New England, Australia

Saturday, October 21, 2023

New England Passings - Brian Hardaker

Professor Brian Hardaker has died. Professor Sunjana Adapa prepared this obituary that I have taken the liberty of repeating in full. 
"It is with deep sadness I share that Emeritus Professor Brian Hardaker, UNE Business School, passed away on Tuesday 10 October. Brian’s wife reached out to our colleague Dr Emilio Morales and shared the devastating news. Brian’s wife also informed Emilio that before he passed away he wished the best for all UNE colleagues. 

Brian Hardaker was an Emeritus Professor in the UNE Business School. He started his career in Agricultural Economics working at the University of London, then Cambridge University, UK, before coming to UNE in 1967 as a Lecturer in the (then) Department of Farm Management, which later merged with Agricultural Economics. 

Brian retired from UNE in 1995 having reached the rank of Professor (Personal Chair). After he arrived at UNE he joined a group of young and enthusiastic scholars, led by the late Professor John Dillon, who became interested in risk in agriculture. Brian was a co-author with Jock Anderson and John Dillon of a pioneering and influential book on the topic, published in 1977, called Agricultural Decision Analysis. Subsequently, Brian was the lead author of a book, published in 1997, called Coping with Risk in Agriculture, which was an update of the earlier publication. Two subsequent updated editions have been published. 

Since Brian retired, he worked as a private consultant and as an Honorary Professor at Curtin and Wageningen Universities, as well as an Associate at the Norwegian equivalent of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). Brian was a Past President and Distinguished Fellow of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society (AARES). He published approximately 350 research outputs, in the form of books, major reports, and journal publications. 

Brian’s contribution to UNE Business School and UNE will be sorely missed and my heartfelt condolences are with his family members."

Monday, October 10, 2022

Oaky Hydro Electric site for sale


Essential Energy has placed the 214ha Oaky Hydro site on the market. The sales pitch suggests that there is a 2,700 ML dam restoration opportunity with a Hydropower Station connected to the network with a 8.2 km frontage to Oaky River.

The Commercial Real Estate advertisement for the sale (here) includes a range of photographs, while  a 19 September 2022 story by Caroline Riches, Oaky River hydro site offers rare opportunity provides additional information. 

During the 1950s, Albanian civil engineer Zihni Buzo designed and oversaw the implementation of the dam and hydropower scheme here, which supplied renewable energy to the local area from 1956 until 2013, when severe flooding burst the banks and damaged the infrastructure. The Wayback Machine includes the report on the events surrounding the flood event of 23 February 2013. The damage was never repaired.  

Zihni, father to playwright Alex Buzo, was a visionary man who saw the Oaky Scheme as a first step in broader hydro and water development including pumped hydro. While the scheme was not large by today's standards it was all very exciting. Aunt Margaret worked in the Thiess office, Thiess were handling constriction, while Zihni took us all to the site to show us the works in progress. 

The costs of construction added to power bills. By the time of the abolition of the county councils in 1995, the amortisation of the original costs by the New England County Council was flowing through in below average electricity prices. These gains now vanished. I have always felt, perhaps wrongly, that the the troubles that befell Oaky were one of the collateral costs of the 1955 Sydney electricity heist. Perhaps now we might see the scheme reborn. 

Monday, June 06, 2022

It's been bloody wet on the the New England!

 As I write it's cold and blowy. That plus cloud has kept the frosts away. The ground is sodden from the constant rain. As the ABC's Lara Webster reports in Northern New South Wales farmers see their wettest conditions in decades as rain keeps falling, this is the third year in a row of above average rainfall.

It's now hard to remember the previous drought, but the effects are still there. This year's autumn show was much less spectacular than in previous years because the trees are still feeling the impact of the long drought. Many trees died, others carry dead branches, while some have simply fallen over under the impact of rain and wind. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Covid adds to the case for New England statehood

 With just three posts last year, this blog has been in sad decline! The combination of personal circumstances with covid has had a devastating effect. It’s not that I had covid, just that covid made life very disruptive and difficult.

Two posts this year on my personal blog (Covid woes - further failures in public policy, Covid woes - virtual lockdowns) look very briefly at covid policy issues from a personal perspective. Covid has demonstrated the continuing importance of the states. It has also provided very tangible evidence of the continued importance of our fight for New England self-government.

Because we don’t exist in a formal sense, because we have no power, the covid measures that might have protected us, that might have allowed us to manage, were simply swamped in that blancmange called NSW. We do need our own state.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

New England travel wish list: visiting Comboyne


I have never been to Comboyne or its surrounding plateau. Many years ago after my father retired he took mum on a series of road trips including three days on the Comboyne Plateau. He came back praising its beauty. 

I was reminded of all this by  a story on ABC Comboyne locals rally to revitalise their mountain-top town after trifecta of drought, bushfires, floods. It's a story of recovery in the face of isolation and natural disaster. 

