Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chris Walker-Bush on Armidale

I know that I'm biased about Armidale. It's not just that I grew up there. It's really a great place. 

Neil Whitfield, a fellow blogger, alerted me to Chris Walker-Bush's  Aussie on the Road blog. It's quite a fun blog, but that's not the point of this post. Chris did Theatre Studies at UNE. His The Country Charms of Armidale records his liking of the place.

From my experience, he underestimates both parties and adventure! But it's still a nice picture.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Around the New England media 16 - a Gwydir Highway focus

It is just two months since I did my  last New England media round-up, although I have been monitoring. Last time my focus was as the title said - Around the New England media 15 - small town & independent focus. This time I thought that I would take an east-west slice.

In Grafton, MP for Clarence Steve Cansdell  (Nationals) remains concerned about the complete absence of Clarence Valley representation on the Northern NSW Local Health Board.

I actually blinked at the name. I didn't know that Northern NSW had a Local Health Board. It doesn't - this is the name for the Northern Rivers Board. The other New England Boards are Hunter-New England and Mid North Coast. This one is going to roll on for a while, I think. Tysona from Grafton was not impressed:    

Steve's " not sure what happened" is not reassuring for his understanding of issues in general. If his comments are to be believed re Bob Thompson, it would appear the North Coast Nationals got rolled by the Sydney Libs. Steve's "not sure what he will achieve" is further evidence that the Nat's are really second fiddle to the Sydney Libs and not really any power in the government even over matter in rural areas. This does not bode well for the bush, and particularly our part of the bush. The Health Board now has one rep from Clarence, one from Tweed and the rest from Lismore, with the same ever persistent CEO married to an upper house Lib. New Health management structure ?? NO same old same old.

Meantime, Maclean is seeking to enhance its links with  the Clarence River. The trigger is the development of the MacLean River Precinct Plan.

The aim of the plan is to maximise Maclean’s relationship to the river so that the town can be better accessed from the water by “yachties”, and so that visitors and residents in the town can get the most out of the river.

As an outsider who used to know Maclean quite well, this would seem to make a good deal of sense. One of the wonderful things about the Clarence is the varying relationship between river and the surrounding communities.

Yaegl native title claim The Yaegl Aboriginal  Aboriginal Land Council has lodged a second native title claim covering land from the Wooli River to Yamba and also extending three kilometres out to sea. 

The claim applies to only crown land that is vacant and does not apply to public infrastructure of private holdings.

The map from the Grafton Daily Examiner shows claims. What the map doesn't show is that the Clarence is the junction of three major language groups.

To the north are the Bundjalung (also Bandjalang), there are the Yaegl at the mouth of the river and  then the Gumbaynggir to the south. Yaegl is a Gumbaynggir language, but is sufficiently different to be classified as a language in its own right.

We now move inland up the Gwydir Highway. This original map from Mark's Clarence Valley Today shows  the old and new roads to Glen Innes.  Gwydir Hwy

in Glen Innes, Wendy Watts has been re-elected as chair of the Australian Celtic Festival committee. New England has a strong Scottish connection. Maclean has, I think, the oldest continuous Scottish celebration in Australia, while Glen Innes has turned its Scottish connection into a national Celtic festival. 

Continuing this theme, the Combined Gaelic Clans of Australasia Inc gathered at the Cooramah Aboriginal Cultural Centre for the Chieftain’s midwinter-dinner. Now there's a mix of the old, older and new!

Glen Innes is participating again in the Country and Regional Living Expo at Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens with a three member team: deputy mayor Col Price, Economic Development and Tourism manager Wendy Fahey and Economic Development and Tourism officer Melanie Fuller. Developed by Armidale's Peter Bailey, the Expo aims to market non-metro living to Sydneysiders interested in tree or sea change.

It's a slow process. I spoke of one success story in Sydney barrister tree-changes to Glen Innes.

Moving west just down the road to Inverell, the Inverell Times reports on the NSW State Government's plans to regulate wind farms. This has been quite a hot issue in the Glen Innes-Inverell area, with considerable community opposition.

The NSW opposition has called on the government to immediately clarify its position to put the concerns of rural and regional residents to rest. This led the Member for Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay to point out that this could be very much a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

“That’s a bit rich, coming from a former government that prematurely approved developments and over-rode the requirement for a two kilometre buffer zone,” Mr Torbay said.

In November 2009 Mr Torbay attacked the then Planning Minister for approving a wind farm near Glenn Innes where two residences were less than 900 metres from the turbines.

At the time Mr Torbay said the decision was unacceptable and flew in the face of Glen Innes Severn and Inverell council guidelines that turbines should be at least two kilometres from people’s houses.

He also labelled the Labor Government’s decision as premature because it pre-empted the recommendations of an Upper House Committee inquiry into wind farms, which was still sitting at the time.

New England's environmental battles, something that I have written on a fair bit, continue.

In Inverell, the council is also worried about the impact of the carbon tax.

“The first thing that we do know is that electricity has already gone up, and in our current budget we’re up for another $190,000,” Cr Johnston said.

“Near enough to $200,000 extra for electricity, that’s without the carbon tax, so we can only assume that will continue to go up; the other thing we are aware of in this proposal is if the diesel fuel rebate goes, that’s $150,000 – now for us to raise another $250,000 we would need a special rate rise of three per cent above inflation.

“Our recent 2.8 per cent rate rise did not keep up with our Index Of Costs for Local Government, in NSW there’s a rate pegging legislation, which is obviously popular, but council has to comply with every other law in the country too, we can’t cut wages, we can’t cut superannuation contributions, we can’t cut long service leave entitlements, so the only thing we can cut is our services,” Cr Johnston said.

Cr Johnston said people had to understand there were only two things council could do; do the job and pay for it or not do it and not spend the money.

Meantime, Federal Opposition leaders continue to maintain the anti-carbon tax campaign in the Inverell area.

Continuing down the Highway, we pass onto the plains and reach Moree. Here, like Inverell, national issues affect debate. In this case its the poker machine levy. The Moree Champion reports:  

MOREE’S two registered clubs say they would have to close their doors if the Gillard Government pushes ahead with plans to introduce a ‘licence to punt’ for poker machine players.

The Moree and District Services Club and Moree Golf Club would face a $1.6 million bill to install the Federal Government’s mandatory pre-commitment technology. Revenues are also expected to fall by a further $3 million annually as recreational gamblers refuse to sign up for the Government’s pokie licence.

The general manager of Moree Golf Club, Geoffrey Benson, said that such a high installation cost was simply impossible to meet for not-for-profit clubs.

“The Federal Government is ignoring the important role clubs play in the community just so they can keep a Tasmanian independent MP onside,” he said.

“Here in Moree, our two clubs have more than 6200 club members in a town with a population of around 8000 people.

“We provide and maintain sporting facilities including an 18-hole golf course, two bowling greens and sports ovals. Without our two clubs, Moree locals would have to travel 100km to access these facilities.

“We also sponsor cricket teams, netball teams, junior golf, the local race club as well as a range of other local charities and organisations.

“The Government certainly won’t provide that community funding when we’re forced to close our doors,” Mr Benson said.

I am going to have to stop here. I have run out of time!

Friday, July 29, 2011

EWA & the death of Alec Shand

Alec Shand Barrister Alec Shand has died. His colourful life is well covered in Mark McGinness' obituary.

Outside the Northern Rivers where he had a farm and practiced in his later years, Alec Shand was not well known in New England. Yet he occupied a niche in New England history.

I don't know what it was about the Shands, but they were all larger than life. This was certainly true of Alec's uncle Don Shand.

John Athison's piece in the Australian Dictionary of Biography draws out some of the colour of the man. In 1947, Don founded East West Airlines, the airline seen by so many New Englanders as their airline. Alec's father, John Wentworth Shand, became a board member.  

