Sunday, October 30, 2011

Grafton to Inverell cycling classic turns 51

One of Australia's oldest road races is the Grafton to Inverell Cycling Classic has just turned 51. Clarence Valley Today was there to record the start.  

This is a pretty but rugged race that crawls up the escarpment from Grafton, runs across the New England Tablelands and then down to Inverell. Mark's posts are:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Newcastle's Urban Insider is just so good

Yesterday's post, Why new state New England must have its own tourism strategy, dealt with the need for us to have a tourism approach independent of that applied in NSW.

Tourism is all about experiences. An experience is not just a good meal or a cup of coffee on its own, but those things in a context. You can get a good meal or a cup of coffee anywhere. Generally you remember them because something else is added in.

One of the things that I have tried to do in my writing is to draw out a little of the richness of New England life and history. Here I am trying to add a context, something that will make both New Englanders and visitors aware of our special features.

I have often spoken of the unrecognised features of Newcastle, the things that add specific richness to that city, a richness that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Sadly, things that are unrecognised die or are demolished. It is only later that we become aware of what we have lost.

From time to time, I have referred to Newcastle's Urban Insider. This relatively new e-magazine focuses on the texture of Newcastle life. It's great.

Just consider this feature by Matthew Endacott, Curtain Up Newcastle! The Theatre Town That Was. I have written a little on Newcastle's theatre tradition trying to understand something of its history. Matthew's article extends my knowledge.

The point about Newcastle's theatre tradition lies not in the comparison with other places, but in the fact that it is Newcastle's tradition. It is special to Newcastle.

To my mind, the brilliant thing about Urban Insider lies not in its immediate benefit to those living in Newcastle, although that's substantial. Rather, it is part of a process that is accumulating the Newcastle experience and making it available to a world well beyond Newcastle. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why new state New England must have its own tourism strategy

This post began as a Wednesday Forum discussion, but was then delayed until today by other pressures. This then allowed me to read David Whitley's piece Sorry Australia, Europe rules. He compares Australia adversely to Europe, suggesting that things like the Opera House cannot compete.

I agree with him. Indeed, I have written about the new love affair that many Australians have with Europe. I have written about the trails that our young follow through Asia. Australia as a new country cannot match the history and accumulated experiences, the very exotica, When the Sydney glitterati want to promote the city's museums, its cafes, they are no different from a country mayor who wants to promote a local park. The park may be nice, but it is not a draw in its own right. Both are blinded by the wrong comparison. 

I also agree with his conclusion: 

These things (the European attractions) are always going to appeal. There's nothing Australia's tourism authorities can do about them – but they can differentiate and sing about what Australia does do better instead.

If the broader new state New England is to attract increased visitor traffic, it has to focus on its unique features, those things that are distinct. Those things are not the same as Sydney.

The history, the geography, the style are all different. So long as New England is merged with, subordinated to, tourism promotion based on Sydney then we will fail. And so will Sydney.

We can see this is the failure of NSW tourism promotion and the two brand strategy - brand Sydney on one side, brand NSW on the other - over a very long period.

The NSW Government's attempts to promote Sydney as a global city, as a cosmopolitan global centre, fail in international terms because it puts Sydney in competition with a London or New York, a Singapore or Shanghai, and Sydney fails this test. In domestic terms, the Melbourne or Adelaide promotion of life style attracts domestic visitors, Crudely, Sydney is reduced to a bridge, an opera house and a harbour.

Elsewhere in NSW the position gets worse because NSW has no identity. If you look at international tourism promotion, Sydney itself gets a guernsey, but the rest of the state might as well not exist. If you look at domestic promotion, NSW is the only state without any form of definable tourism identity. Yes, that's right, the only one.

Try this test.

Ask people that you meet what are the key tourism features of each state, the few words that describe it from a visitor perspective. I bet you, the only words you get for NSW will be a few Sydney based attractions. All the other states will attract words linked to experiences.

New England suffers particularly because its identity is not recognised. We do have our own history, we have our complex life styles, we have great variety and attractions. Each is served up in fragments in the ill-defined stew that is NSW.

Many of us had hoped that the new NSW Government would address some of our concerns. At least so far as tourism is concerned, we now have enough evidence to suggest that it will follow the same path as before. I stand to be corrected, but I know of nothing in current plans that will aid us.

As before, the tourism strategies are fragmented and effectively deny our identity. Our history and special features are simply ignored.

Is is possible to have a unique New England brand? Certainly it is. This would centre on the North, the emergence of New England, our 150 year fight for statehood. It doesn't matter whether you agree with self-government or not, it's a unifying story.

