Saturday, May 28, 2011

Who will defend New England?

I guess I need to start this post with an apology to my colleagues for my non-delivery on certain matters. They will understand what I mean.

In Western Australia, Premier Barnett is staring the Feds down. One can argue for or against the WA position, but no-one can deny, I think, that the Premier is standing up for the people of WA. In New England, we have no-one standing up for us against either Sydney or Canberra.

Just at the moment, I am trying to complete several posts on the Grattan report, Investing in regions: Making a difference. This very bad think tank report argues, among other things, that resources should be redistributed from universities like UNE, SCU or Newcastle to those in Sydney, that resources should be redistributed from low growth areas like Newcastle to Western Sydney.

Newcastle a low growth area? Please excuse my under-breath comments!  

Today's post on my personal blog, People, biography & the New England tradition, was really a history post. However, a point was that the life, culture, history and thought of Northern NSW, my broader New England, had been largely written out of Australian discourse because it is seen as non existent or irrelevant.

In my history research and writing I see the linkages all the time. I also see the way in which local and regional causes have been constantly dismissed. You won't see the linkages in conventional history or writing more broadly. As I said, they have been written out of existence.  

Some of us including fellow bloggers are fighting to bring it back. We need your support.

You don't need to support New England self government, although many of us do. We just need you to tell the story of your own area and in doing to also focus on broader linkages.

This is what I try to do. Please join me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 23 - life style

Just over a month since my last blog round-up. Last time I focused on a few personal blogs. I decided to continue that theme looking for blogs and stories that might reveal aspects of life across the broader New England.

On the North Coast blog Mountaingirl Musings, Pearl has been worried about income pressures. Money's Too Tight To Mention begins: The budget is getting stretched way too tight and something has to give. Pearl is not alone here. There are many people on the North Coast on benefits or other low incomes that are finding things such as rising utility prices hard to manage. Pearl's solution is to make things to sell at local markets. Here she wrote:

We have a number of markets here in town so that becomes an obvious option. The big one would be most ideal but I physically can't walk that far - no it isn't far - but it just isn't an option.

So I look to the smaller markets. They do have the advantage of being on twice a month and have just implemented a "car boot sale" type component. I need to find some more info but it would mean that the car is right next to me eliminating the need for walking.

Over the last twenty years, the type of markets that Pearl is talki1305958930_farmers-market-armidaleng about have spread widely across New England. They come in many forms and sizes. Part social, part commercial, they have come to fill an important gap.

This photo from What's On In Armidale shows  the Armidale Farmers Market. It is held on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month down by the creek in Curtis Park. It currently has a modest range of about 30 stallholders. There are some great veges, meat and local wine producers. Also the odds and ends of the car boot section.

Staying with farmer's markets, Little Eco Footprints is a Newcastle blog, one that I had not seen before, and a very popular one measured by the comments.

Introducing Emu, Flappy, and Duffa Dilly Bong starts this way:

New arrivals Daddy Eco was away this weekend, and wasn't there to talk sense into Little Eco and I when we spotted three very cute four week old Pekin Bantams at the Farmer's Market.

And very attractive arrivals they are too. I hope that Daddy Eco wasn't too cross!

I see that Mummy Eco is a slow food exponent, and lists a number of interesting Newcastle sites that I had not seen before including:

Staying with food, Sophie Masson's A la mode frangourou continues to offer some most wonderful recipes. For a number of years I have been main cook because that was easier from a family viewpoint and found myself getting most dreadfully stale. Bored with cooking, in fact. Sophie inspires me to explore new things.

I won't give an individual post because they are just so very good. Congratulations to Sophie as well for winning the NSW Premier's Award for children's literature!Bellingen Show 2011 

It's show time around New England.  This photo of the Bellingen Show comes from Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite's  SIXTY EYES 2011 VISION.

This blog is a daily photo blog, and is but one of Lynne's blogs!

There was a time when it looked as though social change would destroy the local show. Too much other entertainment, pressures on the agricultural sector, simple changes in tastes. Fortunately they have survived and still form an integral part of New England life.

I think that the strangest thing I have ever done at a show was judging the Walcha Miss Showgirl competition! Now that, it seemed to me, was a dangerous task!

The shows themselves are but one element in the changing pattern of local events across New England.

Mark Clarence Valley Multicultural Festival This next photo from Mark's Clarence Valley Today shows one dance at the Clarence Valley Multicultural Festival. Mark comments:

The great thing about the multicultural festival is that you realise how many different cultures there are in the Clarence Valley and how proud they are of their cultural heritage. The stereotype of rural New South Wales is one of monoculture, the Festival of the Five Senses shows that that is not true. 

It's actually never been quite true. A fair bit of my historical writing has been concerned with diversity and the changing pattern of life across New England and across time.

I fear that I have run out of time. That's all for now, folks! 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

5th Dungog Film Festival - a varied program

It seems only yesterday that I wrote 4th Dungog Film Festival - New England films. Now, and it almost escaped me, the 5th Festival is on. I feel a little annoyed, because I had said to myself that I would go. Still, the way that things have worked out, it wouldn't have been possible anyway. 

For those who don't know the festival, it has (I think) become the largest festival in Australia dedicated to Australian films. You can find the official web site here, the Facebook page here.

taj-web It's a very mixed program indeed, featuring new and old.

Taj is a first for Australian cinema, with Indian actors in leading dramatic roles exploring the world of Indian-Australian culture.

You can then go from this to the Australian classics The Man from Snow River or Gallipoli, films that still appeal enormously despite the changes that have taken place in Australia.

Then, for variety, try The Dragon Pearl. The plot of this Chines-Australian co-production is described in this way:

 When teenagers Josh (Louis Corbett from Charlotte’s Web) and Ling (Li Lin Jin makes an impressive debut) join their respective parents, Chris (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park, The Piano, The Hunt For Red October) and Dr Li (Wang Ji, a string of Chinese features but also The Karate Kid in 2009) on an archaeologdragon-pearl-webical dig in China, they are thrown together and left to their own devices.

What was meant to be a quiet vacation to an archeological dig in China, becomes an unexpected adventure full of ancient mystery. While their parents are making historic discoveries, Josh and Ling make one of their own. Together, the kids uncover something trapped beneath a temple, beyond their wildest imagination. The temple is guarded by Wu-Dong (Jordan Chan, a prolific actor and musician) who rounds out a cast of China’s most popular actors.

What they have in fact discovered is an ancient Chinese Dragon, trapped on earth because it was separated from its magical ‘pearl’. The sleeping dragon has been awoken. Josh and Ling’s parents don’t believe their stories, but archaeologist Philip Dukas (Robert Mammone) listens closely and has sinister ambitions. A breathtaking struggle between good and evil ensues.

As always, I am interested in New England films. This time we have The Forgotten Men. The film is based on an RM Williams campfire story and stars Jack Thompson, Kerry Armstrong, Gyton Grantley and Lincoln Lewis, with newcomer Nathin Butler shining in the lead role. It was shot all around the Dungog area and is directed by Jack Wareham.

Perhaps next year I will get to Dungog!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Belshaw's World - sheep and shelter in a bygone era

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 18 May 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 tempted to follow up my last column, “New England masterchefs ponder regional dish” with another column on food because I have been asking questions of as many older Australians that I can find.

A squatter goes to town Still, I do like variety in my columns, so this time I am going to tell a story out of New England’s past. The narrator is my grandfather. This photo from cousin Jamie’s collection dates from this period and is simply inscribed a squatter goes to town.

The story begins.

"The start of 1915 ushered in a short but severe drought.

In February a neighbour and I moved our sheep onto “Hazel Grove”, a Tablelands’ property.

Late one afternoon we intended to camp on the stock route near Donegal Dam only to find the Ross Brothers of “Ard”, Graman, ahead of us with 5,000 sheep occupying the camp. They offered to lend us enough hessian to make a temporary break. We had 3,000 sheep between us and our outfit consisted of the two owners and a lad to drive the cart and supplies with 3 good sheep dogs.

Hastily summing up the situation, I proposed that we should move to a smaller break about 2 ½ miles ahead. Our sheep were strong and could survive pushing. There was little feed in the stock route and it was essential that we should get ahead of the 5,000 “Ard” sheep.

The upshot was that I took the cart and drove as fast as I could to the second break. To my dismay, a fire had swept through and left only the base logs. I worked like mad felling saplings and bushes to get the break sheep proof and then managed to get the tent erected. The fly, a heavy water-proof tarpaulin, was still in the cart when the sheep arrived.

Meanwhile a swift change in the weather had taken place. The sky had become black and as the last of the sheep were behind the hessian gateway heavy rain began to fall.

For 3 hours we hung onto our tent corners, taking it in turns to have a rest on a chaff bag about 1/3rd full. We had very good oilskin coats but were wet to the skin.

After 3 hours of incredibly heavy rain it stopped completely.

I argued that we should get out tent fly up and our gear under cover. My friend argued reasonably that we should have no more rain after such a heavy deluge, and we should get a fire going and make a pot of tea,

We got the fire nicely alight when the Heavens opened and we had another three hours of unmitigated discomfort. Finally the second deluge ceased and this time for good.

In those six hours 10 inches of rain fell to the north of us and Inverell to the south had 15 inches. It seemed certain that we had had 12 inches in the 6 hours at our camp.

A drover, finding like ourselves that the Ross Brothers were in possession of the Donegal dam site, camped 1,500 rams on the bank of the McIntyre River.

In the abnormal flood which roared down on him in pitch darkness, he lost all his gear. He cut the fences on the high banks and saved a thousand sheep, but the others stupefied and panicky with the heavy rain were swept away/

Telephone lines, fences and farm buildings around Inverell were also swept away."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New England Shows - Grafton woodchopping

Mark Grafton show 11 Over the years, I have written a lot on New England shows.

This spectacular shot from Mark shows woodchopping at the Grafton show.

Timber was a very big industry in Grafton.

The story of the New England timber industry has yet to be written. Perhaps one day! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

New England Aboriginal life - Gumbaynggir Lady

Note to readers: This is the ninth in a continuing series introducing readers to past and present Aboriginal life in New England. Those who are interested can find a full list of posts by either clicking New England Aboriginal life or, if you want, to read in date order from one up, click on Introducing New England Aboriginal life.

My thanks to Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite for this story.

For many of us, to come from New England is to leave it. There just aren't the jobs. There might be if we had our own state, but that's another story.

Singer Emma Donovan was born and grew up in Sydney. However, her mother's family is from the Gumbaynggir language group that occupied the land south from the Clarence River to the Macleay Valley. I think that there are also family connections to the Dainggatti language group from the Macleay Valley.

In New England Aboriginal life - process of language destruction, I spoke of the process of language destruction that occurred to New England's Aboriginal languages. I have yet to talk in detail about either the recording or revival of language.

I mention this now because Emma Donovan, in a sense, rediscovered Gumbaynggir and her country. She was able to do so in part because of the Gumbaynggir language revival movement, something I will write about later.

The ABC Awaye program had a full interview with Emma, including some of her songs and her thoughts on rediscovery of language. Emma is a very good singer as you will see from the following clip.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Death of Ralph Hunt

Arriving home from Canberra, I heard on breaking news that Ralph Hunt had died. At this point, I just wanted to note the fact.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New England Aboriginal life - the songs of L J Hill

Note to readers: This is the eighth in a continuing series introducing readers to past and present Aboriginal life in New England. Those who are interested can find a full list of posts by either clicking New England Aboriginal life or, if you want, to read in date order from one up, click on Introducing New England Aboriginal life.

In New England Aboriginal life - Collarenebri rap, I mentioned that many New England Aboriginal young liked rap and country. L J Hill is an older and more experienced singer in the country genre.

Part  Aboriginal (Kamilaroi mother), part Cherokee Indian and part Irish (father) singer-songwriter, his songs illustrate the rich experience of a full life lived from New England's northwest slopes and plains to the city streets of Sydney and Melbourne for the past thirty years.

L K Hill now lives in Armidale and is a genuine New England singer in the full sense of the word.

The following song, Pretty Bird Tree, is taken from his Namoi Mud album. I have emailed his record label to see how to get a copy. I will post those details later.

In the song Kamilaroi moon refers to the Aboriginal peoples who occupied New England's Western Slopes and Plains. This is an ancestry L J Hill shares with the Collarenebri rap kids.

Narrabri is a town around four hours driving time south west from Armidale on the Namoi, a tributary of the Darling River  with its headwaters on the southern portion of the New England Tableland. Like many New England rivers, the Namoi actually flows north-west before joining the Barwon River near Walgett.         

Friday, May 20, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 23 - Gordon Smith's Armidale

Each time I do a New England blog round-up I try to do something new. This time I have selected one blog, Gordon Smith's lookANDsee, one place Armidale, the place I grew up in.

This education city, the capital in waiting of New England, is truly one of the most beautiful places in Australia. Let me share a little of its beauty with you through Gordon's photos.

The following shot looks north down Marsh Street. Our family home was in this street further up the hill to the south. The street didn't always have this many trees. In the 1950s, the local beautification committee under Alwyn Jones started a tree planting program whose benefits continue to this day.


This next photo shows Birida, built in 1907. It is on the first corner to the left down Marsh Street from the start of the previous photo. When I was a kid, this was part of the Presbyterian Ladies College. Aunt Kay taught here. When she was looking after us, brother David and I would line up at the back of this building with the boarders for a bread and jam afternoon tea. 20090515-11-26-25-around-armidale--streets-and-architecture

This shot shows Faulkner Street, the next street to Marsh Street on the west,  looking north towards the CBD. On the right is the spire of the Presbyterian Church. On the left is Central Park. This is Armidale church territory, with the main cathedrals and churches gathered together. Armidale became a formal city very early because it was the headquarters of two bishoprics.  

This photo shows one of the churches in the precinct, the Anglican Cathedral designed by architect John Horbury Hunt. While we normally went to the Methodist Church, I have many memories of this building. This includes a performance of T S Elliot's Murder in the Cathedral made memorable in part because of the setting.  St Peter's Gordon Smith

West Armidale was working class Armidale. This is the area towards the Armidale Railway Station where there were smaller working class cottages. The bigger houses were all on South and North Hill, especially South Hill, overlooking the city. The distinction is less clear cut today. This photo shows Brown Street on the western side. Gordon Smith, Brown Street, Armidale.

This next photo shows the Countrylink train heading south on a winter morning. When I was a young kid, this was still the Great Northern Railway. Apart from the day train, there were the Glen Innes and Brisbane Mails, as well as numerous goods trains. At the end of term, the school trains went north and south loaded with boarders returning home.

In the ineffable wisdom of the Sydney Government, the line north of Armidale was closed, rendering re-establishment very difficult. Queensland kept its side of the line open for tourist trains, now meeting a growing demand.       20100705-08-50-55-railway--countrylink

Armidale has a variety of building styles. This view from West Armidale up towards South Hill shows three styles.

The weatherboard house in front is, I think, Federation style. This is not an especially posh house, they were further east, but is pretty typical of the older style. Lurking in the trees on the mid right is JoeHannasburg, one of the first blocks of flats built in Armidale in the 1960s as the University began to expand rapidly. Then at the top of the picture the scene is dominated by the old Armidale Teachers' College.

Construction here began the late 1920s. This was the first ever major educational institution established outside an Australian capital city and was intended to form part of the infrastructure for a Northern or New England state. It is now part of the University of New England following a Federal Government enforced merger between UNE and the Armidale College of Advanced Education.

Armidale was considered to be too small to have two tertiary institutions, something that's actually a bit odd considering that neither drew the majority of students from Armidale and both served different markets.        20090515-11-08-00-around-armidale--streets-and-architecture

The main street of Armidale includes a number of grand buildings from past eras. This one was the Rural Bank building. By contrast, the new shopping centres are simply non descript modern. 20090515-11-50-40-around-armidale--streets-and-architecture

This last photo just shows another view of a different part of the city.20050409-013-lookingIntoTown 

I hope that you enjoyed the show.

Only in Armidale - a church organ crawl

We have all heard of pub crawls. But this variant could, I think, only happen in Armidale.

On Facebook, ABC Radio New England North West advises that there will be a church organ crawl in Armidale tomorrow.

Starting at 2pm, there will be a mobile concert like a pub crawl, but instead of a beer you get a 20 minute recital in each church before walking to the next one. Warwick Dunham, Jan-Piet Knijff and Lena Schmalz will play progressively in the Catholic Cathedral, Ursuline Chapel, Anglican Cathedral and Presbyterian and Uniting Churches.

I would love to go!


In a comment, Janene Carey said...

At the eisteddfod this afternoon I overheard someone saying that a staggering 200 people turned up for the organ crawl!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Belshaw's World - New England masterchefs ponder regional dish

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 11 May 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 a moment, I want to introduce you to Armidale’s most luscious blog. I know most of my readers are not bloggers, but this is the type of blog that will make you salivate – literally!

But first, a story.

I was trying to find out a little about traditional New England food. In this case, not the broader way I usually use the term, but The New England, the Northern Tablelands.

The only uniquely New England dish that I could find, one shared with parts of Queensland, was a variant of French Toast. Indeed, this is the French Toast I cook myself. I just hadn’t realised that it was a local variety.

Now the blog. Sophie Masson’s A la mode frangourou - A French Australian look at food is an absolutely superb food and lifestyle blog that ranges from New England to France and presently Russia.

French born, Sophie combines the food from her childhood with excursions into her local garden and beyond. When I tweeted the blog to my fellow New England bloggers Paul Barratt and Denis Wright, their reactions were just the same – mouth watering.

For those who are interested, the web address is

Now in one of her posts, Sophie said of Tasmania that, unlike other parts of Australia, had begun to develop a uniquely regional cuisine. Always sensitive, I thought hang on a minute, what about the New England! That started me searching.

Then I realised after only finding French Toast that there wasn’t anything there in writing. Yet I know that some of the food I have eaten I haven’t seen elsewhere, or at least not in the same combinations.

A uniquely regional cuisine does not mean that the dishes or variants of the dishes are not to be found elsewhere. It’s the use of local ingredients, the combination that counts.

A uniquely regional cuisine also does not mean that every dish is good. Bad cooking is bad cooking. You try travelling around Greece and you will see what I mean!

So, now that I have set this challenge, what do I think of as New England cuisine? Like all of us including Sophie, it’s memories from childhood that are most powerful.

Now the first thing to note is that most meals were two or three courses, not the one of this time poor world.

The meal often began with soup, sometimes made from left-overs. Some soups like chicken broth were light, but most were rich, designed for a cold climate.

The main courses took into account what was available.

Lamb and especially mutton was common and cheap, for this was a sheep area. Steak was very expensive, so the cheaper cuts were used. Chicken, too, was expensive.

Roast lamb or mutton was common, with roast chook on special occasions. This came with wonderful baked vegetables – potatoes, pumpkin, sometimes turnips and Swedes – and with whatever greens were in season. Peas were especially popular, served with mint, but there were various forms of beans.

Most people had household gardens, many had hens. They supplied a much higher proportion of the food we ate.

Beyond roasts, there were a variety of casseroles and stews suited to available food stuffs and to the climate as well as grilled meat. Mind, you some of these were pretty ordinary: TAS mutton stews almost put me of stews for life! But the best were very good.

Leftovers were used – bubble and squeak and lamb pikelets. I loved the last.

Desert and betweens was often fruit. New England had lots of stone fruit. This was bottled and then served later. I loved cold black cherries with cream in the morning before I went to school. I loved raspberries even more.

Fruit might be served with cream, but was often put into pies or other deserts of one type or another.

Then there was the baking. Cakes scones, biscuits, all served in different ways. And the jam!

Now in all this I am not saying that our cooking needs to be stuck in the past.

A limp lettuce leaf does not a salad make.

I am saying that regional cuisine focuses on and draws from its past.

Have we lost that? Certainly, I miss it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NBN & Armidale

I had not intended this to be my main post today, but I couldn't resist it!

In a post this morning on my personal blog, A blogging pot-pouri, I mentioned that today's mainland launch of the new national broadband network would be in Armidale. As I write, the Armidale Express is sending visual material around the Fairfax network, while the first mainNBN launch Armidale media coverage is going on line as in this Australian story.

As I watched the SKY News Report included in the Australian story, I realised that the Sky reporter (and many others)had probably never been to Armidale before and had no idea of the background.

The first photo from John Lindsay on Twitpics shows the launch held at the Presbyterian Ladies College. The caption reads simultaneous NBN choirs pulled it off.

This was not a small show in local terms. Armidale has had lots of PMs and ministers before, but this was a major local event.

Armidale is a major national educational centre. Education is the city's core business. However, it is a business that has struggled in the face of changing fashions and economic trends.

Declines in school boarding and the rise of boarding schools elsewhere, Government policies in Queensland that subsidised Queensland country kids to go to Queensland boarding schools, reduced the number of Armidale boarders. Inconsistent Federal Government policies towards tertiary education that favoured the big badly affected the University of New England.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Armidale lost a thousand jobs because of these collective changes. That's a lot. The population of the city has only just recovered.

Julia Gillard NBN launch Armidale This photo from Gordon Smith on twitpics shows Julia Gillard with the UNE VC (bald) just to the right.

To many in Armidale, the NBN became a critical vehicle that might assist the city to recover its educational prominence. The university, the schools, the chamber of commerce, the local newspapers, all combined to sell the concept. Not surprisingly, take up of initial connections was high, although only seven are in the full trial at this very early point. This will grow rapidly.

You will get a feel for some local reaction from this internode story.

To suggest as some commentators have done, that the launch was in Armidale because it's in Tony Windsor's seat is to completely miss the point. To a degree, the Government is in power because Armidale wanted the NBN and Armidale people convinced Tony Windsor that it was important.

Equally importantly, Armidale is a superb test bed site for the NBN. Not only does it want the NBN, it's a geographically contained location with a high technology base and key potential users in education, health and business.

If it doesn't work in Armidale, it won't work anywhere. If it does work, the NBN will have actual case studies to educate others.

I hope it works!                     

New England coastal stream

Mark Bellamy Old Grafton Road I really love the New England countryside.

This photo is from Mark Bellamy's wonderful photo blog, Clarence Valley Today. Many is the time I have stopped by stream like this to boil the billy with water from the stream. It's just a time to relax!

In his story Old Glen Innes Rd: Wintervale and Farewell, Mark records that the new road from Glen Innes to Grafton went through in 1961. This was the first ever fully tarred road from inland New England to the coast.

1961! You can see why battles for better transport have been such a constant in New England's history.    

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do you want a career in archeology or heritage?

Short notice I know, but this Thursday 19 May there will be a special session in Armidale on careers in archaeology and heritage.

There are now hundreds of practitioners around Australia, with demand for m[image3.png]ore. That's a far cry from the days when I was a member of Australia's first ever Australian prehistory honours class. 

The session is being run as part of  National Archaeology Week, something I covered in National Archaeology Week at UNE.

The details are:

  • 6.30 pm Thursday 19 May
  • Lecture Theatre A2, Arts Building, UNE

The session is being sponsored by the Heritage Futures Research Centre of which I am a member.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pilbara cities, New England & royalties to the regions

Have you ever heard of the Pilbara Cities plan? No? Well, I knew only vaguely. WA gets about as much coverage in the eastern states as New England does in Sydney, and for the same reasons. It's not seen as really relevant to the media audience.

In simple terms, the WA Government is spending a billion dollars over four years on housing and infrastructure in the Pilbara. The intent is to help the area accommodate growth from its present population of about 36,000.

I don't know whether or not the plan makes sense. I haven't done the analysis to form a judgement. Yet I couldn't help wincing.

In WA, a resurgent National Party forced the allocation of royalty payments to the regions. This was in fact much criticised by mainstream political commentators. In NSW, the growing mining royalty stream went straight into consolidated revenue to be frittered away across the state.

I wonder how people in Newcastle and the Hunter coal towns with their straining infrastructure would feel if they actually knew about the WA example? I bet they don't. The same level of additional spend in NSW in those areas would absorb less than a quarter of of NSW royalty payments over four years.

How about it NSW Nats? Feel like joining in? 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Newcastle is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring

My post New England & the death of a thousand semantic cuts drew quite long comments from Greg. The following is an edited excerpt from Greg's comments. My own views follow at the end.

Greg wrote:

The thing that gets up my nose is the way that the term "regional" is used as a general term for non-capital city Australia.

I interpret regional as referring to towns and small cities of less than 100,000 people.

So where does a city like Newcastle fit into that picture? It is neither a large capital city nor a small regional city. It is a metropolis of about 1/2 million people with particular (neglected) needs in terms of transport, police, health care etc. Yet it does also have a hinterland which is rural/country/regional with which it is closely connected. It has elements of both city and country but is probably neither. It is in a no mans land and falls between the cracks of such broad descriptors Over the last of city/country or metropolitan/regional.

Because of not really fitting either category but having elements of both it's needs nearly always go unaddressed when discussions of metropolitan vs. regional issues emerge.

It is probably obvious what I am driving at in the comment above, but just to put it another way - Newcastle tends to be regarded as regional whenever there is discussion of city issues (ie. capital), but it also tends to be equally regarded as being city when there is discussion of regional issues (ie. country). So it tends to fall through the cracks as being neither one nor the other.

Greg is right, of course, and it's a real problem. Let me illustrate.

Over the last twenty years in Government tourism promotion there has been a two brand strategy, brand Sydney and brand NSW. Newcastle simply gets lumped into brand NSW.

In terms of many State Government planning strategies, Newcastle is simply lumped in with Sydney as part of Greater Sydney. This actually puts a divide between Newcastle and its hinterland. It affects not just planning, but the statistical data on which planning is based.

In terms of the ARIA remoteness indicators on which so much planning and funding is based, Newcastle is lumped in with Sydney as major city. Nearby Maitland is inner regional. Parts of the Hunter are outer regional. For funding purposes, Newcastle is sometimes classified as regional, at other times not.

Where does Newcastle really fit into all this? The answer is that it doesn't. It is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. In all, it's a mess. 



Friday, May 13, 2011

Belshaw's World - newspapers not sentenced to death in digital age

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 4 May 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 talking about the way that the MSM or main stream media had incorporated the new media into its reporting.

I suggested that the full flowering of this arrived with the Japanese earthquake and recent Middle East troubles. There the MSM used tweets and YouTube posts to gain instant information that could not be acquired by normal reporting means, while blogs were used to provide continuous news updates.

In the battle of technologies that featured in my original post, can the print media survive? After all, newspapers are closing around the world.

My view is yes. I say this for a very simple and practical reason. It comes back to fitness for purpose.

Email destroyed the fax because it proved to be a better way of transmitting documents.

Facebook took people away from writing and reading blogs because it was a better vehicle for the purely personal. Twitter took people away from Facebook because it offered a better broadcast messaging capability.

Twitter itself is aging and has become clogged with ephemera. However, it has proved to be remarkably good at some things, and those are the things that will survive, focusing on needs that a short message length with broadcast and retweet capacity best serve

By contrast, the core strength of the newspaper lies in its printed page and broader content.

As a rough rule of thumb, you can only put about 60 per cent of the content of a printed page onto an equivalent web page if you want the same effect.

The reason for this lies in the way we read. We simply can’t absorb web presented information as efficiently as print.

In my own case, I am a very fast reader. I find that my web speed, while still fast, is about half that when reading the printed page.

Now the new technology with all its very different feeds and forms of expression is not bad at keeping people in touch in a fast moving situation such as Japan or the Middle East as compared to the traditional newspaper, radio station or TV. However, it is not good when it comes to matters requiring a little more depth and reflection.

To see what I mean, compare the printed version of any newspaper of your choice with the on-line version. TV web sites including the ABC are worse.

The on-line versions are all shortened, condensed, light on content. They also have far more visual material, much supplied by readers or viewers.

I check up to a dozen news sites every day. It takes me just half an hour, for example, to scan read the Sydney Morning Herald, ABC and Australian websites. Useful, but unsatisfying.

Further, content shifts so quickly on most sites that it can be hard to find a story again, thus destroying one of the key online values. Frustrating and not at all useful!

To my mind, problems in on-line delivery means that newspapers are likely to survive in printed form as part of an overall but much more differentiated pattern in which the specific features of individual technology modes are used to deliver content best suited to those modes.

I don’t think that any of the newspaper groups have yet got the mix right, largely because they continue to think of the different transmission mechanisms as different ways of delivering the same content to the same audience. That’s self-evidently not the case.

If different forms of content better suit different modes, then content needs to be tailored to those modes. Further, while there are commonalities in audience, the audiences for the different modes are not the same. Again, content needs to be tailored.

Each newspaper has a different actual and potential reader base. Herein lies another part of the problem, for the way many media groups organise themselves around modes such as print press or digital media, the way they centralise, actually makes tailoring hard.

In the end, the success of all forms of for-profit media comes back to control over a regular reading, viewing or listening audience that can be delivered to advertisers. If you don’t properly tailor your content, then you can’t tailor your advertising.

While none of the newspaper groups have got the mix right, there are some fascinating signs of what might come. I will pick this up in a later post.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Please hire Lou the Movie DVD

Lou Back at the end of May last year in 4th Dungog Film Festival - New England films I spoke of Lou the Movie.

Despite good reviews, the film gained only limited release. It's really very hard for an independent to break through the distribution barriers.

A movie likes this requires time for viral marketing to bring audience, and with limited distribution its simply not given time. Just a reminder as to what the film is about. The Dungog Festival Program described it in this way:    

Eleven-year-old Lou's life was instantly turned upside down when her father walked out on her mother and two sisters. She has coped by building a tough shell around her heart - afraid to let anyone hurt her again. Lou blames her mother for her father's departure and refuses to let her in. Life suddenly changes when her estranged Grandfather moves in to the family's rented home. Doyle is ill and befuddled and in his confused state, Doyle mistakes his granddaughter for his long departed wife. Lou, intrigued, plays along with the fantasy, using her bond with Doyle against her mother. As the game progresses, Lou's tough exterior is chipped away and ultimately she understands what it is to be loved - in the most unexpected of circumstances. Shot around the North Coast of NSW and inspired by Chayko's own family, Lou is not to be missed.

Since its limited release, the film has slowly been gathering awards. These include most recently two prizes at the Creteil Women's Film Festival. The Prix Graine de Cinephage for best feature chosen by the young jury, and the Prix du Public, the audience award for best feature.

Lou has now travelled to France, where it will screen in Cannes Cinephiles (a series of public screenings alongside the main competition of Cannes). There it will also be competing in the Ecrans Juniors - to be judged by a jury of young cinema-lovers.

I understand that the movie will be in Australia's Blockbuster video stores from tomorrow. The Blockbuster promo is here. May I encourage you to hire it and then promote it if you like it?

I really think that you will like it, and we do need to promote our own product.

The Lou Facebook site is here, the movie web site here.

New England passings: Peter Gray, Maurice Kelly, Wilf Dews & Kevin O'Donohue

In this post I just wanted to record some New England passings. I try to do so from time to time because it captures some of the New England experience.

Peter Gray (1980-2011) became a national figure when he threw his shoes at JoPeter_Gray-420x0hn Howard on the ABC's Q&A program in a gesture of contempt for Howard's decision to embroil Australia in the war in Iraq.

Peter Robert Gray was born on May 10, 1980, in Newcastle, one of five children of Bob and Lyn Gray.

He went to Merewether High School then divided his time between study at the University of Newcastle (which he left with a bachelor of arts, majoring in classics) and the defence of biodiversity in the forest.

He became a dedicated environmental campaigner, one of the more swashbuckling members of Newcastle climate change action group Rising Tide. Rising Tide had a talent for the visual. Their blockades of coal ships in Newcastle Harbour attracted considerable attention.

For more see the obituary by George Woods with Harriet Veitch.

Former UNE academic Maurice Kelly died in April. I do not think that there is an obituary yet. Many UNE people will remember Maurice very fondly. His role in the promotion of classics and in the development of UNE's Museum of Antiquities is marked by the annual Maurice Kelly lecture series. One of the reasons why classics has survived at UNE when it has vanished at so many other places is because of people like Maurice. The survival of classics is part of the reason why UNE still offers a broad university experience when so many other have become little more than degree shops.

My thoughts are with wife Gwen, a well known New England writer, daughter Bronwyn and all the family.

At one stage Bronwyn was friendly with Henry Person, a friend of mine.  Gwen wrote an entertaining piece for a women's magazine, I think that it was the Women's Weekly, about her daughter's blond haired, blue eyed boyfriend Henry. Henry was into many strange things, including (as I remember it) the construction of a phone system from his place to the Kelly house. One line that stands out in my memory: "Henry said, hold this, Mrs Kelly, and you will get an electric shock. I did and I did!"

wilfred-dews-420x0 Hunter Valley coal miner Wilfred Dews (1909-2011) loved planting trees.

Rohen Conners obituary tells the simple but remarkable story of a man who persuaded the BHP to develop colliery gardens and went on to have a major impact in preserving the Hunter environment. The photo shows Wilf Dews in the 1950s with a tree plaque, part of the program he started for BHP.

Kevin O'Donohue (1934-2011) was a well known Sydney radio identity and maverick. His connection with New England was peripheral, two years at Armidale's 2AD radio station. Why, then, am I including him?

For several reasons, in fact.

This year is 2AD's 75th anniversary. Former manager Don Thomas has been preparing a history to go onto the station web site. It's not yet officially on-line, but you can find the initial and still to be completed version here. Then Peter Davidson's obituary provides a short but interesting picture of the radio scene in NSW. This includes the movement of people between stations.

This is important to me, because some of the research and writing that I am trying to do looks at the New England radio scene, the rise of the medium, its influence and then its transformation over the second half of the twentieth centuries.    

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday Forum: your favourite food

It's been a little while since my last Wednesday Forum.

This week's column in the Armidale Express (it will come up next week) is on New England food. In this case not the broader New England, but the New England, the Northern Tablelands. The the is always added, in part to distinguish the Tablelands from the broader new state New England.

bruny island1 The post was triggered in part by Sophie Masson's The best French-style cheese outside of France, a hymn of praise for Tasmanian food. There Sophie said in part:

But what was also an unexpected revelation was the discovery of just how much good food there was in Tasmania, and how they've already developed a real regional sense of produce, much more than anywhere else in Australia. Tasmanians are actually developing that real understanding of 'terroir' which to my mind is what so characterises French food and makes it so exciting and distinctive and authentic. Even though it is something that is slowly growing in the rest of Australia, I think Tasmanians are way ahead when it comes to that, perhaps because of the very compactness of the state, they are much better able to co-ordinate efforts, so that from well set up farmgate sales to markets to specialist shops, you can try all kinds of regional specialities, from excellent charcuterie to gorgeous seafood, home-smoked fish and farm-fresh oysters to organic ciders and the best cheese outside of France.

The post made me say, well, what about New England? Now there is a problem here.

In my column I wrote of the foods that I had known as a child, all heavily influenced by local availability. This was cold climate food, very different from that found on the coast.

Since then, two things have happened.

Older dishes have dropped out of favour, replaced by new trends - that misnomer modern Australian cuisine effectively summarises the trend. This has created uniformity.

The second and more positive trend is the spread of new and speciality foods across New England. An example is pasta based on Western Slopes speciality wheat. Another is the spread of olive trees to the point that the phrase feral olive has entered the Australian vocabulary. I actually love the idea of a feral olive tree - it's sort of a base for a bad horror movie! While this trend is positive, it's yet to knit together into anything coherent on a regional basis.

I don't think that you can have a broad New England cuisine, the place is much to varied. But the different regions within New England do, had, their own varieties. 

All this got me thinking and made me ask the question that is the topic of this forum, what is your favourite food?

You needn't answer with broader New England specific examples, although I would love some of those for that we help me flesh out my thinking on New England food. I just think that it's a nice topic.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New England Aboriginal life - Cultural connections, Bundjalung

Note to readers: This is the seventh in a continuing series introducing readers to past and present Aboriginal life in New England. Those who are interested can find a full list of posts by either clicking New England Aboriginal life or, if you want, to read in date order from one up, click on Introducing New England Aboriginal life.

In my last post I mentioned how Aboriginal sounds and music have had a great influence on the broader Australian ear. As an example, I used music inspired by the Bundjalung people from New England's Northern Rivers.

The following very short clip called cultural connections deals with the links between the Bundjalung people and their land. It starts with spoken Bundjalung. In New England Aboriginal life - sounds of Gamilaraay, I said in part:

To the untrained ear, Australia's Aboriginal languages sound much the same. It's a bit like French, Spanish and Italian and their myriad dialects.

If you listen to this and then Gamilaraay, you will see what I mean.

The clip was prepared for primary schools. The NSW Education Department actually does a a pretty good job in presenting Aboriginal material.

My complaint, call it prejudice if you like, is that too much Aboriginal material is jammed down kids' throats without context beyond that of the injustices done to the Aborigines. The Aborigines as people vanish.


Monday, May 09, 2011

New England Aboriginal life - Bundjalung by Aramis

Note to readers: This is the sixth in a continuing series introducing readers to past and present Aboriginal life in New England. Those who are interested can find a full list of posts by either clicking New England Aboriginal life or, if you want, to read in date order from one up, click on Introducing New England Aboriginal life.

New England's Aboriginal peoples love all sorts of music, although country and rap are especially deadly. Deadly means cool, great.

Aboriginal sounds and music have a great influence on the broader Australian ear. The sound of the didgerdoo are instantly recognisable to any Australian. This piece by Aramis is simply called Bundjalung.

The Bundjalung are the New England Aboriginal language group whose territory extended from the northern banks of the Clarence River into what is now called Southern Queensland. While many of the Bundjalung dialects collapsed through the process of language destruction that I described in New England Aboriginal life - process of language destruction, Bundjalung is still spoken today.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

New England Aboriginal life - process of language destruction

Note to readers: This is the fifth in a continuing series introducing readers to past and present Aboriginal life in New England. Those who are interested can find a full list of posts by either clicking New England Aboriginal life or, if you want, to read in date order from one up, click on Introducing New England Aboriginal life.

This is the third post on Aboriginal language in my New England Aboriginal life series. The first post, New England Aboriginal life - introducing language, was as the name says. Then my next post, New England Aboriginal life - sounds of Gamilaraay, was included to allow you to hear one New England language brought back from the edge of extinction.

This post, an excerpt from a paper given in Armidale in July 2010, deals with the process of language destruction.  But first, a video tribute to the languages spoken for thousands of years by Australia's first people. From the CD 'Balance', by Bruce Watson, featuring Bruce with Tracey Roberts on piano and Gavan McCarthy on bass. See

Every language lost is a way of seeing the world lost. Many Aboriginal people refer to these languages not as lost but 'sleeping', and are working hard to maintain and re-awaken languages.

In considering the languages spoken at the time of European colonisation, we cannot assume that the languages spoken in 1788 were the same as those spoken earlier, nor can we assume that language distribution was the same in geographic terms. There have been substantial changes in language even in the last few hundred years, while we know that territorial boundaries shifted with time.

A key feature of the more recent shifts has been the collapse of languages marked by many dialects into a smaller number of dialects or even a single language. Some languages just vanished. The language revival movement of recent years, something that I will discuss a little later, has necessarily focused on broader commonalities.

The initial spread of European settlement in New England was quite slow. It took thirty six years for the edge of settlement to reach the Upper Hunter. However, the impact of colonisation spread beyond the frontier.

The smallpox epidemic of 1789-90 that began in Sydney, and probably also that of 1828, appears to have had a devastating effect on at least some populations, while other diseases such as venereal disease also spread beyond the frontier. Previously separate groups were forced together in order to survive.

European settlement exploded from 1824, driven by the potential returns on wool, a high value product that could support high transport costs. Within thirty years, all of New England had been at least thinly settled.

In the face of progressive white settlement, Aborigines withdrew from some parts of traditional territory to other less settled areas. Aborigines from different groups came to work together in things such as pastoral work.

These processes merged languages. Then later relocations of Aborigines by the Aboriginal Protection, later Welfare, Board created in 1888 forced people together from different language groups so that English became a common language. Further, the use of Aboriginal languages was effectively discouraged as time passed.

The work of Professor Peter Austin, an Australian linguist who played a major role in the description and documentation of the Gamilaraay language, provides a framework for further considering the way these various forces interacted upon New England’s Aboriginal languages.

In a 2006 lecture on the survival of languages, Professor Austin suggested that the strength or weakness of a language could be determined by a very small number of linked parameters[1]. I say linked because the variables interact, creating interacting causal patterns.

The intergenerational transfer of language, the extent to which children were learning the language from their parents, was the first variable. Once Aboriginal children stopped learning and using the language with their parents, language decline became inevitable. This explains why discouragement of language use was so important; it weakened generational transfer.

The second parameter was the percentage of speakers among the total population. No matter how small the group speaking the language, the language would survive if it was the dominant tongue. Again, we can see how the disruption created by colonisation worked against language survival; the arrival of new settlers speaking another language, the mixing of groups, progressively turned the Aboriginal languages in any area into minority tongues.

This fed into a third parameter in language survival, domains and functions of use, the contexts and situations in which the language is regularly used. At the time of colonisation, each language occupied the whole field other than communication with neighbours where both languages might be used. Further, there were also different varieties of language, ceremonial and religious, that survived because they were linked to social structures.

The arrival of the Europeans disrupted this. Aborigines and Europeans needed to communicate. To do this, they needed some form of common language.

As settlement spread, creoles (mixtures of Aboriginal and English) emerged as Aborigines and settlers learned to communicate with each other. European concepts and words were adopted into local languages to explain new things. Examples in Gamilaraay include wajiin, ‘white woman’, from “white gin” and ganijibal, ‘policeman’, from “constable”. In the Gamilaraay case, words were generally restructured to meet the forms of the local language[2].

Some Europeans did learn to speak the local Aboriginal languages. Edward Ogilvie, for example, was ten years old when his family settled in 1826 at Merton on what was then the edge of European settlement in the Upper Hunter[3] He learned to speak the local tongue, probably a variant of Gamilaraay, as a child. In 1840 he and his brother took up land along the Clarence River. Again Ogilvie learned to speak the language, the local Bandjalung dialect, and was apparently a fluent speaker.

Despite examples like Ogilvie, the great variety in Aboriginal languages worked against widespread adoption, as did speed of European settlement and the emergence of creoles.

Professor Austin’s fourth parameter in language survival, attitudes and language ideology, also played a role. The term “language ideology” is a modern one and needs to be used with care because current attitudes can blind. There was no language ideology as such in the early period. However, attitudes and language ideology were still important on both sides of the frontier and were to become more so later in the period.

To at least some Europeans[4], acquisition of English was central to the civilisation of the Aborigines. The complex changing attitudes towards the Aborigines and the way this played out in official policy is beyond the scope of this paper. The key point for our purposes is that the speaking of Aboriginal languages came to be effectively discouraged.

Somewhat similar attitudes played out in the Aboriginal communities themselves. The links between language and ceremonial and religious life, the importance of what came to be called in English the dreaming, meant that certain language was barred to outsiders. This meant that such language was generally not recorded by European observers. As traditional life was disrupted and inter-generational transfer reduced, much language was lost.

The pattern of loss varied greatly across New England. Aboriginal people themselves retained far more language, as well as knowledge of their own history, than European observers realised. In my own case, for example, I was as a member of Isabel McByde’s pioneering Australian pre-history group in 1966. I did not know that Bandalung had survived as a living language until I read Malcolm Calley’s 1959 PhD thesis on Banjalang social organisation as part of my work[5].

Language survival was greatest among the big population language groups on the North Coast. This was partly a matter of population size, but also links to the presence of what we might call refuge areas, places that allowed concentrations of Aboriginal people to live togther with relatively less disruption than occurred inland[6].

Concluding my discussion on the process of language destruction, the factors that Professor Austin pointed to in considering language decline are just as important in considering language revival. We cannot turn the clock back. If New England’s Aboriginal languages are to survive or re-appear as living languages, then it will be because they come back into use across domains and are then passed between generations.

I make this point for a number of reasons. The first is that there is a view that language re-generation is in some ways artificial. I do not accept that view: language is a key expression of culture. However, if it is to grow it cannot be treated as a museum piece, frozen into its past. It has to evolve to meet new needs.

There is nothing necessarily wrong in preserving a language for use on ceremonial occasions. However, it cannot then be counted as as a living language. A living language is a changing language, one learned by a variety of people for a variety of purposes.

In later posts I will talk in more detail about language survival, about those who recorded the languages and the emergence of the language revival movement seeking to bring languages back to the life.

[1] Peter K Austin, Survival of Languages, Lecture 3, 3 February 2006, Twenty First Annual Darwin College Lecture Serries 2005. Accessed on-line 21 August 2009

[2] Peter K Austin, Article MS5040, Languages of the World: Gamilaraay, Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics Ell2, p4, accessed on-line 19 August 2009.

[3] George Farwell, Squatter's Castle: The saga of a pastoral dynasty (Angus & Robertson; Sydney 1983).

[4] This point needs to be checked for historical accuracy. See Jim Fletcher Clean, Clad and Courteous

[5] M J C Calley, Bandjalang Social Organisation. PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 1959.

[6] Michael O’Rourke advised this conclusion is consistent with his own detailed study of the Kamilaroi. O’Rouke personal communication.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Around the New England media 15 - small town & independent focus

It is some time since I did a media round-up. In this one, I want to focus on small towns plus the independent media.

In the north west opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, the Ridge News reports that the Australian Opal Centre is rallying its supporters for an application for funding to construct the Australian Opal Centre building at Three Mile, Lightning Ridge.

The Australian Government’s Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF) is a $1 billion national program to support regional infrastructure projects that will improve economic and social outcomes by building on unique regional capacity and potential. Applications for the first round of funding close on Friday May 13 so the heat is on AOC staff and committee to complete their application.Lightning Ridge 1906 Alldays

These types of proposals are very important because they build the infrastructure that can support future development.

Staying in Lightning Ridge, the News reports that the town has been abuzz with tourists. This includes the Namoi Valley Antique Vehicle Club who stayed overnight. "It was such a pleasure", the paper reports, "to see the various vintage cars around the street."

This photo shows David and Helen Revell in their 1906 Alldays.

I wanted to stay in Western New England and move to Walgett next. Sadly, the weekly Walgett Spectator does not have a web site! 

Moving east to a bigger centre, Armidale's independent local newspaper is, oddly, called The Independent.

I write for the Rural Press owned Armidale Express, the third oldest surviving newspaper in NSW. In fact, two of the three oldest papers in what is still NSW are in New England - the Express plus the Maitland Mercury.

The oldest is Granny Herald, still fulminating over its knitting at anything that threatens Sydney.

I grew up thinking of the SMH as the enemy because of its three stage approach. If it wasn't of interest to its predominantly Sydney readership, the paper ignored the matter. If it was of interest but had no impact on Sydney, the paper would report it, if often with a degree of condescension. If it threatened Sydney's power or economic Headmaster-webinterests, the paper would sneer and attempt to discredit.

I'm not sure that anything has changed. 

But I mustn't forget The Independent. Frankly, in terms of web sites it really puts the Express in the shade!

Under the banner TAS Headmaster to be hung with predecessors, the paper reports on the unveiling of a portrait of The Armidale School headmaster Murray Guest.

I am a TAS old boy, as are a number of others who write on New England interests such as Paul Barratt, so this story is of interest to us.  However, the Independent had another recent story that was of broader significance. Yet you wouldn't get this if you didn't have background knowledge.

Under the heading Local Aboriginal Land Council kicks goals, the paper reports that Deputy Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Tom Briggs, has congratulated the Armidale Local Aboriginal Land Council (ALALC) for its way out of financial and governance issues that have plagued the organisation over a number of years.

Just a small story, but an interesting one.

Armidale Land Council  right McCarthy, Briggs The photo shows in the centre Annette McCarthy, CEO of the Land Council and on the right Tom Briggs, Deputy Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Councils.

Annette is the daughter of Bill McCarthy, the former Labor member for Armidale in the NSW Parliament. She took up the job as CEO of ALALC last year, the first non-Aboriginal person to hold the position. My congratulations.

Moving north, The Southern Free Times is actually a Queensland newspaper. However, it covers the northern or Queensland end of the New England Tablelands, the area known as the Granite Belt. Here the state border actually bisects New England. There are quite close links between Northern New England and the Granite belt and southern Darling Downs.

The paper records that on 15 May there will be a heritage day at Stanthorpe Museum featuring a three-course camp oven dinner at lunchtime with freshly brewed billy tea and damper available all day long.

The admission price of $15 is all-inclusive.

Visitors can explore through the Ballandean Shepherds Hut, see a model tin miner’s sluice and experience many other exhibits which depict the lives, struggles and achievements of Stanthorpe people.

At 11.30am a special tree planting ceremony will honour former museum stalwart Owen Nielsen. The tree, to be planted at the front of the museum, will symbolise all that Owen cheerfully gave to his friends at the museum and to the community of the Granite Belt through his many years of service.

Cane toads A three course camp oven dinner. I would love to try that!

South from Stanthorpe and back over the border, the Tenterfield Star reports on a Tenterfield Shire cane toad warning

I would have thought that the noxious cane toad would have found Tenterfield a tad too cold. That's true, but the Shire is worried. There are reports of cane toads, but these have proved to be the eastern banjo frog, also known as the eastern popplebonk.

What I hadn't realised is just how far south the pest had spread. I quote: 

Ms Lorang (National Parks and Wild Life) said it was possible for toads to “hitch a ride” in people’s vehicles when they returned from the coast, where cane toads had spread to Port Maquarie, with a colony in Sydney. Casino is declaring war on the pests, with a muster being held today to help eradicate the toad.

Mmm! I can't resist saying that the toad might feel at home in Sydney!

Guyra polocrosse Staying on the New England Highway but moving south to Guyra, the Guyra Argus reports that 50 teams attended the annual Guyra polocrosse carnival held in April each year at the Richard White Memorial Grounds at Bald Blair.

Guyra itself fielded four senior teams with two extras. a junior section and two sub junior teams. I had no idea that polocrosse was so strong in Guyra.

The Argus also reports that members of Armidale based ABS Building Society (ABS) had voted overwhelmingly to merge with Greater Building Society at a special meeting at the Armidale Bowling Club. I had seen this report elsewhere, but should record it formally because it marks the end of a small piece of local history.

I really must do these reports more regularly, desirably once a fortnight as originally planned. I am out of time and have barely scratched the surface! 

Friday, May 06, 2011

New England & the death of a thousand semantic cuts

A post on Tuesday on my personal blog, Regional, rural & the whole damned policy mess, sets out my reaction to the ABC's Q&A program on regional development. The post included an excerpt from a seminar paper I gave in Armidale on the somewhat crazy  proliferation of terms - country, regional, rural, remote, coastal etc – that overlapped and were used in different combinations to describe parts of New England.

Another totally disconnected post, Cognitive bias and the practice of law, I looked at the way in which forms of thinking affected legal practice.

These two completely different posts dealing with apparently disconnected issues are in fact connected and relevant to New England. The unifying element in the two posts lies in what the economist Kenneth Boulding called images, what I have called mental mud maps, what are are also called frames

The world around us is complex. To manage and understand that world, we use frames, images, my mud maps, to simplify and interpret.

  In the case of law and indeed the other professions, training instils a particular way of looking at the world and of expressing things in language. But what happens when that way of thinking and the language involved actually creates a disconnect - a gap - between the real world and the perceived world?

I'm sure this this sounds abstract, but this is just what has happened to New England. The place has disappeared, emasculated by language and the forms of thought associated with language.

There was no recognition in the Q&A program of the history of regional policy in Australia. Consequently, there was no recognition of alternative solutions previously advanced including new states. While people recognised that problems facing Regional Australia did not just arise, it was as though the possible solutions were all newly minted.

Throughout the program, the words regional and rural were used all the time.

Those words joined together actually have no real meaning in the sense that they really don't describe anything. They are, in fact, a symbol of division, for regional really describes not an area but bigger country urban centres, while rural describes the rest. They are a typology, a form of thinking, an image of the world that has been established through usage. Further, they have come to be used to describe inland Australia. The coast is, apparently, neither regional nor rural. 

New England itself is an area on a map composed of a number of regions, each occupying a portion of New England. New England has an identity, and so do each of those regions. Concepts such as regional and rural divide not just New England, but the regions within it.

Just as in law, the language and forms of thinking associated with the new jargon create a real disconnect between language and thought and the real realities of New England.

The loss of history is both a cause and consequence of these ways of thinking and speaking. A cause because it removes challenges to the mental mud maps involved in the new jargon. A consequence because acceptance of new jargon actually destroys history. How can you study something that doesn't exist?

These ways of thinking also destroy the chances of doing anything meaningful in a policy or development sense. How can you create sensible policy for something that actually doesn't reflect anything other than a definition?

Sound extreme? Well, how would you prepare a development policy for regional and rural Australia? Is this the same as regional policy?

The old word country, a word rejected by the bigger urban regional centres, at least had the benefit of clarity. Noticeably, in the Q&A program Tony Windsor kept using that term whenever he referred to political action.

Even country is not perfect from a New England perspective because it puts a divide between Newcastle and the rest of New England. New England cannot and should not ignore Newcastle. Apart from anything else, it's impossible in historical terms. Yet country is still the best descriptor of non-metropolitan Australia.

New England is made up of a number of regions linked by history and geography. Each region has its own features and internal divisions. Policy needs to take into account both the linkages and the special features of each region. It also needs to take into account divisions within regions.

So long as we accept current jargon, New England will continue to suffer the death of a thousand semantic cuts.  

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Belshaw's World - the changing face(book) of communication technology

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 27 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.

Over the last month, my two oldest blogs turned five.

In the five years since then, I have written 3,828 posts, over two million words. That’s a long time and a lot of words!

Looking back, it got me reflecting on some of the changes that I had seen over the period.

Some eighteen years ago, my then Armidale consulting group did a study for Australia Post on the substitution of electronic for physical communications.

Our immediate focus was on the impact on physical mail. However, one of our most interesting conclusions at the time was the likely death of the fax machine at the hands of email.

Email had yet to take-off properly, but it was clearly reaching critical mass in some of the large organisations we surveyed. The only thing holding it back was the unwillingness of many senior managers to learn how to use it.

Within three years, email usage exploded. It did kill the fax for other than niche uses, while also reducing telephone usage.

The death of the fax is a sign of one feature of successful new technologies, the way that they can devour their predecessors. At the same time, it can be very difficult to predict just what is likely to happen.

Take the mobile phone as an example.

When we did our first work in this area back in the late 1980s, it was quite clear that mobile usage was going to grow. However, what we did not properly understand at the time was the way in which mobiles would substitute for fixed lines in countries with poor fixed line services to become the dominant form of telecommunications.

The interesting thing about this is that a fair bit of the mobile technology that has exploded over the last five years has actually been driven in part by the needs of people for whom mobile communications was the only form of available telecommunications. It was then been picked up and extended in the developed countries, but consumers in those countries were not the original drivers.

When I began blogging, the blog or web log had been around for a while, but had just entered the explosive growth stage.

Like all major new technology applications, its dedicated exponents saw it as the wave of the future. It would become an important business tool, create fortunes and lead to a new era of citizen journalism. It didn’t quite work that way.

One reason is that existing website approaches incorporated some of the elements of blogs and blogging. The main stream media or MSM, for example, increasingly incorporated blogs and blogging features into their on-line coverage.

A simple example is the comments section at the end of on-line stories, allowing readers to provide instant responses. Suddenly, the blogging world found its readers being attracted back to the MSN. Many of the highest traffic blogs were now MSM blogs.

The ABC’s the Drum, Tim Blair or Andrew Bolt are current Australian examples.

Then came Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook had just entered the public space when I began blogging. Focused on the human desire for interaction, Facebook’s friend system and user friendly interface led to explosive growth.

Facebook stripped much of the weblog component from blogging. Blogging aged as younger users moved to a Facebook system that better met their needs. Older bloggers, too, started spending more time on Facebook.

Twitter continued the process because it took many bloggers away from blogging – there is only so much time – into tweeting. However, things are never as simple as this.

Just as Facebook effectively devoured earlier social networking tools such as Bebo and MySpace, now Twitter began to devour Facebook because it provided an alternative means for short self-expression to either blogs or Facebook. Its hash tag system also challenged Facebook’s special pages that had previously provided a vehicle for subject specific content.

Facebook is aging as blogging did before it. This has not been helped by changes to the Facebook user interface, changes that many users disliked.

Again, the mainstream media has incorporated Twitter as it did blogging.

The full flowering of this arrived with the Japanese earthquake and recent middle east troubles. There the MSM used tweets and YouTube posts to gain instant information that could not be acquired by normal reporting means, while blogs were used to provide continuous news updates.

I will continue this story in my next column.