Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 - The Year Ends in New England, Australia

As we come to year's end, I looked back over the 95 posts made since I started this blog back in April.

Photo: Gordon Smith, New England Ranges.

Initial posts over April, May, June and July focused on New England's geography and history, including the meaning of "New England" and the impact of geography on human settlement. You can get a feel from Gordon's photo as to the difficulties that the rugged ranges and especially the eastern escarpment created for transport and communications. I was very much feeling my way.

Photo: Hunter Valley Vineyards.

In August I opened a new front with an initial set of stories on the history of New England's wine regions starting with the Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest major wine region. Reading Patrice's Newell's book, The River, followed by Alex Buzo's death started me thinking and writing about some of New England's writers.

Photo: Passengers New England Airways, New England's first major airline. Hood Collection.

While the culture and life style theme continued in September, the main historical focus shifted to transport and especially civil aviation (post summary here).I began the story of civil aviation in New England, starting with the formation of Lismore based New England Airways, one of Australia's first major airlines and one that has always fascinated me.

Photo: Inverell Saphire City Festival crowd scene.

In October the life style theme continued with an initial series of post on New England's festivals, one of the on-going features of New England life. Historical posts continued the transport focus, while consolidating some earlier historical material.

Graphic. New England Flag.

In November life style and historical reporting continued, but the blog added a further focus, current political events. The NSW Government released its new ten year plan. I analysed this over a series of posts starting with a review of New England's needs followed by an examination of the plan against those needs. I concluded that the plan did not meet New England's needs.

New England's current aviation woes continued in November when Big Sky Express was forced to suspend services to Gunnedah, Inverell, Taree and Grafton. This followed Sunshine Express's withdrawal from scheduled services in September, leaving some New England centres without Brisbane air connections. Following on from the earlier planning material, this led me to argue that New England needed its own civil aviation policy if we were to have any chance of addressing our civil aviation problems.

Photo: Fire at Night.

In December the bush fires that had burnt from October into December in various parts of New England, burning out more than 200,000 hectares, began to die down, leaving dispute about the causes. Tamworth Council's decision to reject a refugee resettlement centre became a major international news story. I complained about Newcastle as an information back hole, making reporting difficult. In addition to political reporting, life style and historical reporting continued, including the start of a new series on the Macleay Valley.

Photo : Gordon Smith Armidale after the hail.

Just to remind us all of weather extremes, towards the end of December. Armidale was hit by a freak hail storm.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Northern Tablelands (New England) Wine Web site

Photo: Charles Whish, the Chair of Judges at the New England Wine Show in 2005 and 2006. Charles grew up in New England where his father, Keith, developed the Gilgai Winery near Inverell in the 1960’s. Charles is now head winemaker for Rosemount Estate in McLaren Vale, SA.

In searching, I found a New England wine site that I had not seen before. I think that it's in fact new because there are still some information gaps.

Called New England Wines Australia, the site aims to present the wines, vineyards and wineries of the Northern or New England Tablelands. I spoke of the re-emergence of this wine area in an earlier post. Readers who are interested can find a stocktake of my earlier posts on New England's wine regions here.

I wish the new site every success.

Friday, December 29, 2006

University of New England Exploration Society

Photo: Gordon Smith, University of New England Exploration Society Marker, Robinsons Knob Trail in the New England National Park

Gordon Smith keeps on putting great photos up on his photo blog with short commentaries that bring memories flooding back. In this case Gordon suggests that Marker “5A” in the photo is, probably, an indicator of some surveying work done by The University of New England Exploration Society in the area in the 1960’s. Gordon also notes that it’s also marked “3080” which would match the altitude in feet above sea level (930m).

At this distance I do not remember who was involved in the Society - I think Ian Hore-Lacy was one - nor did I get involved directly. The Society lived on the science/rural science side of the campus, I was on the arts side - the union separated the two. My pre-history work also satisfied my desire to charge round the country in Land Rovers. All this said, I was awfully impressed with the Society when I first arrived at University and remained so.

The Exploration Society was an excuse for adventure with a scientific focus. With, as Gordon notes, Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hilary as patron, the Society managed to attract a fair bit of sponsorship to fund exhibitions

Gordon records that in 1962 the Society mounted an expedition to North Queensland, and in 1964 staff and students mounted an expedition to Central Australia to study camel physiology. In 1968 the Simpson Desert was a Society research area. I am not sure that these dates are quite right, but they do give the pattern.

They also did a fair bit of work on the Northern Tableland, including support to other researchers. And last but not least, the Society also provided a four wheel drive driving course, something that I really wanted to do but did not get round to.

Even today, a web search picks up references to the Society's work. Between 1960 and 1966 the society published reports in a monograph series, as well as a book in in 1968 - Central Australia Expedition 1962. Then there are references in several journals, although I was not able to access these since I do not have access to a University Library and cannot afford to pay the on-line costs just to collect facts.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Newcastle's Information Blackhole

Photo: Newcastle

Sometimes I feel that writing this blog is a little like a prisoner trying to escape, chipping away with a small blunt knife at a giant wall, finally getting through the first wall only to find another one. The point?

As part of my writing I wanted to find out information about Newcastle. Not the type of static information found on Council or visitor web sites, but information and views on current issues of concern to the City. While this blog covers a wide period from New England's pre-historic past to the present, I do like to keep current. I also want to identify linkages and commonalities in needs, interests and concerns across area.

Dear me this is hard to do with Newcastle, the place appears to be an information black hole. Let me share my frustrations with you by taking you along the search path.

