Thursday, November 05, 2020

New England Renewable Energy Zone - projects in progress

Back on 10 July 2020, the NSW Government announced that  the New England Tablelands would become a NSW powerhouse, with a NSW Government $79 million plan to develop a second, massive 8,000 MW Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in the region.

According to Deputy Premier Barilaro, “The New England REZ is expected to attract $12.7 billion in investment, support 2000 construction jobs and 1300 ongoing jobs – all while lowering energy prices and future-proofing the regions,”  You will find a little more on the zones here.  

The above map provides a status report on some of the projects. I hope that it's readable, You may need to blow it up. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Calling those interested in tree change: Armidale based NERAM Launches "Come run our café" campaign.

The New England Regional Art Museum is now calling for applications from hospitality professionals with an outstanding culinary vision to operate the onsite cafe and has today launched the “Come run our café” campaign and video.

Thanks to the generous donation from Bruce and Rose McCarthy, the café has undergone renovations with a brand-new commercial kitchen now in place and an equipment fit out soon to come. The newly refurbished space will be ready at the end of September and we are now looking for fresh talent to become the operators.  

Our NERAM community knows how important the success of the café is to providing an outstanding visitor experience at the Museum. A great museum that offers a great dining experience creates a cultural and culinary destination and we think that the NERAM café has infinite potential.

Expressions of interest to be the café operator close on October 15th 2020. You will find details here. 

The above comes from the official NERAM release, but is actually fairly dry. What is it about NERAM that makes this an an attractive proposition? Why do we need you, people with skills and flair? Let me explain.

Armidale is a university city with a population of 23,000. It offers superb educational facilities, a varied life style combining metro and country, NBN to the premises connections, more sporting facilities that you can (to use an old phrase) poke a stick at. 

Armidale has more writers, artists,  publishers and intellectuals per head  than any equivalent city in the country. This leads to a vibrant intellectual life. 

Within Armidale, NERAM has a special place as the repository of some of Australia's greatest art collections including the Hinton and Coventry collections. It's openings and facilities are an integral element in city life. 

Interested? Then let's look at some nuts and bolts. 

If you take on the challenge, you have two key markets. 

Armidale autumn scene

The first and largest is the local and regional population who come to NERAM for openings, festivals such as the Black Gully Festival or just for breakfast, lunch or coffee. The second is the visitors who come from out of town as tourists, to visit family or for particular activities and who stay for a coffee or a meal. 

This includes a significant event component, making catering a major potential source of revenue.  

If all this sounds good, what might go wrong?  A bit, actually. 

To begin with, and as you might expect given my description of the city, Armidale has a large number of reasonable coffee and food places. 

As part of the museum precinct, NERAM is about a mile from the city centre. No foot traffic. While you will get some traffic from NERAM visitors, you will have to work to get locals to come to you. This will take time. 

You will also need to work with NERAM and with other bodies including the University to get people to come for events and occasions. The University has its own competitive facilities on campus, but will still cooperate in terms of special events. 

I suppose in all this that the biggest question is just how you to define your competitive edge. How do you build on the facilities and location that you have?  I suppose, and this is based on my own experience, that you localise and regionalise. The region has a plethora of wine and produce. Why not sell that as well?

I am not an expert in hospitality, but I do think that this option now presented is worth a serious look! 


Friday, May 29, 2020

Musings on the end of New England's local and regional media

On 17 April 2020 (Reflections on the suspension of the Armidale Express and other ACM mastheads) I discussed the implications of the suspension of newspaper publication by Australian Community Media. I concluded:
I hope that this break in printing might actually force us to ask what we want from our papers, to challenge the papers and especially management on the service they provide, to answer the question why they are important to us. I accept that this is naive view, but I am tired of managements that treat papers as simply another masthead.
Following that post, we learned that as part of its changes, ACM had closed the Express office in Armidale. It had been the Express office since the early part of the twentieth century. To recover capital, Fairfax had sold the office in 2015. The office was sold on the basis of a secure lease to 2019 plus 3 x 5 year options until 2034. Now the office was unceremoniously exited. The local historical society managed to save some of the bound back copies now stored in the meeting room.

On 18 May 2020 in a post on my history blog I provided a consolidated list of posts on the history and changing role of the media in Australia's New England. In that post I also mentioned that I was writing a series of columns on the history of the New England media. These will start to come up shortly.
In my 17 April post I mentioned the suspension by News Corp of publication of most of its community and regional media. Now the company has announced the next stage of restructuring. The following table provides details of New England newspapers that will now be digital only or have ceased publication entirely. 

Tweed Daily News
Digital only
Ballina Advocate
Digital only
Byron Shire News
Digital only
Coffs Coast Advocate
Digital only
Grafton Daily Examiner
Digital only
Lismore Northern Star
Digital only
Newcastle News
Digital only
Coastal Views
Ceasing publication
Northern Rivers Echo
Ceasing publication
Richmond River Express Examiner
Ceasing publication

To this list we can add two Queensland newspapers with strong historic connections to New England. 

Warwick Daily News
Digital only
Stanthorpe Border Post
Digital only

I am not blind to the challenges posed by evolving computer and communications technologies including most recently the internet. On and off I have been writing about it since the 1980s. However, I am also very conscious about the ways in which the metro centred corporates with their focus on maximising gains or minimising losses across empires have effectively destroyed the ethos of the country press including the capacity of papers, radio and TV to provide a broader regional voice. In so doing, they have eroded the loyalty of the very audiences on which their commercial survival depends. 

This is not a new process. It began more than fifty years ago. In 1950, every newspaper and radio station in the broader New England was locally owned. When TV came, local or regional ownership was mandated as well, Staff at all levels identified with their communities, saw their roles in local and regional terms.   

By 2000, local ownership was restricted to a few independent newspapers. The ability of local media to define local roles, to cooperate on broader regional issues while being extremely competitive, slowly vanished. Their capacity to grow people diminished too. A remarkable number of New England people across the media have gone onto significant careers.

I suppose that I am in an unusual position. 

My family has had connections with the New England media for many years. As a sometimes political and community activist I have worked with the local and regional media in the North and in Canberra, Queanbeyan and Eden Monaro to try to achieve community objectives. To use an example outside New England, I was constantly in and out of the offices of the Queanbeyan Age carrying press releases and talking about particular concerns. I expected the paper to carry this material and indeed it did. 

As a regional historian, I rely on the newspaper records. As a regional historian, I have written on the history of the New England media and the country media in general. As a regional historian, I have read the board papers of Broadcast Amalgamated, of the Armidale Newspaper Company, of the early days of TV New England. I have seen the way in which they responded to commercial problems including isolation, small scale and access to advertising. The story of the Country Press Association is an example of response, one which enriched Australian life far beyond the local. 

As an analyst and commentator on New England issues, I have watched the way in which the combination of localisation with corporate processes has slowly destroyed my ability to report and analyse. I have watched the way in which the rise of pay walls has diminished the richness of the New England media environment, the capacity to report properly. I have watched the way in which individual outlets have lost all independence. 

At times, this process has brought tears to my eyes. I did not expect to be monitoring and writing about the end to so many dreams. I did not expect our past, the very structures of local and regional life, to be swept away. 

I don't know where to go from here. 

At a micro level, what happens to the internet archives of closed outlets? I know that newspapers are no longer the source of record in the way that they once were, but they are the only record we have. The internet may have improved our access to information, but it has also destroyed the survivabilty of the very information on which we depend. 

More broadly, now that our newspapers have abdicated their local and regional roles, now that they have effectively given up, what might take their place? How do I as an activist committed to our local and regional past, present and future get my message across? How do I communicate? How do my older friends find out what is going on? How do we find the resources to create the information and structures to that people depend on?

In my own way I am trying to fill the gap especially through Facebook groups. But I just don't know what might fill the gap in a real sense. I am just one person! In the end, perhaps, we are going back to the nineteenth century and the rise of the newspaper press. 

Just as there was a gap then, now we need new localised mechanisms. I wonder what form they might take? 


Friday, April 17, 2020

Reflections on the suspension of the Armidale Express and other ACM mastheads.

ACM's daily newspapers. Source Canberra Times

Covid-19 has claimed another victim. On 14 April, Australian Community Media (ACM) announced that as a consequence of the impact of covid-19 and associated shutdowns, it:
  • was temporarily closing its printing sites in Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga and Tamworth  from April 20 until June 29 2020
  • was suspending publication of a number of non-daily newspapers. Limited news coverage would continue on websites of publications affected by the temporary shutdowns  
  • had given notice to landlords of more than 30 small offices around the country that it intends to exit lease arrangements
  • had stood down staff affected by the suspensions of printing and publication.
The printed editions of ACM's 14 daily newspapers including the Northern Daily Leader and Newcastle Herald would continue, along with the weekly editions of the company's leading agricultural publications, such as The Land in NSW, Farm Weekly in Western Australia and Queensland Country Life.

The suspended newspapers include the Maitland Mercury and Armidale Express, the second (1843) and third (1856) oldest newspapers in NSW.

The ACM changes followed the earlier decisions by News Corp Australia to pause production on 60 community newspaper titles in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia from April 9 and by the Nine group  to cease printing several of its magazines and lift-outs. In making the changes, News Corp offered a migration strategy to try to encourage readers to switch to the the electronic version.

During this same period regional commercial TV broadcasters signaled their intention to cancel regional news services in the absence of direct financial assistance.

The Commonwealth Government has apparently announced announced a $50 million package to support public interest journalism across TV, newspapers and radio in regional and remote Australia.  This appears to be a repackaging and extension of an existing scheme. At this point, I have been unable to find any real details on either Communications Minister Fletcher's or the ACMA websites.


 I suppose that I should begin with a declaration of interest and indeed bias. I have been a columnist for the Armidale Express for many years and have a long family connection with the New England media. Those who follow my blogs will also know that I have been very critical over many years of the strategies adopted by media groups and especially those owning country media in responding to changing technologies and markets. One side effect has been loss of market position and relevance within the communities they serve.

I make this point now because in direct personal and on-line discussion I have found to my consternation that while some agree with me that action is required to preserve local and regional media, others say why does it matter? They haven't provided real news for years.

I know that some of my colleague will bristle at this. They have tried to provide reporting and maintain focus in a world of constant corporate shifts, of big city and enterprise games, a world in which the purpose of local and regional media as defined by people like Ernest Sommerlad has been lost. One measure of this is the sheer discontent among a significant proportion of their present and ex customers.

I have tried to explain to my sceptical friends and contacts why I regard the preservation of local and regional media to be of fundamental importance. To extend my argument, I am going to take a city and then a country example.

The Southern Courier, a previous weekly free News Corp paper with print now suspended, services south eastern Sydney. It's fairly typical of the breed, full of glossy real estate ads and promo advertorial along with some local news stories. It must sound an unlikely example for me to pick to illustrate my point.

For my present purposes, the population in south eastern Sydney can be broken into three groups.

The first is those who just live there, They may like their area, but their focus is elsewhere. They have little interest in local news. To them, the paper is just junk mail that ends up in their letter box or as waste on the lawn.

The second somewhat smaller group is those who have some connection with the area. Their children may go to school there, they may be involved with some local group, they may have some interest in what's on, what the councils are doing. They will pick the paper up and then put it in the trash.

The third and by far the smallest group is the community activists, the ones who are really interested in general and in particular causes including council activities. To them, the Southern Courier has been critical. How so? Well, the paper with its local focus provides a vehicle that is read by councillors, state and federal parliamentarians and by those in the mass media interested in stories with a local flavour.

Save Astrolabe Park demonstration

Astrolabe Park lies at the end of the street I used to live in in Daceyville, Sydney. It's an open space area that is also one of the few leash-free dog areas in Sydney.

With space now so scarce in Sydney for playing fields, the proposal was that the Park should be taken over for sporting fields. This was a serious challenge involving major sporting codes who wanted to establish high performance facilities.

For some obscure reasons, the locals plus dog owners from elsewhere were outraged. I became involved about twelve months before I returned to Armidale when I was, quite literally, bailed up be a neighbour that I knew in the street: "you will help won't you, Jim." I did so and in so doing met more people in that little suburb than I had in the previous five years. I am still a member of the Friends of Astrolabe Park

In the end the Park was saved, at least for the present. I'm not sure that it would have been without the Southern Courier because that provided the initial platform. In treating the Southern Courier as just another masthead, in thinking that it can provide the same service with subscription behind a paywall, News Corp has guaranteed its extinction at least as an effective voice and probably its very survival itself. 

Not unexpectedly, Armidale is my second example.

Many of the points I made about the Southern Courier apply to the Armidale, but more so. For many and especially older residents, the print Armidale Express is their only source of local news.  Most are not active on-line. They may listen to the radio or TV news which carry some local stories but the print Express whatever its imperfections is central especially when it comes to things such as hatches, matches and dispatches.

Like many people in Armidale I am active in the on-line world.  It is quite a vibrant world that does give me a lot of local news, allows me to promote my own causes, but it's quite imperfect because it is actually quite limited.

I was talking to friends today in town who belong to the it does not matter if the print Express closes group. I challenged this, pointing out that so many people still relied on it. I asked them where they would get their news? You see, one issue is that the news pyramid actually depends on the existence of a solid initial source point. Take that away and you have a gap that cannot be filled.

Can the e-edition of the paper substitute? If we ignore the older people who will die out, it may at least partially in the longer term. But it's not there yet and may never get there. I am drifting into strategy questions that link back to the start of the post. So keeping things simple.

If at this point the print edition vanishes, then it will leave a gap that cannot be easily filled, that will impoverish local life in ways that cannot be easily seen. This applies to other papers as well.

I hope that this break in printing might actually force us to ask what we want from our papers, to challenge the papers and especially management on the service they provide, to answer the question why they are important to us. I accept that this is naive view, but I am tired of managements that treat papers as simply another masthead. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Stockton Beach revisited

Back in 2008, I carried a post, New England Story - Stockton Beach, telling a little of the story of Stockton Beach.
Photo: Cabins threatened following erosion at Stockton Beach near Newcastle. Photo Save Stockton Beach
I was reminded of this by an ABC story Newcastle beachside cabins in danger of toppling into sea after wild weather. There have been erosion problems for some time.

I was glad to have been reminded of my original post for its quite a good yarn. Some of my points were challenged in comments and especially the existence or otherwise of Tin City. I haven't resolved this. However, Tin City remains a recognised shooting location for some of the scenes in the first Mad Max movie.