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!