Sunday, February 27, 2011

Still packing

While I'm still packing, I thought that I would share another photo with you, this one from Mark's Clarence Valley photo blog. The caption reads:

One of the Valley's more obscure murals can be found on the side of a decaying barn at the Brushgrove/Tyndale Sports ground. Ye old Brushgrove

For those who have no idea where Brushgrove is, it is situated at the southern end of Woodford Island in the Clarence. Woodford Island covers 37 square kilometres, is claimed to be the largest inland island in the southern hemisphere, and the largest inland island in the world with its own mountain range!

The mural captures the Clarence quite well.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Colours of New England - stormy morning

Gordon Smith stormyMorning In Belshaw's World - Tough rental market to crack I mentioned the turmoil of moving. Well, that continues. I write with boxes around me, desperately trying to get ready for a Tuesday move.

The move is making it hard to do anything productive, especially anything that involves extended writing.

In the meantime, a photo from Gordon Smith's photo blog to continue my interest in the colours of New England. I have been writing a fair bit on southern New England issues; this photo moves my focus further north.

Gordon has called the photo simply Stormy Morning. For those who don't know New England, this is a very typical scene from the Tablelands that form the core of New England. New England itself, or the North as it is also known, is made up of the Tablelands, the largest in Australia, and the rivers and river valleys that run to the west, north, east and south from those Tablelands. While people disagree on the exact boundaries of the North, all the various definitions centre on the Tablelands and the rivers. 

I said colours of New England. Here you have the yellow gold grass, the olive trees and a hint of blue hills in the background. The dark colours of the sky and the gold of the grass dominate the picture.

This is my personal home country. Living as I now do in Sydney as part of the diaspora, the photo brought back many memories.

Looking back over the photos and writing on this blog, it would be nice at some stage to do a proper photo essay or book on the broader New England combining photos and photographers, writers, painters, film and a bit of history, something that shows the gradations of landscape and colour and the way that has affected life including the built environment.

Given how far behind I am on my existing projects, that will have to wait. In the meantime, I can at least share with you the colours of New England.     

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Central Coast becomes official region

This heading may make you blink as it did me. The Central Coast not a region? 

A tweet from My Central Coast led me to this story from the Central Coast Express Advocate. 

It's official at last - the Central Coast is to be recognised as a separate region by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from July 1.

Gosford and Wyong councils and the Central Coast NSW Business Chamber have welcomed the decision after years of lobbying by the community.

The coast will be recognised as a “statistical area 4”, the largest type of region below state level.

“Being included as a separate region is a great win for the region and the last significant classification required to get regional recognition for the Central Coast,” business chamber president Ken Baker said.

“We’ve proudly believed that the Central Coast deserves a better go from government and getting the right ABS data sets in place will help support our campaigns in the future.”

Gosford Mayor Laurie Maher said: “This is a victory for common sense considering that the coast has a population larger than Canberra and is expected to grow significantly over the coming decades,” Cr Maher said.

Wyong Mayor Doug Eaton said the recognition would place the coast in a better position to support its growth and development.

Mr Baker said the recognition would get its first big test with the Australian 2011 Census due to be collected later this year.

For the benefit of readers who don't know Australia, the Central Coast lies between Sydney and Lake Macquarie and the Hunter Valley. So it's just to the south of the traditional New England or Northern NSW boundaries.

I have often spoken of the way that official structures and classifications have on-ground effects. Clearly, the Central Coast is and always has been a region in geographic terms. However, it has suffered greatly, as has the broader New England, from it's statistical treatment.

For ABS purposes, it has been treated as part of the Sydney Statistical Division. For many planning purposes, it has simply been added to Sydney. Indeed, the boundary of Metropolitan Sydney, the way that areas are treated for planning purposes, has been progressively pushed north to include the Lower Hunter. Not only does this ignore one region, the Central Coast, but it actually bifurcates a second, the Hunter.

So long as planning centres in Sydney, areas like the Central Coast or the Lower Hunter will be treated as outliers of the metro centre. That is why many in the Hunter want the the present Sydney city rail system broken up to create a Hunter Valley equivalent.

Many in the Central Coast had reservations about the creation of a new state in Northern NSW because they feared that it would lock them out, lock them further into Sydney. The reverse is true.

In reality, the links between the Hunter and Central Coast mean that with the creation of a New England state, the Sydney Government would be forced by the very existence of New England to look at the Central Coast in new ways. We have seen this already in other border areas. The position of the Central Coast would actually be greatly strengthened.    

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Belshaw's World - Tough rental market to crack

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 16 February 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.

The column explains my poor posting. We have been trying to organise our house move, and its a real pain.

We are moving, again. This will be the third time we have moved house since I started writing this column.

It’s been a real battle finding a house, a battle that led me to write a post whose title “hot, hostile & frustrated” accurately captured just how I felt!.

When we first came to Sydney, we went to see agents, explained what we wanted, looked at the list of properties that might be possible and arranged to view them. Agents would ring you if a property came up while you were looking.

There weren’t a lot of suitable houses for rent and they were expensive by Armidale standards. There were also forms and reference checks, but things were still relatively simple.

Times have changed!

The first shock of the new came in 2009 when we moved after nine years renting the same property. Now most properties could only be seen at specific times, while the forms to be filled in had become complicated, demanding details that I thought were personally intrusive.

Searching for a rental house this time was like a strange surreal dance.

Rents have gone up in the eighteen months since we last looked, while there are not a lot of vacant properties. Often, the only houses on agents’ books are those nobody really wants to rent.

Everybody searches the on-line real estate sites, looking for houses becoming available that might fit.

Generally, agents open houses for inspection for fifteen minutes, so those looking get out maps and plot driving times between properties trying to fit in the maximum number of inspections.

For the agents’ part, it becomes a mad rush between houses. Get there, get the sign out, rush the people through, then move to the next house.

Few agents have enough properties on their books to offer real choices to even their existing tenants. Our present agent, for example, did not have one suitable property come onto its books of the type we wanted in the three months we were looking.

Those inspecting always gather before the agent, hoping to get through quickly so as to move onto the next place. People get to know and recognise each other, chatting while they wait.

There is always the gaggle of university students looking for a place to rent. Sydney is very expensive. However, if the place is big enough and you can fit in two per room, even $900 per week can be got down to a reasonable per capita price.

One look at those students, one look at the property, and the rest of us smiled. There was no way that landlords would accept students.

Student housing is very a particular market, especially where you have to fit in large numbers to be able to afford the rent.

Some entrepreneurs have actually gone into the student marketplace, targeting mainly overseas students offering single rooms in share houses at above average prices. Their offerings are wrapped around power poles, always with the cut-aways at the bottom with the telephone number you can ring.

Then there are the young couples on double incomes, sometimes with a single young child. This is the metro apartment target group, about the only area in the marketplace with plentiful supply.

Some of those apartments are quite attractive. However, they are really wrapping for people who don’t spend a lot of time at home.

Families with kids form the next group. This is where things really start to bite.

It’s not so bad when the kids are young, but as they grow, add possessions and demand their own space, the number of suitable houses drops.

We belong to the last and most difficult group, parents with children at university. We all have books and computers, we all work to some degree from home. We need a minimum irreducible space to operate.

With a limited number of suitable properties, the gaggle of prospective tenants grabs application forms and moves on.

Those application forms have become still more complicated.

I am sure that there are standard forms, most are very similar, but I do object to a form that expects us to supply dates of birth for referees and get them to sign the bloody thing! That’s neither acceptable nor practical.

Well, we finally found a new house. This time we ran it to the wire, with less than two weeks left on our current lease.

Still, once moved, we won’t have to worry about all this for at least twelve months!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Two flocks

Two flocks Two days since I posted!

I am still working on the next in my re-imagining Newcastle series. in the meantime, a photo from Mark.

This photo shows the Anglican Church of OBX Creek on the old and historic Glen Innes - Grafton road. 

This is a dual purpose building. The human flock gathered in the front, while the rear of the building provides shelter for the animal flock. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do you wish to comment on re-imagining Newcastle?

My post Discussion on re-imagining Newcastle continues has drawn some interesting additional comments, adding to those received earlier. In addition, I have received emails from Greg and others pointing to related stories in the Newcastle Herald.

I am going to leave the whole discussion open until next Monday when I will do a consolidation post for the whole series to provide a basis for further chat. In the meantime, please add your comments to Discussion on re-imagining Newcastle continues. Think of the whole thing as a kind of Delphi process. This is an iterative technique for establishing common positions among people separated by ideas and geography.

Belshaw's World - common courtesy a confusion for visitors

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 9 February 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 have always been interested in cultural differences. I also find it interesting to see how others perceive us. Sometimes we learn things about our own culture that come as a surprise.

Several years ago I collected reactions from Indonesian students to Australia. These came especially from a web site called Different Pond Different Fish ( I thought that I would share some of these with you.

“The thing about Australia that surprised me”, one student wrote, “is the way Australians ask for help. I thought before that Westerners were very informal in their manners and language, as I'd always seen in Hollywood movies. But I was wrong.”

I paused when I first read this, because I thought that Australian speech was relatively informal. Our student went on:

“I didn't realize that although they are very informal in daily speaking they have to use special words when asking for help. For example: ‘Would you please’, ‘Could you please’, ‘Would you mind’, and so on.

The word ‘please’ is a very common word in asking for help, and if we don’t use it, Australians will think that we’re being very rude. And after we receive what we asked for, we must say ‘thank you’ or ‘thanks’.

This is quite different in Indonesia, people do not say ‘thank you’ as often as Australians do. Moreover, Australians speak like this to all people, whether they are children or elderly people, a taxi driver or the prime minister.”

I think that our Indonesian student is right on this one, although I hadn’t thought about it until I read the comment. Australians do place a lot of weight on what we see as common politeness.

Another Indonesian student was surprised to learn that it was taboo to ask questions on first meeting Australian people.

“How can we be acquainted with someone if we don't ask questions?” the student asked. “We Indonesian people usually ask questions to encourage friendship. That is our way to start a conversation. In Australia, however, we can't do that.”

This is another example of Australian formality.

“What Australian people do”, the student explained, is to make a general comment about something. Afterwards, we have to wait for the person's response. If there isn't a response that means there isn't a conversation.

To be honest, it is very funny for me as an Indonesian person!”

Often, little things can provide traps, like who pays for lunch.

An Indonesian student’s supervisor invited his students and research staff to have lunch together at a nearby restaurant. In many countries, such an invitation implies that the supervisor will pay.

The student left her bag and money in the car and then found herself in difficulty when everybody began putting money into the centre to pay.

“Fortunately I was sitting near my Nepali friend who was a new student too. She lent me some cash to pay for lunch. We laughed because she had just enough cash to pay for both of us. She didn't know that we had to pay for ourselves either.”

Reading this, I must say that I thought that the supervisor had been insensitive. I have been caught in this one myself, making wrong assumptions about just who pays.

Another student was struck by the way Australians read on trains and buses, during lunch time, relaxing at home or even at the beach.

“I'm already used to the reading habits of Aussies”, the student wrote. “Back here in Indonesia people use their spare time for gossiping or taking a nap... My workmates tease me when I take my reading wherever I go. They often say, ‘Don't be so diligent to read.’ What a different context I face now!”