New England tourism promotion would start with a central identity, but then focus on the promotion of difference, putting this in a broader New England context. Newcastle, for example, would emerge from the NSW imposed shadows as a distinct centre in its own right. The different New England wine regions would be promoted as an entity and in their differences.

How can you promote NSW wine when there is no unity, when people must choose one area but not another? In Victoria and in New England it is possible to do an integrated wine tour.

In Victoria, Geelong has established itself as the national wool centre from a museum perspective. Yes, the Western Districts are important, but so is wool in New England. Yet who would know?

I could go on, but will pause here with a plain statement.

If the NSW Government really wants to help New England tourism, then it must focus on the promotion of New England as an entity. This implies largely doing away with brand NSW and instead focusing on the promotion of the broader geographic entities making up NSW. If it can't do this, then let us go our own way.


A brief response to some of the issues raised with me on this post.

First, by new state New England I mean the Tablelands, the coast, the Hunter, the Western Slopes and Plains, not just the Tablelands.


Surely David Whitley's comment on Australia as a whole applies to New England? What makes you think that a New England brand could attract international visitors in its own right?

That's absolutely right. In the medium term, say ten years, a New England brand would be unlikely to attract significant international traffic in its own right. What it would do is to increase our share of visitors already coming plus make a small incremental contribution to the totality of Australia's international tourism promotion.

We have to keep a sense of perspective. A Rhodes or a Santorini already attracts more international visitors in their own right than the totality of New England's international visitors because of history, romance and closeness to Europe. We are talking about a slow build process.

What's New England got that would attract visitors compared to other parts of Australia? They have beaches, national parks, festivals etc. They have far better developed tourist attractions. Why should people bother going?

Sigh. I actually get this type of comment from Sydney dwellers quite a bit. Many of those living in Melbourne, for example, don't even know where the place is. Yet we have some of the best attractions and locations in Australia.

Alright, what would a New England tourism strategy look like? Why would it work?

In considering this we need to take two things into account:

  1. Visitors are attracted by a total experience. That takes time to build.
  2. Low visitor numbers to many parts means that New England tourism economics are severely constrained. We presently don't have the spend to support basic infrastructure or visitor related activities. Again, this takes time to address.

In terms of markets, a New England tourism strategy would:

  1. Promote New England to locals to encourage greater internal traffic. Do you know, there are Newcastle people who have never visited Armidale, Armidale people who have never visited Newcastle? There are new arrivals in some coastal centres that have never been over the ranges. And so it goes on. Towns don't sell to each other, they sell against each other. Glen Innes could probably double its total Celtic festival visitors from Armidale alone. How many Armidale people know about Inverell's Pioneer Village? Or have been to Timbertown? Internal promotion - taking in each other's washing if you like - can help improve economics and add to the human experience for locals and visitors alike.
  2. Adopt a highly segmented approach taking geography and travel time into account. For example, Tenterfield would promote itself in its own right - Henry Parkes, Tenterfield Saddler, etc. It would be promoted as an extension of the Granite Belt to attract add-on visitors especially from Brisbane, but also be promoted as part of the New England geographic wine region. Tenterfield should cross-sell, encouraging its visitors to go to Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt for wine, to drop down to the Richmond and Tweed valleys, mentioning Armidale in the context of Peter Allen.
  3. Adopt a thematic, niche, special interest approach linking different parts of New England. Wine, railways, mining, whatever you like. Anything that appeals that would also get people to travel more broadly within New England once they are there.
  4. With all this unified within a central New England brand. 

The coordinating promotional role would involve, among other things:

  1. Promotion of the central brand.
  2. Coordinated campaigns based around key themes.
  3. The use of tourism facilitators whose role would centre in part on encouragement of cooperation at local and  regional levels within the broader New England.

A key feature of the central role would be a focus on and promotion of difference, of features unique to specific localities or areas. Parochialism is deeply entrenched within New England. It should be used as an asset, not liability.

Postscript 2

Greg Commented:

Jim, I read this article yesterday and what struck me was the Sydney/Melbourne centric viewpoint. There is so much more to Australia than just two cities. Let's face it, if you are from the northern hemisphere and you want the experience of a cosmopolitan world city, then travelling half way around the world to Sydney is not going to be high on your list.

There was also the disparaging comments about our smaller cities eg. Newcastle, Wollongong, Ballarat and Bendigo, being vastly inferior to the many European small cities eg. Oxford, Cambridge and Bath. The logic seems to imply that because our smaller towns and cities lack 1000 years of history and mediaeval architecture that they are simply not worth visiting. What an appallingly narrow minded comment.

