Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Belshaw's World - newspapers' vital role in regional development

As part of my research into the history of the broader New England, I have continued my reading on the history of the country press.

It’s quite remarkable, really, just how small those early newspapers were. Some were just four sheets with circulations in the low hundreds. Not surprisingly, there was a constant battle for survival, with papers opening and closing all the time.

As with any new business, the first year was the worst, with papers pleading to people to advertise or subscribe. Even after that first year, there was a constant battle with bad debts.

Why would anyone enter into such a risky business, one where the chances of financial success were so uncertain?

Communities wanted newspapers because they saw it as a sign of their importance. Many of the papers were in fact funded by community subscription. Others were created to represent different political interests.

Our early parliamentarians were unpaid. That plus poor transport meant that many lived to Sydney.

To ensure election, they needed a voice to speak to their electors in the remote Northern Districts. A newspaper was one way to achieve this.

Newspapers were also funded by supporters of the main political causes of the time: self-government versus the status quo, squatters versus free selectors, liberal vs conservative, free traders versus protectionist.

All the main political debates played themselves out not just on the pages of the papers, but in the changing ownership of the papers themselves. One outcome was a proliferation of papers in even small towns.

While this helps explain the growth of the newspaper press, it was still a very risky business. I think that our early printers and editors must have had ink in their veins.

Those early newspapers took themselves very seriously indeed.

In their first editions, many published long descriptions of their objectives and roles. They would represent the interests of their district. They would speak without fear or favour. They would scrutinise government and educate the people.

Did they live up to these aspirations? Well, yes and no.

Considering their limited resources, many of them did a pretty good job. However, the need to appeal to a sometimes fractious community, to attract subscribers, did limit their freedom to speech.

One thing I had not realised was the importance of government advertising.

The central government in Sydney was the largest single advertiser. Papers could rise or fall on that advertising. Further, individual governments were quite prepared to switch advertising between papers to punish or favour. This dictated a certain discretion.

Somehow, that has quite a modern feel!

The last decades of the nineteenth century in colonial New England were dominated by the rise of the town. The civic leaders in all those towns were concerned with civic improvement, with the establishment of respectable and stable communities.

In Armidale, the sometimes disreputable social patterns of the convict and immediate post convict period were replaced by a more ordered society with its focus on family. Drunkenness remained, but sobriety ruled.

Bigger towns made for bigger markets. Papers began to prosper.

One of the big problems facing all the country papers at the end of the colonial period can be summarised simply as Sydney’s economic dominance.

Sydney advertising agencies controlled advertising. The papers were compelled to accept supplements and provide free advertising space at often ruinous cost. To counter this, the country press began to organise.

Today their actions would be a breach of competition legislation, yet they made simple practical sense.

They tried to ban the ubiquitous supplements, to create their own. They tried to create cooperative mechanisms to access metro advertisers in a coordinated way.

Getting all those small individual and competitive newspaper proprietors to cooperate was a bit like herding cats. Over two decades, there was failure after failure. Finally, success was achieved.

I really marvel at the perseverance shown by the leaders of the country press during this period.

Their success benefited all in commercial terms, helping establish a financially viable newspaper industry. However, the cost to them in terms of time and money was huge.

All this is long gone.

The heroes have vanished into the past along with the independent sector they created. Yet even today the country press that we have remains their monument.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 25 January 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, January 30, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Orphir & Mott on new states

Mitch Ophir has resurrected his blog with two interesting posts in support of New England statehood.

In Becoming Australia's 7th State - New England, he looks at ways of achieving statehood, suggesting that New England might make things easier for NSW by buying assets. This drew a dusty comment from Ian Mott suggesting that it was a bit like a battered wife being forced to buy her way out of the marriage!

In his second post, Managing New England (7th State)'s Assetts - Police Force, Mitch takes the police force to look at what might be done. Central here is that New England would not have to duplicate all infrastructure but might use existing NSW assets, in this case the Police College at Goulburn, on a fee for service basis, thus helping both sides.

Ian Mott picked up the second post in Policing in New North Wales. Ian prefers the name New North Wales to New England, and also uses different boundaries to this blog, excluding the Hunter. That's another story. For the moment, Ian's arguments are relevant to New England however named or defined.

