Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bellingen, writing, obituaries and skills

A brief round-up this morning on various issues.Bellingen writers' Festival 2011

By all accounts, the first Bellingen Writers' Festival was a considerable success.  You can find an Armidale perspective from Janene Carey here, a longer Bellingen perspective here

The photo shows part of the audience in the Bellingen Library for the Digging Up the Past session on Sunday morning. Given my interests, this is one session that I would have liked to attend. I quote from the Armidale Express coverage:

One particularly well attended, thought-provoking session was ‘Digging Up the Past’, featuring Linda Neil, Leslie Cannold, Armidale’s Sophie Masson and Wendy James.

Facilitator Ron Howard asked the panel, all of whom had written novels incorporating historical research, about the power of fiction to bring the past to life, and then got them talking about the question of whether historical fiction simply projects contemporary issues back onto people who would not have had the same concerns as us.

A lively discussion ensued, with the authors describing their experiences as readers and writers, and agreeing that their present-day preoccupations necessarily influenced the fictional histories they produced.

I thought that facilitator Howard's question was a pretty fair one, and one relevant to my own writing.

Staying with Bellingen, I see from the Courier-Sun that the next stage of restoration work on the Alma Doepel has begun, The ship is a three masted topsail schooner originally built as a shallow drafted coastal trader in Bellingen in 1903. There is a gap here that I do not understand between the time I visited the ship at Port Macquarie where it was a tourist attraction and the present. Something to find out.

Hadyn Wilson art prizeAdam Fulton reports in The Sydney Morning Herald that Hunter Valley artist Hadyn Wilson has won the $20,000 Gallipoli Art Prize with a montage addressing the human costs of war. My congratulations.

There were were two interesting obituaries in the Sydney Morning Herald with New England connections.

The first was the remarkable story of  Dutch born Jack Dalmayer. Did you know that there was such a thing as Victory Camp in Casino which was declared Dutch territory by the Australian government early in the war and was occupied by the 1st Battalion, Netherlands East Indies Army, consisting of Dutch and Indonesian soldiers. I did not. Jack was part of a group came to be known as ''The Dutch Boys'' or ''The Casino Boys''. I leave it to you to read more.

The second obituary also has a Northern Rivers connection, the story of community activist Bess Dwyer.

Meantime, fellow New England blogger Paul Barratt who has written a fair number of obituaries for the metropolitans media has posted a new one, Vale Rex Robert Budd, DFC (1935-2Leith in Spitfire010). Rex was a TAS (The Armidale School) old boy.

This followed an earlier obituary of another old boy, Duty Done: Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC.

If you look at the various obituaries I have mentioned you will get a feel for my liking for them. They are all so very different, but are also part of the varied tapestry of New England life.

Over on my personal blog, Poker machines, Windsor and Joyce is a follow up to an earlier story I did on Andrew Wilkie and the proposed poke machine tax.

I must say that I take a really evil pleasure in the way that political events have made New England from the Hunter to the border once again politically relevant in a way that we haven't actually seen since the 1960s. Long may it continue!

In State fragmentation & the meaning of NSW economic statistics I referred in part to problems in attracting skilled labor, especially in inland New England. Much earlier in my column in the Armidale Express I made the suggestion that for at least some migration should be attached, a residency requirement should be attached to get people to the country.  Last night's ABC 7.30 Report carried a story on labour shortages in the Queensland town of Roma. You will find the transcript here. I quote from one part of the transcript:

SAUL ESLAKE, GRATTAN INSTITUTE: But given the long-term nature of any effective solution to this kind of problem, it's one that the Government ought to be working on solutions to over the next two or three years because if they don't, then some of those consequences in terms either of opportunities foregone or unsustainable upward pressure on wages could come home to bite us in a very nasty way.

If I took a certain evil pleasure in the return to prominence of Northern New South Wales, my broader New England, I took no pleasure from Mr Eslakes' comment. I have been banging away at some of these issues for a number of years. To my mind, there has been no progress over the last twenty years.

