Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Belshaw's World - the ever-changing face of Sydney

At the moment I am working on site in Parramatta. I have therefore been interested in the stories in the Express about the links between the University and the Eels. However, that’s not what I wanted to write about in this column.

Each day, it takes between one hour ten and one hour forty to get too or from the office. This is the story of one such trip.

The journey begins in the leafy suburb of Kingsford between six thirty and seven in the morning.

This is older Sydney. Each morning I pass older people exercising their dogs or just walking. We often say hello, for we pass each other all the time.

This used to be a heavily Greek area, with the Greek Orthodox Cathedral only a few blocks away.

Sometimes I stop to chat to an older Greek lady. We discovered by accident that we have the same birthday. She is upset about the state of her country.

Walking on, the world changes quickly as I near Anzac Parade. The apartment blocks now rise suddenly. I have entered country dominated by the ever spreading influence of the nearby University of NSW.

On Anzac Parade, a few Greek establishments remain. My barber is Greek and has been in same shop for over fifty years. His walls are covered with photos of him in the navy, his band and the various people he knew.

The Greek shops that were once such a prominent feature have largely been replaced by a variety of Asian restaurants and food stores. The local IGA is Chinese owned and has Chinese staff. Students from multiple countries and different faiths wander the streets.

The many buses that feed into Anzac Parade all carry students to or from the University. It’s a very big business indeed.

Past UNSW, the bus continues down Anzac Parade past Sydney Girls and Boys High Schools. As is so often the case, there is an Armidale connection.

On 9 June 1928, the present Sydney Boys High School was officially opened by the Honorable DH Drummond, Member for Armidale and Minister for Education on land formally known as 'Billy Goats Swamps' but renamed 'Moore Park'. Today, Sydney Boys High sporting teams regularly visit Armidale to play TAS teams.

Depending on the exact bus, the bus turns left into either Cleveland or Gresham Streets travelling downhill towards Central. We have now entered very different territory.

The arc of inner city working class suburbs that swung in a great arc from Ultimo and Glebe through Newtown and Redfern into Surrey Hills and surrounding areas have all been undergoing gentrification.

The old factories and most of those who worked in them have long gone, replaced by a mix of students and younger professionals wanting an inner city metro life style. This is entertainment Sydney.

In recent weeks, I have spent time helping eldest look for a house in these areas.

She and two friends are looking to rent a three bedroom house. They are all students with reasonably well paying part time jobs.

I knew this area well during my younger days. As we drove from place to place, I thought how much it had all changed. Who would have thought that competition for relatively small three bedroom places would drive their rents to $720-750 per week?

At Central, I join a train travelling north west, first passing though what is now called the inner west. This is Green socially progressive country, looked down on by many of those living in the inner city suburbs even when they share many of the same views.

Past Strathfield, the train enters melting pot Sydney.

The passengers are often poorer, less well dressed. There is huge variety in national groups, as well as a very strong Muslim presence. The striking Gallipoli Mosque at Auburn is the largest mosque in Australia.

The school children who crowd the trains during term time wear the same clothes, but look very varied.

I shut my eyes and listen to the chatter. The variety vanishes. The language is the same down to the ever ubiquitous like. They are all Australian.

The train has arrived in Parramatta. It’s time to stop.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 22 February 2012. I have been 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, here for 2012.

This was, in fact, the last Belshaw's World to appear in the Express. After 164 columns, Belshaw's World and the Express have parted company. However, the column will continue here every Wednesday in similar format.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Belshaw's World - when life was an ocean wave

I really, really, don’t feel like being serious in this column. As I write it’s Monday night Garden Party Buckingham Palace 2and I’m feeling very tired. Today has been quite a good day and I should feel pleased, but I just feel jaded.

There are lots of things that I should write about if only to say that I told you so. Yet the spirit is not there. Instead, I am going to do something simple and share some photos with you.

Don’t expect anything serious, this is just a ramble!

I found this simple family snap among our photos, just an ordinary family. Well, perhaps not quite so ordinary.

It used to be the case that Australians beat a path to the UK and to Europe as soon as they could. It was part of a right of passage for those who could afford it.

Of course, in those days you went by ship. The next photo is simply entitled "On the Sports' Deck on Orion 22nd April 1952". It shows AuntsOn the Sports' Deck on Orion 22nd April 1952 Margaret and Kay and my grandparents on their way to England.

