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. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Belshaw's World - flypaper and chip heaters

Each period of New England life has had its own rhythms. Last week, I told a story from New England’s Aboriginal past, the week before I mentioned Masyln Williams’ evocative picture of Tablelands’ life during the 1920s.

Reading Williams reminded me of two things from my own past, things that older Armidale residents will remember that have now largely vanished.

Armidale has always had a problem with flies, both the blowfly and the common housefly. Hiking though the paddocks with the 2nd Armidale scouts (I still don’t know what happened to 1st Armidale!), the blowflies used to gather, attracted by the salt in the sweat that soaked our shirts under the packs we carried. Looking forward while walking in file, each scout carried his own crowd of flies hovering around the pack, diving to settle on the sweaty patches exposed as the pack moved.

As an aside, I had assumed that the blowfly was an Australian pest. Apparently not. It appears that the sheep blowfly arrived in Australia from South Africa in the mid to late 1800s, causing a major outbreak of fly strike in many areas in 1897.

The fly position in town was worse. Very few houses then had fly screens, doors and windows were always open in summer, allowing flies to congregate inside. What to do? Well, flypaper was one answer. This was a longish thin strip of paper coated with a sticky substance, sometimes impregnated with poison such as arsenic. This impregnation featured in two famous British murder trials where the accused was alleged to have soaked the fly paper in water to extract the arsenic for later nefarious use.

Hung from the ceiling or from an often begrimed dangling light shade, the flypaper was hardly an attractive sight. For that reason among others, it went out of fashion, despite its sometimes effectiveness in attracting and killing flies.

The second vanished item was far more attractive.

Many Australian places and especially in the country, had no access to gas or electricity. Water for bathing had to be heated on the stove and then carried to the bath or tub. This world was captured in a nostalgic poem by Mary Gilmore, The Saturday Tub. There, standing in a line by the fire, the children take their turn

To stand in tub the size of a churn,
It was, 'where's the flannel?" and, "Mind the soap!"
Slither and slide, and scuffle and grope

Despite Mary Gilmore’s childhood nostalgia, the process was very time consuming. An Australian invention from around the 1880s came to the rescue, one that took advantage of the relative availability of wood. This was the chip heater.

The cylindrical heater included a fire box that was fed with paper, pine cones and chips from the woodheap. Water circulated through the firebox, providing a supply of hot water for bath or shower.

Many older Australians have nostalgic memories of the chip heater drawn from child hood. We had one for a brief period when I was young, and there was an immense thrill in being allowed to light it and then feed the fire! They could be cranky and noisy, but they were also fun.

By the 1960s, the spread of electricity as well as water heated from slow combustion stoves had destroyed the market. The chip heater went the way of fly paper, leaving just memories behind.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Belshaw's World - Red Kangaroo & the Bundarra mob: an epic tale of warfare in prehistoric New England

The year is about 1720. The place a major bush camp outside what is now Gunnedah. The smoke from the camp fires drifts into the dusk air. Overhead, the stars are beginning to appear. The visiting envoys sit silent, waiting patiently. The warriors have been in council all day, and it is time for decision.

The trouble had begun some months earlier. The powerful Tablelands’ mob from the Bundarra-Kingston area had been raiding for women in Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) speaking lands. They left the strong Nammoy River mob alone, but had struck at the Goonoo Goonoo and Maneela (Manila) River mobs with considerable success, seizing women and killing the warriors who had opposed them. Finally, both groups sent envoys seeking help from the Nammoy to get their young women back. The Nammoy could keep the Bundarra women taken, although if many were taken, perhaps the Nammoy would share.

Lit by the fires, Gambu Ganuuru (Red Kangaroo in Gamilaraay), the Nammoy warrior chief, moved to the centre of the gathering.

The Red Kangaroo was then about forty and had been war chief since the age of nineteen. At over 190cm, he was a tall well built man whose body carried the scars of past battles. Now he summed up. The prize of the Bundarra women was not of great concern, but it was “another thing to have this Bundarra tribe come raiding so close to our territory. We are strong now, and we have to break any strong tribe who is a danger to us. Do you agree with me that we fight the Bundarra warriors to prove whose tribe is the ruling tribe, first and last?”

There were ninety warriors in the war party that now assembled. The Red Kangaroo led the forty strong Nammoy party, while Goonoo Goonoo war chief Ilparra commanded the fifty warriors from Goonoo Goonoo and Maneela, with Maneela war chief Mooti second in command.

There was no chance of a surprise attack, for throughout the one hundred kilometre journey small Bundarra parties gathered on all sides, spying on them and driving away the game they needed for food. Finally, a bigger force than theirs came to give battle on a long granite sand-flat through which ran a wide stony creek.