Now what I had not realised is that Alec later became a board member. There is actually in my mind a degree of confusion here. Mark's obituary refers to Alec as Don's cousin. He was in fact Don's nephew. So I'm not quite sure how father and son fitted together in the history of East West.

I have written a number of posts on EWA. I will do an overview post at a later point.    

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lismore, Dobell & Margaret Olley

Olley_8813a_cornflower_Pomegranates_2 Back in March 2008 in Margaret Olley's New England connection I recorded a fact that I had not known, that Australian artist Margaret Olley was born in New England.

The painting, Cornflowers with Pomegranates 1991, is a pretty typical Olley work showing her mastery of colour.

Her recent death marks the end of an era. I have not yet seen a full obituary, but details of her life are covered in the ABC report Artist Margaret Olley dead (and here).

One thing that I had forgotten was that another painter with New England connections, William Dobell, had painted a portrait of Margaret Olley in 1948 that became something of a cause célèbre because of its style. The painting seems very mild now, but it did attract controversy then.

On a purely New England note, I see from the Lismore  Northern Star that her death may create difficulties for Lismore's attempts to create a Margaret Olley gallery. Lismore, Margaret Olley's birthplace, has been struggling to raise funds. Another problem is that a number of places can claim an Olley connection, making time important.


I really love the comments and feedback I get! Anon wrote:

Margaret Olley also had connections to Newcastle.

She bought many properties on the The Hill and in Maitland and lived there for quite a few years in the 1960s.

She donated a painting a year to the Newcastle Regional Art gallery. Sadly they probably don't have enough space to display them.

She should be remembered as great New England artist.

So now we have three New England connections!

  • She was born here at Lismore
  • She starred in the famous portrait by William Dobell, another New England artist
  • And she lived in the Hunter for a period and also donated paintings to the Newcastle Art gallery.

olley01 I am very happy to follow Anon's approach and claim her as a great New England artist, even if we have to share parts of her with others!

Postscript 2

In a comment, Greg kindly pointed me to this 2007 ABC interview between Peter Thompson and Margaret Olley. This shows quite clearly her affection for Newcastle.

I thought it worthwhile quoting a few bits in full.

On childhood:

MARGARET OLLEY: My earliest recollections of living in Tully, in north Queensland, were the sounds of the rain on Mt Tyson. You could hear the roar as it approached. It louder and louder. My mother would have time to run out and take the washing off the line.

My mother Grace has been a nurse and my father, Joseph, he was a farmer. I eventually was old enough to go to school and we had to ride across the Tully River 'cause when the river was swollen, you'd have to swim the horses across with your little feet above the saddle. I can always remember that. I think I must have fallen off a horse a couple of times.

Then I was sent to boarding school at the age of six, in Townsville. It certainly cuts the umbilical cord and makes you independent. Then we went down to live on the Tweed River. I think that's when my childhood really began.

And those days, the Depression was on. There was no money. We were living in the country. You made your own amusement. We rode across the river, picked up by the school bus and went to school in Murwillumbah.

I remember the whole of my school week seemed to gravitate round the art class. And when I left school, my mother would have loved me to become a nurse. Can you imagine! I think I would have killed a patient. But she said "Send her to art school."

On the Dobell controversy:

The painter William Dobell said he'd like to do a portrait of me. I was about to go up to Brisbane for holidays before I left for overseas. He did a few little drawings, one quick one, then he did a very detailed drawing. I never saw the painting until I came down from Brisbane with news that it had won the Archibald Prize.

VOICEOVER: Dobell. In the '40s, he rides the crest of fame on controversy. His portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith is dubbed a caricature and grotesque. But he retains the Archibald Prize and in 1948, does it again with his portrait of young Brisbane artist, Margaret Olley. The critics again protest.

MARGARET OLLEY: And of course the publicity surrounding that award was horrendous. I've always been a shy person so I was not really prepared. There were photographers hounding me and the press were hounding me and quite frankly, I couldn't cope with it. You couldn't get away from it. I found it very difficult, when I came back, to even approach the painting. I really wanted to take another look at it but I kept thinking there must be somebody watching me, or a camera would come out, and I'd have to quietly go round the corner and take a peep at it.

PETER THOMPSON: You were emerging as an artist at this same time.

MARGARET OLLEY: I was, and it used to irritate me when people would say "The sitter of the Dobell prize." I used to say "And I also paint." I'd have to add very curtly "And I also paint."

On Newcastle:

Then I became interested in Newcastle. Of course, I love Newcastle. It's so masculine. The topography, it's just what a painter needs. I bought my first house in Newcastle and then a few others. Not that I made a lot of money there - I didn't. I just made enough to give me the freedom to paint. People used to say "Where do you live?" I used to say "I don't know, I live in a basket" because I always seemed to be on my way from Sydney and Newcastle to Brisbane. I had clothes and paintbrushes in every place. You just take a few things in the basket from one place to another........

Tonight I'm off to the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery. It's their talk on philanthropy, which I'm a great believer in. I'm going with Christine France and of course Christine France will be doing most of the talking. I haven't thought yet what I'm going to say but as I love Newcastle so much I hope it'll come out alright.

CHRISTINE FRANCE: Now I'm going to hand you over to one of Australia's greatest living benefactors and artists, Dr Margaret Olley, rate payer of Newcastle.

MARGARET OLLEY (at the lecture) : The marvellous thing is, I miss all that smog and that sort of humming in the night that used to be part of Newcastle. It was like the heartbeat of Newcastle. Lucy Swanton that ran one of the very few art galleries, she gave very generously. I used to think she was mad. I never, ever thought that I might be doing a similar sort of thing and get the same sort of favour.

She was a remarkable woman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Belshaw's World - New England’s German connection

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 20 July 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.

Have you ever heard of Karl Ludwig Wilhelm Kirchner? I hadn’t until just a few years ago, and yet he’s quite an important figure in New England history.

Wilhelm Kirchner as he is usually called was born in Frankfurt in 1814.

His father was a wealthy burger. Wilhelm received a good education and then, at age eighteen, went to Manchester to stay with friends. There he met two Sydney merchants.

Attracted by the idea of the new colony, he left for Sydney on the Mary arriving on 20 July 1839. Achieving commercial success, he became consul for Hamburg in 1846 and then persuaded the NSW Government to appoint him to bring German migrants to Sydney on a bounty basis, with the first 600 arriving in 1849. In the end, thousands of German migrants came to the colony over the next decade.

The Germany that they left was not the Germany that we know today. To understand this, we need to go back into history.

The Napoleonic Wars raged between 1803 and 1815. In many ways this was the first modern war in which the resources of the state were marshaled for the purposes of armed conflict. Had Napoleon won this war, it is quite possible that the French Empire would today be the dominant power in Europe, that the European colonial expansion would have been dominated by the French. Instead, the British Empire became the dominant global power.

Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, the territory that is now Germany formed part of what was called The Holy Roman Empire, or from 1512 The Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic Nation.

The Empire was always a somewhat ramshackle affair, caught in constant tensions between the centre and the competing parts. By the start of the Napoleonic Wars it was a crazy patchwork quilt of states, principalities, religious territories and free cities.

The Empire was formally dissolved in 1806 following military defeat by Napoleon. When Napoleon in turn was defeated, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 established the German Confederation as a loose confederation of 39 states and free cities. That is why Wilhelm Kirchner could become consul for Hamburg, for Hamburg was effectively an independent state.

Riven with internal conflicts and especially rivalry between Austria and Prussia, the Confederation collapsed in 1866 following war between Prussia and Austria. In 1871, the Prussian controlled German Empire was formed.

All this may sound complicated, and indeed it was. However, it sets a context, for many of New England’s German settlers came to escape the turmoil and sometimes persecution within their homelands. In doing so, they added greatly to the depth and texture of New England life.

The settlers that Wilhelm Kirchner himself brought out settled in various parts of New England from the Hunter Valley north. The German influence was especially strong in the Clarence Valley where Kirchner established significant business interests.

Many of the German settlers were what we would call today skilled migrants, skilled in building, wine making and various crafts. Many became very successful farmers and business people.

One of the Kirchner settler families, for instance, was John (Johan) Sommerlad and his wife Louisa Wilhelmina who became part of Tenterfield’s growing German community. Their son Ernest founded one of New England’s press families, a family that exercised a profound influence on the country press over several generations.

Like the Sommerlads or Jacob Scheef who settled on the Rocky River diggings, many of the German settlers were devout protestants who were to play active roles in church activities including the Methodist Church. However, the new arrivals were not just protestant.

The Ursuline nuns who came to Armidale in 1882 were also escaping religious persecution. Highly cultured, the nuns brought a different influence and perspective to New England life, enriching individual and community life in a variety of ways.

In the 1920s, a young English boy called Maslyn Williams was sent by his family to work as a jackaroo on a big station outside Tenterfield. Falling in love with Australia, Williams became one of Australia’s best known writers and documentary film makers.

In 1988, Williams published a best selling memoir, My Mother’s Country, on his life on the station.

In that book, he talks about the influence of the Ursuline nuns. He also talks about the local newspaper editor. Although he does not name him (Williams wrote in the third person and concealed or altered names), it is pretty clearly Ernest Sommerlad.

In writing, Williams was not concerned with Germans or Germany. Yet his book provides glimpses of the continuing German heritage now absorbed into the patterns of every day New England life.

I found that very satisfying.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kempsey worries about its flood levies

I have written two stories on floods in Kempsey, both connected with the 1949 disaster - Belshaw's World - Kempsey disaster – six killed, huge damage, Aeradio and the 1949 Kempsey Floods. Now I see from the Macleay Argus that Kempsey Mayor John Bowell is worried about the state of the levees protecting the town.

One on the features of New England rivers is their quick rise with heavy rainfall. Quiet streams can quickly go to rampaging torrents.

I do wonder whether or not we need new approaches to flood mitigation. It's not an area I am expert in. I do know that in the 1950s there was a coordinated approach to the topic centred on dams and levies. The approach now seems to have become much more reactive. In fact, we seem to be struggling to maintain the work previously done.

I am not saying that we should build more dams, although that may be sensible in some case. I am just wondering how we get a better approach. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cold Chisel, Silverchair & the Newcastle musical tradition

During the week there was an email exchange with Matt on my long standing desire to create a proper New England guide book, one that covers all of Northern New South Wales.

cold chisel newcastle As will be clear to anyone who read this blog, I love the texture of New England life.

This photo  of Australian band Cold Chisel comes from Newcastle's Urban Insider.

As I wrote in Round the New England blogging traps 21 - a few photos, Cold Chisel's song writer Don Walker came from New England.

Because of its industrial tradition, Newcastle has a gritty tradition. The band Silverchair came from Newcastle, while Cold Chisel had a very strong following there. If Walker's Flame Trees is about Grafton,  "Star Hotel", an attack on the late-70s government of Malcolm Fraser, was inspired by the Star Hotel riot in Newcastle.  It somehow seems appropriate that Cold Chisel should plan to begin its new national tour in Newcastle!

It is very hard for a single writer to capture all the elements of the ever changing textures of New England life. They are simply ignored by the dominant metro media. They just don't see the links, or the geographic or historical context.

That is one reason why I want a proper guide book. When I look at the influence of, say, the Lonely Planet guide books, they create a structure for others to enjoy the history and life of a particular area.

Further, once created, they  (the guide books) acquire a life of their own because of the constant feedback to the guide book creators.

Who in Australia knows about the Newcastle musical tradition? Since they don't, local bands and venues have no chance to build on the tradition through visitor attraction. Just a small example, but it's one replicated across every aspect of New England life.


Greg made an interesting comment on this post that I think worth repeating in full.    

Hi Jim, I was at the Star Hotel on that night in 1979. Cold Chisel were indeed very popular in Newcastle and to this day some will even claim that Cold Chisel played. For the record it was actually local band Heroes.

The hotel was due to be closed permanently and Heroes were the last act to appear before it's demise. The Star was a popular live venue and it was standing room only as the pub was packed with emotion charged youth such as myself eager to send it out on high.

Unfortunately, the police were also there and on the nose of closing time shut the power and tried to empty the pub. It was a spark to a powder keg and the patrons reacted angrily - spilling over onto King Street, confronting the police, hurling missiles, upturning and setting fire to cars in what become an infamous confrontation played out on national news bulletins.

In addition to a thriving music and art scene, Newcastle is also a hotbed for dance. International artists such as Marilyn Jones, Dein Perry and Damian Smith all came from Newcastle and there are many Newcastle trained dancers on the international stage. Also Newcastle boy Rhys Kozakowski was one of the four boys who performed the lead role in the Australian musical stage production of "Billy Elliot".

Many high profile dance companies and schools around the world have Newcastle trained dancers in their ranks and Newcastle is recognised internationally as a breeding ground for excellence in dance.

At the concert hall of the Opera House this weekend is the final of the MacDonald Performing Arts Challenge (Sydney Eisteddfod). The tradition continues with two of the eight finalists in the solo section from Newcastle. Newcastle is also represented as one of the six finalists in the group section.

The arts tradition in Newcastle is alive and thriving and the city punches well above it's weight. It is ironic that Newcastle is perhaps better know internationally in this regard than right here in our own country.

Well done Newcastle, but it also demonstrates again the point I made in this post about out of sight, out of mind. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Manning River Winter festival 2012 dates set

There is already a Manning River Summer Festival. Now I see from the Manning River Times that there is a Winter Festival as well.

Next year's Festival will be held over a four day period, June 7-10, 2012.

Sixty-four organisations have been approached and the organising committee is awaiting responses from them.

Roger Woodward, world renowned concert pianist, will appear in an afternoon concert at the Manning Entertainment Centre on Sunday June 10, on the new grand piano.

Other events already scheduled are: the art awards at Manning Regional Gallery, combined choirs concert, artists walk and art gallery exhibition, possible dance or ball and the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Should your organisation wish to be involved in the program next year, contact president Mike Collins (02) 6553 6659 or  Don Macinnis (02) 6552 3080. There doesn't appear to be a web site at this point.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bauxite discovered near Guyra

Guyra bauxite 2

I was fascinated to discover that Australian Bauxite had been investigating bauxite deposits near Guyra. You can find the company's press release here

The map shows the drill hole locations, with thick, high grade bauxite marked in red.

It appears that the bauxite includes some exceptionally high grade, thick gibbsite bauxite suitable for use as a sweetner in bauxite refining.

Apparently, you mix the high grade with lower grade bauxite to accelerate the refining process.

You can see that the new discoveries are close to the now disused Great Northern Railway. The suggestion is that bauxite mining might support the re-opening of this portion of the line.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Firminger, Belshaw & the environment

This post is just a short muse.

You would think that Peter Firminger (and @PeterFirminger)and I would not get on.

He is a Green supporter and I am not. He is seriously worried about mining development and is an active protagonist of the country and regional movements designed to stop certain mining activities in their tracks.  I am more worried about New England economic development and consider that if environmentalists had had their way, had even existed in the past, then key economic developments would simply not have happened.

Yet despite all this, Peter and I cooperate. There are a number of reasons for this.

Both of us believe that local community development and empowerment is central. Both of us believe that current structures work against the local and regional, that blind imposition of centrally imposed rules by people who do not understand that their decisions can adversely affect people in ways that they barely understand is simply silly. Both of us support New England self government, the creation of constitutional structures based on geography and community interest  that will make government more effective and representative. Both of us believe that that we must develop new approaches. And both of us are inclined to try to do too much in pursuit of new approaches!

Like Peter, I have been a community activist. I still wear sloppy joes carrying the slogan  Save New England on the front, No Big guns on New England on the back. These date back to the days when Canberra wanted to turn a large proportion of the western half of the New England Tablelands into a military firing range. I get some very strange looks now when I wear them!

There is a blind insensitivity today in Government decision making. People do not recognise that Government decisions create a pattern of winners and losers. Perhaps more precisely, they do, but regard it as abstract and unimportant.

Take mining in the Hunter Valley. The costs of that mining are local. The economic benefits including taxation largely go elsewhere. You shouldn't be surprised, therefore, when locals object.

I am not saying that the local should override the benefits of the "broader good" however defined. I am saying that our current systems do not allow the local and the regional to be taken into account. They do not allow for a fair sharing of the costs and the benefits.

Those like Peter and I who argue for new approaches are ignored until the wheels finally fall off.

I listened to a radio report on coal development on the Liverpool Plains. Personally I support this. But the glancing reference to possible pollution of ground water on the program seemed oblivious to the fact that, and it is a fact, that these ground water reserves are the greatest reserves in Northern New South Wales, the broader New England.

The farmers who use this fact to attack mining are using its for their own ends. However, that doesn't of itself make the argument wrong. The public servants, politicians and mining interests who accuse the farmers of self-interest are just as guilty of the same.

My point is that we need more discussion, more analysis, to allow people to work though the issues. There will still be real differences at the end, there will still be winners and losers, but we will have a much more sensible final outcome.          

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Belshaw's World - pitfalls of the online world

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 13 July 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 am constantly amazed the number of people who want to give me money. The emails often begin “Dearly Beloved” and then go on to advise me that that is a some huge sum sitting in some bank just waiting to be shared with me!

I first came across what would come to be known as the Nigerian scam while living in Armidale. In those pre-email days it came in the form of a letter, but the message was still the same.

Over the years, the messages have evolved, in some cases becoming more sophisticated and plausible. To the original Nigerian scam has been added the lottery win, the bequest complete with lawyer’s details, the charity deal.

Most of these things area reasonably easy to spot because they offer something for nothing. More difficult are the constant stream of emails requesting me to update my bank account details, tax details or some other piece of information.

I first came across this one in the form of a very well presented email apparently from PayPal. It looked quite genuine.

As it happened, I didn’t have a PayPal account and thought that there must have been an error. So I clicked through intending to point the error out.

A page came up requiring me to enter my PayPal details. I couldn’t do that since I didn’t have any to enter, so clicked on another link that actually did take me into the official PayPal site.

You can see how sophisticated it was. The links on the false site actually worked!

Anybody who has been on email for a while quickly learns to be suspicious simply because there is so much of it. However, I can see how easily people could be fooled.

The rise of identity theft has further complicated life.

In a way we are our own worst enemies. Most of us like the convenience of the on-line world, but then we end up placing a lot of personal information on-line, making it available on-line or simply storing it on our own computer. All this makes us vulnerable to theft.

However, it goes further than this, a lot further.

For a whole complex of reasons, Government agencies increasingly demand that we prove our identity. This flows through into the private sector. We need points for this, proof of that.

At the simplest level, identity theft is no more than a stolen credit card number. But what happens if somebody actually steals your full identity? How do you prove who you are? It can, in fact, be very hard.

In all this, the thing that actually annoys me most is the systems set up to stop spam and junk email.

I know that they are important. Without them, my blogs in particular could well submerge in spam comments.

Some do get through as it is. You can nearly always tell that they are spam.

I write something on, say, fossicking in New England. Then I get a comment such as good essay, interesting topic with a link through to limo hire in New York or an on-line essay writing service for students.

Yet my problem with spam is that my spam blocks actually end up excluding really important comments or emails.

Someone asks why I haven’t responded to an email. What email, I reply? Then when I trawl back though the junk mail folder I find it hidden away there in the depths!

There are no easy solutions to any of this. We all just have to learn to manage, to protect ourselves.

Yet it remains a bloody nuisance!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New England's missing millions

Just at present, all those living in NSW have been hit by very large increases in electricity prices. The increase is greatest in the country.

In previous posts I described the way that the Sydney Government seized county council electricity assets. Sydney's 1995 electricity heist provides a potted summary of the history.

In a letter to the Armidale Express (18 July 2011), Hugh Cameron from Wollomombi asked what had happened to the $15 million that the New England Electricity County Council had accumulated to fund future replacement of infrastructure in its area. As Mr Cameron notes, this money was raised from margins on charges to customers.

The money was, of course, stripped out and used to fund Sydney Government operations. Now former NECC customers are being asked to pay more to replace aging infrastructure that would (should) have been funded from those reserves.

This is a double whammy. First the reserve funds raised from NECC customers were taken, and now those same customers are being asked to pay for replacement infrastructure.

It hardly seems fair. It would be interesting to get a proper accounting of just how the $15 million was spent.       

New England's railway museums

Following up my last post, Introducing New England's railways, I thought that I should at least list some of New England's railway museums to help those who want to plan a railway trip.

A list of railway museums follows. You will see the strong Hunter Valley focus, reflecting the Valley's many railway lines. By far the largest New England rail festival is the Hunter Valley Steamfest held in April of each year. One of the best sites background for those planning to explore New England's railway history is Rolfe Bozier's

Hunter Valley 

The Richmond Vale Railway Museum is a volunteer non-profit organization, formed in 1979 with the aim of preserving the Railway and Mining Heritage of J&A Brown and the Hunter Valley.

The R.V.R.M. is located in the old Richmond Main Colliery site, Main Road 135, Leggett's Drive, Richmond Vale 4kms south of Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley.

The R.V.R.M. runs trains first three Sundays of each month and every Sunday during School Holidays however we are closed entirely during the month of December. Gates open at 10am and close at 4pm.

The Rail Motor Society was established in 1984 as a not-for-profit organisation to collect, preserve and operate a representative fleet of NSW Government Railways rail motors. The Society operates heritage tourist trains on the NSW railway network.

The Society's Depot and Museum is located in the old Paterson Goods Yard opposite Paterson Railway Station, on the North Coast Line. Road access is off Webbers Creek Road.

The Depot houses the Society's collection of Rail Motors and other rolling stock. The steel 3-road Rail Motor Shed was constructed in 1992-93 and is 75 metres long and 14 metres wide.

I was going to give more information on the Society and especially its rail tours. Sadly, I cannot copy from the Society's web site and don't have the time to retype. So I will leave it to you to follow up.

Great Northern/Main North Line and associated lines - from the Hunter to the Borderfettlersculpture Werris Creek

This is the fettler's sculpture from the Werris Creek Railway Monument and associated Rail Journey's Museum.

Built as a memorial to those who died whilst working to develop our nation's infrastructure, the Australian Railway Monument is a sight to behold. Opened in October 2005, the six evocative structures of the monument are set on the backdrop of the impressive historical Werris Creek Railway Station. Search the name walls of this sobering commemoration and acknowledge those who died on duty.

The associated Rail Journeys Museum is located in the Railway Refreshment Room building of the Werris Creek Railway Station. This unique Museum brings history to life with the new Audio Visual component. Designed to tell the personal social life of railway men and women, the rail journeys museum is operated by ex-railway workers who tell of the laughs, joys and tears of working on the railway.

The museum is at Railway Avenue and is open 7 days, 10am - 4pm. Entry by donation.

Armidale Railway Museum (web site has an extensive collection of tools and implements used by old-time railwaymen, including trolleys and "trikes" used on the most remote parts of the railway line.