Now there is an irony in this photo that I have discussed before.

I belong to the age group that discovered Asia as a new and romantic frontier. Those who were older than me like Clive James or Germaine Greer rushed to England and really never returned. Now they pontificate from afar.

To many of us who were a little younger, Asia was the thing. Armidale writer Francis Letters’ The Surprising Asians was one of the first Asian travel books written from what we might call today a back packer perspective.

It’s not surprising that Armidale people should discover Asia. After all, the Asian student proportion among UNE’s undergraduates in the 1960s was far higher than today.

This next photo shows students getting ready for Overseas Week in 1960.Overseas Week 1960

The irony in the ship photo lies in the fact that today Australia’s young have fallen in love with Europe in the same way their grand parents and great grand parents did! Asia has been forgotten.

In modern multicultural Australia, our young know far more about the cafes of Florence or Venice than they do about any Asian city. Knowledge of Asia has been relegated to very specific things such as tubing on the Mekong, something I wrote about in this column several years ago.

Even in 1952, ship was still the main means of international travel. The idea of a four week dash to Europe to see the sites was rare.

This meant that those travelling often went for much longer periods. In the case in question, my grandparents and aunts were away for twelve months.

Sifting through the family shots, people did much the same things as today. They toured, visited sites, swam and ate. There are the same type of shots of buildings and street scenes. Presentation party

One difference between then and now was a much greater focus on England.

This trip coincided with the coronation of the new queen, and the girls took every opportunity to experience the occasion. This included presentation to the new queen where, by accident, the girls were the first to be presented to the new monarch, something that was reported in the Australian papers.

The last photo shows Aunt Kay dressed for the occasion.

Four photos, a glimpse into a past world.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 15 February 2012. 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, here for 2012.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Computer woes

My computer has been down, making posting very difficult. I guess this will remain so until it's fixed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Belshaw's world - when the daily news counted

Straight after my Armidale Express column on economic forecasting came out (The economic version of the weather man, AE 11 January 12), the World Bank released new economic forecasts suggesting that the world faced a severe risk of global depression.

This is, if you like, the economists’ version of “We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,

"Before the year is out." Within days, positive economic data turned perceptions around!

I will write about this in my new national economics column in Australian Business Solutions Magazine. Here, for the moment, I want to return to the country press.

If the mark of a rising town in the nineteenth century was the establishment of a local newspaper, then the mark of ultimate arrival was the establishment of a daily newspaper.

The first daily newspaper in country NSW was the Daily News. This began publication, would you believe, in Braidwood in February 1859 and ceased daily publication some five months later.

The first daily newspaper established in the broader New England was the Singleton Times. This began publication in September 1863 and lasted barely three months.

The printing technology of the time made publication of a daily hard and expensive work. Despite this, between 1863 and 1895 eleven daily newspapers were established in New England. Of these, only two (the Newcastle Herald and the Maitland Mercury) survived.

Between 1895 and 1995, a further twelve daily newspapers were established. Five of these were still in existence at the end of the twentieth century.

Country newspapers were not as we know them today during this early period.

In small communities where everybody knew everyone else’s business, demand for local news was limited. Instead, all the papers provided news from elsewhere, often just scissors and paste of each other’s articles.

The spread of the telegraph made news transmission much easier. Most papers whether daily or not, carried main national and international stories. The cost of telegraph services became a major expense item.

With time, significant differences emerged between the coverage in New England’s dailies and those publishing less frequently such as the Express.

Country populations were now larger. There was increasing demand for local news. The country press in general began to drop its coverage of national and international news, focusing instead on local news.

The dailies were different, providing broadly the same type of coverage as the metropolitan newspapers.

As late as the early 1950s, the Sydney papers’ circulation within New England was limited, with the Northern Daily Leader outselling the Sydney Morning Herald in Armidale by a considerable margin.

There were practical reasons for this.

Transport times meant that the New England dailies were in people’s hands earlier and often had later news than the early edition Sydney papers. On the Tablelands and plains, people read the Northern Daily Leader for their international, national and regional news, the local paper for their local news.

The dailies were quite aggressive in commercial terms, seeking to expand their circulations.

Lismore’s Northern Star (daily from July 1907) sought to expand its readership on the far northern Tablelands. For twelve months, its Lismore based editor personally attended every meeting of the Tenterfield council.

In the south, the Tamworth Observer moved to daily publication at the end of 1910 and then, at the start of 1921, re-badged itself as the Northern Daily Leader.

Under editor Victor Thompson, the paper saw itself as the premier daily promoting northern causes and especially self-government for the North. Its circulation grew rapidly.

From the early 1950s, improvements first in road transport and then air brought the metropolitan newspapers into people’s homes much earlier.

In the south, the Newcastle Herald retained market dominance. Further north, the Sydney and, to a lesser degree, Brisbane papers increased their circulation at the expense of the New England dailies. By 2000, the dailies were a shadow of their former influence.

There is a sad postscript to all this.

In November last year, APN ceased publication of the Tweed Daily News and Coffs Harbour Advocate in the face of falling circulations. An era had ended.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 8 February 2012. 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, here for 2012.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Belshaw's World - no wonder it’s cold here

There are many mysteries in the history of the broader New England.

One that I have written about before is the apparent absence of Pleistocene Aboriginal occupation across New England. Now we may have a possible answer.

I need to set the scene first.

From around 36,000 years ago, the Australian climate became cooler and drier. The cooler temperatures offset the lower rainfall by reduced evaporation; the streams, lakes and wetlands of inland New England therefore retained their water, providing a continued base for Aboriginal occupation.

From perhaps 25,000 years ago, the local environment deteriorated significantly.

Sahul, the name given to the continent that then included Australia and New Guinea, became very dry, both intensely hot and intensely cold. This climatic regime peaked during what is called the Last Glacial Maximum, 21,000 to 15,000 years ago.

The sea retreated to perhaps 120 metres below current levels. The sea became colder, 2-4 degrees C below current levels. On land, mean monthly temperatures probably fell by 6-10 degrees C. Extensive inland dune building suggests that the climate become much windier.

According to Mulvaney and Kamminga, severe cold, drought, and strong winds over central and southern Sahul, would have discouraged tree growth , although some species common today must have survived in sheltered or better-watered refuges.

The retreating sea would have progressively increased the size of New England’s coastal strip. The impact here would have varied along the coast, depending upon water depth. In broad terms, the immediately adjacent shallow water to the east of the present coast is quite narrow, with the continental shelf then falling away sharply.

In South East Queensland to the north, the falling waters probably extended the coastal strip to between twelve and twenty kilometres east from what is now Stradbroke Island. Further south the lower water zone narrows, before widening a little after what is now Nambucca. In the case of what is now the Macleay Valley, the coast line probably extended ten to sixteen kilometres to the east.

The sclerophyll woodland and deciduous forests would have progressively colonised the new land, with the coastal dunes and associated wetlands following the shifting coast east.

The Tablelands would have been a very different story. Here average temperatures fell by perhaps 8 degrees C. The New England Tablelands marked the start of a region of cold steppe and scattered sub-alpine woodland sweeping down through the southern Snowy Mountains into Tasmania.

In the southern Snowy Mountains, the fall in temperature was sufficient to allow glaciers to form despite the lower precipitation. In New England, the higher portions of the Tablelands in the centre and south where average heights are around 1,300 metres must have been very cold, dry and windswept. Along New England’s Snowy Mountains where the highest peak (Round Mountain) is almost 1,600 metres, there were probably blizzards and semi-permanent snow despite the much lower precipitation.

To the west, Mulvaney and Kamminga suggest that much of the south-eastern interior of Sahul experienced cold arid conditions similar to modern Patagonia.

So far so good. However, of itself, this does not explain the apparent absence of Aboriginal sites, for there would have been areas where occupation could have continued.

But what might happen if the broader New England and especially the Tablelands were colder than we now realise?

Here Rod H, a geologist and one of my fellow bloggers, has put up a post pointing to evidence of cold climate even glacial features on the Tablelands. Now that’s fascinating, for it may explain the absence of Aboriginal occupation. It was just too darn cold!

If you would like to learn more, the link to Bob’s post is

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 1 February 2012. 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, here for 2012.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


Back on January 16 I said that I was resuming regular posting here. I haven't quite been able to manage this.

I mention this now because I am going to bring up some back posts to fill the gap between today and my short post last Wednesday. Don't want to confuse my regular readers!


In the total confusion that marks my present life, I fear that the present back posts did not arrive!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012