The logical starting point is obviously the on-line edition of the main local paper, in this case the Newcastle Herald, a major Fairfax publication. This should be a treasure trove of information.

So click on the Herald web site. Now what do you find? A very small number of very short stories cross-linked to the story in the printed edition of the paper. Almost useless to someone trying to keep in touch with the city from outside.

Okay, the paper has a search facility. Drought has been a problem in the Lower Hunter, so lets type drought in the archive search box. Maybe this will help. The result takes you through to the Fairfax News Store where you can view an article at $2.20 per view. Now this is absolutely useless to me. I have no idea as the real relevance of the story and, in any case, there is no way I am prepared to pay this just to keep in touch.

I could, I suppose, take out a subscription to the physical paper. But again, I cannot really afford this.

Now compare this with the Northern Daily Leader, a Rural Press publication. Here you will find main current articles plus a good search facility. Not all things are on line, but it is a good base. I do fear for the future, however, now that Rural Press and Fairfax are in the process of merging.

So let's think about TV. Newcastle based NBN has a good TV news. Does its site help you find new items about the area served? No, it is I think one of the worst web sites I have seen.

Prime also carries regional news. Their site is better in a general sense, but still no way that I can find news.

So both newspapers and commercial TV are hopeless as sources of current news about Newcastle for those outside the area. Where to next? The ABC.

ABC does have a Newcastle site, a site with a working, free search facility. Now that's an advance! While not perfect, this does at least allow me to get some news, if very imperfectly.

Well, what about blogs?

Increasingly I use blogs as a major information source across a range of dimensions because they contain current information. Australia does lag behind the US in blog uptake, but on the national percentages at least 1,000 Newcastle people should blog. Many of these will be purely personal, others commercial, but there should still be something.

Now here Google blog search results follow. Here I got depressed because this blog kept on showing up! For obvious reasons, I have excluded my own comments!

A blog search on Newcastle NSW blog blogs brings up three pages of posts, but none really relevant. A similar search on Newcastle NSW politics brings up 44 posts. From here we have just one:

  • Michael Osbourne's blog - Michael is a Green candidate for Newcastle City Council

A blog search on Newcastle NSW life drew 46 posts. However, while I did find two Newcastle based personal blogs, their focus did not meet my information needs.

A blog search on Newcastle NSW drought drew a smaller number of posts, again none really relevant. I then did a search on I Live in Newcastle.

At this point I gave up, still depressed both at Newcastle's information black hole and the fact that, in the blog world at least, my very limited comments on Newcastle have such apparent visibility.

Later - 4 November 2007

I have finally filled the Newcastle information gap through blogs. See my New England Australia blog list.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas and the New England Diaspora

Every New England family has its own Christmas rituals.

To most young, at least those lucky enough to live in stable middle class families, these seem unchanging. It is only looking back that we can see how quickly things change.

As children brother David and I had a fixed and very satisfying Christmas ritual.

Christmas Eve was open house at our place for mum and dad's friends and their children.

Planning began days in advance. A suitable pine tree branch was obtained, put in an old iron pot and surrounded by packed down dirt. Mum got out the Christmas decorations from the top cupboard of the linen closet to decorate the tree and the house.

On Christmas Eve, sometimes the day before, dad went out to Ryan's Cordials, the Armidale soft drink maker, to get the soft drinks and mixers. Supplies of beer and spirits were obtained. The ice was broken up and put in the laundry tub or, later, eskies.

Mum got out the special punch jug and supporting glasses, pretty glassware only used at this time of the year. She then made her special and famous punch and then the sandwiches, especially cucumber and tomato.

People started arriving about 7pm. The Buzos, the Halpins, the Harrises, the Foxes and so on. We were allowed to help and played with the other kids. Then after people left, we tidied up and finished off the last of the cucumber sandwiches.

Christmas morning David and I woke early to see what Santa had brought us. In our case, Santa filled a pillow case (none of those small stockings!) that was left on the end of our bed. There were lollies, books and loads and loads of small toys. Even today, my own children insist on the pillow case, although this year for the first time they are actually Christmas stockings.

Once or parents woke - usually with a bit of prodding - it was time for present exchange. Then David and I settled down to play and read.

Mid morning it was off to Fah and Gran's.

Mann Street - we always called it Mann Street to distinguish it from Marsh Street, our house - was a children's paradise.

The house was a large one, located on a very large block. Originally built to face the north, the front of the house with its front steps dropping to the garden was in fact the back, the back the front.

Tall pine trees ran along the front and back fences, creating a paradise for children who liked to climb. I still remember the excitement when heavy snow caused branches on the trees at the front (always the better climbing trees) to crash to the street.

Looking at the house from the street the more formal gardens faced the street. There were small single car garages to the left and the right whose rooves could be reached by nearby trees, creating vantage points for kids playing hide and seek; home was always one of the big cement pedestals marking the end of the stairs at the other end of the house.

Facing from the street, gardens ran to the left and right of the house.

On the left, the flatter side, there was a gravel path near the house then a row of shrubs and gardens, a stretch of grass then a hedge. This was the side of the house we could break into as kids because the house was lower to the ground, allowing us to climb up the foundations.

On the left, a lawn sloped down to a gravel path (we loved rolling head over heels down this lawn) and then the garden shed. This provided another vantage point for our games of hide and seek.

At the front (back), the house was high from the ground with a veranda facing the north. There were in fact verandas on the south, east and north of the house. The verandas on the west of the house had been closed in.

