Thursday, August 27, 2015

Spring Soiree at NERAM (New England Regional Art Museum) 11 September 2015

NERAM has invited all those who would like to attend to come to a Spring Soiree at NERAM
11 September 2015 - 5:30pm.

The Spring Celebration is intended to welcome NERAM's new Director, a new Café and a new Season ahead!
  • Meet Robert Heather, incoming Director at NERAM.
  • Enjoy finger food from the new café, Studio 52. 
  • Buy wine by the glass from the Friends of NERAM.
  • Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks available.
If you want to come you must let NERAM know. Just to tempt you this is a piece from the permanent collection

About Robert:

Robert Heather comes to NERAM from the State Library of Victoria where he was manager of events and exhibitions, and before that, director of Artspace in Mackay, and executive director of the Regional Galleries Association of Queensland. He has also worked at Cairns Regional Gallery and the Queensland Art Gallery.

About Studio 52:

David Thomas and Phil Tutt come to NERAM from Trina's in Uralla, where they established a reputation for great food and service. They are looking forward to providing the same quality service and varied menu at NERAM. Studio 52 will be open during NERAM's opening hours, 10am-4pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Newcastle eLearning company launches online platform to help teachers build their own courses

New product launch that I found interesting. The story draws from the press release, but I'm interested in both prmoting New England businesses and in the application of new technology in education. 

Newcastle based edtech company Futura Group, today launched eCoach BETA, a cloud-based platform providing high school teachers with simple tools to build and design their own engaging online courses.

The eCoach allows teachers to transform their own materials into online courses attractive to students. 

According to Jude Novak (eCoach Product Manager), “courses made with the eCoach can be used to promote discovery, problem solving, and decision making in a fun and engaging way. The builder includes over 20 easy to use drag-and-drop eLearning templates to ensure that students have a great educational experience online”.

The company argues that with escalating professional demands such as reporting, compliance and benchmarking, teachers are increasingly time-poor; to stay ahead of the technology curve and deliver tech-savvy students with interactive course content would normally mean developing design skills or learning complex authoring software.

“Some teachers simply don’t have the time or design knowledge to create high-quality eLearning. The eCoach gives them everything they need to build interactive resources, without the headache of learning how to use complicated software”.

The eCoach is a cloud-based solution and courses are smartphone compatible and BYOD ready, meaning that students will be able to access courses at home, ‘on the go’, or in the classroom. This ‘build once and use anywhere’ approach means that the eCoach can be easily paired with popular tools like Google Classroom to transform teaching and learning in high schools.  
Google’s Education tools are widely used by teachers (both here and abroad) to foster collaboration and creativity. “Using the eCoach in tandem with such tools will help students have fun while they discover information and interact with new ideas”.    

“It looks great!” said Rachel McCann, PDHPE Teacher at Mudgee High School. “It’s not only highly engaging, but it provides a kind of consistent shape and form to lesson resources. I also love the fact that I can easily share courses I’ve made with my students using Google Classroom for safe and secure access.”

There are currently 175 teachers registered for eCoach BETA. Anyone interested in the eCoach can request access via the website:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Enova and Sydney's 1995 electricity heist

Back in November 2014 I provided a brief report on Northern Rivers plans to launch a community owned clean energy generator. Now the proposals have got to the launch stage, with the new venture to be called Enova.

I'm sorry, but I can't help feeling angry. Not, I hasten to add, with Enova, just with Sydney's great big electricity heist. You see, we used to have New England power distributors, many with their own generation capacity.They were profitable, with the profits ploughed back into local activities.

Then, the good folks in the NSW Treasury decided that this wasn't right. Those local county councils did not have the economies of scale to survive. Further, they were capital lazy, not required to earn a sufficient return on capital. So what those bright sparks in Sydney did was to take over the lot, centralise them, then borrow against the assets, all this in the name of economic rationalism and efficiency. That money was effectively pissed away without gain to the areas that lost their assets and associated cash flow. The world has changed and now we are trying to recreate.

Okay, I may be wrong and prejudiced, but this 2010 post (Sydney's 1995 electricity heist) provides the background, footnotes and all. Am I wrong to be angry?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Save New England - how do we manage our environmental wars?

I have mixed views about New England's environmental wars, although I have tried to report on them objectively.

I have two of these sloppy joes. On the back it reads, no Big Guns on New England. They date back many years to a time when there was a proposal to take a large part of the New England Tablelands and turn it into a military firing range,

I was happy to join that protest because it struck me as a crazy idea. So I am not averse to personal participation in protests. Indeed, so far as New England is concerned, I seem to have been protesting much of my life!