Comboyne lies to the south west of Port Macquarie, north west of Taree. It's a bit over three hours from Armidale by road. Definitely time for me to visit!  

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Greens to preselect candidate for Richmond


I see from ABC North Coast that Mullumbimby  based comedian Mandy Nolan has announced she will be running for preselection as the Greens' candidate for the federal seat of Richmond. The map shows the current boundaries of the seat.

My eye was caught by the announcement in part because I had just written a refection piece triggered by two recent deaths, Reflections on the passage of time - deaths of Mungo MacCallum and Doug Anthony.  Journalist Mungo MacCallum moved to Ocean Shores in the electorate, while Doug Anthony was the former member for Richmond. 

The last part of the introductory course I have been running on the history of the broader New England includes an analysis of the demographic and cultural changes that took place over the last decades of the twentieth century. This included the rise of the counter culture and environmental movements and the sea change population surge to the North Coast. 

The political changes that have taken place in Richmond are part of this process. A once safe Country Party (now National Party) seat was taken by Labor. Labor member Justine Elliot who has held the seat since 2004 now faces a growing challenge from the Greens. 

The graph below shows the progressive decline in the coalition vote since 1983, along with the rise in the Green vote. The Labor vote has bounced around, but has also been reduced by the rise of the Greens. Green preferences have been important in maintaining Labor in power. 

To win the seat, the Greens really need to get in front of Labor. If they can do that, then Labor preferences will carry them to power. At the moment, I doubt that they can do that. 


Saturday, January 02, 2021

Hopefully resuming posting

I hope that you had a happy Christmas. 

It's been slim pickings on this blog over the last twelve months with only nine posts. There have been particular reasons for that including time pressure on other projects. Some of those reasons I will explore here later. Hopefully I will do better this year

Thursday, November 05, 2020

New England Renewable Energy Zone - projects in progress

Back on 10 July 2020, the NSW Government announced that  the New England Tablelands would become a NSW powerhouse, with a NSW Government $79 million plan to develop a second, massive 8,000 MW Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in the region.

According to Deputy Premier Barilaro, “The New England REZ is expected to attract $12.7 billion in investment, support 2000 construction jobs and 1300 ongoing jobs – all while lowering energy prices and future-proofing the regions,”  You will find a little more on the zones here.  

The above map provides a status report on some of the projects. I hope that it's readable, You may need to blow it up. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Calling those interested in tree change: Armidale based NERAM Launches "Come run our café" campaign.

The New England Regional Art Museum is now calling for applications from hospitality professionals with an outstanding culinary vision to operate the onsite cafe and has today launched the “Come run our café” campaign and video.

Thanks to the generous donation from Bruce and Rose McCarthy, the café has undergone renovations with a brand-new commercial kitchen now in place and an equipment fit out soon to come. The newly refurbished space will be ready at the end of September and we are now looking for fresh talent to become the operators.  

Our NERAM community knows how important the success of the café is to providing an outstanding visitor experience at the Museum. A great museum that offers a great dining experience creates a cultural and culinary destination and we think that the NERAM café has infinite potential.

Expressions of interest to be the café operator close on October 15th 2020. You will find details here. 

The above comes from the official NERAM release, but is actually fairly dry. What is it about NERAM that makes this an an attractive proposition? Why do we need you, people with skills and flair? Let me explain.

Armidale is a university city with a population of 23,000. It offers superb educational facilities, a varied life style combining metro and country, NBN to the premises connections, more sporting facilities that you can (to use an old phrase) poke a stick at. 

Armidale has more writers, artists,  publishers and intellectuals per head  than any equivalent city in the country. This leads to a vibrant intellectual life. 

Within Armidale, NERAM has a special place as the repository of some of Australia's greatest art collections including the Hinton and Coventry collections. It's openings and facilities are an integral element in city life. 

Interested? Then let's look at some nuts and bolts. 

If you take on the challenge, you have two key markets. 

Armidale autumn scene

The first and largest is the local and regional population who come to NERAM for openings, festivals such as the Black Gully Festival or just for breakfast, lunch or coffee. The second is the visitors who come from out of town as tourists, to visit family or for particular activities and who stay for a coffee or a meal. 

This includes a significant event component, making catering a major potential source of revenue.  

If all this sounds good, what might go wrong?  A bit, actually. 

To begin with, and as you might expect given my description of the city, Armidale has a large number of reasonable coffee and food places. 

As part of the museum precinct, NERAM is about a mile from the city centre. No foot traffic. While you will get some traffic from NERAM visitors, you will have to work to get locals to come to you. This will take time. 

You will also need to work with NERAM and with other bodies including the University to get people to come for events and occasions. The University has its own competitive facilities on campus, but will still cooperate in terms of special events. 

I suppose in all this that the biggest question is just how you to define your competitive edge. How do you build on the facilities and location that you have?  I suppose, and this is based on my own experience, that you localise and regionalise. The region has a plethora of wine and produce. Why not sell that as well?