Ian's analysis suggests that policing costs would actually be similar to NSW. No gain there. However, New England or New North Wales would gain from the transfer of certain positions from Sydney. In economic terms, New England would be better off.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Belshaw's World - problems with colours

Some years ago when we were running a national consulting business out of Armidale, we were very much into colours - red, green and blue to be precise.

Now this might sound all very artistic, but the colours referred not to colours but to personality types.

A red person was activity focused, get things done, see problem fix problem. At the extreme, our red person was so busy doing that the value of what was done could be quite lost.

A green person was framework and structure focused. At the extreme, a green person could be so busy planning nothing actually got done.

The third personality, the blue, was people and relationship focused. At the extreme, a blue person could be so concerned with harmony, about not hurting others, that decision making could become very difficult.

Most people contain some mix of colours, although it’s generally true that one colour is more dominant, a second less so but still important. Experienced managers often show up in test results as rainbow, a mix of colours, simply because they are used to adjusting their style to balance the personality mix in their teams.

So far so good, but what happens if you place a person under considerable pressure? Then the normal primary and secondary colours can reverse themselves.

Place a high red person with secondary green characteristics in a situation beyond personal control where doing is difficult. Suddenly, that person may become very green indeed, preparing plans and drawing up lists of things to do because this gives at least the illusion of action and control.

By contrast, a green/red person placed under pressure may suddenly go very red indeed. This may take the form of bursts of activity, doing for the sake of doing. It may also lead to quite ruthless actions to resolve the problem should this seem possible.

Of course, red/blue/green is not the only way of characterising people, nor are the things measured the only things that can be measured. The modern world is full of psychological testing of all types. It has become a plague!

While the red/green/blue model is only partial, I have found it helpful in shaping responses to people in a working environment.

Over the years, I have worked for many people and have had many more work for me. Then in my professional work assisting organisations to improve performance, I have necessarily been concerned with the personalities and interactions within the client organisation.

Partly as a consequence, I appear as rainbow when measured by others, green/red when I undertake the test.

Despite all my experience, I sometimes find it remarkably difficult to adjust my personal style to best mesh, especially where personal relations are concerned.

As a consultant or contractor in particular, I need to get in and complete the assignment as quickly and efficiently as possible. In doing so, I have to take into account the needs and personalities of all those that I work with.

Like most of us, I have developed conscious techniques for doing so, including use of the red/green/blue model as an analytical tool. I am reasonably good at it. I have had to be.

Why, then, did I say that I sometimes found it remarkably difficult to adjust my personal style? Simple really. Get my emotions involved, and my carefully constructed professional style can be torn down in an instant! Then my underlying green/red mix surfaces.

I was involved with a project. Technically I was project manager. However, I was experiencing significant problems with a senior manager whose actions seemed to me to threaten the project. That manager was also expressing serious reservations about my work to others.

My first reaction was green – I increased documentation both to provide more information and to record what I had done. Then, as things got worse, I went red. I took specific overt action to protect the project. I was successful.

Now all this is fine. The problem is that I could have achieved the same result in a different way without the subsequent scarring if my personal emotions had not become involved.

We are all human. That means that personal emotions and interactions are central to our being. Not matter how good the techniques and processes we might use to manage this, emotional responses will always be present.

Life would be actually pretty bad if that ceased to be the case.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 18 January 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.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Welcome to visitor 70,000

Visitor 70,000 has just visited the site. The visitor came from Finland via a Google search on bush erotica!

I fear that there must have been some disappointment. Certainly the time spent was 00:00!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Belshaw's World - the economic version of the weather man

While at university I swore that I would never be an economist because there were so many in the family. Instead, I decided to focus on history and become an archaeologist specialising in Australian prehistory, little recognising that history, archaeology and anthropology was another family path.

By accident, I ended up in the Commonwealth Treasury and spent the next twenty years working as a professional economist. You see how hard it is to escape our past!

Later I put economics aside, although I still used the techniques and analytical tools in my work. Then, with the onset of the Global Financial Crisis I picked up economics again. Now I once again sometimes claim to be an economist, although I am badly out of touch with elements of the academic discipline.