Ilparra was killed early by a spear through the throat, with Mooti taking command of the combined Goonoo Goonoo/Maneela force. For two hours, neither the combined force nor the Bundarra warriors that opposed them could gain ground. Realising that the Nammoy warriors were getting too far ahead and out of touch with Mooti’s party, the Red Kangaroo ordered his men to turn to take the party fighting Mooti on its flank.

The main Bundarra party that had been fighting the Red Kangaroo called out three times. At this pre-arranged signal, those opposing Mooti ran back to the main Bundarra group. Mooti and his warriors pursued, ignoring Red Kangaroo’s calls for them to join him. In the following fighting, Mooti was killed and his warriors broken into small groups.

The position was now desperate. Red Kangaroo’s party were outnumbered, had thrown nearly all their spears, while the Tablelands’ spears would not fit into the Kamilaroi spear throwers. “Gather and break their spears”, the Red Kangaroo told his party. “We must make it across to that pine scrub where they will be forced to fight hand to hand.”

Using his powerful voice, the Red Kangaroo coordinated the fight against the still larger but more disorganised Bundarra forces. Fighting as individuals or in small groups, the Bundarra warriors finally broke and ran. Kibbi, their great war chief, was killed by the Red Kangaroo’s spear.

Red Kangaroo and his warriors came the main Bundarra camp. Only old men and women were there. “Go tell your warriors to bring their women and children back to this camp”, the Red Kangaroo said. “No warrior who comes back will be harmed.”

Under the peace terms now imposed, the stolen women were returned, while five women each were given to the Goonoo Goonoo and Maneela tribes. Thirty four young women and five young boys and girls were taken by the Red Kangaroo and his warriors for the Nammoy tribe.

I hope that you have enjoyed this tale from New England’s more distant past. If you would like to learn more, Ion Idriess’ Red Chief gives a gripping fictional account, while Michael O’Rouke’s Sung for Generations provides a detailed analysis of the source material for all the Red Kangaroo stories.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 October 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.

Monday, October 08, 2012

New states & development - the discussion rumbles on

Tonight's post is a bit of a wander  around with a special focus on issues raised recently on the New England New State Movement Facebook page

Just to set the scene, this graphic is a car window sticker from the 1960s. Things haven't changed, that's what we want, although there is debate among us as to just what development means. How do we balance the environment with development is an example. Are the two in conflict?

One of the issues that constantly comes up is simply the question of giving us choice. Scott Hastings put it this way:

if the present states are so confident in the present structure, let them prove it by asking a direct question in a free referendum: Do you wish to be part of the State of New South Wales.
Of course they're too scared to do this, as the answer would be a resounding NO from the Tweed to the Hunter.

A little history reminder. the people of NSW were never asked if they want to be a state, they just became so as it was the remainder after all the other states were formed.

Just because New England currently lacks the firepower and organization to secede, does NOT in any way mean we consent to being a part of NSW.

I think that's dead right.

My post on this blog, Has the Greiner infrastructure report failed New England?, drew some comments. Sean Duce tartly remarked:

Oh and you forgot to mention Newcastle gets 500 million to reduce travel time by rail to Sydney to the same time period as the World War Two era flyer over the next 10-20 years.

Ouch, Sean.

Mark Zaicos commented:

Let's not forget that Greiner hasn't given up destroying regional rail. Countrylink may be sold meaning rail to the New England heartland will almost certainly be cut.

That's right Mark, but remember that Mr Greiner as premier focused just on the great gods of efficiency and effectiveness. He won't recognise the importance of the vision that we are trying to articulate because he sees the role of state government just in delivering services to the majority in that territory and indeed denies the very validity of what we stand for. We don't exist, so we can be ignored. 

I commented on the neglect of inland New England New. This issue was picked up in the Armidale Express, if with a little New England focus. I quote: 

A $20 BILLION infrastructure spend has snubbed Armidale according to Northern Tablelands MP Richard Torbay.

He said yesterday much of NSW had been sidelined by former NSW premier Nick Greiner’s 20-year vision for main projects across the state.

“I’m just surprised about how often we have to fight for every outcome and this plan shows it will be no different in future,” he said.

“I’m tired of seeing regional projects being an afterthought and they need to feature far more prominently in future plans, state or federally.”

Richard is right, of course, that's what I said in my post. But the problem is that if we are to strike back, we have to look more broadly and we have to make compromises. If we are to get decent development, I should write a post on what i mean by that, we have to overcome the dreaded local parochialism that constantly allows Sydney and the political parties to divide and rule.