What we do have is an entire continent out there with a multitude of different destinations, all with their own unique landscapes and stories.

We can never compete with Europe if your interest is castles and cobbled streets, but that is not necessarily everyone's ideal holiday experience. Our own tourism authority could market and leverage off our own unique strengths. Our climate, unique landscapes, laid back lifstyles and our own story - something that you simply cannot experience anywhere else.'ll mention Newcastle, because it is obviously what I know best. Where else on earth can you experience world class beaches, a large coastal lake, the bays, sand dunes and blue water of Port Stephens, world class wine districts, ancient rainforests and a climate ranging from subtropical to alpine in the highlands of the Barringtons - all between 2 minutes and 2 hours of the city CBD? You would think that would be a tourist marketers dream. Yet if you relied on NSW Tourism website you might never know most of it existed.

Postscript 3

The Sydney Morning Herald (29 October) carried an interesting piece by Sean Nicholls Cashed up, curious - now to get them on the plane on the plans of Destination NSW. If you read the piece, you will see the same use of ambitious targets (double the money spent by tourists in NSW in 2020); the same focus on  what are perceived as golden markets, in this case China and to a lesser extent India; the same ambivalence and confusion between Sydney and NSW; the same focus on big ticket events; and an apparent disconnect between target and activities.

In fairness, Destination NSW is presently developing a strategic plan to achieve its objectives. Perhaps we should wait and see. However, having watched multiple planning processes over decades, I don't feel confident.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Belshaw's World - Summer days, Blue Hole and the 'Terrible Quads'

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 19 October 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.

Cousin Jamie has been posting family photos. I, too, have been going back through some of my own collection looking for shots that might be worth putting online, as has brother David.

Between us all, there are hundreds of photos not counting the proliferation that came with the digital camera. Eldest’s face book page actually has more photos than the entire collection!

Family photos can be an issue, for what is interesting to the family can be dead boring to the outsider. Older readers will remember the once popular slide shows – this is us in front of <insert appropriate monument>. Eyes glaze and bums get sore.

Still, when I look at our photos I suspect that some might be interesting if put into a broader context. They do cover more than one hundred years of New England history.

I don’t want to devote entire columns to family snaps. However, I thought that it might be worthwhile from time to time to use some photos as an entry point to discussion of aspects of our shared past.

A week or so back, there was a letter complaining about the condition of the road to the Blue Hole. I had to laugh, for the Blue Hole road has been the subject of complaint for a very long time!

Terrible Quads 1937 Blue Hole The Blue Hole has been a popular picnic spot for many years.. This photo is simply entitled "On a rock - the Blue Hole 1937, The Terrible Quads".

One person in the photo is Aunt Kay, but I have no idea who the other members of “The Terrible Quads” were! I suspect there are people in Armidale who might answer that question.

The thing about the Blue Hole is that it provided a deep swimming spot when they were relatively rare. This made it a popular swimming and picnic spot.

Other places such as the Pine Forest or the Gwydir did have deep pools.

I still remember skinny dipping at the Pine Forest getting a very burned backside as a consequence, but those pools tended to disappear as creeks silted up or changed course. The Blue Hole was different, always deep.

I first went to the Blue Hole as a kid many years after this photo was taken. The road was dreadful, really ruts wending their way across the paddock.

There were two things required to make the visit special.

One was a rope tied to a tree branch from which we could swing out into the water. The second were tire tubes.

In an earlier column I wrote about the experiences of my daughters tubing on the Mekong.

Our tubes were smaller, nor was the locale as exotic. Still, the concept was the same.

You could lie in the tube and look out at the world. More precisely, you could do so until someone tipped you out!

The problem with the smaller tires was the valve. I kept getting skin abrasions from those valves!

One feature of the Blue Hole was just how cold and dark the water became as you dropped below the surface. We used to dive down, but I never went very far because I didn’t like the cold. I still don’t.

This may sound strange coming from someone who grew up in Armidale, and indeed for periods I used to go swimming at the baths when they opened at 6am for training. Today that seems like insanity!

Thinking about the Blue Hole, I wonder if today’s Armidale kids have the same reactions that we did.