I mention this now because I have become quite fascinated with the behaviour of economists as economists.

When I first worked as an economist, there were very few private sector economists. Most worked in universities or in public sector institutions. Today, the majority of economists actually work in the private sector. Their primary task is to check the economic entrails and provide forecasts on economic activity.

The human desire to know something of the future, of the likely outcomes of our activities, is deeply held.

While in Greece last year, we visited the remains at Delphi, the site of the most famous oracle of the classical world. As we walked among the ruins, I thought of the tens of thousands who had visited the site seeking advice from the oracle.

Perhaps the most famous case was that of Croesus, King of Lydia.

Seeking advice from the oracle, he was told that if he attacked if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. He did. His own!

Our modern economic oracles don’t have the luxury of ambiguity. We expect them to provide detailed numbers. The exchange rate will be this, GDP growth that, the CPI another number.

We puzzle over these numbers, comparing the different forecasts. Tables are prepared showing all the different forecasts. Because we know that results are uncertain, we do things like taking the median forecast and using that as a base.

Monday’s Financial Review provided an example of the process as work. There a table listed forecasts from no less than eighteen economists, along with the median forecast. The assumption is that that median forecast, the central view, is more likely to be accurate than any individual forecast.

It’s all very interesting. The problem is that it just doesn’t work!

By its very nature, economic forecasting relies on past data to try to determine the future. That data is partial, the relationships between variables uncertain. There can never be certainty, even with the most complex econometric models.

All economists use the same data, read the same things. Their views tend to converge. The use of comparative tables and of median forecasts just reinforces the process. The median forecast is no more accurate than the majority of individual forecasts simply because it reflects those forecasts.

To my mind, in focusing on what might happen at a point in time, we have lost sight of the role of economic forecasts. They are not oracular projections, just best guesses at to what might happen.

Economic forecasting is a process whose role, is or should be, different from the actual numbers at any point. What is relevant is not the numbers themselves, but the way in which results diverge from the projections as they must.

Government and business have to make judgments about the future, about the likely impact of economic changes on their activities. Their needs are very different from those of market players betting on what might happen in the short term. Yet economic forecasts that are actually linked to and driven by the needs of market players have come to dominate the forecasting process.

Most prominent business economists work for financial institutions. Their primary internal role is to provide advice on what might happen in financial markets. The economic reporting that follows from their public utterances is also markets focused.

Pity the poor businessman or even Government official trying to use all this to make sensible decisions. They end up like a wind vane constantly changing direction as the numbers change.

I have largely given up reading the short term projections beyond a very simple scan. It’s really the only way to retain a degree of sanity!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 11 January 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.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Urunga Aborigines - can you identify?

In response to my post Elections, Aborigines & the need for change, MC wrote:

Hello Jim
Im wonderingIf you know who this family is in the photo? And if you have many other photo's with names as I was born in Belligen and lived in Urunga and found out that we are Aborigines. But our Great grand father married Our grandmother she was from England so it was not to be talked about in our family.Which is great loss.
MC

The photo follows. Do you know who the people in the photo are?

[Aborigines Home the Island Urunga[4].jpg]Postscript:

Christine made this extremely helpful comment that I thought should be brought up in the main post:

Hello there... I have recently completed some research into the relationship between missionaries, Aboriginal people and the government in NSW during this period and may be able to provide some clues as to where to look.

I found this link showing that the family appear to be a family who moved to an island in the area to live independently of the Aborigines protection Board in about 1914. Here is the link.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-pa-http%253A%252F%252Flibrary.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au%252Fcgi-bin%252Fspydus.exe%252FENQ%252FPIC%252FBIBENQ%253FIRN%253D2862563%2526FMT%253DPA

It may be worth a look in the Minute books of the Aborigines Protection Board around that time to see if there was any fuss being made. If there was, then their names would have been listed. It is also worth wondering whether the family DID live on the actual Aboriginal Reserve and was kicked off. In which case it is possible their names would have been listed. In 1914, however, the Board was fairly busy drafting its 1915 Amendment. Certainly it may well be that the family, living off the reserve, was not subject to the various acts. Sadly they may well have come to the notice of the Department of Child welfare... again it is a matter of combing the lists. There is a project underway to reconcile children with families. I can provide a contact name.

