Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Belshaw's World - a model for the nation

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 17 August 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.

Congratulations to Bob Neville for winning the individual section of the NSW Building Inclusive Communities Award.

Tingha Bob Neville building Inclusive Communities Award The photo shows left to right – State Premier Hon Barry O’Farrell, Bob Neville Tingha Regeneration Inc, Diane Torrens Chairperson Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and Mr Tim Torrens.

The prize was awarded for his leadership of the Tingha Regeneration Program which is not only designed to rebuild the community, but also seeks to provide a model for many struggling communities throughout Australia.

Back in February 2007, Professor Tony Vinson released a national report into Australia’s poor towns, those communities most affected by poverty and community development.

The preceding November, the then State Government had released its state plan. I examined it in detail at the time to try to assess the extent to which it might meet New England’s needs.

My conclusions were not positive. The various measures proposed were fragmented and took no account of the underling economic and geographic linkages across the whole North. I concluded that even if every one of the targets set in the plan were achieved, New England’s core needs for economic and community development would not be addressed.

Now when I came to look at Professor Vinson’s study, I found that nearly all the poor towns identified in NSW were in the broader new state New England. Every part of New England was represented, from the lower Hunter to the border, on the coast, the tablelands, the slopes and plains.

Tingha was one the towns identified by Professor Vinson. It ranked low on every positive indicator, high on every negative indicator. It was, in fact, one of the poorest communities in Australia.

The problem with community decline is that it can become entrenched. As it does, the community’s capacity to respond further diminishes. Once intergenerational disadvantage – the transmission of disadvantage through generations – emerges, recovery becomes still harder. People give up hope.

In September 2008, Bob launched a program to try to turn this cycle around.

While working as Economic Development Manager with Guyra Shire Council, Bob had established working relationships with Tingha people. Through his experience in working with small communities at every level, Bob had developed a holistic approach to community development. He chose Tingha as a potential model community for the first test implementation of his small community regeneration program (Community Gold Program).

Bob approached the Uniting Aboriginal & Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) with a proposal to take on a facilitator role to implement and test the program in Tingha. The UAICC had been involved in Tingha for over twenty two years, but was now seriously considering withdrawal because of constant failure.

The UAICC accepted Bob’s offer.

I first wrote on Bob’s work back in February 2009. I was interested in it because of my interest in community development. However, I had also just been re-reading Helen Brown’s history of Tingha. I therefore emailed Bob with various tourist promotion suggestions.

Bob explained that it was just too early to try this type of thing. If the community development program was to work, it had to start at the base and then build up. Once basic building blocks were in place, then broader promotion would become possible.

Bob’s reply illustrated one key difficulty in effective community development in circumstances where the very fabric of the community has become frayed. If you are going to attract visitors, you really need some accommodation; the town needs to be welcoming; you need trained volunteers; and all this takes time.

Bob’s approach has been slow and painstaking, working with the community to try to build support. This is micro level work, creating and sustaining small projects that can meet needs, increase skills, demonstrate success and thus build morale.

Critically, the process has to be broadened beyond the facilitator so that it becomes self-sustaining.

I am not close enough to the project to make a full, objective, judgement. However, on the surface, it’s already been a considerable success.

If we look across the dimensions of the work, we find involvement at school level, women’s exercise groups, skills training, a refurbished caravan park, an internet centre and beautification projects. Most recently, a butcher’s shop opened.

This is slow, hard, grafting work. Disappointments are frequent. It’s only looking back that progress becomes clear.

On 26 October, a gathering in Tingha at the regenerated Tingha Gems Caravan and Camping Park, 91 Swimming Pool Road, will launch the community regeneration program nationally. Those speaking include Preston Campbell, Nathan Blacklock, Tony Windsor and Richard Torbay

I congratulate Bob on his work.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Brief pause in posting to allow for research

I need to take a little time for research on two primary topics.

The first is the geology of New England. I need to complete some research and writing here to fill a gap in my history of New England. However, I also want to use the research to provide background for some further pieces on New England's environmental wars.

I don't know about you, but I find that while I have a good general understanding of the geography and geology of New England, I also get frustrated at the way that some of the discussion ignores or at least occurs in isolation of the geography. Why, for example, is Liverpool Plains groundwater important?

Peter Firminger (@PeterFirminger) has been doing a very good job on Twitter in just recording some of the media reporting on issues connected with the environmental wars with a special focus on coal seam gas. I think that reporting would be enhanced if I provided factual material and background analysis.

The second thing I need to do further research on is higher education in New England. This will allow me to continue the series I began with The story of higher education in New England 1 - introduction. It will also fill in another gap in my history.

I am now coming under pressure to move my history forward. For personal reasons, I must get the book to the point that I can seriously seek a publisher. I know who I want to publish the book, but I can't approach them until I have more to show. 

I do not expect the break in posting to be a long one. During the break, I will continue to bring my Armidale Express columns on-line, and will respond to comments. I will also be making some posts to my New England history blog that I will reference here.


I did a brief summary of my current historical research, Report on Belshaw historical research and writing, that I think will provide a bit more background to this post.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Attracting migrants to inland New England

From time to time I have talked about the best way of attracting migrants to New England. These might come from other parts of Australia (internal migration) or from overseas. In this post, I want to focus on the attraction of overseas migrants.

New England now has some of the poorest towns and areas in Australia. This problem has emerged progressively over the last fifty years as our young have left to be replaced in many areas by in-migration of retirees or those on welfare. Our population is now older than the Australian average, in many areas unemployment is higher than average, we have seen a drift of higher paid jobs.

As in any geographically diverse area, the pattern is not uniform.

We have parts of New England on the North Coast that are now simply overpopulated relative to economic opportunities. We have inland areas where there are available jobs that cannot be filled, vacant jobs that are holding back employment growth by reducing income and activity.

Even on the coast, there are areas where the inability to attract people to fill vacancies is a problem.

One of the problems that I have talked about in public policy is the way we deal in very broad terms, universals, that actually prevent the targeting required to address needs that vary greatly across space and time.

To assist in resolving this, I suggest that one of the things that we need is a specific policy approach to address the workforce needs of inland New England. We need approaches that will bring trades and professionals to fill existing gaps.

At one level, this may seem that we are favouring coastal over inland New England. Yet the reality is different. Growth in inland New England can aid coastal development, can provide broader opportunities for coastal kids.

I mentioned overseas migrants my opening paragraph. One way of assisting inland New England would be to specifically target this in migration programs. Professionals or tradies prepared to settle in inland New England might receive preferential treatment.

We are not talking huge numbers. Even two hundred new settlers in any twelve months would, over a few years, make a huge continuing difference. Then the focus could switch to other areas.

What about it?  

Friday, August 19, 2011

A visit to a Cessnock boxing tent

My main post today is Boxing, history & social change. I followed this with Classical Greek, boxing & New England history. Now I want to complete the trifecta with a post directed just at the readers of this blog.

In my main post I mentioned The Tent by Wayne McLennan (Quadrant, May 2002).

Quite a few of my readers here come from Newcastle and the lower Hunter. I think that you will enjoy this description of a visit to a boxing tent at Cessnock in, I think, the 1960s.

Even if you are not from this area, it's still a well written piece. 


In a comment on my original post, kvd pointed out that Wayne McLennan had been inducted to the Cessnock Hall of Fame. kvd also led me to add something to the post on Bell's Boxing Tent, a continuing boxing show that Wayne boxed for!  

In another comment, this time here, Greg reminded me of the short and tragic life of boxing great Les Darcy. Darcy was born on 31 October 1895 at Stradbroke, near Maitland. There is a real story in the boxers of the lower Hunter that deserves better promotion.

Postscript 2

Further comments from Greg:

We shouldn't forget another great New England boxing legend - the great Dave Sands from Kempsey.

Dave Sands also had a strong connection with the Newcastle area having had many of his early bouts at The Stadium in Newcastle West before going on to win the Australian middleweight title.

Boxing was legendary at The Stadium in the early to middle 20th Century. I remember it as the site of the Newcastle ice rink when I was young and I think that by then it's boxing days were over. Now it is the site of the Marketown shopping centre. A colourful piece of Newcastle history now barely remembered.

Incidentally - Dave Sands was another great sporting tragedy. He died in a truck accident at the age of just 26.

You will find details of Dave Sand's life here. I really do love the way comments extend discussion! Thanks, Greg! 


Saturday Morning Musings - boxing & the power of blogging in history on my personal blog provides a consolidated update on these linked posts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Visitor 60,000, Gordon Smith & the outback

Visitor 60,000 has arrived on this site. He/she searched on Armidale and ended up on this post from June 29, 2009, Gordon Smith's St Peter's Cathedral Armidale.

Looking at the post, my blogging colleague Gordon Smith was just back from an outback tour. As I write, Gordon is running photos from his most recent outback tour. They are very good: you will find them here.

Nice coincidence, don't you think?

Armidale school life, 1890s

This photo from the TAS (The Armidale School) photo archive shows, I think, boarders leaving the school at the end of the nineteenth century.  Boarders leaving TAS nd

For those who don't know Armidale, it became a major New England educational centre in the second half of the nineteenth century. From the 1890s, its boarding schools drew borders from across Northern New South Wales into Queensland.

It's an interesting shot for a number of reasons. You can see them packing the coach, while the boys' uniforms are clearly visible.

It could be a school excursion (it looks like sport's gear with the whites), but might also be a break-up. To get to or from school in Armidale, most people travelled by horse or coach, then train, then horse or coach. Some added a steamer trip in the middle. As late as the 1930s, abysmal road connections to the coast meant that some North Coast kids at the Armidale Teachers College went to Sydney by train and then by steamer back up the coast.

First Boarders 1894 Staying with TAS photos, this photo shows the first group og boarders at the school in 1894.

It's an interesting shot because of the clothes and its composition. The master on the right with his gown strikes me as a bit of a lad from his posture.

On the far left, the stolid bloke with his hand in his jacket pocket looks like the School Sergeant. The headmaster, clerical of course, sits in the middle.

This is the second of my nostalgia posts for the day. The first, Armidale vs Canada in Rugby 1960, was much more modern, even if I am starting to get a tad ancient!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday Forum: resolving environmental conflict

For some time now, I have been writing about the environmental wars raging across New England. Peter Firminger (@PeterFirminger) provides regular updates on the same topic.

This Wednesday Forum seeks your input. What are the main environmental conflicts in your area? How might they be resolved? Can they be resolved?

To set a context, I have been back through my previous posts to try to pull some issues together.

Access to information

Access to information appears to be one of the recurring problems. For example, how many Australians have heard of the Hunter-Bowen orogeny, also known as the the Sydney-Gunnedah-Bowen Basin? That's where the coal is. Or the Liverpool Plains?  That's one of the current environmental flash points.

You will see public discussion on the importance of ground water on the Liverpool Plains, but who knows that it's the largest ground water deposits in New England? People all across Australia form views on New England environmental issues without knowing where New England is nor the significance of the specific issue.

Lack of knowledge applies at local level at well.

How should information be made available?

Winners and losers

All Government decisions involve winners and losers. In theory, problems can be resolved to some degree by compensation from winners to losers. In practice, this doesn't happen.

Take the coal deposits in the Hunter or Liverpool Plains.

Development of those deposits involve costs extending beyond the investment costs. We have lost agricultural land, problems of congestion, higher service costs. These are generally local. There are some local economic benefits, but with Fly In, Fly Out these are reduced. The general benefits go elsewhere.

This is not an argument against development, just for better recognition of the spread of costs and benefits and for better compensation. How might we do this?

Who owns what?

Our present Government structures are skewed. At national level, we say that things like mineral resources are a national resource that must be used for the benefit of all Australians. Then mineral resources belong to the crown in right of the state.

Through Royalties to the Regions, WA wants to see funds from development benefit areas from which the resources are extracted. The Commonwealth says resources are national and opposes WA plans. Without its own Government, New England is ignored.

In Tasmania, the Government and Greens develop a plan to preserve native forests. Because this affects State revenues, the Commonwealth is expected to provide compensation. The justification given is that those forests have a unique value. By implication, they are a national asset justifying national funding.

In New England, Malcolm Turnbull proposed that the waters of the Clarence should be diverted to water South East Queensland. The justification given was that the Clarence was a national resource.

I argued that the Clarence was a New England resource, that any decision to divert resources should include compensation to those affected. This was opposed in the Clarence partly on the grounds that the Clarence belonged to those in the Valley regardless of where the water came from. There was no recognition that those on the Tablelands had an interest in the water.

Those further west argued that the waters should be diverted to the western streams to maintain irrigation. Those further south and in the capital cities argued that farmers and communities on New England's western slopes and plains should lose their water to keep environmental flows going and give Adelaide water.

On Cape York, environmental groups from the south gained sufficient support to lock up the rivers on general environmental grounds. This was opposed by Aboriginal groups who said that you are taking away our rights.

So who owns what? How do we accommodate cascading ownership claims?

 Individual vs Group rights

One of the difficulties in current arrangements lies in the conflict between individual and group rights.

The purchase of water rights from willing sellers under a market system can wipe out entire communities. Landowners may sell out to mining companies and disadvantage other adjoining landowners. Private gains go to a few, costs are borne by others.

Again, a better compensation system would help, as would better regional planning.

Action without responsibility

In each Australian constitutional entity, the voters have equal rights. That's central to democracy. Two problems arise.

The first is that entities cascade from national to state to local. The voters and governments at one level can and do over ride those below.

The second is that pressure groups take action without any responsibility for the consequences. Voters in  Sydney can force action in circumstances where they are simply not affected in the short term by the consequences of their actions.  

It's a classic case of authority without responsibility.

I will pause here. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Belshaw's World - euphoria to ill-informed economic future

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 10 August 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.

This week I listened to the almost breathless reporting on the economic news with a degree of bemusement. It was hauntingly familiar.

I was in Shanghai when the global financial crisis broke. I watched it all unfold on international TV.

Back to Australia, I was struck by the almost total disconnect between local reporting and my own perceptions of the Australian economy. No matter which way I cut the numbers, I couldn’t see how the worst case outcomes that people were talking about could actually occur.

I was right, of course, and for the reasons I thought. Now something of the same disconnect seems to be occurring again.

Human beings can be strange.

Prior to the global financial crisis Australian talk focused on boom. Then, suddenly, we went from almost euphoria to despair.

As we came through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, we went back to talking about boom. Mining Boom Mark II was born.

There was no such thing as Mining Boom Mark II, of course. It was just a continuation of previous events. It only seemed a new boom because of our varying perceptions.

In the midst of the euphoria, I found my self playing a Cassandra role. It is simply not a good idea to count on the golden egg before it’s actually laid!

Now as we plunge back into gloom, exactly the same issues arise.

At a purely domestic level, Australia is well positioned to ride out the current troubles. Our budget position is sound, and we very little national debt.

The big difference now as compared to the global financial crisis is the exchange rate.

As the global financial crisis hit, the Australian dollar fell because people saw it as risky. Again, this was a very silly thing in economic terms because of the strength of the Australian economy. However, it gave us an added buffer to help us ride out the shocks.

This time our dollar is very strong. Again, there is not really a rational reason for the dollar’s current strength. It just is.

Most Australians don’t realise that the Australian dollar is the fifth most heavily traded currency in the world.

Relative to the size of our economy it is not as heavily traded as, say, the Swiss franc or the New Zealand dollar, but it is still a very heavily traded currency. This means that the value of the currency moves as markets dictate independent of real changes in the Australian economy.

The fact that our dollar is so high is hurting us, but our basic economic position is still strong.

Outside Australia, I just don’t think that the global economic position is as gloomy as people think.

The big global problem is that we are going through a period of adjustment that combines longer tem structural change with the need to work through past excesses.

The longer term change is the shift in relative economic power from the mature developed economies to the developing economies. This would have required adjustments in any case. However, these adjustments are complicated by the way we have overspent as consumers.

Throughout most developed countries, the combination of easy credit with rising asset prices allowed us to spend more and save less. This drove apparent economic growth. Now the process has gone into reverse.

All this means that many countries are likely to experience slower economic growth, even economic stagnation, until balance is restored. However, that’s a very different issue from some of the gloom talk we are now hearing.

In all this, China remains the big question mark for Australia.

China’s current phase of economic growth is coming to an end.

Chinese growth has been export led, supported by a large underemployed workforce, very high domestic savings, very high investment and an artificially low currency. The Chinese economy has become unbalanced, imbalances that are in fact the mirror image of imbalances in the developed economies.

The next phase of Chinese growth is likely to see a stronger domestic focus, a rise in Chinese consumption, together with some restructuring in Chinese industry as domestic wage costs rise. Some Chinese manufacturing is already shifting to lower cost countries.

I don’t see this as a necessary problem from an Australian perspective. However, it does pose some short to medium term threats to our more optimistic projections.

Nobody can deny that we do not face significant challenges. My point is that we are not well served by current reporting in coming to properly understand them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The story of higher education in New England 1 - introduction

In discussion with Greg on Charles Sturt University to open in Tamworth?, I realised that some of the things I write about New England's universities probably don't make a lot of sense in isolation.

To set the scene for the discussion that follows, this photo shows graduation at the Newcastle University College in March 1957 or 1958.

From left to right you have Sir Earle Page as Chancellor of the University of New England, Dr. Wallace Wurth, Chancellor, University of New South Wales (standing), then I think that on the far right in the front row is Robert Madgwick, then VC at UNE.

Why are there UNE people present? Well, at the time the photo was taken, Arts students at Newcastle University College were supervised from the University of New England in the same type of relationship that the New England University College had had with Sydney University. Indeed, this supervision was one of the two critical conditions under which New England gained its autonomy. The other was the introduction of external studies at UNE.

At the time, Newcastle was a college of the University of Technology in Sydney, now the University of NSW. However, the University of Technology did not teach arts. For that reason, the introduction of arts at NUC required support from another university. As had happened earlier with Sydney and NEUC and for the same reasons, the relationship between UNE and NUC was a sometimes troubled one.

Now the point of this little story is that this link between UNE and Newcastle is little known. Indeed, the whole history of higher education in New England is little known, fragmented. This affects the way that people judge stuff that I write, for while I write from a broader New England perspective, they look at the picture in terms of individual institutions or, sometimes, the higher education sector as a whole. The broad New England perspective is absent.

I have a further problem in that my own allegiances and family connections to UNE are well known. I write a lot about UNE because it is important to me. Just to take a very small example, at the NUC March 1959 graduation my father presented the Arts candidates!

Does this mean that I am UNE biased? At one level it does, but when I write from a broader New England perspective whether historical or policy I try to be balanced.

Does the absence of a broader New England perspective, of the entire historical background, matter? I would argue that it does. But then, I am clearly biased! 

Thinking about this, I have decided that I really need to consolidate my writing on New England higher education, adding some new material to fill gaps. I have now written hundreds of posts across blogs connected in some way with higher education. You will find a partial list here. In addition, there are the specifically New England posts.

Given my time constraints, I am going to focus on material already prepared. All I want to achieve is to provide information and analysis that people can use to make their own judgements.       

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Charles Sturt University to open in Tamworth?

My heart sank a little when I saw this story in the Northern Daily Leader: Time to get smart in Tamworth. The story begins:

TAMWORTH could boast a more visible university presence in the near future and it could be coming from Bathurst, not Armidale.

Tamworth Regional Council has unanimously, and excitedly, supported a nomination from Charles Sturt University (CSU) to act as the university partner on a funding application to establish a multi-

sector education precinct in the city.

The precinct would be established adjacent to the New England Institute of Technical and Further Education’s Tamworth campus.

The endorsement of the proposal was made on Tuesday night and involves seeking approval for a federal government Education Infrastructure Fund grant.

Why did my heart sink? Well for many reasons.

Tamworth has wanted its own campus for a long time. Even though UNE has provided local facilities over a long period, it hasn't really moved to meet Tamworth needs. Now Charles Sturt is trying to step in as part of a continuing and aggressive expansion campaign.

I do not begrudge either Tamworth or CSU for trying to move forward. Instead, I have two primary concerns that I have explored on this blog before.

The first is simply loss of vision by UNE. During the 1970s and 1980s the University lost its original university vision, its regional role across the broader New England. Its regional vision shrank to New England Tablelands, North West. For that reason, there is a certain irony in the CSU move, for it strikes at the heart of UNE's diminished regional role.

I do not want to overstate this, for UNE's broader regional role has begun to come back because no one else is doing it. Many of us have also been trying to force the University to stand outside the pressures created by Canberra dictates, what we can call university games, and instead reinstate its previous broader regional focus. This is not the University's only role, but it is central its role. 

If UNE doesn't do it, no one will will. Certainly CSU won't.

The second thing that I have written about is the fragmentation in New England.

The Australian Government talks about the role of Universities in pursuing Australia's interests. The NSW Government sometimes talks about the role of NSW universities in developing NSW. No one talks about the role of New England's universities in pursuing New England's interests.

New England is not the same as NSW beyond an accident of political geography. Our universities are not just big businesses, but critical contributors to New England social and community development. We need them to cooperate if New England is to advance.

I stand to be corrected, but I don't think that CSU's move will help. The new Tamworth campus will remain a small outrider, an add-on, a branch office. It is likely to become just another contributor to New England's continuing fragmentation.       

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Belshaw's World - trials of working from home

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 3 August 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.

Yesterday morning my wife left for Perth on a short business trip, my eldest daughter for a longer trip to Kununurra via Darwin. Helen’s boyfriend is a pilot with Alligator Airway and she hasn’t seen him since before leaving for her semester in Copenhagen.

The Kimberley region has always fascinated me because of its remoteness and very different history. However, while I have researched the area and even written some pieces on its history, I have never been there.

Eldest has promised to take some photos for me, so I will be able to add these plus her reactions to my store of knowledge.

With two of my three girls away, the third busy for much of the day, I largely had the house to myself. I also had a long list of things to do, including this column.

Do you ever have one of those days when you can’t concentrate? That is what happened to me. I was restless and bored.

Sydney has been cold and wet. Not Armidale cold, but miserable because Sydney houses are not really designed for the cold.

Living in Armidale or Canberra, there was always one place in the house that was really warm. Not so in Sydney I find. We do have heating that more or less warms the whole house, but it’s somehow unsatisfying. It’s also very expensive.

There have also been days of high wind.

I came out one morning to find our clothes’ line demolished, dumping all the wet clothes onto the ground. The owner who now lives in London finds it hard to believe that wind could do this, so doesn’t want to pay for the line.

This adds to my feeling of gloom.

I do sound grumpy don’t I!

Anyway, yesterday I sat down with my list and tried to motivate myself.

We all play games with ourselves. At least I do.

I broke my list up into small chunks, saying to myself if you complete this you can then reward yourself with that. Often this works, but not yesterday. I wandered restless around the house, finally ending up back at the computer just roaming the internet and answering some of my email back-log.

Since we came down to Sydney I have worked a fair bit from home. It was just easier that way because it meant that I could do child-care things.

When I first started working from home, it was much talked about, but still unusual. Today it is much more common.. For that reason, I have a written a number of pieces explaining the best ways of home based working.

This may sound odd given my complaints about yesterday. However, my own problems provide part of the raw material that informs my writing.

Thinking about it over the period, I have boiled my advice down to three key points.

First, you have to set things up so that you can work effectively.

This is in fact one of my problems just at present. Since we moved house in March, my home working environment has been somewhat chaotic. I just haven’t got things re-organised.

Second, you have to create a proper working structure. By this I mean simply things like proper working hours that provide a framework and especially a separation between home and working life.

You own family is often the greatest problem here, for they think that if you are home then you are available. Would you mind doing this, dear.

Blast. That reminds me that I haven’t taken my wife’s dry-cleaning to the cleaners!

Third, you have to get out to see people and to do new things. This actually requires discipline.

Working from home can be a very isolating thing, for you don’t get the type of interaction provided by a more structured working environment. Apart from the loneliness that can afflict the home worker, you can also lose professional touch.

I didn’t recognise this properly when I started working from home. Depending on the work you are doing, you actually have to create for yourself the type of networking and professional development that tends to come automatically with a more conventional working environment.

Well, I will have to finish here. I really need to take my wife’s clothes to the dry-cleaners!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Who will be Australia's Seventh State?

NT Logo

Look, I know that the Northern territory wants to be Australia's seventh state. But seriously, New England was there first and deserves the title. 

We have been trying for self government for more then 150 years. We want our go.

The ABC has an interesting info graphic on changes in Australia since Federation. Have a play. it's quite fun.

In 1901, Sydney had 36 per cent of the NSW population. New England had over a quarter of the then NSW population, not all that far behind. We had more people than most of the then Australian sates.

By 1945, Sydney's population was 50 per cent of the state total, and New England was falling behind. Yet even in the 1950s we had more people than Tasmania, WA and SA, and were not all that far behind Queensland.

Today NSW is classified as the sick state, and New England is a large pimple on Sydney's bum.

Isn't it time to give us our go?

In 1924, the NSW Cohen Royal Commission accepted that the country had been disadvantaged relative to Sydney.  However, the Commission said, this is no longer true. There are other ways of achieving the new state goal; regional councils are the answer. Hah! Where are those councils?

In 1867 at our plebiscite, those opposed to self government said that New England would gain by staying in NSW, that we could not afford statehood. Oh yes?

Why are most of NSW's poor towns in New England? Why have our opportunities shrunk? Why aren't there any jobs for those who want to go home?

Bluntly, we couldn't have done worse. Why not give us a go now?

Sydney really needs to worry about it's own needs. If New England gets self government and fails, then that's our responsibility. So give us our chance!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Bob Neville & Tingha Community Regeneration win new award

Tingha Bob Neville building Inclusive Communities Award

Congratulations to Bob Neville for winning the individual section of the NSW Building Inclusive Communities Award.

The photo shows left to right – State Premier Hon Barry O’Farrell, Bob Neville Tingha Regeneration Inc, Diane Torrens Chairperson Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and Mr Tim Torrens.

The prize was awarded for his leadership of the Tingha Regeneration Program which is not only designed to rebuild the community, it also seeks to provide a model for many struggling communities throughout Australia.

My congratulations to Bob and those who have worked with him.

It seemed an appropriate time for me to pull together a few of the past posts I have written about Tingha:

Actually, there are fewer there than I thought!. Still, if you look just at this list, you can see that I have been following Bob' work for a little while.  

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Investigating the history of theatre in New England

The discussion on Wednesday Forum: preserving New England's heritage led me to post History of theatre in New England - update 1 on my history blog. If you visit, you will see how fragmentary my previous posts have been.

This is just another area where present trends in historical research don't give us the information we need to better understand our own area. I suppose the assumption is that it's not important! Maybe it isn't, but it is important to us.

I will do some digging away on my own account, but does anybody know of historical studies that I should follow up? 


This postscript is addressed to my Newcastle readers in particular, but everybody can chime in. 

Have a look at Jude's comments on History of theatre in New England - update 1. Isn't that a wonderful  response? What can you add?

Friday, August 05, 2011

UNE Passings - death of Anne Harris

I saw from a story in the Armidale Express by James Bell that Anne Harris had died. Sadly,the story is not on-line.

Anne's death marks another step in the progressive but inevitable sundering in the links between the University of New England and its past. For that reason, I thought that I should write a short personal memoir dedicated to Anne. It's not a full obituary, nor have I been able to find the photos that I wanted to illustrate the story. Think of it as a personal note, remembering someone who was interconnected with my family and life.

Anne's grandfather, Thomas Richard Forster, was born in Melbourne on 13 January 1862. After finishing schooling at The Kings School in Sydney, he joined the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and then in 1887 was posted to Armidale. There he met Kate Sarah White  (1864-1949), eldest daughter of Frederick and Sarah White.

The Whites were a big pastoral family with extensive interests from the Hunter north. Australian writer Patrick White was another member of this family. Kate grew up in the large houses of her family in the Hunter valley, was educated in Sydney, travelled extensively in Britain Booloominbahin 1884-85 and moved in 1888 into the huge new mansion, Booloominbah, designed by Horbury Hunt on the outskirts of Armidale.

On 31 January 1891TRF and Kate were married. F. R. White bought the 40,000-acre (16,000 ha) property, Abington, near Bundarra, and settled it in trust on his daughter and son-in-law. TRF resigned from the bank and devoted himself to improving the property. He also began to play a key role in local activities, including a long period on the council of The Armidale School (TAS).

The couple's first son, Frederick Richmond Foster, was born in 1892 followed by Norman in 1893, Geoffrey in 1896 and then Dorothy in 1904. Frederick as eldest son was destined to take over the property.

Frederick went to TAS followed by Norman and Geoffrey. At TAS Norman was already showing signs of the lameness that would afflict him from infantile paralysis, dragging his leg even when playing football. All the boys spent time from school at Booloominbah, and Geoffrey in particular was very fond of the place.

After leaving school, Frederick worked first for Harold F. White at Guyra and then on Abington with his father. After the outbreakFrederick White of the First World War he sailed to England to enlist, joining as a gunner in February 1916. Booloominbah itself was turned into a Red Cross Convalescent Hospital.

In May 1917 Geoffrey sailed for England to also join the Artillery. At the end of August 1917 Frederick was badly wounded, dying in hospital, but not before his brother saw him. It was a major blow to the whole family.

After the war the boys settled down on the property. Geoffrey took over management of the stock work, while Norman took charge of the sheep stud. Too help him get around - Norman was finding movement increasingly difficult -  TRF provided him with a car and a driver.

Late in May 1922, Geoffrey married Ethel Burnett who had been working at Armidale accountants W S Forsyth.

Anne was born in 1924. Some of her earliest memories were of riding around the property with her father, at first on a pony and then on a more stylish mount. She also spent time at Booloominbah, maintained by Sarah after F R White's death in 1903.

Now I need to digress a little.

Moves to create a new state in Northern New south Wales began in the 1850s. After a break, new state agitation burst out again in Grafton in 1915 and then in a more sustained way at the end of the First World war.

In 1920 the first full New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, had put a key problem facing the North in this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area.

From 1924 moves began in Armidale to try to get a university for the North, supported by David Drummond as local member of Parliament. Drummond, along with other Northern Parliamentarians including Mick Bruxner, was a strong new stater. In 1928 as the new NSW Minister for Public Instruction he was able to found the Armidale Teachers College as both the first country tertiary institution  and an initial step towards the creation of a Northern university. The university movement stalled during the depression, but then resumed.

In September 1933 Sarah White had died at the age of 91. In 1935 T R Forster sounded out Country Party Leader and NSW Deputy Premier Mick Bruxner on a proposal he had in mind. If he purchased Booloominbah from the White Estate and donated it to form the nucleus of a new university college, would the offer be accepted?

Drummond accepted the offer with alacrity. There were still hurdles to cross, but TRF's offer was critical to the final success in gaining the new university college that opened its doors in 1938. Drummond himself, while often and accurately described as the founder of the New England University College, was quite clear on the matter. Without Forster, there would have been no College.

Families and history link and interlink in New England.

James Belshaw was the first staff member to arrive at the new University College. There he met and married Drummond's eldest daughter Edna who was the first librarian. So Anne and I are both grandchildren of key players in the foundation of the New England University College, both of us have tried to keep the faith alive.

While the events that I am describing were proceeding, Anne was educated first by governesses and then at the New England Girls School (NEGS) where she was captain. Them she studied at the University of Sydney where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology. She then worked at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children as a psychologist before establishing a private practice focusing on remedial reading and learning difficulties for children.

In 1952 Anne married an Armidale lad, Richard Laylor Harris who was then an honorary physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.  Born on 4 July 1915, Richard was son of Dr Walter E Harris. Dr Harris came to Armidale in, I think, 1902.

Searching around, I found this photo taken in Armidale of Dr Harris apparently with Alfred Deakin in c.1911.

walter harris and Alfred Deakin Just from a purely Armidale perspective, Lindsay House named after Edith Dulce Lindsay was built in 1917 by Dr Harris.

Dr Harris was school doctor at TAS and NEGS and also a close friend of T R Forster, so that it's presumably through through this linkage the couple met.  

Dr Harris died in 1924 when Richard was young. However, his wife continued living in Armidale, so that Anne and Richard and the children spent time on breaks both on Abington and with Mrs Harris. Now here I think that there is another link with with my family, but not one that I have been able to confirm.

Peg Harris was one of my mother's oldest friends. Either she or sister Pam were in the 1939 intake at the New England University College. I say either because the index to Keith Leopold's book with the photo says Pamela, while the photo says Peg! The photo includes Mum. Peg went on to work at UNE for many years.

Each Christmas Eve for year after year, both Peg and Pam would come to our place for drinks. My recollection is, I stand to be corrected, that they were Richard's sisters.

Richard Harris died in 1970 aged just 55, then Geoffrey Forster died in 1975. Anne returned to the property in 1976 with her sons James, Michael and Anthony, throwing herself into local activities. This included membership of the University Council.  She also began to research local history with a special focus on Abington and the Gwydir Valley.

It was through this history link that I met Anne. Prior to that, I knew who she was, but the age difference meant that she was more a contact of my parents than mine. Now in 1981 and 1982 we were both part of the local and regional history Australian group at UNE.

This was quite a large group, over thirty of us, with a special focus on New England. Anne was researching her book on the history of Abington published in 1982. I remember her as a very tall, bright, charming and interesting woman. Abington itself is a well written book that brings the history of the property and its people alive. I have it in front of me as I write; it is a major source for this piece.

The management of the property was taken over by son James. Anne's other two boys went into medicine. James played an active role in community activities, including treasurer of the Save New England Action Group, which fought successfully to stop the acquisition of land by the Department of Defence for use as an artillery range. I still have sloppy joes with Save New England on the front, No big guns on New England on the back. I get some very strange looks today when I wear them!

James went on to join the University of New England Council in 1994, becoming Deputy Chancellor in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate, retiring from Council the following year.

This is a long post that has taken me a long time to write. I hope that it gives a feel for Anne as a person, but also a little of the family and context that helped form her and her life. I also hope that it gives you a feel as to why so many of us are passionate about the University of New England at a time when tradition and history can be thrust aside in the name of the great gods efficiency and effectiveness.

You see, UNE does not exist, nor does it survive, because it is efficient and effective, although I hope that it is both.  It is there because people have cared. Despite Governments, it will survive so long as people continue to care.     

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wednesday Forum: preserving New England's heritage

It is a little while since I ran a Wednesday Forum. I stopped because while they attracted interest and web traffic, they also attracted limited comments. There didn't seem much point in running a forum without comments.800px-VictoriaTheatre2007

I have decide to try again, if only because the Forums act as another record of current issues. 

To set the scene for this forum, this is a 2007 photo of the Victoria Theatre in Newcastle.

I didn't know until Stu commented on Selling New England to itself that this is the oldest theatre still standing in NSW (and New England). It was  opened 1876 and rebuilt during 1890-91. Stu wrote:

Music and the arts are opportunities for Newcastle to thrive and give Sydney a run for its money.
I'd love to see the Victoria theatre in Perkins St restored and more bands, plays and shows visit Newcastle.

This is NSW's oldest theatre and restored would be on par with any offering in Australia.

Venues like this ad to the cultural fabric of a city and the historical aspect makes the experience more memorable. I would compare this to the Brixton academy in London, giving Newcastle and New England a cultural icon that Sydney would envy.

Coaching Station Bald Nob The next photo comes from Mark's post Wuthering Heights @ Bald Nob. It is in fact a photo of one of the oldest still standing coach stops.

In the days when the horse was king, stations line this were to be found at regular intervals along all of New England's roads.

The coach from Grafton would come to a halt here to allow passengers to have a break and to change horses. Even when I was child, the derelict remains of places like this were to be found everywhere. Now they have largely vanished. Just as with the Victoria Theatre, it would be nice to see

This brings me to the point of this forum. What are the things that you would like to see preserved across the broader New England and why?


In comments, Mark nominated railways as a key target. I have written a little on railways (here and also here). Greg referred to Newcastle's rich theatrical tradition.  On the Victoria, he wrote:

The Victoria Theatre is a wonderful building. Unfortunately the image of a decaying old theatre doesn't do it justice. I don't remember it operating as a theatre. I think that it closed when I was still quite young. But it used to house Easthams clothing company and I used to love going there to marvel at the 19th C interior of the building which was still largely intact as a theatre....

Itt would be a tragedy if the Victoria eventually either burnt down or just decayed beyond repair. It is an irreplaceable part of our heritage and would be a great loss.

I have often thought that, if renovated and restored as a theatre, it would be a wonderful venue for live music. The Kings at Lambton has undergone a rennaisance as a live music venue (now Lizottes). Something similar at the Victoria in the heart of Newcastle would be a great asset to the city and a marvellous attraction.

What a pity that such a historic part of our heritage is allowed to fall into neglect and disrepair.

He added:

As an aside - the Victoria is one of a number of old theatres that have been lost to the city in recent decades. The theatre Royal, the Kensington and the Lyric in the CBD are no longer theatres. The Regent in Islington is now a rennovators warehouse and the Strand (CBD) and Century (Broadmeadow) were both demolished after the earthquake.

Newcastle had an extensive and extraordinarily rich theatre heritage, most of which is now gone. It was one of the oldest and most extensive theatre districts in Australia.

The Civic Theatre is now the oldest surviving theatre in Newcastle. If you have never been there, I would thoroughly recommend it. It is an art deco style and the interior is lavishly decorated. It remains as one of Australia's best historic theatres.

You can find a little about the Civic here.

Checking back posts, I realised that while I have done some limited posts, the theatre tag does not properly represent them. I really need to go through and do a better consolidation!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Belshaw's World - riot at the Star hotel

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 27 July 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 referred to this column in yesterday's post, Selling New England to itself.

On the night of 18 September 1979 a riot broke out in Newcastle outside the Star Hotel.

Originally built in 1885, the Star was a huge, rambling place stretching a block between King and Hunter streets with three very different bars and clienteles.

Star Hotel riot The Hotel had been the target of criticism and the licensing police for some time, and just one week before owners Tooth & Co had announced that the hotel was to close. It was an unpopular decision, and a large crowd had gathered on the Hotel’s final night.

Newcastle accountant and President of the reforming Northern (New England) New State Movement Greg Howley was there that night and recalls events.

“The hotel was due to be closed permanently”, Greg wrote, “and Heroes were the last act to appear before its demise. The Star was a popular live venue and it was standing room only as the pub was packed with emotion charged youth such as myself eager to send it out on high.”

“Unfortunately, the police were also there and on the nose of closing time shut the power and tried to empty the pub. It was a spark to a powder keg and the patrons reacted angrily - spilling over onto King Street, confronting the police, hurling missiles, upturning and setting fire to cars in what become an infamous confrontation played out on national news bulletins.”

Songwriter Don Walker immortalised the event in the Cold Chisel song “Star Hotel.” The lyrics begin:

“All last night we were learning
Drank our cheques by the bar
Somewhere bridges were burning
As the walls came down at the Star
Squadcars fanned the insanity
Newsteams fought through the crowd
Spent last night in custody
And the sun found me on the road”

This is a political song with a special focus on unemployment. There was high youth unemployment at the time, and it was a major issue.

I was then working in the Commonwealth Treasury. The Department’s view, one that I shared, was that we could not get unemployment down without fixing the economic fundamentals. That may have been right, but it was small consolation to those out of a job.

Donald Hugh Walker was born in Ayr North Queensland to a farmer father and schoolteacher mother. The family later moved to Grafton where Walker went to school before studying physics at UNE.

The Walker family was quite literary, Mother Shirley was a novelist, while sister Brenda also studied at UNE before going on to become a writer and leading Australian academic.

In addition to his songs, Don also published a book, Shots, containing recollections of his life in rural Australia and with Cold Chisel before the band became famous. Both songs and book show New England influences.

In addition to “Star Hotel”, Don Walker wrote the lyrics to one of Cold Chisel’s most famous songs, “Flame Trees”, about Grafton. Mark Bellamy, a fellow blogger from the Clarence Valley, described the song in this way:

“It's the classic aussie country town song of love, loss, friendship and anti-nostalgia. I can't get this tune out of my head at this time of the year”.

I am not a muso, but I can understand why Newcastle has taken Cold Chisel to its heart. It makes perfect sense to me that the band should plan to begin their newt tour in Newcastle.

Newcastle has a great musical tradition, something that I have really only become aware of quite recently.

It’s not just Silverchair, Newcastle’s best known band, but band after band.

Further, while Newcastle’s musical tradition has that somewhat gritty element common to other aspects of the city’s cultural life, the tradition extends beyond this into every element of music.

I know that Armidale prides itself on being the cultural capital of the North, but Newcastle would give the city a run for its money any day.

In fact, what we have across the broader New England are remarkably vibrant but varied cultural activities little recognised in the metro centres. It’s not just Armidale or Newcastle or Tamworth, each interesting if different, but a range of other centres as well.

For my part, I have only realised this since I started writing so heavily on New England life. It’s really quite remarkable.

But that’s a story for another column!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Selling New England to itself

in Cold Chisel, Silverchair & the Newcastle musical tradition, I wrote (as the names suggests) a little about Newcastle's musical tradition. This drew comments from Greg about Newcastle's broader cultural tradition, including its excellence in dance. Now Greg has added a postscript comment to that post:

Late Mail: In the final of the McDonalds Performing Arts Challenge at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday night, Dan Wilkinson from Newcastle was runner up in the solo classical. Dan dances with the National College of Dance (NCD) in Lambton.

In the final of the contemporary group section NCD went one better to win. Dancers from Newcastle continue to excel!

Well done!

At the end of July, Newcastle's Urban Insider carried a two part interview by Cormack O'Connor with Byron Williams from The Herd - The Inside Word with Byron from The Herd: Part 1; The Inside Word with Byron from The Herd: Part 2. The pieces covered Byron's work with the young people's mental health group Headspace as well as the band.

Wikipedia classifies The Herd as a Sydney band. Reading the interview, I'm not sure that's absolutely accurate any more. In any event, I was interested in Byron's comment on the Newcastle musical scene. I quote one part:

Why have you decided to be based in Newcastle?

I just sort of realised when I was in Sydney that I was only using 1/8 of the city, so I thought why not move somewhere that’s like 1/8 the size of Sydney and use it all. Also the beaches and lifestyle. Everything that Newcastle stands for I’m passionate about. Newcastle has a great live music scene, I like live music. I’m really into the beach and surfing and the architecture. Newcastle has a lot of the things I’m really passionate about and less traffic. Lots of my friends and The Herd are in Sydney but it’s just down the highway, I’m getting used to that train ride. I’ve even got my favourite seat marked out (laughs).

What is something you’d like to see happen in the Newcastle area?

I’d like to see this beautiful city centre thriving. The Renew Newcastle scheme is going really well but just walking around here having only recently moved into the city, it’s just beautiful. It makes no sense why it isn’t thriving so that’s what I’d really like to see. Maybe a couple of new venues, a couple of old venues revitalised.

The Cold Chisel post inspired last week's Armidale Express column. There, teasing my Armidale audience a little, I said in part:   

Newcastle has a great musical tradition, something that I have really only become aware of quite recently.

It’s not just Silverchair, Newcastle’s best known band, but band after band.

Further, while Newcastle’s musical tradition has that somewhat gritty element common to other aspects of the city’s cultural life, the tradition extends beyond this into every element of music.

I know that Armidale prides itself on being the cultural capital of the North, but Newcastle would give the city a run for its money any day.

I went on to say that, In fact, what we have across the broader New England are remarkably vibrant but varied cultural activities little recognised in the metro centres. It’s not just Armidale or Newcastle or Tamworth, each interesting if different, but a range of other centres as well.

One of the difficulties with current institutional structures is that information doesn't flow very well within New England. With newspapers, for example, most New Englanders read their local paper and then sometimes a Sydney or Brisbane paper. Big events such as Country Music Week are large enough to get into general media coverage, but otherwise someone in Armidale will not be aware of, say, the Newcastle scene unless they have family or business connections there.

Our own inherent parochialism doesn't help.

Sydney or Brisbane's good, but if it's in Armidale or Newcastle or Glen Innes then it's second rate. We complain when outsiders treat our activities as second rate or, just as bad, ignore them entirely, but then we apply that same blind test to others within New England.

It's not just that we can't expect others to take us seriously if we we don't take ourselves seriously. We actually lose access to much of our own richness and variety.  

That is one of the reasons why, in tourism terms, I often start with internal New England promotion, marketing one part of New England to other parts. It's silly, really.

Someone in Sydney will drive for up to three hours to go to an event. We won't drive for an hour and a half to go to an event in a neighbouring town. We have lost the richness in our own backyard.

Blog performance July 11

Monthly stats time again. stats july 11 2

The graph shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) to this blog to end July. The decline over the last three months has been repeated on all three of my main blogs and appears to reflect changes in search engine algorithms.

The most popular posts in this blog in July were: