Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas in New England

Every New England family has its own Christmas rituals.

To most young, at least those lucky enough to live in stable middle class families, these seem unchanging. It is only looking back that we can see how quickly things change.

As children, brother David and I had a fixed and very satisfying Christmas ritual.

Christmas Eve was open house at our place for mum and dads' friends and their children.

Planning began days in advance. A suitable pine tree branch was obtained, put in an old iron pot and surrounded by packed down dirt. Mum got out the Christmas decorations from the top cupboard of the linen closet to decorate the tree and the house.

On Christmas Eve, sometimes the day before, dad went out to Ryan's Cordials, the Armidale soft drink maker, to get the soft drinks and mixers. Supplies of beer and spirits were obtained. The ice was broken up and put in the laundry tub or, later, eskies.

Mum got out the special punch jug and supporting glasses, pretty glassware only used at this time of the year. She then made her special and famous punch and then the sandwiches, especially cucumber and tomato.
People started arriving about 7pm. The Buzos, the Halpins, the Harrises, the Foxes and so on. We were allowed to help and played with the other kids. Then after people left, we tidied up and finished off the last of the cucumber sandwiches.

Christmas morning David and I woke early to see what Santa had brought us. In our case, Santa filled a pillow case (none of those small stockings!) that was left on the end of our bed. There were lollies, books and loads and loads of small toys. Even today, my own children insist on the pillow case, although this year for the first time they are actually Christmas stockings.
Once or parents woke - usually with a bit of prodding - it was time for present exchange. Then David and I settled down to play and read.

Mid morning it was off to Fah and Gran's.

Mann Street - we always called it Mann Street to distinguish it from Marsh Street, our house - was a children's paradise.

The house was a large one, located on a very large block. Originally built to face the north, the front of the house with its front steps dropping to the garden was in fact the back, the back the front.

Tall pine trees ran along the front and back fences, creating a paradise for children who liked to climb. I still remember the excitement when heavy snow caused branches on the trees at the front (always the better climbing trees) to crash to the street.
Looking at the house from the street the more formal gardens faced the street. There were small single car garages to the left and the right whose rooves could be reached by nearby trees, creating vantage points for kids playing hide and seek; home was always one of the big cement pedestals marking the end of the stairs at the other end of the house.

Facing from the street, gardens ran to the left and right of the house.

On the left, the flatter side, there was a gravel path near the house then a row of shrubs and gardens, a stretch of grass then a hedge. This was the side of the house we could break into as kids because the house was lower to the ground, allowing us to climb up the foundations.
On the left, a lawn sloped down to a gravel path (we loved rolling head over heels down this lawn) and then the garden shed. This provided another vantage point for our games of hide and seek.

At the front (back), the house was high from the ground with a veranda facing the north. There were in fact verandas on the south, east and north of the house. The verandas on the west of the house had been closed in.

On the high veranda at the front there were chairs for people to sit and watch the rest of the garden including especially the tennis court. It was here sometimes that I used to sit with Fah in the morning eating my porridge in the weak morning sun. Proud of his Scottish ancestry, he ate porridge with cream and salt, not sugar. I did the same.

From the veranda there was a short stretch of down sloping land, mainly lawn, to another hedge and then a fence marking the dividing line to the back garden. On the left was the kitchen garden, then the tennis court and a stretch of rough grass where the cow grazed when we were very young. At the back of the tennis court was a small byre for the cow, more rough grass.

Back to Christmas. Upon arrival at Mann Street we exchanged presents with Fah and Gran and my aunts. This was followed by open house for my grandparent's friends and campaign workers. At the time I was born, Fah had already been a local Member of Parliament for twenty five years, so there was a constant stream of people.

Then lunch, usually a chicken from the birds my grandparent's kept, with all the trimmings. The Mackellars, Mr Mackellar managed Fah's property outside Armidale, always came in for Christmas with the family. At lunch we kids always ate separately from the adults in a small sun room off the dining room, separate but still in seeing and hearing distance.

We played in the afternoon while the adults talked. I remember one year a piper came in (Fah was very proud of his Scottish ancestry) and we all gathered on the veranda while the piper strode the lawns below.

Then back home for a rest. In the late afternoon we always went up to the Halpins for a drink. Vee and Bruce had been very long standing friends of Mum and Dad, while brother David and I were close friends with the Halpin twins.

Finally, home for a meal of left overs.

Time passes, things change.

Fah sells the property and the Mackellars move. Our aunts get married. Then Gran is killed in a car accident. My parents think about buying Mann Street but hold off because we cannot get a good enough price for our house. Then Fah marries Aimie, subdivides Mann Street into two falts, retiring from politics soon after. Then Fah dies.

These are big changes. Yet they happen in a time horizon that allows for adjustment. Our Christmas evening Marsh Street opening houses continue. Kay and Margaret bring their children back to Armidale. I form the habit of dropping into Mann Street for a drink with Fah and Aimie. No longer a child, I listen to Fah's stories about his dreams, experiences and achievements.

More time passes, more things change. I join the New England diaspora taking a job in Canberra.

New England has been draining its young for a hundred years.

In the absence of self-government, it lacks the public service positions that would allow people like me to serve local interests, as well the the state branch positions found in other states. We also have few major locally headquartered businesses.

All this means that New England's most ambitious young leave. As a rough order of scale, I suspect that if we take those born in New England plus their immediate children, the number of New Englanders outside New England is as great as those living in New England.

Now there is a new pattern. At Christmas time from Newcastle in the south to Lismore in the north, from Kempsey in the east through Armidale to Moree, thousands of New England's young return home to family for Christmas. Initially they travelled by train and especially the night mail trains, meeting friends on the train, later by car and plane.  
In my case I would leave Canberra by car as soon as work finished. If there was time, I would go through Sydney to see Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim, a new ritual, arriving where possible at Armidale in time for mum and dad's Christmas eve open house. However, sometimes I did not arrive in Armidale until 5am on Christmas morning.
Christmas now was a time for catching up with old friends, including especialy those living elsewhere. We talked, played tennis or sometimes golf, visited the pub. Then it was over for another year.

More time, still more changes. My parents die, then Uncle Ron, destroying part of the old rituals. There is a short gap and then I return to live in Armidale with my own family, recreating the old pattern although we do spend some Christmases in Sydney with my wife's family.

As with David and I, Santa leaves presents in a pillow case on the end of the bed. There is then the excitement as the kids wake up early to see what Santa has brought them. Over breakfast we open presents to each other. Then at either lunch or dinner time it is usually off to Aunt Kay's for the main Christmas meal.

Merinda Place, Kay's home, now plays the role that used to be played by Mann Street as the aunts and often their children gather. There are now far fewer returning expatriats of my generation as their parents retire away from Armidale or die, but it is still all reassuringly familiar.

Still more time passes, still more changes.

Time periods are shortening now. After eight years in Armidale we move to Sydney so that my wife can pursue a new career, but still we mainly return to Armidale for Christmas with Kay and my other aunts. My daughters are older, but there is still all the excitement of going back, of seeing Kay and the other family.

Then one by one my aunts die including Kay. With no immediate family left in Armidale, with no family home, Christmas is now largely spent in Sydney with my wife's family. There is still the excitement especially for Helen and Clare, some things are still the same, but I do miss the old rituals and the people that formed such an important part of my life for so long.

I hope that all this does not sound too morbid. It's just that Christmas itself is a time for looking back, for remembering blessings granted. As we used to say in a Christmas toast, to absent friends.