This came up in another Facebook discussion. Scott worried that

hmm. been pondering further on the coastal-inland 'rivalry' (silly to even call it that as the coast certainly doesn't operate with any sense of unity, but anyway).

imagining the electoral map of the state of New England raises interesting questions. i'm not sure how well inland voters would accept a state parliament in which coastal seats were in the clear majority...? or perhaps we'd look at a totally new model than what's used in the rest of Australia?

This led to quite an interesting discussion. But to understand the issues, you have to understand the history.


Now to illustrate, this is a photo of the front of the news agency in Gunnedah. It's a very good newsagency that carries every paper in the immediate region. And where does the region start? Newcastle. The SMH doesn't even warrant a poster!

Now this is not an argument about boundaries, another recurring theme in new state discussions.

The issues here have been fairly well sorted, for in the end it's what people want. One state, two states or even three. But in understanding the issues. you have to look at geography and the way that affects our thinking over time.

Here I want to pause for tonight, for changing economics based on geography creates a fundamental challenge for all of us who care about the North. But that's a subject for my next post.   




Friday, October 05, 2012

Round the New England blogging traps 28 - a strange mixture

Congratulations to Keith Burgess on having A Woodsrunner's Diary selected by the National Library as worthy of permanent preservation under Australia's national electronics archive arrangement. Congratulations, too, to Bronwyn Parry on the forth coming publication of her new book, Darkening Skies.

Back in November 2011 (APN ceases daily publication of Tweed Daily, Coffs Advocate) I recorded the ending of the main print versions of two of the older New England papers. Over on North Coast Voices, Newspaper circulation figures show decline on NSW North Coast provides figures showing the continued decline in newspaper circulation for the Northern dailies. It still makes me sad, although I don't think that any of the chains help themselves.

Paper April-June 2012 Variation %
Daily Examiner, Grafton (M-F) 4,830 -8.35
Northern Star, Lismore (M-F) 12,700 -5.41
Maitland Mercury, Maitland (M-F) (January-June) 3,961 -7,06
Herald, Newcastle (M-S) 44,879 -6.7
Northern Daily Leader, Tamworth (M-S) (January-June) 7,084 -3.55

North Coast Voices also provides a critical follow up report on the closure of the Grafton gaol (This Stoner-Gulaptis pea and thimble trick would be laughable if it didn't affect NSW North Coast families) and reports on  anti coal seam gas activities (among others, Get ready to Rock the Gate on Saturday 13 October 2012 at Murwillumbah during the National Week of Action).

Staying with politics, on the Regionalstates blog, Ian Mott analyses (Another Poll, another new state mandate) the numbers suggesting considerable support for subdivision of Queensland into new states. Very similar sentiments continue to be expressed in Northern NSW.

Moving away from politics but staying in the Northern Rivers, Mark's Clarence Valley Today continues it's delightful photographic exploration of local life.

In Grafton, the Jacarandas are flowering. When I was in Armidale a week or so back, I noticed that the signs of spring were everywhere. It's a lovely time.

Jan's A Tapestry of Life is another Northern Rivers blog dealing with the detail of daily life. I find the domestic blogs relaxing because they keep me in touch with life across the North. The patterns of daily life vary a fair bit across New England depending on where you live, but it's always interesting. Thought of Jan in her vegetable garden; I have to water my own seedlings in a few minutes! 

I wanted another domestic post before going back Sharyn Munro has been away from her mountain (Spring hit) on a book tour. I still haven't added her books to my now 400 plus New England collection. Reminder to self - do so. Staying in the Hunter, Tricia on little eco footprints hasn't posted since 21 September. But her post then, Do you embrace moments of silence?, struck a chord.

In maintaining my blog list and on these reviews, I pick up not just New England blogs but those who blog with New England connections. We are varied lot.

One of Don Aitkin's claim to fame is that he was the first student admitted to the newly autonomous University of New England. In addition to his other writing, Don is now a blogger. You will find his blog here. Over at his place, Winton Bates worries Is it the duty of government to realize the good life for all citizens?. Wint6on was at UNE with me and features in Matthew Jordan's history of UNE, A Spirit of True Learning. On Matthew, I see that he is now an Executive Officer in the Historical Publications and Information Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That strikes me as a useful link!

Finishing on a strictly parochial note, one of the really wonderful things about blogging and the on-line world is the way my New England focus brings me into at least indirect contact with all sorts of people with New England connections that I would not otherwise know. Many would not consider themselves New Englanders in the way that I use the term.

Consider this post by Richard Tsukamasa Green on Club Troppo: Australian Art : In the suburbs, and below them. I bet you didn't know the new book that Richard refers to.

Well, I'm out of time.  