On the high veranda at the front there were chairs for people to sit and watch the rest of the garden including especially the tennis court. It was here sometimes that I used to sit with Fah in the morning eating my porridge in the weak morning sun. Proud of his Scottish ancestry, he ate porridge with cream and salt, not sugar. I did the same.

From the veranda there was a short stretch of down sloping land, mainly lawn, to another hedge and then a fence marking the dividing line to the back garden. On the left was the kitchen garden, then the tennis court and a stretch of rough grass where the cow grazed when we were very young. At the back of the tennis court was a small byre for the cow, more rough grass.

Back to Christmas. Upon arrival at Mann Street we exchanged presents with Fah and Gran and my aunts. This was followed by open house for my grandparent's friends and campaign workers. At the time I was born, Fah had already been a local Member of Parliament for twenty five years, so there was a constant stream of people.

Then lunch, usually a chicken from the birds my grandparent's kept, with all the trimmings. The Mackellars, Mr Mackellar managed Fah's property outside Armidale, always came in for Christmas with the family. At lunch we kids always ate separately from the adults in a small sun room off the dining room, separate but still in seeing and hearing distance.

We played in the afternoon while the adults talked. I remember one year a piper came in (Fah was very proud of his Scottish ancestry) and we all gathered on the veranda while the piper strode the lawns below.

Then back home for a rest. In the late afternoon we always went up to the Halpins for a drink. Vee and Bruce had been very long standing friends of Mum and Dad, while brother David and I were close friends with the Halpin twins.

Finally, home for a meal of left overs.

Time passes, things change.

Fah sells the property and the Mackellars move. Our aunts get married. Then Gran is killed in a car accident. My parents think about buying Mann Street but hold off because we cannot get a good enough price for our house. Then Fah marries Aimie, subdivides Mann Street into two falts, retiring from politics soon after. Then Fah dies.

These are big changes. Yet they happen in a time horizon that allows for adjustment. Our Christmas evening Marsh Street opening houses continue. Kay and Margaret bring their children back to Armidale. I form the habit of dropping into Mann Street for a drink with Fah and Aimie. No longer a child, I listen to Fah's stories about his dreams, experiences and achievements.

More time passes, more things change. I join the New England diaspora taking a job in Canberra.

New England has been draining its young for a hundred years.

In the absence of self-government, it lacks the public service positions that would allow people like me to serve local interests, as well the the state branch positions found in other states. We also have few major locally headquartered businesses.

All this means that New England's most ambitious young leave. As a rough order of scale, I suspect that if we take those born in New England plus their immediate children, the number of New Englanders outside New England is as great as those living in New England.

Now there is a new pattern. At Christmas time from Newcastle in the south to Lismore in the north, from Kempsey in the east through Armidale to Moree, thousands of New England's young return home to family for Christmas. Initially they travelled by train and especially the night mail trains, meeting friends on the train, later by car and plane.

In my case I would leave Canberra by car as soon as work finished. If there was time, I would go through Sydney to see Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim, a new ritual, arriving where possible at Armidale in time for mum and dad's Christmas eve open house. However, sometimes I did not arrive in Armidale until 5am on Christmas morning.

Christmas now was a time for catching up with old friends, including especialy those living elsewhere. We talked, played tennis or sometimes golf, visited the pub. Then it was over for another year.

More time, still more changes. My parents die, then Uncle Ron, destroying part of the old rituals. There is a short gap and then I return to live in Armidale with my own family, recreating the old pattern although we do spend some Christmases in Sydney with my wife's family.

As with David and I, Santa leaves presents in a pillow case on the end of the bed. There is then the excitement as the kids wake up early to see what Santa has brought them. Over breakfast we open presents to each other. Then at either lunch or dinner time it is usually off to Aunt Kay's for the main Christmas meal.

Merinda Place, Kay's home, now plays the role that used to be played by Mann Street as the aunts and often their children gather. There are now far fewer returning expatriats of my generation as their parents retire away from Armidale or die, but it is still all reassuringly familiar.

Still more time passes, still more changes.

Time periods are shortening now. After eight years in Armidale we move to Sydney so that my wife can pursue a new career, but still we mainly return to Armidale for Christmas with Kay and my other aunts. My daughters are older, but there is still all the excitement of going back, of seeing Kay and the other family.

Then one by one my aunts die including Kay. With no immediate family left in Armidale, with no family home, Christmas is now largely spent in Sydney with my wife's family. There is still the excitement especially for Helen and Clare, some things are still the same, but I do miss the old rituals and the people that formed such an important part of my life for so long.

I hope that all this does not sound too morbid. It's just that Christmas itself is a time for looking back, for remembering blessings granted. As we used to say in a Christmas toast, to absent friends.

I hope that you and yours have a very happy Christmas and a great new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More on Armidale Hail

Just another striking photo on yesterday's Armidale hail storm, this one from the photoblog of Bronwyn Clarke.

Armidale's Hail Storms

Photo: Armidale after the storm, nineMSN.

Yesterday, 23 December 2006, a major hail storm hit the eastern edge of Armidale, the University city in the centre of New England's Northern Tablelands.

The twenty minute storm left a trail of destruction in its wake, with homes unroofed, windows smashed, cars damaged, trees stripped of foliage and glass from broken windows strewn about the streets.

Around 1,000 homes as well as other property including the local exhibition centre were damaged. The city has been declared a natural disaster area.

Photo: Gordon Smith, Armidale Exhibition Centre after the storm.

Hail storms are a relatively common feature of Tabeland's weather. Usually they do little damage. However, this is the second if somewhat smaller major storm to hit Armidale in the last ten years.