One of my central concerns has been the structural decline in the area that I love, the rise of both relative and indeed absolute poverty. I have seen skills and jobs stripped away through economic change combined with Government policy and regulation. I became a supporter of the environmental movement many years ago and then moved away because its proponents could not answer a basic question: you say that this is a good thing, that it will have environmental benefits, but who will compensate us for the economic costs that we must bear?

I was in Grafton when I was handed a flier opposing the logging of old growth forests. I broadly supported that, if not with the passion of the exponents. I looked at the flier. On jobs, it said don't worry, new jobs will be created in Oberon through plantation tree farming. I looked at them  Leaving aside any issues that might be involved in the expansion of plantation farming, they were trying to tell me that a job created in Oberon was an equivalent offset to a job lost in Grafton. Tell that to the people losing their jobs.

In many of these battles we are dealing with absolutes that cannot be reconciled. The proponents, both sides, will use whatever arguments they can to support their case.Both are passionate. Neither are objective.

In trying to steer a personal path through this maze, I have tried to argue two things: the first is the need for objective assessment, the second for compensation and benefit sharing.

This is an environmental video on the the current environmental battles affecting the Liverpool Plains. Here the battle is over a proposed coal mine. I have included it for two reasons. The first is that it is an example of the sophistication of the current environmental campaigns. The second is that it shows a little of the beauty of the area, the colours that I have written about in speaking of both paintings and film. Further comments follow the video.

I have known the Plains all my life. It is a beautiful, fertile area with the best ground water in New England. For that reason, as well as my dislike at the way external bodies and especially governments can simply come in and strip away local rights in the name of progress, I am instinctively inclined to support the protests at personal level. And then I remember the way that Gunnedah was on its beam ends because of the combination of rural decline with decline in coal mining. So how do we balance this?

As late as the 1960, new state New England had a population and economic base greater than WA or SA. Now we are are behind SA. We also have some of the poorest areas in Australia as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.So I don't think that it is sufficient to oppose particular developments,. I would argue that we have to do more than that. I think that we need to explain the positives, not just present the negatives.      .

Monday, August 17, 2015

Still time to visit Lismore Gallery's Rennie Ellis exhibition

I have been meaning to mention this one for a while. The Lismore Regional Art Gallery has an exhibition on at present showcasing the work of photographer Rennie Ellis (1940–2003). This is one of the photographs on display, Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach.

 Ellis is a key figure in Australian visual culture, best remembered for his effervescent observations of Australian life exemplified in his iconic book Life is a beach. Although invariably infused with his own personality and wit, the thousands of social documentary photographs taken by Ellis now form an important historical record.

The Rennie Ellis Show highlights some of the defining images of Australian life from the 1970s and ‘80s. This is the period of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser; Paul Keating and Bob Hawke; AC/DC and punk rock; cheap petrol and coconut oil; Hari Krishnas and Hookers and Deviant balls.

This exhibition of 100 photographs provides a personal account of what Ellis termed ‘a great period of change’. The photographs explore the cultures and subcultures of the period, and provide a strong sense of a place that now seems a world away; a world free of risk, of affordable inner city housing, of social protest, of disco and pub rock, of youth and exuberance.

The travelling exhibition is presented by the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and Monash Gallery of Art with support from the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.

The exhibition will be open until 5 September.

Monday, August 03, 2015

For Deborah Tree - a guided introduction to Judith Wright and the Wright Family

Back in July 2015 Deborah Tree wrote in a comment on a post I had written in January 2007, Poetry's Decline and the Sound of Words:
Hello Jim I have just discovered the poems of Judith Wright - a friend gave me her "Collected Poems" yesterday and already I've learned the first verse of "South of my Days" mainly because it was the favourite of my friend. As I learn the words and say them out loud, the poem changes for me; I become enchanted by the sound of the words (as you said) and the way Judith has woven them like a rose brier hedge, an enduring essence of a distant, simpler life of survival through hardship. There is romance in that, and in her love of country. I have a Wright journey ahead of me. Cheers Deborah
The photo shows Judith Wright in 1946.

I promised to bring up a consolidated post that might assist Deborah in her journey. This is that post. Because of the scale of the task, I am going to have to let the post evolve.


Judith Wright was born on 31 May 1915. From then until her death on 25 June 2000, her life and career went through a number of stages.As she went through those stages, her attitudes and interests changed.  “You ask me to read those poems I wrote in my thirties?” she wrote in Skins when she was sixty-six.. “They dropped off several incarnations back.”