I know that when my girls were young we simply didn’t do some of the things that I had done. There were just so many more choices in terms of activities.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just a bit more on the Werris Creek Railway Museum

So far I have written stories mentioning the Werris Creek Railway Museum:

Now Kelly Fuller from ABC New England North West has interviewed Chris Holley, President of the Museum. It's worth listening to for those interested in the Museum or railways more generally.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Armidale High Class of 61 reunion

Back In June I went to the Armidale Demonstration School 150th anniversary celebrations and had a wonderful time washed in the warmth of nostalgia. Just as well there was some warmth. It was bloody cold! Just for consolidation purposes I have listed the various posts I wrote on the celebrations at the end of this post.

While there, I attended a planning meeting for the reunion of the Armidale High School Leaving Certificate Class of 1961. While I went to TAS (The Armidale School) instead of High, I was in the same class at primary school as the High group and remained friends despite the different schools. Now through the wonders of the internet, many of us are again in contact.

Armidale Express editor Christian Knight has kindly sent me some photos of the reunion for circulation among the Armidale Connection group. I will do so, but thought that I would run one group shot here. Names follow the photo.  

 ahs reunion group

From left back in the photo" Rex Jones, Ann Woods (nee Heagney), Lawrie Placing, Pat Schofield (nee Hume), Paul Sommerville, Phil Emery, John Bain, Darryl Clarke, Ray Christie.

From left front in the photo: Val Bevege (nee Edmonds), Maggie Fathers (nee White), Helen Jones (nee Davidson), Laurel Clark, Narelle Woodland (nee Todd), John Parsons, Jock Roxborough, Susan Chapman (nee McSpedden) and Bruce Whan.

Dear some of the names took me back! I wondered if Maggie Fathers (nee White) was the same as Margaret White who was in my year at Armidale Dem. To this day I still carry the nickname Chalkie among some because of our primary school friendship!

Just a reminder on a point I have made before. If you are having a reunion, let me know and I will publicise it here.

The Armidale Dem 150 Year Celebration Posts

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gordon Smith's Uralla

I am not running a Wednesday Forum this week because of time pressures. I am shifting storage sheds.

Instead, I thought that I would indulge myself with another of Gordon Smith's photos from his photo blog lookANDsee.

For those who don't know Uralla it is a small town (population around 2,300) 14 miles south of Armidale. This photo shows Bridge Street, the main street. Further comments follow the photo.

I am glad that Gordon is running a series of photos on Uralla. It's an interesting town well worth a visit. As so often happens, I suspect that Gordon's photos will give me lots of fodder for stories!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Belshaw's World - caught between a tweet and a print place

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 12 October 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.

From time to time I argue with Express editor Christian Knight about the need to bring the paper properly into the online world.

Now some Express readers might argue that immortalisation of the paper within the internet would be just too much of a good thing. Those same readers say that there is never anything in the Express anyway! Why, then, bother?

Editor Knight takes a different view.

As editor, he is hardly going to accept an argument that says there is nothing in his newspaper! His worry has been that if he puts the paper fully online, his Armidale readers may stop buying it and just read the online edition. This worry is set against the background of the general troubles facing the main Fairfax papers.

I don’t agree with those who say that there is no content in the paper, although I would accept that some editions do get a little thin. Living in Sydney as I now do, I read the Express quite carefully and find some very interesting content indeed.

A year or so back, one of my metropolitan blogging colleagues actually visited a country town, brought back a copy of the local paper, and then ran a piece parodying the stories.

Talk about come in spinner. I retaliated by taking stories from one edition of the Express and then comparing it with similar stories from Granny Herald. The Express stood up pretty well.

This type of disparaging attitude towards the country press in general is not uncommon.

In September, Express writer Janene Carey wrote on her blog about lunch with a friend who seemed bemused that Janene would want a part-time postdoctoral fellowship so that she could continue working at the Express. The friend asked Janene if she’d 'ever considered journalism as a profession?' - by which she meant a job on a "real" newspaper, a daily in the city covering serious, important stories.

Musing over this conversation, Janene simply recorded three stories that she had worked on that day, each local but with national or state implications.

The days when the Express ran front page foreign policy stories about developments in Tsarist Russia may be long gone. However, this does not mean that locally attuned reporting either lacks complexity or is without value.

I suspect that I probably read the paper from a somewhat different perspective to most readers.

It’s not just that I want to keep in touch with local developments. I also use the Express as a source of stories and ideas in a way that may surprise many.

I think that Armidale people have a tendency to knock the place. You might be surprised at the size of the Armidale footprint, at the way in which the apparently local actually has broader significance. That was Janene’s point.

Linking this now to my argument about the Express’s online presence, the paper actually serves two quite different audiences; one is purely local, the second is the broader and especially expatriate community with interests in Armidale.