The story that follows is largely drawn from Peter Burr's story on Australia's severe weather. I have put in the link here, although I notice that there are problems in accessing it. I appear to be drawing from a cache copy.

On the afternoon of 29 September 1996 most Armidale residents were in doors, many watching the Rugby League grand final.

A storm had been building to the south west. By lunch time the sky became darker with storm clouds building to the sound of distant rumbling thunder. Just before 2pm an initial storm arrived with rain and small hailstones - around 10 millimetres diameter. The rain stopped at 2.30pm but intermittent thunder continued.

While no Armidale residents knew it, there had been no storm warning, a huge cumulonimbus storm cloud or a supercell had been building.

Inside this cloud massive updraughts were sweeping tiny particles of dust and ice up into the higher reaches where supercooled droplets of water were waiting to freeze onto them upon impact creating small hailstones. These hailstones were then falling to the lower levels before again being caught in the updraughts.

At 3pm this supercell approached the city from the south-west - a dark menacing cloud with an unusual colour described by many said later as orange or pink. The thunder increased and light rain started falling.

At 3.23pm the first of the hailstones fell on the city. At this stage the stones were 10 to 20 mm in diameter. They fell for about two minutes, then stopped briefly.

A roaring sound was then heard from the south-west. Unfortunately for Armidale, after making many trips up and down the hailstones circulating in the giant cloud had become bigger than golf balls and, too heavy to remain aloft, had started plummetting to the ground.

The huge hailstones made a deafening sound on roofs, and as they hit roads and hard surfaces they bounced several metres back into the sky. The wind started gusting from the south-west which was devastating for thousands of south and west facing windows - the sound of breaking glass accompanied the roaring of the hail. At 3.30pm it was all over.

The city had been extremely unlucky. Thunder storms are not unusual - the city averages 56 such storms annually - but severe hail is unusual. In this case, nearly all the major hail was dropped directly on the city itself.

The damage was astonishing. Eighty per cent of city buildings had been damaged, many severely, while some 3,000 cars received hail damage, creating a damage bill of over $A200 million, making it in insurance terms the third largest disaster in Australia's history.

In the longer term the effects were not all bad. The need to repair the damage created a building boom that lasted several years, leaving the city (always attractive) with a refurbished feel.

Photo: Gordon Smith, after the storm. This photo shows the scene in Armidale after the last storm as the combination of warm ground with the cold air and water creates mist. As Gordon notes, the scene now looks very pretty and peaceful, but the mist hides the storm damage.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Life in the Macleay Valley - the glacial age

Update One (5 January 2007): I am adding references on the geology of the Valley to the end of this post.

A few years ago I read a very good book by John Mulvaney on the aborigines. This dealt, among other things, with the nature of geological change.

Unfortunately I did not take notes. I was reading just for pleasure, so I missed recording his key points. However, now that I am again writing with purpose, I need to look at New England's geological history.

As in my first post on the Macleay Valley, the material in this post is drawn especially from Marie H Neil's book, Valley of the Macleay. The History of Kempsey and the Macleay River District (Wentworth books, Sydney 1972). While my focus is on the Macleay, I am also using the post to set a broader context.

Over the period from 20,000 to 800,000 years ago there have been four ice ages in New England during which sea levels rose and fell.

Around 125,oo years ago the sea level was around 25 feet higher than it is now, so much of the lower Macleay Valley was under water.

In the fourth ice age which began about 100,000 years ago, the sea level began to fall. This moved the shore line out about six to ten miles, creating a large coastal plain that stretched along the current New England coastline.

Around 20,000 years ago, the sea level began to rise again, submerging the coastal plain. This rise continued until about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, then slowed down. I do not have dates for the arrival of the first aborigines in the Macleay Valley, but it seems likely that they would have experienced this change.

During this period, great quantities of sand were deposited to the north of the emerging coastal islands, creating great spits. These eventually grew into large sand borders or dunes, linking the coastal islands (now headlands) along a line approximating the present coastline.

The current Macleay River deltaic plane came into existence as the River changed its course several times seeking new ways to the sea through the growing sand barriers. In so doing, great deposits of silt were carried down and left inside the sand barriers, creating the delta we can see today. Over large areas these alluvial deposits are more than 100 feet deep.

Additional References on the Macleay

Dr Tim Cohen, The geomorphology of the Macleay River Estuary, study prepared for the Kempsey Shire Council, September 2005
Damon Telfer, Macleay River Estuary Data Compilation Study, GECO Environmental, October 2005

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New England's Aboriginal languages - a note

In my post on Bill Hoddinott I provided an initial list of New England's aboriginal languages based on Bill's records. I have now found more information.

The AusAnthrop site provides a valuable entry point for information about Australia's aborigines in general. It includes a tribal data base that allows you to search by state and language group.

One of the problems, one that I was aware of before, is the great variety in spelling and in overlapping geographic distributions. This means that while I can use the data base to generate information, I am also going to make some mistakes. When I come to put material together, I will try to draw out any conflicts and overlaps.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Life in the Macleay Valley - setting the scene

Having just come back from South West Rocks, this is the first of a series of short posts on the Macleay Valley.

They will be drawn especially from Marie H Neil's book, Valley of the Macleay. The History of Kempsey and the Macleay River District (Wentworth books, Sydney 1972), a book that I have to return to the South West Rocks library in the not too distant future.

Just to set the scene for those who do not know the Valley, it is long, narrow and relatively small, 11,241 square kilometers (4,340 square miles).

