Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Newcastle's poshest hotel - the Great Northern

I tried to find an old photo of the Great Northern Hotel, but the small snapshot on the left was the only one I could find. The record of the photo suggests the 1940s, but looking at the Morris I think that the photo is later than that.

Looking back, it is hard to imagine my excitement when we went to stay at this pub. This was a seriously big hotel. It had a lift!

I am not sure how long we stayed. It was a little while. Early in the morning, brother David and I would go down to the waterfront to look at the trains and ships. This was exciting stuff.

The Great Northern actually was a pretty posh place. When Tooths upgraded the hotel in 1938, it was the largest single hotel expansion in the company's history.

It is probably hard for Newcastle people to believe now, but even though competition from Sydney had sucked out much of the city's Northern commercial life, the city was still New England's metropolis.

The next photo shows a much later picture of the hotel. You can see its size.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Belshaw sans words - New England aviation series

I have established a new blog, Belshaw sans words, simply to consolidate with a few words of text photos and other visual material that I have discovered in my travels. As you might expect, the blog has a particular focus on New England.

I have decide that the best approach to the new blog is to run photos in series. That way people get to see a story.

New England aviation is the current series focus. Here I have been having a great deal of fun searching round for photos of planes with a New England connection. I have not looked in this type of very focused way before, and I have found a lot.

Do visit and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kamilaroi Highway Conundrums

Since I wrote my first post on the Kamilaroi Highway, New England's east-west highways - the Kamilaroi, I have been mulling over a basic conundrum.

The five local government areas along the Highway have done a remarkably good job in raising the road's internet profile. However, this gives rise to a problem for me: any posts I write get lost in all the other references.

Most of the traffic on this blog comes from search engines. Here one part of my traffic comes from a large number of searches on individual items - people, schools, local events - that do not otherwise get internet prominence. Then there are series like the posts on Judith Wright that involve popular topics.

Series on topics like the Kamilaroi Highway fall in the middle. From a narrow traffic perspective, I would in fact be better off not writing them.

This where my personal purpose in writing the blog comes in. Regardless of traffic, such topics are worthwhile because they consolidate my own knowledge. Further, they help build a picture of New England's depth.

Again, as is so often the case, I need to take a longer term view. I am building for the longer term with the aim of making the blog a source of record on New England. This takes time. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the voyage of discovery.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Manilla - Oakhampton Farmstay

Photo: That's a whopper. Oakhampton Farm Stay

Oakhampton is a 4,000 acre farmstay near Manilla. Run by Belinda Nixon and her son James, it has been in the family for six generations and is a working sheep and cattle property.

Belinda and James have been hosting visitors to Oakhampton since 1990. They welcome families, couples, aspiring jack and jillaroos, grey nomads and, quite often, groups of American school students as part of the “People to People” program.

James, an earthy, friendly type who unashamedly adores every animal on the farm, talks about the way the farmstay experience can make a difference to people.

“We had a boy with autism who actually smiled for the first time in his life when he held a baby goat,” says James, grinning broadly.

“Then there’s the American city kids who get more than just a lesson in sheep shearing or horse riding – they get a decent idea of life in the bush, of Australian wildlife and the amount of work required to maintain a farm like ours,” he explains.

A major appeal of Oakhampton is the range of accommodation options. You can stay in the main homestead and have all your meals served to you. Belinda and James are excellent caterers who will dish up healthy, traditional dinners in their formal dining room, and big country breakfasts in the more casual sunroom.

Next option is to stay in the “apartment” also located within the homestead, where you can cook for yourself in the small kitchen. There are three bedrooms, a living room and bathroom so a family can be easily accommodated here.

In the neighbouring paddocks are two cottages, where you are completely self- contained but more private, yet still able to access all the farm activities.

A decent two kilometre walk down the track, or a few minutes drive are the bunkhouses, catering to larger groups.

Meals can all be arranged depending on your specific needs. Those who stay in the cottages usually bring their own supplies while those in the homestead usually enjoy their meals served by the hosts.