If you limit the paper’s on-line presence to a small number of stories, then you are to my mind effectively penalising the broader Armidale community. I think that’s actually a problem for the city.

But can you broaden the online presence without affecting the local readership? I think that you can because the interests are different. You have, in effect, two linked publications.

I don’t think that I am going to win this argument any time soon, if only because of the way that Fairfax inline has been evolving.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy and use the print edition as a source of stories and ideas for a broader public.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rod's Northern Rivers geology blog

I sometimes feel blessed with our fellow bloggers.

A few weeks ago I was driving eldest to work and said that I was trying to learn something about geology. She laughed and rolled her eyes! Geology is not one of her pet interests.

My problem is that I need to learn something about geology to explain elements of New England's life and history. As always by New England I mean the broader New England, not just the Tablelands. So I have been struggling away trying to come to grips with terms, trying to sketch a geological history. Now I have received a message from Rod wondering whether I would be interested in his new blog on the geology of the Northern Rivers.

Interested? I could kiss him on both cheeks! Further, it's not just me that is likely to be interested. I immediately thought of two of my favourite picture bloggers, Gordon on the Tablelands, Mark on the Clarence Valley. Both add background to their photos.

If Rod keeps going, I suspect that he will become a real resource for the rest of us. Rod's blog is Northern Rivers (NSW) Geology. Hey, I will even forgive him for adding NSW in the title!

Rod will probably need to do a bit of educating for the rest of us. Things like simple blind freddy overviews. 

Please visit. In the meantime, I have added the blog to my must read list. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 25 - a few writers

New England crimance (crime plus romance!) writer Bronwyn Parry is appearing on a crimance panel at the Melbourne  SheKilda 2011 – Australian Women Crime Writers’ Convention. Bronwyn has also finished the draft of her latest book and is now going through the editing stage (Revisions).

Another New England romance writer, Nicole Alexander, interviews a third New England writer - Cathryn Hein & the power of stories. Born in South Australia’s rural south-east Cathryn’s debut novel, Promises was released last month. She hails from a family of jockeys and admits to growing up horse mad. Now living in Newcastle, Cathryn writes full-time. 

Nicole herself has a rural background, now hailing from north west of Moree. Her blog contains a variety of stories extending well beyond writing.

Armidale writer Jeremy Fisher reports on a variety of upcoming conferences. This includes a call for papers for an Armidale conference. In this case, I have taken the the liberty of repeating the post in full.     

"Where do you think you are? Writing Australia

Arts New England: Centre for Research and Innovation in the Arts will be presenting a symposium on 15 November, 2011, to consider the development of an Australian identity in and through Writing (defined as a process of creativity unlimited by form, linearity or mode). The symposium will explore a range of ways in which Australian writing has evolved and is evolving.

Guest speakers include:

Angelo Loukakis, Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors, has worked as a teacher, scriptwriter, editor and publisher. He is the author of the fiction titles For the Patriarch, Vernacular Dreams, Messenger, and The Memory of Tides. He has also written a number of non-fiction works, including most recently a book of the SBS television series Who Do You Think You Are? His collection of short stories, For the Patriarch, was winner of a New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award. Angelo Loukakis is a past member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and chair of the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. He has taught writing, publishing and editing subjects at UTS and the Australian Catholic University. His latest novel, Houdini’s Flight, was released in 2010.

Lisa Heidke, author of Lucy Springer gets even (2009), What Kate did next (2010), and Claudia’s big break (2011). Lisa will speak on the challenges of writing chick-lit.

Sophie Masson, Chair of the Australian Society of Authors and former member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts and author of more than fifty novels for young people. A graduate of UNE, Sophie is published in many countries. In 2011 her historical novel, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, while her alternative history novel, The Hand of Glory, won the Young Adult category of the 2002 Aurealis Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy. She has also had many books shotrtlisted for various awards, written several novels for adults, and four thrillers for teenagers under the pen-name of Isabelle Merlin. Her short stories and essays have also been extensively published, in print journals in Australia, the UK, USA, and online in many different publications and blogs. Sophie will speak on French-Australian identity

Papers for the symposium are sought on the following themes:

Context and environment

  • Indigenous matters
  • Censorship, legal, moral and ethical problems
  • Expatriate writing
  • Outside looking in, or inside looking out: other tongues and accents
  • Syllabus studies
  • Historiography

Industries, products and production

  • Publishing and its products
  • Writing and new media
  • Popular culture – newspapers, magazines, pulp fiction, TV/film, music, theatre
  • Careers


  • Individual/collaborative/community
  • Technology
  • Shapes/forms/structures


  • Biography/Romance/Horror/Crime etc.
  • Narratives without words
  • Professional writing
  • Advertising/Public relations

In the first instance, submit a 300 word abstract of your proposed paper by 17 October to Dr Jeremy Fisher"

Speaking of Sophie, her blog A la mode frangourou continues to be a delight! For those interested in blogging, Sophie had a post (Food for Thought) on Writer Unboxed about her experiences in creating her blog.

