Saturday, October 30, 2010

A final note on the NBN

I have been holding of posting to allow comments on  Wednesday Forum: the NBN and New England. I think that this one is quite important.

From my experience, too many of of us react in a reactive, sometimes passive, usually localised way to the problems facing our own broad region. We do fight on issues, but rarely set the agenda. We get a win here, a win there, but too often we fall divided.

I have now bought David Carse's comments up into the main post, and have added some of my own. I don't want to fight or focus on the broad generalities of the NBN. Rather, I have been trying to get us focused on what it might actually mean in a practical sense.

Normal posting will resume tomorrow. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Forum: the NBN and New England

Today's post on my personal blog, Frustrations over the NBN discussion, deals with the National Broadband Network, using Armidale as an example. If you look at my post, UNE's strategic positioning, you will get a further background feel as to why I think that this is such a make or break issue for parts of New England.

What is your view on the NBN? Do you see it as helpful for your area? How might we use it to pursue New England development?

Postcript One

In a comment, David Carse from Waterfall Way Designs put up a pretty good summary of the benefits as he saw them.  He also provided a link through to a post, What does NBN mean for your business?, explaining the benefits to his clients.

Postscript two: Issues Summary

While this post will remain open for comment, I now want to draw together some threads, adding from my own experience in running a business out of Armidale and as a consultant. As I did in the first post,  Frustrations over the NBN discussion, I am using Armidale as an example because I know it quite well and because the city itself already has better than average internet connections.

As a starting comment, if you listen to the discussions on NBN, you will generally find:
  1. A focus on the ordinary consumer. In fact, from a New England perspective, it is the business applications that are most critical since these provide jobs.
  2. An often implicit assumption or myopia that regional areas don't actually need fast connections because the type of business that demands them is not to be found there.
If you look at discussion to this point from David and in my original post:
  1. As a consultant, David finds existing connections mean that both video conferencing and VOIP (voice over internet protocol) are patchy and somewhat unreliable. This would fit with my recent experience with in-house video conferencing linking a Sydney head office with regional branches in Dubbo, Coffs and Tamworth. The links were jerky and kept falling over. 
  2. Both UNE and its students say that the existing system does not allow the University to provide the type of interactive teaching experience that distance students need.
Both of these are current examples where demands have out-run capacity.

We live in a distributed, data intense world. From my own experience, the types of applications that are constrained even in a place like Armidale include:
  1. Collaborative software development in a distributed environment.
  2. Bandwith intensive visual applications - games, development of other entertainment, certain types of courseware.
  3. Bandwith intensive data process and distributing applications.
  4. Collaborative distributed team working involving combined forms of media. 
  5. Use of cloud computing. 
  6. E-commerce or retailing activities requiring certain real time delivery, again where the traffic volume and speed passes a certain point. 
Many things come into play in considering this type of application. Scale is one. You start okay, but then run up against capacity constraints as you grow. As a consequence, you then move.

Armidale has lost a fair number of start-up businesses over the last twenty years because of locational issues. Had they not moved, or survived and stayed in Armidale, the city would have been a lot larger. Poor communications was only one factor, but an important one. In one year, my own business spent $46,000 on domestic air travel.

I will leave this post here, although comments are still open.   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Santorini sunset

Still mulling over my current thoughts on the lessons from Greece for New England tourism.

No one can doubt the beauty of some of the Greek islands. Yet, somehow, they have transformed a physical attribute into an experience that transcends the physical, something that I dealt with in Greek lessons for New England tourism - the importance of expeP1010391riences.

This is a Santorini sunset. Pretty, isn't it?     

Of course, the water and the islands provide something special, yet I have seen many better sunsets in New England.

We recognise some of these things, but we fail to capture and express them in ways that will persuade visitors to come.

To my mind, the problem lies primarily in a failure of imagination on our part. We are just too pragmatic.  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Who will be Australia's 7th state?

My thanks to Mark Zaicos for this one.

The campaign in the Northern Territory for statehood is underway again. You will find the web site here. This means that New England, North Queensland and the NT are all in competition for the honour of becoming Australia's seventh state. All are using a 7th state slogan.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unlike New England or North Queensland where the existing Government is an obstacle that has to be overcome, the NT Government is driving the new state push. It wants genuine independence as a state, not territory, within the Australian Federation.

As part of the campaign, a series of community forums have been organised. The photo shows the forum in the remote centre of Galiwinku.

The idea of community forums makes a lot of sense and should be considered by the re-emerging New England (Northern) New State Movement as part of its campaign.

I wonder which area will make it first? It's a lot easier for the NT, but we New Englanders have not given up hope!     

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A blogging strike!

Saturday, it's fine, I have washing to do, and I don't feel like posting. So I won't!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Select Committee on reform of the Australian Federation

I am afraid that this one passed me by, something that I regret, until Noric Dilanchian sent me the law Council of Australia submission. I quote from the Inquiry web site

On 17 June 2010 the Senate referred the following matter to the Select Committee on the Reform of the Australian Federation for inquiry and report.

That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on the Reform of the Australian Federation, be appointed at the conclusion of the Select Committee on the National Broadband Network, to:
(a) inquire into and report by 17 November 2010 on key issues and priorities for the reform of relations between the three levels of government within the Australian federation; and
(b) explore a possible agenda for national reform and to consider ways it can best be implemented in relation to, but not exclusively, the following matters: 
(i) the distribution of constitutional powers and responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the states (including territories),
(ii) financial relations between federal, state and local governments,
(iii) possible constitutional amendment, including the recognition of local government,
(iv) processes, including the Council of Australian Governments, and the referral of powers and procedures for enhancing cooperation between the various levels of Australian government, and
(v) strategies for strengthening Australia's regions and the delivery of services through regional development committees and regional grant programs.

The closing date for submissions passed some time ago. However, I wanted to report it because I know that a lot of New England people are interested in constitutional reform. I will try to do a report on the various submissions received a little later. In the meantime, feel free to browse the Committee web site!   

Greek lessons for New England tourism - the importance of experiences

In my first post in this series, I wrote:

When I was chair of Tourism Armidale, we spoke of attractions and events. This narrow focus, then and still (I think) part of NSW tourism orthodoxy, lies at the heart of tourism failure in New England.

Tourism is not about attractions and events. This is simply a way of categorising certain tourist activities. Rather, tourism is about experiences. This is what Greece has done, and done well.

Objectively, there is a certain sameness about Greek tourism. You find the same touristy things in every place; the jewellery stores, the postcards, narrow streets in old towns, ruins, the inevitable archeological museum or museums, beaches; even the food tends to be similar. Yet somehow it comes together into a package.

Consider the beaches on the Greek Island. Many are very pretty. However, by Australian standards the sand (if there is sand) is poor, the water still. They are also very crowded.

To the European tourists who throng the beaches, they are a marvelous contrast to home. Sun, heat, sparkling water. To Australians, this is less true. Yet Australian visitors still throng there because they, the beaches, are seen to be different. They are part of the experience.

The scenery on the Greek Islands is barren, rocky and scrubby to Australian eyes. There are scenes of great beauty, no-one could deny the superb views from Santorini, but that is not universally true. Yet again, things are packaged. The tourists who flock to see the sun set at Fira or Oia see sunsets no better than those seen in parts of New England, yet (as we did) they come for the experience.

History pervades Greece, with Greece itself deeply embedded in Western consciousness. The millions of tourists that throng the ancient sites including the Acropolis, Delos and Delphi are not just visiting attractions, but also entering into the Greek and often their own pasts.

In the midst of the ancient monuments, it is easy to forget that much Greek history is quite recent. Greece obtained initial independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, the capital was transferred to Athens in 1833. The various tourism guides refer to aspects of this modern history as it relates to individual areas. Thus we learn, for example, that the Ionian Islands were governed as a British protectorate, the United States of the Ionian Islands, from 1815 to 1864 then being ceded to Greece. This is linked to attractions and visible signs.

The net result of all this is a totality of experiences that really has no Australian equivalences with our focus on attractions and events.

In my last post in this series, Greek lessons for New England tourism - information, I compared the paucity of Australian tourism information and especially at regional level with the Greek equivalent. The Australian Lonely Planet Guide does have a general history section, there is some material on NSW, but once we drop below this there is absolutely no integration between history and the area.

If we look at the fifty or so pages on different parts of New England, the area is essentially treated as a thoroughfare between Sydney and Brisbane along the Pacific and New England highways. This dictates an attractions/events focus. It also means that parts of New England are left out entirely. You might be able to use the guide to decide what places to stop at while visiting, but it is hopeless in planning a New England tour.

In fairness to Lonely Planet, Australia is a very big country and the guide has to be related to dominant visitor interests. That is small comfort to those like me who are concerned to promote New England. That is also why we need a stand-alone New England tour guide, one promoting the New England experience.    

Thursday, October 21, 2010

O'Farrell, the Herald and new states

While I was in Newcastle last weekend, I heard about Liberal leader O'Farrell's response to a question on the Tillegra dam. His suggestion that the dam should be cancelled and the money transferred to a Hunter infrastructure fund shows that he had not been properly briefed; there is no money to be transferred since the dam is to be paid for by Hunter rate payers. His answer to a follow up question made the position worse.

All this led the Newcastle Herald to come out with an editorial complaining about the Hunter's treatment. The editorial made some fair points. Despite this, it's hard to see just how the situation might be properly turned around in the absence of a New England state. However, that's a longer term solution.

In the short term, the very revival of new state agitation could help because it will force people like Mr O'Farrell to focus on Northern issues. The editorial did not mention this. Despite the comments over time of some Herald commentators, I think that the paper itself has still to get its mind around the way in which it might use the new state cause to further the interests of the market it serves.

At the most recent Newcastle new state meeting, a key issue was ways that we might use the next NSW elections to get the question of another referendum onto the political agenda. We have to get the politicians from all parties and groups to focus on Northern needs, not just their electorates on one side, state power on the other. New ways of thinking are required,

The advantage of campaigning on the need for another referendum is that it is a simple issue that then has flow-on effects. Those opposed to self-government have to justify their stand on the benefits to be offered by the existing system, while those of us who want self-government have a simple central immediate goal to work towards.    

