Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Belshaw's World - going down to Irish song

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 21 September 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.

We parked the car at Eden Park a little after 6.30pm New Zealand time. Eldest, Helen, had worked out the closest points to the stadium outside the parking exclusion zones and we found a place to park without much trouble.

We walked up the quiet suburban streets towards the stadium. My first thought was that we could have been in Armidale; tree-lined streets with weatherboard houses that would have been familiar to any Armidale person.

The streets were already crowded with those going to the game. The Irish were in good voice and indeed had been all day. Driving around Auckland earlier in the day we had found the Irish everywhere!

This was a special trip.

To begin with, I love New Zealand. The Belshaws are a part Kiwi family: Dad was born in Christchurch; I have been to New Zealand many, many times; and we still have family there.

Then, too, this trip had a very special feature.

Helen and I had wanted to go to the previous Rugby World Cup in France. When lack of time and cash made this impossible, we agreed that we would go to New Zealand in 2011.

Again limited time and cash – tickets alone are fiendishly expensive – created problems. Helen was determined: I will take you, she said, and set about making this possible. We decided to go for four days, see the Australia-Ireland match plus do some touring.

I am sure that you will see wEden Parkhat I mean by special. In the end, all I had to do was just go!

  As we walked, we got glimpses of the brightly lit Eden Park Stadium through the houses. I don’t quite know how best to describe it, but it has a very particular style highlighted by blue lighting. It’s clearly a stadium, but it’s a little more than this, almost an architectural icon.

New Zealand loves its rugby, and Eden Park is a shrine to that love.

I don’t get to many live sporting matches, but there is always an impact when you come through into the stands with the brightly lit ground before you. Modern sporting events are as much entertainment as sport. Everything is designed to raise emotions, create excitement.

This was a special feature in this case because of the nature of the game. Augmented by Kiwis of Irish descent, the Irish outnumbered Australian supporters almost two to one.

Australia was short priced favourite, but the Irish were determined to do their team proud and lived in hope of an upset. From the beginning, their songs and chants set a tone.

Helen and friend Eden Park Helen had organised seats for us about six rows back from the front in the tunnel section. That was one reason we went to just one game. At $A300 each, these were pricy seats!

In the lead up to the game, Helen with camera kept rushing to lean over the tunnel to get shots of players coming in or out. Some of the Australian players and officials came to the fence in front of us to talk to people in the crowd, allowing Helen to get herself photographed with some of her heroes!

The game began with an Irish rush that lifted the already high spirits of the Irish supporters. They out cheered and out-sang the Australian supporters. The Irish team in its turn was lifted.

I don’t know what was wrong with the Australian team that day beyond saying that they lived up to their sometimes nickname, the wobblies. They just couldn’t seem to get their act together.

Because of our position, we could clearly see the players leaving at half time or the replacements coming on and off the field. The Australian players were trying, but the body language over the second half was becoming increasing desperate and depressed. Helen and I were depressed too!

I really felt sorry for the Australian team at the end.

We leaned over the edge of the tunnel to watch them do the obligatory line-up, forming two rows through which the Irish team left the stadium. In the midst of the handshakes and pats, the Australian players looked absolutely whipped.

We left the stadium to the celebrating Irish.

As we walked back to the car feeling depressed through the street parties that had erupted in all directions, Helen began working out in her mind just what was now required for Australia to come though in the best way.

We both cheered up. Not all was lost.

Still, it left me wondering just how a team does come back from this type of defeat.

I don’t think that you can blame Robbie Deans as coach. This was a players’ defeat. Only the players themselves can turn it around.

Monday, September 26, 2011

UNE passings - death of John Geake


Professor John Geake died, aged 62, 8 September 2011. I did not know John well, but he was obviously a remarkable man whose life spanned aspects of New England's history.

I have not been able to find details of John's early life. The UNE obituary used as a base for this story begins with his Honours degree in Physics from the University of NSW, where he was President of the Students’ Union.  He went on to do an A.Mus.A. from the Australian Music Examinations Board with the flute, a Diploma of Education, a Master’s degree (with First-Class Honours) in Education, and a science PhD.