I hope that you and yours have a very happy Christmas and a great new year.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Evaluating the evaluation - EY, APVMA and the move to Armidale part one

Note to readers. This is the first of two posts examining the proposed shift of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority from Canberra to Armidale. I had intended to do a single post, but length dictated two. 
This first post reviews the Ernst and Young cost benefit analysis on the proposed transfer. The second will compare the dynamic elements in the transfer as they relate to the ACT and the broader Capital Territory and Northern NSW.    
The decision by the Commonwealth Government to shift the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale has attracted widespread criticism. You will find examples here, here, here, here. Reflecting ownership concentration in the Australian media, the same stories are repeated multiple times across mast heads.

Central to the criticism is a cost benefit and risk analysis of the potential relocation of APVMA carried out by Ernst and Young (EY). Much of the commentary has taken headline numbers from the EY report. There has not been an evaluation of the report itself, nor of what that report might tell us about broader issues beyond this particular move. These posts attempts to fill that gap.

Headline Points

Given the stated regional development policy objective behind the move, three questions needed to be addressed:
  • What are the costs and risks associated with the move?
  • What are the gains from a regional development perspective?
  • Do those gains outweigh the identified costs and risks?
The EY analysis concentrates on the first question.

The cost benefit analysis focuses on the financial costs of the move and is especially influenced by property and staff redundancy and replacement costs. It specifically excludes a range of benefits, including secondary benefits linked to the regional development objective. Depending on the assumption used, the analysis suggests a NPV cost over a twenty year period in the range of a bit over $9 million to $23.19 million.

 The risk analysis does highlight transition risks and options that may lead to higher costs. However, the assumptions used to generate the headline numbers are such that the numbers involved have little meaning.

The analysis of comparative economic impacts on the ACT and Armidale says little more than the move will have negligible economic impact on the ACT, substantial economic impact on Armidale. It does not properly capture the economic dynamics involved, nor the flow-on benefits beyond the narrow boundaries of the original Armidale.Dumaresq LGA  


Established in 1993, APVMA is an Australian Government statutory authority created to centralise the registration of all agricultural and veterinary chemical products entering the Australian marketplace. Currently located in the Canberra suburb of Symonston,  APVMA regulates these products up to and including the point of retail sale.

The National Party has long had a policy of relocating agencies from capital cities to regional areas as a way of encouraging decentralisation. On 15 May 2015, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (Barnaby Joyce) reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to increasing the regional presence of three Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) by establishing offices and/or relocating core operations from Canberra to regional Australia.

On 10 February 2016, the Minister announced that three RDCs were to establish regional offices outside Canberra (with the Rural Industries RDC relocating core operations to Wagga Wagga, the Fisheries RDC to establish a regional office in Adelaide and the Grains RDC to establish several regional offices outside Canberra) and that the proposed relocation of the APVMA to Armidale would go through the process of an independent cost benefit risk analysis.

On 25 November 2016 Barnaby Joyce, now Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister, announced  (link above) that APVMA would move to Armidale  The day before, Mathias Cormann as Minister for Finance issued an administrative order: This stated:
3 Authority
This instrument is made under subsection 22(1) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
4 Location of corporate Commonwealth entities
(1) It is a policy of the Australian Government that a corporate Commonwealth entity with agricultural policy or regulatory responsibilities is to be located:
(a) in a regional community; and
(b) within 10 kilometres by road of the main campus of a regional university that is recognised for research and teaching in the field of agricultural science.
(2) In this section:
regional community means a community that is not within 150 kilometres by road of Canberra or the capital city of a State.
5 Application
The policy of the Australian Government mentioned in section 4 is applied to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
In announcing the move, Minister Joyce also released the EY cost benefit and risk analysis on the Armidale move.

Given the stated regional development policy objective behind the move, three questions need to be addressed:

  • What are the costs and risks associated with the move?
  • What are the gains from a regional development perspective?
  • Do those gains outweigh the identified costs and risks?
Overview of the EY Evaluation

EY considered two options:
  • Status quo. APVMA as is 
  • APVMA moves to Armidale.
In the final decision stages before the 10 February  announcement, Towoomba appears to have been included in the mix, but was then dropped out. The wording of the administrative order would preclude Toowoomba since it is only 125k west of Brisbane. However, from the EY report, questions about Toowoomba do appear to have been included in staff surveys. For reasons I will outline later, the methodology applied by EY would have given broadly similar results for a move to any regional centre including Toowoomba.

In considering the two options, EY:
  1. Assessed the economic costs and benefits of relocating APVMA to Armidale
  2. Examined the key risks associated with relocation
  3. Analysed the economic impacts on Canberra and Armidale.
 EY estimated an NPV (net present value) cost of the move to Armidale of $23.19 million over twenty years driven largely by the cost of a new building plus redundancy associated costs.  These were concentrated in the first five years and only partially offset by subsequent property savings. The discount rate used was 7%.

EY's risk assessment focused on the impact of the loss of technical assessment staff (regulatory scientists) on APVMA processes. It concluded that the costs a poorly executed move could be far higher than the economic costs identified via the cost benefit analysis. For example, the estimated cost of a one year delay in approvals for new agricultural products could be between $64 million and $193 million in reduced crop production..

On the relative economic impacts of the move on Canberra and Armidale, EY concluded that the move would cost the ACT economy around $108.88 million per annum gross equivalent to an economic hit of 0.2%, while Armidale would benefit by $77.54 million after the construction phase for a gain of 3.7%. The difference between the gross numbers represents leakages because of Armidale' smaller economy; more money would be spent outside Armidale.

I have given you the bald numbers since these form the basis of much of the discussion, especially in Canberra. I will now look at the numbers in detail. As we shall see, things are not always what they seem.

 Staff Attitudes and Costs

I am treating this item first because it is central to both the cost and risk analysis.

The percentage of staff who said they might relocate to Armidale was 15.2%. The cost side of the EY report therefore assumes that 84.8% of total staff will opt for redundancy with consequent redundancy, recruitment and training costs. The projected redundancy level also feeds into the risk analysis.

The reasons staff gave for unwillingness to relocate are instructive for everybody interested in effective decentralisation. Ranked by size, the reasons were:
  • My partner will/may have difficulty in finding equivalent work - 123 staff members. 
  • Limited opportunities for future employment progression   - 113 staff
  • I have strong ties to the Canberra region - 108 staff 
  • I have extended family responsibilities or receive assistance from family friends in this area - 84 staff
  • I don't want to move children/dependents out of current or intended school - 72 staff
  • I have concerns about the availability of suitably priced real estate (rent or buy) - 65 staff
  • I have concerns about living in a regional area -  60 staff
  • The proposed region does not support my cultural/community requirements - 39 staff
  • I rely on specialist medical or other support services not available in the proposed region - 34 staff
  • My family requires a special needs school/programs - 17 staff
  • I know nothing about Armidale - 17 staff    
The importance of the partner issue is quite clear. In this context, 73% of partners were employed full time, a further 7% part time. If you add to this the numbers connected with disrupting schooling or other family or community relationships, you get a feel for just how hard it is to move existing activities.

I will return to this point in discussion. For the moment, I note that the sensitivity analysis conducted by EY indicated that a 20% increase in staff retention from the 15.2% base would reduce the NPV cost of the transfer by around two million dollars.

Cost Benefit Analysis

EY ruled out the following matters put forward by Armidale stakeholders from consideration :
  • Co-location with UNE:  Given the nature of APVMA work, there were no identifiable benefits from co-location with UNE
  • Enhanced proximity to end users: Given the nature of APVMA work, there were no identifiable benefits from proximity with end users. In any case, APVMA had access to the rural sector in Southern NSW
  • NBN leverage: There were no or minimal leverage benefits from Armidale's NBN connection. To the degree that there were, Canberra would have the NBN by the time the move took place
  • UNE offering courses in regulatory science: There were no obvious benefits here and in any case the costs of introducing such courses would need to be offset against the benefits. 
EY also noted the claims made about particular types of economic benefits claimed for Armidale, simply pointing to the later comparative analysis that concluded that Canberra lost more than Armidale gained. For reasons outlined later, this is a misuse of data.

Finally, EY explicitly stated in its assumptions that where a policy's primary objective is regional development, secondary benefits are listed only and not included in the net benefit calculations.

The practical effect of these restrictions limited the cost benefit analysis to the NPV of the relative financial costs associated with the transfer, including the estimated costs to industry, as compared to the status quo.

Within those costs, property costs including the time remaining on the existing lease on the Symonston facility dominated. This comes about because the cost benefit analysis is dominated by the front-end costs of a new building in Armidale. If an existing building is rented or a new one constructed and leased, the NPV cost falls from $23.19 million to $11.54 million on the EY assumptions.

Staff related costs are the next major element. On the basis of 84.8% redundancies, EY estimated the following costs:
  • redundancy costs $1.83 million
  • recruitment costs $2.62 million
  • training costs $569,600
  • additional oversight costs during the transition $200,00  
Because these various costs are concentrated in the first five and especially the first two years, they have considerable impact in NPV terms.  The effect of an increase in staff retention rates in reducing NPV costs has already been noted.

Other identified costs include:
  • increased travel for APVMA staff $112,800 per annum subsequently indexed at the rate of inflation
  • cost of secure internet connection $80,000 per annum subsequently indexed
  • moving costs $516,000
  • additional travel costs to industry starting at a base cost of just over $163,000 per annum subsequently indexed. 
In calculating costs to industry, EY excluded any additional time or accommodation costs that might be involved. To that degree, the estimates understate costs. In addition, in a comment stream on a post on my my personal blog, Monday Forum - George Brandis, drop bears, yowies and other Australian fauna, 2 tanners suggested that the move would reduce APVMA's advisory effectiveness. I am not convinced, although 2 tanners has worked in this space.

Finally, and as noted by EY in its risk analysis, action required to maintain effectiveness and to mitigate risks may lead to some increase in costs as well as in the timing of variations and costs. This is discussed further below under risk

Risk Assessment

In carrying out its risk analysis, EY classified risks into four groups:
  • Risk 1. The APVMA is unable to effectively relocate or recruit and replace key APVMA executive, management and technical assessment staff within the first two years Likelihood high, impact high
  • Risk 2. During transition and in the short term, the APVMA is unable to sustain its rate of effort for registration of new agricultural and veterinary chemical products. Likelihood possible, impact high
  • Risk 3. The APVMA is unable to maintain and grow its capability in the medium term. Likelihood possible, impact high
  • Risk 4. The APVMA has reduced access to stakeholders. Likelihood possible, impact low. 
EY then attempted to calculate potential costs, concluding that a one year lag in approval of new chemical products would result in a reduction of from $64 million to $193 million in agricultural crop value per annum. The assumptions here can be best described as heroic. As I understand them, I haven't tried to replicate the underlying spreadsheets, they appear to include:
  1. Average national sales of new chemical products based on APVMA data are $59.938 million in year 1 rising to $213.043 million in year 2
  2. Many new chemical products substitute for existing products. EY assumes that 5% (option 1) or 15% (option 2) represent new uses. The value of sales not substituting for existing uses is calculated by multiplying the numbers given in 1 for average national sales of new products by 5% and 15% respectively 
  3. By expressing the amount calculated under 2 as a percentage of total product sales, EY generates a percentage representing the contribution of new products used in new ways to total product sales. 
  4. Drawing on Deloitte Access Economics work, EY suggests that 68% of the total value of  crop production can be attributed to crop protection products. If you take the value of crop production and multiply it by .68, you get the estimated chemical contribution to crop value.
  5.  EY then generates a figure for the contribution of new chemicals to new uses and expanded crop production by taking the percentage generated under 3 and applying it to the estimated value of the chemical contribution to crop production calculated at 6.  
  6. EY then calculates the value of lost crop production as a consequence of deferral of regulatory approvals by applying lags to the numbers generated at 5.       
I imagine that your eyes have glazed. However, you can see the range of assumptions required to generate the numbers that grabbed the headlines. I also have a problem, perhaps I'm just tired, with EY's treatment of lags. In calculating the potential risk loss for a one year regulatory lag, they add together the estimated production totals for the first two years to calculate the loss. I can't see the rationale for that approach.

In the end, the most that can be said for the EY numbers is that the modelling provides an indicative base setting out some issues.

EY then goes on to consider various options for risk amelioration. In this context, the APVMA has released its initial transition plan setting out its own response to service maintenance while complying with the Government's policy wishes. This says in part.
2.2 Virtual network of regulatory scientists 
Suitably qualified regulatory scientists are in short supply and it takes time to train them to be fully functional. Continued access to these regulatory specialists is one of the highest risks associated with the relocation. The priority, therefore, is to implement a new way of working through a ‘virtual science network’ to maintain access to the skills needed. With such a network, regulatory scientists would work remotely from anywhere in Australia, but still be connected to the Armidale office through a new digital strategy. This means the APVMA will not be constrained by availability of scientists in Armidale.
2.3 Regulatory hub in Armidale 
The APVMA handles over 5000 applications every year. The office in Armidale will embody the flexible teambased approach taken by the APVMA to handle so many applications with around 200 staff. There will be a call centre and case management hub to service clients; collaborative space to enable people to come together to work on applications – even if people are working remotely; and technology enabled facilities with virtual meeting rooms. This infrastructure will also make it easier to work with our regulatory counterparts in other countries. The facility will be modern and provide a quality employee experience – acting as an inducement for staff to move to Armidale. The CEO, executive, key management roles and staff from case management, call centre, application administration, corporate, legal, licensing and compliance will be based in Armidale, along with those regulatory scientists wishing to be located in Armidale. While many regulatory scientists will be operating remotely, the scientific leadership will be based in Armidale. Over time, the APVMA will build networks with universities to bring through the next wave of regulatory specialists through the system. The initial target will be 100 people operating out of Armidale, building up to 150 over time. 
2.4 Client service in a digital world 
The APVMA will enhance its online client experience by making it easier for applicants to submit data underpinning an application. This will be done by implementing internationally agreed standards for electronic submission of data (where possible), expanding the functionality of the client portal to enable full tracking of applications and improving on-line communication and correspondence with the APVMA. The APVMA will enhance its capability to conduct web conferencing with clients, regardless of where they are in the world. The APVMA also recognises that some clients still want to discuss their applications face to face – to save client travel expenses, the APVMA will trial ‘surgeries’ in Sydney and Melbourne.
On the surface, this seems a sensible approach. The move to Armidale is, I suspect,  accelerating changes in service delivery that were already under way. At this point I have not attempted to estimate the effect of the APVMA approach on the analysis beyond noting that the employment shifts will be smaller and somewhat longer term than the numbers used in the modelling, the risk profile reduced.  

Meantime, the University of New England has now introduced a suite of options in regulatory science from Graduate Certificate to PhD. While this possibility was dismissed by EY as irrelevant to the cost benefit analysis, it does affect the risk profile associated with the move.

Economic Impacts

The last part of the EY report compares the economic impacts on the ACT and the former Armidale Dumaresq LGA.  To the degree that the EY approach addresses follow on benefits, they are meant to be dealt with in this section.

In assessing relative economic impacts, EY uses the REMPLAN input-output model. As noted earlier, the analysis concluded that while the economic impact on Armidale would be relatively far greater than the loss in economic activity to the ACT, the total gain to Armidale would be less than the total loss experienced by the ACT.

The outcome here was pre-determined determined by the structure of the model. Because the ACT (population 357, 278 in 2011) is far larger than the previous Armidale Dumaresq LGA (population 24,105), more spend leaks from Armidale than the ACT. The analysis says little more than the move will have negligible economic impact on the ACT, substantial economic impact on Armidale. It does not properly capture the economic dynamics involved, nor the flow-on benefits beyond the narrow boundaries of the Armidale.Dumaresq LGA. A dollar not spent in those boundaries is not a lost dollar.


Given the stated regional development policy objective behind the move, I suggested that three questions needed to be addressed:
  • What are the costs and risks associated with the move? 
  • What are the gains from a regional development perspective? 
  • Do those gains outweigh the identified costs and risks?
The EY analysis concentrates on the first question.

The cost benefit analysis focuses on the financial costs of the move and is especially influenced by property and staff redundancy and replacement costs. It specifically excludes a range of benefits including secondary benefits linked to the regional development objective. Depending on the assumption used, the analysis suggests a NPV cost over a twenty year period in the range of a bit over $9 million to $23.19 million.

 The risk analysis does highlight transition risks and options that may lead to higher costs. However, the assumptions used to generate the headline numbers are such that the numbers involved have little meaning.

The analysis of comparative economic impacts on the ACT and Armidale says little more than the move will have negligible economic impact on the ACT, substantial economic impact on Armidale. It does not properly capture the economic dynamics involved, nor the flow-on benefits beyond the narrow boundaries of the original Armidale.Dumaresq LGA  

In my nextpost  I will look at the dynamic aspects comparing the ACT and broader Capital Territory region and Northern NSW to try to tease out some of the broader questions involved from a regional development perspective.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

New England Travels - A visit to Dalwood part one

Some time ago, I started writing New England Travels, subtitled journeys through space and time. Part history, part travel, part personal reminiscences,  the book gave me an opportunity to write beyond the usual confines set by the need to record sources, to sit within boundaries. Like so many of my projects, it is only part written, but I thought that I might share some of it with you. 
Dalwood House lies on the Hunter River near Branxton.  
Dalwood House stands on a rise. From the side verandah, mown grass runs down to the old vineyard. The Hunter River lies beyond, hidden within its high banks. It was hot and still, the silence broken only by the distant sound of a crow. Even the working properties on the hills on the other side of the River were still, remote in the faint heat haze.

This was only my second visit to Dalwood House. Many years before I had read Australian writer and poet Judith Wright’s Generations of Men, the story of her grandparents and the establishment of the Wyndham and then Wright pastoral dynasties; the book gripped me. I was especially caught by the almost lyrical descriptions of Dalwood House as seen through the eyes of Charlotte May Wright nee Mackenzie, Judith’s grandmother.

By chance, I had just finished the book when I went out to dinner in Canberra. Talking about the book over dinner, my hostess, herself a member of the Wright family, said “The house is still there, you know, although it’s a ruin now.” I got directions and visited it with a friend on my next trip to Armidale.

Many parts of Australia now claim Judith Wright as their own. Up in Queensland, the State Government has expropriated her for a performing arts centre. Her New England connection is dismissed in just a few words: “Judith Wright was a Queensland resident for over thirty years. She was born in New England, in regional New South Wales, and came to Brisbane as a young woman”. Later, Canberra and Braidwood would claim her too.

In all this, Judith remained a quintessentially New England writer. That was where her views were first formed, although her later experiences and especially her relationship with the older novelist and philosopher Jack McKinney would exercise a powerful influence over her. Judith met Jack McKinney when she moved to Brisbane. He was a much older man, some twenty four years her senior, only two years younger than her father. They fell in love, moving to Mount Tamborine in 1950; daughter Meredith was born in that year. In 1962, Jack and Judith finally married. Four years later Jack died, leaving a hole in Judith’s life.

Jack McKinney was the second of three powerful men in Judith Wright’s life. The first was her father, Phillip Arundell Wright, with whom she shared a middle name. The third was H C “Nugget” Coombs, a noted Australian economist and public servant, with whom she had a twenty five year love affair. Coombs was again an older man, in this case by nine years. Both were major public figures. Judith was a widow, Coombs long separated from his wife. Both shared common interests, including Aboriginal advancement and the environment. Judith moved to Braidwood to be closer to the Canberra based Coombs, but the affair was kept secret, if open to their friends and the Canberra network within which they moved.

Each man had a powerful impact on Judith, but I think that it was the father that formed her core views. It was he that gave her that love of the environment and of the country. It was he that gave her that love, affection and unstinting support that seems to shine through in the letters between them.

I knew her father as a much older man. PA, we all spoke of him as PA, was my grandfather’s friend; my grandfather was godfather to his son who bore the same first name; my copy of Generations of Men carries my grandfather’s signature, bought in the year the book first came out. To me, PA was a somewhat remote figure. I saw him at events and at the New England New State Movement Executive meetings that he sometimes chaired. I and my fellow students at the University of New England where he was chancellor poked gentle fun at him for his sometimes mangled English. It would be a number of years before I came to properly understand his contribution to Northern life and the causes he supported.

Judith loved her father, she loved the Falls country in which she grew up, she loved the life on the family properties. Her earlier works reflect that love, and then the joy she found in her relationship with Jack McKinney. Later, there would come a darkening of spirit, an erosion in optimism, a rejection of elements of her past. “You ask me to read those poems I wrote in my thirties?” she wrote in Skins. “They dropped off several incarnations back.”

Judith had the misfortune to be born a girl in an age when men inherited. Especially after the death of PA, she became separated from the properties and life she had loved, although the family ties remained close. Towards the end of her life, she saw the end of the Wright family empire that had been carefully built by her grandparents and especially grandmother May Wright. The ABC TV Dynasties program recorded the event in this rather dramatic way:
By December 2000, he (brother David) had lost it all – his properties, his cattle and his wife to cancer. His sister, the poet Judith Wright, watched in despair and died soon after.
That’s dramatic, but the loss was a profound one. Generations of Men is dedicated to the children of May and Albert, to her father and his brothers and sisters. The phrase generations of men comes from Blake’s Milton; the verse is quoted on the book’s title page:
The generations of men run on in the tide of time
But their destn’d lineaments permanent for ever and ever.
If you look at those words, you can get a feel for Judith’s sense of loss.

Six years after Judith’s death, David, my grandfather’s namesake, died suddenly. On his death, University of New England Professor Bernie Bindon described David as one of the pioneers of the scientific research underpinning today's Australian beef industry. "I can't think of a beef industry person” Professor Bindon said, “who's made a bigger contribution to not only the growth of the beef industry but the science that underpins the beef business," The Herefords .that formed the base of the V1V and V2V Wright brands began their life at Dalwood. It was Judith’s grandparents, the core characters in Generations of Men, who began the breeding program that created the Wright cattle.

Not long before David’s. death, Aunt Helen and I revisited my grandfather’s old property, Foreglen, for the first time for many years. It was Christmas, and the family had gathered together in Armidale for what would prove to be one of our last family Christmases. I was perhaps four or five when the property was sold. My last visit had been the clearance sale. That’s a long time ago, yet I had very clear memories of the place. I remember the clearance sale in particular because I still felt that the place belonged to us. I remember playing with other kids, clambering over the machinery and playing on the ancient Model T Ford, telling my companions about the place. I don’t think that I properly realised what had happened.

After that Christmas lunch, I said let’s go out to Foreglen. Everybody groaned, too full of food and wine to want to move. However, Aunt Helen finally agreed to come with me and also acted as pilot. I couldn’t quite remember how to get there!

Foreglen was now owned by David Wright. The old homestead had been vacant, we thought that it still was, but we found it occupied by a nice Chinese couple with two young kids. They agreed to let us look round. Our host was an accountant employed by David to work on ways of restructuring the pastoral business. Both he and his wife had grown up in the crowded world of Hong Kong. This was their first exposure to the Australian countryside. At first, they found it difficult to cope with the quiet and absence of people. Now with a vegetable garden, their own chooks and with the kids settled in school, they were trying to encourage their Chinese friends in Brisbane to go bush.

David lost Foreglen with his other assets. I have always wondered about that Chinese couple. Did they go back to Brisbane? I will probably never know.

In 1959 when Generations of Men was first published, all these events lay in the distant future. They still were when I first visited Dalwood House. Then I wandered around trying to fit the now decrepit reality into the vivid images created in my mind by the book. Now I looked again with the knowledge of what was to happen fresh in my mind.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Three romantic New England restaurants

Back in October, Travel In magazine listed 5 Romantic Restaurants of Regional NSW. Three of the five are New England.

Moving north to south, we start with Tenterfield's Commercial Boutique Hotel. The renovated pub maintains its art deco features, serves craft beers as well as local ones and looks very nice indeed.

Further south, we come to Uralla's Merilba Estate.  Developed by the Cassidy family, this offers good dining again combined with cool country wines. an enchanting establishment that ticks all the right boxes when it comes to the ultimate romantic restaurant.

Further south still at Tamworth, The Pig and Tinder Box offers a more urban feel.

Three restaurants, each different, but showcasing some elements of modern New England life.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

From Africa's Great Lakes to Mingoola's Field of Dreams

For those who do not know the series, Australian Story is a weekly ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) TV production that for many years has showcased a different aspect of Australian life. The stories are personal and often inspirational. A Field of Dreams (7 November 2016) was one of the best.

The story reminds us that at times when problems seem so big, so insoluble, individual action can help at least some.

Mingoola lies 57 km  (35.4 miles) west from Tenterfield along the Bruxner Highway very near the Queensland border. This is  farming country, pretty country, some of Northern New England's best.

The Glenlyon Dam with its water sports and a tourist park lies 16km from Mingoola across the Queensland border. The Sundown National Park with spectacular sharp ridges and steep-sided gorges is 12km from Mingoola. Here the Severn River and its tributaries, woodland birds and the remains of pastoral and mining heritage can be discovered via maintained walking tracks or challenging remote walks.

Despite these attractions, Mingoola had a problem. The community was dying.
CHRISTINE DENIS, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Mingoola for lots of years has been an ageing community so we’ve got lots of older people but we don’t have many younger people and the community is poorer without them.
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Maybe it's a bit of a sense of history, you don't wish to see a community die. And there’s a lot of rural communities dying. And the life of any community is largely tied to children. There’s not much joy in a place with no children
Population loss in New England's rural communities has been a problem for many years. In Mingoola's case, the problem was compounded by the closure of the tobacco growing industry that had stretched from Ashford to the border. You can still see signs of the industry today in the drying sheds, painted letter boxes and (I think that it still survives) a bocce court next to the Mingoola Hall.
CHRISTINE DENIS, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Lots of migrants came for seasonal work. Some of them found it very difficult to fit in. And some of the locals found it very difficult to understand why these people had come. But eventually .... an harmonious community came out of it. Everybody seemed to be prospering well. But the industry died.
Tobacco brought many Italians as workers and sharefarmers. Their children attended the Mingoola School. There were some integration problems, but things worked out. With the ending of the tobacco industry, many left although some like the Zappa family stayed, acquiring land and moving into new industries such as wine. As people left, it became harder and harder to maintain community activities, to find the seasonal labour for the farms.
BOB SOUTH, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Fifty years ago there was a dance in the hall here once a month and there was one in a wool shed up the road once a month, you know, there was a great social life. That social life has changed.  
Three years ago, the Mingoola Progress Association decided to try to turn things around. Drawing from the region's immigration past, they decided to look for refugees willing to move to the area.
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: The Mingoola community felt very strongly that we'd welcomed people before, historically. And most people were really happy at the idea of welcoming people again.
They struck brick walls.
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Then we started thinking we might be able to find some refugees who'd be happy to come and live in the valley. But every time I contacted any kind of refugee service they all said, oh no, you know, these people need to stay in the city.
CHRISTINE DENIS, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: They need lots of counselling, lots of language support, they needed more than we had. So we had to find families that had been in Australia for long enough to be feeling OK about perhaps moving
This business of need for adequate support services for refugees has become a major difficulty that actively impedes families moving to country areas . The need to provide adequate (ie modern) housing and support services can actually place refugees in situations where they have good housing and support services but are isolated from the surrounding community without access to work. This can be an especial problem for those from farming communities without experience of urban living.

At the end of 2015, the Mingoola position went critical. The small local school had gone into recess and would close permanently if the minimum number of students could not be found by April 2016. 
THOMAS GEORGE, LOCAL MP: The community was shattered because that’s the hub of Mingoola, the hall and their school. It really affected Julia but she wasn’t taking it lying down and she was going to lead the community in trying to have that school re-opened. I thought, ‘Well, good on you Julia’, but I didn’t know how she was going to do it.
Unknown to the Mingoola team, Sydney refugee advocate Emmanuel Musoni had a problem. He and his organisation, the Great Lakes Agency for Peace and Development International (GLAPD), were grappling with problems in the community from Central Africa displaced from Rwanda and neighbouring countries during years of bitter civil war. The majority had rural backgrounds.   
"If you ask them, 'What was your dream when you applied to come to Australia and boarded the plane,' they say, 'We hoped we were going to be put in the countryside, to connect ourselves with agricultural life and have a garden'," Mr Musoni said. 
Instead they were resettled in cities where employment prospects were few, the environment was intimidating and many became depressed and isolated.
In 2014, Musoni and his colleagues had a discussion with Minister Concetta Fravanti-Wells, then assistant minister for multicultural affairs, about improvement of settlement services for their communities. People wanted to move to regional cities and towns because their background was mostly in agriculture and farming.  The group was asked if their people "could actually live and work on farm by doing farming jobs and the answer was yes."  They were asked to prepare a policy paper which they submitted in 2015.

There matters rested for the moment. However, one of Minister Concetta Fravanti-Wells' advisers, Isobel Brown, was struck by the conversation. When Julia Harpham contacted the office of Member for New England Barnaby Joyce,  they knew of Isobel Brown's interest in resettlement and asked her if she could help the residents of Mingoola. Isobel then put Julia in contact with Emmanuel Musoni.

On 26 January 2016,  a team of six selected from various Great Lakes communities visited Mingoola. There they met community members, the Mayor of Tenterfield Shire and local Lismore MP Thomas George. GAPD was invited to present to a meeting of Tenterfield Shire Council on 24 February. The presentation was a considerable success.

Meanwhile, time was of the essence if the school was to be saved. Agreement was reached between Mr Musoni and the Mingoola Progress Association on a timetable for settling three families by the end of April 2016. There were some reservations.

On housing:
CHRISTINE DENIS, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Around the district there were lots of small cottages that hadn’t been lived in for a long time and were crying out for somebody to do something to them.
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: We went to look at the houses and I was totally embarrassed because the houses were in great need of repainting. There was quite a lot of work that needed to be done in the kitchens. But, they were totally unfazed by that.
Julia: We’re thinking if we put a verandah on, on the side as well. But as you can see.
Emmanuel: How about an outside kitchen?
Julia: Yeah, well they really wanted an outside kitchen.
Emmanuel: That’s an African thing, yeah. 
Julia: They love the outside kitchen
On jobs:
BOB SOUTH, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Philip and Julia went ahead and pushed this quite quickly and, you know, they’re compassionate people going at it from the heart. But a lot of people in the area were concerned about the lack of employment. I think the biggest fear we had was we would be introducing the people into a poverty trap. I know one of my neighbours has said that bringing these people in has the potential, if it falls apart, to set neighbour against neighbour and have people who’ve been friends for years opposed to each other and we don’t want that to happen.
On not going back:
THOMAS GEORGE, LOCAL MP: I was brought up in a household that didn’t speak English. I did say, look, coming from the migrant background that I’d come from, I wanna raise a few realities to you. First of all, if you don’t like it here you just can’t walk down the road and catch a bus and get away from here. You know, you’re in a remote area. They said ‘We are African. We know.’
A call was put out seeking families who might be willing to make the move; while the community began renovating the vacant cottages. Within a week, there were 50 families on the waiting list.
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: I don’t think we ever really in our wildest dreams expected these people would really want to come so much and want to come so quickly, to get out of the city. Emmanuel came back with the first two families who put their names down. They arrived the day before Anzac Day. One family was staying with us because their house wasn’t ready. I did note that there were a lot of children in these families. I thought well there’s a good thing.
The first families who came had troubled stories:
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Renata and Isaac had nine kids. Fainess and Jonathan have seven. 
PHILIP HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: I think that a lot of these people had a very difficult past, because of the trauma they’ve seen. So we don’t ask them. We just don’t ask. 
ISAAC ICIMPAYE: My name is Isaac, I come from Burundi.
ISAAC ICIMPAYE (SUBTITLED): My dad and my mum passed away and my brother passed away when I was already in the refugee camp. They killed him and threw him in the forest.
RENATA NTIHABOSE (SUBTITLED): Yes, that’s what happened to me too. I lost my two brothers. Yes, they got killed.
FAINESS KABURA: When they come to kill people we just hide there. If you’re hiding together with your family they can kill all the family. I was with my brother. When we are hearing people scream something. And my mother died. So yeah.
JONATHAN KANANI: Yeah, freedom. Yeah. And the peace. That’s why I think I’m excited to come and live here, yeah. 
Three families have now settled at Mingoola. They have found seasonal work in woolsheds and picking pumpkins previously done by backpackers.
PAUL MAGNER, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: We’d been using backpackers but in the last few months, we’ve been employing the couple of African refugee families with picking pumpkins and a little bit of time in the wool shed work. They’re doing a good job
THOMAS GEORGE, LOCAL MP: So there may not be long-term full-time employment, however there’s long-term seasonal employment. 
PHILIP HARHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: And these people do enjoy working. And they're very keen to see their children succeed.
And they have gardens, really close to their own small farms:
NADINE SHEMA, COMMUNITY ADVOCATE: For the families who have moved having a garden helped them to heal from their depression and all the trauma that they had. It was like, going back to their roots, I think.
EMMANUEL MUSONI, COMMUNITY ADVOCATE: Renata said that it had been more than 16 years since she had a garden.
JULIA HARPHAM, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: Renata and Fainess have probably hoed up more than a hectare, maybe two. You know, like, it's just incredible how much garden they've managed to produce in three months.
And the school has reopened, now featuring its new pupils.

Things are never perfect. Mingoola can take just four families and there are now 150 Great Lakes families on the waitlist. Mingoola has worked because there was a local need and local commitment.
CHRISTINE DENIS, MINGOOLA RESIDENT: We were feeling a bit of pressure, a bit of responsibility that if these people were going to make their lives up here we had to make the whole project work.  
Like their predecessors, most of the new children at Mingoola School will need to leave for further study and work. But they will do so knowing that they are part of a community in a new country. That's no small thing.

Meantime, the hard graft of maintaining the Mingoola community continues.

This photo is Mingoola Hall on election day in the 1920s. Now from the Mingoola Community Facebook Page:
Vote at Mingoola on Election Day!! We have the Polling Booth back but will lose it again if it's not supported......
A little later:
74 people voted at Mingoola - good work guys!!
And so the work goes on!


In addition to the links given above, majour sources are:
I can't give you a link to the full ABC piece accessible to people outside Australia, but this YouTube news video provides a little more:

This is another YouTube video connected with this story

And a third

And yet another. I like this one because it shows the broader community.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Greyhound buses, the decline of inland New England and a challenge to Adam Marshall

The decision by Greyhound Australia to close its New England Highway bus route marked another stage in the relative decline of inland New England. It means that there is no longer an inland bus route between Sydney and Brisbane.

In a statement, the company said without the numbers the service, which runs through Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Guyra, Armidale, Uralla, Tamworth and down through the Hunter, could no longer continue.

“Despite trying multiple initiatives, in order to improve passenger volumes so we can continue to service the local communities on this route, they have proven to be unsuccessful,” National Sales Manager Dan Smith said.

“Our load volumes have been consistently under our breakeven point, which is the definitive reason for the suspension.

“So with this in mind, Greyhound Australia can no longer financially justify operating the daily inland service between Brisbane and Sydney via the New England Highway.”

I can understand the company's position. It also improves the viability of Glen Innes based New England Coaches three days a week Tamworth Brisbane service. That's not a bad thing, although its not a substitute.

Interesting on-going discussion on a Whirlpool forum about the relative speed of travelling between Sydney and Brisbane via the two routes. The Pacific route is shorter and with road improvements is now faster, if with some terrifying spots. So if it's a straight time choice, people tend to choose the Pacific. Mind you, the Thunderbolts Way route with its Pacific/New England combination is faster still, but we don't want to mention that too widely. It wouldn't be if everybody took it!

But what's really difficult is that choice has been withdrawn, that people no longer have the choice to wend their way along the New England by bus, stopping and going on. Its another blow to the tourist industry. Over the years there have been attempts to promote the the New England Highway route, but they suffer from the standard problems of Sydney governance that bedevils so much New England tourist promotion - too little, too late, too unfocused, too irregular.

A few weeks back, I persuaded a colleague to come back from Brisbane via the New England, over-nighting in Armidale. She and the children enjoyed the trip and loved Armidale. It was everything I had said. Obviously I liked that.

Responding to the Greyhound decision, Parliamentary Secretary for Northern NSW and Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall said the service loss would be felt by his electorate.

“It’s always disappointing to see the loss of services to regional NSW,” he told The Leader. “The coach service has had dwindling numbers as more people choose to drive, or fly or catch the train.

“I have no doubt constituents in my electorate will feel the effects of this.”.....Mr Marshall said he understood it was a business decision but said it was unlikely such a service would return.

“Once we lose services in regional NSW it’s very hard to get them back,” he said

That's not good enough, Adam. I know that you work hard and have achieved individual results, but you have not defined anything approaching a coherent strategy to address continuing structural decline in inland New England.

You don't have to accept my solution, self government, but you do need to offer more than a series of town by town small initiatives that at the end of the day get swamped in broader changes. What is the framework, the vision, you offer that will energise and provide a base for action? Its not going to be perfect, but we so need that base. So how about it, Adam? What have you to offer?  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Newcastle news - Knight's sponsorship, Muswellbrook coal mine extension universally approved, Pacific National job losses

Health fund nib is to be the Newcastle Knight's major sponsor for the next three years in a deal worth around $1 million a year.

Meantime, it is not clear just how the sale process for the club is going. After the financial collapse of Nathan Tinkler, the club was taken over by the National Rugby League (NRL).

The NRL launched the sale process two months ago, appointing Tony Garrett, the head of mergers and acquisitions at Deloitte Australia, to broker a transaction they hope will be completed by Christmas. Since then, all parties have been bound by confidentiality agreements, so whatever progress has been made behind closed doors appears a closely guarded secret.

In another Newcastle Herald story, it appears that Muswellbrook Shire Council has given the shire’s oldest mine a green light to finish what it started more than a century ago.At an extra ordinary meeting on Wednesday evening, councillors unanimously approved a Muswellbrook Coal Company development application to continue mining until mid-2022. Muswellbrook Coal senior operations manager Grant Clouten said there was three years of resource remaining at the site, and the company was doing the right thing by the community to continue its work. The motion was supported by CFMEU Northern Mining and NSW Energy District vice president Jeff Drayton who addressed council, and a full public gallery, presenting reasons why the expansion should be approved.

On a less positive note, Pacific National is reported as cutting another 121 jobs. Union organiser Steve Wright said 32 drivers’ positions were going from Port Waratah, with eight from Greta, 12 from Gunnedah, nine from Narrabri and 23 from Port Kembla. The company was also moving all of its “live run” planning and rostering positions to North Sydney, costing another 24 jobs at Port Waratah, nine at Greta and five in the Illawarra. Coal has always been a cyclical industry, so the losses are not surprising.  .

Monday, October 03, 2016

Bald Rock's new signage

I have still to visit Tenterfield's Bald Rock. It's a spectacular site; 1,300 metres above sea level, Bald Rock’s water-streaked dome is 500 metres wide and 750 metres in length, and is the largest granite monolith in Australia.
A 3.2km loop walk takes you the summit. It can be a slightly treacherous walk; wet granite gets slippery. Now I see from the Tenterfield Times that the National Parks and Wildlife Service has installed new signage to give visitors a clearer picture of potential hazards. That strikes me as a sensible idea. 

I wondered how they might do it. You can see from the photo that it's quite rugged. Apparently they used motorised wheelbarrows! Time for me to visit. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

NERAM's John Gale donation

NERAM, the New England Regional Art Museum has received a donation of 11 artworks by leading Australian artists which confirms its position as one of the leading regional collections of Australian art in the country.

The donation from Canberra based land-owner and arts benefactor John Gale OBE will be on display in the Dulce Lindsay Gallery at NERAM from Saturday 17 September 2016 until Sunday 5 February 2017 next to the exhibition Views of Landscape.

The donation of eleven artworks includes paintings by Sir Arthur Streeton, Rupert Bunny, Elioth Gruner, Adrian Feint, JJ Hilder, Hans Heysen, Herbert Badham, Harold Septimus Power and Desiderius Orban that have been selected to complement The Howard Hinton Collection at NERAM.

For obvious reason, NERAM thanked John Gale OBE and everyone involved in making this magnificent donation possible.

From my viewpoint, that's a very interesting collection of painters. I wonder which Badham they have?  As you can see from this BBC news story, Badham (he died in 1961) has really been growing in prominence as an Australian painter. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The craziness of NSW's latest regional tourism structures

I despair sometimes. Over the last six years on this blog I have written many posts on failures in NSW tourism promotion, at least so far as Northern NSW is concerned. Just to summarise my previous complaints:
  • the subdivision of tourism branding into Sydney and NSW doesn't work because NSW is too disparate to have an identifiable tourism brand and in any case hasn't been given the money to promote it
  • the constantly fluctuating boundaries of NSW regional tourism bodies, the constant chops and changes in names, structures and branding strategies, has made it impossible to develop coherent sustained local or regional tourism brands and strategies. 
  • The Sydney centric focus of branding conceals a fundamental conflict between the desire to maintain Sydney as hub and the needs of other areas that are, in fact, in competition with Sydney. 
  • At least so far as Northern NSW, the broader New England,is concerned,  the various strategies and chops and changes have totally destroyed any chance of creating a strong brand to rival Sydney and have fragmented cooperative marketing and product development.
The latest Sydney Government changes just continue this process. Since I am being so rude, here is the link to the explanatory statement. Please read it and tell me that I am wrong. I would be very happy to debate the issues involved.

The following map sets out the latest boundaries. Comments follow the map.

Now when you look at the map, you will find that New England is subdivided into three areas:
  • Destination Sydney Surrounds North (including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and the Hunter)
  • Destination North Coast (from the Mid-Coast to Tweed Heads including Lord Howe Island)
  • Destination Country and Outback NSW with everything inland from Riverina Murray as defined to the border including all of inland New England. 
While Destination North Coast at least has the advantage of an historical geographic unity, the same cannot be said for the other areas. After years of struggling to maintain a distinct identity, Newcastle and the Hunter are now classified just as Destination Sydney Surrounds North. Can you imagine the board meetings where the Hunter tells the Blue Mountains to go away because we want to attract traffic from you?

Destination Country and Outback NSW is, if anything, worse. Can you imagine just three staff even with extra board members making sensible decisions across a such a broad area lacking any community of interest? Or any sensible decisions at all? And how on earth are the New England Tablelands and Western Slopes and Plains, areas that are different in their own right but have been jammed together by previous NSW Government decisions, going to form common views in competition with the Cnetral West or Dubbo? It beggars belief. 

And how are we going to get cooperative action that will promote Northern NSW as a whole? Well, I guess that we don't exist.

As I said, I have given you the links so that you can correct me.  So far as I am concerned. this strikes me as crazy stuff. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Election sees status quo in the broader New England

It's becoming easier and easier to follow New England election results with the progressive decline in the number of our seats, state and federal. It's hard to believe, but New England now has fewer Federal seats than South Australia.

In 1967, our population was larger than Western Austraia's, well in front of South Australia. Now South Australia has eleven Federal seats, while New England has nine with part falling in the seat of Parkes.

With seats down one from the previous Federal election, the results this time were broadly status quo:

  • Labor 5 (Hunter, Paterson, Richmond, Shortland, Newcastle)
  • National 4 (Cowper, Lyne, New England, Page) plus part of the National held seat of Parkes. 
I will do a full report once we have the final figures.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

New NERAM exhibitions - Views of Landscape and Home

On Friday, the New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale opened its latest series of exhibitions.

Views of Landscape looks is a new exhibition looking at the traditional genre of landscape. The painting from the exhibition is Elioth Gruner's Winter afternoon, Bellingen 1937.

Views of Landscape explores a number of themes related to landscape painting including a feature wall of rare paintings of local landscapes dating back to the 1930s including depictions of Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Uralla and other New England locations .

“In 1921 the artist Elioth Gruner passed through the New England region on his way north, setting up his easel, painting the landscape as he went and reputedly staying with farmers and graziers in return for giving them an artwork to keep,” said curator Robert Heather, Director of the Museum. “Later in the 1930s he returned to the region and obviously travelled along the Waterfall Way because a series of gorgeous landscapes he painted then are now in the Howard Hinton Collection here at NERAM.”

“The Howard Hinton Collection was originally assembled as a teaching collection for Armidale Teachers College and Hinton wanted to make sure that it included all of the key painting themes of his era,” said Mr Heather. “Looking through this collection of over 1000 artworks we have wonderful examples of portraits, still life, nudes, landscapes and seascapes to choose from for our exhibitions.”

“In this exhibition we explore the way in which artist’s views of the landscape have evolved from the traditional English countryside of nineteenth century painter Samuel Palmer through to the contemporary interventions of Christo around Sydney Harbour in the late 1960s and the work of contemporary urban artists today such as George Gittoes.”

“This exhibition includes works by leading Australian artists including Arthur Streeton, Elioth Gruner, Adrian Feint, Margaret Olley, Lloyd Rees and many others that will enable our visitors to experience a range of high quality landscape painting, prints and drawings.”

A second exhibition explores the idea of Home. This is Raphaela Rosella's One day I’ll go home and meet my mother 2016, colour photograph.

This exhibition brings Armidale’s international communities together with the Aboriginal and broader communities by creating connections around the idea of ‘home’ through art, music and stories.
The exhibition opened with a welcome to country by Aunty Barbra and a performance by the HOME drumming group.

It features large scale photographic portraits by award-winning photographer Raphaela Rosella with images, personal stories and creative contributions collected from and created by community members during Beyond Empathy’s HOME project in 2015.

HOME was a multi-arts project that included the creation of a community choir and drumming group, photographic portraits and storytelling, with the choir and drumming group creating a forum for connection by meeting and performing regularly.

“Raphaela Rosella’s powerful photographic portraits form the heart of this exhibition which explores how a number of different communities have made their home in Armidale and the New England region,” said NERAM's Robert Heather.

Beyond Empathy use ar tforms that resonate with participants and aims to disrupt old ways of thinking and empower marginalised people to engage with their communities, create new narratives and shift perceptions.

The HOME project was supported by the Multicultural NSW Unity Grants program and will be on show at NERAM until Sunday 14 August 2016.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on Joyce v Windsor in New England in the context of New England's fight for statehood

This looks like a Tony Windsor billboard, but in fact its the opposite. It's one of dozens on both sides that has sprung up across New England.

This reflection began with a private Facebook post that Helen Dale suggested that I should publish. 

The post first. 
"I really should put this one on my public FB pages, but its a really personal comment. 
I have just watched on ABC iview the 4 corners program on the contest between Joyce and Windsor for New England. If you want to see what a real election campaign looks like and not the ersatz stuff you so often see in the city you should watch. 
This is a very large electorate now that stretches from the Upper Hunter to the border. Its also a very diverse electorate in which the locals and, to a lesser extent since local ownership vanished, the local media have strong views and expect their candidates to know them. 
The hot button issues here are different from those you would expect from the national campaign. The NBN is a real sleeper issue in the country. Armidale got the NBN, Tamworth was next, but the election of the Abbott Government and Mr Turnbull as communications minister and the consequent changes to the NBN cost Tamworth their connection. The people who are hurting, the Tamworth business community, traditional National supporters are angry. It doesn't matter what national arguments are mounted, when your business is hurt by a Government decision, you react. Why can't we have decent coms? 
This is an electorate where climate change, coal seam gas and coal have become important sectional issues because of the Liverpool Plains where prime and beautiful agricultural land and livelihoods are affected. The audience at the Tamworth Q&A program was not representative nor did Mr Joyce handle certain questions well, but it caught the passion. 
This is also an electorate where the refugee and border election issue does not play out quite in the same way as Western Sydney or, at the other end of the spectrum, the inner suburbs of the metros. The pro-refugee groups are quite strong, while there are many local connections with individual refugees. This tempers the migration debate in what is, in some way,s a conservative if independent leaning seat. 
The hurts and resentments created by My Windsor's support of the Gillard Government, the sense of betrayal, are still there, if somewhat moderated by time. So is the National Party base, as well as national issues like jobs, health and development. This is an area that in many ways has simply not shared in Australia's economic growth. So they want results, tangibles, specifics, not generalised policies or programs. A program for jobs doesn't help if the result is no jobs in New England. 
Polling suggests that the Labor vote at around 7% and the Green vote at around 4% have collapsed, actually eclipsed by the non-Windsor independent vote. Mr Joyce is holding in the high forties, but he has to be in the very high forties with so many preferences against him. 
This is not an unsophisticated political campaign. You don't mount a potentially successful campaign against the Deputy Prime Minister without substantial resources. Mr Windsor's own reactivated political machine is backed by volunteer and special interest groups inside and outside the electorate. They are expert at the use of social media. Mr Joyce is fighting back, but is struggling a little. 
I hesitate to pick a winner. Personally, and even though I have such a high opinion of Mr Windsor, I hope that Barnaby wins. 
Whichever way it goes, I couldn't think help thinking how much I love electoral politics, how many scenes in the Four Corners program I recognised. Professionally, I can accept generalised performance measures. Personally, I need to translate the things that I still strive for into results for people."
In a comment, Carlo Ritchie wrote:
"I have to say that I'm on the other side of the fence to you Jim. Though I respect your thoughts on the matter. As someone who is very passionate about the potential and future of the New England, I do not see the vehicle to the future being driven by Barnaby Joyce. The last four polls have all predicted that a hung parliament is likely, in which case, Turnbull will maintain the government until a no confidence vote. In that circumstance, the seats that will be the most strongly advantaged will be those on who's vote the Government depends. A vote for an Independant isn't a vote for the Labour Government, or a vote for the Greens, or a vote against the current government in fact. It's a vote for New England. It's a vote for an independant vote and it's a vote for our voice to be taken to Canberra, not for the voice-piece of Canberra to come to us.
Like me, Carlo is a supporter for self-government for the broader New England, In a letter to the Glen Innes Examiner, Carlo wrote:
The North should be Independent. 
A vote for an independent is not a vote for the Labor Party. Nor is it a vote for the Greens, or the Nationals for that matter. It is a vote for the New England. It is a vote for an independent voice amongst the bickering of the two party system. It is a vote for our voice, rather than the voice of Canberra. 
The North should be independent. I am not the first person to think it, nor to suggest it, in fact it’s biggest proponent was Sir Earle Page, founder of the Country Party. Back when the Country Party first formed government in 1922 they used their political leverage to remove then sitting Prime Minister Billy Hughes. The highest office in the country brought down by a handful of land holders who wanted a better deal for their constituents. 
That is the power that the National Party once wielded. Now, in 2016, our voice in Canberra, Barnaby Joyce, leader of the National Party, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and the Deputy Prime Minister, the man legally and constitutionally empowered as the final say on Agriculture and Water for this country, can’t stop a mine on the doorstep of his own electorate.  
As we get closer to the election, polls are telling us that in all likelihood we may end up with another hung parliament. In which case, Malcom Turnbull will remain as leader unless a no confidence motion is successful. A motion that both Rob Taber and Tony Windsor have said they would not support. In that case, it is those seats on whom the Government depends for their vote that will benefit the most. In such circumstances, it is the Independent Voice that will be heard against the din.
Debbie asked in a question:
Jim, why, personally, do you want Barnaby to win? For "party political" reasons? or policy?
Now Debbie knows that I am traditional Country Party. I describe myself in that way because while I tend to support the National Party since I believe that regional Australia needs a voice, I am far from a died in the wool National Party supporter.

In response to Debbie, I said: 
It's complicated, Debbie. Carlo set out the alternative view below. At a national level, the most likely outcomes at the moment are a coalition return, a less likely Labor win or a minority coalition government dependent on the Xenophon block - the polls suggest that they could end up with up to three seats. 
At electoral level, Barnaby has supported New England self government, while the possible shift to Armidale of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority would be a major local game changer for the city and university. On Tony's side, I am supportive of a number of his stances but would be more comfortable if he had a clearer Northern vision. If the coalition is returned with a majority but Tony elected, then I don't think that he will have a major influence. Hence Barnaby. If Labor wins, then the pendulum shifts towards Tony. If its a minority coalition government, it could go either way. 
Note that I haven't really mentioned national issues. I am pretty one-eyed, I guess, but for the life of me I lack the skills to work out how to balance the differences between the two sides. I straddle them. Whichever one gets in is likely to leave me dissatisfied!
In an election where all parties are focused on the marginals, where Nick Xenophon's rise for is creating benefits for South Australia, where we are told we must focus on "national" issues, I come back to this point. Northern NSW has been in long term structural decline.

Politicians respond on a seat by seat basis, never addressing the question of what, if anything, can be done to address the decline. Even Mr Windsor is actually focused on his narrow patch. He goes local, or national, but forgets the bit in the middle.

Why should I be happy just because South Australia is a state and gets attention, New England is not and does not? We have wanted to manage ourselves for over 150 years.