In the west, the Macleay River has its source along the eastern edge of the Northern Tablelands from Walcha to just north of Armidale, making for a reasonably large catchment area. In the south, the Valley is separated from the Hastings Valley by the Hastings Range, in the north from the Nambucca Valley by the Snowy Mountain Range.

In the east, the River flows out to the sea at South West Rocks, wandering through a 647 square kilometer (250 square mile) deltaic plane created by the River over thousands of years.

The Macleay Valley is an attractive place. The backing mountain ranges to the south, north and especially the east with peaks as high as 5,000 feet provide an attractive backdrop, while the Valley itself packs a variety of scenery into its small area.

The total population of the Valley (I do not have the most recent figures) is around 28,000, of which some 11,000 live in Kempsey, the biggest centre and the Valley's commercial hub.

There are a number of seaside villages on the coast of which South West Rocks (population now around 5,000) is the largest. The resident population of these, while still relatively small, has grown reasonably significantly over recent years.

Between Kempsey and the sea there are a number of smaller agricultural villages on the delta. This, in combination with the farms, makes for a varied human landscape.

The Upper Macleay is very different. Here grazing is the main activity in the generally narrow winding valley with small rural service centres at Willawarrin and Bellbrook.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tamworth, the Council and James Treloar

Photo: Tamworth $14m Equine and Livestock Centre that will include an indoor arena to seat 5000, stabling facilities for over 500 horses and camping, parking, trade, holding and hospitality areas

Note to readers: For those who are interested I have now put up a more detailed story on my personal blog providing more details on the actual events involved.

This is a personal message to James Treloar, the Mayor of Tamworth.

First, some background information for people, especially overseas people, who do not know Tamworth.

Tamworth is one of Australia's major regional cities. The city itself has a population of over 35,000, the Tamworth Regional Council covers a population of 55,000.

In the 2006-2007 financial year Tamworth Council will spend some $144 million including a capital works program of $58 million. Tamworth claims to be the friendly city, "one of the most progressive and exciting places in inland Australia – we combine country living with city style."

Tamworth is a wealthy and entrepreneurial city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Australia. It is the centre of a major farming area, the regional centre for many facilities, and has a significant industrial base. It has also made itself the national country music centre.

By a six to three vote, Tamworth Council has rejected a proposal to settle a small number - 5 families - of Sudanese refugees in the city. According to media reports, James Treloar, the Tamworth Mayor, is stated as saying that there aren't enough health, education and translation services to support the families. James is also reported as saying that locals fear the arrival of the refugees would spark a violent backlash similar to last summer's Cronulla riots.

There are obviously a range of issues here that I am not fully aware of. For example, one of the Council complaints is that the Immigration Department does not provide sufficient support to help the families once they arrive.

Here The Northern Daily Leader (Tamworth's Daily Paper) reports James Treloar as asking residents to remember councillors did not vote against five refugee families but, rather, the relocation program itself.

"It is the government funded program that we are having problems with," he said. "It has significant failings. We haven't voted against the refugees." Cr Treloar would be more than happy for refugees to come to Tamworth as long as it was, as in the past, part of locally based, managed and supported programs that had the support of the local community.

I know James Treloar if not well. I am sure that he and Council were trying to do the best they could taking community consultation into account, although the wisdom of that process on this issue has to be doubted. I also suspect that the external reporting has been unbalanced. In this context, I noted James' insistence on appearing live on Prime Television to ensure that his words would go direct without filtering or alteration.

All this said, James, in a single stroke your Council has done more damage to Tamworth than any single action by anybody in as long as I can remember.

Had Council limited its response simply to a refusal to participate in a Government re-settlement program on the grounds that the program was inadequate, then nobody would have responded. Indeed, it could even have been seen as a pro-refugee stance. But as soon as words like Cronulla were introduced into the discussion then a media fire storm was inevitable.

The resulting fire storm has been intense. A simple google search on the words Tamworth and refugees generates pages of hits from around the world. There is now no easy way for Council to overcome the damage done to Tamworth's external image. The original arguments no longer matter.

The issue now has to be damage limitation. I think that Council has no choice but to revoke its decision and as soon as possible. I also think that Council as a collective needs to look very closely at its own performance on this issue to determine just how it stuffed up so badly.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pilliga Fires

I had decided not to make any posts while I was on holidays, but coming back to New England has generated so many story ideas.

One of my favourite books was Eric Rolls' A Million Wild Acres, the story of the area known as the Pilliga Scrub.

I wonder how many Australians realise that the Australia seen by the first Europeans was a man modified landscape? Our aboriginal ancestors did not just sit lightly on the landscape leaving it unchanged, they modified it to better suit their way of life.

Fire was a key tool. Fire could be used to help drive animals to waiting hunters. Fire was also used to encourage green pick (the fresh shoots that emerged after the blaze) to attract kangaroos.

In turn, the Europeans changed the landscape by reducing the incidence of fire. At the start of the twentieth century Mr Maiden, the NSW Government botanist, reported on the way that thick vegetation had appeared in the Snowy Mountains following the cessation of regular burning by the Aborigines.

In New England, botanists at the University of New England suggested that the open wooded appearance of the Western slopes had been created through fire because this created the optimum food collection environment. There was better grazing, while the grass provided seed for flour.

Roll's book recorded what happened in the Pilliga area once Aboriginal influence was removed. Absence of fire together with flooding rains in the 1880s triggered a major germination of native cypress and eucalypts, replacing the previous open wooded area with a thick forest/scrub. Forestry then became a major local industry based on the newly created forests.