Now John was clearly something of a charismatic character. Searching around I found this this quote from Graeme Dunstan:   

Returning to the UNSW campus as an arts student in 1970 my Students Union friends welcomed me back and appointed me Chair of the Students Union Council of which John Geake was President. This meant I got to chair the Council meetings (they were wild!) and participate in Executive meetings (radical!). John Geake (now Professor John Geake) was a wiz of a President who in my absence had been an organiser behind the Ian "The Wizard" Channel and the UNSW Play Power phenomenon.

I had forgotten the Wizard. If you click on the above link you will find out more about him.   

John's passion for education led him from university to teach at the Sydney International Independent School, then on to Currumbena, an independent progressive school at Lane Cove. He was clearly a gifted teacher. One of his students wrote:

John taught me science at the Australian International Independent School back in the early 1970's. He was a truly extraordinary teacher - able to take what to me was an incomprehensible mish-mash of unconnected facts called chemistry and give it life, coherence and even beauty thanks to his profound expertise in physics and his rare ability to communicate this expertise. John;'s wonderful lateral mind, his iconoclasm, his kindness and his social idealism were deeply inspiring and rare to find in a schoolteacher. It was obvious schoolteaching was only going to occupy him temporarily, and that he would seek a broader field to endow with his brilliant mind and many gifts. I am sad to hear of his early death, but it is clear that he really was someone who used his gifts and promise to the full, and did indeed leave this planet the better for his passing through. With deep sympathy for John's family and friends, from Jane Crancher, Sydney.

In 1973, John joined the hundreds of bright, energetic and progressive young dreamers who went to the Nimbin Aquarius Festival. This marked the start of John's connection with New England.

In company with friends, John bought the “Paradise Valley” property just out of Nimbin, and was the first of the original communards to relocate from Sydney. First he built a communal space, then his own house. “He was a genius,” said fellow communard and long-time friend Dr Harry Freeman of Lismore. “There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t do.”

Turning his attention to the wider community, John teamed up with teacher Dorothy Smith to open the Nimbin Community School, where he taught maths and science.

In the early 1980s John exchanged the hippy mantle for more academic robes and left Nimbin to pursue his own studies, learning to play the flute to concert standard in just two years while gaining further degrees in science, mathematics and education. He performed at many classical concerts in Nimbin, which helped raise funds for the grand piano in the School of Arts.

By the late 1980s John was the Conservatorium director at Lismore and a college lecturer at the University of New England (Northern Rivers). Developing an interest - among his many passions in the sciences - for the teaching of gifted children, he taught at the new Southern Cross University in Lismore, and at the University of Melbourne, where he was a tenured Senior Lecturer. In 2002 he received an Eminent Gifted Educator award from the Australian Association for the Gifted and Talented.

Dr Jurriaan Beek was a fellow student with John at UNSW and then met him again during the Northern Rivers period:

I first met John when as undergraduates at UNSW we both studied physics - way back in 1967.
John was an incredibly bright and gifted person, who I recall involved himself in all manner of UNSW student political activities of the late 1960’s.

We next met up in Lismore, Northern NSW in the early 1980's, where much to my surprise he was then teaching music at the then NRCAE, and much to his surprise I had changed my career to medicine.
He taught my daughter the flute for many years, a skill she has never forgotten.

We were probably amongst the first to make use our Apple IIe computers as a means of sending messages over the phone line to each other. This was way before the dot com and the internet protocols as we know it today had been developed.

I well recall his that his stated desire to teach music was based on not only his love of good music but the need to pass this on so that in his later years there would be musicians around to play the sort of music he loved to hear.

His interest in the field of special education dealing with the intellectually gifted children is well known to educationists. His passing will be sorely missed by all concerned.

John accepted the position of Professor of Education at Oxford Brookes University and lived for eight years in the UK, returning to Australia to take up his post as Professor of Education - Learning and Teaching at UNE in 2008. While in Oxford he conducted neuroscientific research into high intelligence and creativity at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, Department of Clinical Neurology, John Radcliffe Hospital. He co-founded the Oxford Cognitive Neuroscience-Education Forum, and was adviser to the House of Lords All Party Group on the Future of Science & ICT Research for Education.

Professor Geake published more than 60 articles, book chapters and books on a wide range of educational issues, in addition to being a popular keynote speaker at international conferences. His latest publication was his book The Brain at School.

