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.   


Mark said...

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.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Mark. If you ever get a chance to write up your research however roughly do please send me a copy. I wrote a few earlier posts on the Hunter Railways, mainly demonstrating how little I knew!

I love the idea of recreating the Great Northern Line starting at Newcastle main station. If the opening of the line to Sydney had been delayed just ten years, then even the action of setting initial effective freight rates to Sydney at zero for some Northern freight might not have been enough to destroy Newcastle traffic.

I will use your coments as a base for a new post, Mark.

Matt Cawood said...

I hear you about New England's lack of identity. A few years ago, when I was writing guidebooks for Australian Geographic, I suggested several times over several years that I do a book on New England. It has an extraordinary number of natural assets, some rich human cultural history, and I live here.
The response, every time, was that "New England" is not a brand name that's likely to sell books off the shelves.
Part of the problem is that the bureacractic definition of New England is far too broad to accomodate a coherent theme. If New England is to gain identity, it needs a physical identity to go with it.

Jim Belshaw said...

You know, Matt, you signpost a real problem here. However, I'm not sure that my answer would be quite the ame as yours. If you care to email me - ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au - I will send you an outline of a guide book that I think will sell to whom, why, and how.