Given that this was a new forest area, I was surprised at the progressive moves from 1967 to turn the Pilliga into national parks instead of the previous dual use. This culminated in the 200 decision by the NSW Carr Government to lock up 348,000 hectares of the Brigalow Belt South Bioregion in "community conservation areas." This included Tinkrameanah State Forest which became a national park.

The Government's move reflected pressures from environmental groups including the Western Conservation Alliance and was opposed by local grazing and timber interests. The timber industry in particular - a major local employer - was left in a much diminished position limited to a relatively small number of areas still open to logging.

The recent Pilliga fires that burnt out more than 120,000 hectares of land including the Tinkrameanah National Park as well as half the land remaining for logging and threatened local towns has reignited controversy.

Locals argue that the intensity of the fire was directly related to the decision to transfer land to National Parks. They also argued that in this case - a new forest - logging and forestry management was required to maintain biodiversity.

In response, John Dengate, the Public Relations Director for for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, argued that the Service had maintained fire management practices holding under the Forestry regime. He also argued that history showed that a major fire occurred every decade irrespective of how much hazard reduction burning was done or who was in charge.

Mr Dengate's statement about the regularity of fires appears to be correct. There have been major fires in 1966 (100,000 hectares). 1974 (40,000 hectares), 1979 (75,000 hectares), 1982 (120,000 hectares) and 1997 (140,000 hectares).

But while this is correct, it seems to me to miss the point. Of itself, the replacement of the previous open woodland country with thick bush would definitionally lead to more fires given the Australian environment. The key issue as I see it is the impact of reduced logging on fire intensity combined with the transformation to national parks. I would have thought that this must definitionally increase fires even if at the margin.

Mr Dengate's comment also does not address the claims made by locals that the creation of the Parks is reducing, not increasing, biodiversity.

I have no expertise in this area. But looking at local claims, there would appear to be at least two arguments that can be tested.

The first is that the change from a logging system to national parks of itself reduced biodiversity.

The second is that the build-up of fuel associated with reduced logging increased the intensity of the fire, thus degrading the environment.

I am left wondering whether we are dealing with another case of decisions imposed from outside in opposition to local interests and knowledge.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Belshaw Takes a Break

Photo: South West Rocks

Tomorrow I leave for a few days in South West Rocks, one of the most beautiful places in New England.

While there is an internet cafe in South West Rocks and I will be checking my blogs and responding to any comments, I do not expect at this point to make any posts.

I want a rest to rethink and re-charge.

More on Manilla and Paragliding

  • Photo: Bill Thurtell, a 73 year old paraglider.

In my post on Manilla and the Paragliding World Championships I talked about the role of Godfrey Wenness in developing Manilla as the centre of paragliding in Australia. Local postman Bill Thurtell was one of those influenced by Godfrey's work.

Looking up and seeing the sky peppered with paragliders in his hometown of Manilla, Bill was jealous.

On those good weather days blessed with the perfect flying conditions the town has a worldwide reputation for, Bill would look up and wonder.

“I’d see them all up there and I was amazed, and thought: ‘Gee I’d like to be able to do that’,“ Bill recalled.

So, Bill turned up one Saturday to do the paragliding course at the Manilla Sky Sailors Club. Being 68 years old was absolutely no deterrent.

That was five years ago. Now at 73, Bill tries to get out most weekends for a paraglide. He is proud to be the oldest paraglider pilot in Australia, particularly because his hometown is preparing to host the FAI Paragliding World Championships next February.

Bill is a pretty active bloke – he’s also the town’s postman and works as a doorman at the RSL Club in the evenings. He has had a quadruple heart bypass and suffers from some old football injuries but once he’s flying, none of this matters.

“I was a bit apprehensive at first because of my age, and weak ankles from my football days,” he admitted, “but once you’re up there this gets pushed out of your mind pretty quickly because you have to focus on other things!”

Bill admits he’s not as fit as he’d like to be which can be an issue in terms of the distance he has to walk back to the support vehicle once he lands.

When he’s out doing his mail run he often acts an impromptu support vehicle, picking up pilots from roadsides and running them back to the mountain for another flight.

Bill is trying to encourage his two granddaughters to take up the sport.

“Their mother – my daughter – keeps coming up with excuses for them not to do it!” he laughed.

Bill is a member of the World Championships organising committee and while there’s no competition category for “senior” pilots, he is looking forward to being a spectator and enjoying the buzz around town.

“This event is going to be great for Manilla and great for the sport itself as well,” he said.

The 10th FAI Paragliding World Championships will run from February 23 to March 10, drawing 150 pilots from 50 different countries, and an anticipated audience of between 3,000 and 5,000.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How Can New England Attract Attention?

I am just back from my youngest daughter's annual break-up. It's late and I should go to bed. But I wanted to report on a conversation.

After the break-up we went out for a drink with another couple and their daughter to celebrate. The father is a well known Sydney journalist.

I was trying to explain about this blog because I thought that the broader stories that I was running might be of interest to a Sydney audience. His reaction was negative.

Since I started this blog I have written some 85 stories on different aspects of New England's history and life. This includes some quite detailed analytical pieces as well as the lighter human interest material.

I know that I find all this interesting, I would not be writing otherwise, and it is clear from the traffic stats that at least some others do as well. So why, then, is the material not of interest from the perspective of a metro journalist, especially one who sometimes writes about the same type of subject?

The answer I come back to links to one of my constant themes, the way the broader New State New England has vanished from public consciousness. The way New England is now divided into disconnected regions - the Hunter, Mid North coast etc - means that those areas are to small too attract regular attention in their own right. The broader issues simply get lost in the static.

