Friday, January 31, 2014

UNE VC Jim Barber resigns

University of New England Vice Chancellor Jim Barber today announced he had given the University Council six months’ notice of his decision to resign.Jim-Barber-Small2

Professor Barber said it was a difficult personal decision to leave UNE but with the university now in a very solid position he and his wife wished to return home to Melbourne. Stepping away from executive leadership of UNE would also enable him to focus on his interest in online learning and educational innovation, he said.

“This was not an easy decision as the last four years here in Armidale have been very rewarding,” Professor Barber said.

“However, UNE is in a very good position right now and I have every confidence that it will build on recent successes in the next phase of its development. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented, committed team.”

UNE Chancellor John Watkins paid tribute to Professor Barber’s achievements since joining UNE in 2010. UNE had improved its position on a range of key indicators, he said.

“UNE currently has record student demand, staff numbers are growing, University funds are in surplus, research funding has increased and the biggest capital works program in the history of the Armidale campus is now under way,” Mr Watkins said.

“Much of this success can be credited to Jim’s strategic leadership, his energy and his dynamism. Jim has proven very adept at reading the trends in higher education and putting UNE in the vanguard of growth areas such as online education and other innovations that will enable us to compete globally.

“I speak on behalf of the University Council in applauding his contribution and wishing him well. We are very sorry to see him go but understand his reasons for heading home. We are exploring ways in which Jim can pursue his interests in association with UNE in an external capacity.

“We share Jim’s optimism about UNE’s bright future and will shortly commence a global search for an appropriately qualified replacement to lead the next phase for UNE.”

Barber resigns as UNE VC

I was surprised at the sudden resignation of University of New England VC Jim Barber. Apparently his wife wishes to return to Melbourne. I will post more as I learn it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

University of dance

This post, History revisited - University of Dance, looks at the role of UNE in the promotion of ballet and dance in Australia at a critical period.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Competition heats up for Port of Newcastle

An article in today's Financial Review, I can't give you a link because it is behind the firewall, suggests that competition for a 99 year lease over the Port of Newcastle is hotting up, with a likely winning bid of close to $700 million. There has been very little apparent opposition in Newcastle to the sale, in part because this is one case where Sydney has indicated that a reasonable proportion of funds from the sale will be reinvested in Newcastle.


It appears that I was a little too sanguine on this one. Regular commenter Greg wrote:

Actually Jim, there has been a fair amount of opposition in Newcastle. The port of Newcastle is substantially different to both Port Botany and Port Kembla in that the government would not be selling a business so much as a) a tax stream (ie. charges for use of the port facilities) and b) an awful lot of prime harbourside land which will severely restrict what can be done on and around the harbour for the next century. In particular, a container terminal was promised for the port a decade ago. That would have been logical to service the north of the state and help relieve congestion around Port Botany. This government has canned that and it is likely that the sale of the port will see hopes fade of a container terminal ever being built in Newcastle.

There is also resentment that the money for infrastructure in Newcastle is tied in to the port sale, yet the dollar figure is set in stone. If the port gets sold for closer to say $1bn (highly likely), Newcastle won't see a zac more than that already promised from the sale. The state has made that absolutely clear. I don't think that there are too many people who believe that it is a good deal for Newcastle. The sale of the port will benefit Sydney more than it does Newcastle.

I can see Greg's point. What do you think?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tina Sorenson wins Newcastle Herald second short story competition

Tina Sorenson has won the Newcastle Herald's second short story competition. According to the judges, its the missing details that make the story so compelling,

It opens with the unnamed anti-hero reminiscing about summer afternoons - from inside the boot of a car.

How did he get there, who put him there, and why? The story focuses instead on his regrets and remorse, and it works.

Awarding the story first place in the second Herald Summer Short Story Competition, the judges praised In for its sharp imagery and pithy, affecting language.

Second place was awarded to Jessie Ansons for The Deepest of Blues  which tells of a meaningful swim between two friends, while Alexandra Talbot's story of a brother and sister heading out for a night on the town, A Green Volkswagen  took third place.

The quality of the short-listed stories was so high, the judges highly commended three more entries: Smaller by Timothy Edwards, Turning Tide by Holly Bruce and The Swimmer by Mark Stroppiana.

Please read the Newcastle Herald story on the results - it includes links through to all the winning stories.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hunter New England Health to take on 63 extra interns in 2014

In 2012 the Newcastle Herald complained that student doctors trained in the city were being forced to look overseas for work placements due to a lack of internships in the state health system.

Now I see from the Newcastle Herald that Hunter New England Health has taken on 112 graduate doctors for 2014, up from 63 interns last year.

Of that number 101 started their rotations this week and will move around different hospitals in the region including John Hunter, Belmont, Calvary Mater hospitals.

Five will be based permanently at Manning and Maitland hospitals and another 11 at Tamworth.

Manager of Hunter New England’s prevocational junior medical officer network, Jeanette Chadban, said the reason they’d increased their intake so drastically to deal with the high number of students graduating.

In earlier news, the University of New England reported in December that the long road to a medical career in the bush had started at the University as potential doctors swat up for their first step, the selection panel interview.

Admission into the 2014 Bachelor of Medicine – Joint Medical Program between UNE and the University of Newcastle, is so highly sought that students must pass a gruelling six-month assessment process designed to identify those applicants most likely to succeed in their studies and eventually make good rural Doctors.

Acting Head of UNE Rural Medical School John Nevin said a career in rural medicine requires more than just a record of outstanding HSC and undergraduate achievements.

“From more than 3000 students who sat the Universities Medical Admissions Test in May this year, only about 170 will be invited to enrol in 2014,” Professor Nevin said.

He said during selection week applicants will sit through eight separate interviews, designed to assess everything from reasoning, comprehension and expression to compassion, motivation and importantly, an understanding of the career they intend to enter.

“It’s a long road to graduation, so the assessment process is by necessity tough. We want to make sure we select people with the greatest potential to stick with the program all the way to the end.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Visiting Irishtown

The latest of my Armidale Express History Revisited columns to come on line, History revisited - the Irish try their luck, looks at the story of Irishtown. Never heard of it? Have a look.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A last remnant of New England's Great Northern Railway

Over on the New England New State Movement Facebook page, Guyra TPX Trackman 1 David Good posted this photo with the following comment:

Currently, the only train movement north of Armidale on the Great Northern Railway. TPX Trackman Track Vehicles owned and operated by Guyra & District Historical Society Machinery Group Inc, and running services for the Guyra Lamb & Potato Festival on 17-01-2014.

I was taken by surprise because I didn't realise that any part of the Great Northern Railway still survived north of Armidale. David responded:

It's only a couple of km stretch from Guyra, south. It's a crime the Great Northern Railway, north of Armidale has been left unused and rotting!

I have to agree. Construction of the Great Northern Railway was to NSW what the Snowy was to Australia, a huge engineering feat. Unlike Queensland who kept their part of the line open, NSW just let the whole thing rot in the name of efficiency and effectiveness. Now enthusiasts like David and the members of the New England Railways group face an uphill battle in saving anything of our railway heritage.

It didn't need to be like that, it really didn't. I don't think that a New England Government would have allowed it. Even Sydney could have used more imagination in looking at ways to keep the line on a care and maintenance basis to allow other solutions to emerge. The world does change, but once an asset is gone its gone.   

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hillgrove mine to reopen in March

The Armidale Express reports that the Hillgrove  antimony and gold mine will re-open in March. Initially there will be 80 full time jobs but that is expected to reach triple figures before the end of the year.

And the best news is the bulk of those jobs will go to local people.

“The majority are local and the ones that aren’t will be moving here,” Hillgrove Mines chief executive Roger Jackson said.

“There will be no fly-in, fly-out workers except for the odd expert.”

Mr Jackson’s company Bracken Resources paid $30 million to buy the mine from Straits, which had not produced gold or antinomy from Hillgrove since 2009.

Bracken has since ploughed even more capital into improving the site and buying equipment. It is confident there are 3 million ounces of gold and 300,000 tonnes of antimony there to be mined.

At current prices that’s more than $4 billion in gold alone, but the money is already flowing locally.

“We’ve spent $50 million out there and a lot of that has gone to local contractors,” Mr Jackson said.

There were environmental concerns about the reopening mine because of downstream pollution on the Macleay River over Hillgrove's long mining history. Mr Jackson stated that his company had done everything possible to address these concerns.   

“As with any mining operation environmental concerns are high on the agenda, especially in relation to water, but Mr Jackson said his company has done everything possible to deal with those matters.

These efforts include purchase of a microfiltration and reverse osmosis plant, costing more than $2 million, to treat water used by the mine.

From a local perspective, the jobs are welcome at a time when Armidale business is very flat.


Today's post on New England's History, History revisited - disease in early New England, provides a past perspective on Hillgrove.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Armidale named top third Australian visitor destination

Sydney's Daily Telegraph (Armidale has beaten out some of Australia's top destinations as the place to head for holidays) was a little surprised at this one I quote:20050409-013-lookingIntoTown 

"For savvy holiday-makers seeking out the best Aussie destinations in 2014, Armidale is the place to be.


Australian Traveller, one of the nation's top-selling travel magazines, has named the historic New England town as one of the hottest places in Oz to visit this year, third behind only the Kimberley region of Western Australia and the Top End....

But, according to the Australian Traveller list, Armidale beat even the Whitsundays, the Gold Coast, Adelaide, Victoria's "foodie" region and the entire state of Tasmania, among other higher profile destinations on the list, due to its "city-esque vibe amid a country landscape".....

Editor Georgia Rickard said yesterday the list was based on domestic travel trends over the past 12 months and feedback from a recent survey of more than 1000 Australian travellers.

"Armidale is an unusual choice but, surprisingly, it kept popping up across the board," she said.

"It has a reputation of being just another country town, and not necessarily a particularly sexy one. But in fact it's a stunning place with a thriving food culture, beautiful architecture and it is so close to some gorgeous natural surrounds.""

Armidale is a beautiful place. It really is. I was interested in the comments on the story. One person wrote: " Try Newcastle. Beaches, wineries, nice people, like Sydney was 20 years ago. Oh - also has the largest salt water lake in the southern hemisphere...." Newcastle is nice and achieved a much bigger ranking - Newcastle makes Lonely Planet top ten global cities, 2011. Armidale can't quite make that!

Another commenter said: "The place closes down after 12noon on the weekend." Ouch. 

New England passings - death of Emeritus Professor Donald George

Emeritus Professor Donald George, the University of Newcastle's second Vice-Chancellor from 1975 until 1986, has died. Vale-Emeritus-Professor-Donald-George-AO-large

Professor George was a graduate in Science and Engineering at the University of Sydney, where he was also awarded his doctoral degree for research in the field of plasma physics.

Starting his academic career in 1949 as a lecturer in Electrical Engineering at the Newcastle Technical College, Professor George transferred to the NSW University of Technology in Broken Hill. Moving overseas, he joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Commission as a Research Officer working first at Harwell, before returning to Australia to work at Lucas Heights in NSW.

In 1959, academia called again and he took up the position of senior lecturer in Electrical Engineering at the University of Sydney. Still at Sydney, he was made Associate Professor in 1966 and appointed to the PN Russell Chair of Mechanical Engineering in 1968.

Professor George held strong national and international roles in the management and development of nuclear energy, and his research expertise also extended to the areas of direct energy conversion and solar energy. He was a member of the Institute of Defence Science and of the Academy of Science Committee on Solar Energy. He was a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia; the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London; the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London; and he was an Associate of the Australian Institute of Physics.

Recognising his significant contributions to his field, Professor George was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1979 for services to the sciences and engineering, and a Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to Australian society in atomic energy.

As Newcastle's second Vice-Chancellor from 1975 to 1986, Professor George shaped the University during its important formative years. He is remembered for his instrumental role in establishing and supporting the University's flagship medical school, an innovation that was testing conventional boundaries for its time. With Professor David Maddison and others, he worked to set up administrative and academic structures that allowed for new approaches in education and clinical studies, and today Newcastle's program remains among the nation's leaders in health and medical education.

The University's Indigenous student support program - Wollotuka - started under the stewardship of Professor George. In 2013, the Wollotuka Institute celebrated its 30th anniversary. Approximately half of the country's Indigenous medical doctors are graduates of the University and Newcastle's enrolment of Indigenous students, which spans all faculties, is almost double the sector average. The University's enabling programs were also strongly supported by Professor George. Newcastle was among Australia's first universities to introduce enabling programs and from a pilot program in 1974, is now the nation's largest provider.

In remembering Professor George, the University noted that Newcastle's reputation for innovation and excellence in research and education rested in large measure on Professor George's vision and passion to build the fledgling university in its early years. "As Vice-Chancellor, Professor George made a remarkable and lasting contribution to the University and to Newcastle, and he is warmly remembered as a leader with great integrity, energy and commitment."

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Establishing the New England literary tradition

Back on August 12 2006 I wrote referring to the writing of Patrice Newell:

This knowledge gap (on Patrice's writing) reminded me of one of my long standing hobby horses, the way in which the absence of any formal structures for New England prevents people recognising the existence of New England writers and other creative people. And there have been a remarkable number of New England writers including both those who were born there, Judith Wright is an example, and those such as Patrice who came to live there.

There are two quite different aspects to this problem.

Can we in any meaningful sense talk about a unique New England literary tradition?

I am not sure that we can. The writers who grew up in New England were certainly influenced by the experience to greater or lesser extent.

The Australian playwright and writer Alex Buzo was born in Sydney in 1944 and came to Armidale as a boy when his dad was appointed by Thiess as engineer on the Oakey Hydro Electric Scheme. His first play, Norm and Ahmed was produced in, I think, 1968. Alex loved Sydney life and escaped back as soon as he could, but his Armidale experience including his time at The Armidale School had an enduring influence on him and he retained his links to New England.

Some writers also tried to create unique literature in the face of what they saw as dominance by narrow Sydney intellectual elites such as the Balmain school.

In 1979 Kardoorair Press was established primarily as an outlet for poets based on the Northern Tablelands region of New England or with an affiliation with the region. Kardoorair's first publication was released in January 1980 and has been followed by sixty more.

Kardoorair along with Fat Possum Press provided an outlet for New England poets and writers such as Michael Sharkey and Julian Croft. Have they been successful in creating a unique tradition? Perhaps they have, although I am not aware of any studies on the issue.

This brings me to the second aspect of the problem I referred to. The absence of formal structures not only impedes the development of literary traditions, but actually makes it hard for people to access the New England experience, keeping it limited and fragmented.

The poet Les Murray was born at Bunyah on the North Coast and has now returned there. His early life and influences have had a significant impact on his poetry. The writer Bob Ellis was born in Lismore. Again, area and family experiences have had a significant impact on his attitudes and writing. The writer and academic Donald Horne was born at Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley. Ditto. Judith Wright was born in Armidale into a wealthy squatting family.

Each of these writers has had a different experience depending upon location and date of birth. Our inability to put them into a context, to see the commonalities and differences with other New Englanders, is a real problem. Indeed, many New England writers who have moved on would probably not see themselves as New Englanders or be able to see things outside a local context. Point local, counterpoint Sydney or national, with nothing really in the middle.

That was over seven years ago. Since then, I have learned more. Was there a New England literary tradition? Yes, I think there was, although it is really broken up into a series of separate regional or local traditions that interacted with each other in varying ways.

Is it correct, to argue, as I did then, that the absence of formal structures not only impedes the development of literary traditions, but actually makes it hard for people to access the New England experience, keeping it limited and fragmented?

My answer to this is absolutely. We have been cut off from our literary past because we don't exist in any formal sense. If you don't exist, how can you have a literary tradition?  In denying us that, they deny our birthright. I think that's sad.