Saturday, April 30, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 22 - a few personal blogs

A while since my last full blog round-up, although I have referred to a number of blogs since then.

On Canons of Medicine 2.0 my first experience with death in hospital ... records just that. I have been following this blog for a little while. It's simply a record of the life of a medical student at the University of Newcastle. It's unusual as a student blog, and is also a blog written from the perspective of the Muslim faith. 

John George Archer's blog is a relatively new one on my list. John is from somewhere on the North Coast. Short posts with a high visual content.

Sophie Masson's A la mode frangourou, another new one on my list, is an absolutely luscious blog, perhaps one of the best in Australia. French-Australian, Sophie is one of the better known New England writers and writes about food and lifestyle from a French and New England perspective.

All her posts are good. However, I want to mention one because it bears upon something that I have been writing about on and off for several years, the failure of regional areas to develop their own cuisines for both life style and tourism purposes.

The best French-style cheese outside of France looks at food in Tasmania where, to Sophie's mind, a regional cuisine is evolving. I won't go on at this point, but will come back to the issue later.

Denis Wright's My Unwelcome Stranger is another new blog on my list. I knew Denis at UNE, but did not know that he had a blog until very recently. Have a look at More Calliope tales (pt 4): Aunty Anne’s TV for a rewarding look at Australia's past. Denis is fighting am aggressive brain tumour; his writing is one response. 

Mother and son Shayrn Munros'  The woman on the mountain continues to provide a picture of nature and life in the countryside of the Hunter Valley.

This photo shows a rather large Eastern Grey Joey having a feed. I have to say mum looks very patient!

Moving to the Mid North Coast, Paula's life perchance is?

I don't quite know how to describe this blog, it's sort of a moving somewhat surreal story involving a cast of strange characters.

You are either going to like it or hate it! If you haven't visited before, I suggest you go back a few pages and then read forward.

Finally, some time ago I mentioned that Bellingen blogger Pip Wilson had been badly bashed in an apparently random attack, so badly bashed that recovery was uncertain. Pip is still suffering from the effects of the bashing, but has resumed posting on Wilson's Blogmanac

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Belshaw's World - coming up thistles in government wasteland

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 20 April 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 wrote in a blog post during the week that I seemed to be in a cranky, irritable, mood at the moment

I’m not sure that I can be blamed.

One cause was the hike in electricity prices. I thought blow this. Well, that’s not quite the word I used. Indeed, I used several words that I fear this paper might not publish.

Two reasons were given for the price increase.

One was the excessive costs of the renewable energy program. Well, that was a policy failure, but it was one I could understand.

The second was the need to catch up on maintenance. This was the one that made me swear in a most uncharacteristic fashion.

Back in 1995, the wise gnomes of the NSW Treasury – may their tunnels collapse and submerge the lot of them – concluded that electricity distribution needed to be restructured. So they ripped out local assets from county councils such as our own New England County Council and put them into larger State Controlled Enterprises.

Now there were in fact some practical reasons why change might have been needed, but the overall approach was actually ideological. The Councils were, Treasury said, not subject to market discipline and were under borrowed. Why, financial modelling showed that they could carry debt levels of 50 per cent!

The problem was worst with the country county councils. They had been over investing in the network and had little or no debt. What a shame!

So Sydney grabbed the assets. The new businesses were instructed to cut costs and increase profits. There was no new shareholder investment; all this had to be funded in other ways, while maximum cash was stripped out through dividends.

Having milked the cow, Sydney sold what they could. Now we all have to pay for the whole thing. And the increases are reportedly biggest in the country, just those places where the County Council’s lazy assets were worst.

Okay, that made me crabby, but we also had the Federal Minister for Sustainable Population and a rag bag of other titles ruling out any transfer of public servants to regional centres. Growth centres are dead, he said.

Now there are some issues with growth centres that I will come back to in a moment, But Mr Burke went further.

The country was, he said, at a unique stage in its history because the mining boom meant the growth in regions was commercially driven rather than led by government.

"We have a really different opportunity because regionalism is being market-driven," he said.

I wonder what planet he is living on.

I wasn’t aware that Governments at any level had been driving regional development.

To the despair of many of us who actually believe that Government can play a proactive in regional development, all Governments for over thirty years now have been saying that the market must decide. Further, were they do provide some form of support, it is always generalised, universal.

Growth in regions has been led by government. Hah!

In the words of modern jargon, you facilitate and remove impediments and a thousand flowers will bloom. Somehow, it’s mainly thistles.

In fairness to Governments, they do try to react to specific problems. They just don’t do it very sensibly nor in a coordinated way.

Worried about problems of education and deprivation among our Aboriginal peoples, the Government builds new houses and trials different forms of service delivery in Bourke. Then the previous Sydney Government, with Federal support, buys Toorale Station and closes it down.

One can argue for or against the environmental arguments used to justify the purchase. Leaving that aside, the reality is that, in one stroke, Governments put a bullet through their entire Bourke Aboriginal initiatives.

You see, the thing that the people in Bourke most need to address social deprivation is jobs. No jobs and nothing that you do is likely to have much impact.

The large direct and indirect job loss from Toorale’s closure affected Aboriginal people most of all. There was no significant local compensation that I am aware of, I stand to be corrected, that might help Bourke adjust. The town and its people just had to grin and bear it in the name of the greater good.

I said that I would come back to growth centres in a moment. There is, as is so often the case, an Armidale connection.

Perhaps next week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tinkler rides to Newcastle's rescue - again

I have to say that it's helpful to have a local billionaire.

I have written about the future of the Newcastle CBD a number of times on this blog. I am not a Novocastrian, but as a New Englander interested in Newcastle as the North's big city, I have mourned the loss of Newcastle's CBD as a vibrant centre.

Having saved the Jets and Knights, it appears that Newcastle billionaire is interested in the CBD, with Buildev apparently acquiring a large section of the CBD from GPT. Buildev is not just owned by Mr Tinkler, but he is the person attention has focused on.

Neil Goffet's Newcastle Herald story,Tinkler town: mall and all, provides the details.

Have a browse through the comments. There are a lot of them. The sense I get is an overwhelming feeling of relief that someone is actually doing something after failures by Newcastle City Council, much more by the Sydney Government, to actually do anything to help. I hope that Mr Tinkler and his colleagues can deliver. 

Victory Camp & the Casino Boys

In Bellingen, writing, obituaries and skills I referred to the obituary by Strath Gordon of Dutch born Jack Dalmayer. I quote from that obituary:

In July, 1945, Dalmayer found himself in a camp in the northern NSW town of Casino, an establishment known as the ''Victory Camp'', which had been declared Dutch territory by the Australian government early in the war and was occupied by the 1st Battalion, Netherlands East Indies Army, consisting of Dutch and Indonesian soldiers. The new group came to be known as ''The Dutch Boys'' or ''The Casino Boys''. But a month later, the war in the Pacific ended.

The Casino Boys, to put it mildly, were at a loose end. The RAAF had no further interest in them. With the proclamation of Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945, many of the Indonesians felt they could no longer serve under Dutch command. The Australian union movement, supporting independence, refused to allow the Dutch servicemen to be shipped to the East Indies.

The Dutch colonial administration started jailing citizens who refused to serve with the Dutch armed forces. They chose Victory Camp to incarcerate them along with Indonesians who had been training as airmen. Suddenly the Dutch who had been training for war found themselves guarding former colleagues.