Turning now to another Armidale writer - there are a lot of us!. Denis Wright has been exploring the nature of the Tao in a very good and clearly written series of posts. You will find the first post here. Once there, you can follow the later posts through via the links in the posts.

This one may well be a tad late.

Another New England writer is Hunter Valley based Sharyn Munro who blogs under the title The Woman on the Mountain. Sharyn's latest book, Mountain Trails, was reviewed in these terms in The Adelaide Advertiser Magazine     

‘You may think your neighbours are eccentric, but Munro’s are animals: spotted quolls, possums, wallabies, koalas, snakes, frogs and echidnas to name a few. She describes them in short, often humorous vignettes of her life on the edge of a national park, 90 minutes from the nearest town.

‘Her style is engaging and informal as if telling stories over a cuppa, and her enthusiasm and concern for the creatures are infectious. The stories are illustrated with her own sketches. Munro ends with a restrained but passionate call for action to protect wildlife. As a reminder she includes a list of species already driven to extinction.

‘A good read.’

Sharyn's previous book, The Woman on the Mountain, has largely sold out. However, you can get a copy plus her new book from the publishers at a special combination price.

Well, I have run out of time and I haven't even had a chance to discuss the latest Captain Thunderbolt controversy. More later!  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The importance of tennis

Cousin Jamie continues to post family photos. I have many now to post as well. I have just called the following photo the importance of tennis. Comments follow the photo.Importance of tennis

In some ways, this is actually a fairly typical shot from the 1930s. Its a bush scene, with furniture dragged out from the house - two boxes, a formal chair, a wickerwork chair, one of those fabric sun chairs that you still see in England. They are all eating watermelon.  Kathleen tennis champion

With the decline in the importance of tennis, it's hard to realise just how important tennis was in New England. It was the most important social game across the entire North. Most properties, many homes, every small settlement, had their own tennis courts. Most people played.

This photo is of Aunt Kay when she was champion at the Armidale tennis club.

Tennis had many advantages as a sport. Land was then cheap, and courts were easy to construct. Tennis was a game that could be played by most ages. Importantly, it was one way in which boys and girls could meet and interact in a socially acceptable and relaxed fashion.

The world changes. The small settlements have largely gone. The home tennis court has been turned into a new block. Fewer people have the time or today even the skills to settle down for a few hours tennis.

Yet, and call me old fashioned if you like, I still miss the tennis. It's a game that I can play with my girls, that we played on every return visit to Armidale or when we were holidaying at South West Rocks. It's a game that stays with you.

I quite enjoy golf, another traditional New England game. Yet golf is not a social game in the way tennis is. It's too individualistic.

This week, and just down the road here in Sydney, I found surviving tennis courts hidden on a lane appropriately called Court Street. Oldest daughter has promised to play with me. Maybe there is hope!   

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Belshaw's World - Armidale in the 1960s: a city in transition

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 5 October 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

The Express story about the Rologas family (28 September) carried me back into Armidale of the 1960s.

Armidale’s population had passed 12,000 for the first time. Part of the increase came from natural population increase, part from an increase in the city’s boundaries.

Old Armidale – the old city – had an area of just 3.3 square miles. This is the city you can still see on the maps with its square grid pattern.

By 1960, the population had begun to spread into the adjoining Dumaresq Shire. The city council had long complained about the city’s small rating base relative to needs. Finally, the city boundaries were expanded to include part of the emerging urban areas in the Shire.

This was a city in transition. The large residential blocks that marked the posher areas of the old city had begun to be subdivided. The city’s first flats were appearing. Yet the city was still clearly that which I had known all my young life.

The CBD was still made up be the three central blocks on Beardy Street. The central block, now the Mall, was still the town’s main centre.

Richardson’s Department Store anchored the CBD on the west. Modelling itself on David Jones, Richardson’s offered a complete range of services including a small lending library.

A lending library? Well, prior to the expansion of the city library, Richardson’s library offered a range of popular material that appealed especially to my mother.

Just beyond Richardson’s, the Capital Theatre marked the entertainment epicentre. This was a pretty popular theatre.