My primary interest in lies in her connection with Northern New South Wales, the broader New England that is the subject of my main historical work. I am interested in her as a New England writer and as a member of a family that played a significant role in New England history.

To my mind, Judith remained a quintessentially New England writer. That was where her views were first formed, although her later experiences and especially her relationship with the older novelist and philosopher Jack McKinney would exercise a powerful influence over her. Judith met Jack McKinney when she moved to Brisbane. He was a much older man, some twenty four years her senior, only two years younger than her father. They fell in love, moving to Mount Tamborine in 1950; daughter Meredith was born in that year. In 1962, Jack and Judith finally married. Four years later Jack died, leaving a hole in Judith’s life.

Jack McKinney was the second of three powerful men in Judith Wright’s life. The first was her father, Phillip Arundell Wright, with whom she shared a middle name. The third was H C “Nugget” Coombs, a noted Australian economist and public servant, with whom she had a twenty five year love affair. Coombs was again an older man, in this case by nine years. Both were major public figures. Judith was a widow, Coombs long separated from his wife. Both shared common interests, including Aboriginal advancement and the environment. Judith moved to Braidwood to be closer to the Canberra based Coombs, but the affair was kept secret, if open to their friends and the Canberra network within which they moved.

Each man had a powerful impact on Judith, but I think that it was the father that formed her core views. It was he that gave her that love of the environment and of the country. It was he that gave her that love, affection and unstinting support that seems to shine through in the letters between them. This image is one of  W E Pidgeon's (WEPs') portrait of Judith's father.

 I knew her father as a much older man. PA, we all spoke of him as PA, was my grandfather’s friend; my grandfather was godfather to his son who bore the same first name; my copy of Generations of Men carries my grandfather’s signature, bought in the year the book first came out. To me, PA was a somewhat remote figure. I saw him at events and at the New England New State Movement Executive meetings that he sometimes chaired. I and my fellow students at the University of New England where he was chancellor poked gentle fun at him for his sometimes mangled English. It would be a number of years before I came to properly understand his contribution to Northern life and the causes he supported. .

Judith loved her father, she loved the Falls country in which she grew up, she loved the life on the family properties. Her earlier works reflect that love, and then the joy she found in her relationship with Jack McKinney. Later, there would come a darkening of spirit, erosion in optimism, a rejection of elements of her past. 

Judith had the misfortune to be born a girl in an age when men inherited. Especially after the death of PA, she became separated from the properties and life she had loved, although the family ties remained close. Towards the end of her life, she saw the end of the Wright family empire that had been carefully built by her grandparents and especially grandmother May Wright. The ABC TV Dynasties program recorded the event in this rather dramatic way:

By December 2000, he (brother David) had lost it all – his properties, his cattle and his wife to cancer. His sister, the poet Judith Wright, watched in despair and died soon after.

That’s dramatic, but the loss was a profound one. Generations of Men is dedicated to the children of May and Albert, to her father and his brothers and sisters. The phrase generations of men comes from Blake’s Milton; the verse is quoted on the book’s title page:

The generations of men run on in the tide of time
But their destn’d lineaments permanent for ever and ever.

If you look at those words, you can get a feel for Judith’s subsequent sense of loss.

Six years after Judith’s death, David died suddenly. It was a shock. On his death, University of New England Professor Bernie Bindon described David as one of the pioneers of the scientific research underpinning today's Australian beef industry. "I can't think of a beef industry person” Professor Bindon said, “who's made a bigger contribution to not only the growth of the beef industry but the science that underpins the beef business," 

The Herefords .that formed the base of the V1V and V2V Wright brands began their life at Dalwood. It was Judith’s grandparents, the core characters in Generations of Men, who began the breeding program that created the Wright cattle. PA, then David and other Wright family members carried it through to the end. There is a whole story there.  

So, Deborah, you have begun a journey that can not only gratify in terms of the poetry, but which can carry you through into many aspects of Australian life.It's also a story that is sufficiently well documented for you to get to know the people and their connections.  


I will break the remaining post into three parts:
  • my posts on Judith and the Wrights.
  • the published material, including the locally published material that you might not find unless you know where to look.
  • a short guide to on-line sources that I am aware off.

My posts 

The various posts I have written to this point are set out below. They vary considerably in topic and length. I suggest that you scan quickly, that will give you a feel, and then come back to those that interest you. I welcome comments.

To be continued