Thursday, March 31, 2011

Belshaw's World - university now a different world

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 16 March 2011. 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, here for 2011.

Well, we have moved house.

In the end it was a bit of a nightmare. Actually, it was a complete nightmare!

When we moved, eldest daughter was in Copenhagen, while my wife was in New Zealand on business. Youngest helped, but she had university commitments as well. So much of it fell to me.

I don’t want to bore you with it, but I find that I can no longer lug around book boxes quite as easily as I used to. Somehow, they have got heavier! Or have I got older? Really, I am in denial about that one.

Given the move, I don’t feel like writing a serious column this week: in it’s place a meander on some of the things that have involved me since my last column.

Youngest is producing the Ancient History Review at Macquarie University.

As her father, I could wish she put the same effort into her studies! Still, I really don’t have a leg to stand on here. After all, I can remember myself in third year uni!

Second table on the left was our table in the Union. There we gathered between lectures, sometimes to work, more often just to argue. I also spent far more time in the pub, in fact, than my girls do now.

I know that the world has changed since I was at uni. That’s a truism. Still, I have to remember those changes.

I graduated in a world of lots of jobs for graduates, of permanent employment. We also entered the workforce at quite an early age.

My girls live in a very different world.

With twelve years’ schooling, the usual gap year and longer university courses, kids finish studying at a later age. They then enter into a job world where the increase in the number of graduates means that graduates are taking jobs once the preserve of school leavers.

This is a world, too, where jobs or even entire occupational classifications can vanish quickly.

I do wonder about the value of the current focus on sometimes narrow vocational training. Both my girls have opted for broader courses that better reflect their interests, as an increasing number of their cohorts seem to be doing.

I feel that this plus their extra curricular interests will actually help them get that first, critical, full time position.

During the week, there was an interesting discussion on postgraduate education triggered by the remarks of Professor Larkin from Melbourne University.

Professor Larkin argued that there should be fewer PhD students, that they be full time and better paid. Built into his remarks were the apparent implicit assumptions that PhD students were young and that the PhD was training for entry into later stages of a career, especially in academe.

The reality is a little different. The average PhD student is more likely to be in the forties, the number studying part time is now around 50 per cent, while a large number are studying for personal reasons, not to achieve a ticket.

The world of the postgraduate student across all levels has become quite complex.

Debates have been raging about postgraduate qualifications, including the desire of Melbourne University to use the title “doctor” for what are in fact masters level courses.

I have watched these debates with a degree of despair. To my mind, they have little to do with students or the student experience, much to do with university positioning in a competitive world.

I haven’t properly absorbed the latest proposed changes to the Australian qualifications framework. On the surface, they appear to be something of a compromise that will, among other things, add to systemic complexity.

I seem to have settled into an education theme, so will finish on that theme.

While I am very critical of the management of Australia’s universities, I do understand the problems they face. In particular, they live in an unstable world in which actions are dictated by external forces.

During the week I reread Mathew Jordon’s history of UNE as part of my preparation for a seminar paper I have to deliver in Armidale in a few weeks’ time.

I was struck by the way the early College and University retained a consistent strategic focus over a very long period. That was very important, for it took almost forty years for the university to achieve some of the key objectives that emerged in the early days.

Forty years! That’s a very long time. Today, with constant chops and changes to official policy and funding, it’s hard for a university to maintain a consistent strategy over three years, let alone forty!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How we got to where we are

Nice of the Armidale Express to give my Friday UNE seminar paper a plug! Nicer still that it's on-line.  I quote:

READERS of Belshaw’s World, a column that runs in The Armidale Express every Wednesday, will know that Jim Belshaw is passionate about this region and is currently writing a book about its history.

On Friday, he will present a paper at the University of New England drawing together some of the ideas he has discussed in his column.

Jim’s talk will explore the social and economic history of New England over the period 1950 to 2000, a time of dramatic change that he says falls into two halves.

During the first period there was considerable change, but also historical continuity.

By contrast, the scale of change over the second period was so great as to create a fundamental historical discontinuity.

He will argue that unable to exercise any real influence, let alone control, over the pattern of change, New England and its people could only respond to ideas and ideologies set by others.

The paper’s focus is threefold: challenge and response in Aboriginal New England; changes in societal values and attitudes; and economic and demographic change.

The discussion will be set within a context of global and national change, examining the way in which particular ideas and ideology that affected politics, policies and public administration spread with consequent local and regional effects, and will conclude with brief reflections on lessons for the future.

The seminar will start at 9.30 am in A3 – Arts Building and will be followed by morning tea.

Jim Belshaw has an honours degree in history from UNE and an M.Ec from ANU.

He is a strategic consultant, a member of the Heritage Futures Research Centre, and an adjunct Associate Lecturer in the School of Humanities."

I am still struggling to finalise the paper. I know what I want to say, but I have to reference everything and am caught in conflicts of time and priority. Still, I did get off this morning my next piece for the Museum of Australian Democracy on the history of the New England New State Movement in the 1910s and 1920s. I might be able to cannibalise this into part of my new state history.   

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Death of New England's independent media

I am still struggling to meet deadlines, including finalisation of the paper on New England social change 1950-2000  that I have to deliver in Armidale Friday. I struggle to write anything substantive.

Did you know that in 1950 all the New England media, press and radio, were locally owned? Even when TV came, the stations were locally owned. Yet by 2000, local ownership had shrunk to a few independent papers.

