Friday, November 22, 2019

Introducing Armidale Diaries

One ABC National Radio programs that I really like is The Fitzroy Diaries: Dispatches from the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne. The ABC describes the program in this way:
Award-winning audio fiction series from the ABC. Walk the streets of Fitzroy, Melbourne, shaped by gangsters, migrants, Aboriginal activists, the working poor. Now, it’s fancy shops and hipster bars. Until you really look.
Now I'm not totally sure about the fiction part. I think that its more observations, imaginings and anecdotes that paint a vivid picture of life in Fitzroy. I find it fun. Having just moved back to Armidale, I thought that it might be fun to try the same thing here. I also thought that it might be a break from the historical or analytical stuff I normally write, something that would give me more freedom to experiment and roam.

The first episode, Armidale Diaries 1 the smoke rolls in, appeared yesterday on my personal blog. My old friend Noric Dilanchian wrote on my public face book page:
Jim’s mise en scène. The style works. Recalls quirky French rural townlife films of old, one from the 1980s that I recall by Claude Chabrol. Awaiting this style’s evolution. 
Stretch target, find a videography and music researcher to deliver audiovisual justice for the smoky scene you set.
Mise en scène literally means the arrangement of the scenery, props, etc. on the stage of a theatrical production or on the set of a film or, alternatively, the setting or surroundings of an event. That's not a bad definition, but I think of it in terms of the texture of life within a frame. 

I am going to try to run the series every Thursday. in terms of Noric's challenge, think of it as something like a script that audio can be added later.  

Monday, November 18, 2019

Stories Connect - Armidale, the Ezidis and creative expression

Back in August 2017 (Armidale to settle 200 refugees - overview and discussion) I reported that Armidale long fight to become a refugee resettlement centre had finally been successful.
Khalid Adi and his family colouring in. Photo Armidale Express.
Two years later Armidale is home to some 400 Ezidis.

Earlier in 2019, the New England Writers' Centre launched Stories Connect, a major program focussed around encouraging creative expression and making connections between newly- resettled Ezidi refugee families and other members of the Armidale community, through the sharing and creation of stories, pictures and music.

Supported by generous grants from the Regional Arts Fund, the Country Arts Support Program, Create NSW and Settlement Services International, with much-appreciated support from Armidale Regional Council, Arts North West and NERAM, Stories Connect launched in June. Over several months it featured a range of activities and events, from creative workshops for school age children and teenagers to community storytelling sessions; from the creation of documentary photographs by emerging photographers.

Stories Connect showcased the wide range of local talent and potential, both within the Ezidi and wider segments of the Armidale community. It’s been a great success, culminated in a popular exhibition at NERAM (the New England Regional Art Museum). Now a short documentary film has been released showcasing the project. It's rather good.

I have been asked not to embed the video because the Centre wants people to view it on its website. You will find the link here. The Armidale Express story on the launch of the NERAM exhibition is here

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Fires, drought and climate change within New England

The land has been on fire. Across the broader New England fires have raged with loss of property and life. ABC Coffs Coast reproduced a poem by Armidales' Troy Gerdes based on I love a sunburnt country that caught the situation.

"I love a Sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains.
But I’ve gotta tell ya mate, I like it better when it rains.
The countryside is dying and there’s just no end in sight, and just to rub salt in the wounds, the bush has caught alight.
The landscape is on fire from Brisbane to the Gong
And everybody’s asking “where the hell did we go wrong?
But we can get through this one if we help each other out, take care of your neighbour , that’s what Aussies are about.
The rain is going to fall again , the good times will return. But living in Australia means at times it’s going to burn.
So if you need a helping hand, just give a mate a call. We’re all here to help you out and catch you when you fall.
The RFS, the SES, the Firies, and police, all put their lives upon the line to help to keep the peace.
So hats off to these heroes and thanks for all you do
And I hope when this is over we can make it up to you!"

The fires have been dreadful. Last night's NBN News, (the link is to NBN News general site; I couldn't find the specific story), contained some of the most gripping and dramatic coverage that I have ever seen. They deserve an award for the coverage.

Community reaction to the fires has been truly remarkable in terms of those who fought and those that responded to events in whatever way they could. 

I would have followed the story anyway, but now living back in the area  I followed with particular interest. Exactly where were the fires, what did it all mean, who did I know who lived in the immediate area? I followed the social media feeds from people I knew especially on the Tablelands wondering if changing wind directions would bring the fires towards them.

The fires have become caught up in the debate about climate change especially among the political warriors of left and right, but also among worried citizens.

The fires have been hailed, if that's the right word, as exceptional, a much misused word, evidence for climate change. This has led to responses pointing out, correctly, that there have been worse fires and that the fires of themselves prove nothing.

The problem with these generalised discussions is that they lack practical content. If anything, they sidetrack discussion on the problems we face.

To avoid becoming caught in unnecessary arguments over climate change, I suppose that I should make my own position clear. 

As an historian, I am well aware that climate varies over time. As a simple example, sea levels have varied by around 130 metres over the last 100,000 years. I therefore have no problem with the idea that the climate may change. Indeed, I would expect it.

I also find the idea of human induced climate change intuitively plausible because I find it hard to see how the pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution could not have an effect. I accept too, if cautiously, that part of the effects of climate change is likely to be increased variability in climate, more extreme events. However, this is where my problem with some of the discussion on the New England fires comes in.

Climate change is a macro problem and has to be dealt with first at that level. This requires action to limit the emission of green house gases.

My personal preference here has been some form of carbon tax because it provides a market mechanism. The tax could have been set low and then adjusted as more evidence became available. Among other things, this would have taken a lot of the heat out of the debate over coal.

This is a macro debate. Accepting that climate change is happening, it is already clear that the effects will be a geographically distributed, creating a pattern of winners and losers. If one is going to respond in a sensible way to things like changes to the risk of fire in a particular area, one has to know what the changes might be. Otherwise discussion becomes sound and fury signifying nothing. Generalised statements won't cut it except at a very high level of generality. 

This is where the debate over the Northern fires come adrift. They lack real policy content because we just don't know what the specific effects of climate change might be in the broader New England. Here I want to put forward a specific hypothesis based on history over the last few thousand years that is potentially testable by those more knowledge in climatology than me.

Northern NSW is generally wetter than Southern NSW. The reason for that is that the area lies in the overlap between northern and southern weather systems. The dividing line is traditionally based on a line running inland from around Port Macquarie. South of that line, southern patterns dominate. North of that line to the Queensland border, systems overlap. Further north, northern weather patterns dominate.

I accept that this simple analysis is a gross generalisation. I stick my head up with a degree of trepidation. However, given all this, what happens if the effect of climate change is to move the northern systems north, the southern systems south? The result is likely to be a drought/fire zone in what was a previously a relatively well watered area.