On the eastern side of Beardy Street, the less popular side, Hanna’s provided an alternative to Richardson’s, anchoring the east end. Nick’s Café was to be found beyond and was a popular place.

The department stores plus Burgess’s all offered home delivery of groceries. In those pre-internet days, there would be a knock on our back door. Mum would go out and give her order; the groceries would be delivered later.

Armidale’s pubs were the centre of much socialising, each drawing a particular clientele.

Rebuilt in 1930s in art deco style, Tattersalls Hotel in the centre block was Armidale’s prestige hotel. By 1960, fashion had begun to pass it by, but it still carried the marks of a grander past.

East West Airline founder Don Shand still held court there from time to time with the grazing families that came into town to do their shopping. Big and burly, Don could tell a good yarn.

I can still remember sitting in one of the leather arm chairs in the Tatts foyer waiting to be introduced to a girl friend’s parents.

I had met Steph earlier on the long boarding school trains that used to take the boarders out of town at the end of term. As a local, I normally did not go on the end term trains, but this time I was going to stay with a school friend at Molong.

Those trains were quite something. The platform crowded with students and supervising teachers suddenly emptied as teachers waved the charges good by. For their part, the charges now freed from teacher supervision settle down to smoke, fraternise and sometimes drink. It all seems quite mild now, but it was exciting then.

That day I was to meet Steph’s parents for the first time for they had driven up to collect their daughter. I still remember how nervous I felt!

I may seem to have come a long way from my starting point, the Rologas family, but there is a link.

As compared to Victoria, NSW has always been a bit of a wowser state. It still is. It was not until the early 1960s that the Mun Hing and Nicks obtained liquor licenses, the first cafes in Armidale to do so.

Prior to Nicks obtaining its licenses, those wishing to go out to a dinner had very limited choices. The main Tatts dining room was quite good, while Tatts’ Tavern also served food. However, they weren’t so good if you simply wanted to take a girl out to dinner with a degree of privacy!

Once Nicks got its licence, it opened a whole new dining experience and I ate there a lot. Civilisation had arrived!

Part of the attraction of Nicks lay in Chris and other members of the family. It was just a nice, friendly place in which to eat. I also liked the food.

From then through the upgrades and the creation of Seven Brothers I continued to eat at Nicks, as did my parents and many people I knew.

The world changes. Those days are gone, but the fond memories remain.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A little more on New England hash tags

I left my last post, Wednesday Forum - what hash tags should we use to promote New England? up front for a while. I have started putting up tags as postscripts the Forum post.

I got some ideas in emails, some from searches. As you might have expected, it all proved more complicated than I had expected. I will keep on adding to the original post and then do a proper update.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Death of New England writer Ruby Langford Ginibi

My thanks to Mark from Clarence Valley Today for alerting me to the death of New England writer Ruby Langford Ginibi. I am sure that there will be a full obituary at some point. At this point, I just wanted to record a few points, to set a context if you like.

While I have read a number of her books including her best known work, Don't Take Your Love to Town (1988), I only have one of her books on my shelves, All My Mob (2007). That's a pity, one that I will remedy.

Ruby Maude Anderson was born on 26 January 1934 at the Box Ridge Mission, Coraki, in the Northern Rivers. She was raised at Bonalbo and attended high school in Casino. At 15, she moved to Sydney where she qualified as a clothing machinist. She had nine children by various relationships, but only legally married once, to Peter Langford, whose surname she took as her own. Ginibi was added later as a Bundjalung honorific; the Bundjalung were the large Aboriginal language group occupying territory from the northern banks of the Clarence River into Southern Queensland.

Ruby 's writing style was colloquial, yarn telling in the tradition of her people. She bought alive a slice of Aboriginal life and oral history, making it accessible to a broader audience. Often unwell later in life and with a history marked by personal tragedy, her writing is still laced with a hope and humour that makes her words stand out.

Ruby Langford Ginibi received recognition in part because she was an Aboriginal writer. I am not detracting from her work when I say this, for that is important. However, my perspective is a little different, for I focused in my reading on her role and history as a writer who was both New England and Aboriginal. I enjoyed her writing as writing, but also focused on her writing as social history relevant to a time and an area.

I did not meet her nor, unlike Mark, even hear her talk. While I knew that she was not well, I simply did not focus properly on her age or health. Now I find myself quite unprepared to put her into proper context.

Part of my research into the history of New England has been concerned with the history of New England's Aboriginal peoples, including the language groups that she was linked too. My most recent research has been concerned with social change in New England in the period after 1950, again with a special focus on New England's Aboriginal peoples. 