The key problems lie in lack of continuity, of focus, of integration. The lead time to train a specialist medico now has blown out on the shortest route to eleven years, more normally fourteen or fifteen years. Whereas most people once gained their trade qualifications at twenty, they are now twenty three or twenty four.

With long lead times as well as structural impediments, If you really want to fix some of these skills issues you need to adopt a twenty year planning horizon. That's how long it will actually take. With the average Government policy having, at best, a three year life expectancy before major modification, it's no wonder that we end up reacting to the current squeaky wheel!

I said that this was going to be a brief round-up. I find that I have barely scratched the surface, but I am far out of time.


Janene Carey, the writer of the Armidale Express article came in with a very interesting comment. This led me to write this post, George Negus, watermelons & the meaning of words. Have a look at Janene's comments first, and then my post.


Janene Carey said...

Hi Jim
The printed version of my story contained another section that wasn't put on our website.


DURING the Q & A part of his session, George Negus was quizzed by University of New England lecturer Jeremy Fisher about a reference he’d made to Barack Obama as ‘the best thing since sliced watermelon’, with Dr Fisher suggesting that the metaphor was racist.
Mr Negus seemed flabbergasted, asking whether ‘you can see my jaw dropping from over there?’ but apologising if he’d caused offence inadvertently.
Dr Fisher persisted, suggesting Negus habitually used tongue-in-cheek comments as a cover for his real views. The facilitator chose as the next questioner someone sitting as far away from the UNE contingent as possible.

■ In another audience participation moment that created a frisson in the Memorial Hall, an elderly man asked Leslie Cannold, author of 'The Book of
Rachael', a novel which sets out to rescue the sisters of Jesus from oblivion, why she was ‘wasting her time writing this religious claptrap?’ Dr Cannold, an agnostic feminist social commentator who was recently named Australian Humanist of the Year, said it was a good question, but as she tried to answer it in terms of the silencing of women’s voices, the man kept interrupting her.
When she asked to be allowed to finish a sentence, he said “No, you’ve been talking too much”, which was greeted with an audible gasp of disapproval from the audience and a call from up the back to ‘take the microphone off
that man’.


BTW my first version of the Negus incident had a line explaining watermelon has a history of being pejoratively linked to black people from the southern states of the USA, but I removed that because I thought it sounded too didactic and it would be best to let people draw their own conclusions.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's fascinating, Janene. On reading your comment, I revisited Dr Fisher's CV and also his blog. Clearly he has strong opinions on certain matters, as did the man who quized Leslie Cannold.

The second is simply an example of strong views. However, I would have thought that there was a bit of a conflict between Dr Fisher's approach to Mr Negus and his (Dr Fisher's) professional role.

If I had heard Mr Negus make that comment, but depending on the precise context, I would have interpreted it as an expression of support - a variant of the best thing since sliced bread. Intersting how words can trip us up!

Sophie Masson said...

Hi Jim
Just caught up with your blog! Very interesting indeed!
Am following it now.
Wanted to let you know too about my new blog, a la mode frangourou, a French Australian take on food(frangourou in French, frangaroo in English is my own coining for French Australian!)--and which includes stuff on living case you're interested it's at

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sophie. Good to hear from you and loved the blog. I can bounce posts off it to my heart's content!

Family well. Dee's in Europe visiting Helen who is studying at Copenhagen Business School for six momths. At the moment, the pair are on the train from Prague to Berlin! Clare well and very busy with all sorts of things, while I'm still trying to write my history of New England.

Sophie Masson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sophie Masson said...

hi Jim, and glad you love the blog! thanks for posting about it too.
very good to hear your news, all sounds great. say hi to everyone for me, esp Dee, would love to catch up some time, either in Syd or Armidale..
all good with our family--kids allliving in Sydney though! we do catch up with them fairly often though. cheers, Sophie

Sophie Masson said...

sorry, doubled up there!

Jim Belshaw said...

Kids living in Sydney, it's the country story! Dee's on Facebook, although she didn't see the point for a while. Will send FB message with Sydney contact details.