Does this matter? I think that it does.

Take the stories I wrote on the NSW Government's Ten Year Plan as an example. Here I started by trying to define some of New England's needs as I saw them. I followed this up by looking at the Plan in detail against those needs. Then in my third post in the series I set out my conclusions, concluding in particular that the Plan did not meet New England's needs.

Now my analysis may be wrong, but I still think that my conclusion is an important one.

My two posts (here1 and here 2) on civil aviation in New England provide a second example.

The fact that Armidale lost its Brisbane air service may not be important in the scheme of things. However, the fact that the air services to Glen Innes, Inverell, Gunnedah, Armidale, Tamworth, Grafton, Port Macquarie and Taree were all affected by a series of interconnected events is, or so I think, of a different order of magnitude. Certainly if I were Premier of New England I would be seriously worried about it.

So what, then, can New England do to attract attention?

This blog is an obvious first step in that I am trying to use my skills as a policy analyst (among other things, I spent twenty years in the Commonwealth Public Service including eight years as a senior public servant) to define and present the New England case. But in doing so I am becoming impatient in that I want to achieve greater impact.

The issue in my mind is how. I think here that I probably need to start promoting the blog more broadly, trying to encourage people to take up and promote the ideas and the New England cause so that they do become issues in the lead up to the next state election.

In doing so, I do not want to adopt a Party political position. My traditional Country Party affiliations are well known. But from a New England perspective it does not matter whether the ALP, Nationals, Liberals or independents take the main pro-England stance. The critical requirement is that at least some do, thus forcing others to respond.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Civil Aviation Policy for New England

In my last post I spoke of New England's civil aviation woes.

Anybody who has read this blog will know my complaint that the absence of a formal structure for New England - essentially statehood - prevents New England's problems being dealt with in a coordinated fashion.

In my previous posts on New England and the NSW Government's Ten Year Plan (here 1, here 2, here 3) I suggested that the Plan failed in part because it did not address New England's needs in an integrated fashion and that indeed it could not because of the way Government was structured.

Similar issues arise in civil aviation, an issue that was not addressed in the Plan.

Under the Australian constitution, the states have responsibility for intra-state aviation. In theory, they can regulate this to their heart's content. In practice they face a number of problems:

  1. A significant proportion of civil aviation is interstate. Indeed, over 99 per cent of New England's scheduled services ate interstate in that they go beyond New England's boundaries.
  2. The rules laid down under National Competition Policy impede what any state can do.
  3. Aviation industry structure is now largely national. The days of major carriers focused on particular states or areas within a state are largely gone.

These limitations do not mean that a state Government cannot do something. Consider the following:

  1. At present, the majority of New England's international air traffic goes in and out through Sydney, to a lesser extent through Brisbane. In the 1990s Coffs Harbour attempted to establish limited international flights to New Zealand. Whether New England should attempt to build direct international flights is uncertain, but the issue of international travel at least needs to be addressed in the context of a New England tourism strategy.
  2. At present, many New England air travellers have to use Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney as a hub. Again in the 1990s, Impulse tried to build Newcastle as a hub before becoming distracted by its broader ambitions. Should New England consider the development of New England hubbing activities? Or the development of rival hubs outside New England?
  3. Parts of New England have very poor air connections with Brisbane. Growth in South East Queensland makes Brisbane a rival for Sydney for many services. What can be done to improve air connections with Brisbane?
  4. More broadly, many parts of New England have poor air services to begin with. There are also very limited internal connections. In fact, both areas are worse today than they were thirty years ago. What might be done to improve the situation?

In considering these questions I think that it is important to remember that Sydney and New England are in fundamental if presently unequal economic competition. New England wants to attract people and investment that would otherwise go to Sydney.

Sydney has a Government to look after it. You only have to look at the Sydney weighting in the NSW Ten Year Plan to see this. New England does not. In these circumstances, it is up to New Englanders to try to articulate a different and coordinated view about New England's needs.

Big Sky Express & New England's Aviation Woes

In previous posts I began to sketch out the history of aviation in New England starting with New England Airways.

Over the last fifty years New England has seen the rise and fall of a number of local airlines. East West Airlines, Eastern, Oxley, Tamair all rose either to be taken over or forced to close for trading reasons. Other airlines such as Impulse, Hazelton and Rex have entered the market, made a special feature of New England and then been forced to withdraw in whole and part.

We can now add Big Sky Express and Sunshine Express to the growing list.

I was sorry to see that Big Sky Express had struck problems. Big Sky was unusual as a community based airline. Following the loss of air services to Gunnedah and Inverell back in the 1990s, , these communities including Shire Councils and businesses combined along with private investors to create Big Sky Express as a community airline. Services began with flights from Inverell and Gunnedah to Sydney, with Grafton and Taree services added later.

The Brisbane based Transair provided aircraft and operational support the new community airline. This model - a community or locally owned business backed up by a service provider - has become very common in Regional Australia as a way of filling gaps left by the withdrawal of big metro based businesses from parts of the country. The Bendigo Bank is perhaps the best known example.

The model depends for its success upon the strength of the service provider. Unfortunately for Big Sky, TransAir had been experiencing problems for some time including a major accident that killed 15, was grounded in November over safety concerns, and has now closed entirely with possible criminal charges pending. Big Sky has closed as a consequence.

We can also add Sunshine Express to the list. Sunshine withdrew from all scheduled services in September.

The Armidale Express reported the airline's departure with the last Armidale-Brisbane flight - one way only - on September 30.