As I read her books, I looked at what they told me about the history and people I was interested in. I did not regard them as history as such. Indeed, there were specific points of interpretation that I disagreed with. However, they provided a rich and deep stream of memories that I almost salivated over because they gave me the opportunity, assuming that I could meet the challenge, to bring alive particular aspects of New England's past.

As I said, I am sure that there will be broader obituaries. I will add them here if I get a chance. 


A fuller obituary by Malcolm Brown has now appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.       

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wednesday Forum - what hash tags should we use to promote New England?

In a response to my post, Dobson's Brewery - new New England beers, Denis Wright tweeted " @JimBelshaw You're a corrupting influence, Belshaw.

Mmm! I like the idea!

This got me thinking. I have only just begun to use has tags on Twitter and am really just learning how. I have also been watching others use of the tags.

I spend a far bit of time promoting New England causes or reporting on New England stories. Here I really should use hash tags more, for we can can use them to promote New England causes and life style. But to really have impact, we need some common hash tags.

I say common hash tags because this adds to impact and creates threads that people can follow.

Any ideas on hash tags that might be used?

Locality names is one obvious possibility. However, here we may need a modifier where other places have similar names. For example, #newcastle is dominated by Newcastle in the UK, #newengland by the US. By contrast, #armidale is all armidale. So do we add oz at the end?

And what about life style or attractions?


Update One

Suggested list of initial tags based on suggestions and search:
  • For newcastle, #newcastle. Despite the number of newcastle UK tweets, #newcastle well established. Adding oz or Australia likely to fragment
  • For Hunter Valley, #huntervalley
  • For living history, #livinghistory
  • For adventure tourism, #adventuretourism
  • For Northern Rivers, #northernrivers

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Belshaw's World - online learning no teaching panacea

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 26 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 for2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

I wrote on on-line learning in my Express column of 14 September (The online myth) and had not intended to return to the topic so soon. However, Professor Barber’s views as reported in the Express (Online learning the real deal, 21 September 2011) concerned me.

I am not opposed to on-line learning, nor do I regard face to face and on-line as either or cases.

The best teaching mode depends on the purpose of study and on the student’s position. On-line is very good where access to information is the key requirement. Further, many students simply cannot access face to face learning; they have no choice. The best delivery is that which combines delivery modes in the best way taking individual positions into account.

In his support for on-line, Professor Barber appears to go much further than this. He seems to argue that on-line is best for all students in all cases. He also appears to argue that those of us who challenge the current dominant focus on on-line, who argue for a balanced approach, misunderstand young people.

In considering Professor Barber’s views, what does the evidence tell us?

The material I have seen suggests that around 29 per cent of students regard on line as the best form of delivery. This rises to 39 per cent among younger students with the strongest on line experience.

A recent twitter exchange among UNE’s own students on the role of lectures supports this position. The majority of students came down quite clearly in support of the lecture, largely because of the greater interactivity involved.

The majority of New England alumni studied as external students. If you look at the attitudes among them, a common theme appears to be the value placed on external schools, on access to lectures and lecturers, on interaction with other students in face to face situation.

Age does affect attitudes, but not quite in the way you might expect from Professor Barber’s comments.

UNE’s own students break into two age groups.

Those most dependent on-line delivery, the externals, are older. By contrast, those experiencing fuller face to face teaching, the internals, are generally young.

I stand to be corrected, but I know of no evidence that university choices among the Australian young are influenced by the standard of a university’s on-line offerings and services. By contrast, university selection among older students is so influenced.

Given that the majority of UNE students actually depend upon on-line delivery, what can we say about UNE performance in this area?

The UNE system is functional, but not especially sophisticated. In technical terms it has similar components and about the same level of functionality as the internal system my old consulting network introduced some ten years ago.

There are practical reasons for this.

One reason is that many UNE staff are not especially knowledgeable about the on-line world. They are also time short; it can be hard to find to time to learn new things, to prepare new types of content in new form, while still doing one’s ordinary job. Students, too, have varying levels of knowledge.

A second and broader reason is the one that I mentioned in my earlier post, the fact as I see it that no one has yet defined an on-line delivery system that really works in a mass education market beyond a certain basic level. It’s just very hard to do.

In saying all this, I do understand the challenges that Professor Barber faces and his enthusiasms.

We do need to debate the type of issues raised, but I think that it requires greater clarity in analysis

My concern with his remarks as reported is that they mixed things together in ways that didn’t necessarily make a lot of sense to me. There is no silver bullet that will solve all ills.