Thursday, December 27, 2012

History Revisited - just a bit of bull

One of the little known facts about Armidale is its role as national headquarters of a remarkable number of beef breed societies. I haven’t counted them all, but there are over twenty. I didn’t know that there were that many beef breeds!

This fact got me wondering about the history of cattle in Australia.

I found that the first cattle to arrive in Australia came on the first fleet, picked up at the Cape of Good Hope on the way through. There was old Gorgon the bull, four or five cows and a calf. They were almost certainly of Africander breed, with probably at least one balck Vaderlander.

They quickly strayed after a convict who was meant to be watching them fell asleep. Livestock were valuable. Five hundred men were mobilized to search for the cattle, but to no avail. There were no more known cattle in the colony until another ship arrived three years later, again from the Cape, with eleven black Vaderlanders aboard.

In 1795, a convict was told by an Aborigine about a herd of cattle to the west of Sydney. He went to investigate, and found the escaped herd near modern Camden. It had grown to sixty one, a remarkable rate of increase for such a small herd in just seven years.

In the still small settlement, these cattle were a valuable resource. Governor Hunter rode to see them. He named the area Cowpastures, made it a reserve for the wild cattle and ordered a guard house built to stop poachers. Numbers grew steadily.

Sydney was full of rogues intent on enriching themselves. Governor King laid personal claim to a large number of the wild herd on the basis that Governor Phillip had owned part of the original herd and had given them to him. The wild cattle were difficult to catch. King therefore promptly swapped the claimed cattle for 200 tame Zebu and black cattle from the Government herd!

In a colony of rogues, John Macarthur was the rogue of rogues. On his first exile in England, Macarthur went to see Minister Camden and persuaded the minister to give him a very large land grant around Mount Taurus.

This was blatant chicanery. Lord Camden had no idea that Mount Taurus was in the centre of the cattle reserve, that he was giving Macarthur not just a land grant, but control of the wild herd itself. Governors might object, but the grant stuck.

Macarthur himself was more interested in sheep than cattle. His efforts here laid the base for another great New England industry.

Some of the best cattle were domesticated, others were shot for meat. The herd vanished. However, its rugged genes became widely spread throughout the colony’s rapidly growing cattle numbers.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 December 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

This will be the last History Revisited column posted here. I am switching posting to my New England history blog since the columns are exclusively history. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

History Revisited - performing arts shows town's dramatic side

The first “big” play that I ever intended was an Armidale Theatre Club production in the old Parish Hall. I was very young and it was quite frightening!

Why? It was a murder mystery about a serial killer. He had a desk that included a secret drawer in which was to be found a noose. He used this to strangle women.

To get to the drawer, he had to carry out a special movement, a sort of a hand wriggle. Now there I was in the dark of the Parish Hall, watching an aunt standing with her back to the murderer while he got out the noose. See why it was frightening?

During the week, Judith Ross Smith sent me her book Never Whistle in the Dressing room: a history of the Armidale Playhouse 1953-2003 (Kardoorair Press 2005). From that book, I know that the play was probably The Ladykiller, one of the fist productions of the Armidale Theatre Club.

That actually makes me feel very old!

Armidale and the surrounding area has a quite remarkable theatre tradition. At the time my girls were born there, we had a choice of fifty different productions within one hour’s drive of our home. That’s astonishing.

Armidale shares part of its story with the broader New England, the way in which smaller communities created their own fun. But there were also special features in Armidale associated with its role as an education centre for the broader New England and well beyond.

Many of those features are entwined in my own mind, either directly or through my knowledge of our area’s shared history.

In December 1923, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald announced that The Armidale School Dramatic Society would present the Greek play, "Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus" in the original Greek; the Quarrel Scene from Corneille's "Le Cid;' and "Gaspard de Coligny," by W. Wentworth Shields (an old boy)at the King's Hall. You could buy tickets at Paling's.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that an Armidale theatre group presented a play by an Armidale author to a Sydney audience. That’s interesting, but it was the reference to the original Greek that caught my eye.

Digging into the story a little, I found that the senior boys in the TAS Greek class, TAS then taught ancient Greek as well as Latin, wanted to make TAS and Armidale the Australian centre for studies concerned with classical Greek!

There is something wonderfully eccentric about this notion, but then theatre in Armidale has always seemed a little larger than life.

Today Armidale has many production venues. The photo shows the inside of the Hoskins Centre. That wasn’t always the case.

Initially, plays were presented in one of Armidale’s little halls or in the Town Hall. The opening of the Teacher’s College added a new venue. Then in March 1969, the Armidale Theatre Club opened the Armidale Playhouse as Armidale’s first dedicated venue. But that’s a story for another column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 December 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

History Revisited - Armidale's retail changes

One of the significant changes in the Armidale streetscape over the last sixty years has been the decline in the corner store. They are still there, but their numbers have diminished.

Even sixty years ago, many Armidale households did not have a car. Bus services did exist, but they were infrequent. Some products such as milk, bread or ice were delivered on regular rounds. By then, you could order groceries for home delivery by phone, although store staff still visited to take orders at the back door from regular customers. But for many, a walk to the nearest corner store was still the normal way to buy day to day items.

You can only carry so much in a string bag. For that reason, the stores were quite widely spread, with the greatest concentration in the old city south of the creek.

Then as today, kids had vivid memories of the nearest stores for there you bought lollies or snacks. .You may be surprised at just how often those memories feature at reunions, on Facebook pages or in email exchanges among the tens of thousands of people now living elsewhere whose memory of Armidale was formed in childhood and at school.

In our case, it was Mrs Beatty’s store, now Knights. Midway between our parents and grandparents houses, we visited often.

I remember being sent there with a note from my mother. In return, I received a brown paper package to bring home. It would be years before I worked out that the package contained a sanitary napkin!

The transformation that we would reshape Armidale shopping was already well underway.

While there is debate about the exact genesis of the concept, the idea of the supermarket first emerged in North America with the spread of the automobile.

The concept was a simple one. Instead of customers knowing what they wanted and then ordering from a shop assistant who packed items individually, replace this with a more open store where customers chose and then carried the item to the check-out. This allowed greater variety and was cheaper.

It took some time for the concept to reach Armidale.

In the period after the Second World War, three Armidale businesses (Hanna’s, Richardson’s and Burgess’s) progressively introduced the concept. As they did, the centre of retail gravity shifted.

Initially, the changes were locally driven. Then came the chains.

In Armidale, there were two of what were then called variety stores, Coles and Penneys. They were great for kids with limited budgets looking for cheap Christmas presents for family. They also had toys!

Coles transformed. Expanding rapidly, it bought Penneys among others.

In 1960, G J Coles opened its first Australian supermarket. I haven’t checked my facts here, but my recollection is that Coles first reached Armidale when they took over Richardson’s grocery business. A new era had begun.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 December 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

History Revisited - ship sales marked the end of an era

On 31 March 1954, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the North Coast Steam Navigation Company had called for tenders for the sale of its nine ships. This announcement marked the end of a now largely forgotten era.

The Company had begun in 1857 as the Grafton Steam Navigation Company primarily to get the produce of the coast and tablelands more effectively to Sydney. Over time, it grew into a significant coastal shipping operation. Now squeezed by rising costs, the company had decided to go into voluntary liquidation.

Before the construction of the Great Northern Railway, people living in Armidale and surrounding districts had a choice in bringing goods in or sending produce out. You could send them overland to the river port at Morpeth on the Hunter or, alternatively, down one of the precipitous tracks over the escarpment to one of the North Coast river ports.

The choice was made on grounds of cost and convenience. From Armidale north, the focus was west-east to the coast. At Tenterfield just prior to the construction of the railway, several hundred people were employed carting goods between the Tablelands and the Northern River ports.

Even after the construction of the railway, the coastal trade continued. As late as the 1930s, some North Coast students at the Armidale Teachers College found it easier to go to Sydney by rail and then complete the journey by steamer because of the bad condition of the roads to the coast. One student remembered being lowered in a wicker ware basket from the steamer onto the long wooden pier at Woolgoolga that used to stretch from the beach into the open sea.

The Northern seas could be treacherous. Wrecks were common.