He is survived by his wife Ann, his sister Helen, children Sally and Jonah, stepchildren Paul and Hollie, and grandchildren Tom and Sophie.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dobson's Brewery - new New England beers


So  much happens in New England that it is hard for a mere mortal like me to keep up!

The latest development is the establishment of a new boutique brewery on the premises of Eastview Estate Wines at Kentucky on the Tablelands.

Dobson's Brewery has a simple promise. I quote:

Where possible all Beer produced by Dobson's is subject to the Bavarian Purity Laws of 1516 this limits the ingredients to just water, hops, yeast and grain. No preservatives are ever used, guaranteeing a clean, consistent product. The only exceptions are the asian style rice beers and seasonal ales which require fruit or spices. The water we use is harvested on site from the massive thunderheads which are a part of being at over a kilometre above sea level, our water is conditioned in three large stainless tanks, we use chalk and gypsum to recreate the water profiles of famous brewing waters such as those from the Trent river in England and the Pilsen region of the Czech Republic.

I have to say to this takes New England's German tradition to a new historic level. I look forward to trying the beer!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Grafton's Gate to Plate

Grafton's gate to plate Just a short post today.

With 320 guests, 10 courses and matching wines from the Granite Belt served over 4 hours, Grafton's Gate to Plate is, to quote Mark, a gastronomic marathon celebrated in the historic 'Barn'.

You will find Mark's photos of the event here:

I really would love to have gone. I feel quite envious!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 3 - the Dorrigo-Guyra line

This post continues the story of the Dorrigo-Glenreagh railway from The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 2 - building the line.

In 1927, the first Nationalist-Country Party ministry came into power. The new Country Party ministers came to office with seven years' accumulated dreams and hopes to fulfil, and with an electorate that expected them to do just that. Neither they nor the electorate were to know that Depression would shortly bring a sudden and bitter end to their hopes. The result was a brief Indian Summer of intense activity, some of the most productive months the Country Party has ever know.[1] Buttenshaw immediately accelerated public works expenditure: his Department provided country towns with water supply and sewerage schemes, while a number of new railway lines were commenced. To the North, the most important of these was the long-dreamed of Guyra-Dorrigo railway.

The ideal of an east-west New England railway line had a very long history. Now, for the first time, it could become a reality.

On 20 October 1928, before a crowd of between 3000 to 4000 people,CP Leader Buttenshaw turned the first sod of the new line at Guyra.[2] After praising the new state and Country Party workers who had campaigned for the line - Bruxner, Drummond, Thompson, Colonel H.F. White and others - Buttenshaw declared: 'The Government had decided that no work would be authorized, no sod turned, until they were absolutely safe in saying the work would be finished.'[3] Despite the freezing weather, it was a day of hope and speeches. To Drummond, the railway was a sign that 'the people of the North were combined, each party realising that if it could not get what it particularly wanted, it must help other parts in their efforts.'[4] For Victor Thompson, the day was a step towards something bigger:

The job, however, was not finished, and they could not sit down but must go on with the great Northern works. Most of them would live to see the turning of the first sod of something much bigger than was now being celebrated. - the first sod of the new Northern state, which once established would have a powerful influence on not only the North, but on New South Wales, and on Australia. (Applause).[5]

Two days later a similar ceremony was carried out at Dorrigo. The Armidale Express remarked happily that the new line marked 'a new era for rural New South Wales and the north, in particular.'[6]

As the Great Depression engulfed NSW, work was stopped. Faced with great financial stringency, the Nationalist-Country Party coalition returning to power after the defeat of the Lang Labor administration did not resume construction despite the dominance of the Northern leadership in the new United Country Movement (the new name for the Country Party). To many, this was a betrayal. It also left the Dorrigo-Glenreagh line truncated from its broader hinterland, dependent on Dorrigo Plateau traffic for its survival. 

[1]Unless otherwise cited, material in the next paragraphs is drawn from Ellis, The New South Wales Country Party, pp.106-114.

[2]Reports in the Armidale Express, 23 October 1928, and Armidale Chronicle, 24 October 1928. Cited in: G.S. Harman, 'Politics at the Electoral Level - A Study in Armidale and New England, 1899-1929', MA thesis, University of New England, 1964, pp.164-166. The opening is also reported in detail in the Northern Daily Leader, 22 October 1928.