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UNE's strategic positioning

While I was away Thomas, one of my blogging friends, asked me about the latest strategic alliances announced by the University of New England. Thomas is just finalising his teaching qualification at the University of Sydney; his attention was drawn by the deal between Sydney and UNE that formed part of the package.

This is an interesting one in historical terms, as well as in the context of the changes taking place in Australian higher education. It is also important to New England. Our three major universities - UNE, Newcastle and Southern Cross - play a major part in New England life. Their survival and growth is important.

Historical Background

To provide a little historical perspective, when the New England University College was established in 1938 as the first tertiary institution outside a capital city, Australia had just six universities. By the time that New England gained full autonomy in 1954, the number had increased to eight. Depending on the way you want to cut it, this makes UNE either the seventh or ninth oldest university in Australia.

The new university was established as the Sydney University equivalent in the North. It saw its role in Northern terms, in bringing university education to a region that had not had proper access. It also saw its role in terms of facilitating the economic, social and community development of the North. However, it was also part of what it saw as the global and especially British Commonwealth community of universities. Its founders and founding staff had very firm views about the role of the university as a community of scholars.

The institution's early days were not easy. Funding was limited, and it had to struggle to establish itself in the face of indifference and even hostility. In doing so, it acquired a very particular character and ethos that made it a remarkable effective institution for its size. Just to list a few achievements from its first thirty five years:

  • It established a network of adult education activities across Northern New South Wales, bringing further education to areas that had not previously had access
  • It began the process of documenting the North's history and resources
  • It expanded rural studies from community studies through rural science to agricultural economics. This was associated with the establishment of CSIRO research activities part funded in the North and linked to the University
  • It pioneered distance education in Australia
  • It established international linkages in part through its Colombo Plan students, playing an early role in Asian economic development activities
  • It also established an enviable record in the standard of instruction and the results of its students.

In 1982, I returned to the University to do some postgraduate work in history. It was a much bigger place because of the growth in staff and student numbers during the late 1960s and 1970s. While it was still a good university, I found it somewhat insular, even smug. To some degree the sparkle had gone. The need to struggle, to be better, that had marked the earlier university had been replaced by a degree of complacency. I accept that I am generalising, but I couldn't help comparing it with the University of Wollongong, a relatively new university that was then going through the same type of establishment struggles that UNE had been through earlier. The University had also lost elements of its broader regional vision.

As it proved, this complacency meant that the University was ill-equipped to handle the turmoil that was now to burst upon it and that would bring it to its knees. At times, its very survival seemed uncertain. 

Times of Turmoil     

I don't want to go through the full history, although it's a classic case study of the way in which changes in public policy and in the market place can interact with institutional culture and with poor management responses to the point that survival is threatened. However, I do need to point to some key features.

At the time UNE was founded, only a tiny proportion of Australians went to University. The emergence of mass university education in the 1960s and 1970s affected UNE in two ways that were not fully clear at the time.

The first effect was an increase in the number of universities. As a now established institution, UNE's complacency blinded it, I think, to the longer term competitive threat posed by those new institutions. The second effect was a change in course composition, with a significant expansion in demand for vocationally oriented courses.

From a UNE perspective, demand for its largest vocational courses, teaching and education, was in decline because of the ending of the baby boom. The second largest group by number, agriculture related courses, was also threatened by rural decline. However, the University was not able to properly introduce vocational alternatives, in part because it could not obtain official approval and funding for courses such as medicine.

The University was also trying to manage Canberra policy dictates. There was a strong view in Canberra that university size must be increased in the interests of administrative efficiency. Canberra also wanted to remove the previous dual structure of Colleges of Advanced Education on one side, universities on the other.

This was also the period in which the corporate management ethos, the application of models borrowed from the corporate sector but combined with new ideas on public administration, was coming into its first full flowering. This not only conflicted with UNE's collegiate decision making processes, but was antipathetical to deeply held views among many UNE staff about the true role of a university. This resulted in internal conflict that continues to some degree.

In 1989, the University of New England was merged with the Armidale and Northern Rivers Colleges of Advanced Education to form the networked University of New England. Orange Agricultural College was added a little later.

The merger proved to be a disaster: University financial reserves carefully built up under VC Professor Ron Gates were spent on building up up other parts of the network; a new management layer was imposed; while there were conflicts over culture and objectives. In 1993, the network was broken up. Southern Cross University was formed and took over the coastal campuses, while Orange became part of Sydney.

The University of New England was now in a parlous position. It was broke, it had largely lost its coastal feeder areas, and its management had proved unstable. Between the retirement of Ron Gates in 1985 and the appointment of Ingrid Moses as VC in 1997, UNE had had four VCs.

Management problems were to continue, this time centred on the relationship between Chancellor and VC. The appointment of Pat O'Shane as Chancellor in 1994, the first indigenous Chancellor of an Australian University, created difficulties because of her sometimes doctrinaire approach and her willingness to use her power as Chancellor to block. The following Chancellor, John Cassidy, became involved in a fire fight with VC Allan Pettigrew of such venom that it made national news.