The 2005 ton twin screw steamer Wollongbar was the pride of the North Coast fleet. It had accommodation for 235 first-class passengers, 40 second-class and extensive general cargo.

On 14 May 1921 the ship was alongside the jetty at Byron Bay when a storm broke out. Attempts to move the vessel into the Bay failed. It was driven ashore and wrecked. Its replacement, the Wollongbar II, was lost of Crescent Heads in 1943.

The Second World War came far closer to Armidale than many realise. Japanese submarines operated along the Northern coast, torpedoing ships and laying mines. The mini-sub attack in Sydney Harbour is well remembered because of the panic it caused. Fewer people remember the sea war of the New England coast.

During the War, both the Great Northern Railway and the New England highway were vital transport links. Troop trains and war supplies passed through the Armidale railway station on Brisbane bound trains.

The railway is gone now, of course. Armidale itself would have lost its rail connection without the work of our local activists.

The mournful sound of the whistle of the Brisbane Mail as it travelled through Armidale at 3am is a fading memory. The railway station at Wallangarra with its dual Queensland and NSW stations with their very different architectures stands as a mute memory of that past.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 28 November 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

History revisited - memories of past lives

In Armidale on my last trip, I watched my column being laid out. It took my mind back, a long way back!

I wonder how many University of New England students, or for that matter other Armidale residents, would remember Neucleus?

Not ring a bell?

Founded in 1947, Neucleus was the University of New England student newspaper. The Neuc in the name stood for the New England University College.

I joined the Neucleus team as a relatively young eighteen year old and, by happenstance, ended up as business manager. A somewhat grandiose title for someone whose primary role was to sell advertising!

I wasn’t very good at it, but actually it wasn’t hard. The Armidale businesses I called in to see already advertised, knew students, and had their material set up. Later, I became co-editor with Winton Bates, the only Neucleus editor whose thundering words feature in Mathew Jordon’s history of the University.

Apart from the excitement of producing a newspaper, Neucleus had one supreme advantage. It had its own dedicated building, the sub-lodge. Fancy having your site on campus to hold parties free of interference!

My attention attracted by the modern Express office, I went searching for material on the history of Neucleus. In doing so, I found a 1960 Australian Archives photo showing then editor Ross Pengelley and Malayan student Khoo Soo-Hay doing the layout of the next Neucleus edition in the printing room of the Armidale Express.

That interested me for several reasons.

One was the physical production process. I cannot remember all details as to how we produced the paper. I do remember that we had to type material out and then physically lay it out on the page. We would fiddle around to get the best fit and the past it to the page. What a change!

The other thing was Khoo Soo-Hay’s presence. In 1960 the White Australia Policy was still formally in place. Yet by then, UNE had a substantial overseas student body, relatively greater than today, who became involved in every aspect of University life. The Overseas Student’s Association was one of the largest student societies on campus, including a number of Australian students as associate members.

These students were brought to Armidale by the Colombo Plan. Born out of a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers held at Colombo in 1950, the Plan aimed to encouraging development in our region. Tens of thousands of Asian students were funded to study in this country, many in Armidale.

Their presence was very visible in the smaller city of that time. And how did Armidale respond? Very well measured by student memories. The two things most often mentioned are hospitality and the cold!

The links endure to this day. Now a noted poet, Khoo Soo-Hay returned to Armidale in 2006 for Wright College’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Photographs show him exploring the campus he once knew so well.

Neucleus is long gone, the parties we held in the sub-lodge a distant memory. Yet there is certain symmetry in that the sub-lodge is now the office of the International Student’s Association.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 November 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The deracination of New England poetry

From time to time on this blog I have talked about New England poetry and poets.

There is a common view around about the death of poetry. Newsweek announced it in 2003. Now Newsweek, or at least the printed version, is on its deathbed too.

Is New England poetry dead?

No, not if measured by output. There are more New England poets or poets with New England connections than at any time in our history. And yet much New England poetry has become deracinated, pulled out by the roots from its native environment.

Some of our poets and especially those from the Armidale school are themselves deracinated, bought to Armidale by circumstance, removed from their original homes, rebels against society, not at home in their new environment. Their writing forms one theme in New England’s cultural history, part of that history but also part of the poets’ isolation from their previous world. The isolation was formed then; Armidale accentuated it.

Beyond them, there is a problem not unique to New England but part of a broader malaise in which poetry has become an element in social angst, statements about the poet’s perception of the universals of life. Beyond that still are two further problems: poets have become disconnected from their area, while those living in the area no longer have access to the poetry.

The greatest New England poets, Judith Wright and Les Murray come to mind, have a deep emotional connection to the area’s geography. In a broad sense, their poems survive because they are such good writers that someone without context can still enjoy them. In a narrower sense, their words have continuing power at a much more local level because they resonate in our guts.

One of our challenges, one that has been partly met by people such as Julian Croft and Michael Sharkey, lies in just knowing who our poets are and how they fit in our own literary tradition.

The poets themselves may not see themselves that way. George James Macdonald, the Commissioner of Crown Lands who named Armidale, wrote poetry for his own pleasure and to ease his loneliness. He did not see himself as a New England poet. The concept of New England that I use as a frame did not exist. Yet he is part of our cultural history.

Outside the work of people like Julian or Michael or, to a lesser extent myself, no mechanism exists to describe our poetry to those living in New England. We have become as deracinated as some of the Armidale poets, cut of from our past.

I think that’s a bit sad, for it means that we are cut off from the words and emotions that give context to our own areas and life. Our deeper roots have been removed.


Denis Wright pointed out in a comment that Kardoorair Press was still a going concern. They are indeed and long may they continue! Our joint blogging friend Neil Whitfield mentioned one of their recent books in his post Our River Days and the Croker Island kids.

The problem lies not in the content - there are more published writers in the broader New England that at any time in our history. The problems lie in access and the absence of a common frame. Access in that distribution channels for small run publications have decayed. A common frame in that the rising output is simply not seen in any context.

Kadoorair itself is part of the New England cultural and intellectual tradition. Again, who knows?  The Press's web site states:

Kardoorair's first publication, Loose Federation, was released in January 1980 and featured the work of Michael Sharkey and Julian Croft. Croft subsequently was a Commonwealth Poetry Prize winner and Sharkey a much published poet and respected literary critic. Kardoorair now has over 60 publications.

I mentioned Michael and Julian in the post. Living in Armidale, they and the other local poets including Anthony Bennett rebelled against what they saw as the dominance of the Balmain set. This is New England poetry and other writing, the need to assert against the dominance of perceived (and actual) small cliques who control key outlets and funding sources not because of quality, but of location.

Perhaps another post? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

History revisited - Armidale's landscape reveals its history

I thoroughly enjoyed presenting last week to the Armidale North Rotary Club.

My thanks to Mick Duncan for arranging the talk and to the Club for allowing non-Rotarians who had heard about the talk to attend. I really appreciated that.

I was asked why there were in fact so few Armidale blue brick homes. This is the quintessential Armidale building material, yet most of the older houses are weatherboard.

The present built landscape of Armidale reflects every stage in the city’s history.

If you look at an Armidale street map, you will see a central core of rectangular blocks separated by streets running north-south and east west. This is the old measured Armidale.

The 556 people who lived in Armidale in 1851 straggled. Alcohol flowed, horse races were held in the dusty main street, stringybark huts dotted the landscape. It was a rough and ready male dominated place.

Order was imposed on Armidale over the second half of the nineteenth century. In social terms, the male oriented frontier society was replaced by families who (and especially the women) demanded an ordered society. In spatial terms, the previous straggle was replaced by the neat grids we know today.

The physical landscape of Armidale is all about money.

Armidale’s population grew from 556 in 1851 to 4,249 at the 1901 census. This growth created wealth.

The Armidale mercantile and professional families often built in brick because they could afford too. The growing number of ordinary workers, the railway families and trades people, built smaller cottages in cheaper weatherboard. These cottages were built on the then outskirts of the city and especially in West Armidale towards the Railway Station.

The twentieth century political landscape of Armidale reflected these patterns. Armidale Town Hall voted Country Party, whereas West Armidale was Labor Party territory.

By the 1950s, the city’s growth had over-spilled the old boundaries. Newer houses were built in brick. Urban in-fill had started. Flats had begun to appear.