The Railway Museum is adjacent to the Railway Station on the corner of Brown & ODell Streets, Armidale. Exterior exhibits can be viewed at any time. Interior display open 11am - 11.30am each day. Admission is free. Donations welcome.

Guyra Railway Station has been now been turned into general museum. The Guyra Antique Machinery Museum displays the evolution of farm machinery, from horse-drawn to rubber tyred tractors. In this day of automation, the chaff cutters, water pumps and sheep shearing plants will remind you of the hard work our agricultural pioneers endured.

Tenterfield Railway Station and yard is managed by Tenterfield Railway Preservation Society.  It is among the most complete station precincts in terms of composition of railway buildings and small objects typical of an important regional style railway station. 

Listed as one of only 6  Rail Heritage Precincts in NSW, the railway station is an excellent example of Victorian Gothic architecture and was built in 1886 as the terminal station of the Great Northern Railway.

Although no longer served by trains the building remains as one of the town's finest heritage structures. Internally the building retains its features as they existed on the last day of train operations in the 1980s. Opening times: 9 4 p.m. Admission please 'phone (02)6736 2223. Opening times can be varied for groups of 6 or more and guided tours are available with advance bookings.

The Wallangarra Railway Station marked the end of the Great Northern Railway and the start of the Queensland line. For many years this station was the point at which all Brisbane-Sydney passengers had to change trains. The station with its dual style NSW and Queensland style building has been restored as a museum.

Unlike the Government in Sydney whose cost cutting desire led to the closure of the line north of Armidale despite its historic significance, Queensland has kept its part of the line open. The Southern Downs Steam Railway sometimes runs steam train trips from Stanthorpe to Wallangarra. 

North Coast and associated lines

In Three things I still have to do in New England -1 Railways I spoke a little of the history of the Dorrigo-Glenreagh line. Sadly, this most beautiful line is another of the lines closed by Sydney because of cost cutting.

There are two museum organisations at each end of the railway.

On the east, the Glenreagh Mountain Railway, known as the GMR, was established in 1989 as a heritage railway. It has run services along part of the track, but has had to suspend pending further work. It still maintains museums.

Inland, the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum was established to create a museum and restore a railway service. After a brief opening period it shut its doors to the public, but still exists with one of the largest historic rolling stock collections in NSW. At this stage, I do not know when the museum will re-open its doors to the public.

I would love to think that this line might be re-opened.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why not statehood for New England?

In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald's National Times George Williams, Professor of Law at Sydney University, argues in favour of full statehood for the Northern Territory.

Why not statehood for New England?

We have been seeking self-government first as a colony and then as a state for over 150 years. Despite the structural decline in New England's position that has taken place in the absence of statehood, we are still far larger on every key measure than the NT.

If, as I believe, that statehood is justified for the NT, then surely New England should be given a go.       

Monday, July 18, 2011

Introducing New England's railways

In Tourism, content & the texture of New England life, I used New England's railways as one example to make the point that New England tourism was constrained by lack of information (and imagination!). In a comment, Mark wrote:

Thanks for the railway link Jim. You have stirred something up inside me.

The railways are an excellent way of drawing tourists from everywhere such is the emotion of steam and rail travel.

I've been doing a little research on Hunter railways and didn't realise until now that there is so much being lost with old lines and railway buildings lying in ruin.

Imagine the reopening of the Great Northern Line from its original terminus at Newcastle and running steam(or diesel) services all the way to Wallangarra.

In fact, if you visit this site, you can see old and present photos of old stations etc.

Sadly, after the Hawksbury River bridge was opened, the Great Northern was changed to the Main North Line and Sydney stations added. You could say that since that bridge was built, the political, industrial and economic fates were sealed since the line terminated in Sydney rather than Newcastle. Newcastle was branch lined and its CBD was forever doomed which we still see to this day.

My home station of Lochinvar is one of the oldest of the Old Northern Line and was once the terminal. This station was demolished a few years after it lost its station master in 1983. After standing for 123 years it was demolished! Imagine an important part of rail history being demolished in Sydney? I'd better stop now.

Now in this comment, Mark raises a number of different points. Here I want to deal with just one, a follow up to my post.

In his post, Mark said in part: "I've been doing a little research on Hunter railways and didn't realise until now that there is so much being lost with old lines and railway buildings lying in ruin."

Now this links to my point about the absence of consolidated information about New England's railways that can be used, among other things, to plan a trip. That information could also be used to argue for preservation and development of the base remaining.

As a first step, I have updated my New England Railways label on this blog. This simply provides better access to past posts that I can then use for update purposes.    

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tourism, content & the texture of New England life

I started my weekly Armidale Express column yesterday, and then I became frustrated and stopped.

I had intended to follow up on the theme that I began in Selling New England and then continued in Selling New England - where would you advise people to go, ideas about the promotion of New England as a place to visit. Why frustrated? 

In a comment on one of the posts Greg wrote:

New England desperately needs to create a New England identity and consciousness.

By this, Greg meant simply that it is hard to sell a place when it doesn't have a proper identity. You end up selling just the bits.

Before going on, this photo is from Mark's Clarence Valley Today photo blog.

The photo is part of Mark's black and white series and shows some of the fashions at this year's Grafton July racing carnival, a very big racing event indeed. I actually hadn't heard of it until a year or so back when I was chatting to a woman on a Sydney bus who owned shares in race horses and went to Grafton for the carnival every year.Grafton Cup

Now the point about the photo is that this is just one tiny element in the New England story.

My frustration in writing the Express column came about because I wanted to use examples to show how you could plan a week trip for a visitor across New England incorporating a whole series of elements. Since I was writing mainly for an Armidale audience, I was using Armidale as the centre in this case. However, the principles apply to other centres as well.

I found it harder than expected. I know New England pretty well, better than most I think. I write about it all the time, about it's history and life. Yet when I came to plan the trips giving options, I lacked the detail to do so. Precisely, I knew where things were in broad terms, I knew how history and geography linked them together, I could sketch broad themes, but I kept stumbling on detail.

I started with a wine trip. That one was okay, in part because the wine industry itself thinks in terms of wine tours and specific regions, so that all I had to do was to link four wine areas together. My real problem came when I turned to railways.9183-11

The next photo shows the state boundary lines on the platform at Wallangarra on the old Great Northern Railway. The station has been refurbished as a museum.

My problem with the railways is that while I knew a little of the history and indeed where the museums etc are, I found that to write the few lines I wanted to write I had to check multiple sites. I simply didn't have the time.

Now in taking first wine and then railways I was focusing on themes that I know to be of interest to particular visitor groups. This then provided a trip skeleton that other things could be added too.

At this stage I became depressed and restless. How could we expect people to come to New England if nothing was available to make things easy for them? How could we promote something when the very raw material were missing?

To ease my depression I went on a youtube tour looking for material that I might be able to use later. I do this from time to time, tramping across the North from town to town, area to area. I then realised something.

The following video clip comes courtesy of Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite and shows Grafton band The Ninth Chapter performing at Grafton. Comments follow.


This is just one band from one place. There are entire music circuits that I know nothing about; music is not one of my strong points. You would think that this would depress me further. Just the opposite in fact.

When I was chair of Tourism Armidale back in the early nineties, I argued many of the same things that I am arguing now. However, there was far less information available. Development of many themes required original research, something that tourism organisations find hard to do.

Even when I began this blog in April 2006, content was limited. I spent a fair bit of time just searching for material. Today because of my fellow bloggers, the new community sites, youtube etc far more material is available. The official tourism structures (not all) still tend to be locked into past institutional structures and mind sets, but those of us seeking to bring about real change have far more to work with.

I want to finish this post with a train video that will bring back many memories for older New Englanders who still remember when the Great Northern Line was a functioning line. Enjoy.   

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Urban Insider presents Newcastle

One of the things that really annoys Novocastrians is the dismissive way their city is treated in some other places and especially Sydney. In fact, and as I have tried to present on this blog, Newcastle has a fascinating life style that combines the urban with sea and bush.

Urban Insider is part of Newcastle's fight back. The audience for this site is first Newcastle people wanting to know more about what's on in their city. But it also presents Newcastle to a broader audience like me who like or might like the place and want to visit.

Urban Insider is the detail of Newcastle life written by those who are there - coffee, parks, art galleries, new precincts. While the site is still quite new, it should grow to be a valuable resource. It will also help draw people from elsewhere in New England to go there rather than Sydney for a lifestyle break.   

Friday, July 15, 2011

New England Story - Nigel Brennan


The lead for this story came from James Bell in the Armidale Express. However, the Express  story is not on-line, so I can't give you the link.

Bundaberg based Australian photo journalist Nigel Brennan grew up near Moree and then went to school at TAS (The Armidale School). He developed a passion for photography in his early twenties and studied at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University before entering journalism.

In August 2008, Nigel Brennan travelled to Somalia with Canadian reporter Amanda Lindhout. 

They were abducted by a criminal gang, brutalised, and kept in isolation and ignorance.  The ransom amount was US$3 million; if it's not paid, they will be killed. And the Australian government does not pay ransoms.

After more than a year of stalled negotiations, the Brennans realise the government can do no more to help them, and they take matters into their own hands.  Nigel's sister, Nicky, becomes a crack hostage negotiator; his sister-in-law Kellie, an international money launderer.  Meanwhile, Nigel is facing the fight of his life.

Nigel's family puts everything on the line and enters uncharted territory.  They go against government advice, sacrificing their livelihoods, their houses and personal lives to bring the hostages home.  It's day 462 before the situation reaches its breathtaking conclusion. Glenda Kwek's story in the Sydney Morning Herald describes the release.

Now Nigel, Nicky and Kellie have combined to tell the story of an ordinary Australian family discovering what they're capable of and how far they're prepared to go for what they believe in.  Life.  Freedom.  Whatever the price.

The book, The Price of Life published by Penguin, tells the story.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Selling New England - where would you advise people to go

In a comment on Selling New England, Keith extolled the virtues of Armidale.

This got me thinking.

You have visitors coming to stay with you. You might be in Maitland, Armidale, Glen Innes, wherever you live. Your visitors have a car, and a week. They want to do some travelling in Northern NSW, the broader New England.

Your task is to plan their week trip. Where would you suggest they go and why?

Leave ideas in comments, and I will  bring them up in main post or posts.  

A first nomination: Thunderbolts Way

Greg provided a first nomination. He wrote:

When I was in Uralla and Armidale not long ago I travelled from Newcastle via the New England Hwy. I have travelled the road to Scone many times and it is very familiar to me. Not so familiar were the tablelands and towns further north which I visit more infrequently. The tablelands are well worth the visit and Armidale in particular is a charming city.

The real gem for me was travelling back along Thunderbolts Way through the Barrington Tops. This must surely be one of Australia's greatest drives. I don't think that any visit to New England would be complete without travelling this road. It is has the most spectacular scenery imaginable.

Why Thunderbolts Way is not promoted is beyond me. The Barringtons are a special place. I would recommend doing the tour that I did. Start from Newcastle and travel the New England Hwy to Armidale then back via Thunderbolts Way. The further you go the more breathtaking it gets.

Tablelands and especially Armidale people are reluctant to promote Thunderbolts Way too much because they like it private! But Greg is right.

If you go north from Newcastle, you start with all the magnificent country around the tops, as well as the historic towns such as Stroud or Dungog. Lots to see. If you cut up Bucketts Way, then you get onto the beautiful Thunderbolts Way that takes you through the southern portion of the New England Tablelands. but it's more than that.

You can cut east north of Nowendoc and come back to the Hunter via Nundle. Then from Scone back into Buckett's country. The choices are enormous. Or you can go onto Armidale, or continue down Thunderbolts Way via Uralla to inverell. The choices are enormous depending on what you are most interested in!    

Selling New England

Back at the end of June in reference to the proposed formation of a combined inland NSW tourism body, I said that my heart sank at the news. I went on:

Why did my heart sink? Well, in tourism terms there is no such thing as inland NSW, nor can there be because of distance and variety. It's just not brandable in any real sense. Worse, promotion of this as brand just increases the brand fragmentation that already plagues NSW tourism.

I have written a fair bit on these issues. Tomorrow I will pull some of that writing together in a consolidated exploration of the failures of NSW tourism branding, with a special focus on New England.

In a tweet on the first post, Denis Wright commented marketing 'inland NSW' is like advertising that food is available from Coles. I thought that that captured the issue quite well. 

History of NSW tourism branding

NSW tourism branding has been a bit of a mess for some time.

At the top level, the problem that Governments have faced is that it is actually quite hard to advertise NSW as a tourism destination because of its size and diversity.

Queensland is a very large state. However, there the Government has used certain common messages (sun, sand, outdoors, adventure) to create a common brand. Individual areas are then promoted within that brand. Noticeably, there is no particular emphasis on Brisbane. Tourists come from all sorts of places to visit all sorts of places.

Smaller Victoria presents the state as a regional patchwork quilt. Melbourne is more dominant in advertising, but again the state unifies by focusing on certain life style elements that are generally common across regions. If you visit North Eastern Victoria, as an example, you can see this in the visitor mix and the shops and displays. This is a very different feel from Sydney or the North Coast.

NSW has struggled to develop any form of coherent approach. Despite many changes in branding over the last few decades, the Government keeps coming back to a dual branding approach, Sydney and then the rest. This makes it very hard for specific areas to piggy back off state tourism promotion.

When you drop below the state level, branding approaches are also confused and confusing. To illustrate this, take the New England or Northern Tablelands.

This was a well known area in the 1950s. The high name recognition was partially due to the scenery, partially to Armidale's prominence as an educational centre at a time when there were very few universities, partially to the fight for self-government which kept the New England name and the sense of Northern identity in the news.

By the 1990s when I was chair of Tourism Armidale, market research data showed that recognition of the name New England had largely collapsed. During the period we are talking about, local tourism activities were bedeviled by constant Government changes to tourism boundaries and brands.

This instability has continued. Nothing survives for long enough to allow the creation of a long term brand and marketing strategy.

Market dynamics: where are the people?

Two important issues in considering tourism marketing are where the people are might come from, and what will attract them to come. In considering this, I want to look especially at the broader New England, Northern NSW.

There is, I think, an implicit assumption that visitors and especially international visitors go first to Sydney, so the aim is to get them to go on. The reality is far more varied.

The Hunter Valley has established a market presence based especially around wine. I think that it draws the majority of its visitors from Sydney, which is not all that far away. Newcastle itself has not established a real tourism brand. Locals complain the city is constantly ignored in promotion in comparison to Sydney.

The growth of traffic through Newcastle airport has introduced a new equation in that Newcastle is potentially a rival airport to Sydney. Visitors can come to Newcastle by plane in direct flights from various parts of Australia. This provides the infrastructure for a specific Newcastle/Hunter branding structure. It also provides a potential focus for broader visitation to places further north.

Outside the Hunter, both Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay have established a national presence that draws a range of visitors. This actually has a distorting effect on inland patterns. As a simple example, Coffs has replaced Armidale as the entry point for the New England National Park. There is need for a two way visitor promotion pattern, to attract visitors further inland, but also to draw inland visitors to the coast. It remains true, I think, that inland New England is actually still the biggest source of visitors to many parts of the North Coast.

As we move north towards Queensland, Queensland influences and visitors become more important, if in a patchwork quilt way. The growth of the Granite Belt, the Queensland extension of the New England Tablelands, has an impact on Tenterfield, while visitors from SE Queensland are important especially in the Richmond-Tweed area.

One of the points that I tried to make as Chair of Tourism Armidale is that more people live within an eight hour car drive of Armidale than, say, Randwick in Sydney. Yet there is a problem, because the car drive is long enough to make weekend visits difficult; people have to be attracted for longer periods, and that requires a different visitor approach.

One final variable, and that is the highways. Quite a bit of tourism promotion is actually centred on getting people travelling the main Northern highways to stop at particular points. With the exception of the far west with its Adelaide/Melbourne/Brisbane, this approach does not make a great deal of sense.

Market dynamics: where are the attractions? 

I accept that the picture I have painted on visitor sources is broad brush. However, I wanted to make the point that there is considerable variety in visitor sources that needs to be taken into account in planning and promotion. The conventional Sydney first then out does not make a great deal of sense.

Now looking at the type of things that might attract visitors, New England's problem is its sheer variety. It is just so rich in attractions and experiences. But who would know this?

Now this may seem an extreme statement, but if you just browse this blog you will get a feel.

Northern NSW, the broader New England, does not have its own brand. It does not exist. This forces visitor promotion into promotion of single points or of ways through, and that means north-south. There is presently no way of packaging and integrating experiences.

You will see this in existing guide books with their north-south focus centred especially on the Pacific Highway. You do get some other road specific focuses, Waterfall or Fossicker's Way, but this is very limited. You will also see this in the centre specific material dominated by local government areas or by ever changing tourism boundaries.

Tourism promotion has become something close to a zero sum game in which one centre tries to attract visitors at the expense of others. There is no recognition that if the totality of visitor numbers and spend is increased, then all can benefit.

Tourism and Lifestyle

Quite a few New England areas are actually not all that keen on attracting visitors. There is very little recognition that visitors and visitation can actually enhance total life style.

A new mall or shopping centre does not a life style make. A little we are important approach does not a life style make. Life style is all about the totality of experiences that together add to the enjoyment of life.

Let me put this as bluntly as I can.

The fragmentation of New England has got so bad that many current New England residents no longer know what is in their backyard. To those on the coast, the blue rim of the mountains is now a barrier, not an entry point to a new world. Others have no idea of the variety offered by Newcastle. Instead, they flee to Sydney.

Very few New Englanders have any idea of the variety in history, in art or literature or food that lies in their own backyard. I think that's a pity.

In promoting New England as I do, my actual starting point lies in the promotion of New England to New Englanders. If we don't know our own area. how can we sell it to others?     

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Belshaw's World - experience, just like a photo, is worth a thousand words

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 6 July 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.

Gordon Smith’s lookANDsee ( with its wonderful photos of Armidale and the Tablelands is my favourite photo blog. With Gordon’s permission, I have reproduced his photos many times where I want to capture the look and feel of aspects of life in New England.

Unlike most photo blogs with their coastal focus, Gordon is (as am I) an inland person. Now he has just started posting photographs of his latest outback tour. They are wonderful photos and I recommend them to you.

The first photo of a very large tree near Bingara brought out the child in me. I wanted to build a camp under its roots!

Wikipedia reports that the term outback was first used in print in 1869 to refer to country west of Wagga Wagga. Earlier the term back country, land beyond the settled regions, was used. This term was in existence in at least 1800 when it applied to the Blue Mountains and beyond.

The line marking the outback moved as European settlement spread. We speak, for example, of back of Bourke signifying that the outback began there.

The outback exercised a powerful fascination on the Australian imagination, featuring in yarns, films, poetry, writing, Fortunes were made from mining and pastoral activities, but for every success there were many heartbreaks.

The world changes. One indicator of this has been the expansion in coverage of the term outback. Modern Australia has turned to the coast, looking out to the sea just as the first European settlers had done all those years ago.

As the links between the big cities and the inland became more attenuated, the outback line moved east past Wagga Wagga until today some Sydney kids think that the outback begins at the Blue Mountains, exactly the same point at which the back country began in 1800!

This attenuation is part of something that I have often spoken about, the growing disconnect between modern urban Australians and the country. It’s not just rural Australia, but pretty much everything outside the metro centres.

I do wonder how we turn this around. I try in my own way, of course, through my writing and advisory work, but it’s a slow process.

One of the most effective if difficult ways lies in the direct exposure of city people, and especially kids from new migrant backgrounds, to life outside the metros.

I say effective because experience is worth a thousand words. I focus on kids from migrant backgrounds because they are least likely to have the country family connections that will give them an understanding through family.

Neil Whitfield is one of my blogging friends. Retired now, Neil taught for a long period at Sydney Boys High School. Incidentally, he also taught at Illawarra Grammar with John Traas who older Armidale residents may remember as the French master at TAS.

Poor Mr Traas. I was not one of his success stories!

On his blog Neil provided some fascinating stats about the proportion of students at our selective high schools from non English speaking backgrounds. The proportion this year at Sydney Boys High School is 91 per cent. That’s a remarkable number!

Recently, the Express carried stories about the annual visit of Sydney High to TAS. I think that some four hundred boys came. The paper reported on it as a news story. My thought was that there were four hundred students who have had some country exposure that they would otherwise not get.

Recently, the paper also reported on the welcome given in Armidale to refugees. I thought that it was a nice story, but again looked at it in a different way.

By their nature, migrant communities tend to stick together.

A welcome given means that those people and their children will remember Armidale as they go their various ways. Importantly, they will also carry the story beyond into the broader migrant communities.

To my mind, that’s how we turn things around, by a series of individual actions.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 24 - land, mining & the environment

Now that I have my computer back with bookmarks intact, time for another  blogging round up.

Starting this time with politics, the group political blog North Coast Voices has maintained its normal themes. Over recent posts, it has reported on British Government anti-whaling measures; reported on the techniques Fox News uses to brainwash America; published the statement by Page MP Janelle Saffin expressing continuing reservations on the Government's decision to allow resumed exports of live cattle to Indonesia; supported the attempt by the NSW Greens to effectively ban mining in the catchments of North Coast rivers; examined gender balance among the new senators now entering Federal Parliament; opposed antimony mining near Dorrigo; critically discussed a US climate change scientific skeptic; and run the proposed GetUp commercial targeting retailer Harvey Norman that was banned on the grounds that it might expose the networks to legal action.  And all this in the space of four days!

I have spoken before about the environmental wars across new England. In this context, the antimony mining story is worth examining in a little more detail. Here NCV is quoting a column by David Bancroft in the Grafton Daily  Examiner. After talking about Chinese investment in rural land, Mr Bancroft concludes:

Quality of life and the environment feature pretty high on my agenda. And we need to be mindful of what happens after we sell off the farm. In the case of the proposed antimony and gold mines in the Wild Cattle Creek and Tyringham areas - the mining company would be Chinese, the approving authority the Bellingen Shire Council and most of the workers (and there is unlikely to be too many of them) would probably be based in Coffs.

But who cops the risk if a tailings dam fails and mercury or other heavy metals spew into the tributaries of the Nymboida River?

The Clarence Valley, of course.

And it appears unlikely to receive any of the benefits.

Mining has helped Australia ride out an international financial storm, but we need to be careful that we look at more than dollar signs when considering projects. There's more to lose than a few dollars.

If you look at Mr Bancroft's comments, they mix together Chinese ownership, environmental risk, and that fact that the employment goes to one area, the risks are carried by another. This mix is fairly typical.

Fellow New England blogger Peter Firminger from Wollombi (@PeterFirminger) has been tracking aspects of the environmental wars for some time. In the Hunter and on the Liverpool Plains a key concern has been coal seam gas and open cut mining. Here you have landowners pitted against mineral interests, you have environmental concerns, while there a major problems in the distribution of costs and benefits. The Sydney government gets the benefits from royalties, while the Hunter gets little cash returns and carries the costs.  

The recent purchase of 43 farms outside Gunnedah by the Chinese Government-controlled Shenhua Watermark Coal Corporation in order to gain access to the underlying coal has added fuel to the fire because it is part of a growing concern about growing foreign ownership of agricultural land. 

In Foreign investment and food security another New England blogger Paul Barratt (@phbarratt) suggested that neither food security nor national sovereignty were valid reasons for opposing overseas investment in Australian rural land. However, add in opposition to mining and you get quite a potent mix. Here Peter Firminger pointed to a story in the Australian about Green activist Drew Hutton's Lock the Gate campaign. According to the story:     

A new political disconnect has written a fresh chapter of rural discontent. The unrelenting march of open-cut mining and coal seam gas exploration of the new century has replaced deregulation and industry adjustment of the 1990s as the reform-driven existential threat to country life. Food security has become the proxy for fear of foreign capital.

Accepting that the story is somewhat sensationalised, it's interesting because it runs somewhat counter to another thread in New England, anti-climate change. In The Peter Rowe Column in Coff's Outlook, Hugh states:  

But it is to those two (Julia Gillard and Bob Brown) we must ask the questions as to the detail of this horrendous, and totally unwarranted, carbon tax being imposed, without referendum, on the Australian people.

I know the North pretty well, and its very difficult to harmonise the various and apparently discordant threads. The common theme is, I think, a feeling that decisions are being taken elsewhere ignoring, even in contempt of, local views.

This was meant to be a straight blog report. Still, I think it important to actually record something of the pattern of local views. 

Friday, July 08, 2011

Memories from a Glenreagh past

I found this rather wonderful history video via the Glenreagh community blog

For those who don't know where the village is, it is the south western gateway to the Clarence Valley, a half hour drive along the Orara Way from Grafton (in the north) and Coffs Harbour (to the south east), through the picturesque Orara Valley. From Armidale, we would drive down through Dorrigo.

I do recommend it to you. It's fun.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

New England unis & the university games

Kate Frizell northern uni games The university games have been on. The photo shows UNE's Kate Frizell looking to drive in a women's hockey match.

When I first saw the University Games all those years ago (I never played) there was just one competition. Now there are conferences, with top teams going on to the national University Games.

New England universities were divided by geography, with UNE and SCU playing in the Northern University Games, Newcastle playing in the Eastern Games.

This year the Northern Games were held in Armidale, the Eastern Games in Canberra, with both cities shivering in a marked cold spell. These sporting events are good business for Armidale, with 910 registered competitors.

At a purely personal level, eldest was playing for UNSW in the mixed netball. Just back to Europe and then off to Canberra! 

In the Northern Games, UNE came second overall after Bond. Southern Cross was seventh. In the per capita competition based on student numbers, UNE came first, SCU fourth.

For some reason, the Eastern Games do not presently allow me to check where Newcastle came.  

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Belshaw's World - this short story thing not as easy as it looks

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 29 June 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 was disappointed when I first saw Venice.

We had come down on the night train from Paris. I hadn’t slept well despite the sleeper, lying awake in the early morning watching the snow covered fields through the window. This made me a tired and a bit crabby.

We caught a launch from the hotel to the landing stage near the Piazza San Marco.

It was bright but cool as we travelled down the Grand Canal. I had expected so much, yet the buildings facing the canal seemed run down and somewhat tawdry. We were planning to stay for a week, and I wondered if that was in fact a mistake.

A week later we were all in love with Venice. She may be old and a little tawdry, a grand dame at the end of her life living of memories of glories’ past, but no-one could deny her charm.

Two years later travelling through the Greek Islands, I saw the other side of Venice’s past glory.

From Crete to Mykonos, I saw the Venetian remains, the forts, ports and houses that marked the scope of Venice’s imperial power. This had been no small empire.

Australia as a country is a bit more than one hundred years old. The Venetians ruled Crete for over four hundred years. It kind of puts our history into perspective!

I wonder how many of you have read Donna Leon’s crime novels?

Set in Venice, they feature Commissario Brunetti who faces a never-ending flow of crime. I started reading them because of my interest in their locale. I kept reading them because of Donna Leon’s ability to capture the texture of Venetian daily life.

Brunetti is world-weary, cynical of the politics and corruption in the world in which he lives. Yet he retains his love for his city and a continuing sense of goodness built around his family.

Leon is a remarkably elegant writer. She uses small details to paint a canvass without submerging her reader.

I had thought that Donna Leon was Italian. In fact, she is an American who has lived in Venice for the last twenty-five or so years and who writes in English.

Interestingly, she apparently will not allow her books to be translated into Italian. This struck me as a bit odd, then suddenly it made sense.

With exceptions such as Maslyn Williams’ memoir My Mother’s Country, a lot of the books written about or set in Northern NSW do not really give a feel for the detailed texture of life.

Death of an Old Goat, the crime novel set in Armidale that helped launch the career of crime writer Robert Barnard, may be very funny in spots, but is an absolute parody of Armidale life. There is no local or regional equivalent of Donna Leon.

As I would-be writer, I experiment with different writing styles. As part of this, I have been experimenting with short stories as a way of bringing the past alive.

Writing as an historian, I can use different writing techniques to get my story across. However, in the end I am bound by the rules of evidence. Something similar applies to autobiographical pieces. I need to check my facts, especially where my often imperfect memory is involved.

Short stories are not bound by the same rules. They don’t have to be right, just interesting.

I decide that it might be fun to write some Donna Leon style pieces set in Armidale, not crime, just a series of vignettes that might actually bring the past and present city alive. I also thought that I might trial one in this column.

I started well. I got out my notebook and jotted down some story ideas. Then I struck a problem that suddenly made realise why Donna Leon might be resistant to having her stories translated into Italian.

I know Armidale quite well. Further, living outside Armidale has provided me with a degree of objectivity. Like Leon, I suppose that I am an insider-outsider.

That first piece began in the mall. Coming out of a store on a visit, I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen for a while.

Part autobiographical, the story mixed together present and past elements of Armidale life. The friend was loosely based on an actual person, the elements linked to reality but fictionalised. It was very Leon in style.

Then I stopped. Hang on a minute, I thought. I am going to have half my readers playing spot the person and events!

I decided I wasn’t quite brave enough at this point, at least until I had worked out how best to do it as fiction. Maybe later!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

NT joins New England with state anthem

In More on New England's Battle Song, I spoke of the New England anthem. The chorus goes:
We will raise the
Banner of New England
Work for New England
Fight for New England
We will raise the
Battle cry of freedom
Fight for our Liberty

When I mention these words to people outside New England I sometimes get puzzled looks. What do you mean feedom or liberty? Surely you have that now? Well, we don't, for lacking our own state, all the key decisions that affect New England are made elsewhere often in blind ignorance of local conditions. That is why so many of us still want New England self-government.

Now as part of its push for full statehood, the Northern Territory has launched its own anthem (here and here). I haven't been able to find a full version yet, but apparently one line goes " from the seas of Arafura, to the rocks of Kata Tjuta". The New England version is simply "from the Hunter to the Tweed."

Two anthems, one theme, a common objective. New England has now been seeking self-government for over 150 years. Agitation has risen and fallen. We don't have a territory government seeking the final step, but face a state or colonial government that has always resisted attempts to give any part of its territory the option of self-government.

I have not spoken so much recently about the continuing desire for New England or Northern statehood because of other personal pressures. Among other things, I have been trying to finish an overview of the story of our fight for self government from its colonial origins to the present day.

The desire for our own state continues to bubble along, if below the radar. With three new state movements in existence (New England, Northern Territory and North Queensland), the political climate is changing again. Watch for developments!