Another possible area to look may well be the Unitee Aborigines Magazine The Advocate (copy in Mitchell Library). The UAM was active up that way during this period and would have known and named the family. But then again, sorry, there were one or two families who spurned the faith missionaries because they were Roman Catholic. Your correspondent mentions that there was a marriage with a white woman. Perhaps you could tell me more about this? You could also try the index of births deaths and marriages if names and dates are known... this may also help.

I will have a look through my copies of archival material to see if I can be more specific but these leads may be of assistance.

My email is christine at chrisvickers.com.au

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Belshaw's World - anyone for tennis anymore?

I hope that you and yours had a happy Christmas.

Over the Christmas break, I continued sorting and digitising family photos. In this column, I want to share some of those photos with you.

Just to set the scene, this first photograph shows the tennis courts once to be found at the back of Parliament House in Sydney. David Drummond, then member for Armidale, is front right.Tennis At NSW Parliament House c1930

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

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

The next photo shows my grandparents and some of their daughters with friends.

This is actually a fairly typical shot from the 1930s. It’s a bush scene, with furniture dragged out from the house - two boxes, a formal chair, a wickerwork chair, one of those fabric sun chairs that you still see in England. They are all eating watermelon.Importance of tennis

Nearly everybody played tennis. Down at the local tennis club, players and those learning to play thronged the courts. The photo shows the Armidale club in the 1950s.Armidale tennis club 1950s

I learned to play tennis on the court at my grandparents’ house in Mann Street. There my grandfather and our aunts taught brother David and I to play from an early ageKathleen tennis champion.

I was just an okay player. Others in my family were better.

The final photo is of Aunt Kay (Kathleen Vickers nee Drummond) as champion at the Armidale tennis club. Later she became club patron along with Paul Johnstone. 

Today, the tennis courts across New England have largely gone.

The small settlements with their tennis courts are now just locality names on maps. The home courts have been turned into building blocks.

With their end has gone the dominance that Australia once enjoyed in the sport. More importantly, the social cement that tennis once provided has gone as well.

In writing this column, I tried to think of a modern equivalent to tennis, one that allowed young and old to mix, one that allowed the young to meet and match, one that crossed the divides created by class and status.

I can’t. Can you?

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 4 January 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.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

De La Salle College, Armidale - 2012 Reunion

Founded in 1906, De La Salle College Armidale was the first Australian De La Salle school. In 1974, the combination of demography with social trends led to De La Salle being merged with sister school St Ursula's to create O'Connor  Catholic High School.

I did not go to De Lah as everybody called it, but they were our traditional rivals in rugby. 

Now a De Lah reunion is being held at the Armidale Services Club on Saturday 3 March 2012: - dinner at 7:30 pm. In attendance will be several Old Boy Brothers of the De La Salle order; the current Provincial (Australian head of the Order), Brother Ambrose Payne;  and the principal of O'Connor High, Charles (Charlie) Allen.

By happy coincidence (or not), the following day the Armidale Race Club is holding a race meeting. And before that, on the Sunday, those who wish can attend Mass celebrated by an Old Boy priest.

The diaspora who have not visited Armidale recently will discover that the O'Connor/ex-De La Salle Chapel has been returned to its original condition following damage by fire. And the grounds and buildings have been extensively refurnished, including the Grotto, which Michael O'Rourke (De La Salle 1964-1969) tells me used to be - we hope no longer! -  a favoured haunt of schoolboy smokers. 

Thanks to Carl Graham and others, most of the college's original archives stored at Oakhill College in Sydney have brought back to Armidale and can be inspected. In this connection, Old Boys able to attend the reunion should please bring any documents, photos, college magazines etc (or copies) that they can donate.

It is strongly suggested that accommodation bookings be made early because of the various functions held in Armidale, including the races.

Old Boys should contact the following: paint01 (at) bigpond (dot) com (CARL GRAHAM) or holloway (at) northnet (dot) com (dot) au (GARRY HOLLOWAY). For the reunion drinks and dinner, prepayment ($45) by cheque is requested, payable to "De La Salle Old Boys Union" - Carl or Garry will advise their mailing address in reply to your email. RSVP by 31 January 2012. Wives, partners, family members, friends welcome, but please advise names.