[3]Armidale Chronicle, 24 October 1928.

[4]Northern Daily Leader, 22 October 1928.


[6]19 October 1928.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Zealand & the case for New England self-government

I spent last weekend in New Zealand. As we drove into Auckland I remembered my grandfather's first impressions all those years ago. I quote from the story I wrote of his life.

In April 1929, Dave and Pearl travelled to New Zealand on an private visit; it was their first visit overseas. The trip was a busy one, for Drummond took the opportunity to travel widely throughout the Dominion inspecting schools and welfare institutions, farms and civic facilities. He was impressed by what he saw. He told the Northern Daily Leader that New Zealand, unlike New South Wales, had big provincial cities which could and did act as centres of culture. New Zealand farming techniques were also excellent, although as in the North the gradual disappearance of horse traction had created real problems for farmers as a result of the destruction of the oats market. He was less impressed with the New Zealand school system which, he thought, had little to teach New South Wales. However, even here he brought back school plans which he thought could be modified for use in the hotter parts of the State: 'I have long been impressed by the fact that the small type of schools... is entirely unsuitable during the warmer months of the year', he wrote to the Department.

Since the Drummond's trip to New Zealand much has changed, yet some things remain the same.

Today New Zealand's population is about that of Sydney. Despite that, New Zealand has five airports with international connections, NSW one. New Zealand has multiple cities capable of hosting international rugby matches, NSW has three.

Despite the growth of Auckland, New Zealand has remained a relatively decentralised country whereas Sydney has greatly increased its share of the NSW population. New Zealand has eight publicly funded state universities, NSW nine. Those universities are attracting a growing share of the international student marketplace, whereas the NSW share is declining. Despite the growth in tertiary education in NSW regional centres, New Zealanders across the country have easier access to tertiary education than do those living in NSW and especially regional NSW.

New Zealand standards of living are statistically lower than Australia's. The country is less wealthy and has struggled to maintain certain activities. Yet compared to the economic hollowing out inflicted on New England over the last forty years, the country has done remarkably well. There is poverty in New Zealand, but nothing compared to the poverty traps that have appeared across parts of New England.

Taste New Zealand New Zealand has been through some pretty tough times over the last forty years as the country lost its traditional markets. Yet the country responded with a degree of imagination not seen in Australia and certainly not in NSW.

New Zealand simply couldn't afford the nostrum that the role of Government was simply efficient service delivery even though New Zealand pioneered many of the administrative ideas later introduced into NSW under the Greiner Government that then became entrenched in NSW official thinking. When your economic back is against the wall, you have to search for new things.

This photo shows a simple but delicious hamburger provided as part of the Rugby World Cup taste New Zealand experience.

There is much soul searching in New Zealand about that country's lack of economic progress. Yet considering the economic turmoil it experienced, it has actually done pretty well, certainly a lot better than New England.    

In 1900, New England's population was around 60% of New Zealand, today it is roughly a third and still dropping. 

Those of us who have argued for New England self-government for so many years have made the simple plea that self-government would allow us to unleash our own creativity, give us a chance to stand or fall by our own efforts. It's hard to see how we could do worse than the Sydney Government has done. In any event, it would then clearly be our own fault!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Belshaw's World - the online myth

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 14 September 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 spent the first six months of this year working on a new on-line service delivery project.

The project aimed to streamline certain aspects of professional practice, and especially the preparation of certain types of more complex documents.

I am not a tec head. I focused on the way the system needed to operate if it was to meet customer need, leaving specific technical solutions to others.

As part of this, I spent a fair bit of time looking at other offerings that were competitive in one way or another with what we wanted to achieve. There were some interesting offerings in the marketplace, but none really delivered an integrated solution.

We faced two key problems in our attempts to define a better approach.

The first was to properly understand just how professionals worked when carrying out the specific tasks that we were interested in. For our system to work, we had to make it easier for the professional to do their work across a whole document preparation process that might involve multiple steps spread over time, with varying interactions with clients and other professionals.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Most on-line systems expect people to adjust to them. It is far harder to adjust systems to people.

The second problem was to define the best interface between customers and our system, taking work processes into account. Again, this is not as easy as it sounds.

The interface needed to provide a seamless experience in which the customer could access information from a variety of sources, seek help as required and write and edit, all within the one interface. The system also had to be easy to use since most customers were not especially computer or internet savvy.

In the end, we had to put aspects of the project aside because the costs and technical difficulties associated with the translation of the functional requirements into a working system were too great for the available budget.

This experience is relevant to a number of discussions taking place in education, including issues associated with external teaching.

I follow a number of educators on Twitter and via blogs who are absolute enthusiasts for the use of new and especially on-line technology in teaching. I admire their enthusiasm, but cannot fully share it.

Part of my problem is just time. I am hard pressed to do what I’m doing now, let alone learn how to use the latest system. However, it’s more than that.

One of the problems that we faced in the project I talked about lay in the gap between those concerned with the business and operational requirements and the technologists and advanced users.

I am not sure which was worse. Advanced users wanted bells and whistles, while the technologists often opted for specific solutions that they liked in advance of the discussion on work processes. We see both at work in the education arena.

To my mind, the key to success in effectively utilising new on-line technology in education lies in what we call fitness for purpose, taking into account both the limitations of technology and the needs and capacities of those on both sides of the system.

One of the big myths of on-line delivery is that it’s cheaper and faster. That’s not necessarily so.

In education, content still has to be prepared. Further, preparation of that content normally takes more time because of the need to modify it to fit on-line forms. Once on-line it can be accessed by more people, but the initial input time is still greater.

In education too, a whole series of processes still have to be carried out. Assignments have to be marked, queries answered, students supported.

Some of these processes can be automated: common student queries can be answered at a single point; forums can be used as a vehicle for discussion; simple tests can be used to test basic knowledge. Still, my experience suggests that the actual time input costs involved in supporting the on-line student can be greater than the equivalent internal student.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that on-line education is a bad thing, especially for students who for reasons of time or distance cannot access full time on-campus study. However, I do think that unrealistic expectations are sometimes attached to the process.

Chatting to my daughters who are internal students at Sydney universities as well as to those studying fully on-line including UNE students, I don’t think that any of the universities have actually mastered the use of the internet.

Probably the biggest difficulty is the same one we struggled with in the project I described earlier, creating a system that links to work or study processes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 2 - building the line

My first post in this series, The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 1 - ghost railway, simply set the scene,  

For those who don't know Dorrigo, it lies on the Dorrigo Plateau perched on the edge of the New England escarpment. This is truly beautiful country, although the colours are not quite your Australian stereotypical colours as so often presented. It is just too green because of the high rainfall.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Dorrigo was heavily forested. Lumbering and clearing began, but the high escarpment made it difficult to get produce to the seaboard. Timber in particular had to be hauled over rough roads to Armidale or Grafton.

This type of difficulty was was true to greater or lesser extent across New England. Fights for east-west rail links helped fuel the discontent that generated the desire of so many New Englanders over more than 150 years to gain Northern self-government.

In 1905, work finally began on a north-south North Coast line. Settlers on the Dorrigo Plateau began an intensive campaign to link their area to the projected railway. On 28 December 1910, the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Railway Act was passed, providing for the construction of a line linking Glenreagh on the coast to Dorrigo. This would allow timber and other produce to be shifted through the small port at Coffs Harbour. However, the protagonists saw this as a first step in a longer inland east-west line.  

The photo shows bullock teams at work at the Coffs Habour port in 1928.

Survey work on the new line did not commence until 1914, actual construction a little later. In 1917, the war interrupted work, with construction beginning again in 1920.

Construction was no mean feat because of the rugged terrain and regular rain. Land slips were common and were to plague the line throughout its life.

The new line was finally opened on 23 December 1924, providing a Christmas present to residents of the Dorrigo. Next step, construction of the Dorrigo-Guyra line begins.

Next post. First post


I felt a bit sad writing this post. It's not just a story of lost dreams, but today everything is so tied up in rules, regulations, proscriptions, evaluations, impact statements, cost-benefit analyses, performance measures etc that the Government in Sydney struggles to build a single railway line. 

Further reading

For those interested in a little more:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Belshaw's World - big issues missed in political discourse

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 9 September 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 don’t know about you, but I find present political discussion at Federal level quite depressing. We have what I can only describe as group think, in which everything seems to be dominated by two policy issues (refugees and the carbon tax) plus one political issue (Gillard vs Abbott).

In all the screaming media headlines and chattering heads, it’s easy to forget that life goes on, that there are other important issues that need to be dealt with, that decisions are being made that will have significant national and regional impacts.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that either refugees or the carbon tax are not important, just that the current obsession with them and the fortunes of the PM are draining the oxygen from other important issues.

From a narrow Armidale perspective, the decisions being taken on the future of higher education are far more important than either refugee policy or the carbon tax since they will determine just how many jobs the city has in five years time. That’s kind of important.

More broadly, the Gonski inquiry into school funding has just released four important research papers.

They suggest, among other things, that while Australian school education still scores quite well, the gap between the top and bottom performers has widened. They also suggest that performance within the Australian school system is far more influenced by socio-economic factors than is the case in many other places.

As I write, the Australian Government is considering changes to visa requirements to make it easier to bring in skilled labour to work on mining projects that cannot otherwise get people.

Facing its own skilled labour problems, the Defence Department has announced plans to try to train the workers it needs for planned large scale Defence procurements. The skills required no longer exist in this country.

All three examples selected deal in some way with education and training.

To take a different area, who knows what is happening with the Australian Government’s regional development agenda? Action goes on, but it has largely vanished from the political stage in terms of public discussion.

One of the features of all these various policy areas is the importance of time.

Back in another mining boom, I was a member of a high level interdepartmental committee formed to address the question of skills shortages. An investment boom was underway, and we didn’t have the people required to build the mines and railways.

Looking back, we had been under-investing in technical education. Special programs were launched to try to increase supply of skilled labour.

By the time those people started to come on stream, that mining boom was over. Further, the economic re-structuring of the 1980s took away just those jobs in manufacturing that the newly trained workers were equipped to do. With unemployed tradesmen, training was cut back again, leading to subsequent skills shortages.

In the late 1990s, I was CEO of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists. Our workforce planning analysis suggested a looming shortage of ophthalmologists because of the combination of population growth with an aging population. But where were the new trainees to come from?

The then Commonwealth Minister for Health had been worried about the costs of medicare. He had concluded that there were too many GPs and that this was leading to over-servicing. Medical training was cut back, while it was made more difficult for GPs to get the required certification to access medicare. The resulting shortages at all levels of medicine are now history.

In higher education as well, policy has chopped and changed in light of current views and fashions with significant long term effects. The problems faced by UNE are partly a result of poor management, more the flow-on effects of past Government decisions that started in the 1980s.

If we now link all this back to current imbroglios at Federal level, the Gillard Government may or may not survive. We may or may not have overseas processing of refugees. We may or may not have a carbon tax.

What we can be sure of is that the current focus on the short term, the obsession with the Government’s immediate fortunes, Mr Abbott’s hard ball short term political focus, means that the scope for real policy discussion has become increasingly constrained.

Those of us with a genuine interest in resolving past problems, with finding a way to actually do things better, have become increasingly marginalised. Real policy discussion has moved from the centre to the periphery.

You won’t find real policy discussion or indeed reporting in the main stream media with its narrow obsession with the current. You won’t find real policy discussion in the headline political discourse. It’s all been poisoned by the short term.

I think that’s a problem.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Problems with disorganisation

I am sorry for the slow posting here. It's partly a matter of personal disorganisation, partly due to the reasons I explained in a post on my personal blog, Enjoying the Rugby World Cup. I do love my Rugby!

I am flying to New Zealand Thursday for a couple of days. Despite that, I expect to resume posting tomorrow. I have a number of part completed stories: I just have to complete some for future posting!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Belshaw’s World – separatist fire smoulders 96 years on

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 31 August 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

In 1915, an incident occurred in Grafton that would change the direction of New England history contributing, among other things, to the creation of the University of New England.

While there were regular separatist outbreaks in Northern New South Wales during the nineteenth century, they did not result in a sustained campaign for local self-government such as that maintained in North Queensland during the same period. However, by the end of the century a tradition of separatist agitation as a way of responding to local grievances had been well established.

The sense of country grievance was particularly strong in the Grafton area, a key centre for nineteenth century new state agitation.

The construction of the north-south inland railway had first damaged and then destroyed the traffic from the Tablelands and Slopes to the Grafton port. Attempts to gain a railway line from the Slopes and Tablelands to Grafton to help revive the trade had failed repeatedly. Grafton's sense of grievance associated with the destruction of its trade and the failure to gain an east-west rail link, was aggravated by the failure of attempts to gain a north-south coastal rail link, and by the failure of the Government over many years to take any action to remove the reef at the mouth of the Clarence, a reef that significantly hindered shipping.

Helen. Built c 1908 The accumulating grievances came to a head early in 1915. The Minister of Public Works in the Holman Government, Arthur Griffith, decided to remove the free steam ferry Helen from the Grafton-South Grafton run. In the absence of any bridge, the Helen was the main means of transport between Grafton and South Grafton. There was an indignant public reaction culminating in a public meeting in the Grafton Town Hall attended by about 250 people from both municipalities.

Although the meeting had been called to discuss the Helen incident, it changed character when Earle Page moved a motion suggesting that the time had now come for the North to consider separation, either alone or in connection with the southern portion of Queensland, and calling for the appointment of a committee to investigate the question and confer with other portions of the North Coast, Tablelands and Queensland.

Page was then thirty-four. Born at Grafton, he had been educated first in the Clarence and then at Sydney High School before studying medicine at Sydney University. After a little over a year as house surgeon at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Page returned to the Clarence and quickly established a thriving practice together with a modern private hospital at South Grafton.

Page's travels across his practice - it covered an area of some 16,000 square kilometres - gave him a detailed knowledge of the Northern Rivers district, of its potential and problems. By 1913, when he was elected to the South Grafton Municipal Council, he was well-known in his own area. Now, with the Helen incident, began a chain of events that was to throw Page into national prominence and help give particular form to Northern history.

Page's separatist motion was carried unanimously. The committee then formed reported in April 1915. Its report, subsequently published as a pamphlet, detailed many of the arguments that were already and were to remain traditional in separatist propaganda.

The central complaint was that the North was suffering because of the centralising policies of the Sydney Government; these had retarded the progress of the state in order that the artificial progress of Sydney might be maintained. Separation was the only way to halt this process. The report then went on to recommend that the new state should include the North Coast as far south as the Hastings Range south of Kempsey, the Northern Tablelands, the Liverpool Plains and Western Slopes, and a strip of the Western Plains as far west as Bourke.

On 29 April 1915, the report was discussed at a large public meeting in Grafton which decided unanimously in favour of separation and then formed a Northern New South Wales Separation League.

The new League, with Earle Page and F. McGuren from Grafton and David Ritchie from Dorrigo as its chief propagandists, spread rapidly: by August there were twenty-two branches on the coast and an attempt was being made to extend the organisation inland. Then towards the end of 1915, the new movement vanished as fast as it had risen because of the growing impact of the war which took away its leaders, including Page himself.

This had been a grass fire, but it laid the basis for a much bigger blaze that was to burn strongly across most of the first seven decades of the twentieth century, with spot fires continuing today.

Without that blaze, we would not have the University of New England.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 1 - ghost railway

In the next few posts I want to say a little about the sad and sorry story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh railway line. This is a case where a New England Government could have and probably would have taken a more pro-active approach simply because the line would have been more important, not just a minor line in a distant part of New South Wales.

To introduce the posts, this you tube video is simply called Ghost Railway:


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New England and the NSW Budget 2011

I have been dredging my way through the NSW budget papers trying to make an assessment of the likely impact on New England. Those who are interested can find the budget papers link here.

It's remarkably difficult to do, in part because New England doesn't exist in a formal sense so data isn't organised in that way, in part because so much depends upon the detail of individual agency plans. The one thing that we can be reasonably certain of is that the great majority of the extra billion in mining royalties will come from New England and especially the Hunter.

While digging around, I found that the new Government has released its own state plan to replace the previous Labor Government plan. 

I will try to do at least some form of rough assessment of both from a New England perspective over the next day or so. As I have argued before, unless we have some idea of just what is being done to us compared to New England's needs then a sensible response is extremely difficult.

