen, to inform President Eisenhower of their movement.

They have asked Sir Winston Churchill, as a representative of Old England, to visit New England; they wear their own badge (gilt lion on a white ground); and they will soon fly their own flag (yellow lion on pale blue).

At their annual convention in December, they will plan a representative assembly, a shadow parliament as it were, for New England.

The N.S.W. Government is not quite so worried by this activity as the appearance of its lion gar- dant would suggest. The Premier has ignored New England's petition; and his Minister for Local Government has tried to deter New England municipal and shire councils from holding referenda.

Undeterred, the New State Movement will soon make an ap proach to the Crown. This approach cannot succeed, though, unless the N.S.W. Government is prepared to co-operate. According to the Australian Constitution, New England cannot secede with out the consent of the N.S.W. Parliament.

New England State, as envisaged by the movement, would far exceed the present boundaries of the New England region. New England is a plateau 100 miles wide and 180 miles long, bounded on the south by the Moonbi Ranges and on the north by the Queensland border. It includes the towns of Walcha, Guyra, Uralla, Inverell, Glen Innes and Tenterfield, and the city of Armidale.

In summer it is, like England, a green and pleasant land; in winter, its high grazing lands are sometimes covered by snow.

The new State's boundaries were drawn in 1934 by a Boundaries Commissioner, Mr. H. S. Nicholas, appointed by the N.S.W. Government. They will take in not only New England but Newcastle and the Hunter River Valley, the coastline fromarticle18460005-3-002 Newcastle to Queensland, and the north-west slopes and plains as far west as Brewarrina.

This area of 64,000 square miles is three times as large as Tasmania and contains a population of 680,000-100,000 more than Western Australia.

Throughout this region the word "decentralisation," so often paid little more than lip service in Australian cities, has deep significance. Centralisation has stunted New England, its citizens declare; decentralisation is its only hope. And Statehood-the word enters any conversation sooner or later-is the only acceptable basis for decentralisation.

"New South Wales has borrowed £243m for capital works during the last five years," complains one New Stater. "We of New England are responsible for our share-one fifth, since we comprise one-fifth of the State's population-which is about £48,500,000. In point of fact, though, less than £10m has been spent in New England during this period. Thus we, the people, have been robbed of £38,000,000 in the last five years."

New England could have made good use of that money, too, say the New Staters. There is no rail link between New England and the north coast. Lines have been started at different times from Guyra, Glen Innes and Tenterfield, but never finished. There is not even a good road down from the highland towns to the coast.

The Keepit Dam, near Gunnedah, was started in 1938 and is still unfinished. Iluka port at the mouth of the Clarence River has not yet been developed.

The New Staters know very well what has happened to the missing millions. Sydney is the thief. Residents of Sydney would be surprised at the genuine anger aroused in New England by the proposal that a tunnel should be driven underneath Sydney Harbour.

"Of Course!"

If the State Government's first concern is Sydney, let New England become its own State. "Of course" New England could support itself! Would it not have an annual production of £.192 million - considerably more than that of Tasmania, Western Australia or South Australia? And did not Queensland start life in 1860 with only 7id in the Trea- sury?

It is against this kind of feeling that the New England New State Movement must be viewed. Agitation for a new State of New England has risen and subsided several times during the last 50 years. The present movement started in 1948 under the encouragement, principally, of Mr. Phillip A. Wright, who is now its president. "P.A.," a big man in his late sixties, is a cattle man and, it is popularly and proudly supposed in New England, a millionaire.

There are other cattle and sheep men on the executive of the movement: Mr. Peter Wright, of Lana; Colonel H. F. White and Mr. Richard White, of Bald Blair. But the movement is by no means confined to graziers or, in fact, to members of the Country Party.

One recent executive meeting in Armidale was attended by a schoolteacher and a retired auctioneer from Tenterfield, an Armidale solicitor, a teacher from the Armidale School, and an Oxford graduate whose know- ledge of constitutional law has been of value to the movement.

It could not be denied, however, that the most active support for Statehood comes from the pastoralists of New England. The townspeople do not show the same enthusiasm. And the Labour M.L.A. for Armidale (Mr. Jim Cahill) is pessimistic about the chances, and indeed is doubtful about the immediate need, for a new State.

Active support for the movement seems small when the number of subscribers (2,000) is compared with the total population of the New State region (680,000).

But this is misleading. The movement enjoys passive support throughout New England. There is a unity, a feeling of common interest, in New England which derives from a feeling of common neglect by the N.S.W. Government.

New England already has its own university, its own airline ("East-West-the Decentralised Airline"), and its own brand of beer.

The movement has asked the N.S.W. Government to hold a referendum to test the support for statehood, but the Government has so far refused. Last December, New England held its own poll in conjunction with local government elections conducted by many councils in the area. Much to everyone's surprise, a majority of voters (77 per cent.) favoured the establishment of a new State.

Final Arbiter

The arguments for a new State - mainly decentralisation; federalism rather than unification - can scarcely be refuted. The logical extension of regional development, a policy favoured by the N.S.W. Government, is state- hood. But is New England ready for statehood yet?

The New Staters are impatient: "of course" New England is ready on the score of population, area, industry and income. The N.S.W. Government is not so sure; at any rate, whatever its opinion about the rights or wrongs of statehood, it is unwilling to permit secession. And its permission is essential.

The Federal Constitution em- powers the Federal Parliament to "admit to the Commonwealth or establish new States." And the Federal Parliament may "with the consent of the Parliament of a State and the approval of the majority of the electors of the State voting upon the question increase, diminish or otherwise alter the limits of the State." Again, in the next clause, a new State may be formed "by separation of territory from a State but only with the consent of the Parliament thereof."

Clearly, New South Wales will be the final arbiter. The issue is not so much whether New England wants to leave New South Wales, but whether New South Wales wants to lose New England. And New England would be a very valuable territory to lose.