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Has the Greiner infrastructure report failed New England?

Infrastructure NSW has finally released its blue print Nick Greinerinto the State's long term infrastructure needs. This photo of Mr Greiner is from the Australian. It's a long report and I have to assess it properly. However, I thought that I would give you a quick preliminary reaction, subject to the necessary qualification that my views may change with further analysis.

To begin with, in presentation, it is one of those reports so beloved by modern governments all expressed in present tense. In <insert date>, NSW will <insert aspiration>. To counter this, my starting point is always to ask if the proposals achieve every one of the expected benefits, will New England be better off and if so how? The answer is not much, with some minor gains in some areas, potential losses in others.

To understand this, you have to look at some of the assumptions built into the report. These include:

  1. There is such a thing as a NSW economy. There is not beyond a statistical construct based on current boundaries.
  2. That economic growth in Sydney will have spin-off benefits to the rest of NSW. That's an assumption. My view is otherwise.
  3. That modelling and policy should be based on current trends, on what is, not what might be. The past is not a good guide to the future, nor does analysis based just on aggregate statistics of what is provide a solid planning base without considering other variables.
  4. That you can analyse inland NSW by lumping everything from the escarpment minus the Blue Mountains into a single entity.

The report suffers, too, from  border myopia. It does not adequately recognise the interlinks between parts of NSW and surrounding jurisdictions.

If the report delivers on every one of the identified New England benefits, this is (broadly) what we can expect:

  1. The Pacific Highway upgrade will continue because it is current policy, but subject to reviews as to costs and value for money.
  2. Some money will be invested in the coal corridor. However, there appears no recognition of the need to assist local authorities to manage the strain on infrastructure created by mining development. 
  3. There will be some investment in Hunter water needs. Other water bodies will be aggregated into bigger units.
  4. There will be some new investment in dams for irrigation.
  5. Other existing projects will continue, but inland NSW won't get anything because this cannot be justified on the economic modelling. I refer you to assumptions 3 and 4 above.

Now because I have only skim read the report, I am happy to be corrected. But do you think that a New England Government would have had quite the same focus?   

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Belshaw's World - sharing a love of history

Last year I came back to Armidale to deliver a paper on social change in the broader New England over the second half of the twentieth century. While in town I did as I always do, I went book shopping.

As a writer and commentator on New England history and issues, I need access to books and records, many now out of print and hard to find. For that reason, I buy what I can when I can. I also buy for the sheer joy of it, for we have had some wonderful writers.

On this trip, I struck real gold in the form of Maslyn William's His Mother's Country (Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1988). I knew of Williams as an award winning Australian writer and documentary film maker, but had no idea of his New England connection.

Williams was born in England in 1911. After his parents’ death, an uncle sent him out to Australia to work as a jackaroo on a large station near Tenterfield. There he fell in love with Australia. His Mother’s Country explains why. Written in the third person (he calls himself the lad throughout), the book describes Williams’ experiences in 1920s New England, the lives and personalities of numerous individuals he encountered, and the distinctive identity of the landscape that ultimately claimed his loyalty.

It really is a wonderful book. It justly won the FAW Christina Stead Award in 1988 and then in the following year the Douglas Stewart Prize in the State literary awards.

Maslyn is not the only writer who describes childhood or early life in New England. Another is Judith Wright, a third Judith Wallace. Their writing traces the texture of a changing world in Armidale and beyond.

Last weekend, I was back in Armidale for a reunion of the TAS Leaving Certificate class of 1962. Those attending had come from all across Australia, from Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

As I waited to go to TAS, the sound of bagpipe music from nearby Central Park drifted across the motel P1000775 balcony where I was sitting. Distracted, I packed away my notes and walked to the park to listen. It was PLC’s 125th anniversary celebrations, and the Scots College band was playing. I met the Headmistress and explained that my brother and I used to line up with the girls for our bread and jam, This was in the old school before the move to the top of the hill.

Later at TAS, we yarned about our shared history, about the changes that had taken place, about the things that we had done. For most of us, to come from Armidale or to come here for school or university is to leave the place. I have been lucky, for I have been able to come back on visits, then to live here again, and now once more to visit. For all of us, the links remain.

In coming columns, I would like to share with you some of those links through the wonderful history that we have in common: from spies to classical Greek plays; from the very local to the regional and beyond; from fly paper to chip heaters; from food to furniture; from our ancient Pleistocene past to the present.

I hope that you will come with me on the journey. I hope, too, that you will contribute your own stories.

Next week, I will give you a story of warfare beyond the frontier of written history, of a time before Captain Cook. It’s an exciting tale that I think that you will enjoy.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 September 2012. It is my first column after a gap. 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.