Relationships between the prisoners and their guards were relaxed. The Dutch Boys began to take part in the Casino social scene, seeing movies and playing sport. Eventually, the Indonesian soldiers were allowed to return home and the Dutch were sent back to the Netherlands.

As I said at the time, I had no knowledge of this camp, nor of the Dutch or Casino Boys, so Icampcasino did some digging around.

This photo shows, I think, a picture of Dutch Surinam soldiers at the camp. 

I didn't find a lot on-line, but what I did sounds interesting. As the obituary suggests, Casino and the camp became embroiled in the Indonesian struggle for independence. The references I have so far found:

Not a lot, but enough to hint at an interesting story. I wondered if any readers might know more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

German internees, Evocities, skills & Academy Games

A few notes.

Back a long time ago, 19 September 2006 to be precise, Trial Bay and German Internees, looked at a little known story in New England history, the internment of German civilians at Trial Bay goal during the First World war. The story was drawn from an on-line exhibition at the NSW Migration Heritage Centre. 

The photographs used in the exhibition came from the Paul Dubotzki Collection. Monday's ABC 7.30 report  carried a short report on the discovery of the collection. The story was triggered by the publication of a new book by historian Gerhardt Fischer and Nadine Helmi about the Dubotzki collection. I have yet to find publication details.

On 23 April, the Sydney Morning Herald carried a short piece by Stephen Nicholls and Susan Wellings on the Evocities program. This is a combined campaign by seven NSW inland cities - Albury, Wagga Wagga, Dubblo,  Bathurst, Orange, Tamworth and Armidale - to attract new settlers. According to the article, almost 200 hundred families have so far been attracted:

  • Dubbo 56
  • Bathurst 42
  • Orange 32
  • Armidale 22
  • Wagga 20
  • Albury 12
  • Tamworth 10

Another story from Janene Carey, 500 hear Garnaut’s take, as Ross Garnaut talks to a packed audience in UNE's Lazenby Hall.

The Sydney Morning Herald worries about (and here) the impact of the mining boom on skills shortages in NSW (aka Sydney from the examples). 

The third and last Academy games have been held in Armidale. Last because the venue now moves to another centre. The games are quite big time - 850 athletes supported by  140 officials. I want to write something linked to this.

All for now.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New England family war story

A number of my fellow New England bloggers have reflected on ANZAC Day including Denis Wright (Beating the odds: the amazing ANZAC story of Arthur Miles) and Paul Barratt (Anzac Day roundup). My own contribution was ANZAC Day, national identity & the power of images.

Thinking about war and New England, the following is an edited excerpt from my biography of David Drummond. David Drummond was then share farming at Oakwood near Inverell, an assignment organised by brother Morris. Other family members mentioned include brother Will, their younger half sister Ellie or Bid and Pearl, David Drummond’s wife.

Excerpt Begins

On 1 July 1914, the assassination of Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife set in train a series of events that led inexorably to war. News of the outbreak of war reached Australia on 5 August and led to an immediate outpouring of loyalty to the Empire and Australia. The resulting heavy enlistments from the districts around Oakwood (including David Harper and his two Scottish friends)[1] significantly affected local life. Not only did everybody have friends or relatives in the army, but the very fabric of social life changed. Many of the organisations around which community life had revolved, such as the Farmers and Settlers' Association branches, were forced to close down for the duration because of the loss of members to the front.[2] New community events emerged to take their place, such as France's Day, Allies Day, Belgium Day and Anzac Day.[3]Morris Drummond

War brought other changes as well. On 25 August, just twenty days after the news of war reached Australia, Will Drummond enlisted.[4] It had been an agonizing decision. His Christian beliefs would not allow him to take life, but he also felt that he must do his duty. His solution was to join as a stretcher bearer: 'I have tried to play the game and to live up to the ideas Jesus has set before me', he wrote to Morris on the day of the Gallipoli landing (25 April 1915).[5]

  Morris (photo) and David did not enlist immediately.

The three brothers had agreed that David, as the only married one, should stay to be in a position to look after their sister should that prove necessary. Later, when David did try to enlist, he would be rejected twice. For Morris's part, he followed events closely, finally deciding in August 1915 that he too must enlist. He wrote to David:

Perhaps you will not be altogether surprised but I have felt it coming on - like a bad cold... while I have the conviction that men are really required I cannot hang back and let someone else carry my bundle ... I've taken the step and hope it won't be labour in vain, but at any rate I've no delusions about the fun and glory of it.[6]

Morris had a somewhat magnetic personality and was offered an immediate commission but declined it.[7] Officer training would have delayed his passage, and he also wanted first to know something about the men he would command.

The three brothers had always been very close, with Morris and Will forming a close knit team providing Aunt Ellie Inverell support to both David and Bid (the brothers' pet name for their sister Ellie). The photo shows Ellie Drummond at David Drummond's farm, Maxwelton. 

Throughout the war Morris wrote regularly to brother David; cheery letters full of details, such as descriptions of French farming methods, intended to interest the younger brother. However, they also gave a clear picture of the hardships and dangers associated with the war.

The war had marked the start of general troubles for David and Pearl. The 1914-15 season brought a short but severe drought which forced Drummond and a neighbour to combine together to move their 3000 sheep along the crowded stock routes to Hazlegreen, a Tablelands' property which still had grass.

1916 started well. Seasonal conditions improved, while brother Will returned to Australia to convalesce. The photo shows Will at that time. Uncle Will 1916

But now  the family was struck by personal tragedy. In July 1916 David and Pearl's eldest child Phyllis contracted flu and died suddenly. She had been an attractive and much-loved child, and her death was a severe blow to them all.

Family problems continued into 1917. Going to bed late one night, Drummond saw a fire in the hayshed. The men and the neighbours - who came from near and far - were able to save a big wagon and some stacked lucerne nearby, but 102 tonnes of fodder were destroyed. The loss was a disaster, for 1917 turned into a bad drought year.

Worse was to follow, for in May 1917 the news came that Morris (now a lieutenant) had been killed in a brave but futile attempt to force the German lines in front of Reincourt.[8] 'Maurice was ... the most fearless officer in the Battalion, he was exceeding his duty at the time, very typical of him', one of his fellow officers wrote to Will.[9]

The loss of Morris was a blow for the whole family and especially Ellie and David. Ellie idolised her half brother, while David had depended heavily on Morris for support during his times of trouble as a ward of the state. Over forty years later, Morris would be as fresh in their memory as he was at the time he enlisted.

[1]Interview with Mrs Morris, 1 October 1982.

[2]Interview with A.E. Cosh, 24 June 1982.

[3]Cosh, Jumping Kangaroos, p.46.

[4]The Australian Army's Central Records Office (CARO) provided enlistments details for Will and Morris Drummond. (CARO to author, 5 February 1982.)

[5]Copy in Family Papers (FP)

[6]Morris to David, 7 August 1915. In FP.

[7]Interview with Mrs Morris, 1 October 1982.

[8]This incident is described in C.E.W. Bean, 'The Australian Imperial Force In France 1917', Volume IV, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1933, Note 88, page 456.

[9]Lt. Jim Harrison to William Drummond, 6 May 1917. In FP.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New England, Australia turns five

This blog turned five on 8 April.

My first post on 8 April 2006 was simple entitled On New England. There I wrote:

This blog is dedicated to the history, culture and activities of the New England region of Australia.

In many ways New England does not exist. In the words of the Australian poet A D Hope, New England is an idea in the heart and mind.

In formal terms, the term New England is used to describe the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Here locals talk of "the New England." But the term is also used, and this is the way I use the term, to describe a much broader region that has maintained a struggle for self government - the right to govern itself within the Australian federation - since the middle of the 19th century.

We have come close at times, but success still eludes us. The forces of the status quo are very strong. So I thought that a site that focuses just on New England might provide another voice.

My second post, nine days later, was entitled Towards a History of New England. I wrote:  

In this, the first of several posts, I want to start looking at the issues involved in writing a decent first history of New England. Not the Northern Tablelands, but the fuller new state New England. This is not an easy task simply because of the absence of a formal political entity. Here Scottish history is instructive.

While born in Australia, my grandfather was a proud Scot. So over the years I received as presents many books on Scottish history. I found these easy to follow so long as Scotland existed as a unit in its own right, much harder when it became simply a region of England or the UK. The problem? How do you write about something that does not exist!

In thinking this challenge through, I think that the starting point has to be the original aboriginal inhabitants. New England is a European construct. The aboriginal nations (language groups) obviously did not think of New England. However, they did have to respond to the European intrusion.

So what was aboriginal New England like? How did it evolve in the thousands of years prior to the European invasion? Here we have to paint a picture of the changing interaction between people and a changing landscape, because the landscape itself was not static, changing in long waves with geological and climatic change, as well as shorter waves under the impact of the aborigines themselves.

Then we have the immediate impact of the Europeans and the nature of the aboriginal response. From this point, the aborigines become a sub-story, but one that needs to be written as an important thread in the New England experience.

So in those first two posts I defined two of the themes that form the core of this blog, our fight for self determination and our search for and discovery of our own history.

901 posts later I have added other themes - a critical analysis of public policy issues affecting New England, the presentation of some of the depth and complexity of New England life, the promotion of specific New England causes. I have added a weekly column in the Armidale Express plus the New England history blog.

For a considerable period after I first began writing I wondered if anybody would come. Perhaps New England's decline was terminal, perhaps it was just all too late.

I no longer feel that. Over the last two years in particular I have watched the growth in interest in New England. I do not want to overstate this, nor do I wish to pretend that all those involved in the regrowth share my particular vision. But, in combination, it is starting to make for a powerful force. 

When I began, the new state cause seemed dead. Now it is slowly reforming. When I began, no one seemed interested in New England's history. Now I know others are. When I began, there was no one I could debate New England policy issues with. Now there are. When I began, I had few readers and little spread. My readership is still small, but I have now had over 52,000 visitors to this blog. 

Over the thirty year after we lost the 1967 self government plebiscite the very idea of a New England or Northern identity declined. We became a shadow that could be comfortably ignored as irrelevant, a quaint piece of history.

When I look back on Scotland and the books that my grandfather gave me including the early history of the Scottish National Movement, the ideal of Scotland as an entity was effectively ridiculed in Westminster. It took years and years, many decades, before the ideal started to become a reality. Indeed, in political terms New England was in front for a period.  

Who in the 1950s could envisage a Scottish cultural and political renaissance? Yet that is what happened.

My inclusion of the word cultural was quite deliberate. New England does have its own history and culture. Of course, this is more muted than in Scotland with its longer history. Further, it has been effectively submerged, written out. There is nothing to present it in its similarities and differences to those living in New England. And those who do not see their past lose it.

God willing, over this blog's next five years I hope to continue the main themes already established. I want to continue to fight for the sense of New England identity. I want to document and demonstrate the things that have made New England unique, distinct, to the point that no one can deny them. I want to bring New England back to life.       

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 23 - five blogs

It is a bit over two months since my last formal blog round up, although I have written several posts since then that link to New England blogs.

I now have sixty blogs on my list. Even though not all are active, it's still a bit of a task following them up. A plethora of riches, if you like. I could use feeds more than I do, but that many feeds are actually difficult to manage.

The blogs that I follow are not all New England based, this one is not. The rule of thumb for inclusion is that the blog is written by someone from New England regardless of where they now live. In reviewing, my key aim is just to give you a taste of the richness of New England life.

Take this morning's post on my personal blog, George Negus, watermelons & the meaning of words. Here you have the first Bellingen Writers' Festival, then something of a dispute between one of Australia's leading TV personalities and a senior lecturer at UNE that goes to the heart of the meaning or perceived meaning of words.

I write this blog not just for those living in New England nor for the now huge New England diaspora, but also to interest others in New England life. To that end, I am going to focus today on just five very different blogs. Normally in these round-ups I refer to specific posts. Today, I am going to focus on the blogs themselves, putting them into their context.

I want to start with a blog that I often disagree with and that largely ignores me, especially since we had a dispute a while ago.

North Coast Voices is a political blog written from a left of centre perspective. This is a group blog that focuses on the Northern Rivers and especially the Clarence Valley. To my knowledge, it's one of the very few regional blogs with a consciously political focus. The content is an eclectic mix of broader stories with specifically local content. The political bias may put some readers off, but the blog also contains local content that you won't find elsewhere.

Bronwyn Parry is a romantic suspense writer. She is married to another New England blogger Gordon Smith whose main blogs - lookANDsee (photo blog) and Old news from Armidale and New England - get frequent references here. Bronwyn's blog, Bronwyn Parry, is part personal, part about her writing, part about other writers working in the same broad genre.

New England has and has had a remarkable number of writers. I really only found out how many when I started actively writing on New England issues. If I didn't know, I doubt that anybody else does with the possible exception of John Ryan!

Some writers are concentrated in particular spots like Armidale, a university city of 22,000 people that per head of population has arguably more published authors than anywhere else in Australia. Others live remote.

New England is pretty big. When Bronwyn visited fellow author Nicole Alexander who lives north west of Moree, it was a five hour drive. You can read Nicole's interview with Bronwyn here.

Lismore born James O'Brien now lives in Sydney and works in radio. His James O'Brien blog provides ample opportunity for James to pursue things Swedish (to say that James is in love with Sweden would be an understatement!) as well as local commentary and posts on his New England past.

In a Woodsrunner's Diary, Keith Burgess (Le Loup) focuses on the frontier, North American and Australian. Want to know how to load a flintlock gun safely? Keith will tell you. Keith's blog is part historical enactment, part bushcraft.

It may seem eccentric, and in some ways it is. That's part of its attraction. However, the work of Keith and others like him also provide insights into history because they actually try things. Want to understand traditional Australian Aboriginal life? You actually have to put your boots on the grounds to do so.

Craig Wilson's Media Hunter provides digital, social and traditional media news, as well as marketing comments. Craig is located in Newcastle, New England's big city. His firm services local clients, but also has a broader focus.

Like the other blogs that I have named, you don't need to be from New England to enjoy the discussion. Of course, it all depends on your interests.

I read Craig Wilson for professional reasons, as well as the New England connection. I read Keith Burgess because of my historical interests, as well as just plain curiosity. I read North Coast Voices because it helps me keep in touch with one area of New England.

Five blogs, five very different approaches.              

Friday, April 22, 2011

Belshaw's World - publishing & perishing our universities

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 13 April 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 finished my last column with a reference to ERA, or Excellence in Research for Australia, a benchmarking exercise that aims to benchmark research in Australian universities against international standards.

This, I suggested, may sound reasonable, but ERA was actually yet another example of a Government induced change that was adversely affecting Australian university education in general, New England in particular.

When I say New England, I didn’t mean just the University, but Northern NSW in general. I said that would explain why in my next column.

There can be no doubt that ERA is having significant rolling effects.

As one example, at Central Queensland University around one third of academic staff have accepted teaching scholar positions that do not have a research requirement. As best I can work out, this allows the university to focus research funds on staff and in areas that will give it brownie points as measured by ERA.

While some of the effects are becoming clear, I always like to check my facts. For that reason, I spent some hours on the ERA web site working my way through the explanatory material.

This is mind-numbing stuff. As I read and tried to understand the various technical papers describing the way ERA worked, I found my eyes glazing.

I still have some work to do to fully understand the process, although it does seem clear that both the creation of the international benchmarks and the measurement of Australian university performance against those benchmarks involve a combination of certain types of publication with citations, the number of times an article is referenced by other writers in the selected publications.

The University of Southern Queensland describes citation indexes as compilations of all the cited references from particular groups of journal articles published during a particular year or group of years.

In a citation index, you look up a reference to a work that you know to find journal articles that have cited it, although you can also search by concepts and authors. This allows you to identity articles of interest and to find cross-links.

Described in this way, citation indexes are a useful tool, an aid to research. However, they have become more than that.

While the first proposal for the creation of science citation index was made in 1955, the first index was not published in the US until 1963, covering the 1961 literature. By the end of 1978, citation indexes had spread to cover all academic disciplines.

The rise of the citation index parallels the rise of new computing and communications technologies. It also paralleled a growing interest in measurement, one facilitated by the new technologies.

Herein lies the rub, for this interest in measurement meant that the indexes were now to be used in new ways.

By the time I became CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) at the end of 1997, the citation system was very well entrenched.

At the time we were worried that the College's scientific journal, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Ophthalmology, was dropping down the citation list. The journal really needed to be in the top ten globally to attract the required level of scientific and clinical articles, so under the leadership of the editorial team the journal was renamed Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology and effectively relaunched to achieve the required citation level.

This is a simple practical example of the influence of these indexes. However, I can give you another more subtle example, the rise of that dreaded university phrase publish or perish.

Searching around, the earliest reference to the phrase that I can find with the same connotations as today was in a 1942 US published book by Logan Wilson. However, to my knowledge, the phrase did not really become really common until the 1980s, with use then exploding.

The idea that academics should research and publish, that academic advancement should be linked to publication, was not new. However, the rise of the citation indexes provided a new pecking order mechanism in a university world that was becoming larger and more complex.

This led to some scandals. These included citation “clubs”, you cite me and I’ll cite you, as well as misuse of student research to achieve publication.

Today we have taken publish or perish to an entire new level in that it applies not just too individual academics, but entire institutions. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bellingen, writing, obituaries and skills

A brief round-up this morning on various issues.Bellingen writers' Festival 2011

By all accounts, the first Bellingen Writers' Festival was a considerable success.  You can find an Armidale perspective from Janene Carey here, a longer Bellingen perspective here

The photo shows part of the audience in the Bellingen Library for the Digging Up the Past session on Sunday morning. Given my interests, this is one session that I would have liked to attend. I quote from the Armidale Express coverage:

One particularly well attended, thought-provoking session was ‘Digging Up the Past’, featuring Linda Neil, Leslie Cannold, Armidale’s Sophie Masson and Wendy James.

Facilitator Ron Howard asked the panel, all of whom had written novels incorporating historical research, about the power of fiction to bring the past to life, and then got them talking about the question of whether historical fiction simply projects contemporary issues back onto people who would not have had the same concerns as us.

A lively discussion ensued, with the authors describing their experiences as readers and writers, and agreeing that their present-day preoccupations necessarily influenced the fictional histories they produced.

I thought that facilitator Howard's question was a pretty fair one, and one relevant to my own writing.

Staying with Bellingen, I see from the Courier-Sun that the next stage of restoration work on the Alma Doepel has begun, The ship is a three masted topsail schooner originally built as a shallow drafted coastal trader in Bellingen in 1903. There is a gap here that I do not understand between the time I visited the ship at Port Macquarie where it was a tourist attraction and the present. Something to find out.

Hadyn Wilson art prizeAdam Fulton reports in The Sydney Morning Herald that Hunter Valley artist Hadyn Wilson has won the $20,000 Gallipoli Art Prize with a montage addressing the human costs of war. My congratulations.

There were were two interesting obituaries in the Sydney Morning Herald with New England connections.

The first was the remarkable story of  Dutch born Jack Dalmayer. Did you know that there was such a thing as Victory Camp in Casino which was declared Dutch territory by the Australian government early in the war and was occupied by the 1st Battalion, Netherlands East Indies Army, consisting of Dutch and Indonesian soldiers. I did not. Jack was part of a group came to be known as ''The Dutch Boys'' or ''The Casino Boys''. I leave it to you to read more.

The second obituary also has a Northern Rivers connection, the story of community activist Bess Dwyer.

Meantime, fellow New England blogger Paul Barratt who has written a fair number of obituaries for the metropolitans media has posted a new one, Vale Rex Robert Budd, DFC (1935-2Leith in Spitfire010). Rex was a TAS (The Armidale School) old boy.

This followed an earlier obituary of another old boy, Duty Done: Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC.

If you look at the various obituaries I have mentioned you will get a feel for my liking for them. They are all so very different, but are also part of the varied tapestry of New England life.

Over on my personal blog, Poker machines, Windsor and Joyce is a follow up to an earlier story I did on Andrew Wilkie and the proposed poke machine tax.

I must say that I take a really evil pleasure in the way that political events have made New England from the Hunter to the border once again politically relevant in a way that we haven't actually seen since the 1960s. Long may it continue!

In State fragmentation & the meaning of NSW economic statistics I referred in part to problems in attracting skilled labor, especially in inland New England. Much earlier in my column in the Armidale Express I made the suggestion that for at least some migration should be attached, a residency requirement should be attached to get people to the country.  Last night's ABC 7.30 Report carried a story on labour shortages in the Queensland town of Roma. You will find the transcript here. I quote from one part of the transcript:

SAUL ESLAKE, GRATTAN INSTITUTE: But given the long-term nature of any effective solution to this kind of problem, it's one that the Government ought to be working on solutions to over the next two or three years because if they don't, then some of those consequences in terms either of opportunities foregone or unsustainable upward pressure on wages could come home to bite us in a very nasty way.

If I took a certain evil pleasure in the return to prominence of Northern New South Wales, my broader New England, I took no pleasure from Mr Eslakes' comment. I have been banging away at some of these issues for a number of years. To my mind, there has been no progress over the last twenty years.

The key problems lie in lack of continuity, of focus, of integration. The lead time to train a specialist medico now has blown out on the shortest route to eleven years, more normally fourteen or fifteen years. Whereas most people once gained their trade qualifications at twenty, they are now twenty three or twenty four.

With long lead times as well as structural impediments, If you really want to fix some of these skills issues you need to adopt a twenty year planning horizon. That's how long it will actually take. With the average Government policy having, at best, a three year life expectancy before major modification, it's no wonder that we end up reacting to the current squeaky wheel!

I said that this was going to be a brief round-up. I find that I have barely scratched the surface, but I am far out of time.


Janene Carey, the writer of the Armidale Express article came in with a very interesting comment. This led me to write this post, George Negus, watermelons & the meaning of words. Have a look at Janene's comments first, and then my post.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Decentralisation, development & government failure

Just following up on Monday's post, State fragmentation & the meaning of NSW economic statistics. I finished that post with these words:

Now when we look at the workforce data, and this is impressionistic because I have only scanned the numbers, we find:

  • The participation rate (the proportion of the working age population seeking work) is lower in the rest of NSW than Sydney, especially for women.
  • The proportion of unemployed seeking work is higher than in Sydney.
  • The proportion of employed seeking full time work is higher than in Sydney.

So if you look at it this way, the rest of the state appears something of a basket case dragging Sydney down.

Is this true? Well, it's not quite as easy as that. In my next post I will look at the reasons why, focused on New England.

  I now want to do that, also picking up further points flowing from my rather annoyed and crabby post, Tony Burke's bullshit.

Nimbin domes 1973 In 1972, scouts from the Australian Union of Students came to the village and persuaded the Nimbin Progress Association to allow a festival to be held there. The result in 1973 was a ten day festival -  a celebration of the dawning of the `Consciousness' and `Protest' movements in the heady days of the Vietnam war, free love and marijuana - a festival of discovery. The photo shows domes at the Festival.

This may sound an odd way to begin my analysis, but in many ways the 1973 Aquarius Festival marks an important dividing  the symbolic height of the 1970s' change process.

Today, when the ever extending rush to the seaboard seems so entrenched, it is hard to believe that that wasn't always the case. It's modern form is quite recent.

Prior to the start of the 1970s, New England's North Coast - the coastal strip from the Hunter to the Queensland Border - seemed quite remote to those living in Sydney. It was a place that some went to for holidays, but that was about the full scope. In those distant days, Coffs Harbour was a significant centre, but it was much smaller than Armidale or Tamworth.

Nimbin plus the simple fact of the completion of the final bridge over the Clarence changed all that.

Nimbin and the surrounding cultural changes popularised the idea of alternative life styles, while promoting the North Coast as a sub-tropical paradise.  House and land prices were relatively low by Sydney standards.

The replacement of the river punts by bridges diverted traffic from the New England to the Pacific Highway, making it the major route to Brisbane.

The people who now came to to the North Coast broke into a number of groups: there were those who simply wanted an alternative life style; there were a growing number of retirees beginning a rush that extended from the Central Coast to the Queensland border; and there were also many unemployed people - if you can't get work, you may as well live in an area that both offers life style advantages and is cheaper. Tourists came too.

The 1970s marked the start of a period of fundamental economic change. Across Australia, unemployment increased. Many of those with secure super - and this is a little discussed cost of change - decided to take early retirement. In the Hunter, industries began to close including the BHP. On the North Coast, traditional industries such as dairying and timber contracted. Across New England,middle level jobs disappeared as functions were centralised.

The jobs that came to replace them on the North Coast were lower paid service level jobs - tourism, retailing, health and aged care, certain public service positions directly linked to human services. By the 2000s, parts of the North Coast had become some of the poorest areas in Australia measured by the conventional statistics. The Federal electorate of Lynne is Australia's poorest electorate.

The position in the Hunter is a little different. The Hunter too was affected by economic restructuring and by retiree moves. However, the Hunter had coal. Growth in mining created jobs and skills shortages in particular areas. A variegated pattern was created of growth and contraction, of growing poverty and boom.

In inland New England, the position was different again. Economic restructuring removed jobs, as did policy changes and instability.

In 1981 and 1982, meatwork closures stripped 1,200 jobs from the Northern Tablelands. In the early 1970s, official projections showed Armidale exceeding Tamworth in population by 2000. Changes to tertiary education policy in the 1980s and 1990s stripped 1,300 direct and indirect jobs from Armidale. The city went into a decline that has really just been reversed.

Problems were compounded by official policies designed to meet state wide problems that had profound negative effects at local level. Changes to building requirements designed to protect consumers and maintain standards led to a progressive withdrawal of builders from smaller centres, to a decline in available land that met the mandated standards for housing. Communities with lots of land around them could not attract people because they could not offer housing.

By 2009, the problem had got so bad that that the Housing NSW could and would not build social housing in certain communities because they could get neither the land nor the builders. The problems were further compounded by the idea that those living in social housing must have access to a defined range of local services of an acceptable standard; this held regardless of where people actually wanted to live. Even places like Bellingen were classified as too far away.

Problems were further compounded by changes in people's attitudes, just getting people to move to the country to take jobs became an issue. In discussion on sea change, tree change, the focus is just on attitudes. In fact, attitudes combines with officially created structural impediments.

Just a simple example.

To save costs, the NSW Government abolished certain emergency positions in NSW hospitals. These positions were especially located outside Sydney. By 2004, NSW was training far fewer of certain types of physicians than New Zealand. As a result, there were fewer specialist available, fewer prepared to go to country areas.

Let me take another example.

If you increase the length of medical training, if you locate much of that training in metro areas, you then can't get doctors for regional areas for a simple human fact. By the time you are 33, most people have partners. If your partner comes from Sydney and has his or her own career, then the chances of you moving away from Sydney are very low.

If you can't get doctors in a community, then you won't get the receptionist, nurse and other support positions that go with it. If you can't get builders, then you won't get the unskilled and semi-skilled positions that go with those builders. And so the story goes on.

The problem in inland New England is not lack of potential jobs, but the inability to actually do anything to meet potential demand because Governments have built in so many structural impediments that you can't do it.

I may seem to have come a long way from my starting point. I have not. But this is quite a long post now, so I will leave it there for the moment..                    

Monday, April 18, 2011

State fragmentation & the meaning of NSW economic statistics

Today an article one of Sydney's local newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald,  quoted the latest Commonwealth Securities' State of the States report placing NSW in eighth place behind both Tasmania and Victoria in a league dominated by Western Australia and the ACT on measures of economic momentum. Those who are interested can find the report here.

I will comment on the report in a moment. But first, some background, background that also fulfils a promise I made to Greg in response to a comment. 

Back in February 2010 I discussed The fragmentation of NSW. There I was concerned with the way economic and demographic change had changed the structure of NSW and the nature of Government responses to those changes. My argument was that NSW as an entity increasingly made less sense and that as a consequence Government approaches to the planning and management of the state had become increasingly fragmented and ad-hoc.

I suppose the overall drivers to this fragmentation can be summarised this way:

  • While Sydney still gains wealth from its governing role in NSW, the city has become increasingly disconnected in economic terms from the rest of the state. A lot of NSW State planning is Sydney centred and focuses on ways of managing and controlling its immediate hinterland in areas like residential development. To this end, the definition of metropolitan has been progressively expanded.
  • In the far north, the growth of south east Queensland has spilled over into the adjoining areas of Northern NSW, further drawing the area into Brisbane's field. Sydney Government policy here has simply been reactive.
  • Something similar is happening in the far south along the Murray.
  • And then there is Canberra, the tiger in the room, whose growth has spilled over into surrounding areas effectively extending Canberra's economic sphere of influence. In the case of both the far south and the Capital Territory Region, NSW policy has again been largely reactive.
  • Take Sydney, the Richmond-Tweed, the Capital Region and the Murray corridor out of the equation, and you are left with pretty fragmented territory dealt with in a fragmented way.

Turning now to the report.

Taking the above analysis into account, what does the report tell us beyond the obvious fact that the spread of the ACT's economic influence continues? What is this NSW economy?

Pretty obviously it doesn't tell me anything about New England. After all, we don't exist!

Beyond that?

Just as a matter of curiosity, I looked at the latest ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) workforce stats released today. This includes various workforce performance data for Sydney and the rest of NSW. Sydney, by the way, is not Sydney as we normally think of it, but the Sydney Statistical Division. This includes the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast. From memory, this includes about 62 per cent of the State population, so effectively dominates the rest in statistical terms.

Now when we look at the workforce data, and this is impressionistic because I have only scanned the numbers, we find:

  • The participation rate (the proportion of the working age population seeking work) is lower in the rest of NSW than Sydney, especially for women.
  • The proportion of unemployed seeking work is higher than in Sydney.
  • The proportion of employed seeking full time work is higher than in Sydney.

So if you look at it this way, the rest of the state appears something of a basket case dragging Sydney down.

Is this true? Well, it's not quite as easy as that. In my next post I will look at the reasons why, focused on New England.    

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sandon - a superb Armidale B&B

 P1020613 Over on Personal Reflections, Sunday Snippets - a crabby Sunday morning, continues my present somewhat crabby mood.

To ease this, I decided this morning to indulge myself by giving a special plug to Sandon B&B in Armidale. I have referred to them several times, but this is my personal targeted plug intended to get direct internet coverage.

I had gone to Armidale to deliver a paper at the University. Normally, I stay in town. This time, graduation was on and I could find no accommodation. The very friendly and efficient Louise at the Armidale Visitor Information Centre found me a room at the Sandon B&B and Woodturnery abut thirteen minutes drive outside town.

This is the story of my stay. All contact details are at the end of the post.

I left Sydney late, so that it was dark when I arrived. I had directions, but I still had some problems in finding the place. The location is beautiful in daylight, but even though there are signs, I had to stop several times to check becauseP1020615 of the trees.

Now there is a lesson. You will find it, but it is easier if you properly check the directions before you go. 

The photo shows the collected and very Australian collection of letter boxes at the junction leading down to the B&B. This is among the trees at the end of the road at the left.    

My hosts, Tini & Gerard Oude Avenhuis were waiting for me when I arrived. I was a little late, and they were worried. I had been rushing to leave Sydney, and had not rung. Best to confirm your details with them when you get the booking confirmation. 

This is not a big B&B. There is, I think, only one wonderful fully self-contained room suitable for a single or a couple. There is private access, so you are quite private.

P1020621 The next shot is of the room itself. It is a big room with a table on the side, a walk-in wardrobe, an en-suite, plus a TV and a fridge. 

That bed was quite wonderful. I was very tired when arrived, and really had the best night's sleep that I had had in ages.

Even though Tini and Gerard had moved to Armidale while I was first a very regular visitor and then living again in the city, I hadn't actually met them. So it was interesting to learn about them.

Gerard was a chemical engineer. They came to Australia under the mass migration program, where Gerard worked first in his profession in various places including Newcastle. Interesting stories there from both of a world that has now gone.  Gerard came to Armidale initially to work with the now long gone New England Milk Industries, and then did one of those career shifts to work as a technical assistant in the Theatre Studies Department at the University of New England.

P1020620 The next shot shows one of the masks Gerard made for a classical Greek tragedy, now stored in the garage.

Really Gerard did everything: set design, set construction, play organisation. Meantime, Tini became actively involved in other things, including working at PLC, one of the local girls school.

Part of Gerard's time at UNE coincided with my time as a postgrad student. We actually shared the same staff room. I was embarrassed not to remember!

I must write something on the UNE Theatre Studies Department, for it has had a remarkable influence.  

With B&B's there is sometimes a fine line between hosts who seem indifferent and those who are over friendly, not giving the guests real space. I thought that Tini and Gerard got the balance pretty right.

They don't make much money from the B&B, it's an interest, and they are naturally friendly people. Otherwise, why do it? Yet they don't presume. They let you take your own time to decide how friendly you want to be.

One issue with the B&B is that it's thirteen minutes from Armidale. This is not really an issue if you live in the metropolitan centres, but it is an issue when you go out to dinner in these days of mass police patrols. I guess that that's a trade-off if you want the rural peace.P1020617

The next shot looking down the drive shows the friendly collies. Just how many B&B's will give you this!

To manage the distance, you can either bring dinner back to the room or bring drinks back.

Tini and Gerard are happy to provide plates or wine glasses.

The B&B price includes a full breakfast. This is provided in the front lounge. I got into a little trouble on the first morning because I did not finish the tomatoes!  Tini was concerned because they were home grown. They were nice, but I was full.

The next shot shows me at breakfast. Look at the view. It was just so nice sitting there in the morning.

P1020609 On my last day, Tini sat me down and in a slightly embarrassed fashion asked me about the price they were charging. Should they increase it?

I fear that I spoiled the market for everybody else by saying that I thought that it was too low!

Really, it was just out of kilter with prices charged in the city itself, even accepting the distance factor.

If you want to share the experience that I enjoyed, you can book your stay though the Armidale Visitor Information Centre

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Can you help us find Captain Thunderbolt?

Back in June last year, I carried a story on the Search for Captain Thunderbolt. Launched by the National Film Sound Archive , the aim was to find a full copy of this historic film.  

Captain Thunderbolt Trailer Sneak Peek from NFSA on Vimeo.

This post drew a comment from David Donaldson who helped inspire the search from the film. In turn, I followed this up with New England Story - the making of Captain Thunderbolt, a purely personal perspective on the making of the film.

Through the miracles of blogging, this drew comments from the Australian family of New Zealander Colin Scrimgeour whose Australian company provided the vehicle for the film. Now there is an important sub-text here in terms of of the politics and intellectual life of both Australia and New Zealand, for both Cecil Holmes and Colin Scrimgeour were significant figures on the left and both suffered for their views. I mean to write something on Colin on my personal blog at some point.

The National Film and Sound Archive commentary on the film noted the influence of Holmes's views on the film. Not that that mattered with Captain Thunderbolt from a local viewpoint, for the locals who participated including my father and aunt just saw it as a film. Indeed, there is a fascinating juxtaposition in that Thunderbolt played by heart throb Grant Taylor actually rode, or so the story goes, my grandfather's horse. My grandfather was then the the Country Party member for New England. In this context, David Donaldson wrote:

In the original post, Jim said "Certainly I didn't see it as an explicit political statement, nor (I think) did those locals who took part in its making or watched it. Certainly I have never heard comments along those lines. It was just a film, part of our history."

Having observed some Cold War applications in Sydney in that time, I can say that some of us certainly did read in those themes then. I think that Holmes was trying to make relevance and interest. He saw the world in those political terms, so that was the way he thought in the film. It was not explicitly intended as a political statement, as the NFSA note perhaps suggests.

It may be that Holmes' vigilators would have seen it that way, though!

I suspect that when I first saw the film and then later I saw it simply as the normal Australian expression of support for the underdog. I also think that David may be right in his views.  

I digress.

In a recent comment on the post, David said that the NSFA search for the film appeared to be dragging. Here he wrote:

So far as I know, the NFSA has to date (April 2011) done nothing to advance the Search which was purportedly launched at Sydney Film Festival. It is up to the non-professionals to work outside NFSA to find the film, as well as to press the NFSA cushion.

Can you help? The original full copy of the film may well be in a store somewhere. If you don't know would you mind re-transmitting this message.      

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sydney's past asset grab, now electricity prices go sky-high

Yesterday we got our first electricity bill for the new house. Over $200 for one month!

Today's Sydney Morning Herald carried a rather frightening story: Power prices rising at alarming rates will hit larger families hardest.

Many low-income families in NSW will be forking out 10 per cent or more of their disposable incomes on electricity bills after increases of up to 18.1 per cent announced by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal yesterday. Its chairman, Rod Sims, said the electricity price increases would be difficult for many families...

The tribunal said the steep increase in prices was necessary to cover rising network maintenance costs and to meet mandatory renewable energy targets.In

In may last year in Sydney's 1995 electricity heist I provided some historical background on the changes to the NSW power sector. There I quoted a remarkably revealing statement from then NSW Treasurer Michael Egan.  

A commercial framework requires that all distributors have an appropriate capital structure. Current debt levels of most distributors are relatively low, with an average gearing of approximately 13%, compared to the proposed 50% to 60% gearing of Victorian distributors.

Despite low profitability, rural distributors have been able to accumulate significant cash reserves as they have little debt and are not currently required to pay tax and dividends. In the absence of a commercial cost of capital, distributors are provided with strong incentives to eliminate debt and over invest in network assets. Local Government governance structures have contributed to the development of inefficient capital structures.

In conjunction with an increase in network sector returns to commercial levels, there is also an opportunity to review debt levels in order to achieve a commercial capital structure appropriate for mature, low risk utilities.

For example, financial modelling indicates that a 10% per annum regulated return on network assets will generate sufficient cashflow to support gearing levels of up to 50% for network businesses.

Now look at this statement closely. We have a situation where rural distributors are over investing in network assets and, apparently, charging too little to customers. We have a situation where electricity suppliers are not carrying enough debt! Very strange.

And what happened?

By grabbing control, Sydney was able to grab capital, strip cash via dividends, strip cash by new borrowings, strip cash by minimising on investment and maintenance. Now prices must rise and sharply to recover all this. And, or so it appears, the increase will be greatest in inland NSW. This is just the area where Mr Egan's statement suggests that previous financial management was so inefficient!

I do wonder! 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tony Burke's bullshit

I do wonder sometimes.

According to Milanda Rout in the Australian, Australia's Minister for Sustainable Population Tony Burke has ruled out solving the country's population problems by encouraging people to move to selected regional cities through the relocation of government jobs.

Whether or not the movement of government jobs is a good or a bad thing is arguable. However, the report suggests that Mr Burke has very little knowledge of history in his portfolio area. To illustrate this, this post takes Mr Burke's reported views and then provides a comment.  

"Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke told The Australian he would not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and get people out of the cities and into the country by shifting public service departments.

He said this policy -- used by many past state and federal governments in places like Albury-Wodonga -- had failed in getting people to move over the long term, and it was better to let the market decide which regional areas should boom."

The first major move of Government jobs to a country region was in a place now known as Canberra, a move that had major locational effects. I know of no evidence that those moves that have taken place - and there haven't been all that many of them - have failed in getting people to move over the long term.

"I won't try to fix it by picking winners," Mr Burke said. "What I don't want to do is to get into some direct centralised-control argument about the commonwealth somehow determining which will be the growth centres and which will not. That argument will always fail."

Now that's an interesting comment. Most people who read this won't know the history. As it happens, I'm writing something on it at the moment.

Towards the end of the Second World War, the Australian Government turned its mind to post war reconstruction. After the turmoil and rigours of the war, there was genuine national interest in new ways of doing things. One part of that was the need to achieve effective community development and decentralisation.

In New England, Drs Belshaw and Voisey launched a regional councils movement. To Belshaw in particular, regional councils were the best way of achieving effective decentralisation. In January 1948, the Australian Institute of Political Science held its annual summer school in Armidale. The topic was decentralisation. It was a well attended meeting attracting great local interest. It was also the meeting that re-launched the New England New State Movement.

Unlike his son, Belshaw was not a new stater. He believed that regional councils were a more effective solution. Disillusioned by the failure of the NSW Government to grant the new regional bodies any real powers, convinced that it never would, he turned to the idea of selective decentralisation. Let's concentrate resources on the development of a small number of major non-metro cities.

This idea was picked up, developed and popularised by Professor Neutze and others at the Australian National University. It then became the basis of the new Whitlam Government's growth centre strategy. Two growth centres were picked in NSW - Albury-Wodonga and Bathurst-Orange. For a number of reasons including the demise of the Whitlam Government, the policy did not deliver the desired results.

Since the Whitlam Government, all Australian Governments have refrained from picking winners, all have said let the market decide, all have provided generalised regional development initiatives open to all. None of the policies had delivered effective results. This is not to say that selective decentralisation is a better approach, simply that it seems that Mr Burke is unaware of history.

The minister said the national population strategy, due to be released in the middle of the year, would instead focus on how to address "barriers" to people living in booming regional areas where there are housing shortages.

He described mining towns where people were well-paid but had to pay $2000 a week rent and could not get a sandwich as a "market failure".

"It's a case of trying to work out how we, at a commonwealth level, look at where those failures are and unlock some of the constraints," he said. "We need to be able to find ways to work out what is the market failure that is causing a massive demand in employment and a supply gap in allowing people to live locally and take those jobs."

Mr Burke's approach seems totally driven by the current mining boom. If Mr Burke were to argue for studies and approaches that attempted to address and remove the barriers limiting decentralisation, he would have my full support.

As I have tried to demonstrate on many occasions, those barriers are structural and are directly related to the locational impact of state and federal policies. Even in housing, and again as I have argued, the problems are not so much market failures but the outcomes of generalised state government policies whose effect is to make the release of new land and houses very expensive. You need a big market price to recover the costs, and development takes a long time,    

Mr Burke, who is approaching his 12-month anniversary in the portfolio, said the country was at a unique stage in its history because the mining boom meant the growth in regions was commercially driven rather than led by government.

"We have a really different opportunity because regionalism is being market-driven," he said.

This is absolute bullshit. Regional growth has rarely been led by Governments, often occurring in spite of governments. Australia has experienced many mining booms.

If Mr Burke wants to argue that Government action is required to ensure that regional communities from the Hunter to the Pilbarra get the best local gains from mining while minimising costs I would support him. But that's not what he is saying.

In fairness to the man, I should note that I suspect that none of his advisers have any knowledge of history. If they did, they would correct his remarks. 


I probably shouldn't have used the word bullshit, but I was cranky!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New England Aboriginal life - Collarenebri rap

Rob Baiton is a blogger I first met through though Neil Whitfield. He was then in Indonesia, but returned to Australia and retrained as a teacher. He has been teaching in Collarenebri, a town with a population of 478 people in New England's west.

The video that follows, Talk Of The Town -- The Colli Crew..., is a rather good school rap video. I am running the video as part of my New England Aboriginal life series, but thought that I should give you some context first.

Both country and rap are popular among among New England's Aboriginal young. Country because so many are country, rap because rap is generally popular among Australia's young, but is also popular among the Aboriginal young because of the connection with US experience. I mention this because US viewers will see the video in US terms,

For most Australians, the Aborigines are an abstract term. In many New England towns, the Aborigines are a very large minority group, even the majority. So life in those towns depends on merging Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in a way that reflects and respects both sides.

The Kamilaroi or Gamillaraay Aboriginal Language group occupy the New England's western slopes and plains.

Enjoy the video!      

Belshaw's World - problem solving & the second table on the left

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 6 April 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.

Back in Armidale last week for my UNE paper.

It’s always interesting coming back after a gap. Armidale is still my home town, but the process of change carries the city on. Those of us who have left cannot directly participate.

This has its disadvantages. It can leave the city that we knew frozen in aspic, a place fixed in a past space and time. That said, we can perhaps see the city and its institutions more clearly than those who live there all the time. We see the differences; they see the things that are the same.

Last Friday was graduation. I hadn’t known that until I tried to arrange accommodation. Everything was booked.

While I do have friends that I can stay with, I don’t like doing that on business trips. In this case, I was too preoccupied with the paper I had to give. I would have been very bad company.

Fortunately, the friendly and efficient Louise from the Visitor Information Centre was able to find me accommodation at the Sandon B&B. As a former chair of Tourism Armidale I was impressed.

Mind you, I hope that I have got Louise’s name right! I didn’t write it down. Still, even if I’m wrong, I hope that those involved will recognise who I mean.

I have written a fair bit in this column on the need for Armidale to show a welcoming face to visitors. Louise did just that, as did Tini and Gerard Oude Avenhuis at Sandon B&B.

Tina and Gerard were wonderfully hospitable, the accommodation superb. This included a bed to die for, the most comfortable queen size bed I’ve slept in. Getting away had been a battle, so it was wonderful to collapse into a good bed. Best night’s sleep for ages!

Friday morning quite early I went out to the university, my camera with me.

All those years ago when I was an undergraduate, the second table on the left in the refectory was ours. We spent many hours there drinking coffee, talking and doing last minute essays.

This year they tables had been reorganised. The second table on the left was back and vacant. So I took my coffee and sat there doing last minute reviews on the paper just as I had done all those years before.

I had a lot of material that I wanted to cover, too much for a 45 minute paper, so I was trying to work out how best to summarise and focus.

The social changes that swept the broader new state New England over the period 1050 to 2000 were quite dramatic.

In the first half of the period change, while substantial, did not destroy historical continuity. Over the second half, change was so substantial that it actually introduced a fundamental historical discontinuity.

In 1950, all newspapers and radio stations were locally owned. When TV came, it too was locally owned. By 2,000, local ownership had shrunk to a handful of independent newspapers.

That’s just one example of a widely replicated pattern. But how best to summarise?

Restless, I put my papers away and walked down to look at the graduation preparations.

A steady stream of graduates and family were wandering up the hill towards Bool. The place looked a real treat.

It’s really a beautiful campus. I did wonder, however, why the Bool tennis courts were unkempt.

I had noticed this before. That, I guess, is another example of the changes that I have been talking about. I felt a bit sad because of the role that those courts once played in UNE life.

After the paper, there was morning tea in the staff room. I spent a fair bit of time in that staff room when I was back at UNE doing some postgraduate research.

Over coffee we talked among other things about ERA, or Excellence in Research for Australia. Ever heard of it?

From the inelegant English, you can guess that it’s a Government initiative. Its practical effects are equally inelegant.

ERA is one of those benchmarking exercises so beloved by current Governments and officials. It aims to benchmark research in Australian universities against international standards.

This may sound reasonable, but ERA is actually yet another example of the type of thing that I was talking about in my paper, a Government induced change that is adversely affecting Australian university education in general, New England in particular.

When I say New England, I don’t mean just the University, but Northern NSW in general. I will explain why in my next column.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Introducing New England Aboriginal life

This post is the start of a new series I am calling simply New England Aboriginal Life, the story of the Aboriginal people of Northern NSW, my broader New England.

I am not Aboriginal, but I do research and write a lot on Aboriginal history and culture.

I have been fortunate in that I became interested long before the Aboriginal story became so conflicted. I was part of Isabel McBryde's pioneering Australian prehistory group at the University of New England, the first of its type in Australia. My 1966 honours thesis was an ethnohistorical study of the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life in Northern NSW looking at issue such as population distribution, trade and the pattern of seasonal movement.

Life took me away from my the Aborigines and my original idea of being becoming an Australian prehistorian. I became involved again because I couldn't work out why something that I had thought of as a success, the advancement of Aboriginal people from a poor base, had apparently turned into such a reported disaster.

I started writing on public policy issues as they affected Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This wasn't always pleasant. Then I decide to write a history of New England, drawing me back into the history of my own country. This added a historical flavour to my writing.

In 2009 I had the pleasure of working with Aboriginal people at the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office. The Office shared a building with the NSW Aboriginal land Council. In the office, over smokes outside, at drinks, I was introduced to the complexities of Aboriginal life and politics in NSW. I found a deep hunger among many Aboriginal people for history as it related to their own particular lives and groups. A natural enthusiast, I fear I became a bit of a bore in sharing knowledge.

Most recently, I wrote a series of posts triggered by what I saw as confusions about Aboriginal life and culture. The posts were:  
Before going on, would you mind watching a video? 

This video introduces the Through our Eyes series, nineteen short documentaries feature Aboriginal Elders and knowledge-holders from the Ngemba, Kamilaroi and Euahlayi language groups in north-western NSW describing the land management practices and social, spiritual and cultural knowledge that enabled their people to care for the country for tens of thousands of years. It is an example of the material that I want to make available.

The thing I found striking in the discussions that triggered the posts I referred to earlier was the way that people talked about the Aborigines in an abstract sense. There was also a tendency to deny the validity of modern Aboriginal cultures in NSW, to downplay their identity and historical continuity.

I am a story teller. in this series I want to tell you a little about New England's Aboriginal peoples drawing from my own work as well as other material.

I don't have the time to write huge posts. Rather, I just want to give you a taste from time to time so that you can see New England's Aboriginal peoples as people, part of the canvas of the land.

The series is dedicated to the people I met at AHO and especially Jen, my Aboriginal mentoree, through whom I learned some of the practical pressures facing Aboriginal people.

Posts in this series:


I have been bogged down on other things, so have not posted here. That will change.

Problems with literature & locale, a post on my personal blog, continues my exploration of aspects of New England's history.

I have been much involved in thinking about certain aspects of our relations with Australia's Aborigines. The posts that resulted were:

As so often happens, these posts were strongly influenced by the New England experience.

Publish or perishing Australia's universities is one of a series of posts dealing with aspects of change in higher education that affect New England's universities.  As I noted there, this week's column in the Armidale Express will extends the discussion. I will bring the post up here in due course and then extend the argument with a specifically New England focus.