Does this matter? I think that it does. It changed everything.

Maybe some posts on this would help me sort out my ideas.   

Sunday, March 27, 2011

UNE's Life at Altitude

Life at altitude

The University of New England is planning a special event - Life at Altitude - to attract students. The promo material reads in part:

"Friday 6 May 2011
Check out UNE courses, meet lecturers and get a feel for campus life at the open day on Friday 6 May 2011. You’ll have a chance to speak to our academic staff about your study options, join one of the University campus or college tours and take a look at UNE’s learning, living, and recreational facilities. Plus, there will be free entertainment and activities - we’ll even put on breakfast and lunch for you. In other words, Friday is your day to explore UNE and find out everything you need to make an informed decision about your future.
Saturday 7 May 2011
On Saturday 7 May, 2011 UNE launches into a massive event, with a huge day planned to help you get acquainted with the other great side of uni life - FUN! Channel V will be there with their giant silent disco and VJs. And of course there’ll be incredible live performances from the best Australian acts including Little Red, Children Collide, Operator Please, Amy Meredith, the Seabellies and great local supports. With amazing local food and plenty of stuff to see and do, this is more than just another University open day. This is Life at Altitude."

It does sound as though it might be fun, as well as educational. For those interested in learning more, the University has created a special web site.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Armidale Dem 150th year gathering

Armidale Public School 1872
Armidale Dem, as those who went there then still call it, will turn 150 this year.
This rather bad photo shows the Armidale Public School in 1872.

Last year a number of us from Dem were exchanging memories. I will write up some of those at some point. We decided that we should come together for a reunion this year.

As it happens, the school turns 150 this year and has decided to reorganise a reunion. It seems sensible to take advantage of this.

The next photo shows Dem in 1928. This was the year that Armidale Teachers' College opened. Armidale Public School changed its name to the Armidale Demonstration School.
Armidale Dem 1928
This photo shows the school in 1928. The structure of the building is the same, but the appearance has changed.
The wing on the left was the boys primary school, On the right was the infants department

The class rooms on the left ran from third class at the back to sixth class in front.

The girl's school was up the hill in Faulkner Street. Strange things, girls. We were with them in infants, then they left. After that, we only saw them at things like film showings or dance practice. Girls were still sheilas then.
The next photo shows the girls school in 1920. It was a fair bit posher than the boys. Do you know, I never went inside it?

Armidale Public Girl's School 1920
In the boys school, we had wood pens with metal nibs. We used to throw them up to stick in the high ceilings. There were less pleasant and more painful uses as well!

There were ink wells on the desks. Ink had to be made by mixing dry powder with water. I remember doing this as a reward at the back of the school near the bell.

Out the back were also weather sheds where parents sometimes served coco. One day, I do not remember which year but it was early on, we were broken into groups and had to do a short play in one of the sheds.

Building the new Armidale Demonstration School  1960 The next photo shows the new school under construction in 1960. You can see the side of the girls school in the background.

Some time after this build, the NSW Education Department changed the name of the school to Armidale City Public. Many of us greatly resent this change. Maybe a campaign for a change back to Dem?

I wonder how many past students might come back?  I know that many from my group are thinking about it.
If you do want to come, I'd suggest doing your accommodation bookings soon.

You can do so on-line via the Visitor Information Centre - For those who haven't been to Armidale in a while, the Centre will also send you an information pack on the city. It's changed! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Belshaw's World - Put us in our place, but the right place

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 9 March 2011. 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, here for 2011.

I don’t know if you realise this, but there seem to be two Armidales. Or so the ABC seems to think.

The first is the city I know on the Northern Tablelands. Then there is another apparently similar place that the ABC keeps referring too somewhere in the North West; as best I can work out, it must be somewhere between Tamworth and Moree.

Now this may seem to be a petty complaint, although it makes me quite cranky.

First of all, it’s factually incorrect. If you are going to say that Armidale is in the North West, then Mittagong or Queanbeyan are in the NSW South West. Nobody says that. It would just sound silly.

Beyond that, names and location are actually quite important.

I am presently writing a history of a place that doesn’t exist. I call it New England. But what is New England?

As European settlement extended north from Sydney, everything from the southern edge of the Hunter Valley north was called variously the Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North. Within this, there were a variety of recognised areas such as the Northern or New England Tablelands, the Hunter Valley or the Darling Downs.

The successful fight for self-government by Moreton Bay, now Queensland, put a boundary line through the North. Now the Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North finished at the Queensland border.

The fight for self-government for Northern NSW that began once it was clear that the Northern Rivers and Tablelands had been excluded from the new colony introduced a new qualification.

By the way, did you know that the fight for Northern or New England self-government is the longest running political agitation in Australian history? It’s been going on and off now for 160 years. That’s longer than most of the self-government or independence movements around the world!

The self-government movement called for self government for the North. Initially, this included the Tablelands and Northern Rivers, but then extended to include what we would now call the Mid North Coast and then the Manning Valley and part of the Hunter.

In, I think, 1888, a public meeting in Newcastle formed a branch of the Decentralisation League to join the campaign against metro dominance.

This League is, by the way, the first use I have found of the word decentralisation. It is also the first record I have found of Newcastle new state arguments.