While many factors were involved in the fight between Messrs Cassidy and Pettigrew, varying ideas about the role of the University and of the relationships between Chancellor as Chair and VC as CEO were again central. John Cassidy made his position clear early. "This university is a business", he said in his first talk to Sydney alumni, "and must be run as one. That is my job." Unfortunately, skills honed in running one of Australia's largest construction companies did not translate well to a university environment where Mr Cassidy was in fact chair, not CEO.             

UNE alumni, especially those from the earlier period, are a pretty fanatic lot. I can't begin to describe the feeling of despair that swept us as we saw our institution being destroyed. It was in part concern about the sweeping away of the University's past, in part the constant instability as revolving door VCs searched for the new, in part frustration at failed experiments such as the abortive Turkey campus. Most of all, it was the destruction of a place that we loved.

Renewed Stability and new directions     

Ingrid Moses became VC in 1997 and held the position until 2006. The single most important thing that Ingrid did was to provide stability, to start the process of re-building, something that continued under Professor Pettigrew despite the problems between he and Chancellor Cassidy.

The challenges faced by Ingrid Moses were huge. UNE's biggest plus remained its history, its big grduate pool, along with its high student satisfaction rankings. To this day, UNE consistently ranks at the top or in the top of all student satisfaction surveys. However the University was simply tired. Worse, during the turmoil, it had lost its edge as the leading provider of distance education in Australia.

The University's 2002 strategic plan aimed to improve distance education, while improving the number and balance of student enrolments, especially attracting students to the on-campus experience. By the time of the 2006 strategic review, it was clear that the University was struggling to gain internal numbers.

Its key problem was simple. Unlike the US, Australian students generally prefer to go to a local university. Located in an area of stagnant population, UNE was competing against all Australian universities to attract those students prepared to travel for the University experience. Here its own troubles, the very competitive university environment, made life difficult notwithstanding the high student satisfaction rankings.

Poor Ingrid. At one point, and I was probably not alone, I peppered her with emails about directions.

My position, one that I still hold, was that UNE could not compete by adopting the strategies adopted by the metro universities. The immediate student base wasn't there, nor were all the local businesses and funding sources tapped by universities in a commercialised world. To compete in that way was to fail. Instead, the university should focus on its key strength, the fact that it was still a university, still offered a university experience, was not a mass vocational training shop. To this end, the University should maintain courses in arts subjects and languages, should offer a broader experience. The final university might be smaller, but it would offer a special experience. I saw this as the only way of longer term survival.

I extended these arguments during the 2006 review; these posts are listed at the end. In summary:

  1. The university should focus on its role as a university in the traditional sense.
  2. The university reinstate its focus on the broader New England/Northern NSW, not just the Tablelands and Slopes. To this end, it should adopt a conscious policy of alliances with and support for other New England institutions.

There were other things as well. However, the key issue is a reinstatement of the position of UNE as an institution that was both local/regional and global.

I am not pretending that my ideas had any influence. They did not. I am providing them for background.

The New MOUs

The three new MOUs represent the next stage in the evolution of UNE's strategic positioning.

Under current Government policy, all Australian universities are under pressure to increase their proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sydney University has struggled to do this. It presently recruits 65 per cent of undergraduates from the eastern suburbs and lower and upper north shore of Sydney. Further, its enrolment of first-year students from disadvantaged schools was below 5 per cent last year.

By contrast, UNE's ethos and feeder area means that it has always had a far higher proportion of disadvantaged students, of students who are the first in their family to go to university. Further, the University has a very good teaching record with such students. From 1938, those students have matched their more privileged Sydney colleagues. UNE has also introduced alternative school based admission procedures in place of the centralised and rigid UAI rankings on which Sydney depends. These, the UAI rankings, automatically favour elite students from elite examination based schools.

As I understand it, the key features of the Sydney/UNE MOU are two fold:

  1. Students can enrol at UNE in certain courses with the recognised understanding that if they pass first year at UNE, they can then transfer to Sydney
  2. UNE will extend its non-UAI school based entrance arrangements to a wider variety of schools, including Sydney.

The benefits of this arrangement to Sydney are pretty clear. Crudely, UNE takes the risks, Sydney gets the students once they have demonstrated performance. But what's in it for UNE? Again crudely, UNE gets more first year students plus attached funding, but also expects to retain a proportion of those students once they have been exposed to the UNE experience.

The second MOU with the University of Western Sydney is easier to understand.

UNE is an expert in distance education. Under the MOU, UNE will effectively function as UWS’s distance provider, as students from UWS will be able to undertake online units from UNE and count them toward their degrees from UWS. This helps UNE, but clearly also helps UWS by widening both the courses and delivery options open to UWS students.

Details of the third MOU with TAFE NSW are less clear. At the launch, The NSW Minister stated: 

“UNE and TAFE NSW have a long history of collaborations - but this MOU will enhance the partnership and provide students with the opportunity to obtain both vocational and tertiary qualifications,” Ms Firth said. “This agreement between UNE and TAFE NSW makes UNE the first dual-sector university in the State.

If I understand this correctly, it essentially widens the opportunity for TAFE students.


From my viewpoint, each of these agreements is consistent with the ethos of UNE. However, we have to ensure that they do not detract from UNE's position as one of Australia's few, true, universities. 

Newspaper Reports:

UNE Strat Planning Posts

Monday, October 18, 2010

Around the New England blogging traps 19 - Armidale sojourn

Again a month since my last blog round-up. This time my excuse is my Greek trip!

Starting in Armidale, detective romance writer Bronwyn Parry has been on a trip to collect material for her next book. While the location is fictional, it is in fact based on the north-west. To collect material, Bronwyn based herself in Inverell and then spent time travelling round the sites and small towns. I look forward to the reports.20100925-11-03-51-guy-fawkes-NP--colourful-caterpillar

Bronwyn's partner, Gordon Smith, has been continuing his exploration of New England's National Parks.   

This, believe it or not, is a caterpillar. Pretty, but formidable. I always admire the way in which Gordon is able to capture colour.

In Old News from Armidale and New England, Gordon has continued repeating newspaper stories from New England's past with a special focus on the Tablelands. In reporting on a sports day held at Walcha in 1851, the Maitland Mercury said in part: 

Fourteenth ditto of £3 – a swimming match, 100 yards-gained by Gullidge, of Sydney. – This match was exceedingly well contested by Mr. Grant, of Emu Creek. Had the winner not adopted the aboriginal mode of swimming for the last 20 yards, viz., rolling, and throwing the hands forward out of the water, he would have been hard pressed by Mr, Grant.

This sounds very much like the Australian crawl. I had thought that this was a uniquely Australian invention. I see from the Wikipedia article that it was not.

In his latest round of newspaper reports, Gordon also reports a 1925 West Australian story about the use of radio waves  to detect metal ores. I quote the start of the story;

Recently newspaper articles announced that a German company had an apparatus for exploring likely localities for metalliferous deposits, and people from the other side of the world testify to the success in Europe of this latest scientific advance. Two Australians, Mr. F. H. Fraser and Major T. I. Farrow, have, however, forestalled the Teutonic radio men. They have proved that the directional beam is the eye that can penetrate earth and rocks, and show the location and extent of lodes and lenses of ore. Recently large scale tests were carried out on the side of a mountain mass near Hall’s Peak, 20 miles east of Hillgrove (N.S.W.), by a syndicate which is opening up a silver-lead deposit there.

I had no idea this sort of thing was done so early!

Staying in Armidale, Paul Barratt returned to the city for the 50th anniversary of his 1960 TAS (The Armidale School) Leaving Certificate Class. This was held as part of Old Boys Weekend.

Paul's post, The Class of 1960, fifty years on, provides a detailed description of the day.

I won't steal all of Paul's thundPaul Barratt, Emma Buzo, the Header, it's an enjoyable post to read, but I wanted to pick up a few highlights. 

One event of the day was a presentation by Emma Buzo of a photo of her father, New England playwright and writer Alex Buzo, from the 1970s, framed with a bio that Emma herself had written. Alex was in Paul's class.

The photo shows Paul as MC with Emma and Headmaster Murray Guest. 

I wrote a little about Alex in Death of Alex Buzo, with an edited version, Belshaw's World - Death of Alex Buzo, appearing in my Armidale Express column while I was away.

Emma herself is going to TAS from the start of next year as drama teacher and manager of the Hoskins Performing Arts Centre. So the wheel turns! For more on Alex, Emma, and the company Emma founded to produce, promote and perpetuate the work of her father, see The Alex Buzo Company.

The weekend was also marked by the launch of A Song to Sing-O,Paul Griffith launches Jim Graham's memoir Jim Graham's memoir of 43 year's involvement with musical drama at TAS. The photo shows Paul Griffith launching the book at the old boys' dinner.

Paul followed his first post up with a later post, Direct from Boggabri, for one night only, providing more information from the Jim Graham book launch including past and present photos

There is no doubt that Jim Graham had a major influence and not just at TAS. Outside touring companies, much of New England's music and drama relied on home-grown amateur productions.

This was true not just for the Tablelands, but across the broader New England. Jim Graham's productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the Queen Victoria Music Halls, as well as other productions, brought a highly professional note to local theatre. While school based, they also toured.

The next photo shows the 1960 production of the Mikado. You can see the detail in the costume and the sets.

Mikado 1b

In addition to his his direction, Jim also wrote scripts. His Ginger Meggs and the Missing Link went national.

Finishing this post in Armidale, Le Loup's A Woodrunner's Diary continues his exploration of living history. In What Would You Like To See?, he wrote:

If there is anything that you would like information on or any videos you would like to see that you think may fall within my range of knowledge or skills, please let me know.

There's a challenge that has already been followed up with some questions. 



Sunday, October 17, 2010

New England Story - Cyril Renwick

I completed the old NSW Leaving Certificate at 16, gaining a Commonwealth University Scholarship. Despite this, my parents felt that I was too young to go to University and decided that I shouRenwick1-420x0ld repeat the year.

Peter Brownie, my then geography teacher, was concerned (accurately enough) that I might get bored. "James, he suggested, "why don't you pick up Economics and do honours as well? Doing it in a year shouldn't be a problem." I did this, and managed to score 33rd in the state in the new subject.   

One of the set texts I used was Cyril Renwick and G A J Simpson Lees' The Economic Pattern. I mention this because Professor Renwick died recently.

I do not think that Professor Renwick and I ever met. However, as an outsider, I thought that I might provide a purely personal perspective on the man to supplement the obituary published in the Sydney Morning Herald. You see, Professor Renwick was something of a giant, a man I have known of for much of my life even though we never met.

Just  few facts, first, drawn from Tony Stephen's obituary. 

Charles Cyril Renwick was born in Gosford on May 17, 1920, the youngest of the three children of the Reverend Arthur Renwick and his wife, Alice (Smith). Educated at Gosford High School, he topped the state in English in the 1938 leaving certificate. He then took first-class honours in economics at the University of Sydney before becoming a lecturer in the faculty, then a senior lecturer at 27 and an associate professor at the NSW University of Technology, now the University of NSW, at 33.

At Kensington, Renwick did not get on with the somewhat autocratic VC Professor J. P. Baxter (this was not unique). In 1954 he went on secondment to the Newcastle University College, then a college of UNSW, and ended by staying there the rest of his life.

Just as happened earlier with those such as my father at the University of New England, Professor Renwick faced special challenges at Newcastle as an emerging institution: he had to share an office, could not unpack his 5000 books and was uncomfortable in an old technical college culture (Newcastle University College was based on the old technical college). He also and resented interference from Kensington, just as those at the New England University College had earlier resented Sydney University. 

I have spoken often on this blog about the role that New England's universities have played in preserving the culture and life of the North. The drive to do this, the positive results that follow, do not generally come from those passing through on their way to the next advancement. They come from those who for one reason or another commit to their area and their institutions, often at some personal career cost. Again, both my father and Professor Renwick are examples.  

In Professor Renwick's case, the great Hunter Valley flood of 1955 was something of a catalyst. It damaged the Australian economy, with losses of life, property and productivity. It left the Hunter a shambles. Renwick responded by establishing the Hunter Valley Research Foundation.This played a critical role in the development of subsequent flood mitigation strategies.

However, the Foundation was more than this. It was the first, still one of the few and by the far the most successful, of the region specific research bodies. Neither its establishment, nor its subsequent survival, were easy. Professor Renwick had to lobby, to work constantly, to maintain, let alone build the Foundation. In doing so he became one, if not the, of most effective proponents for Hunter development.    

Like my father, Professor Renwick ended with three main loves: one was his students, the second his institution, the third his region. I am sure he lost in academic or professional terms. I hope his place in our life and history will be some recompense.    

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yet more problems with NSW official projections

Oh my God, I get so tired of commenting on silliness.

The latest population projections released by NSW Planning show:
  • the population of the Northern Statistical Division, really the Northern Tablelands and Slopes declining from 180,000 in 2006 to 168,000 in 2036
  • the population of Armidale city declining from 20,500 in 2006 to 18,000 in 2036
  • the population of Uralla LGA declining from 6,000 in 2006 to 5,600 in 2036
  • the population of Guyra LGA declining from 4,400 in 2006 to 3,900 in 2036
  • the population of Glen Innes declining from 9,200 in 2006 to 7,600 in 2036.
  • and so it goes on.
I am aware of all the assumptions and uncertainties involved in population projections, but given the importance of the projections for planning purposes, you shouldn't put them on the record without an on-ground validity check. Just for the record, on the latest estimates population increases since the 2006 census have been:
  1. Armidale LGA up from 24,607 to 25,696
  2. Uralla LGA up from 6,007 to 6,238
  3. Guyra LGA up from 4,416 to 4,521
  4. Glen Innes up from 9,159 to 9,257
Accepting that Armidale city and LGA are different classifications, the numbers don't stack up. Our problem is that projections based on what was that ignore both subsequent changes and what should be, then get built into official planning and can become self-fulfilling prophecies.   

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sport, soccer and new states

Back in October 2007 in Sir William Walkley, Ampol and the New England New State Movement, I expliained why Northern NSW had its own state soccer league. I was reminded of this by a story in the Armidale Express on the selection of Armidale's Naran Singh for the Northern NSW under 14 rep side.

I suspect that very few people actually realise that New State New England is, so far as soccer is concerned, directly represented. The league was formed at the height of new state agitation and has survived despite sometimes attempts to merge it back into NSW.

Another small snippet of New England history. I don't often report on sport on this blog. I think that that's a weakness.   

Ken Mathews on regional development

Over time, I have written a fair bit on this blog about the way that current approaches to policy development disadvantage regional Australia including New England.

In this context, I wanted to draw your attention to the retiring remarks of Ken Mathews, the head of the National Water Commission. I will do a full analysis later.   

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Judith Wright’s South of My Days

Note to readers: I normally re-run my Armidale Express columns with a week's lag. This post was meant to appear as a column in the Express on Wednesday 4 October 2010. Unfortunately, the Express lost the columns so that they will in fact appear later. Nevertheless, to maintain publishing schedules, I am repeating the columns here with a lag linked to the originally scheduled publication date. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

Jim Belshaw is on holidays. While he is away, Jim’s column is featuring some of his previous writing. This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on New England Australia in September 2007.

In his Friday Australian poetry series, Neil (Ninglun) featured Judith Wright's South of My Days. This is a magnificent poem that, like all good poetry, stands alone independent of context.

While the poem does stand alone, the language and content of the poem are also deeply imbued by the world in which Judith grew up. I know and love this world, so I thought that I might continue my irregular series on the poetry of Judith Wright by placing this poem and its language in a context.

The Wrights and the associated Wyndhams are one of the great New England pastoral dynasties whose story encompasses the rise and later decline of New England itself.

Our story begins in the Hunter Valley in 1830 when George and Margaret Wyndham purchased "Annandale", renaming the property "Dalwood”. From there the family spread, acquiring a chain of properties stretching along the eastern edge of the New England Tablelands into Queensland. Judith's book, Generations of Men, captures the early history of the family.

Wallamumbi, the home property for Judith's branch of the family, lies on Waterfall Way to the east of Armidale just before that road plunges into the rough country of New England's Snowy Mountains. Look north, and the rolling green hills are all Wallamumbi.

The poem begins: "South of my day's circle, part of my blood's country,"

Judith was then living to the north in Queensland. The spare elegance of these words captures location and love of country. Blood can be read in two ways, both her blood and that of her family. The poem goes on:

“rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue leaved and olive, outcropping granite –“

This is high country. Snow is not uncommon, frost very common; a little later in the poem Judith uses the term "black-frost night" to capture the worst frosts, the black frosts. These crisp the ground so that it crunches under your feet as you walk.

Much of the New England Tablelands is granite country. Granite takes many forms from huge boulders to flat sheets. Granite outcrops are common.

The poem continues:

“clean, lean, hungry country. The creek's leaf-silenced,
willow choked, the slope a medlar and crabapple
branching over and under, blotched with green lichen;
and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.”

“Clean lean, hungry country”. Granite makes for poor soils. Hungry country carries linked meanings: country that has to be fed to be productive; but it also means country that can suck the spirit, the life, from the settler.

There is a contrast built into these lines between the European willow and crabapple and the earlier reference to very the Australian "low trees, blue leaved and olive ".

The early European settlers planted to remind them of home. With time, these plantings run wild, became part of the landscape, creating a sometimes complicated link between past and present.

The old cottage that " lurches in for shelter" continues the theme of "wincing under winter." This continues in the next verse:

"O cold the black frost night. The walls draw in to the warmth
and the old roof cracks its joints: the sling kettle
hisses a leak on the fire ..."

In the early period, cooking was done over an open fire. There was often a bar over the fire on which hung kettles, pots and pans. People gathered in kitchens for warmth. At home in Armidale, my girl friends used to stand with their backs to the fuel stove, hitching their skirts up to capture the warmth.

The poem now changes direction, introducing old Dan with his "seventy years of stories".

Judith grew up in a village world. Tablelands' society was far more stratified than today. Yet properties then employed far more people, so Judith would have known and listened to the older hands.

In Judith's case, the stories would have resonated because of her own family past. So when Dan spoke of droving cattle from Charleville to the Hunter - "nineteen one it was, and the drought beginning" -she would have remembered stories from her own family experience.

The poem finishes.

“South of my days' circle
I know it dark against the stars, the high lean country
full of dark stories that still go walking in my sleep.”

As they do for me too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Greek lessons for New England tourism - information

In Greek lessons for New England tourism I said that over the next week or so, I planned to reflect on some of the lessons from Greece for New England tourism. I also said that I would also like to enlist your support in the creation of a new type of tour guide for New England, one that presents New England as a destination totally independent of NSW, a place to visit in its own right.

In this first follow up post, I want to look at the sources of information that we used to plan the Greek trip, drawing from this some lessons for New England.

Our starting point was the various Lonely Planet and D&K guides. These provided a wealth of material organised in a hierarchy such as Greece, the Greek Islands or very specific destinations such as Athens. They are easy to use and provide integrated material covering a wide variety of topics.

We used these plus our own knowledge to sketch out a preliminary itinerary focused on the Greek islands plus Athens. We then used the web to search out hotels and transport, firming up the itinerary and to make bookings. Choices had to be made. In the end, we chose to fly to Crete, then by jet cat to Santorini, jet cat to Mykonos, ferry to Rhodes and then by plane to Athens. In each place, we had an idea as to what to see.

Upon arrival, we then used the guides plus local maps to visit places and also to select places to eat.

A simple story I know, one that will be familiar to many Australians who have travelled in Europe. Sadly, this type of approach is not presently possible for New England nor, indeed, for most broader regional areas within Australia.

The guides do not exist. The guides that do exist such as the Lonely Planet Australian guide focus on metro areas or on well travelled routes. You cannot use them to plan an equivalent to our Greek holiday focused on New England. So far as the existing guides are concerned, New England does not exist.

Just a simple statistic to put this in perspective. In geographic terms, New England is larger than Greece, containing a variety of environments, each with its own history and special features. Yet the Greek Islands on their own have, by a country mile, more accessible tourism information than the whole of New England, a small Greek island such as Paros more accessible tourism information than most New England centres.

In making this comment, I recognise the tourism attractions of Greece and of the Greek islands. I am not saying that New England can compete at this level. I am simply making the point that the absence of tourist information makes it impossible for New England to compete at any level. 

Blog performance September 2010

The graphic shows blog traffic over the year ending September 2010.Stats September 10 2 Yellow visits, yellow plus red page views. After the big traffic increase in August, September numbers were down, in part I think because I was away and could not post.

The ten most popular posts over September were:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Greek lessons for New England tourism

I am just back from a visit to Greece and still very jet lagged.

When I was chair of Tourism Armidale, we spoke of attractions and events. This narrow focus, then and still (I think) part of NSW tourism orthodoxy, lies at the heart of tourism failure in New England.

Tourism is not about attractions and events. This is simply a way of categorising certain tourist activities. Rather, tourism is about experiences. This is what Greece has done, and done well.

Over the next week or so, I plan to reflect on some of the lessons from Greece for New England tourism. I would also like to enlist your support in the creation of a new type of tour guide for New England, one that presents New England as a destination totally independent of NSW, a place to visit in its own right.

Sydney is too locked into its own models to give us what we need. It also faces a fundamental conflict of interest: it cannot promote New England as a destination independent of Sydney, indeed in opposition to Sydney. Brand Sydney has to be central.

If Sydney cannot give us what we need, then we need to do it ourselves. To do this, we have to articulate our own vision and stories. We have a lot to sell. We just don't see it.

Posts in this series

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Belshaw's World - a legendary writer raised in Armidale

Jim Belshaw is on holidays. While he is away, Jim’s column is featuring some of his previous writing. This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on New England Australia in August 2006.

I learned today that Alex had died. My sense of loss can be nothing compared to that of Adrian, Merelyn and the family, but I thought that I should record my feelings. Added force is given to this because my wife has just left to take daughter Clare to school for the opening of the Wizard of Oz, a performance that Alex's youngest daughter is taking part in.

ABC radio today carried initial tributes to Alex as a writer. I cannot add to these without reflection. Many people knew Alex better than me. They will tell their own stories. But Alex has been part of my life since I was very young. So this is a personal reflection on Alex, his family and me.

Alex’s dad, Zihni, Buzo OAM, was born in Albania.

After completing his elementary education, he studied in Istanbul and the US before returning to Albania to work for the Rockefeller Foundation on a malaria control project, emigrating to Australia at the start of the Second World War.

Following the war, Zihni worked as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at Sydney University before moving wife Elaine and family to Armidale where he designed and supervised the construction of the Oakey Hydro Electric Scheme.

Zihni quickly absorbed the New England ethos and became an active proponent of water development schemes for New England. However, he also continued to work globally especially for UN agencies, working in more than 40 countries.

I do not remember when I first met Alex. Our parents were friends, so he was just around. Because he was a little older than me and in a higher class, we were not close. I do remember that at his parent's request he tried to look after me on my first day at The Armidale School (TAS), a difficult task because I was shy.
Later, and this bears upon his competitive spirit, I also remember playing football against him. I made a break, he ran me down to tackle me near the try line. Neither of us knew that the referee had already blown his whistle!

Alex and I had much more contact after we left TAS.

Alex had acquired a love of English at school. He found Armidale constricting and escaped to Sydney where he worked first in mens wear at David Jones. A keen observer, he collected accents, words and scenes. I am not sure when he actually started writing, but he did have a first play workshopped in 1967, with a full production of Norm and Ahmed in 1968.

Alex retained his links with Armidale. Wife Merelyn was an Armidale girl, a good hockey player, so he had family links with the town on both sides. I, too, retained my links with Armidale while working in Canberra.
Up until dad’s death, my parents had open house on Xmas Eve. The Buzos were regular attendees, so that's where Alex, I and later Adrian Buzo often met. Alex liked tennis, so at Christmas we often played tennis just down the road at Roy and Afra Smith's.

I always collected Alex's plays as they came out. Then he stopped writing them, pursuing other writing directions. I felt that this was a pity, and asked him why many years later. I think that it was just that he had broad interests and in some ways saw writing as a means to an end.

There was a gap in contact after my parents died.. Then Genny and Clare, our respective youngest daughters, ended up in the same class at St Catherine's and in the same hockey team. I again saw a fair bit of Alex and Merelyn at school functions and at hockey matches.

Talking is easy when you have known someone for so long and have so many shared experiences. In this last period, Alex like to talk about shared things, about the days at TAS, about his earlier experiences. He retained his dry wit and positive outlook.

This was a difficult period for the family. Alex was battling cancer, then his parents died. I felt with Zihni's death that this was the loss of another of the links with New England's past. But there were compensations among the troubles for Alex and the family with recognition for his long career and writing achievements.

There were interviews, while Currency Press put on a private reading of two of his plays that I was lucky enough to be able to attend with daughter Helen. The first play on the escape from a country town was clearly autobiographical. Alex expected me to recognise the allusions, and indeed I did. Alex also received an honorary doctorate from his old university, the University of New South Wales.

I knew that Alex was again very sick. But I still hoped that his fighting spirit would carry him through as it had done before, so the news of his death came as a shock.

I was not as close to Alex as some of his friends and I know that there are many more stories. I just wanted to provide a very personal perspective on someone who has been there to greater or lesser extent my whole life. My thoughts are with the family.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 29 September 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010