I am not an expert in hospitality, but I do think that this option now presented is worth a serious look! 


Friday, May 29, 2020

Musings on the end of New England's local and regional media

On 17 April 2020 (Reflections on the suspension of the Armidale Express and other ACM mastheads) I discussed the implications of the suspension of newspaper publication by Australian Community Media. I concluded:
I hope that this break in printing might actually force us to ask what we want from our papers, to challenge the papers and especially management on the service they provide, to answer the question why they are important to us. I accept that this is naive view, but I am tired of managements that treat papers as simply another masthead.
Following that post, we learned that as part of its changes, ACM had closed the Express office in Armidale. It had been the Express office since the early part of the twentieth century. To recover capital, Fairfax had sold the office in 2015. The office was sold on the basis of a secure lease to 2019 plus 3 x 5 year options until 2034. Now the office was unceremoniously exited. The local historical society managed to save some of the bound back copies now stored in the meeting room.

On 18 May 2020 in a post on my history blog I provided a consolidated list of posts on the history and changing role of the media in Australia's New England. In that post I also mentioned that I was writing a series of columns on the history of the New England media. These will start to come up shortly.
In my 17 April post I mentioned the suspension by News Corp of publication of most of its community and regional media. Now the company has announced the next stage of restructuring. The following table provides details of New England newspapers that will now be digital only or have ceased publication entirely. 

Tweed Daily News
Digital only
Ballina Advocate
Digital only
Byron Shire News
Digital only
Coffs Coast Advocate
Digital only
Grafton Daily Examiner
Digital only
Lismore Northern Star
Digital only
Newcastle News
Digital only
Coastal Views
Ceasing publication
Northern Rivers Echo
Ceasing publication
Richmond River Express Examiner
Ceasing publication

To this list we can add two Queensland newspapers with strong historic connections to New England. 

Warwick Daily News
Digital only
Stanthorpe Border Post
Digital only

I am not blind to the challenges posed by evolving computer and communications technologies including most recently the internet. On and off I have been writing about it since the 1980s. However, I am also very conscious about the ways in which the metro centred corporates with their focus on maximising gains or minimising losses across empires have effectively destroyed the ethos of the country press including the capacity of papers, radio and TV to provide a broader regional voice. In so doing, they have eroded the loyalty of the very audiences on which their commercial survival depends. 

This is not a new process. It began more than fifty years ago. In 1950, every newspaper and radio station in the broader New England was locally owned. When TV came, local or regional ownership was mandated as well, Staff at all levels identified with their communities, saw their roles in local and regional terms.   

By 2000, local ownership was restricted to a few independent newspapers. The ability of local media to define local roles, to cooperate on broader regional issues while being extremely competitive, slowly vanished. Their capacity to grow people diminished too. A remarkable number of New England people across the media have gone onto significant careers.

I suppose that I am in an unusual position. 

My family has had connections with the New England media for many years. As a sometimes political and community activist I have worked with the local and regional media in the North and in Canberra, Queanbeyan and Eden Monaro to try to achieve community objectives. To use an example outside New England, I was constantly in and out of the offices of the Queanbeyan Age carrying press releases and talking about particular concerns. I expected the paper to carry this material and indeed it did. 

As a regional historian, I rely on the newspaper records. As a regional historian, I have written on the history of the New England media and the country media in general. As a regional historian, I have read the board papers of Broadcast Amalgamated, of the Armidale Newspaper Company, of the early days of TV New England. I have seen the way in which they responded to commercial problems including isolation, small scale and access to advertising. The story of the Country Press Association is an example of response, one which enriched Australian life far beyond the local. 

As an analyst and commentator on New England issues, I have watched the way in which the combination of localisation with corporate processes has slowly destroyed my ability to report and analyse. I have watched the way in which the rise of pay walls has diminished the richness of the New England media environment, the capacity to report properly. I have watched the way in which individual outlets have lost all independence. 

At times, this process has brought tears to my eyes. I did not expect to be monitoring and writing about the end to so many dreams. I did not expect our past, the very structures of local and regional life, to be swept away. 

I don't know where to go from here. 

At a micro level, what happens to the internet archives of closed outlets? I know that newspapers are no longer the source of record in the way that they once were, but they are the only record we have. The internet may have improved our access to information, but it has also destroyed the survivabilty of the very information on which we depend. 

More broadly, now that our newspapers have abdicated their local and regional roles, now that they have effectively given up, what might take their place? How do I as an activist committed to our local and regional past, present and future get my message across? How do I communicate? How do my older friends find out what is going on? How do we find the resources to create the information and structures to that people depend on?

In my own way I am trying to fill the gap especially through Facebook groups. But I just don't know what might fill the gap in a real sense. I am just one person! In the end, perhaps, we are going back to the nineteenth century and the rise of the newspaper press. 

Just as there was a gap then, now we need new localised mechanisms. I wonder what form they might take?