To the people at that meeting, the North included Newcastle and the Hunter. So now we have two Norths, one including Newcastle, the other not.

The first use of the name New England to describe the broader new state North dates to 1931. Then the Armidale Convention of the Northern New State or Separation Movement adopted the name New England for the whole area.

Initially the boundaries excluded Newcastle, but were then formally extended to include the whole Hunter. Now the full North and New England were identical.

When the New State Movement was reformed following the end of the Second World War, the Armidale Convention that relaunched the Movement put the proposed name for the new state to a floor vote. New England was the majority choice. The proposed boundaries were also set to included the Hunter.

Again, New England and the North coincided, with a single geographic definition.

As the campaign proceeded, the need to distinguish between Tablelands and the broader area became more pronounced. The New England came to describe the Tablelands, New England to describe the broader new state area.

In 1967, the new state plebiscite was lost on the no vote in the southern dairy farming and industrial electorates. The Movement redrew the boundaries to largely exclude the no voting areas.

Now we again have two different versions of the North, but also three of New England: the broader new state New England as previously defined, the new state New England as now defined and the Tablelands.

Is it any wonder that people got confused?

Since then the position has got worse as time and changing administrative structures have further distorted thinking.

I chose the word distort very deliberately. However, I am going to deal with that in a separate column.

At this point, I want to return to my problems as an historian in writing a history of a place that doesn’t exist.

Just what names do I use and when? How do I explain those names?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Newcastle is important to self-government

  I realise that I have been running a lot of Newcastle and Hunter material - the two are not the same! - on this blog, to the point that one link classified me as a Newcastle region blogger! 

I want to make a comment on why Newcastle is important to New England. But first an excerpt from my original PhD thesis on the life of David Henry Drummond. Comments follow at the end. The photo shows Newcastle Harbour in 1900. Newcastle steam and sail c 1900

"In 1907 Northern New South Wales was, in relative terms, an important part of Australia. Its population was then around 400,000, only one-third less than that of Queensland, roughly equal to that of South Australia, and far higher than the population of Western Australia or Tasmania.[1] One New South Welshman in four, and thus just under one Australian in ten, lived in the North. The local world that these people knew was in many ways very different from that existing today.[2] The biggest urban concentrations in the North were, and still are, in the lower Hunter Valley: this area includes the North's biggest city, Newcastle, which had a population of 59,319 in 1911, as well as Maitland (12,377) and Cessnock (5,102). Coal was dominant in the lower Hunter, with the mines providing the main source of income. As a result the very texture of life was different from that found elsewhere in the North. Newcastle, along with Bunbury in Western Australia, was one of the last Australian ports in which sail was still a rival to steam.[3] The tall ships in the river, the lumpers who loaded them, the boarding-house proprietors who looked after and exploited the sailors, and the merchants who supplied the ships all helped create a different atmosphere. But beyond all this was the stark reality of a life dominated by the harsh rhythm of the mines. The end result was a close-knit, inward-looking and clannish community which had little in common with, and less understanding of, life elsewhere in the north. This lack of understanding was fully shared by those living further north, for they distrusted and even feared the mining and industrial interests of the lower Hunter: the tensions flowing from these differences form one of the themes of Northern history.

Further north, the population structure was very different from that existing today. Although there were at least fourteen urban centres with populations exceeding 2,000, the main towns were very much smaller. Lismore, the largest centre in 1911, had a population of only 7,381, while there were only three urban areas with populations between 5,000 and 8,000. Equally importantly, the countryside had not then been depopulated. The rural population, that is people living on farms and in centres with a population of less than 600, varied from area to area but generally made up between 43 and 60 per cent of the total population.[4] A further 16 to 23 per cent lived in towns and villages whose populations ranged between 600 and 2,000, while the proportion living in the bigger urban centres themselves ranged from 17 to 41 per cent.

The end result was a diversified population structure, ranged in a distinct hierarchy. At one extreme was the locality or rural district, whose total populations could reach several hundred. Such localities were usually, as at Arding near Uralla, centred on the school, church and tennis courts. At the other extreme were the larger towns such as Lismore, offering a relatively wide range of urban services. In the middle came a variety of towns and villages. These ranged from small settlements with perhaps just a hotel, bakery and general store, to mining centres based on tin and gold, to timber towns nestling in the hills with their small collections of unpainted weatherboard houses huddled around the mill, to medium size towns offering a wider range of services to the surrounding countryside. No matter how small, these centres generally sustained a range of community activities, such as church groups, sporting clubs and farmers' organisations. The result was a complex web of relationships, linking together both those living within the communities and the communities themselves.

Associated with this different population structure were very different transport patterns. The coast was not then linked together by railway, so that for many journeys it was easier and faster for passengers and freight to travel by coastal steamer. Inland, the train was the key form of transport, channelling passengers and freight first to Morpeth (originally the main river port on the Hunter) and Newcastle, and then, by 1907, to Sydney. However, away from the railways and steamer routes, the horse and bullock were still king. The first cars had begun to appear, but most towns were still linked by stage coach, with a posting station or inn every sixteen to twenty-one kilometres. In addition to the roads themselves, the North was linked by an intricate web of stock-routes, along which mobs of sheep and cattle moved continually.

These different settlement and transport patterns helped mould human thinking. Even with the fastest horse-drawn transport, the distance covered in a day was roughly equal to that covered by car in one hour on a modern highway; travelling as the stock moved, that hour's drive becomes a journey of more than a week. To the Northerners of 1907, their immediate world was huge, measured as it was in days, or even weeks, of travelling time. It was also more sharply focused: slower transport meant that the knowledge of the landscape was greater; insignificant valleys that today vanish in a few minutes then stood out in clear relief. Beyond all this, even though there were large areas with few or no people, it was a populated world. The posting stations and inns, the slower transport that allowed travellers to stop and chat, and the many farming settlements, meant that human life was spread across the landscape.

The heightened awareness of their immediate world helped develop strong emotional attachments between people and the districts they lived in. 'South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country,' Judith Wright later wrote of the Tablelands.[5] Such emotional links strengthened local loyalties to the point where they hindered cooperation with other towns or districts within the North. But over time they also played an important part in the development of a wider Northern loyalty. The Northerners' perception of the large size of their immediate local world was normally associated with a deep-seated belief in its development potential. When this was continually frustrated, strong local loyalties were transformed into a sustained attempt to unite the North in order to radically restructure the existing governmental system. For David Drummond, who gave his total love and loyalty to the North, this fight would provide the central cause of his political life.

[1]The North's ill-defined boundaries make population estimates difficult. In 1924 the North's population, based on 1921 census data and excluding the lower Hunter but including a greater proportion of the western area, was estimated at 359,000. (Report of the Royal Commission Of Inquiry into Proposals for the Establishment of a New State or New States, formed wholly or in part out of the present territory of the State of New South Wales, Government Printer, Sydney, 1925, p.19.) Adjusting this figure downwards by deleting the population growth in the main Northern towns (ex lower Hunter) during the period 1911 to 1921 (6,000), and then adding the lower Hunter main town population in 1911 (76,000), gives a Northern population estimate for 1911 of about 429,000; in these circumstances 400,000 for 1907 seems a reasonable population approximation. New South Wales as a whole had a population of 1.4 million at the 1901 census and 1.6 million at the 1911 Census. Population figures are taken from: Official Year Book of New South Wales, No. 56, Government Printer, Sydney, 1959, pp.65-66; R. Ward, A Nation For A Continent: the history of Australia 1901-1975, Heinemann Educational Australia, Richmond, 1977, p.446.

[2]The description of life in the North contained in the following paragraphs has been compiled from a variety of sources. A detailed list is set out in the bibliography; the following references are some of the main ones. For autobiographical accounts see: R.J. Doolin, A Boy From The Bush Goes To Town, Published by the author, North Star, 1973; A.E. Cosh, Jumping Kangaroos, Devill Publicity, Armidale, 1978; P.A. Wright, Memories of a Bushwacker, University of New England, Armidale, 1971; and E.C.G. Page, Truant Surgeon: The Inside Story of Forty Years of Australian Political Life, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1963. For a description of life in a smaller settlement see B.L. Cameron and J.L. McLennan, "Scots' Corner": A Local History, B.L. Cameron, Armidale, 1971. H. Brown's Tin at Tingha, Brown, Armidale, 1982, deals with life in one of the mining towns, while E. Wiedemann's World of its Own: Inverell's Early Years 1827-1920, Devill Publicity, Inverell, 1981, deals with life in a larger urban centre. N. Braithwaite and H. Beard (eds.), Pioneering in the Bellinger Valley, "The Bellinger Courier-Sun", Bellingen, 1978, give a particularly vivid feel for life on a portion of the coast. J.C. Docherty, 'The Second City. Social and Urban Change in Newcastle, New South Wales 1900-C1929', PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1977, provides an interesting analysis of Newcastle.

[3]G. Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History, Sun Books, South Melbourne, 1966, p.279ff.

[4]The figures in this and the next sentence are drawn from: D.A. Aitkin, The Country Party in New South Wales. A Study of Organisation and Survival, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972, p.5. Since Aitkin's figures are mainly drawn from the 1921 census, they probably understate rural populations for the pre-war period.

[5]From 'South Of My Days', J. Wright, Collected Poems: 1942-1970, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1975, p.20."


One of the themes in the history of Northern NSW, the broader New England that I write about, are the tensions and differences between Newcastle and the areas further north. My purpose in writing in the way I did in the excerpt was to paint a scene, to set a framework, for things that would be important later.

Newcastle was always different, but always part of the North. The differences meant that those seeking self-government for New England often excluded Newcastle from the proposed area. They felt, correctly, that the political, cultural and economic differences were such that it could imperil the self-government cause. The problem was that Newcastle was part of the North, making it difficult to exclude the city.

Today, similar issues arise. To accommodate that, those of us seeking self-government for New England argue that the final boundaries must be based on the will of the people expressed through referendum. If Newcastle wants to stay part of NSW, then so be it. Further, if the difficulties involved in getting a meld, then maybe there should be two states, once centred on the Hunter, one further north. Again, it comes back to the will of the people of New England.

I write wearing different hats. When I write as an historian, I musconstruction of wool stores, Newcastlet write on the history of the North including Newcastle. It makes no sense otherwise.    

The next photo shows the construction of wool stores at Newcastle. Wool selling did not come to Newcastle because the merchants of Newcastle wanted it, although they did. It came because those further north wanted it so badly that they were able to overcome the opposition of the Sydney wool merchants.

The campaign for self-government for Northern NSW, New England, is now 160 years old. Today, a cause that seemed dead after the 1967 no vote in Newcastle and the southern coal mining and dairy electorates and the collapse of the then new state movement is slowly building. This time, there is support in Newcastle.

I am not blind to the difficulties involved in re-creating a movement that, by its nature, is opposed or even ridiculed by the status quo. We have been there before. The immediate aim now is to get another referendum. Let us vote again.

This time, however, we must have support in Newcastle. Further, and regardless of one state or two or final boundaries, we have to rebuild the links across the North. Nenco, wool selling at Newcastle, shows the way. If those further north are prepared to support Newcastle, if Newcastle people are prepared to support those further north, then real change is possible.

Idealistic? Maybe. But the existing system certainly hasn't worked.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Newcastle the missing years is great!

Newcastle the missing years 2

While I was in Newcastle this Saturday, Greg Howley  gave me a rather magnificent present, Greg and Sylvia Ray's Newcastle The Missing Years.

This book is great! You don't need to be from Newcastle to enjoy the photos of the 1930s and 1940s. I see from a review of the launch and the comments that the book has been a huge success.

Beyond my own interest in Newcastle, I was struck by a couple of things. This is a very urban, industrial book. It shows Newcastle as it was, a substantial city. I suspect Sydneysiders in particular will get a surprise. Generally, they are not used to thinking of another rival urban centre.

A few years back, I took my then quite young daughters to Newcastle just to show them the city. While there, I tried to buy a book on Newcastle to add to my New England history collection. I searched and searched, but the only book I could find was William Claridge's  ‘The Pommy Town Years: Memories of Mayfield and Other Tales of the Twenties’. I value the book, but I was disappointed.     

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The story of New England life

This post mixes together apparently disconnected things.

My favourite inland New England photo blog is Gordon Smith's lookANDsee.Gordon normally focuses on the Tablelands. Just at the moment he is running some Tamworth shots. This shot shows Peel Street on a Saturday morning.    Gordon Smith Peel Street Saturday Morning 

Down on the coast and in the Hunter I have several favourites. One is Mark's Clarence Valley Today. This focuses on life and landscape on our big river, the Clarence. This photo features a scene from a church fete. Mark Bellamy Church fete

Beyond the photos, there are films, painting and writing.

With film, The Last Picture Show Man is actually based on a Liverpool Plains story and was filmed there and on the Clarence. With paintings, Colours of New England - orange gold contrasted a painting and photo, while my earlier post, The colours of New England, attempted to combine painting, poetry, photos and words. 

When I first began blogging, I knew of very few New England blogs. That's no longer true. There are a number of us now, and we all post on different things.

 I am wondering about the possibility of encouraging more cross-posting or common posting on a thematic basis. I am not proposing anything too rigid, precise or formalised. We all all busy. I just wondered what might happen if we wrote or posted on a common topic from our very different perspectives?

My feeling is that, together, we might give a clearer perspective to our readers on the texture of life in Northern New South Wales, the broader New England. I also think that it might add to reader interest.

What do you think?     

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Colours of New England - orange gold

This photo by Gordon Smith shows the orange gold of a New England Tablelands' sunset.   Gordon Smith sunset

This painting by Julia Griffin, 2007 Oxley Higway, shows another sunset scene. This time, the yellow dominates. Orange gold overcomes other colours in the late afternoon.  2007 Oxley Highway Julia Griffin

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Welcome to visitor 50,000

Visitor 50,000 arrived on this site last night, arriving via a google search on Moree flood evacuation centre. Welcome.

50,000. That's quite a lot!

Newcastle gets fed up!

It appears that there is a new site to channel the growing anger in Newcastle at that city's treatment -

I haven't had time to review it yet, but it looks interesting.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I am, you are, we're all quite different

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 2 March 2011. 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, here for 2011.

In my 9 February column I talked about the perspectives of Indonesian students meeting Australians for the first time and what this told us about ourselves.

One of the difficulties and sometime joys for anyone interested in history lies in understanding how people thought and felt in the past period you are interested in. This might be your own family, your area or a period of history.

I say difficulties because it can be remarkably difficult to break through the way we think now to enter a different world. I say joys because sometimes, suddenly, you get a breakthrough. Now I understand!

I am a reasonably successful blogger: visits to my personal blog have just passed 100,000; visits to my main New England blog will reach 50,000 in the next few weeks; the total number of visits to all my blogs is approaching 250,000.

I also reach different audiences through this column and my other writing. In all, I do have a reasonable size audience. Yet I will never be quite main stream.

This may sound a fair bit removed from my opening remarks, but there is a link.

We are all formed by our family and experiences. We live in a world that expands from where we are in a series of circles.

I grew up in Armidale. My world was intensely local, while also being regional and global.

My circles began in the blocks around home: the fruit trees from which we stole fruit in the early morning, homes of family and friends, Mrs Beattie’s store, the places where we roamed.

My circles then expanded: places in the district, politics in Sydney or Canberra, the places where my school friends came from, the broader North itself, the distant academic centres including Oxford and Cambridge where so many Armidalians went.

From the beginning I was aware of difference.

In many ways I was a member of the dominant group in my own area, the majority if you like. Yet I quickly became conscious that my natural order was not the same as that holding in the rest of Australia. I was Country Party and new state, by definition minority groups within the broader Australia.

I also became conscious that my own life with its academic and political flavour was distinct, different, from many of those I met.

A bookish academic/townie child, I found it hard to mix with country kids. Our experiences were very different, even though I had country family. It actually took me years to properly understand their world. I had to teach myself, to try to get inside their minds.

These various experiences have affected me in many ways.

They help explain why I write so much about New England history. I am trying to take our history out of the closet, dust of the dust and spiders and present it to a broader audience. I want to show its unique value.

They explain why I will never be quite a main stream blogger. My world view is simply different.

I don’t see the world in terms of a series of circles extending from the capital cities. I have very little interest in the arcane arguments of the left and right that dominate so much of blogging. I want to argue about different things, including country issues.

Sometimes this perspective has been quite useful in my professional work. Because I see things in a different way, I have sometimes been able to present counter arguments that have had an influence.

However, probably the most important effect is that my own sense of difference, my sometimes alienation from the main stream, makes me especially conscious of the need to understand and adjust to difference.

This is actually a very good if sometimes uncomfortable thing.

It’s uncomfortable because adjustment is always difficult.

We don’t always recognise difference in Australia because of our assumptions about national uniformity. In fact, that assumption makes it hard to recognise difference.

I am not talking here about what is now called multicultural Australia. I can understand the difference between, say, Indonesian and Australian cultural attributes.

I am talking about differences in the main Australian community – Sydney vs Armidale attitudes, for example. You try arguing some of the things I argue to a Sydney audience, and you will quickly find the differences. Sometimes I just have to shut up; there is no point!

On the plus side, my sensitivity to difference is a great help in understanding not just history, but also the way societies work, including Australia.

Every group believes that its views are right. If you are going to mix across groups, you have to be sensitive and adjust to the different mores involved.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Memories of the Sikorski Effect

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 23 February 2011. 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, here for 2011.

I was going to make a comment on some of the policy issues involved in the NSW election. However, I have done far too much serious writing recently and just don’t feel like it.

So, for a break, I thought that I would go in a new direction, my first and so far only serious attempt to start writing a novel. It was to have been called the Sikorsky Effect.

This was not the type of the type of book that might win the Booker prize. It was a straight commercial thriller set in the aerospace and defence industries.

The basic plot was simple enough.

An Australian aerospace company was negotiating shares in several major global aerospace developments. To a degree this was bet your company stuff as the firm sought to build into a globally competitive player capable of developing major aerospace platforms in its own right.

The story followed developments sprawling across time and space. The leading characters, and especially the main character, were playing a complicated game.

Their overseas parent was moving out of aerospace into new sectors that seemed more profitable. The Australian company was left sitting like a shag on a rock as the only remaining aircraft manufacturing activity within the group.

The leading characters decide to do something new, to break away, to build and then float as a major new aerospace and defence company.

The complex dance that followed involved governments in Australia and in four other countries; complex negotiations with international aerospace majors, with unions and banks; all the tensions and risks of major bids; the development from ground up of new business activities.

In the end, of course, everything was to turn out for the best. However, it was to be a near run thing.

This plot may sound remote from my normal interests as you see them through this column. Where, for example, would I get all the information I needed to make the story both taut and credible?

The bit I have left out so far is that, at the time, I was the senior Commonwealth official advising on industry development policy towards the electronics, aerospace and information industries. I was also managing the national IT and newly re-established national space programs.

I had always been interested in writing. It wasn’t just the writing itself that interested me, but also the often weird and wonderful lives of the writers.

A year or so before the time we are talking about, I had been back in Armidale full time at the University writing my PhD thesis, a biography of my grandfather. While it was sometimes hard and frustrating, I really enjoyed the writing process.

This was very different from all the official writing I had done. I had a chance to play with words, to try to express things in new ways to get my story across. I decided to keep a writer’s diary too record thoughts, scenes and people for later use.

The work that I was now doing back in Canberra was quite fascinating.

It involved me in major civil and defence purchases and brought me in touch with science and technology. I met many of the officials and business people involved with the sector in the US and Europe, learned about company strategies, about all the issues involved in complex high technology projects.

Talk about boys with toys!

I went on official visits visiting aerospace plants in eight countries, flew in helicopters and watched satellites being made. All this went down in my writer’s diary.

The notes that I took in that diary weren’t the official notes, but the detail that I thought might be used in my novel. Everything was disguised

At the time, we were trying to negotiate Australian industry involvement in the planned A320. My hard headed former colleagues in Treasury were actively opposed. They saw it as far too risky.

Unable to get Government funding, key industry executives and I looked for other levers to get Australia into the project. I worked the Government side, they the industry side.

We thought that we had a deal stitched up to be confirmed by the Minister on an official visit to Europe. The then Airbus CEO arrived late and somewhat drunk, calling for champagne. Disgusted, the Minister left, and the whole thing fell over.

All this went down in the diary with a particular focus on atmosphere, the look and feel, personalities, language and incidental details.

After all this, what finally happened to the Sikorsky Effect?

I became more interested in the doing rather than the writing. The writer’s diaries were put aside, finally to be lost in one of the many house moves.

What remains are especially vivid memories imprinted by the act of writing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

New NSW tourism & local government report released

A press release from the Local Government & Shires Association of NSW drew my attention to the release yesterday of the Joint Ministerial Taskforce on Tourism and Local Government report. You will find the report here.

I had a browse through the report. The Association welcomed it, but I wasn't sure that it would make much on-ground difference beyond formally recognising local government's role, as well as the impact of the financial constraints created by the State Government's policy of rate pegging. Both are important. The report also recognised the way in which present regional tourism structures could impede effective cooperation where that crossed regional boundaries. Again, this is important.

The report also led me through to tourism data at local government level, including some details of international visitors. This was a very real gap when I was chair of Tourism Armidale. LGA data also means that I can generate at least approximate numbers for New England as a whole, as well as comparative performance for different areas.

Given all this, why do I say that I don't expect it to make much on-ground difference?

It's very much modern mechanistic - you must have a plan and that should fit with the overall state approach. I am in favour of plans, but most of the Government planning approaches I have seen don't really work because of the mechanical way in which the whole process is approached.

The value of planning really lies in the process adopted, not the plan itself.

In the words of management writer Peter Drucker, planning is about the futurity of current decisions. A well done planning process allows us to identify issues in such a way that the future can be built into current decision making. The plan itself needs to be flexible, capable of review and modification in the light of experience. The current approach to official planning really doesn't allow this.

1959 New England New State petition

The Museum of Australian Democracy is mounting an exhibition on petitions to parliaments. 

For those who don't know the Museum, it is located in Old Parliament House in Canberra and focuses on the history and workings of Australia's democratic system.

Old Parliament House. Now there's a building I knew well when I worked in Canberra. It wasn't Old Parliament House then, just Parliament. I must write something on my recollections of that place, because it is a world now gone.

As part of the new exhibition, the Museum wanted to include a New England New S1959_new england_d7_07441rtate Movement petition. Lacking information, they found my blog and then contacted me. 

This photo shows a petition being handed to Parliamentary staff, I think it's staff, in 1959.

I have to check the people. To the right of the white haired presenter, the man with the moustache is Peter Wright, brother of poet Judith Wright. Obscured just behind him is (I think) my grandfather, David Drummond, who was then Federal MP for New England.

The Museum curatorial staff had very little idea of the history of the New England or Northern New State Movement and were, I think, a little surprised at its longevity and scope. They need material - written and visual - that tells a story that people can access by touch screen. The initial material I sent them was of sufficient interest for them to put back the design of this exhibit for a month to allow me time to recover from the move.

In providing material, I will be wearing my historian's hat. It really is a chance to tell something of the history of New England and the Movement to people who know nothing about it at all, who cannot even access material about it if they want because history and fashions in historiography have moved away.

It's an added time load when I am not coping well with what I already have to do. However, the potential pay back is so high that I must simply find the time.      

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Newcastle Herald - Premiers & Promises

With the election looming, there has been a fair bit of negative coverage of the current government in terms of its treatment of the Hunter. My house move has made it difficult for me to properly cover this. However, I thought that the Newcastle Herald editorial of 8 March was worth repeating in full.

"Premiers and promises

08 Mar, 2011 04:00 AM

WITH the state election just around the corner, it seems that premier Kristina Keneally has belatedly discovered an interest in the city of Newcastle.

If Labor is re-elected, Ms Keneally has promised, the state government will stump up funds to help the city bid for a bigger sum from the federal government to relocate some university facilities. If re-elected, Labor will also provide $10 million for a paediatric intensive care unit at John Hunter Children's Hospital.

Those are welcome promises, to be sure. They don't compare, however, to the solid $31 million commitment made last week - before the government went into powerless caretaker mode - to the marginal seat of Coogee for improved cancer services. Or the $24.6 million arts and education precinct also nailed down last week for Parramatta, in western Sydney.

With Newcastle cancer patients facing some of the longest treatment delays in the state and with Newcastle's art gallery still begging, after all these years, for help with its long-overdue redevelopment plans, this city could have done with some of that Sydney-bound largesse.

Ms Keneally's new interest in Newcastle evidently isn't intense enough to induce the expenditure of actual money.

And now, to put that reluctance to spend funds outside of Sydney in a little more perspective, the Urban Development Institute of Australia has released a study asserting that the Hunter Region has been shortchanged billions of dollars in infrastructure spending over the past decade.

Echoing a similar study a few years ago by the Hunter Business Chamber, the latest report notes that regional spending in most state portfolios falls well short of the amount that would be expected if expenditure across NSW was proportional to population.

Coal royalties

While the Hunter has about nine per cent of the state's population, its share of infrastructure spending is said to be typically well under half that figure.

One suspects that, if spending on infrastructure that is purely designed to support industries that earn money for the government was to be deducted, the proportion would be even lower.

What aggrieves many Hunter people about this state of affairs is the fact that the region provides a very hefty chunk of revenue to the NSW government, not merely through regular state taxes but also through coal royalties and dividend payments by Hunter-based government trading corporations.

Not only is this contribution to state finances not recognised in the region's share of infrastructure funding, and not only is the actual share apparently parlously low even on a basic per capita basis, but the government appears genuinely reluctant to commit even the small amount it does spend in the Hunter.

It is probably too late for Ms Keneally to benefit from this knowledge, but Hunter people have been growing steadily more resentful at being ripped off by the government in Macquarie Street. Visits and smiles are always pleasant, but real funding equity would be infinitely preferable.

Twenty percent of state government revenue isn't it?, 9 percent of the population and 3 percent of spending..."


I also thought that I might repeat the comments.

"Twenty percent of state government revenue isn't it?, 9 percent of the population and 3 percent of spending...

Posted by fnord, 8/03/2011 12:11:01 PM, on The Herald

Fnord, mate its about 30/10/5

This government has got to go and McKay with it - if she couldn't do anything while she was a minister, she certainly won't have a chance in hell on the opposition benches.

Posted by Wisdom of Australia, 9/03/2011 7:31:10 AM, on The Herald

I applaud those at the Herald for consistantly highlighting these issues. If more people of our region read the Herald and understood these reported issues, I suspect that circumstances here would be very, very different..

Posted by Mark, 9/03/2011 10:17:27 AM, on The Herald

I can't believe in any longer what the Labor is saying. They've had enough time to prove themselves to us and to fulfill their commitments they had given to us during the past election campaigns. Before they expects us to buy their promises, they should first evaluate their past records; they should tell us the commitments which they fulfilled, if there are any. I am fed up with their election campaigns, coming to us just before the elections. Election campaigns should not give them the right to lie and to cheat public. Any candidate who is elected based on their commitments should be questioned for not fulfilling their commitments given during the campaigns. If such an inquiry can't be possible by law, it should be possible by public on ethical grounds if we are a genuine democratic society. Walking away from their promises after securing their seats should not be made that easy.

Posted by FG, 9/03/2011 2:07:18 PM, on The Herald

If the Hunter has been short changed billions in a decade, I'd like to know just what the tally would be since 28th December 1989 (earthquake day).

The investment in Newcastle since that day should have been disproportionately high, not disproportionately low, in order to encourage the city to recover from the one of the most devastating events in NSW or Australian history.

Then there is the dis-investment in Newcastle. Local authorities have been corporatised, asset stripped and jobs & decisions moved to Sydney (Shortland County Council, Hunter Water, Macquarie Generation etc). The Hunter has become a branch office under Sydney rule.

We are beyond the point of begging for a fair share. The time has come to DEMAND secession from NSW.

Posted by Newy, 10/03/2011 1:14:57 PM, on The Herald

No point complaining. It's locked in. That is the way NSW operates.

Sydney expects the infrastructure investment and Newcastle doesn't. It is far easier to put up with Newcastle complaints - it is little more than a bindi in the foot of the capital. However if billions were diverted from projects in Sydney to Newcastle there would be a backlash in the capital that no government could withstand.

I will be opening the batting for Australia in an ashes test at Lords before Newcastle receives a fair share of infrastructure spending from NSW.

Posted by 12th man, 10/03/2011 1:47:36 PM, on The Herald

Newcastle is the small kid that turns up each week but never gets picked in the first eleven. He just keeps hoping that he will eventually be noticed and thrown a cap. Trouble is that Syd is the team captain, star and the coaches kid. He makes all the rep teams, always wins the best and fairest and everyone sucks up to him because he gets the girls. Nobody ever notices the other kid that just keeps plugging away. He should do what Adam Gilchrist did - move interstate. Hard as he tries he will never get noticed with the sky blues.

Posted by six and out, 10/03/2011 2:06:40 PM, on The Herald

Since statistics are mostly compiled along state lines, how is it possible to work out whether and by how much Newcastle & the Hunter is subsidising the capital? It might not be that bad - or it could be a whole lot worse.

It doesn't end there either because NSW complains that it is penalised when it comes to Commonwealth Grants. So the Hunter gets a double penalty. It is short changed by it's state which is in turn short changed by the Commonwealth. Newcastle gets smacked between the eyes for being the second city of the biggest state.

Let's face it - Sydney has no interest in the Hunter being anything but a big coal pit and a massive royalty earner for the capital. How dumb are we?

Posted by big bang theory, 10/03/2011 2:22:44 PM, on The Herald

Big Bang Theory - Check out the ABS website - you can get statistics for just about anything down to suburb level. And as for State government revenue and expentiture - its basically site based and obviously very easy to calculate on a regional level. The stats are out there.

Posted by fnord, 10/03/2011 10:06:08 PM, on The Herald"

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Newcastle as it was - 1945

My thanks to Greg Howley for alerting me to this one. The following video posted on-line by Bob Cook is simply called Story of a  City - Newcastle 1945.

Story of a City - Newcastle 1945 from bob cook on Vimeo.

For those who don't know Newcastle, the video brings out very clearly the character of the city as it was in 1945. It also helps explain some of the differences in life and character between Newcastle and the coal fields and areas of New England further north.

This is a self-contained industrial world; political Labor Party and unions, a company town, a very large urban centre by New England standards. The inability to properly bridge this gap cost us the 1967 self-government plebiscite.

Looking at the video from a modern perspective, the steel works is long gone. The busy CBD thronged with people, the CBD I knew when I first stayed in Newcastle, is now something of a wasteland. Many things have been added to Newcastle since the film was originally made, the university is one example, but too many there has been a loss of character and identity.   

Monday, March 07, 2011

Is there a history of Newcastle Uni?

After the trauma of the move, I have the internet back and am trying to catch up. Lugging boxes made me very disinclined to do anything, even if I had the connection. My apologies to all!

In the meantime, does anyone know of a history of the University of Newcastle, or at least parts of the University? I have UNE material coming out of my ears, much of it very good, but I need material on Newcastle to be able to compare and contrast up to 2000.