Old Boys not able to attend should nevertheless contact Carl or Garry and supply them with a current telephone number, email address and your years at College. This will allow the Old Boys mailing list (currently 800 names) to be updated for the purpose of other reunions that are to be held in Tamworth and Sydney.

Postscript:

Those interested in the history of Catholic education in what might be called the "mild west" of New England, the diocese of Armidale as it is officially called, can check here: http://www.arm.catholic.edu.au/about/history/armidale/religious_orders.htm

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Rower Henry Searle New England's first world champion

Until I read Mark's Henry Searle - Australia's First World Champion, I had no idea that New England had a world champion rower from the late 1880s. And no, Mark, I don't know where the Sydney monument is!

Read Mark's post to find out more. 

 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Belshaw's World - friends and the fabric of life

Hard to believe, but the first Belshaw World column appeared in the Express on 24 December, 2008.

Looking back over those three years, over the 155 columns written, started me musing on just why I did it.

It’s not always easy writing on such a regular basis. Sometimes I sit before a blank screen and wonder what to say. At other times, I just don’t feel like writing, yet write I must for I have a deadline to meet.

I worry, too, about getting the right balance in what I say in terms of variety and emphasis. This is a personal column, so I can write what I like. And yet, I also want to take my readers’ interests into account. Sometimes, all this isn’t easy.

Why, then, do I continue?

Looking back over the three years, I would describe the single most important thing I have gained simply as the gift of friendship.

All human beings value friendship. After our families, our friends provide the basis social support on which we all depend. They are there for us when we need them.

I can see this clearly looking back at my own life. Sometimes the examples are small, at other times more dramatic.

As a child when mum was sick, I remember how her friends gathered round to provide practical support such as meals for us.

Much later, I was overseas when mum died. By the time I returned, Aunt Kay and her friends had organised all the details of the funeral for me. We wouldn’t have coped without that support.

While I am an Armidale person, I have actually lived more of my life outside Armidale than in the city itself. Today, I live in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, part of the great New England diaspora. Yet despite that, Armidale remains deeply entwined in my life.

It’s an odd thing that people sometimes find difficult to understand. It’s just the nature of the connections.

Captain Thunderbolt may or may not have been shot in Kentucky Creek on 15 May 1870. I think that he was, but disputes remain.

Great grandfather Goode was one of those who signed the document congratulating Constable Walker. Today cousin Arnold continues documenting and promoting the history of Uralla and Rocky River.

Grandfather Drummond arrived in Armidale on a cold day in 1907 as a farm labourer. Twenty one years later he founded a Teachers College, thirty one years later he helped establish a University College, in so doing bringing my father to the city from New Zealand as the first staff member to actually arrive at the new college.

The people involved in the various political movements, the educational pioneers, are not just names in the historical record to me; they are people I knew, or at least knew of, as a child or young adult.

Robb, Earle Page, Dr Austin, Mary White, PA Wright, S H Smith, Newling, Tom Lamble, Edgar Booth to take a few examples are not just names of Colleges or buildings, but actual people.

I grew up in the world of the siblings, the children of the New England University College staff. Later I was an undergraduate student at UNE, then a postgraduate student. Today I remain connected as a UNE adjunct and a member of the Heritage Futures Research Centre.

All this may seem a long way from my opening remarks about the column and the gift of friendship, but there is a direct and tangible connection.

Inevitably given my own past, I write a fair bit about the history of Armidale and the broader New England, about life past as well as life present. Now here a remarkable thing happened.

Through the column as well as my New England blogs, I have actually re-established contact with many of my old friends and the people I have known across the now globally dispersed New England diaspora. I have also made new friends that I would not otherwise have met.

That’s a very important personal return for my writing efforts.

To all my readers, I hope that you had a happy Christmas and may 2012 be a good year for all of us.

To those who have emailed me or sent me material, my thanks. I am not always a good correspondent, but I really value your input.

And to my colleagues at the Express and especially Editor Christian Knight and Janene Carey, my thanks for your support and for making me feel part of a team.

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