In all this, one of the most remarkable changes has been in colour. Armidale’s colours have changed.

Today, everybody remarks about the heritage colours, about the city’s greenery. I love them. They are simply wonderful. Few realise how recent they are.

Flying into Armidale in the 1950s or 1960s, three colours dominated; white, red and green. White because the predominantly weatherboard houses were generally painted white. Red and green because they were the standard galvanized iron roof colours.

Armidale always had parks and trees. But many of the trees we so love date from the Armidale Beautification Committee campaigns that began in the 1950s.

And the heritage colours? They are due to new paint types that simply weren’t available before.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 7 November 2012. The photo is by Gordon Smith. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

UNE's trimesters hit Armidale economy

It's not on-line, at least at this point, but the Armidale Express is reporting that UNE's new trimester system has hit the local economy hard.

The system allows students to do an extra semester between November and February, a time when the University was previously in recess. It sounds good, but there is a problem.

To accommodate the system, the end date of the previous semester has been shortened by three weeks, finishing end October. Because offerings in the new trimester are on-line, residential students have been leaving Armidale earlier than previously, hitting local businesses. 

Back in Armidale earlier this month, I noticed how quiet the University campus and city centre were, but didn't properly realise the cause.

Judith Ross Smith is leading a campaign to revitalise the Armidale CBD. For those who are interested, you will find the Facebook public group page here


Siobhan McCarthy's Armidale Express story - Cafes reel over UNE trimester - is now on-line.

In a comment here, Rod wrote:

I don't like the idea of shortening semesters to create trimesters. A similar thing happened to my closest university (SCU) about three years ago. I remember how the students struggled to do the units adequately within a shortened time frame. Eventually the units had content cut or more units were created (of course the number of units needed to complete a degree didn't decrease) and the result is... graduates with less knowledge than before. That is without considering the issues associated with a local economy relying on tertiary education.

Rod, this was something I wondered about. I didn't have time on my last trip to Armidale to properly suss out the on-ground position. You have to talk to a number of coal-face people to get a proper picture. The comments I did get were negative along three lines: some to the supporting systems hadn't been properly worked out; student's weren't dumb - they knew when they were being short-changed; finally, the additional load on staff.

According to a comment on the Express story from one student studying in residence, not all the courses are on-line delivered. When I get time, I will try to properly establish just what courses are offered, how, over what real period and with what content. That will make a standards judgement easier to make.

I won't repeat the Express comments in detail, but I wanted to pick up a couple of themes.

First, the UNE heavies have in fact ignored concerns raised by students and by the residential system. There was on-campus consultation, but Professor Barber's very focused support on one primary solution has raised concerns among alumni. That is, its not consultation but direction and persuasion. I covered this a little in Saturday Morning Musings - UNE alumni dinner.

If you look at my report, you will see how Professor Barber's initial and very enthusiastic for on-line as a low cost profitable delivery device that would allow UNE to compete in the new world actually got quite a frosty response. He was telling the wrong story to an audience scarred by previous university mistakes. UNE might become successful in commercial terms or as measured in Canberra, but what was the point if the UNE experience was lost, if it became just another on-line delivery vehicle. Professor Barber then changed track. I quote from my story:  P1000324

"Now I heard Jim Barber start by talking about the university as a business, about the on-line revolution, about the need to deliver a low cost product. UNE, he seemed to be saying, had to survive by delivering a mass, cheap, on-line product. There was not a single word in the first five minutes of business/CEO speak that explained to me why I should continue to support UNE.

From my question, the flood gates opened. It wasn't harsh questioning. It was persistent questioning. Under that questioning, VC Barber gradually gave us reasons for encouragement.

UNE was not going to become, as it first seemed, a low cost provider of mass on-line education. In fact, UNE had chosen to stay smallish. UNE was not going to become just an on-line institution, something that worried many alumni. In fact, UNE was going to use revenue from on-line delivery to cross-subsidise the redevelopment of the University's unique residential model.

And yet, all this had to be dragged out through questioning. Even then, there was no real recognition of the University's history, of what in management speak might be called its unique selling points.

If you now look at the Express story, and I quote:

Ms Woodbury (pro-vice chancellor) said that given the positive student response, the university anticipates that in the coming years there would be more on campus study options as well as seeking alternative uses for the campus over the summer months.

“As the student interest in trimester three grows the university would look to see more on campus and residential schools take place over this period,” she said.

“The university is looking to have a better use of the summer period with a wider range of options with more school and sporting groups and conferences.

“This is a long term plan and I think it is good news for Armidale.”

On the surface, and if you consider Professor Barber's presentation, the University would have appeared to have delivered the first arm, on-line delivery, without the second, ways of managing the impact of change to enhance other aspects of the UNE experience. All the positives are possibles, long term things.

Normally when you introduce a major change, you do two things. You model the impacts on other parts of the system and you do a risk analysis. Now that may have been done, but I have the strong impression that University management was so focused on selling the new approach, on trying to make it work, that they may not have looked at broader issues. As I said, that is an impression.

Turning to another matter raised in the comments, I quote Jack:

So, if trimesters are here to stay, and retail is suffering because of it... what is the solution?

Here is a hot tip, when the students come back, make sure you let them know how valued they are.

Next hot tip; Armidale had better start looking at other ways to turn a buck. Shutting down for all of january - really? That's a business plan nowadays?

As a former Chair of Tourism Armidale, I can tell you that the city is very bad at promoting itself. One of our problems at the time lay in our inability to get people to recognise that it needed too. Part of the problem, too, was the purely domestic focus of many local businesses including those servicing tourists.

Later, I hammered away at somewhat similar themes in my Belshaw World columns. I traced the rise of Armidale inwardness and indeed that of UNE back to the university expansion of the 1970s. Then official NSW projections saw Armidale's population passing that of Tamworth by the turn of the century. Everybody talked about growth. Many were concerned to restrict it to preserve the city's life style.

I talked about the near-death experience that the city and university faced in the 1990s. I argued that Armidale now could not assume that the University would be there in future; other options had to be found. I pointed to the dramatic decline in the name recognition attached to the city and what that meant for the future; and I argued that in promotional terms the city's approach was narrow, unimaginative, unstable, using only a tiny proportion of the sizzle that could sell the city. I also suggested that the university actually suffered from similar problems. Both had become parochial and inward looking.

Was I right? Am I right? I don't know. I do feel that both UNE and the city itself need a reality check plus a large dose of applied imagination.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tinkler's Troubles

Nathan Tinkler has been struggling to meet his debts for some time, fighting a series of delaying battles. In one case, time has run out with one company, Mulsanne Resources, placed in the hands of liquidators Ferrier Hodgson (and here).


The Newcastle Herald has a little more.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

History revisited - wine industry's vintage

I mention this now because of Armidale’s recent focus on food and wine, including the forthcoming Under the Elms event at UNE. Many of we expats wish we could be there!

Even fifty years earlier, the Uralla pub story would have made no sense, for the Tablelands still grew and sold its own wine. By the time of the story, that had gone. I thought, therefore, that I should share with you the story of the rise and fall of the Tablelands’ wine industry.

In 1830, George and Margaret Wyndham purchased "Annandale" in the Hunter Valley, renaming the property "Dalwood" and building Dalwood House as a home.

In 1828 George had planted his first grapes using 600 cuttings purchased from James Busby. Following the purchase he immediately made the first commercial planting of shiraz at "Dalwood".

Produced in 1831, the first "Dalwood" vintage was not a great success; the "extremely hot conditions promised to make good vinegar." Still, in that same year Wyndham brought the 100,000 acre property "Bukkulla" near Inverell on the edge of the Northern Tablelands. There established another vineyard. Wine growing now expanded rapidly. By 1860, Wyndham's total holdings including “Bukkulla” were producing 11,000 gallons of wine per annum.

George Wyndham was not the only wine producer. Other settlers also planted vineyards and made their own wine.

The wealthier settlers were used to drinking wine, so it made sense to plant their own grapes. The surplus could also be sold locally through the little local hotels that dotted the stage coach routes.

As late as 1905, wine production from the Inverell area of New England was 227,000 litres from seven or eight larger vineyards and a number of smaller vineyards. Nor was this wine bad.

Between 1870 and 1920, wines from the area won many awards at wine shows in Sydney, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco, Chicago and France. A prominent English wine judge of the time wrote of the “Bukkulla” wines, “(They) have a character and quality above the average of most wine-producing countries. The lowest quality is better than a large proportion of the ordinary wines of Europe, while the best would not suffer in comparison to the finest known growths”.

And then all this vanished. Why? Part of the answer lies in that dreaded word, beer.

Initially, colonial New Englanders were not big beer drinkers. Among those wanting to imbibe to excess, to get smashed we would now say, brandy was the tipple of choice. The Australian colonies were one of the biggest global markets for French brandy!

Beer did not become readily available until improved brewing techniques allowed consisent quality. Beer did not become readily available until improved transport allowed bulk shipments. The combination made beer the drink of choice among ordinary Australians.

This was not the only factor.

The rise of the temperance movements, the wowsers, also changed things.

Wine drinking diminished; brandy retreated to the medicine cabinet where it became hospital brandy. Only beer survived. The Tableland’s wine industry was one victim of all this social and structural change. Now it is back!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 7 November 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A complicated story

The story I referred to in Neucleus and the New England story has become a bigger investigation than expected. I have been digging around tonight just trying to check people and facts. Posting resumes tomorrow. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Neucleus and the New England story

My main post today, Neucleus days - Part One, was on my personal blog. It was a follow up to Diary of my Armidale trip. Here I want to record just a few New England comments.

The Neucleus post is part personal memories, part historical research.

One of my continuing complaints is that our shared history is not seen as mainstream, not important. So outside the purely local or sometimes narrow regional level, few research it, fewer still publish it. It's just so non-metro!

I wrote about Soo Khoo, Khoo Soo-Hay I should probably call him, because he occupies a particular spot in my memory and life. I didn't know he was a poet! He is obviously a good poet, so I have to find his main book and read him. He is another of the ever growing list of New England writers. 

Talking to people in Armidale or in other New England towns or cities, I find them cut off from their past. They just don't know, Yet our history is deep and interesting. It's just different from that elsewhere in Australia, different from the current "mainstream". Obviously it varies across New England, but those variations are part of the interest.

The story of Neucleus, a student newspaper, is of limited relevance to many. Yet it's also relevant to tens of thousands who read the paper. It's also relevant as a window into a broader slice of Australian history. And it's relevant to the thousands of New Englanders who have left the bounds of New England, however defined.

I hope that you enjoy the post, because it's part of us.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Diary of my Armidale trip

I went to Armidale last weekend for one of my now sadly rare visits.

It had been a battle getting away. I had planned to go Saturday, but in the end it was Sunday before I left. I didn't contact many people in advance;  I was just too disorganised!

I arrived in Armidale quite late. I was very tired on the trip, and really had to watch my driving. I kept veering and took lots of stops.

I dropped stuff at the motel, and went down to the White Bull to get a steak, ordering a bottle of New England red.

Chatting to the waitress, I found that she was doing a B.Ed. She came from from the Northern Rivers with Kyogle family connections. I told her what I was doing in Armidale. She was a bit surprised when I started talking about the just held 50 year re-union of the 1962 Kyogle High leaving certificate class!

This is a photo of the class reunion. The black and white photo being held up is that of John Coulter. John came to the Armidale Teachers College and was a member with me of the Armidale Methodist Youth Fellowship. To come from or even go to to New England is to leave it. In John's case, he ended in Beijing. Our diaspora is spread all over the world.

To illustrate the scale, this photo shows John introducing Professor Robert Costanza to John's university class in Beijing. What a world of difference there is between the Kyogle of 1962, the White Bull of Armidale in 2012, and the packed metropolis of Beijing! 

I struggle a little to explain this. My waitress was polite, even interested, but explaining difference and history is still hard. Mind you, I think I gained a reader for my column, and that's good!

Monday morning I went out to UNE. Sat in the union at my old table drinking coffee writing down descriptions of the people around me. I actually felt quite lonely, part of the past's furniture, seeing nobody that I knew. I went up the hill to the Archaeology Department to return a PhD thesis & chatted to the few people around. Then down the hill to the History Department and ditto.

Fellow New England expat Paul Barratt took great pleasure (as I did) in the recent growth in UNE student numbers. The picture from a staff perspective is a little different. Teaching loads are up, pleasure down, and the new e-systems are not yet working properly. There is a story here, for the pattern fits with the things that I have been writing about on this and my other blogs.

I went back Into town and my obligatory visit to Boo Books. There really is a wonderful collection of real books, all second hand. Armidale is lucky with two great second hand book shops in the area. This photo shows part of the collection. As Paul Barratt commented to me on Facebook, it's a dangerous place!

I didn't have a lot of money with me, this trip was done on a bit of a shoe string, but still came out with three New England books plus one on lay-by! I could have bought twenty more, but as it was I was trying to work out how to fund petrol home!

What did I buy? Aboriginal activist Kevin Blacks' 1977 work Living Black. This is not of itself a New England book, but a significant proportion of the interviews are with new England Aboriginal people. This makes it a New England book after all! Then I bought a history of the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education and a book By Professor Noel Butlin on the economics of Aboriginal life. With books in my fields, I always check whether or not I have been quoted. And I had in the last! Aren't I an egotist?

From Boo Books I went up to the Express to meet my new editor, Lydia Roberts. I am always interested in seeing production facilities. It seems a very long time since fellow blogger Winton Bates and I were co-editors of the now defunct Neucleus, the UNE student newspaper, and indeed it is. But it does mean that I have been in at least part charge of the production of a newspaper in the pre-computer age. So I[Janene.JPG] watched with interest as my column was set up for print. Then we used scissors and paste to set up pages. Now its so very different!

Lydia introduced me to Janene Carey. Now Janene and I are fellow bloggers, fellow writers, fellow Express people, who have been communication for a number of years. But we had never met. So that was a thrill! I had really wanted to meet Janene. She is a very good writer indeed.

While at the Express office, I was asked whether I had experimented with videos. Apparently Janene is practicing. I fear not. I did have a video camera, but it was stolen! I have never gone back.

Interesting watching the impact of new technology. For me, I am still struggling to master e-publishing! For the present, I will leave daughter Clare with mastery in this area.

Back to the motel to check my notes and review slides for my Monday evening presentation. I needed these for the visuals I was using - political symbols, film stills and posters, paintings, book covers etc.

The whole point of my Armidale trip was a presentation to the Armidale North Rotary Club. When my new column, History Revisited, started appearing in the Express, Mick Duncan contacted me to welcome me back and invite me to speak to the club. I have known Mick for many years. We first met in Queanbeyan when I was a community actQueanbeyan1983completingthethesis5-restoreivist there and Mick was in the local Rotary Club. This drew us together in shared activities. 

This is Jim from those days. Bloody hell. How we change!

The topic I had chosen to speak on was Northern Images: landscape, life and literature through New England eyes. To do this, I needed lots of visual material. But how to present this? That was why I needed to review.

The presentation itself went reasonably well. One surprise was that the Club had got phone calls from people wanting to come and hear me. Talk about balm to my ego! The second, and I should have expected this, was just how many people I knew.

As an example, the Rologas family are a very well known Cypriot Armidale family. I was told that Chris Rogas was coming and was wearing a suit because I always did. And indeed, that had been true! But not this time. When I saw Chris and his wife, he thanked me for the support that I had given through my then Express column for the renaming of the soccer fields as the Rologas fields.

Really, that was a no-brainer. Apart from the general arguments about the substantial Rologas contribution, I simply reminded Chris that the first time I had taken a girl out to dinner was at Nick's Cafe; that later when Clare was born, I had taken Denise out on a leave pass from the hospital to Seven Brothers for dinner; that later still, we as a family had all been to Seven Brothers. My girls won't remember, but I do.

As I looked at the Club members and visitors, I realised that I needed to recast my presentation. I needed to recognise the Rologas contributions. I looked at at Helen Letters that was and realised that I needed to recognise her family with stories. Helen was so kind and enthusiastic. She wanted to know when I was speaking again so that she could video the presentation! 

All this made me remarkably nervous. I realised that it had been eighteen months since my last gig. Presentation is a bit like riding a bike. You don't lose the skills entirely, but you do get rusty.  To think that I used to be able to speak to two hundred people in a hall without a mike! So that is something else that I need to hone. image

One one the things about my writing and presentation is that I try to tell a story. I try to bring things alive.

This shot is a slide from the presentation contrasting the 2010 Newcastle film Bootmen with the 2010 Northern Rivers film Lou. Two very different worlds yet linked by geography and history.

You actually won't get any of this stuff in a world dominated by narrow slice metro media nor their associated cultural structures. They have no knowledge of history nor context.

Based on this and other feedback, I think that I might do some public speaking presentations on some of my work. Literally, the "book venue and hope that people came" variety.

After the presentation, I went back to the motel on something of a high. Next morning I was leaving for Coffs Habour on a work matter. So I tried to get an early night.

As I drove through the New England countryside in the early morning on my way to Coffs Harbour, I thought how gorgeous it was. I was angry with myself. I had my camera, but I had slept in and didn't have time to take shots. I did stop briefly in Bellingen to get Coffs directions from an internet cafe.

Bellingen really was superb, very mixed, very cosmopolitan. As I sat, I thought of Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite. You see Lynne, apart from your general connections with the place, the night before I had been asked in questions how small local groups (the questioner was concerned about disability services) might access support in a world where Government support was both totally unstable and focused on the big. In trying to answer, I used Save Bellingen Hospital as an example.

By the time I drove on to Sydney from Coffs I was very tired. Again, I had to be very careful. But as I drove, I thought that Jim the story teller was not a bad role. I can't change the world. But being able to tell the stories of people back to people, isn't bad. I can't solve the big, but if I can do small things, then I am doing something positive measured by direct contribution to particular people. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

History revisited - literature's window to our past

One of the big challenges faced by any historian is to break through the veil created by the present to that far country of the past.

The present determines the questions we ask of the evidence, but it does more than that. It creates an almost irresistible temptation to force the past to fit the past to present ways of interpretation. Yet the past is always with us, influencing us in sometimes unseen ways.

I referred to this in my last column when I suggested that Armidale’s history with its key interlocking threads of grazing and especially wool, government, education and politics influenced current life in ways not seen by those now living in the city.

As it happens, on Monday 5 November I am coming back to Armidale to talk to the Armidale North Rotary Club. My topic is Northern Images: landscape and literature through Northern eyes. In the promo for my talk, I said that would use a mixture of paintings, photos, film, poetry, literature and political symbols to give Club members a small taste of the changing ways in which those living in Northern NSW, the broader new state New England, have seen their world.

Last week saw the annual Maurice Kelly lecture at UNE.

Maurice, a tall, quiet and gentle man always interested in other people, founded (among other things) the Classics Museum at UNE. The annual lecture celebrates that event.

Wife Gwen who died recently was far more peppery. She was also one of Australia’s better known writers whose book The Middle-Aged Maidens,. a satirical study of life in a private girls' school created a real storm in the Armidale dovecots.

Like many writers, Gwen wrote in multiple forms and mined her own life for material.

I still remember the story that appeared in a women’s magazine about her daughter’s blond haired, blue eyed boyfriend Henry. Now the Henry in question was a particular mate of mine, and I think that she captured him to a T. “Hold this Mrs Kelly, and you will get an electric shock.” Hold it she did, and indeed she got an electric shock!

Both Maurice and Gwen were bought to Armidale through UNE, the education stream in Armidale history. Here Gwen joined a number of people connected in some way to UNE who wrote in one way or another about their Armidale experience.

Crime writer Robert Barnard began his writing career based on his experience as a lecturer in the English Department at UNE.

His first novel, Death of an Old Goat, was set in part in Dummondale University, and included the Drummondale School Head.

One later reviewer, put it:

As Police Inspector Royle (who had never actually had to solve a crime before) probes the possible motives of the motley crew of academics who drink their way through the dreary days at Drummondale and as he investigates the bizarre behaviour of some worthy locals, a hilarious, highly satirical portrait of life down under emerges.

The book is actually quite cruel. One of the funniest scenes is a group of local graziers sprung by the police doing a secret Aboriginal inspired rain dance to try to break the drought!

I have run out of space for this column. I guess that I will have to give you more in a later column on writers, painters, film makers and musicians and the way they saw Armidale and the broader New England.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 31 October 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Fox replaces Williams as UNE's Deputy Chancellor

I hadn't caught up on the fact that Scott Williams had stood down as Deputy Chancellor at UNE. Just to embarrass him a little, this is a photo of a much younger Scott at the Aymever Christmas party. Aymever was our collective attempt to establish an Armidale based national/international consulting, training and information services business specialising in the electronics, aerospace and information industries. On the right of the photo are Phillip and Susan Mendes. Philip was our commercial and intellectual property lawyer. Further comments follow the photo.

I thought that Scott made a pretty good fist of his role as UNE's Deputy Chancellor, often in very difficult circumstances. UNE really has suffered more than its fair share of turmoil in recent years.

The University has announced the election of Dr Geoff Fox as its new Deputy Chancellor.

In the announcement, UNE Chancellor Richard Torbay said that Dr Fox brought a wealth of experience to the role, including a distinguished 27-year career with the World Bank, six years as Principal Adviser in Agriculture at AusAID, and positions as Adjunct Professor of Rural Science at UNE and Chair of the UNE Foundation.

He has a long association with UNE, having begun his tertiary education at the University in the 1960s.

“Dr Fox is a passionate advocate for education and the New England region, and his leadership on the UNE Council since his appointment in 2010 has been recognised with this appointment,” Mr Torbay said. “I think Dr Fox will make an excellent Deputy Chancellor, and I congratulate him on his appointment.”

In announcing the appointment, Richard once again thanked Scott for his work.

In another announcement on the same day, the University claimed now to be one of the fastest growing universities in Australia, with student numbers up more than 20 per cent over the last two years. That's good to hear. A post back in August on my personal blog ( Saturday Morning Musings - UNE alumni dinner) provides an insight into the frustrations that some of the alumni have felt about UNE's overall approach in recent years. May be things are improving! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

History revisited - city founders' grand designs

Armidale’s built environment reflects the different stages in the city’s history. Those stages may now largely invisible in daily life, for the city changed enormously over the second half of the twentieth century, yet their effects linger.

One of Armidale’s most attractive and distinctive features is what I call the old city, that compact part of the city that stretches especially south from Beardy Street up South Hill. This is Victorian Armidale, with its blue brick and iron lacework.

Armidale residents generally take the old city for granted, it just is. Visitors to Armidale are surprised by it, as they are by the schools, for there is nothing quite like it elsewhere in Australia.

That surprise is itself a sign of the social and economic changes that took place in the North and throughout Australia over the second half of the twentieth century. Even fifty years ago, Armidale was widely recognized in Australia and beyond as the Athens of the North, the prospective capital in waiting of our own Northern state.

Four interconnected things built Armidale: grazing and especially wool, government, education and politics.

Wool was important because it was a high value product that supported European settlement beyond the immediate boundaries of settlement, the nineteen counties. Settlement exploded. To manage this, the Government in Sydney appointed Crown Land Commissioners to establish authority beyond the official frontier. One of these, George Macdonald, established his headquarters on the Tablelands and called the place Armidale.

As an aside, in checking a fact for this story, I found no less than four spellings of the Commissioner’s name, all in common usage!

The Commissioner’s action made Armidale an administrative centre. At the 1851 census, Armidale with a population of 556 was the largest Northern town outside the lower Hunter, followed by Port Macquarie on 519 and then Grafton on 319. Grafton would soon outstrip Armidale in population. But ten years later, Armidale was still the largest inland urban centre.

Armidale’s role as a centre of Government brought schools and churches. Both added to the still small town’s importance. Armidale, the city of schools and churches, was born.

Politics was important because it added to the process.

In 1920 the first full New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, put a key problem facing the North in this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area.”

The political battles that followed saw first a teachers college and then a university college established to meet the needs of the North. These new institutions drew staff and students to the city, adding to the mix. Armidale as we know it now was born.

The world changes and the city has changed with it. Yet the four interconnected themes of wool, government, education and politic still influence the culture and character of the city today. We don’t always see it, but it’s there.

In coming columns, I will explore some of those influences, showing how past and present entwine in a fascinating mix.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 October 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Start of the 52nd Inverell Grafton cycling classic

I am feeling lazy tonight. I was going to add a companion post to The TAS year of 1962 - Brian Harrison remembers because I think it important for we New Englanders too know the detail of our past, of our remarkable history. It's just so rich and it is ours.  Still, I am out of time and have to answer many emails before I go to bed. So I am going to free-ride of Mark!

The following photo shows riders gathered at the start of the 52nd Inverell to Grafton Cycling classic. This is, I think, the oldest and one of the toughest cycling road races in Australia. Long may it continue!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The TAS year of 1962 - Brian Harrison remembers

In a post on my personal blog, Old boys, young boys & a bright, sunny day - TAS OBU weekend September 2012, I recorded some initial reactions on my return to TAS (The Armidale School) for a school reunion. Later, I mined the visit for a number of stories on different blogs, as well as my Armidale Express column.

As my regular readers will know, one of my annoyances is the way that so many assume that if you do not come from one of our major capital cities you are, somehow, deprived. There is a world outside the metros, and it's a vibrant and far reaching world. It's just different.

To illustrate this, Brian Harrison has given me approval to reproduP1000803ce his speech to the Old Boys' reunion dinner. This photo is part of our group. Brian is second on the left.

Just to add some background, Brian's Dad was an Armidale solicitor and a major figure in the new state movement.

Brian was an academic chap who used to really stretch me in arguments. We were also members of the same bible study group at TAS. Later at UNE, we were also history honours students and members of Isabel McBryde's pioneering Australian prehistory honours group, a group I have written about. Bryan's honours thesis was the first ever study of the Myall Creek massacre and is still quoted today.

I often speak of my fellow New England expatriates and our varying worlds and indeed try to write for them. Brian's oration will give you an introduction into one slice of a New England world now past and its continuing influence.

Reading the speech made me feel that I should later give you some context based on my own writing, for the influences linger in our history and in broader Australian and international life in ways now unseen. But, for now, I leave the final word to Brian.          

"Headmaster, fellow old-boys, distinguished guests: It’s a great pleasure and privilege to be able to speak to you this evening as a rep. of all of us OBs who are back at the School this weekend, and in particular, for those of us who have now reached their‘half-century not out’ – the 50-year returnees who left TAS in 1962.

When Andrew Heap, our OBU President, asked me to do the honours at tonight’s dinner, my initial reaction was that I was scarcely the right man for the job, since, apart from subscribing to Binghi over the years, I’ve been completely out of touch, not only with the School and OB activities, but even with Australia. In fact, for 38 of these last 50 years I’ve been living abroad, In four different countries. However Andrew and a couple of others twisted my arm a bit, and made the point that having an OB speaker whose adult life has been quite international could actually be a point of interest, underlining the great diversity of life-styles and experiences that T.A.S. has nurtured. After all, diversity is the name of the game these days, in many areas of life.

So, OK, I’m not a typical OB. However, when we scratch the surface a bit, I suspect we’ll find that in fact there ain’t no such animal as a “typical TAS old boy”. He’s a mythical creature, like a unicorn or a balanced American Federal budget. I suspect one thing we’ve all been discovering this weekend as we catch up with our schoolmates from so long ago is surprise after surprise at the varied and unpredictable turns our respective lives have taken over these many years. Sometimes, looking back on our own lives, we ourselves may be just as surprised as anyone else. If anyone had predicted during my last year at TAS that I would be back here half a century later, in a clerical suit and collar as a Roman Catholic priest, I would have laughed and said he was crazy.

Just in case anyone’s curious about how I got to where I am, I was raised a Presbyterian, but during most of my time at T.A.S. I wasn’t particularly devout or religious. However, during my last year or two I began to take such matters more seriously, and our terse but eloquent School motto, “Absque Deo Nihil”, gradually ceased to be just three words in a dead language. I quietly came to an increasing conviction that, indeed, without God – and specifically, without Jesus Christ, God dwelling among us in human flesh -there is “nothing”, or at least, nothing of ultimate and eternal significance.

After leaving school, I majored in History at U.N.E. here in Armidale, and, after the intellectual adventure of facing the usual challenges to religious faith that one encounters in a secular university, I embarked on a cross-cultural adventure: I went with Australian Volunteers Abroad, to teach history for a year or two with the Lutheran Mission in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea. (The only two PNGans I had ever met before then were the first two boys from our northern neighbour ever to study at TAS, Kevin Yabara and Elijah Emori, who came to the school in 1964, when I was back here as a Duty Master in White House while studying at the Uni. I remember them as two great little kids, cheerful, fitting in well, and so adding a further positive note of racial diversity into the life of the School, along with Charlie Chim, Tan Tek Lin, and several other Asian students who will be remembered by us 1962 returnees.)

I ended up staying seven or eight years in PNG, during which time I became increasingly convinced of the truth, not just of Christianity in general, but of Roman Catholicism in particular, and joined the Catholic Church just ten years after leaving TAS. Several years later I decided to train for the priesthood, and after beginning in Melbourne and Sydney, I transferred to Rome to finish my studies, and in 1985 had the tremendous privilege of being among a group of seminarians who were ordained priests in St. Peter's Basilica by one of the outstanding world leaders of recent history, the late great Polish Pope John Paul II.

After post-graduate studies in Rome I returned to tropical climes, this time in the sunny Caribbean, lecturing in Spanish as a Theology teacher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. After 18 years there my Church superiors asked me to come to the States, and for the last five years I’ve been on the banks of the great Mississippi River in the beautiful and fascinating city of St. Louis, Missouri, where at present I’m the priest in charge of one of oldest churches in that state, built by German migrants in 1843.

So that, in a nutshell, is my own personal story.What about the common story of our life at TAS that we’re recalling this weekend after half a century or more?

I think it’s appropriate, first of all, to call to mind a few of the well-known figures from our leaving class who, having passed prematurely from this life, are unfortunately not able to join us this weekend. Phil Francis succumbed to cancer a few years ago. We nicknamed him “Slow”, but he was of course anything but slow in the swimming pool, where he was quite a champ. Ross Lynn, another of our ’62 classmates, in the First XV and a genial friend to many of us, died tragically not long after leaving school. Rennie Barnes is another no longer with us.

Since some of us repeated the Leaving in ’62, we were classmates for several years with the ’61 leavers. Among them, David Black died quite young, many years ago. More recently deceased were my fellow day-boys Peter Monley and John Westmacott. John Masters passed away less than three years ago, not long after our 1961 school captain Ian “Speedy” Erratt. Particularly sad was the death several years ago of Reg Byrne, an exceptionally talented young man, intellectually and on the sports field, who somehow never fulfilled his early promise in later life. “Java” was a once-in-a-generation sporting prodigy, who debuted with our First XI at the age of 12 years and 11 months – a GPS record, it seems. He soon made the First XV as a mercurial centre three-quarter, and was an outstanding sprinter, high jumper and long-jumper who for several years was our main point-scorer at the GPS athletics.

Nor can we forget the various Masters at TAS who impacted our lives in so many ways, even if the impact sometimes descended rather sharply on our rear end. Nearly all of them, of course, have now gone to their eternal reward. But who among us will ever forget, for instance, Brian Mattingley? Old “Joe”, as we called him, wasn’t always too popular in the short run because of his role as Housemaster and as a stickler for discipline, but in hindsight he was a true Christian gentleman – a priest in his retirement years – who, by his personal example and his teaching of English and Latin did much to inculcate precision in thought and language, as well as perennial values as honour, self-discipline and service that had also been exemplified in his distinguished WWII flying record.

The same can be said of the gentle charity and quiet, firm faith with which Rev. Tom Kitley carried out his vocation as School chaplain. Likewise with the colourful and unforgettable George Crossle, who made an indelible mark wherever he was, whether refereeing a football match on Front Field, teaching History in the classroom, or at nights as Master on Duty, when miscreant boys sometimes managed to get lights switched on as fast as George could switch them off!  I have it on excellent authority that one night certain individuals almost gave George apoplexy by dragging a metal bedstead along the roof of the covered way, creating a racket approaching that of a sustained machine-gun attack!

Although as a day-boy I was never around for such nocturnal special operations, I did by the same token see the more gentle and devoutly religious side of Alan Cane, who was an elder in the Presbyterian Church I attended on Sundays. In the classroom most of us will recall him as a fine but at times cantankerous maths teacher, whose frustration would periodically burst forth with comments like, “There’s two ways to do mathematics – my way and the wrong way!”, Or again, “TAS heads were made for football, not mathematics!” There were of course other masters we remember with appreciation: among others, Des Harrison, Ray Yeoman, Alan Thompson, John Traas, Peter Brownie, our football coach, still with us. And of course, there was Lennie Bell, who fought an uphill battle to sow seeds of a finer musical culture in the largely unreceptive soil of lads with ears more attuned to Elvis, Frankie Avalon, Slim Dusty and other luminaries of the Top 40 lists of the time.

And how can we fail to give a special mention the man who, over and above his history teaching, tirelessly collaborated with Len year after year in the dramatic and musical life of the school – one of the few masters from half a century ago who remains in the land of the living, and who has dedicated his whole life to the School. I refer of course to the one and only Jim Graham, whom I’ve just had the great pleasure of visiting two days ago, along with John Myrtle and Ross Lane, at his home in Macksville. Jim and all these other good men, along with others, of course, whom I haven’t been able to mention, contributed in their own way in helping us lay the foundations of our adult lives. We remember them all with deep appreciation and gratitude.

In recalling the masters who guided our formation at T.A.S. we must of course remember in a very special way the men who were at the helm of the School in our last years – two quite different headmasters. Gordon Fisher, whom all of our generation remember with respect and affection, had been the post-World War II builder and consolidator, and of course, a great promoter of rugby. In The Armidalian of December 1960, his last year as headmaster, GAF was described in a tribute written by Alan Cane as“a great humanist with a profound belief in the dignity of man.” Our own final year, 1962, was in fact a watershed year in the School’s history. For of course it was the first of a new regime in which the late Alan Cash began to lead the School in what might be called a more modernizing direction. Coming from Melbourne, he was naturally not quite so enamoured of rugby as his predecessor, and he also saw the opportuneness of extending the School’s network of contacts, support and enrolment potential to include more of Armidale’s urban cultural diversity as well as the School’s traditional rural base. (A long term effect of that new trajectory is that there now about as many day-boys at T.A.S. as boarders, whereas in our time we day-boys were only about 5% of the total.)

Our new headmaster was ably assisted in this task of PR with the Armidale community and promotion of the Arts by his very capable wife, Maris, whose passing we also lamented a couple of years ago. What a gracious, charming and gregarious lady Maris Cash was! In fact, occasionally a bit more charming and gracious than her own husband would have wished. Some of us remember the occasion when several miscreant boys had been told to wait outside the headmaster’s office to have their backsides tanned. His arrival was delayed for some reason, but meanwhile, Maris happened to come on the scene. Blissfully unaware of the dire destiny that waited these lads, she cheerfully invited them all inside the Cash residence for a cup of tea and scones while awaiting the Headmaster’s arrival! His embarrassed chagrin when he eventually came in the door to find this rather surreal scenario can readily be imagined. (Whether the boys were eventually ‘socked’ more or less severely as a result of Mrs. Cash’s untimely hospitality is something I don’t know.)

The year 1962 was remarkable in other ways. For some us here this weekend, Ted Giblin, John Myrtle, James White (now on the staff) and myself, having lead roles in Jim Graham’s production of “The Gondoliers” was a great formative experience. And in athletics – my own preferred sport – it was a truly vintage year – a real classic.

Although I wasn’t in the School’s GPS team that year, I was able to go to Sydney to watch the competition, and that afternoon at the SCG 50 years ago will always remain engraved in my memory as including the single most jubilant and exhilarating moment of my life – before or since. Rick How had gained 3rdplace in the 100 yards, as well as 2nd place in the Long Jump, and ran a great 22.4 seconds for 2nd place in the 220. The depth of our sprinting talent that year was shown by our third place in the Open relay.

However, the School’s champion of champions that afternoon was a bloke who performed even more stunningly – one of my best mates at TAS and a lifelong friend, Ross Lane, here with us tonight. He turned in what was by far the most spectacular distance run in the School’s history up to that time. In fact, I’d be surprised if it has been equalled since in all this subsequent half-century.

Ross had had only recently discovered his talent for running, and after training with Percy Cerutty, the coach of Australia’s great Olympic champion Herb Elliott, he’d been turning in some great mile performances with times in the 4:40s and 4:30s, in an era when anything under 5 minutes for the mile was considered quite good for a schoolboy. So this was the big race we were all waiting for that day at the SCG. The GPS open mile record stood at 4 minutes, 21.3 seconds, set just five years previously by H.J. Rouse of Kings.

With my heart pounding on the sidelines almost as fast as if I’d been on the track, my stopwatch went off with the starting gun, and with Ross already ahead in not much over two minutes at the half-mile mark, it was clear this race was going to be a landmark moment in the School’s sporting history. From then on he just kept increasing his lead, and had the crowd warmly clapping this unknown lad from Armidale for most of the last lap as he tore toward the tape. He finally beating the best runners all the other much bigger GPS schools could offer by an incredible 100 yards or so. I looked breathlessly at my stopwatch, and it was reading 4:21.1. Completely over the moon, I could do nothing other than jump up and own ecstatically, waving my stopwatch and yelling, “Record! Record!” to anyone and everyone within earshot. Alas, that crowning glory of a GPS record was not to be. Not quite. The official time was announced as 4:22.0 flat, just .7 secs outside the record. However, it was clear that if Ross had not run a gruelling sub-2 minute half mile earlier in the afternoon, gaining second place to a boy from Sydney High, his mile time would certainly have been well under the record, and in all probability under 4 minutes for the metric mile, the 1500 metres which has been run in the schools' competition since 1966.

So 1962, for several reasons, was a truly memorable year for TAS. And that remains true if we place that year in the wider context of world history. Right while we were swatting up hard in the last month or so before the Leaving Certificate, the Cold War between East and West reached its most acutely tense point ever in the Cuban missile crisis in October, when Kennedy and Khrushchev faced each other off perilously.

I can remember George Crossle telling us shortly afterwards that we should thank God for answering the prayers of so many people round the world: for the threat of a nuclear world war had just been narrowly been averted. In that very same month, on October 11th 1962, a very different event took place that would eventually affect very profoundly my own life’s vocation and work. In Rome that day, Pope John XXIII and over 2,000 Catholic bishops inaugurated what was probably the single most epoch-making religious event of the 20th century, the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic Church now undertook to update her disciplinary norms, forms of worship, and general policies toward the outside world. If it had not been for Vatican II, with its new emphasis on ecumenical collaboration and friendly dialogue between the Catholic Church and other denominations, instead of the old sectarian bitterness, you probably not be listening tonight to an RC priest speaking here at this Anglican school. Another indirect effect on the School of those changes set in motion in the Vatican that year is the fact that there are now quite a few Catholic boys enrolled at TAS, whereas that was something almost unheard of when we ’62 leavers were at school.

Many other things have changed greatly at the School over this half-century, as they have in our own lives and in society generally. Since our school days, when such things as the Internet, I-pads and Kindle were beyond the radar screen even of science fiction, and computers were mysterious, massive and cumbersome machines possessed only by a few big university science departments and the Pentagon, the information technology revolution has impacted all of our lives to an extent no one could have foreseen. Also, the TAS Music School and Hoskins Centre now bear witness to a greater depth and breadth of cultural interests so ably promoted at the School by recent headmasters, following the general trajectory initiated by Alan Cash. Diversity in a rather different form has also now come to TAS with the enrolment of girls in what we used to call Junior School. The link of the School to Gordonstoun in Scotland, and the international Round Square educational movement – again, largely at the initiative of Jim Graham – has been another important and valuable innovation of recent decades. It has broadened the horizons of TAS so as to give a greater place to such things as outdoor adventure in education, as well as deepening the School’s Christian character by emphasising practical service to the community, especially the underprivileged.

How, then, can we sum up those experiences of our schooldays that we’re recalling this weekend, along with the role that our years here played in shaping and directing our future lives? Here again, diversity is the keynote: each of us put something different into TAS while we here, and drew something different out, even though the very fact that we’ve come back here after all these years bears witness to a common heritage of lasting friendships and mainly positive memories. School life anywhere on earth, of course, never has been and never will be, a mere bed of roses, fallen human nature being what it is. But I think we can all agree that the inevitable tough times and rough experiences we went through at school at least had the merit of helping to make men out of us. (I’m afraid that very concept is often seen as a bit politically incorrect these days, but I think it remains valid and important for all that.) Since I can’t speak for anybody else, all I can do in conclusion is sum up my own appreciation, with fifty years’ hindsight, of the School’s contribution to my own life.

There are two features that I think together gave a unique character to the education I received here: two contrasting but complementary features that I doubt would be easily found linked together in any other school.

First, there is the rural character of TAS. It has a proud heritage of men and families on the land - we think of the many Crofts, Whites, Moffatts, Wrights, Blomfields and many other families that have been such a mainstay of the School since its foundation. These families close to the soil, cultivating the primordial fruits of the earth, spring from their forebears who were our first 19thcentury pioneer settlers. This heritage has instilled in me a sense of deeper appreciation for all that is distinctively Australian in our national character and traditions.

On the other hand, and at the same time, TAS, as the only GPS school in the country, also helped to awaken and nurture in me a lasting appreciation for values of a broader, and more universal character: the noble traditions of Western Christian civilization that have been handed down to us via our British heritage, with its imperishable values of fair play, personal honour, self-discipline and moderation, respect for individual human dignity, tolerance of others, public service under parliamentary constitutional monarchy, and the pursuit of excellence in developing one’s God-given talents. In short, TAS presented to me and fostered in many ways the ideal and vision of becoming a Christian gentleman – an Australian Christian gentleman. And that vision – which remains just as vital and relevant today as it ever did – is something we and the School can be justly proud of."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

More from our Armidale correspondent

Fires, smoke and drought in Armidale - our Armidale correspondent reports centred, as the title says, on a report by our Armidale correspondent. Now Gordon has sent me this photo.  It shows just how dry the country is. Rain followed by dry builds the fuel for later fires.

Gordon Smith drought 

Gordon also  answered a question that had interested me. How much did the 12,000 litres of water cost that he & Bron had had delivered for domestic use? $120, That's not too bad. In his update, our Armidale correspondent also noted that the fires in had no burnt out 105,000 acres.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fires, smoke and drought in Armidale - our Armidale correspondent reports

I write a fair bit on the country press of old, most recently in History revisited - a pressing change. Now I note for posterity that the Armidale Express has dropped from a tri to a bi-weekly.

The country newspapers used to carry by-lines like news from our correspondent <insert locality>. In this case, I quote an email from Gordon Smith of lookANDsee fame.

Hi Jim

Just FYI, my normal bushwalking areas are completely closed due to bushfire.  It's claimed up towards 100,000 acres of bush so far.

Armidale has been sitting in a blue smoke haze, on and off, for several days. According to the above report, it's Kempsey that's getting the smoke today.

And to give you some local atmosphere ...

In contrast the previous two years of above average rainfall, there's been almost no rain here over the past few months.  We had to order some water from the carter yesterday as the house tanks are almost empty.   The paddocks are all crispy straw-brown in colour - no such thing as "Spring growth" as yet.

This lack of rain also means that the thousands of eucalypts around the property are shedding leaves due to water stress - thus increasing our ground fuel load and fire risk.

The snakes must like it though, I've never seen so many snakes this early in the year in this area - mostly blacks, but a few brown.

Our dams are still reasonably full as there's not yet been enough heat to evaporate the water away.  As a bonus, this means that the local wildlife population stays close by and are a pleasure to watch - including the koala that the dogs and I had to give way to as it crossed our path the other evening.

Those dreaded snakes! I remember walking up Mount Duval on a scout tramp. The number of brown snakes slithering round that side of the mountain was actually quite frightening!

Another time, my parents were visiting friends on a property outside Armidale. Bored, I went for a walk. Half a dozen snakes slithered across the path, including a very large brown. Yuck. In a later email, Gordon mentioned that the water carrier had just left.  He delivered 12,000 litres of water. That's about 4 or 5 weeks' worth - a bit more if they were frugal.

The brown colour in the grass is an early dry sign. In big droughts, the grass actually turns gray. 


Today's Saturday AM carried more stories of country newspaper closures.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Elm Avenue past and paster

UNE people will remember Elm Avenue. These two shots come from Paul Barratt. I couldn't resist reproducing them!

The first shot taken on Paul's old box Brownie is, Paul thinks, about 1953. 

This second shot is, I think, from the 1960s. Quite a contrast between the two!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New England's hippy country

Mark's Clarence Valley Today continues as a superb photo blog about life in Northern New South Wales, the broader New England that I write about. The Northern Rivers are partially hippy country. This bus is an example. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

History revisited - a pressing change

A week back, The Armidale Express Facebook page carried a staff photo from the paper’s earlier days. That caused me to cast my mind back to the paper’s earlier days.

On Friday 12 April 1929, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the formation of a new company, the Armidale Newspaper Company Limited, to purchase two Armidale newspapers, the Armidale Express carried on by P. C. G. Hipgrave and J. B. McKenzie and the Armidale Chronicle carried on by A. Purkiss.

This announcement marked another stage in a change process transforming the Northern press.

At the start of the twentieth century, even small towns had their own independent newspaper to press the interests of town and district. Many had several. Then the development of new and costlier technology with growing competition from the metropolitan dailies began to threaten the financial survival of the country press. Papers started to close or merge, while a number became dailies.

The new country dailies were aggressive. In the North, the Grafton Daily Examiner and Northern Daily Leader combined with the Lismore Northern Star and the Murwillumbah Tweed Daily to form the Associated Northern Dailies to compete for city advertising. In 1931 the Maitland Daily Mercury would join the group.

Competition from the Northern Dailies increased the pressure on the other newspapers still being published on a tri-, bi- or weekly basis. In the New England, the combination of train and truck allowed the Northern Daily Leader to reach towns from Tamworth to the border in time for breakfast.

Mind you, the competition was not all one-sided.

Following a bad train crash, Northern Newspaper’s Ernest Sommerlad wrote with glee to fellow director David Drummond in September 1926 that the Glen Innes Examiner had “got a good one on Tamworth yesterday, in connection with the rail smash.” “Armidale passed the word on that Tamworth were sending a special edition up, to arrive about 7pm”, Sommerlad explained. “I got busy & made a fine display of stuff in the short time available. Then hired a motor-bike and sent 350 copies to Inverell, having rung Knapton to get a dodger out in the meantime. The street was blocked with people waiting for copies & we made a great sale - & a great scoop.”

Despite such successes, the pressure on the smaller papers grew. Then in 1928, a financial adventurer, William John Beckett decide to launch a chain of newspapers around Australia. Armidale was mentioned as one of the key centres in the Beckett proposals.

Realising 'that at all costs Beckett must be prevented from getting a foothold in the North', Sommerlad agreed with Albert Joseph (the founder of the Northern Daily Leader) that the Tamworth Newspaper Company and Northern Newspapers should jointly sponsor the merger of the two papers. In Sommerlad's view, this intervention was necessary 'since the two Armidale proprietors were so mutually jealous there was no possibility of the amalgamation being brought about except by an outsider.' This view was supported by Drummond, now member for Armidale.

Tensions between the parties led the Tamworth Newspaper Company Board to refuse to participate. Northern decided to continue.

On 10 April 1929, The Armidale Newspaper Company Limited was formed with Dr. R.B. Austin (Chairman), E.C. Sommerlad (Managing Director) and Colonel H.F. White as initial directors. W.S. Forsyth, the main Armidale promoter, wrote happily to Sommerlad that he was 'pleased with the entire outlook.'

Drummond and three others were appointed to the Board at the first directors' meeting, and then, on 2 September 1929, the first edition of the merged paper appeared. The twentieth century Express had been born.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 October 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the columns by clicking here for2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

The column was originally called Belshaw's World, but has now been re-titled by the paper.