For those who are interested, my posts on the previous Government's plan were:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Belshaw's World - can we harness local super?

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 24 August 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.

Did you know, I didn’t, that the top ten global technology companies ranked by market size had no less than $US 290.89 billion in cash and cash equivalents? Of this group, Apple has the largest cash horde of no less than $US 76.2 billion!

To relative size of the cash pile can be simply illustrated.

Google’s purchase of Motorola plus Microsoft’s purchase of Skype cost roughly $US 21 billion, a big number but also only 7.2 per cent of those companies’ combined cash reserves.

I am indebted for these strange pieces of information to a story from Alex Wilhelm (http://thenextweb.com/insider/2011/08/22/big-money-the-companies-with-the-biggest-cash-piles-in-tech/) on the The Next Web.

What does all this mean? Well, I’m not sure, but I can make a few comments.

To begin with, what do companies do with all this cash?

Part of the answer for, say, IBM is the need to provide working capital and a buffer in uncertain times. However, beyond that, the presence of such large cash reserves simply reflects the absence of decent investment opportunities.

One of the issues about scale is that as you get bigger, then you need to find bigger investment opportunities. You can’t get sufficient return given costs through a multiplicity of small investment opportunities.

We actually have a good example of this at present in Australia, and that’s superannuation.

I actually support compulsory superannuation, but our present system comes at a cost.

One cost is the diversion of savings away from local investments in areas like New England. In the past, local savings were more available to fund local investment. That’s no longer true.

Our compulsory superannuation is aggregated into large lumps. The superannuation funds cannot afford all the assessment and management costs associated with small regional investments, so the funds leave.

A second cost is the way that our retirement incomes have become dependant upon performance by a relatively small range of investment classes.

In a way we are our own worst enemies here for we focus on short term returns as compared to longer term sustainability. Yet when an asset class goes down, the suffering is concentrated on those most dependent, those who actually need cash now.

A third cost lies in the way that superannuation collections now exceed the value of immediately available Australian investments.

If you like, Australia is now experiencing what New England experienced earlier. Cash has to leave the country. There simply isn’t the range of local investment opportunities of the required size.

This problem has been compounded by the decline in the relative size of the Government debt marketplace. There just isn’t the range of Government securities of all types that there once were.

I have been wondering for some time about the possibilities of increasing variety in the superannuation marketplace. Not variety in the way normally expressed such as low fees super. These are macro, big scale issues that do nothing to address the type of issue that I am talking about.

Rather, I have been wondering about possible ways of increasing the number and variety of superannuation providers so that we all had more choice, so that there were more options of marshalling local or regional funds for local or regional purposes, more options for keeping Australian funds in Australia.

I am not talking here about things like quotas to force super funds to invest in particular ways. I don’t support these.

Rather, I am looking for changes to our present regulatory approaches that will make it easier for smaller and more varied funds to survive and grow,

I am well aware of issues such as risk, transparency and probity. I just don’t think it right that those from Northern NSW should be prevented from investing a proportion of their funds in local assets. I think that we should be given more real choice.

To do the type of thing that I am talking about actually requires a fundamental change in the way that Government regulates the superannuation industry. We have to move away from a one size fits all big is beautiful approach.

I would like to think that this was possible.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

UK Daily Telegraph on Newcastle

My thanks to Greg for this one.

Newcastle, Australia: ramshackle glamour on apricot beaches

What has the Australian city of Newcastle got that Sydney and Melbourne haven’t?

According to the UK's Telegraph, its ramshackle glamour on apricot beaches!

It's actually not a bad story although, as some commenters pointed out, it still suffers from the confusion that you have to get to Newcastle from Sydney. That's not true, of course, given the flights from other cities to Newcastle. The story also fails to recognise that Newcastle is an entry point not just to the Hunter, but to the broader North.

Still, it's nice to see Newcastle and the Hunter getting further recognition.

Friday, September 02, 2011

New England Australia reader interests August 11

stats Aug 11 2

I am sorry for the continued lag in posting here. Hopefully full transmission will resume shortly!

The graphic shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) on this blog to end August 11.

The most popular posts on this blog in August were:

The popularity of South of My Days reflects the school curriculum!