The abundance of baby animals and native wildlife living in the paddocks close to the main homestead means most guests get the opportunity for some close interaction with the creatures.

On arrival at the back door, you’ll meet George, the sulphur-crested cockatoo who will sing along with you if you’re lucky. Meanwhile the working dogs will gather round and give you a friendly hello and you may also spot the latest batch of kittens roaming around.

Chances are you’ll find an orphaned joey or two wrapped in a blanket in a basket inside the house because Belinda is a member of the wildlife rescues service, WIRES.

Most of the kangaroos that arrive at her door are those whose mothers have been hit by cars. The joeys can be just as demanding as babies in terms of feed times, so guests often get asked to bottle feed them.

Take a stroll around the yard with James who will introduce you to each of the animals as proudly as if they’re his own children.

There are plenty of goats and kids, also deer, chooks, guinea fowl, rabbits and a blind cow. Then there’s Daisy May, the large white pig, a favourite with children at feeding time, because there’s nothing like watching a pig pigging out.

Ask James anything you like about the animals and he’s always happy to share his knowledge. He also takes trail riding tours around the property and will teach you the basics of horse riding if you’re a novice.

It’s a short and pleasant drive to Split Rock Dam, where you can have a picnic overlooking the water. The view is better when the dam is full of course, but sadly this is a rare occurrence these days. Fishing is an option here as well, but you can also fish at the private dam on the property.

Other activities to keep you active include tennis on the clay court, bike riding on the unsealed roads and bird watching.

Belinda and James are a fount of local knowledge and as long as they don’t have a farm job for you, can always suggest other things to see and do in their neighbourhood.

Manilla has a huge reputation internationally with paragliders, hang-gliders and glider pilots. In 2007, it hosted the World Paragliding Championships. Head for Mt Borah – the launch site where you can watch people take flight, or perhaps get adventurous and try a lesson with the Manilla Sky Sailors Club.

Oakhampton is generally fully booked in school holiday periods, so bookings ahead of time are recommended. It’s testament to the fact that this is a farmstay without a hint of holiday pretension about it.


Manilla is approximately 45kms north of Tamworth the Fossickers Way. Oakhampton Homestead is 20km north of Manilla. Website: Phone: 02 67 85 6517.

For general enquiries about Manilla, please phone the Visitor Information Centre on 02 67 851 113.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kamilaroi Highway - Werris Creek Railway Monument and Museum

This is the fettler's sculpture from the Werris Creek Railway Monument and associated Rail Journey's Museum.

Built as a memorial to those who died whilst working to develop our nation's infrastructure, the Australian Railway Monument is a sight to behold. Opened in October 2005, the six evocative structures of the monument are set on the backdrop of the impressive historical Werris Creek Railway Station. Search the name walls of this sobering commemoration and acknowledge those who died on duty.

The associated Rail Journeys Museum is located in the Railway Refreshment Room building of the Werris Creek Railway Station. This unique Museum brings history to life with the new Audio Visual component. Designed to tell the personal social life of railway men and women, the rail journeys museum is operated by ex-railway workers who tell of the laughs, joys and tears of working on the railway.

Contact details:

Railway Avenue, Werris Creek 2343
Telephone: (02) 6768 7929

Back to Kamilaroi Highway entry page.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New England's east-west highways - the Kamilaroi

Map: Kamilaroi Highway

Named after the Kamilaroi peoples, the Kamilaroi Highway leaves the New England Highway just north of Willow Tree. From there it runs north-west through Quirindi to Narrabari and then veers west through Wee Waa, Burren Junction, Walgett and Brewarrina ending at Bourke.

Part of the highway goes through contested, marchland territory from a New England perspective. If you look at the road map, the first part is clearly in New England. However, the far western portion has moved in and out of New England's boundaries.

A key influence here lay in Bourke's role as a river port. Dissatisfied with the loss of traffic and especially wool down the Darling River to South Australia, the colonial Government in Sydney pushed what was called the Main Western Line northwest to Bourke, arriving there in 1885. This drew Bourke and surrounding areas more firmly into Sydney's orbit.

During the Northern (the name New England was not adopted for the new state area until 1931)separation agitation in the 1920s, some suggested boundaries did include Bourke. However, the boundaries recommended by the Nicholas Royal Commission (1935) excluded Bourke and the far west portion. Then the 1967 plebescite boundaries followed Nicholas, to the great distress of many nearby areas who wanted to get out from Sydney and saw themselves as part of New England.

At 607k (around eight hours driving time), the Kamilaroi is not an especially long highway by Australian standards. It is also a very interesting road. In the words of the highway site:

The Kamilaroi Highway route to Bourke from the east coast takes you into the agricultural heartland of NSW, cruising through golden fields of wheat, sunflowers and canola; past the rugged mountain ranges of the Nandewars and Mt Kaputar; and on to the sunburnt plains of the Outback grazing runs.

Along the way, the Kamilaroi’s iconic towns and settlements give you every excuse to extend your journey over several days, with each stop presenting its own unique slice of life in the bush.

I think that this is pretty correct.

For related posts about the towns and regions along the highway see:

Friday, April 11, 2008

East West Airline's first Focker arrives at Tamworth

I just wanted to get this photo down of the arrival at Tamworth of EWA's first Focker ferried in under the command of James Swan.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Death of Armidale's Dr Harold Royle

My thanks to Gordon Smith for drawing my attention to the death of Dr Harold Royle who died on 21 March 2008 aged ninety.

I did not really know Dr Royle. I remember him as a good looking, almost patrician man, who built a large new house in a then new area of Armidale on South Hill overlooking the city. As is so often the case, his obituary in the The Armidale Express provided insights into Doctor Royle and his role that were simply unknown to me. The obituary also provides insights into the evolution of medical services in the post war period.

The story starts by noting that the much respected Dr Harold Royle who died last week would be remembered by Hunter New England Health staff as the man who started pathology services in Armidale and effectively promoted the medical library service.

Retired pathologist Dr Arthur Beresford said Dr Royle was regarded as a leader and senior doctor by his colleagues.

Dr Beresford recalls the efforts of Dr Royle in developing pathology services from scratch and his keen interest in library services and ongoing medical education.

“In the years of the late 1950s to mid-1970s he was emeritus pathologist, campaigning to have me appointed as a specialist pathologist in 1975.

“Dr Royle was heavily involved in medical education and actively promoted the development of a medical library service.

“A basic library was established but was without the presence of a qualified librarian until the 1980’s on a part time basis.” The library was named in Dr Royle's honour in 1987 in recognition of his services.

Carol Higginbottom, practice manager at Dr Royle’s old practice, in her research of Dr Royle, found he graduated from Sydney University in 1941, married Joan Zouch a theatre nurse in 1942 and signed up for the Army Medical Corps, serving in both New Guinea and Singapore.

On his return he ran the dermatology ward at Hearne Bay Military Hospital in Sydney and moved to Armidale in 1946, where he worked primarily as a GP until poor health demanded his early retirement in 1988.

“Dr Royle started a pathology laboratory at the Armidale Hospital on August5 , 1946 with a bit of glassware acquired from Hearne Bay Hospital and his student microscope,” Mrs Higginbottom said.

“In November 1946 he gained a pathology assistant and eventually in 1953, a full time technician was appointed.

“He continued helping at the weekends with blood work and started the first blood donors’ club in Armidale, often having to drive to the blood donors’ homes to take blood.”

When I looked at this short obituary I was struck by two things.

The first was the presentation of a picture I have so often seen before, the way in which so many people improvised to get things done. This held not just in the immediate post war period, but in fact over most of Australian history. The second was the continuing role of the individual in achieving change.

My thoughts are with his wife Joan and his children Margaret, Anne, and David.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New England Tablelands scenes - Gordon Smith's Grass Trees in the Mist

I thought that this photo by Gordon Smith, Grass Trees in the Mist, captures one element of the New England Tablelands rather well.

The mist that sometimes shrouds the Tablelands creates a very different feel. The landscape softens and becomes mysterious.