Monday, January 31, 2011

Bogged down

I have really been bogged down in a New England story post I have been writing on the death of Gordon Trickett. Tomorrow?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 22 - flood focus

Over a month since my last blog round-up. A lot has been happening.

In What can we do you for?, Archives Outside asked for suggestions for 2011. I responded:

I would like to see:
1. More information on particular records systems. For example, a description of cabinet records. I found them very fragmentary.
2. More Hunter Valley & North Coast material. That would help me in the writing I am now doing.

I followed this up with New England & Archives Outside.

This is a very good blog for those interested in local or regional history. Why not visit and make your own suggestions?

In my own historical blogging, my recent posts have been:When sweet turns to sour

On Clarence Valley Today, Mark continues his photos of life in Grafton and surrounds.

I have chosen this photo of the recent floods from When Sweet Turns To Sour not because its either especially pretty or spectacular, but for Mark's point. The damage to the sugar industry will be substantial.

While New England's floods were not as spectacular as those in Queensland, there has still been a fair bit of damage.

Media reports, I can't give links, carried comments from Richard Torbay, State member for the Northern Tablelands, querying why New England flood victims are getting less assistance than those in Queensland or Victoria.

I must admit I hadn't realised that there was a difference.

The waters flowed on and on.

Flood foam Yamba The next photo from Mark shows flood foam at Yamba. I have to agree with him. I think that you must have rocks in your head to swim in this stuff!

In the midst of the rain, North Coast Voices (Is there "Something Rotten in the State of Windsor?") is keeping an eye on the Parliamentary inquiry into the Murray-Darling water proposals. Their concern in this case appears to be a possibly selective release of public submissions to the inquiry. I actually doubt this, but haven't checked it.

This is one of those difficult issues that potentially sets the eastern and western sides of New England against each other. Not, mind you, that NCV actually recognised my concept of New England. NCV and its sister blog A Clarence Valley Protest are totally one eyed and would, I think, deny the concept of a broader New England interest.

There is nothing wrong with this. Malcolm Turnbull's original grab for Clarence water to feed Brisbane's perceived water shortages was simply silly and needed opposing. If locals do not react, then they are going to be rolled over. However, it can impede discussion on broader issues.

During the Clarence floods, NCV provided a number of information reports on local conditions. This is indicative of a broader trend. This was a flood in which the new media came into its own as a source of information.

Staying with NCV for the moment, in Excuses used for not reading blogs, Clarencegirl wrote: 

chickenpoetblog It has happened so often now that I am moved to comment on the number of times someone (usually a journalist) tells me that they are aware of a particular post on North Coast Voices BUT….

A list of the normal excuses followed.

I really loved the cartoon CG included; this came from Savage Chickens. It really captured one element of blogging.

Moving south to Coffs Harbour and a somewhat different political perspective to NCV, Hugh Saddleton's Coffs Outlook had a very funny post. I won't repeat it all, but here are a few quotes:

IT’S been a tough week for us Aussies.Another public holiday, more beer to consume and more Poms to bowl out in the cricket.But spare a though for those Poms as they head for a double dip recession, thanks to 13 years of socialism.And after the terrorist attacks of 2007 they are starting to feel the pinch in relation to more threats.My spy in Whitehall tells me they have even raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” The next step is “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.”  And the last time the English went to a “A Bit Cross” was during the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out.....

But back to God’s Country – Australia.Last week as we headed for another day off we raised our security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Three more escalation levels remain: “Crikey!” “I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend” and “The barbie is cancelled.”   And throughout history, no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

Look, I know its not politically correct, the French could get very peeved, but it is funny.

Stating with Coffs Outlook, 2009 Coffs Coast flood victims should be exempt from Gillard’s new flood levy begins:

Coffs Coast residents who were denied one-off flood payments in 2009 should not be slugged with the Gillard Government’s new flood levy, Federal Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker and State Member for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser said today.

This is not especially sensible, political special pleading, but it does play to something that is creating problems for the Government's flood proposals. Many people in New England who at personal or community level have suffered from similar problems without the same time of support do feel some what aggrieved.

This is not an attack on the levy, by the way. If you want to know my personal views, see Flood levy's, public policy & the Australian spirit and then Further musings on the flood levy.

20101206-07-00-21-roo--in-garden Moving inland up the mountain road, Gordon Smith in lookANDsee has returned to local themes.

While I enjoyed Gordon's photos of Sydney, it is nice to have him back, so to speak. This photo shows an Eastern Grey Kangaroo having a snack outside his sunroom.

Returning to floods, a tweet from Paul Barratt suggests that "quite obvious Tony Abbott still hasn't figured Tony Windsor out. He never will." He followed this with "Re-reading your message, penny drops. TA will never understand TW coz will always be looking for an angle when there isn't one." and then "Also, TA simply doesn't understand the "Independent" part of Country Independents. Doesn't understand "Country" either."

The trigger for all this was a story by Michael Bachelard and Natalie in the Melbourne Age: Independent lashes Abbott on flood levy. I suspect that Paul is right.

Staying with the floods, in Brisbane’s Man-made Flood Peak! Ian Mott is critical of water releases from the Wivenhoe Dam, while Peter Rohde looks at specific aspects of the flood in Brisbane in Brisbane Floods, Brisbane Floods 2, Clean up – day 1 and Clean up – day 2.

I sometimes get asked why I include blogs not based in New England in this round-up. Well, like me, more New Englanders now live outside than inside New England. I include them. Paul Barratt is from Armidale and has continuing connections; Ian Mott is from the Northern Rivers; while Peter Rohde was Dux at Armidale High.

We have many different views, but are all part of the New England story.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Belshaw's World - UNE bridges regional-international gap

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 19 January 2011. 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, here for 2011.

I learned from last Wednesday’s Express that Professor John Pigrim had died. By coincidence, I was re- reading the commentaries to the 1977 Atlas of New England that he edited along with David Lea and Lesley Greenwood.

You cannot properly understand the history of an area without understanding its geography. For that reason, I am presently trying to increase my understanding of the geography of the broader New England.

I have a reasonably good base knowledge. However, it’s just not good enough for my present purposes.

Based on my reading of the various essays, I wrote two short pieces, one on the importance of micro-environments, the other on micro-environments and Aboriginal language and population distribution.

I had been planning to email John to show the continuing influence of the work of him and his colleagues. Instead, I will record my appreciation here.

At the time I first studied at UNE, the Geography Department was developing into one of Australia’s leading if not the leading geography department.

I only did one year of geography. I had intended to major in geography, but I found that history and economics interested me more. Even so, I was aware of the Department’s influence.

The Department’s work combined a regional, national and international focus.

The University was then very interested in its broader region, so geographers combined with other disciplines to study various aspects of the geography, geology, history, economics and life of Northern New South Wales.

There was a strong interest in applied geography, the use of geographical concepts and tools to meet immediate needs. This translated, among other things, into a series of studies for local councils on local issues.

This interest in applied geography carried into the broader arena.

Led by Ted Chapman, UNE was managing rural development programs around Cheng Mai in Thailand. As a twenty year old, I stayed with Ted in Cheng Mai.

During the day, he took brother David and I around some of the villages to show us the work. Walking along the banks demarcating the paddy fields, he explained what they were trying to achieve.

Towards the end, we sat under the shade of a tree in a village. Ted introduced us to the village headman who brought us a drink while we talked. That night, thirteen Armidale people sat down to dinner at Ted’s place.

In addition to its applied work in New England and elsewhere, the Department worked on a number of theoretical and conceptual topics concerned with the development of geography as a discipline.

Things change.

Years later, I was involved in a conversation with some of the then University heavies. The place was going through one of its periodic upheavals.

UNE they, said, can’t be the old university; we have to put the past aside and build our international links.

I threw a spanner in the works by asking when the University had ceased to have an international focus. They really had no idea of past work.

Speaking from my experience as a policy adviser and management consultant, I suggested that one of the best ways of moving in new directions was to select and emphasise those elements in the organisation’s history that supported new directions.

Instead of presenting UNE as an entity in trouble, that had to go international, they should focus on the fact that UNE had always had an international reach.

The Geography Department demonstrated this. It showed that it was quite possible to be both intensely regional in some work streams, international in others. There was no conflict between the two.

I know that I sound a bit like a broken record on this one, but I am very conscious of it at the moment.

The research and writing that I have been doing has brought me back in contact with past work done at NEUC, UNE and at the Teacher’s College/Armidale College of Advanced Education.

The contribution made not just to Northern NSW, the broader New England, but to Australian life and thought is really quite remarkable.

This can be hard for individual staff members, academic or otherwise, to see. It really only become apparent when you stand back and look at patterns over time. Then it stands out.

During the three years I have been writing this column, John Pigrim emailed me a number of times with specific suggestions. They were always helpful.

I would like to think that the work done by he and his colleagues will be remembered.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Keneally wins crap of the week award


In a post this morning on my personal blog, Flood levy's, public policy & the Australian spirit, I explored some of the issues associated with the Rudd Government's flood levy.

Essentially, I wasn't opposed but thought that it had been badly presented. Then, in Keneally wants changes to flood levy I read this:

  NSW Premier Kristina Keneally wants changes to the national flood levy, saying it should take into account the high cost of living in Sydney.

I am sorry, Kristina, but costs are high in Sydney because it is a big city and because people want to live there. Why should others subsidise this? Even more specifically, if you want to get costs down in Western Sydney, change your development rules.

I actually like Kristina. She wouldn't remember me unless I gave her the context, but I have watched her and think that she is both nice and capable. She has just inherited a mess.

On this point, and since I have just put the boot in, I note that Granny Herald seems to like photos of her where the stress shows. Surely this must be a coincidence ?!

Calling the New England diaspora

I have been slow in posting, although I have a number of posts to go up. Just pressure.

In a comment on on Leaving on a jet plane, Andrew wrote:

Hi Jim,
Congratulations on a fantastic blog.
I'm a fourth generation New Englander; my direct family line having settled in the region in the 1850's particularly around the Tamworth and Armidale areas.
Much of my family and extended family are still in the region and although sadly I no longer call New England home I am however a frequent visitor to the area.
Keep up the good work, you've earned a regular reader here.

I write about our diaspora a lot. Just at present, I live in Sydney for family reasons. This drives me in part in trying to keep people in touch with their country. Andrew's comment therefore gave me great pleasure.

Not everybody from the diaspora thinks of themselves as a New Englander. I use the term because, to my mind, it best captures the area I am talking about. Others think of themselves as from the North, the Hunter or the Northern Rivers. I don't mind.

People's views vary. Andrew is a republican, I am a monarchist. Some support the continuation of NSW control, while I want self-government for New England. However, there is no censorship on this blog beyond things such as libel laws. I try to report fairly and never censor comments unless there is a very specific legal reason for so doing.

When the blog began, it had little traction. Slowly, this has changed. Now, I think, it is time to broaden.

If you live in New England, the Tablelands and all the surrounding river valleys, then this is your blog. It is even more your blog if you are a fellow member of the diaspora.

I can only write what I can write. I need your help.

You can contribute through comments or story ideas. More, you can become an actual contributor. You can do this by sending me stuff that can be published. But, if you have a regular stream of ideas, then you can become a member of the blog team. I can add you to the list so that you can write and publish direct.

You don't need to write a post every day or even every week, just when you have something to say. What you say will not be edited, nor are there any limitations as to topic or approach. If I disagree, I will do so in comments on the post to further discussion.

So, what about it? Is it time to broaden?        

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane

Helen to Denmark, Jan11

Helen, eldest, left this week for six months study at the Copenhagen Business School. It explains part of the reason why I have been so distracted.

Taken at the airport from left to right, Denise North, Clare Belshaw, Helen Belshaw, Jim Belshaw.

Jeremy, Helen's friend, bought the flowers for Dee.

Both girls were born in Armidale, making them third generation New Englanders by birth, fourth by location. Both retain an Armidale connection, but are also heavily involved in Eastern Suburbs Sydney.

I have often written of the New England diaspora, for to be born in New England is usually to leave it. We bleed people to the point that, like the Greek islands, the number of people with New England ancestry far exceeds the number still living there.

I have always seen part of the purpose of this blog as a small link between the diaspora and their home country.

My own daughters live very much in the present, the life around them now. In the crowded present, none of my family actually reads much of what I write. Still, I do know that that the fact that I write, the connections that come from that writing, provide a link to their New England past.    

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Belshaw's World - a land of drought and flooding rains

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 12 January 2011. 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, here for 2011.

My thanks to those who provided information in response to my last column on the members of the 1939 NEUC Rugby team. I have passed this information onto Paul Barratt who will follow up.

As I write, news of the dreadful flash flood in Toowoomba is coming through. I was reminded of the flash flood in Walcha a few years ago now.

A week back, my investigations into a story led me took at the Annual Australian Climate report for 2010 released on 5 January by the Bureau of Metrology.

The Australian mean rainfall total for 2010 was 690 mm, well above the long-term average of 465 mm. As a result, 2010 was Australia’s wettest year since 2000 and the third-wettest year on record since recording commenced in 1900.

These are national figures. Australia is a very big country, so you get considerable variations across the country. 2010 was the wettest year on record for the Murray-Darling basin, yet the driest on record for South West Western Australia.

Water held in the Murray-Darling storages has increased from 26% at the start of 2010 to 80% at the start of 2011. Many of the inland dams were built in part for flood mitigation purposes. This has reduced the incidence of big flood events. However, once dams fill, then further rain goes straight to the rivers.

Looking at the figures really reminded me just how variable the Australian climate is.

The chart shows Australia wide figures since 1900. If you look at the annual rainfall line, you can see just how much rainfall fluctuates.

We know this, but we also tend to forget it.

Many of the weather events are marked in my memory.

The big drought at the start of the 1900s shows on the graph. Australia was then very dependent on primary products and especially wool and wheat, so the effects of that drought spread across the entire economy.

With sheep numbers today back to a level not seen since the early 1900s, younger Australians simply do not remember when Australia rode on the sheep’s back.

My family knows that books are always a pretty safe be for presents. This year I was given Thomas Keneally’s latest book on Australian history through to the gold rushes.

Browsing the index, I said that there is almost nothing on the wool industry! My family looked blankly at me. Why should there be, one asked?

This triggered the Belshaw lecturing mode, leading family members to move quickly in opposite directions!

Today, Australia is just as dependent on a narrow range of commodity products as we were in 1902, although coal and iron ore now dominate. The floods in Queensland have reduced coal production, affecting global prices as well as the Australian economy.

Present estimates of the costs of the flood suggest a hit to GDP of around minus 0.6 per cent. That’s not insignificant.

The chart also shows the droughts of the 1980s, although the national figures do not properly reveal the local severity on the New England.

This drought wiped out the Kentucky apple crop. With the price of Lucerne hay sky-rocketing, I organised gangs of students to go down to Kentucky to pick the shrivelled fruit for use as stockfeed.

The fluctuations in rainfall also reminded me of New England’s big floods when the rivers to the east, west and south rose and rose and rose. Here, to my frustration, I could not find the book that I wanted that described some of those floods.

Living in Sydney as I now do, I find that metro life diminishes the memory of country Australia past and present.

I am a townie, not a country person, even though some of my family was on the land. Even so, the things that I knew and thought of as important have become much diminished.

I gave one example of this in an earlier column. Asked to write a piece on the Australian outback, one group in my daughter’s class selected the Blue Mountains!

Is this important?

It’s obviously important to me at a personal level, because the country was part of my life. However, I think that it’s more than that.

During the great drought just finished, there was real disconnect between city responses and the on-ground realities elsewhere. The end-result was some very silly policy responses.

Maybe, just maybe, the current floods will open new opportunities for discussion.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is Bellingen hospital safe?

I received an email during the week from a colleague concerned that the campaign to save/redevelop Bellingen Hospital was losing traction in the face of national changes to health services, apparent promises from the authorities and, I suspect, sheer tiredness.  In this context, the Bellingen Hospital Action Group (BHAG) apparently put out a statement at the end of last year saying they had a commitment from the North Coast Area Health Service to keep the acute beds in the hospital and that the job was done. You will find some of my past posts on this campaign here.

I am not close enough to on-ground issues to make a response on the specifics in the email. However, noting that the BHAG web site is now down, I thought that I should make some general comments based on my own experience. In particular, I feel that now is just the time when those served by the Hospital need to be most focused. This post explains why.

Impact of National Changes  

Back in April last year in Implications for New England from health reforms I took Bellingen Hospital as a case study. There I said in part:

One of the problems for New England from the changes is just what the changes might mean at local level. This is quite complicated, but I think that locals need to watch this like a hawk 

Since that post, I have tried to monitor the on-ground effects of the changes across New England, but it is quite difficult without detailed investigative reporting of a type beyond the resources of a part time blogger. However, my view remains the same. We just don't know how things will work in practice.

Mid North Coast Local Health Network & the formation of Government Policy

The new Mid North Coast Local Health Network came into operation on 1 January 2011. Very little information is yet available on its web site. Members of the Governing Council are listed, but no information is provided that I could find as to their background.

In two Armidale Express columns last year,  Belshaw's World - true wisdom rarely the sum of bland numbers and then Belshaw's World - round holes, square pegs and a region cruelled, I looked at the way Government policy is formed. 

While the new Network is smaller and has its own Council, while there is meant to be greater local input, the reality is that it is still operating in a highly centralised system, all the statistical data and planning reports on which past policies were based are still there, as are the people who made the planning decisions.

All the national agreements governing the new system with their myriad of performance statements were negotiated and will be implemented by just the same officials involved with previous policies. You can think of all this as an inverted pyramid whose point rests on the hospital. It would be unrealistic to expect much to change.

Continuity of Official Memory

Officials have quite long memories. If they fail to get things up one way, they will do so another. Let me illustrate by example.

Some years ago, the Commonwealth Government formed the view that Australia needed fewer but larger tertiary institutions. As so often happens in health, this was applied as a one size fits all approach.

As part of the process, the Government announced that the Armidale College of Advanced Education and the University of New England should merge. There was no justification for any small centre to have two tertiary institutions. Further, merger would save money by reducing the overhead associated with two institutions, the economies of scale argument.

I was opposed to the decision because the culture and missions of the two institutions were different, while I doubted the validity of the policy arguments. A friend and I organised a protest that culminated in a public meeting attended by several thousand people. The proposal was shelved. However, the official view had not gone away.

The proposal was resurrected a little later by the subsequent Hawke Government on advice from the same officials. This time it went through. Since it was intended in part to achieve economies of scale, the combined funding of the two institutions was reduced by an amount equal to the expected savings. No allowance was made for the costs of merger. The end result of all the changes was something of a disaster that almost destroyed the University of New England.

The Importance of Persistence

If what I say is true, why bother? Surely locals are powerless? Not so.

If you want to do something new, if you want to achieve change, then you have to be persistent. It may be that you will fail in the longer term, in which case you only get some short term gains as happened in the Armidale case. Still, in writing the history of the broader New England as I am at the present time, a remarkably large number of things were achieved by local or regional action undertaken in the face of entrenched opposition.

The Problem of Capture

Anybody dealing with Government faces a problem of what we call capture.

Ministers and officials have positions, refined arguments and lots of supporting information. Faced with entrenched opposition on a matter, they try to find find a path through. This includes giving concessions. 

On the other side, those dealing with Government generally cannot help being influenced by discussion and argument. Depending on persistence and relative power positions, the outcome moves towards some form of compromise. One side-effect of this is that the opposition actually ends up being captured by official thinking.

This is not necessarily wrong. However, it carries the risk that people will give up at just the time they should be persistent.

I am not suggesting opposition for the sake of opposition, nor that compromises should not be reached. Indeed, from my experience, one major problem with local activism can be the unwillingness to accept any middle path. Sometimes this works. More often, it can lead to total failure. It's a matter for judgement as to the best path.

The key thing is to be aware of the strategic issues involved. Some issues, a dam for example, may be yes/no. Others like a hospital are much longer term. These issues inevitably involve both compromise and persistence.

Burn-out and the Long Term Activist

Unlike governments, lobby groups or political parties with their full time staff, community activism depends upon volunteers. This makes it very difficult to keep long term pressure up. People, and I am speaking from my own experience, just burn out.

There is no easy answer to this. Sometimes it just happens. At other times, changes in direction are required to give people a break. Bellingen may well be in this position now.

Looking Forward

I think that BHAG has actually done a pretty good job through its own efforts and in providing a centre around which others could coalesce through, among other things, the Facebook page. There is no doubt in my mind that Bellingen Hospital would have lost more services without this effort. However, the story does not end here.

The fight over Bellingen Hospital was never about a single service. Rather, it was an attempt to maintain the best range of possible services. The fact that the old North Coast Area Health Service has given an undertaking re emergency beds is a first step that needs to be monitored. The focus should now shift to other services and the maintenance of community  support for the hospital.

I have written this post just from a Bellingen perspective. However, there is a broader issue.

Australia is short of doctors. The desire of the NSW Government to save money, to gain greater economies, has actually led to a sharp decline in certain types of medical training. The positions have gone.

Here we have a conflict between two objectives, immediate economy and efficiency on one side, longer term doctor supply on the other. Today, there is a fair bit of discussion about the best way of re-building medical training to increase supply. This requires new approaches.

Training cannot be done just at major base hospitals. We need a hierarchy of hospitals linked to different types of training. This is where a hospital like Bellingen could come in.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Belshaw's World - university of the North was at the top of its game

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 5 January 2011. 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, here for 2011.

Over the Christmas break we hosted a BBQ.

It was a somewhat impromptu affair. One my wife’s close friends wanted to get some of her family and friends together, and we offered to provide the venue.

It proved to be a fun evening.

My family laugh at me because I always seem to find an Armidale or New England connection. This evening proved no different!

One guest, a fellow management consultant, grew up in Longreach and knew lots of people from Queensland who had been to boarding school in Armidale.

Then another guest, one I knew of but had not previously met, started talking about UNE.

It began as one of those general conversations you get in Sydney among parents with university age children. Complaints about over-crowded tutorials and the way the large number of overseas students with poorer English affected some classes.

Our guest remarked that they one of their children had attended UNE. “UNE”, he said, “is one of the few true universities left in Australia.” Of course I beamed, because this has been one of the core messages that I have tried to get across in my own writing.

Then, by happenstance, fellow Armidalian and blogger Paul Barratt ran a story that reveals a little of the reasons why the UNE tradition is so strong.

The photo shows the New England University College Rugby team from 1939. Those in the photo are:

Back Row: Lewis Border, Consett Davis, Max Hartwell, John Rafferty, Jim Belshaw (Coach), Alf Maiden, Les Titterton, Frank Rickwood, Ken James
Middle Row: Ralph Crossley, Paul Barratt, Pat Thompson, Alan Sutherland, Peter Durie
Front Row: Ed Scalley, Harry Savage1939_1st_!5

1939 was the College’s second year. Student numbers were still very small. Three of those in the photo are academic staff, the coach plus two players, H F Consett Davis and Ralph Crossley.

A UNE playing field carries the Consett Davis name. A brilliant student, he joined the NEUC staff in March 1939 but died during the war. Widow Gwenda stayed in Armidale and was to play a major role in the establishment of the Botany Department.

Small student numbers created close relations between staff and students. It also made for a very intense student experience.

There was great distrust at Sydney University about academic standards away from the main campus. Reflecting this, in 1938 and 1939 all marking was done in Sydney.

The result was a considerable embarrassment as NEUC students outperformed their Sydney counterparts. In 1938, for example, Alan Sutherland topped the Sydney University Psychology I exams with Paul Barratt Snr second. The following year, the two jointly topped Psychology II and were jointly awarded a Lithgow Scholarship.

Where did the students in the rugby team come from?

UNE was not founded to be what today is so dismissively called a “regional” or “provincial” university. Its founders were quite clear: this was to be the Sydney University of the North.

This aim is reflected in the student composition. Of the thirteen students in the team, five came from the Northern Tablelands, three from the Mid North Coast, two from the Hunter Valley, one from the Northern Rivers, two from outside the region.

What happened to the students after they left NEUC? This is where the standard of teaching comes in, for the future performance of this small group was quite remarkable.

Two became senior public servants. Lew Border was a senior diplomat, while Alf Maiden became head of the Bureau of Economics, Secretary of the Department of Primary Industry, then head of the International Wool Secretariat.

Frank Rickwood became a senior executive with BP where, among other things, he pioneered the Alaskan oil fields. Max Hartwell became a globally recognised economic historian.

Two returned to Armidale after the War.

Alan Sutherland became Senior Lecturer in charge of Biological Science at Armidale Teachers’ College, then University Fellow in the Centre for Curriculum Studies at UNE, while Paul Barratt Snr became foundation Professor of Psychology at UNE.

As Paul concluded in his post, our little “university under the gum trees” with all its limitations of facilities and money made a pretty good fist of rounding up a bunch of country kids and setting them on paths that might not otherwise have been available to them

Finally, a request for help.

In researching the team, Paul found limited information on the later life of Ken James, Pat Thompson, Peter Durie, Ed Scalley and Harry Savage. Please let me know if you have any details.

Those who would like to read more can find Paul’s full post here -

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moree flood evacuation centre

In a short post yesterday on my personal blog, Initial lessons from the Queensland floods, I complained how hard it was to get integrated information on the current floods, and especially on New England.

The following photo from ABC New England North West shows people at the Moree evacuation centre. I will try to do a round-up story. Moree evacuation centre Jan 2010

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Calling all Newcastle bloggers & social media freaks

Back on 25 November, Craig Wilson from Sticky launched a clarion call: Calling all Newcastle bloggers & social media freaks. For some reason I missed it at the time. Craig described the project in this way:

My team and I are putting together a side project to curate the best Hunter-based content.

That’s where you come in. We’re looking for people who’d like to contribute to a well-run online magazine for Newcastle and the Hunter. Its a chance for you to raise your profile, discuss burning issues, highlight the things you love and get some additional traffic and link-love along the way.

The project should launch this January. If you are interested, please read the post and also contact

Friday, January 07, 2011

Belshaw's World - bittersweet moment when young leave the nest

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column, the last for 2010, in the Armidale Express on 29 December 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

I hope that you had a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Looking back, this is my third post Christmas column.

The first, Christmas in New England, was a nostalgic look at Christmas’s past. The next was equally nostalgic.

Nostalgia seems to grow with age. There is simply more to be nostalgic about!

Each Boxing Day since the girls were very young we have gone to see a movie. The Kings Speech was this year’s choice.

This is a remarkably good movie.

At its first public showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, the audience stood and applauded at the end. In Sydney, they clapped.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t give the full plot away.

The film stars Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue who helped George VI overcome a totally debilitating stammer.

The film begins with the future king’s excruciating closing speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

Nobody expected Albert Duke of York to become King. He was just a younger brother. Still, he had public duties to perform and so went to Logue for help.

The film takes some dramatic license with the story in that its primary focus is on the period before and immediately after Albert became King.

Checking the story, it appears that the first major speech that the Duke of York gave after beginning treatment with Logue was much earlier, the 1927 opening of the Australian Parliament. He delivered this without a stammer.

I can forgive this license.

Bertie, as Logue called him, took the throne from a sense of duty. War quickly followed. There he and his wife achieved almost iconic status by sharing the experiences of Londoners during the blitz.

Logue continued to provide support throughout.

As I started writing this story after the movie, my wife was learning Danish. This must seem a strange, unrelated, segue. Not so.

The reason why Christmas is so often wrapped in nostalgia is that it reminds us of things past or passing, of traditions such as our Boxing Day film.

In mid-January, eldest leaves for six months at the Copenhagen Business School. This is her first time away from home for an extended period, and there is much excitement.

Helen is trying to pack as much into the trip as she can, visiting New York on the way across and then returning via South Africa. While in Europe, she hopes to use Denmark as a base for some European touring.

She has saved hard for the trip, working night shifts at a nearby pub.

The hours are long, and she has to watch how much she earns because she doesn’t want to lose her Youth Allowance since she will need this while she is studying.

It’s complicated, actually.

Twelve months ago Helen worked extra shifts at the pub to fund a trip that she and sister Clare wanted to do in Asia. Without realising it, she went over the income limit and lost YA. She then had to re-apply on return, leaving her without income at a critical period.

After some hesitation, my wife has decided to visit Helen in Copenhagen, hence the Danish.

I admire Denise’s facility with languages. She has a very good ear for sounds, and can pick the basics up quite quickly.

For Helen’s father’s part, I would love to go but can’t afford it.

For the first six months this year I chose to work full time on my book, and then looked for contract work to give me an income while still allowing me to write. This proved more of a battle than I had expected.

Have you ever noticed that those who pontificate most about work force flexibility and the need to keep older people in the workforce are all in permanent jobs? The on-ground reality is quite different!

I am going to miss Helen.

I know that things have to change, that my girls have to spread their wings. Yet after all those years in which I was the primary child care, I find the adjustment remarkably difficult.

May 2011 be a good year for all of us.

Belshaw's World - it was all Greek at TAS

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

I was browsing around trying to find material for a piece I was trying to write when I stumbled across a copy of the December 1923 edition of The Armidalian, the TAS magazine. Here I found the answer to a question that had always puzzled me.

I knew that TAS had presented a play in Sydney totally in Classical Greece. This had puzzled me, because I went to the school Latin was still taught, but there was no sign of Classical Greek. I knew that it had been taught, but to actually put a full play on in the original language struck me as unusual.

I now know that the Play was presented in December 1923, with bookings at Palings. Nor, it appears, was this the only arcane play on the bill.

Before talking about the play, I need to introduce you to one of TAS’s most famous eccentrics, William Charles Wentworth IV.

Born in 1907, WCW IV better known as Bill or Billy Wentworth was the great grandson of the first William Charles Wentworth. He was bright, precocious and somewhat idiosyncratic.

Indeed, there is has been a wonderful strain of eccentricity through the Wentworths from the first WCW to modern columnist Mungo Wentworth MacCallum, Bill Wentworth’s nephew. I knew Mungo in Canberra, not well, and he could be very entertaining.

Stories about Bill Wentworth were still alive when I went to TAS all those years later, although by then it was hard to separate fact from fiction.

There was the time he blew up the science lab trying to make explosives! Then he persuaded the Head to create a school fire brigade.

Bored with parading on front field, he decided to carry out a small live drill. They set a small fire in the school Agriculture building.

As the smoke billowed forth and the school bell rang, the suspiciously ready fire brigade gathered. They had wrapped the hose around the heavy school roller used on the playing fields and, pushing it before them, charged down the hill towards the smoke.

Nearing the building, one boy fell. The rest lost control of the roller which charged ahead, smashing through the weatherboard wall of the building!

I am not aware of what happened to Bill Wentworth on this occasion, but it clearly did not affect his ability to write the editorial for the December 1923 Armidalian.

The editorial was a passionate statement of the importance of Greek. Classical Greece was the foundation of our culture. Knowledge of Greek was still important for those wishing to study at English universities. The growing number of boys studying Greek held out the possibility of TAS becoming the centre of Hellenic studies in Australia.

Now all this may sound a bit pie in the sky, but there was clearly a push on. The Sydney Morning Herald of Monday 17 December records:

“The Armidale School Dramatic Society will present the Greek play, "Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus" in the original Greek; the Quarrel Scene from Corncillo's "Le Cid;' and "Gaspard de Coligny," by W. Wentworth Shields (an old boy), at the King's Hall this evening. Plan at Paling's”.

Looking at The Armidalian, it appears that the quarrel scene from Le Cid was presented in the original French, while Gaspard de Coligny is a melodrama based on the French aristocrat and Huguenot leader of the same name.

Quite impressive, actually.

The reference to English universities is not as strange as it would seem. It was then not unusual for TAS boys with better-off parents and with academic inclinations to consider Oxford or Cambridge as an alternative to Sydney. The foundation of UNE was still some years ahead.

Wentworth went from TAS to Oxford, as had David Ogilvy (Ilparran Station) a few years before. In 1925, The Armidalian recorded that a number of boys were considering Oxford or Cambridge.

Wentworth’s visions of the future were to founder on a Great Depression that almost brought the school to its knees and was then followed by the Second War War.

Wentworth himself went into Federal politics. There he became an anti-communist warrior. However, he is now best known for his pioneering work for Aboriginal advancement, including his appointment as the first Federal minister with responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs.

New England Australia blog performance 10

stats Dec 10 2

I hadn't intended to take quite such a long break from posting. As a result, I now have something of a backlog.

The attached graph shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) to this blog over the last twelve months. You can see the clear upward trend to August and then something of a decline since.

This is a little misleading. I will provide a another graph later that shows this. First, however, an update on the most visited posts.

I do not have proper stats here for the full year. The Google stats I use only started in mid June. Accepting this qualification, the most popular posts were:

Blog Performance I mentioned that the first grpah was a little misleading.

The next graph shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) over the period May 09 to April 10. You can see how traffic took off at the start of 2010. The first graph shows that, so far at least, I have held much of the extra traffic.

I am reasonably clear in my own mind where I want to take the blog over the next twelve months.

I want to maintain the blog's role as something of a window into my New England. However, I also want to build the interactivity, making the blog a better forum for discussion on New England issues.

Obviously, I have my own views and will continue to promote them. However, I also want to encourage other views even where I may disagree.

We shall see how we go!