According to Sunshine's Laffer, "The reason behind our decision to withdraw airline services is that in two of our key markets in Queensland, Hervey Bay and Biloela, QantasLink has announced that they are entering those markets," Mr Laffer said.

"As a result of that we have no alternative other than to withdraw our services from other markets to maintain a viable business".

Prior to its withdrawal, Sunshine Express was able to secure interest for the Port Macquarie-Coffs Harbour-Brisbane air service with the Canberra-based Brindabella Airlines taking over the route plus one aircraft and a number of staff. However, this left Armidale and Tamworth without a Brisbane air service.

Sunshine's withdrawal came just two months after REX Airlines withdrew from the Armidale-Sydney service, leaving Armidale with with only the Sydney-Armidale service provided by QantasLink.

The last time Armidale was in this position air traffic declined very sharply because of the high fares set by QantasLink. REX's entry to the market with consequent fare reductions saw a significant increase in air travel.

Monday, December 04, 2006

William G (Bill) Hoddinott & New England Aboriginal Languages

I was doing some searching trying to fill some knowledge gaps on the history of New England's Aborigines when I came across Bill Hoddinott's papers.

Bill came to the University of New England's English Department in 1960, later becoming an Associate Professor.

Isabel McBryde, someone I have written about before, interested him in recording details of the fast vanishing languages of New England's Aborigines still known to the old people of Armidale and the North Coast. He became fascinated with Aboriginal languages, later extending his work to the Daly and Victoria Rivers regions of the NT.

Bill died suddenly 1984, cutting the work off. It was a tragic loss.

Bill was a lovely bloke and deserves to be remembered for himself and his work.


I was trying to find something that would give me an updated picture of the distribution of languages across New England. The languages noted in Bill's papers are:
  • Gadang (Gadhang) recorded at Purfleet near Taree. Also known as Kutthung
  • Birpai (Port Macquarie area)
  • Anewan Armidale
  • Bundjalung
  • Gumbaynggir
  • Dhanggadi
  • Iyaygir (Yaygir)
  • Kamilaroi
  • Banbai

I think I know the areas for each from past work, but no longer have those notes and need to check.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Paragliding World Championships Manilla 2007

The 2007 FAI Paragliding World Championships will be held in Manilla from February 23 to March 10 2007.

These, the 10th World Championships, are expected to draw 150 pilots from 50 different countries with an anticipated audience of between 3,000 and 5,000.

The Manilla location owes much to Godfrey Wenness. A former Sydney property developer, Wenness bought an old sheep property at Mt Borah just outside Manilla in the mid nineties.

Mt Borah proved to be an ideal place for launching, enabling pilots to take off from any direction in almost any wind condition.

Recognising the value of the site, Wenness first set up the Manilla Sky Sailors Club then the Tamworth (Manilla is 45 km north of Tamworth) Hang Gliding Club. Today Manilla Sky Sailors has around 2,000 visiting members.Manilla has a population of just 2,500. The whole community supported by the local council has gathered together to support the event and to guarantee visitors a superb country reception.

For further information on the Championships visit or phone Godfrey Wenness on (o2) (international + 61 2) 6785 6545.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Don Dorrigo Show

Photo: Gordon Smith, Pavilion, 2006 Dorrigo Show

Having just updated the rolling list of New England's festivals, shows and events, Gordon's photo of the pavilion at the Dorrigo show caught my eye.

Don Dorrigo, usually shortened to Dorrigo, lies at the edge of the New England escarpment in some of New England's most beautiful country.

When we were children driving from Armidale to stay at Urunga or Sawtell we always stopped at the same cafe in Dorrigo for lunch.

Many years later when I was running for Country Party preselection for Armidale, I spent many days staying near Dorrigo, driving round all the little backroads, going to meetings in little halls, calling in at farms, always being surprised at the visual cameos that appeared around each corner.

Dorrigo remains one of my favourite New England places.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Creation of New England History Blog

Photo: Past days, Manning River

One of my core objectives in establishing the New England, Australia blog was to document and present the history of New England. In doing so, I also wanted to encourage discussion of New England history and historiography.

While I have written a quantity of straight historical material and have tried to build historical background into other posts, I have been finding that the purely historical material is getting lost in the broader sweep of this blog. So with some reluctance I have decided to establish a new blog, New England's History, dedicated just to New England history and historiography. I say with some reluctance because just at present I need another blog like I need a hole in the head!

I will continue to carry historical material on this blog as part of the broad New England story, but the new blog will allow a deeper focus on the purely historical material, thus making that more accessible. With time, I hope to add others to the blog team thus encouraging New England historiography.

I propose to begin by copying some of the historical material from this site to the new blog, allowing me to link things together in new ways in terms of both chronology and themes. Once this is completed I can begin to add new material drawn from this site as well other sources.

The specialist focus of the new blog means that I will not be using it for current commentary, nor will I be posting as frequently. I plan to put up an absolute maximum of three posts per week, allowing more time for people to read, absorb and hopefully participate. I also plan to run more material on historical methodology.

As with all these things, it will take time for the blog to build momentum and also define it full focus.

Friday, November 24, 2006

New England Festivals, Shows & Events

Photo: Bohena Olives, Nosh on the Namoi, 2006

This is an updated list of New England festivals, shows and events. I still have more than thirty to add, but thought it better to get this list of 38 in all up.

When I started this list I was focusing just on Festivals. I have now added in shows and events. In preparing the list, I have tried to focus on things that I think might be of interest to those outside the immediate district.