Then, in all this, there are simply the normal surprises of a different country.

An Indonesian student in Perth was invited to go to a bush dance. “I assumed that we would be transferred to some kind of forest with tall grass to do bush dancing”, the student explained. “I thought I would need clothing that can protect myself like a pair of boots to protect my feet, a long-sleeve top to protect me from mosquitoes and a hat of course.”

Needless to say, it wasn’t like that!

The student’s final reaction finishes this column: “It’s FUN. Bush dancing is really fun.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Labor wipe out in New England?

The latest NSW election poll released this morning has attracted attention because it shows Labor's primary vote down to 22%. The commentary to this point has been on state wide implications. I am interested in New England.

As best I can work out quickly based on the ABC's Anthony Green election calculator, we are looking at the following New England result in the lower House:

  • Nationals 9
  • Independent 3
  • Liberal 5
  • Labor 0
  • Green 0

This would be the best Liberal result, the worst Labor result, since Federation, while the Nationals regain majority status. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grafton icon Mackellys closes

I see from Mark's Clarence Valley Today that Grafton icon Mackellys is to close. I repeat Mark's comment in full:  Mackellys closes

Sad news this week that Mackellys is to close down its three branches in the Clarence Valley. The age of the country department store probably finished thirty years ago so we have been lucky to have this "dinosaur" in our midst  for those extra years.

That leaves us with just chain stores left and although they employ lots of people it just isn't the same. They are the equivalent of the hamburger chains, cheap and devoid of any service and personality.

Mackellys will be especially remembered for the extravagant displays at Jacaranda. Who could believe that hundreds would've crowded around a shop window to see a six foot egg hatch into the beautiful Jackasaurusaraurus.

It's a cliche but with  Gerards, Schaeffers, McKittricks etc all long gone the closure will really be the end of an era.

Searching around, I found a story in the Grafton Daily Examiner of 29 January 2010 on the closure.

I know things have to change but, like Mark, the replacement of the local or regional by the chain or franchise does make me sad. It's part of the paper that I am writing at the moment on social change in New England in the second half of the twentieth century.

By the way, I know that I plug Mark's photo blog a lot, but it really is worth a visit.    

Monday, February 14, 2011

NSW Parliament debates BHP closure

Digging around for material to write The 1999 closure of BHP's Newcastle steel works I found the 22 September debate in the NSW Legislative Assembly marking the closure of the BHP steel works. Given that I am writing a fair bit on Newcastle and Hunter issues at the moment, I thought that I would repeat a few of the comments.

Mr CARR (Maroubra - Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Citizenship) [4.17 p.m.]: I move:

That this House recognises the significance of the closure of BHP on 30 September to the Hunter community.

The Premier continued:

Moving the motion gives me the opportunity to spell out the different attitude taken to the problems of the region by the Labor Government and that taken by conservative governments. Opposition members voted against this matter being discussed. They do not want regional issues discussed. Indeed, the Opposition has no members from the Hunter to join in the debate. Our approach as a Government following the decision of BHP to get out of integrated steel making was to move in to assist in the growth of new jobs.

That is why we established the $10 million Hunter Advantage Fund. I can report to the House - it is a message of optimism and buoyancy for the Hunter - that in 2½ years the fund has assisted no less than 25 companies. Businesses locating or expanding in the Hunter include manufacturers of veterinary pharmaceutical products, electronic components, concrete products, composite wood, clothing and textiles and cleaning products. There is also a tourist leisure park, a boatbuilding firm of excellence, and an aquaculture facility.

....New prospects await the people of the Hunter and there will be difficulties along the way, but with the determination of this Government to go on assisting and working with the people of the Hunter they will seize those opportunities.

Mr J. H. Turner (Myall Lakes - Deputy Leader of the National Party) responded:

The Hunter was considered a backwater by the Government until the closure was imminent. If the closure had not occurred nothing would have been done by the Government. It has done very little in the overall scheme of things and it all seems to centre on Newcastle.

The Premier takes great poetic licence when using the word "Hunter". Very little is being done for the people of the Upper Hunter - in my former home-town of Cessnock or in Muswellbrook, in the electorate of the Leader of the National Party, or in Singleton. What is happening with the Hunter Advantage Fund? Nothing is happening, yet those areas are as equally affected by the BHP closure as are areas in Newcastle.

I am not alone in my comments. The mayor of Lake Macquarie said that areas in Lake Macquarie were affected by the closure of BHP. Let us be clear that when the Premier speaks of the Hunter he is speaking about Newcastle. He is not talking about Gloucester in my electorate, where his policies on the timber industry have seen the same percentage-type drop in employment in that area as they have in Newcastle. No assistance has been given to the shopkeepers and traders in the area that have been affected by it...

All is not lost. Some people have said that with the closing of BHP a crutch has been removed from Newcastle. I was born and raised in Cessnock and I worked in Newcastle. I knew that BHP was always there.

The people of Newcastle used to say, "Don’t worry, we don’t have to do much in Newcastle because BHP is there. BHP will look after jobs, and BHP will always be with us." Of course, a lot of opportunities were lost in Newcastle because the leaders within the community did not really go out to seek the alternatives. With the announcement of the closure of BHP it became obvious that there would have to be a change. That is an issue that is now coming to light and it is one that the Government should be pursuing with a lot more vigour than a Hunter advantage fund, which basically supports only the small number of organisations that the Premier announced in his speech...

The Carr Government is Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong centric. That is obvious by the emphasis the Premier put on the closure of BHP in leading the first-ever urgency debate that he has contributed to. He is now clearly showing that this Government’s real colours as we know them are Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong and they will remain that way. In fact, as I understand it, under recent planning announcements those areas are designated as constituting the Greater Sydney area.

It is clear that the industry itself, in the democratic process, is starting to put jobs in Newcastle. I am sure that the paltry amount mentioned by the Premier in the Hunter Assistance Fund would not go too far in encouraging people to come to the area. One member of the Labor Party does not believe that the Premier has done the Hunter proud, and that is the honourable member for Cessnock. An article in the Newcastle Herald of 17 April stated:

      Milkman turned MP Kerry Hickey agrees with his Federal counterpart Bob Horne that the Hunter has been taken for a ride.
      Mr Hickey, elected to State Parliament on March 27, said while his region has helped keep Australia’s economic record on track through the export of coal and production of electricity it has received relatively very little in return.

...Perhaps the Labor Party is developing some honesty when Labor members are actually showing that the Premier’s rhetoric is simply that: rhetoric. They have been taken for a ride. This is a typical Carr smoke-and-mirrors exercise. We know that the Premier has a Minister to assist him on Hunter matters. That Minister is a fine gentleman and I have a lot of time for him, but, as he admitted in the estimates committee hearings, his office is a post box. He has two representatives who look after Hunter matters. The Premier is trying to say what a wonderful place Newcastle is and what a wonderful place the Hunter is, but he has made only a token gesture by providing the Minister assisting the Premier on the Hunter with two employees to look after matters pertaining to Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

There will be life after BHP, notwithstanding the Carr Government. ... It is a tribute to the Novocastrians that they have been able to rise above the closure of an industry that has been the focal point of their lifestyle and their town for so long and given the people of the Hunter Valley, and particularly Newcastle, job opportunities. However, more assistance needs to be given, more innovative ideas and views need to be developed, and businesses need to be encouraged to establish in Newcastle, particularly the upper Hunter and mid Hunter areas where jobs are vitally important to smaller communities that do not have the assistance package that the Premier has announced for the employees of BHP.

Mr Face (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) took a more positive view:

Members on this side of the House are going to be positive and look forward. More than any other region in New South Wales, Newcastle and the Hunter have had to re-evaluate their future and discover their new opportunities. With the withdrawal of BHP from steel making and the loss of jobs in the mining industry, State and local government, business, trade unions and the community have joined together to reshape the region’s future. The Hunter now, more than ever, offers strong incentives for business investment, from prime industrial sites such as steel river with a special 28-day approval process to new and exciting agribusiness ventures.

Many of the things that are now occurring resulted from some of the major decisions made in the late 1970s and 1980s by the then Labor Government to expand the economic base of the Newcastle-Hunter region. BHP and Leighton Constructions are in the process of conducting a feasibility study on turning a part of the BHP site into a multipurpose terminal. The proposal is to develop a world-class multipurpose terminal comprising a container terminal, general cargo, roll-on-roll-off terminal and car terminal facility, along with associated industrial and commercial development on the main site of the existing BHP Newcastle steelworks. All of these projects are still in the negotiation stages, but it is possible that they will go ahead and this will be positive for the Hunter Region.

Mr Armstrong (National - Lachlan) wondered why:

There has been no real decentralisation of government departments from Sydney to Newcastle in the term of the Carr Government. No real government project has established in Newcastle or in the Hunter Valley in the term of the present Government. There has been no recognition of the demise or importance of the wool industry in Newcastle, and there has been no replacement industry to replace those traditional wool sales. When Rundles got into trouble, this Government did nothing to re-establishment a manufacturing industry to employ those highly skilled workers in Newcastle and in the Hunter. Nor has there been support from the Government for the wine industry - the fastest-growing primary export industry that this nation has. The Government has ridden on the back of that industry. It has gone to the cocktail parties and openings, but it has not done anything more than put on an annual luncheon in this place for the wine industry.

In a speech marked by an absence of party politics, Mr Gaudry (Newcastle - Parliamentary Secretary) focused on the significance of the change to the people of Newcastle.

Mr Souris (Upper Hunter - Leader of the National Party) was very critical, focusing on the needs of his elctorate:

..I endorse most of the comments that have been made by previous speakers, but I will not repeat them. I will expand on them and emphasise that the loss affects the whole of the Hunter, not merely Newcastle. I do not say that to be disparaging, but to focus the attention of honourable members on the plight of the upper Hunter.

The upper Hunter has lost 2,000 jobs from the coalmining industry. The half-closure of Liddell Power Station, a major base load power station of 2,000 megawatts, has affected 200 jobs. Under the hands of the Labor Government, the electricity distribution network, formerly the county councils and electricity authorities, has been amalgamated. That amalgamation has cost jobs in the upper Hunter, as well as in the lower Hunter. We have seen the closure of timber milling in the upper Hunter at the hands of the Carr Labor Government by a conversion of State Forests land to national parks, which has affected 27 jobs in the town of Muswellbrook.

Aberdeen abattoir has recently closed, with a loss of 400 jobs. In listing those job losses, I am pointing out that the impact on the upper Hunter, which has a lower population, is far greater than the impact of the closure of BHP on the lower Hunter. On top of that, the upper Hunter is facing more cuts. The Hunter needs a lot of help. I ask the Carr Government to similarly consider the job losses in the upper Hunter and the need for a one-off capital stimulation of approximately $10 million, the same amount that was associated with the BHP stimulation package. After all, on a per capita and area basis the impact is greater on the upper Hunter than on the lower Hunter.

At the moment there are threats of budget cuts at the hands of the Carr Labor Government. Muswellbrook and Scone police stations are facing the loss of one night of 24-hour policing. The Explorer night service - the XPT replacement train which carried a night service through the Hunter to a destination at Armidale and Moree - has already been cancelled. It is virtually the first thing the Carr Labor Government did when it took office.

The Carr Government has dropped the extension of the F3 motorway to at least Branxton, which would connect with the New England Highway north-bound to Brisbane. That project mysteriously disappeared from the integrated transport concept, the vision book that was launched with great fanfare by the Carr Government just prior to the election. Singleton police station was promised 24-hour policing. That is a broken promise. Recently, the Government announced the closure of the National Parks and Wildlife Service regional directorate at Muswellbrook. That new building, purpose-built for the job, was opened with great fanfare by the former Minister for the Environment and the Premier. They were at Muswellbrook for the Australian Labor Party State Country Conference. The highlight of the conference was the official opening of the new directorate. It will be closing shortly.

Other losses are: the closure of the Department of Land and Water Conservation directorate; 22 jobs at railway stations and signalling areas, particularly in Singleton and Muswellbrook; and the threatened and imminent loss of 67 jobs in the TAFE system, at a cost of $200 million in the Hunter Valley alone. Recently we have also endured the loss of operating theatre times at Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone hospitals. All of these cuts have occurred under the Carr Government, on top of the job losses, which are greater per capita than the job losses in Newcastle.

By contrast, Mr Bartlett (Labor - Port Stephens) took a nostalgic look at the life that was now ending.

In the time available to me I will have a nostalgic look at the closure of BHP and the way of life in Newcastle. The BHP of my childhood brought a rhythm of life to the Newcastle community. A change of shift saw huge numbers of men and women pass through the gates onto the ferries and punts. In the early 1960s I lived in Stockton, and BHP probably had 12,000 employees in its work force. The work was hard, often hot and dirty, and overtime shifts generated that little extra for mum and the kids. Shiftwork was the order of the day, and every child in Stockton knew that the noise level had to be kept down because a neighbour was on shift.

Every woman knew that the washing lines needed to be wiped before hanging out the washing, as the dirt and grit would be everywhere and the clothes would have a black line on them if a bit of the clothesline was missed. In some weather conditions, especially a westerly, the wind blew the smoke from the BHP stacks over Stockton, carrying the stench and grit. On those occasions the washing was not hung out. My neighbours, Reg and Flora Maund, used to say how lucky we were to live in Stockton because the westerly only blew for a maximum of three months a year, and the rest of the year the muck blew over Newcastle.

Mr Kerr (Liberal - Cronulla) spoke of the efforts that Labor Premier Neville Wran had put into developing the Hunter. I don't know the history here, so I am repeating the comments in full:

The honourable member for Lachlan talked about the history of BHP and the opportunities this Government has missed. It is appropriate to talk about the history when one looks at the impact on the Hunter that this closure will have. In Mike Steketee’s biography of Neville Wran the author had this to say about the former Premier’s efforts:

      Whereas the proposed coal loader at Botany Bay would have been privately financed, the Government now had to find the funds for the new loader and this subsequently led to union demands that a third coal loader at Kooragang Island in Newcastle also be publicly owned. The decision also raised a major problem of how coal from the Burragorang Valley, south-west of Sydney, and the western fields around Lithgow, would be transported to the Port Kembla loader. It is a problem the Government still has not resolved, even though the loader was commissioned in 1982.
The author went on to say:
      Poor Government decision-making was a major factor in the problems that beset the export coal industry in 1982 but it was only one factor. Bastardry by trade unions also played a large part. Strikes during the construction of the Port Kembla coal loader delayed its completion for more than a year and added $60 million to its cost. Construction of a third loader at Newcastle was delayed by nearly three years because of union demands that it be publicly owned. These delays, together with other stoppages by coal-mining and rail unions, led to quotas being imposed at both Newcastle and Port Kembla ports. At one time in 1982 there were 60 ships, which the Opposition dubbed "Wran’s navy", queued outside NSW ports waiting to load coal.
The tragedy is that the foundations for the prosperity of the Hunter could have been laid down at that time. Neville Wran’s biography also contains the following interesting paragraph:
      Wran’s confrontation of his critics had now become a personal mission. He saw the transformation of the economic fortunes of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley as one of the lasting achievements of his administration, one of the things for which he would be remembered. He was bewildered that there was so much opposition to developments which would bring jobs to a region which had previously feared for its future. He was particularly stung by that fact that much of the opposition, particularly within the ALP, came from those with secure jobs, often in the public sector and the universities. He was genuinely puzzled by the criticism of part of the trade union movement in Newcastle, led by the left-wing Trades Hall Council, and found it difficult to reconcile their opposition with their professed concern for working men and women.

I make the point that the vision was stymied at that time by pure bastardry by individuals. That must not happen again. Honourable members today have paid tribute to the role of BHP during the course of its stewardship of the steel industry. One honourable member said that his father had told him to get a job at BHP because that had been good enough for his father and grandfather. That happened in a number of generations.

The honourable member for Port Stephens, who spoke immediately before me, mentioned BHP’s creditworthy role in supporting the work force and how that contrasted with the overseas experience.

Of course, there needs to be a vision. Newcastle recovered from the earthquake because of its comradeship and its courage. Duplication of the rail line between Newcastle and Sydney is needed. Williamtown should become a freight airport. The Newcastle port should be a container port. There is a need for this integration, given the maritime facilities and rail and road junctions in the area. There is enormous potential. As various members have stated, the new high-tech industries can go to the Hunter. It has the richest hinterland in Australia and enormous tourism potential. A former member, Mr Morris, has entered the Chamber. He made a great contribution to the Hunter and will continue to do so. I remember particularly the apprenticeship scheme and other schemes implemented by Mr Morris that have benefited the Hunter, a region that would have been much worse off without them.

I leave it to my Hunter readers to comment on the debate in light of the position today.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

NBN promotional video 1999

I thought that Newcastle readers might like this earlier NBN promotional video. The date on the video is 1997, but other material suggests that it might have been 1999.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Discussion on re-imagining Newcastle continues

On 8 December 2010 I ran Wednesday Forum: Re-imagining Newcastle as an initial attempt to get discussion going on future directions for the North's largest city. I followed this with Re-imagining Newcastle - and the North and then Re-imagining Newcastle - suggestions.

Last week the last post attracted a new comment that I thought that I would run in full.

Newcastle has been deliberately left down trodden by the policies of labor governments that siphon money away to Sydney and the subsequent brain drain that occurs to Sydney.

Newcastle can never replace Sydney but it can offer an experience of a culturally rich, sophisticated smaller city perhaps like Cardiff in the UK, Lyon in France or Barcelona in Spain.

To achieve this it needs two things - infrastructure and jobs. The train line needs to be maintained and expanded upon. New (old) lines put out to the suburbs to improve connectivity and bring life style benefits.

A new world class sporting stadium, to host national rugby, union and league teams and soccer and cricket. Better train connectivity to Sydney and most of all jobs.

The public service needs to have some head departments in Newcastle. Some of the Coal companies based in the valley need to have corporate head quarters there, etc. Once you get these high end jobs then money and investment as well as lifestyle bonuses such as good restaurants will flow!

Good luck with your new state campaign.

As it happened, I was in Newcastle today for a new state meeting, and my colleagues were talking about many of the same issues, as was the Newcastle Herald. I thought therefore that I would run the comment in full to continue the discussion. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

New England Manifesto 2 - developing inland New England

This post is the second follow up to New England manifesto & the NSW elections setting out suggested questions to be asked of New England candidates at the March NSW elections.


How will your policies help develop inland New England, the Tablelands, Slopes and Western Plains?  


This question has been deliberately left open and non-prescriptive to give candidates full opportunity to put forward their own ideas.

Inland New England has been in structural decline for a very long time. As late as 1977, official projections as well as local sentiments still saw the possibility of significant growth (Atlas of New England Geography, Geography Department, Armidale 1977). Decline accelerated after 1977.

Most recently, there has been some renewed population growth, but this is coming off a low base. To compound problems, official planning is based on statistical projections that have low to zero growth built in. This type of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Over the last fifty years, the policy responses intended to address inland New England's decline have been sporadic, ad-hoc and ineffective. We need to turn this around.

Candidates responses to this question will be subject to detailed evaluation to measure the likely direct costs and benefits of the ideas. Generalised, state wide policy proposals will be evaluated in terms of their local effects.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Belshaw's World - Control freaks branded by their blindness

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 2 February 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.

In last week’s column I commented that language used and reality often diverged. In this column, I want to go further, arguing that so far as management speak is concerned, the popularity of a topic in management is often directly but inversely related to what is actually happening on the ground.

Sound extreme? Well let’s test it.

To continue the specific example from last week, in recent times there has been a lot of talk about flexible organisations. Organisations have to be flexible, capable of responding quickly and effectively to changing conditions if they are to survive.

This rhetoric can be directly compared to the on-ground reality, the rise of the centralised command and control organisation.

Then we have the emphasis on standards and performance indicators, especially in Government. Management and public policy rhetoric drips with it. We must set performance standards, practice evidence based management, develop quality frameworks. This rhetoric holds in private and public sectors and at all levels of Government.

The reality? I know of no evidence that management has improved. Just look at NSW or some recent Federal Government program examples to see what I mean.

Still not convinced?

The 1990s saw great emphasis on the importance of people management. Our people are our strength. To a degree, HR emerged from its previous ghetto.

And what was happening on ground? There we saw process re-engineering, the progressive end of permanent employment, retrenchment and outplacement.

The late 1980s marked the rise of the brand. We don’t make things, we manage brand portfolios. We have to get value from our brands.

The only problem is that this emphasis on brands and branding in the private sector coincided with the greatest period of brand destruction in modern business history: once proud brands vanished, replaced by ever more ephemeral substitutes.

The brand jargon expanded into politics and the public sector.

The punters, the dismissive word for voters that emerged into prominence over the same period, chose between brands. If a party was in trouble, its brand had to be renewed.

One of the key problems in all this is that the concepts popularised, the language used, can actually blind us to operational and political realities.

Does anybody seriously consider, for example, that a political party is a brand? Yet this language is used all the time.

There are varying definitions of brands. However, one common definition is that a brand is a name, sign, symbol, slogan or anything that is used to identify and distinguish a specific product, service, or business.

Using this definition, the NSW Labor Party has some of the attributes of a brand. However, this is at best a tenth order issue.

NSW Labor is not in trouble because the brand is in trouble. Rather, the brand is in trouble because NSW Labor as a party and government is in trouble. Branding is actually an irrelevancy.

If you do focus on brands and branding, if you try to use private sector approaches, you get advertising, focus groups and spin.

One of the difficulties faced by those of us trying to improve management is that it’s almost impossible to break through. The mental and organisational lock-in is just too great.

Imagine, for a moment, just what response you might get if you tell a client or the organisation you work for that it must abolish or drastically restructure its existing performance management and reporting systems; do away with terms like key performance indicators, inputs, outputs or outcomes; and give its people greater real freedom to make decisions, to experiment, to take risks, to make errors.

See the problem? It means giving up control. It means learning to think in new ways.

I am actually a great supporter of test and measurement. I was also an early campaigner for program budgeting with its inputs/outputs/outcomes and also for standards based approaches.

My problem lies in the way that all these things have evolved. I cannot continue to support approaches that have so clearly failed. If they cannot be made to work properly, then let’s get rid of them!

Yes but is not a good enough answer in response.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

DIY urban development

Interested to discover this story on US based Techpresident, DIY Urban Development: Step One is to Start a Facebook Group, reporting on Newcastle urban renewal. The trigger was a visit to New York by Marcus Westbury.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

New England Manifesto 1 - a new self government referendum

This post is the first follow up to New England manifesto & the NSW elections setting out suggested questions to be asked of New England candidates at the March NSW elections.


Will you support the holding of another referendum on self-government for Northern NSW during the term of the next NSW Parliament?


Not all New Englanders support statehood, although a large number do.

For those of us who do support statehood, this is a critical question. However, even those who do not, who still believe that the existing system can meet New England needs, can support the idea of another vote on purely practical grounds.

Since the narrow loss at the 1967 plebiscite, political parties have been able to play one part of Northern NSW against another. Strong support for another referendum will force those who want to preserve the constitutional status quo to try to demonstrate that it still does or can work.

New England can't lose from this question.     

Monday, February 07, 2011

New England manifesto & the NSW elections

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

My post yesterday, NSW Labor, the coalition & the New England interest, looked at the difficulties involved in getting people to focus on New England needs at a time of political polarisation.

New England is very divided, divided on party political lines, divided on local and regional lines. This makes it hard to develop real cooperation.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to feature on this blog a series of questions that, together, might lay the base for a New England manifesto. Necessarily, these questions will focus on areas of potential agreement across New England. By exposing them in this way, readers will have a chance to provide input.

Each question will be followed by a policy backgrounder explaining it's importance.

By the end of February, the questions will be consolidated into a questionnaire that can be sent to every candidate in Northern New South Wales. The answers will then be analysed and presented prior to the elections so that voters can make their own judgements.

Candidates will be given a chance to refine their views.We are interested in ideas as much as positions. Further, the results will be presented objectively, recognising that all candidates will have a range of views.

To do all this, we are going to need your support. It's quite a big job. 

If you would like to participate in the project, email me @ ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au.   

Sunday, February 06, 2011

NSW Labor, the coalition & the New England interest

The current electoral climate in NSW is very difficult for those of us who want to bring about real change.

Yesterday I was talking to a died in the wool Labor voter. I said casually that I was thinking of voting Labor, something that would actually be a first. She replied that our votes would cancel out.

The problem I have and the reason I was thinking of voting Labor lies in the fact as I see it that the decline in NSW Labor, the certain success of the opposition, at this election means that the coalition is under no real pressure to look at new things that might bring about change. All the opposition has to do is keep its nose clean, to go with the safe.

Further, the likely scale of victory combined with fixed four year terms means that it may be eight years before the political system opens up again.

Pretty obviously I have a vested interest in New England issues. Quite obviously, too, a fair bit of my writing has focused in one way or another on things that I think are important to New England's longer term future.

This is hard sometimes because New England does not exist in a formal sense. I constantly have to define and explain what I am talking about. Nobody doubts that education is important in NSW, but education in New England? Does it have an importance beyond the local that is not covered by education in NSW?

I argue yes. However, if someone denies the very validity of my concept of New England, then they are not going to listen to my arguments about New England education. My arguments have no meaning to them. If my arguments have no meaning to a large enough group, no political party is going to listen.

During the long period of Labor rule in NSW I gave the Government the courtesy of sometimes painstakingly examining the way their policies affected New England. This was not a party political examination, but a professional one.

I am now going to do the same to the opposition, starting with the National Party.

Why the National Party? Surely I should focus on the Liberals as the major coalition party?

Well, so far as New England is concerned, the Nationals are the biggest coalition party. Further, in the now polarised electoral climate, I am not sure how many of the New England independents will survive other than Richard Torbay. Beyond this, the swing now on looks so big that it seems likely that the Liberals will have a clear majority in their own right. The coalition will survive, but with the Nats in a much weakened position.

Now surely this makes the Libs more important? Well, yes and no.

I am focused not on this election but the one after when the the Nats are likely to come back into the balancing position.  The Libs will continue to be dominated out of Sydney as Labor was. Once the Nats get the balance of power back, Nat policies and approaches will then come back into prominence. I think that is the time when the chances of gaining a New England focus will be greatest.

Of course, I may be wrong. It may be that new Hunter Valley Liberal MPs will have a New England focus and take up the cause. Alternatively, new Hunter independents might do likewise. I just don't think based on the evidence that I have seen to this point that this is likely. After all, New England doesn't exist.

My personal view is that we must try to make New England needs an issue at this election not because it will have any impact now, but to lay the base for the following election when the political climate will have changed.

What do you think?     

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Hot, hostile & frustrated

It's hot, very hot. I was meant to be going to Newcastle today for a new state meeting, but we deferred it to next week because of the heatwave.  Just too hot for people to travel in comfort.

P1060885 We have to move house in the next few weeks and are looking for a new rental place.

We stumbled across our present place by accident. It is a big, rambling Federation style building. It feels like a New England house, a station homestead.

We knew when we moved in that it would only be for a short period, eighteen months. The owners had bought it to redevelop, and only wanted to rent while they worked out their plans and had them approved.

It was fascinating watching the Sydney siders walking round the place when we were renting. We looked and said, let's get it. They looked and said it's not modern enough, paint is peeling, there are not enough mod-cons.

P1060892 The house sits on a hill with 280 degree views over sea and suburbs. It's height means that it gets good ventilation. The garden is large and great for entertainment.

We knew when we moved in that the house would spoil us. For the life of me, I still cannot understand the negative reactions that so many had to the house in the first place.

Now as we drive from rental property to rental property - we must have looked at forty houses so far - I see over-priced house after over-priced house. There is, I guess, a Sydney life style thing at work. Suburb is very important. Then, too, so are public spaces and things like multiple bathrooms.

By contrast, we want three reasonable size bedrooms, a decent kitchen, space for a home office, plus space for books and papers. That's all.

I have formed the jaundiced opinion that Sydney people, at least Eastern Suburbs Sydney people, don't read, nor do they entertain much at home.

I accept that  I am not typical. I grew up in an academic household in a university city. Partially as a consequence, I am now an obsessive writer who loves his books and papers around him. The very smell of a book, the feel, is quite sensuous.

This slimmed down metro life style is really not for me. If I am on holidays, then a modern apartment is a good thing. If I have to live there, it is not.

Sorry for the gripe. But it is very hot, I am tired, and I am tired of looking for a new place to live. It also explains, in part, my present inefficiency in responding to emails and comments.

No doubt things will get better, but I am still pissed off.

I sometimes get asked why I don't go back to New England if I am so annoyed about Sydney. Well, part of the reason is family. Another significant part is that New England as, at best, a branch office economy simply does not offer the type of of opportunities that would enable me to utilise my skills. The jobs aren't there.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Belshaw's World - technology: never a dull moment

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 26 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.

Just because I could, I have added a photo of Helen in Copenhagen.  I make no apologies for this indulgence!

Helen Copenhagen Last week, we saw eldest off on her journey to Copenhagen via London. She will be studying at the Copenhagen Business School for the next six months.

This will be her first time away from home for an extended period, and her father will miss her.

Her mother tracked the plane to London via computer. Then, after Helen arrived in London, we spoke to her via Skype video link up. Each day since, we have had a video chat.

The idea of a video phone was one of the staples of science fiction. Today, we take Skype almost for granted. Yet the first attempt to introduce a video phone actually failed.

Cast your mind back to the distant days of the 1980s. Then the Japanese telco NTT trialled a video phone. The test was a complete failure.

The barrier was a cultural one. Japanese women, the target group, happily chatted by phone for extended periods. However, once they started using the video phone, they would only call their friends when fully made up. This was just too much of an effort for normal day to day life!

Technology gives, but it also takes away.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the New England countryside was quite heavily populated, with a hierarchy of stations, farms, localities, villages and towns.

This was a populated world in which people moved and chatted across a local landscape. Local life centred on individual communities within a relatively easy day’s ride.

The internal combustion engine changed all this. It made things like shopping at bigger centres easier. More importantly, the spread of cars and lorries actually wiped out entire local industries.

On the farm, crops like oats that had fed the horses ceased. In the town, activities such as buggy building and repair, blacksmithing, all declined. Extra jobs were created servicing the new motor vehicles, but they were not sufficient to offset the jobs lost.

The end result was a progressively depopulated country side.

A fair bit of my professional work over the last thirty years has involved new technology in one form or another. I am not a technologist. My focus has been on the business, management and policy implications of the technology.

During that time I have learned two main things.

The first is that the application, the acceptance, of new technology, is generally slower in the short term than the enthusiasts expect. However, once a new technology takes, its growth is usually faster than people expect.

In the words of an old dance step – slow, slow, quick, quick, quick.

The second thing I have learned is that, like the internal combustion engine, the economic and social affects of the technology can rarely be foreseen. Our technology moulds us in ways we often barely understand.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a view that the pace of technological change was accelerating. The time taken for knowledge to double was shortening all the time. Technological and organisational life cycles were constantly shortening.

These views became deeply embedded in management theory and writing. Organisations must become flexible, responsive, able to adapt to a world of constant and accelerating change.

At one level, the popular nostrum was correct. Information was doubling in ever shorter time horizons. Applied technology measured by things such as patents was also accelerating.

At a second level, the popular nostrum was dangerously misleading. While we were getting better at specific applications, the rate of new technological discovery was actually in decline. Worse, the side-effects were starting to become clear.

As early as 1987, writers such as UNE’s Perry Morrison were warning of the dangers of growing systemic complexity. With complexity came increased dangers of failure, of unforseen results.

To give you a simple example of what I mean, consider the problems both Airbus and Boeing have had with their latest offerings. The A380 is flying, but Boeing’s alternative offering has yet to enter service.

Perry had a special focus on complex defence and aerospace systems, but his arguments also apply to organisations.

In the defence arena, people often talk about communications, command and control. These are central to the operations of complex defence systems.

The same terminology applies in management. Instead of organisations becoming more flexible, the new technology has been used to centralise and control. Flexibility has been replaced by command and control.

This divergence between language and reality is not unusual. But that’s the subject of another column!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Bogged down in writing

Still bogged down in my writing. It's frustrating. I seem, am, all over the place. A post om my personal blog, We need a management revolution, deals with one aspect of my current thinking.

It would be much easer if we had  our own Government. I could then focus on New England issues, dealing with broader questions as they affect New England. I guess that I try to do this anyway, but its hard when we don't formally exist.

Formal boundaries are deeply embedded in current thought. They affect every aspect of life.

Those of us from the North have at least a feeling as to what we are, although we way disagree on boundaries. Those outside don't see us, don't accept that our concerns outside the local or narrow regional are legitimate. How can you have legitimate concerns if you don't exist? If you don't appear as a recognised line on a map?

You will see that I am a little depressed at present!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

NEA blog performance January 2011

The attached graph shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) to this blog over January. After the earlier upward trend, you can see how traffic went down and then stagnated! Stats Jan 11 2

The most popular posts in January were:

Excluding search engines, the main referrals to the site came from: