Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Belshaw's World - a new venture

Like many bloggers, I write because I enjoy writing. In this context, I have ventured into a new form of writing, my own weekly column in the Armidale Express under the title Belshaw's World. This gives me a chance to express my views in a new way to a new audience - based on the site stats, I get very few Armidale visitors to this blog.

Writing for a paper is very different, more so than I had expected. There are no word limits on blogs, while all bloggers try to use some visual material to add appeal. In a shortish newspaper column you have to write to length, with visual material reducing the space available for words.

Yesterday I completed the second column - Monday is my copy deadline for publication in the Wednesday edition of the paper.

The first column led to two emails, one from Kate Hedges from Kentucky. I finished the column with a question:

Who was the New Englander who was reported as Chief of Intelligence for Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and later became one of Australia’s first spies? A clue: he came from Kentucky.

Kate correctly identified Harry Freame. I wrote of Freame's life in New England Story - The life and death of the mysterious Harry Freame. Kate advised that there was a display about the life of past Kentuckians in the Kentucky Hall including Freame. Visitors can get the key from the Kentucky store.

I mentioned the difference between blogging and writing for print.

If you make an error with a blog post you can correct on-line. You cannot do this with a print column. In preparing my second column, I wrote Kate's name as Kate Henry, not Hedges. I know how it happened - Ken Henry was in fact on my mind. As soon as I spotted the mistake I emailed Kate, but I think that the damage was done.

The second email came from Jack Arnold. Like me, Jack is a long standing supporter of self-government for New England, although we disagree on the boundaries. I see the Hunter as a natural part of New England. Jack, I think, feels that the heavy Newcastle No vote at our 1967 referendum, a vote that cost us dearly, means that Newcastle must be excluded.

I will talk about this at some point in the context of the changing definitions of New England.

Jack also commented on my spy question, noting that Dr Kevin Smith, formerly of ATC and UNE had written a good article on Harry Freame earlier this year. I did not know this, and it affects what I might write. I have emailed Kevin to get details.

In all, despite my error with Kate and recognising that it is still early days, I suspect that I am going to have a lot of fun with the column.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New England Australia - most popular posts 6

Time for another look at what is popular on this blog. I try to do this regularly because my stats package is limited to the last 100 visits.

The most popular posts in the last 100 visits have been:

These three were followed by three equal posts:

Then came no less than eight equal posts:

Looking at the stats, the thing that pleases me most is that the blog is slowly gathering a degree of traction.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas to all New Englanders wherever you may be

I just wanted to wish a happy and safe Christmas to all New Englanders wherever you may be.

With the progressive death of my own New England family, I no longer join the return home by plane, train or car that used to mark my past.

In recent years we have generally gone to South West Rocks for a break just before Christmas. This year for work reasons we have had to stay in Sydney. So I will miss all forms of the New England Christmas connection.

So far this year I have written 138 posts on this blog. Today my first column came out in the Armidale Express, something that will repeat weekly from now on. The column will not be on-line immediately.

The blog allows me to communicate with all those interested in New England, wherever they may be. The column in its present form communicates with one slice of the New England local audience.

I look forward to telling the broad New England story to more people. In the meantime, let's enjoy Christmas and use the break to recharge.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More on Bourke and the sale of Toorale Station

In End of Historic Toorale Station I discussed the joint decision by the Commonwealth and State Governments to buy Tooorale Station and turn it into a national park. Using rough, back of envelope, calculations I pointed to the economic costs involved, doubting the value of the Government's action.

During the week I had cause for other reasons to to look at Bourke's demographic statistics. The following table sets out a few key numbers from the 2006 census for Bourke Shire, the area that includes Tooralee.

Item Number
population 3095
indigenous population 910
workforce 1428
of this  
employed full time 913
employed part time 294
unemployed 113
total private dwellings 1436
vacant private dwellings 294
media household income $A821

If you look at these numbers, you see that Bourke has:

  • a high indigenous population (29.4%)
  • a significant number of part time workers (20.6% of the workforce) and unemployed (7.9%)
  • a large number of vacant dwellings
  • and a median household income well below the national average of $1,027.

Bourke also has significant social problems, especially among the indigenous community.

Now take out the 100 full and part time jobs reportedly associated with Tooralee station. Unemployment almost doubles, average incomes will drop, more people will be forced to leave the district.

These are the type of on-ground effects that are so often ignored in policy making. In theory, Bourke residents should be compensated for the losses imposed on them by external decision. In practice, this does not seem to happen.

As a nation, we seem to have given up on inland Australia unless, as in the case of some remote Aboriginal communities, the social scandal becomes too great. There is no excuse for this.

In a post on my personal blog,  Saturday Morning Musings - Byzantium, ARIA and Australian public policy, I pointed to the perverse and indeed iniquitous effects of the mindless application of things like the ARIA remoteness classifications on public policy.

As a people, we seem to have lost the ability - the vision if you like - to develop new approaches. Too much of our time is spend on trying to fix things within parameters set by current pre-conceptions. Too little time is spent on challenging those pre-conceptions.

I write a lot about New England because this is my country. Here I frequently point to the way that decisions ignore real problems. However, New England is but a symptom of a broader problem.

As more and more Australians cling to a thin costal strip, living in growing ignorance of the rest of the country, problems increase.

Instead of the almost mechanistic approach to nation building adopted by the Federal Government, how about a genuine national revolution centred on reclaiming and developing the whole country, not just 5 per cent of it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

SCU, Charles Sturt University consider merger

The announcement that Southern Cross and Charles Sturt Universities are joining forces to undertake a feasibility study into establishing a new Commonwealth University left me with very mixed feelings.

I have long argued that New England's universities should cooperate more in the delivery of services within New England as well as the achievement of national and international reach. I am not sure that this message has really got across, perhaps it cannot be got across, in part because of the damage brought about by the creation and subsequent failure of the networked University of New England.

The problem with the new proposed merger is that it cuts directly across New England cooperation, creating new competitive pressures. On the other hand, as someone interested in a professional sense in competitive dynamics within the university sector, I find the proposal quite interesting.

Charles Sturt has always been aggressive and I think astute in a marketing sense. It has grown into a major institution by looking to broaden its base within regional Australia. At the same time, the University of New England badly damaged by the network experiment has tended to narrow its focus.

If we cut through the hype of the initial press release, the proposed new institution involves SCU, Charles Sturt plus a third as yet un-identified interstate university. The entire tenor of the deal is designed to play to current Federal Government pre-occupations - scale, addressing regional skills shortages, national yet regional, the need for Commonwealth control.

We can see this in the words of the press release.The proposal is, and I quote:

designed "to ensure the sustainable provision of quality higher education and research of particular relevance to regional communities in Australia."

“The new institution’s mission would be to expand high quality University educational opportunity in regional Australia, and nationally, through its dispersed campuses, using digital technology and by conducting research of particular relevance to regional Australia.

“It would provide access to the combined discipline strengths of each institution and an enhanced comprehensive course profile.

“Importantly, the integration of our institutions, while maintaining our existing regional campuses, would enhance opportunities across a number of disciplines for all regional students, including in national priority areas such as health.

“It would also contribute to a sustainable and professional labour force, networked knowledge communities, TAFE pathways and international engagement."

“Having the new University established under Commonwealth law would enable it to invite other interstate regional institutions with complementary capabilities to integrate and build on their strengths to ensure continuing access to high quality education for rural and regional students around Australia.

“Commonwealth Government support is essential to provide the national legislative framework for the new institution and to negotiate with state governments.”

I have rarely seen so many current buzz words in a single announcement. This is a cleverly designed ploy to attract Federal Government support, and indeed it is very likely to, with the Feds funding the feasibility study.

The selection of the third institution will be very interesting indeed, because that will set the competitive dynamics of the merged body. My instinctive reaction was to think of the University of Southern Queensland, because this would then give a broad broadly geographically integrated sweep with potential reach into high population growth areas.

All very fascinating, if also a bit depressing.


Len Palmer, President of the NSW Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, came in with a very interesting comment providing further information on the merger.

I have been meaning for a while to do an update on my various posts on change within the higher education sector, linking together the various things I have written. This may now be an appropriate time to attempt the task.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

National infrastructure spend - New England universities' share

In The Rudd Government's $A4.7 billion nation building package - New England Projects I reported on the New England infrastructure projects that had received funding under the Commonwealth Government's new infrastructure package. At that stage I had no details of funding under the education component of the package.

NSW universities received $245 million in funding for special identified higher education projects. Of this, $210 million went to the Sydney universities, $35 million to the University of Wollongong.

New England universities did not receive any funding, although in an un-related announcement on the same day, the Commonwealth Government announced that the University of New England would receive $3.544 million as a result of its successful application for funding through the Government’s Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund.

New England universities will receive funding from the $500 million in general capital funding to be made available from 1 July 2009 to promote teaching and learning. $153.1 million of this will flow to NSW universities in proportion to their student numbers. Of this, New England universities will receive $29.5 million broken up as follows:

University $ million
Newcastle 15
University of New England 7.9
Southern Cross University 6.6

$500 million has also been made available to fund TAFE and community college capital spending. However, this money will be allocated on a competitive basis based upon applications by individual TAFEs or colleges.

Further information on the university funding allocations can be found here, TAFE allocation processes here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Rudd Government's $A4.7 billion nation building package - New England Projects

New England did quite well out of the Australian Government's nation building package, if only because of coal.

The following table summarises New England projects. Full details on all the projects can be found here.

Project Value $ million
Pacific Highway Bulahdelah bypass 310
Hunter Valley: Liverpool Range new rail alignment 290
Hunter Valley: Minimbah Bank third rail line 114
Hunter Valley: Ulan line passing loop and duplication 57
Hunter Valley: bi-directional signalling Maitland-Branxton 40
Hunter Valley: St Helliers duplication 27
Sydney-Brisbane new, extended and upgraded  rail loops 45
Total 883

No New England projects were included in the education component of the package, although there will be some gains in the unallocated funds for general tertiary and TAFE upgrades. I will report on this when I have the details.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Taking the waters in New England - Boomi

This is a story at two levels.

At one level, it illustrates the complexity of New England history. At a second level, it is the story of a village reinventing itself to fight downturn.

Growing up, I knew about Moree's mineral waters and artesian spars. However, this was something that was a little alien. I did not know that generations of European migrants came to Moree to take the waters. I also did not know that Moree was not alone.

The village of Boomi lies 85km north west of Moree, 92km south west of Goondiwindi in Queensland. Like Moree, but more quietly, Boomi is also a centre for artesian waters. Its artesian hot spa and cold pools were in fact built 1903 and have since been modernised.

In March 2008 the Boomi post office closed. Closures like this can be devastating to a small community. With a population of just 70 and its surrounding residents numbering around 250, Boomi fought back to reclaim its place.

The Boomi Community Co-operative, a group of 100 who basically exist for the good of the town, decided to offer free caravan sites on the primitive campground next door to the pool.

Along with opening up the campsites, the Co-operative opened up a small general store to sell basic groceries. The store is run entirely by volunteers and most recently is now serving light meals.

Prior to the general store opening, the nearest supermarket was either in Moree or Goondiwindi, both an hour’s drive away.

Word of mouth tends to be the strongest form of advertising among the grey nomads. Since March, the caravan park has seen around 30 vans per night parked there. The demand has allowed the Co-operative to now charge for the caravan sites, although the rate is an incredibly reasonable $5 per night.

Ruth Hickson, a local woman who volunteers her time to promote the town, said business at the campsite and pools is now growing steadily with some caravanners actually using Boomi as their base.

“One couple from South Australia, they set up here, then they go off touring for a few days and come back again,” said Ruth.

“The pool is as much of a draw-card for the locals as visitors but the decision to promote it to caravanners has really paid off.

“We’ve got a diesel fuel service just about ready to open up and we’re planning for an unleaded petrol station to happen soon as well.

“The strength of community support is fantastic and we’ve got a number of other projects planned to boost tourism here."

The pool itself is the closest thing to an oasis in these hot parts. Not only is pool Boomi there a 25 metre cold water pool, there’s a pool filled with hot, healing artesian water. Regular visitors to Moree’s artesian pools will rave about the healing powers of this water.

Artesian water is up to 2 million years old and is known in many cultures to have healing powers. The mineral rich water flows from nearly a mile underground from the great Artesian Basin.

The pool has become a terrific place to relax either in the water, on a poolside lounge or on the lush green lawn under the shade sails.

I really liked this story. To quote Ruth Hickson, “If we keep going this way then we’ll see more and more services coming back to Boomi.” And that's a bloody good thing.

For more information phone 02 6753 5336 or for interviews with Ruth herself phone 02 67 537 260.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New England North West Big Sky Country - calendar of events Autumn 2009

The good people from Big Sky Country have provided the following information about events on in New England's Northern Tablelands and North West in Autumn. 


March 1 Inverell Hobby Markets

Campbell Park, Inverell. Phone 02 67 224 693

March 1 Jellicoe Park Markets, Moree

Plants, fresh fruit and vegetable produce, home baked goods, clothing, handcrafted furniture, poultry, a selection of food stalls, craft and novelty items, beading supplies, jewellery and crystals and more. Phone Tourism Moree 02 67 573 350

March 6 -7 Armidale Show

Armidale Showgrounds. Produce, livestock and entertainment.

Phone Armidale and New England Show Society 02 67 723 113

March 7 Gypsy Willow Markets, Narrabri

Phone 02 67 996 760

March 6 - 8 Tenterfield's Bavarian Beerfest

This bi-annual event features the band from Tenterfield’s sister city Ottobeuren. Phone Karen 02 67 362 426

March 7 Glen Elgin Sports

A fun day for all the family at Glen Elgin Sports Ground. Horse sports, miscellaneous events for all the family. BBQ and camping facilities. For more information phone Fiona Smith 02 67 323 923

March 8 Glen Innes Markets

8.00am to midday, Grey Street, Glen Innes. Phone Jenny Hodder 02 67 325 329

March 13 -14 Walcha Show

Walcha's annual agricultural show highlighting the best of local products including art and craft, food and school childrens displays. Dizzy heads and fairy floss at the sideshow alley along with the best shearers competing for the fastest times to shear a sheep. A great weekend out so book early for accommodation. Call the visitor Centre for more info on 02 67 742 460

March 13 -15 Minerama Gem & Mineral Show, Glen Innes

The largest annual mineral & gem show in NSW. Fossicking field trips, valuations, gems for sale. Visit www.minerama.gleninnes.biz or phone Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre 02 67 322 397

March 14 Gunnedah Business and Service Awards

Black Tie Event celebrating the achievements of businesses and individuals throughout the year. 16 Categories culminating in the Business of the Year Award. Gunnedah Town Hall. Phone Michael Ruff 02 67 423 600

March 14 Opera in the Paddock, Delungra

A selection of opera, operetta and song, performed by Peta Blythe, David Hamilton, Shaun Brown and David Hibbard. "Mimosa" Delungra (30kms west Inverell) BYO chair and picnic. Contact 02 67 248 248 or operainthepaddock@bigpond.com Website: www.operainthepaddock.com.au Tickets available at the Inverell Visitors Centre, phone 02 67 288 161. Bookings essential.

March 14 Uralla’s Get Off Your Arts Festival

This Festival aims to bring out everyone's inner artist – whether by participation in lantern making, poetry performances, busking, choir singing, percussion, puppet making, fire event performance, music workshops or photography. From 9am to late – a day filled with market and food stalls, dancing, art, concerts, the magical lantern parade and outdoor theatre and fire spectacle "The Meeting Place”. Email rendalls@iprimus.com.au for more info.

March 17 St Patrick’s Day, Glen Innes

Celebrate Ireland's national day at the Australian Standing Stones, the National Celtic Monument. Phone: Wendy Watts 02 67 333 274

March 21 Gunnedah Country Markets

From 8.30am at Wolseley Park, Conadilly Street, Gunnedah. Entry is Free. A wonderful choice of goods to be purchased, from delicious cakes/jams, pottery and craft to second hand goods/books/clothes. Contact 02 67 422 565

March 21 Emmaville Mining Museum - "Sheep" Race Meeting

Emmaville Museum Committee conducts the first known massed "sheep race" of 100 sheep down main street. Phone Emmaville Mining Museum 02 67 347 025

March 21 New England Lapidary & Fossicking Club Inc. Annual Gem And Craft Show

Free entry, with craft, gems, rocks, crystals, jewellery, gifts, lapidary books/supplies/equipment and light refreshments on sale. Phone Michael and Kerry Tasik 02 67 785 122

March 21 Australian Wool Fashion Awards, Armidale

Presentation night and dinner at New England Girls' School Equestrian Centre, New England Highway, Armidale. These awards educate and encourage young designers in the wonderful qualities of wool. More info phone Liz Foster 02 67 712 733 or visit http://www.tawfa.com.au

March 21 - 22 and 26 - 28 Week of Speed, Gunnedah

Feel the need...the need for speed? Enjoy a weekend of fast-pasted action with all things that move. From Go Karts and Speedway action to Drag Cars and Bikes there is something to entertain the whole family. Don't miss the action packed weekend in Gunnedah. For further details please call the Gunnedah Visitor Information Centre on 02 67 402 230

March 28 - 30 Quilters and Patchworkers of New England Exhibition, Armidale

Quality local quilts on display, with the opportunity to purchase. Legacy Hall, Faulkner Street. Phone 02 67 712 734

March 28 Gunnedah Speedway

Super Sedans NSW Series, Late Model Challenge, Street Stockers, Benders, Juniors. Phone Cathy 02 67 422 677

March TBA Rhythm on the Reedy, Warialda

An afternoon of great music on the banks of Reedy Creek. Phone Warialda Visitor Information on 02 67 290 046

March 21-22 Autumn Festival, Armidale

A wonderful street parade of local schools, car clubs, businesses and culture. Phone Armidale Visitor Information Centre 02 67 724 655

March 28 Fairview on Trawalla, Moree

A superb outdoor luncheon. Phone Joy Peachey 0427 990 690

March 29 Markets in the Mall, Armidale

Beardy Street Mall, Armidale Contact Matthew from the PCYC 02 67 721 023


April 2 - 6 Oracles of the Bush, Tenterfield

The annual festival of Australian verse, bush poetry and song. A gathering of classic bush characters with plenty of Aussie spirit. Phone Tenterfield Visitor Information Centre 02 67 361 082

April 4 Gypsy Willow Markets, Narrabri

Phone 02 67 996 760

April 4 Gunnedah Bird Sale and Expo, Gunnedah Showground

The Gunnedah Bird Sale & Expo has grown to be the biggest bird sale in Australia. Admission is $2, canteen facilities, doors open at 10am. Phone Greg Brandon 0447 749 971

April 4 Nosh on the Namoi, Narrabri

A showcase of the region's great foods and fine wines, held on the banks of the Namoi River. Relax to a jazz band while you sample delicious foods. Phone Narrabri Visitor Information Centre 02 67 996 761

April 5 Jellicoe Park Markets, Moree

Plants, fresh fruit and vegetable produce, home baked goods, clothing, handcrafted furniture, poultry, a selection of food stalls, craft and novelty items, beading supplies, jewellery and crystals and more. Phone Tourism Moree 02 67 573 350

April 5 Inverell Hobby Markets

Campbell Park, Inverell Phone 02 67 224 693

April 10 -12 Bingara Anglers Club EasterFish

Phone Steve Apthorpe 02 67 241 618

April 10 - 12 Go For Gold Easter Festival, Nundle

Nundle celebrates its Chinese Heritage at Easter every Year. The Chinese Dragon will dance the streets along with many Chinese Food Stalls and displays by the Nundle School. A great family weekend. Visit www.nundle.info

April 12 Glen Innes Markets

8.00am to midday, Grey Street, Glen Innes. Contact Jenny Hodder 02 67 325 329

April 18 Gunnedah Speedway

Sprint Cars, Greta Smith Memorial Inaugral Street Stock Challenge, Plus Support. Phone Cathy 02 67 422 677

April 18 Gunnedah Country Markets

From 8.30am at Wolseley Park, Conadilly Street, Gunnedah. Entry is Free. A wonderful choice of goods to be purchased, from delicious cakes/jams, pottery and craft to second hand goods/books/clothes. Contact 02 67 422 565

April 18 -19 Inverell on Display

An event that showcases Inverell’s business community to a wide audience. Inverell Racecourse. Phone 02 67 288 271 or email Sandy Swan sandy.swan@inverell.nsw.gov.au

April 25 Anzac Day Celebrations Glen Innes

To celebrate Anzac Day there will be a Dawn service at 5.30am at the Glen Innes Cemetery, then Breakfast at the Glen Innes & District Services Club. Memorial service at 11am, beginning at the Boer War Memorial in the Grey St & Meade St roundabout, marching to Anzac Park for the service. Phone Glen Innes & District Services Club 02 67 321 355

April 24 - 25 Moree Show

Celebrating 125 years, this is a show not to be missed. Phone Renee McMillan 0439 195 721

April 24 - 25 Drovers Campfire Weekend, Narrabri

Do you have a caravan, motorhome, camper 4x4, ute, tent or swag? A fun filled weekend – camp oven cooking, drover dressups, craft displays, local tours, bush poetry and lots more. Phone Geoff Eather 02 67 434 469

April 25 - 26 North West Autumn Classic Championship Dog Show, Gunnedah.

This is an amazing dog show with all breeds under the sun-well worth a visit for any dog lover. Gunnedah Kennel Club Complex, Oxley Highway. Contact 02 67 447 866 or 02 67 447 892

April 27 Markets in the Mall, Armidale

Beardy Street Mall, Armidale Contact Matthew from the PCYC 02 67 721 023

April 29 - May 1 Celtic Book Sale, Glen Innes

The Glen Innes Severn Learning Centre. Money raised at the booksale will assist the Library to buy new resources. Phone Kerry Byrne 02 67 30600


April 30 - May 3 Australian Celtic Festival, Glen Innes

Enjoy the culture, colour and pageantry of this great Celtic Festival at the only National Celtic monument in Australia – The Australian Standing Stones. A spectacular array of anything and everything Celtic. Special ceremonies for the Welsh, Manx, Scottish, Irish, Cornish and the Guardians of the Australian Standing Stones. Saturday is the street parade and entertainment at the Standing Stones site. Thursday and Friday the entertainment is within the town and main street. Detailed programs from the Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre 02 67 302 400. Visit www.australiancelticfestival.com

May 1 - 3 Narrabri Show

This annual show includes horse events, woodchopping, cooking, photography, crafts, sideshows, fireworks trotting, showjumping and a ute competition. Phone Narrabri Visitor Information 02 67 996 760

May 1 - 7 Narrabri Veterans Golf Week

Narrabri Golf Club 02 67 922 148

May 2 Gypsy Willow Markets, Narrabri

Phone 02 67 996 760

May 2 - 3 Quirindi Heritage Rally and Miniature Railway Rally

Quirindi Rural Heritage Village is holding its Annual Rally and Swap Meet at the Heritage Village site, on the Kamilaroi Highway. Stationery motors, steam engines, farm machinery, displays and more! Phone Beryl Mannion 02 67 461 479

May 3 Jellicoe Park Markets, Moree

Plants, fresh fruit and vegetable produce, home baked goods, clothing, handcrafted furniture, poultry, a selection of food stalls, craft and novelty items, beading supplies, jewellery and crystals and more. Phone Tourism Moree 02 67 573 350

May 3 Inverell Hobby Markets

Campbell Park, Inverell Phone 02 67 224 693

May 3 Great Nundle Dog Race

Nundle Recreational Ground. Join in all the fun, featuring canine and human events with all funds raised going towards the Nundle Public School. Phone Joy 02 67 693 253

May 8 - 10 Gunnedah Show and Open Rodeo

Enjoy the pleasures, sights and sounds of a country show – the grand parade, pavillion displays, spectacular fireworks, sideshow alley and an action packed rodeo! Gunnedah Showgrounds. Phone Gunnedah Show Society Office: Jackie Weston, Secretary 0429 441 781

May 8 - 10 New England Wool Expo, Armidale

From paddock to parade and plate – yard dog championships, shearing and fleece spectaculars, alpacas, fashion parades, wool crafts, regional food and wine, rural and retail exhibitors, 'kindergarten to PhD' education sectors in New England and family entertainment.

Armidale Creeklands. Phone 02 67 728 974

May 8 - 9 Moree on a Plate

Fabulous food and wine showcasing some of New England North West’s finest food products. Phone Moree Tourism 02 67 573 350

May 10 Gunnedah Mother's Day Race Meeting

For a great day of country racing make a day of it at Gunnedah Riverside Racecourse, full TAB facilities. Phone Debbie Watson Club Secretary 02 67 420 093

May 10 Glen Innes Markets

8.00am to midday, Grey Street, Glen Innes. Contact Jenny Hodder 02 67 325 329

May 16 Gunnedah Country Markets

From 8.30am at Wolseley Park, Conadilly Street, Gunnedah. Entry is Free. A wonderful choice of goods to be purchased, from delicious cakes/jams, pottery and craft to second hand goods/books/clothes. Contact 02 67 422 565

May 15 -17 Bingara Show

The annual show with all the traditional and popular events. Phone Bingara Show Society 02 67 242 064

May 18 -22 Moree Veterans Week of Golf

Phone John Goulay 02 67 525 046 or 0418 657 580

May 22 - 24 Wee Waa Country Show (75th anniversary)

Wee Waa's annual show is renowned for featuring some of the western plains' of NSW finest sheep and cattle. "Fashions in the Pen" is a special segment where fashion designers submit creative entries made from wool or cotton. Phone 02 67 954 315

May 23 - 30 Rotary Book Fair, Armidale

Armidale Racecourse

May 27 - 28 Australian National Cotton Trade Show, Moree

Moree TAFE Agricultural Centre. Celebrating 10 years, this is the largest single industry trade show in Australia, with over 200 exhibitors. Phone Brian O’Connell 07 4659 3555

May 30 Walcha Timber Expo

View the town’s timber industry at its best with chainsaw racing, wood chopping state titles with axemen slicing their way to the winners podium, loads of stallholders for timber products such as outdoor furniture and handmade sculptures. There are vintage steam engines and many other stalls for a family fun day out. Make sure you get there early enough for the procession through the main streets of Walcha. For more information call Tony on 02 67 772 886

May 31 Markets in the Mall, Armidale

Beardy Street Mall, Armidale Contact Matthew from the PCYC 02 67 721 023

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newcastle Airport to be without air traffic controllers at Christmas

I was surprised to learn that Newcastle airport will be without air traffic controllers over the peak Christmas period. I have not had time to check details, but will try to do so later.

Monday, December 08, 2008

New England Australia - most popular posts 5

Another month since I looked at what is popular on this blog. The most popular posts in the last 100 visits have been:

A number of posts followed this top group with round the same number of hits:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

New England's catchment areas

Short note to say that I have now completed uploading maps of the various river catchment areas within New England. My aim in doing so was to create a resource that I could use as a base for further analysis. You will find the entry page here.

In a different post, Sunday Essay - geography, history and our perceptions of our own past, I have continued my musings on the writing of history with a special focus on New England.

With limited time, I find that it takes a long time to sort my mind around issues. Still, without the pressure imposed by blogging it is likely that I would make no progress at all!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

End of Historic Toorale Station

Tooralee Station

Today (Friday 5 December) saw the clearance sale on Toorale Station, a 91,000 plus hectare property at the junction of the Darling and Warrego Rivers 60k downstream from Bourke. The sale followed Toorale's purchase by the NSW Government with Federal assistance for a reported $23.7 million dollars.

This was one big sale. The station's 30,000 strong merino stud plus its 1,500 cattle had to be dispersed, the last wheat crop harvested and sent to silo, over 900 lots of farm machinery etc collected and presented for sale. All this has seen trucks scurrying across New England and beyond in one last big burst of economic activity.

Toorale HomesteadToorale Station occupies a special place in Australian history. It was first taken up by the Europeans in 1857. From 1880 to 1913 it was owned by the legendary Samuel (later Sir Samuel) McCaughey. At various times McCaughey owned or shared in twelve stations in New South Wales and three in Queensland with a total area of about 3,250,000 acres (1,315,242 ha).

The old shearing shed on Toorale was built in 1873 and in 1894, 265,000 sheep were shorn there. Until 1880, Toorale wool was taken to Adelaide by river barge.

In 1896, Sir Samuel McCaughey built a large homestead on Toorale for his favourite niece, Louisa, who was married to his manager, Mathew Robinson. The imported Italian marble fireplace in the Toorale Room at the Port of Bourke Hotel was "rescued" from the homestead which is now in ruins.

The Australian writer Henry Lawson (and here) arrived in Bourke by train in September 1892, his one way ticket plus 5 pounds having been proved by J F Archibald of 'The Bulletin'. He spent two months living in Bourke, then walked to Toorale with his mate, Jim Gordon, where they signed on as rouseabouts for the latter part of general shearing.

After about one month in the Toorale Shed, they walked back to Bourke via Gumbalie for Christmas 1892. They then spent six weeks walking to Hungerford on the Paroo River on the Queensland border, and back to Bourke. A round journey of 450 kilometres! Lawson then worked in Bourke for about four months, principally as a house painter, writing in his 'spare time'. He returned to Sydney on a train drover's ticket in June 1893, in charge of five trucks of cattle.

Some of Henry Lawson's works from this time include "A Stranger on the Darling", "The Darling River", "In the Storm That Is To Come", and "Bourke".

This is not going to make much difference in how much water is going to flow into the darling. I have lived at toorale my whole life and know how much water the property can store. The government buying this and letting the water flow through is only going to make the town of bourke suffer and many people will lose their jobs. It all sounds so good on paper and through the media but until you go out there you will never understand how little of a difference this will make... it is a bad move. Local blog comment from Ed.

The sale, the first major land and water purchase under the Federal Government's $3 billion National Water Plan, will see the station turned into a national park, its water entitlements returned to the Darling River, and dams on the Warrego River removed.

Toorale presently holds yearly extraction entitlements for 14 billion litres of water and proponents claim that the deal means an average of 20 gigalitres will be returned to the Darling River each year.

All this has generated very mixed views.

According to Federal Climate Change and Water Minister Penny Wong, it is a deal for the environment.

Well, this is all about taking action in the Murray-Darling Basin. We know that the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin are in difficulty.

We know that we need to do more to return water to the river for the benefit of all of the communities which rely on these rivers for their livelihoods.

We also need to do more to improve the environmental health of these rivers.

The Minister's views are echoed by environmental groups, as well as some graziers down stream who hope to benefit. However, this support far from universal.

Some doubt that the sale will have any real impact on water flows in the river.

Prior to the sale, property manager Tony McManus argued that the quantity of water he's using for irrigation is minimal.

The amount of water we store here and we take here I think would have very little impact on the lower Darling and the Murray River.

I think it would only make the river run for a little bit longer and a little bit further and I think it would have more detrimental damage done to the district than the benefits to the environment.

I think it's just a knee-jerk reaction to something that's caused by drought and low rainfall.

Others argue that there are better approaches anyway, and that the whole deal is flawed.

The government is seriously in the process of incorporating cropping land in a national park. So any pretence that this might involve even the most rudimentary need to conserve the existing ecological or habitat values of that crop land is absurd in the extreme as there are few enduring habitat attributes of a ploughed field.

And all we are left with is a very unambiguous demonstration that the underlying intention is to remove humanity from that landscape at any and every opportunity.

There is more than 14 million hectares of vigorous regrowth in the NSW part of the MDB and many more millions of hectares of thickenned woodland in both public and private tenure.

The prudent thinning of this vegetation, to return the percentage canopy cover to its pre-settlement levels, will, according to the well tested science of Zhang and Vertessy et al, deliver significantly more than the claimed requirement for 1.5 million megalitres of additional river flow. Blog comment, Ian Mott

Locals worry about the impact on the town and district economy. Bourke's population has been falling, while the town has a large indigenous population. The sale means the loss of over $5 million in agricultural production, along with an estimated 100 jobs. This is roughly equivalent to Sydney losing 750,000 jobs.

Quoting Mr McManus again prior to the sale:

It's a wonderful property and we're producing food and fibre and I would hate to see it sold off and locked up as a national park.

I think it's such a magnificent property that can produce some magnificent food crops, some wool, beef, mutton.

I just think it's too good a property to be shut down and not used for Australia's production.

It is very difficult for to balance all these arguments in the absence of proper information. Certainly some of the reporting does not help:

THE NSW and federal governments have taken the unprecedented step of buying a massive water-hungry outback cotton station to transform it into a national park as part of an ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan to save the dying Murray-Darling Basin.

NSW last night paid $23.75million, with substantial commonwealth assistance, for the Toorale cotton station in northwest NSW, in a move that will boost flows to the parched Murray-Darling Basin by up to 80 gigalitres a year. Media report on sale. Bold added.

I think that we can say the following with a degree of certainty.

The phrase "Murray Darling Basin" is misleading. The biggest problems lie in the south along the bigger Murray River. The extent to which environmental flows far up stream on the Darling will have any effect on the water position down stream in South Australia is uncertain.

If we focus just on the Darling, it may be (as Minister Wong argues) that the agreement delivers a significant boost to environmental flows in the Darling River, whilst also providing a boost to the NSW reserve system. However, I haven't really seen any compelling evidence for this. I am not saying that it isn't there, just that I have not seen it.

The NSW Government recently introduced a horror mini-budget cutting services throughout regional NSW. It has been struggling even to pay day-to-day bills in the public hospital system. So its commitment comes at a big opportunity cost.

Very roughly speaking, the purchase cost $23.75 million. To this has to be added the cost of removing the dams on the Warrego and creating minimal national park facilities. Say for rough estimating purposes, $500,000, bringing the all-up capital cost to $24.25 million. At a conservative cost of funds of 6%, this equals an annual cost of $1.94 million.

The new National Park has to be maintained. Yes, I know that NSW is already struggling to maintain its national parks, but we have to assume that they are going to spend something. There may be some income from Park fees, but this is likely to be small. Just for rough calculation purposes, assume annual Park costs are about $200,000. This brings annual costs to $2.14 million.

Cessation of rural production on the property will reduce rural production by $5 million. Add this, and the annual cost of the purchase increases to $7.14 million.

At least some of those previously directly or indirectly employed will go onto benefits. This number will decline with time as either new jobs are created or more people leave the district.

Just for rough back of envelope purposes, lets add $300,000 in additional benefits payments for the first three years. Now we have an annual cost of $7.44 million, falling to $7.14 million after three years.

Is the value of water returned to the river worth this annual cost? I have no idea. I have never seen a cost-benefit analysis.

These numbers are not mean to be precise. They do indicate the need to be cautious in simply assuming that things like this purchase make sense.


This story has been mainly drawn from the following sources.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New England's beauties - A bottlebrush (Calistemon sp.) in flower














Just an end month photo from Gordon Smith.

Many of New England's beauties are subtle. Gordon wrote:

A bottlebrush (Calistemon sp.) in flower outside our house. I had to desaturate this photograph a little - the flower is so colourful.

This may not sound subtle, but this is not a very big flower. Walking through the bush, you have to look to see!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tamworth Floods November 2008


Tamworth has been struck by sudden floods after a heavy downpour.

This photo from Leannes World shows the Peel River in flood. The link will carry you through to a good description of the evolution of one storm that contributed to the flooding.

In combination, storms dumped more than 160 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours sparking several rescues. A young boy clung to a tree for several hours after the car he was in was swept into the river.

In face of the flooding, Andrew Galvin of the Namoi Division of the State Emergency Service (SES) stated that property owners in several low lying areas were being asked to leave their homes ahead of the flood peak at 9:00am, 29 November AEDT.

"We're strongly recommending residents in King George Avenue take the opportunity to evacuate. The flood at this level will inundate this area and impact on it," he said.

"There's always an element of uncertainty and of course that flood level could go higher, which is why we're recommending evacuation."

Mr Galvin said that several homes have already been evacuated

"Most of the roads will be cut. We expect Tamworth will be cut in half. The main access between east and west Tamworth, Bridge Street, will in all probability be closed for several hours," he said.

The flood peak did indeed cut Tamworth in two.

According to the State Emergency service's Namoi division controller Kathleen Caine, the SES received more than 130 calls for help including several from motorists who became stranded in floodwaters.

The Department of Community Services opened two evacuation centres to help people who might have to leave their homes.

"At the moment we're accommodating about 16 people in motels in Tamworth that were stranded here," stated DoCS Bob Solley.

There were fears that businesses owners in the low lying industrial area of Taminda might not escape flooding because of the city's partially completed levee bank. However, these initial fears do not appear to have been realised.

Tamworth has been declared a natural disaster area by the NSW State Government to assist in reconstruction.

Check the Northern Daily Leader for more details.


Friday, November 28, 2008

TAS Old Boy Michael Fussell killed in Afghanistan

The Australian Defence Force has confirmed that 25-year-old Lieutenant Michael Fussell, has been killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device (IED.

The statement said Lieutenant Fussell was a member of the Sydney-based 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando). Their HQ is in fact just a few kilometres from where we live.

He was killed by a roadside bomb during a dismounted patrol in Oruzgan province, southern Afghanistan. Two other members of his unit were wounded during the attack, but have since returned to operational duties.

Michael was born in Coffs Harbour and then attended The Armidale School (TAS), my old school. He was a keen rugby player.

Michael enlisted in 2002, graduated from Duntroon in 2005 and was posted to artillery. He served in East Timor in 2006 and 2007.

Michale's decorations included the Australian Service Medal clasp, Timor-Leste and the Australian Defence Medal.

Michael was unmarried. Brother Daniel is also in the army, serving with an artillery regiment presently located in Brisbane.

Army Chief Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie extended his condolences to Lieutenant Fussell's family and friends.

"Our hearts go out to Michael's family during this very sad time. I hope the knowledge that they are in the thoughts and prayers of so many Australians will be a source of comfort for them," he said.

"Michael died while serving his nation and his sacrifice will never be forgotten. This loss is felt heavily by the wider Defence community, and particularly by members of the Australian Army."

TAS headmaster Murray Guest said Michael was still remembered as someone who made a solid contribution to school life and the local community.

"A very bright young man. He was a scholarship winner here who performed well through his HSC in 2001," he said.

"He was involved in a lot of things as well, a great giver to the community.

"He was a cadet in his early years and then a surf lifesaver a little later on and gave in lots of other forms as well."

He was also, apparently, a bit of a rascal at times!


I have updated this story with further material drawn from the SMH plus some additional personal comments. I also wrote a personal perspective, Saturday Morning Musings - TAS Old Boy killed in Afghanistan, that may be of interest to those interested in the history of TAS, Michael's old school.

The Defence Department release on Michael's death including the PM's statement can be found here.

Postscript 2

Michael's family has now released a statement on their loss. Apparently the funeral will be held in Armidale next Thursday. I am sure that the local paper will cover it in full - I will provide information here later.

Postscript 3

Three of Michael's friends and colleagues have left comments on this post. If you knew Michael and would like to leave a comment, I will ensure that they are all passed onto to TAS in advance of the funeral.

Postscript 4

TAS Head Murray Guest has advised that Michael's funeral will be held at Armidale's Old Teachers' College at 10:00am on Saturday 6 December.

For those who do not know Armidale, the TC stands in a prominent position on South Hill. There is plenty of parking around it. It is also in easy walking distance from the town centre.

Postscript 5

TAS Deputy Head Grant Harris provided the following update:

"Michael's body arrives at Richmond at 11.30am Wed (today) where there will be a Ramp Ceremony for family only. There will be a Military Service at the 4 RAR Barracks on Thursday in Sydney. His funeral in Armidale is at 10.00am on Saturday at the Old Teachers College Auditorium."

Postscript 6

The Armidale service was not covered in the local media, perhaps because of the family's request for privacy. I found one short general report. The Sydney military service on the Thursday was covered by the media as the main funeral. For reports see here, here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New England Writers - Tales from New England launched

John Ryan

Tales From New England, has been launched by Richard Torbay, Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Member for Northern Tablelands. Written by John Ryan, the book is a collection of essays that gives a New England context to aspects of the lives and works of several famous authors.

The book focuses on nine important writers, including Rolf Boldrewood (author of Robbery Under Arms) and D’Arcy Niland (author of The Shiralee), who have enriched their novels with imaginative re-creations of New England society and landscapes.

Associate Professor John Ryan (pictured here), the Armidale scholar and well-known regional and cultural historian, said the texts he discusses “tell us what we are in a way that history or the newspapers never do”. Dr Ryan stated that his aim in writing Tales From New England had been “to help readers appreciate the rich and accessible heritage content of these literary texts of the region, as they illustrate many aspects of our distinctive local identity”.

The other authors (and particular novels) given lively context in the book include Thomas Keneally (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith), Dymphna Cusack (Picnic Races), Gwen Kelly (in various reflective works), Geoff Page (Benton’s Conviction), David Crookes (The Light Horseman’s Daughter), Robert Barnard (Death of an Old Goat and Cry from the Dark), and Gabrielle Lord (Bones).

Dr Ryan said that the title of the book reflected the emphasis on “tradition – i.e., the passing on of stories” – in the explorations and publications of the Heritage Futures Research Centre.

The eight larger tales that Dr Ryan tells link the lives of the authors with the topics treated in the novels and their rich evocations of New England life and environment. There are dramatic stories, such as those encountered by Thomas Browne (Rolf Boldrewood) during his eight months in Armidale as Police Magistrate – including the attempted shooting and stabbing of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Armidale, Elzear Torregiani. And there are stories with a quieter rural and domestic focus, such as those connecting Dymphna Cusack’s New England nurture to her novel Picnic Races. These stories illuminate, in Dr Ryan’s words, those “timeless moments of quiet savouring of Australia’s colonial past and landscapes” that the text of Picnic Races contains.

Dr Ryan points out that these novels often give life and colour to historical events – for example the pursuit of the Governor brothers that inspired Thomas Keneally’s novel and the later film-based myth. “A number of the writers have created very effective historical vignettes,” he said, “such as Geoff Page’s local treatment of the 1916 conscription issue in Benton’s Conviction.

In the work of all the writers he discusses, he finds “a large measure of autobiography” and “much investigation of societal/educational processes as they affect individuals”. “The trials of education, as supplied at the primary, secondary, and – even more quirkishly – at the tertiary level, are explored both with some exasperation and also with a more profound investigation,” he says in his “Introduction”.

The 68 illustrations in Tales From New England include many rare photographs, as well as reproductions of original or early dust covers to remind readers of the books they knew they should read one day. Tales From New England provides a witty, wry and compassionate guide to such reading.

Monday, November 24, 2008

UNE passings - death of Erle Robinson

My thanks to Gordon Smith for drawing my attention to the passing of Erle Robinson. Erle's death on Tuesday 18 November 2008 at the age of 84 marked the severing of another link with UNE's past.

I did not know Erle well, although he has been a familiar figure for much of my life. For that reason, the story that follows is largely drawn from the report in UNE News and Events with some additional comments.

Erle Robinson was born and educated in New Zealand, where he gained a law degree and practised law before developing – through a Master of Arts degree – his vocational interest in philosophy.

In 1954, the year the University of New England gained autonomy, he arrived in Armidale as a lecturer in Philosophy. From then until his retirement in 1989, he devoted his academic career to the education and welfare of his students and the health of the institution.

The UNE report notes that he is remembered by his former colleagues at the University of New England for his untiring pursuit of justice.

“He was the sort of ‘thorn in the side’ of Administration that every administration should be grateful to have,” said UNE’s current Professor of Philosophy, Peter Forrest.

I grinned at this. Erle could be a very serious person, although he also had a very broad smile and a characteristic shift of his glasses. Once he decided that matters of principle were involved, he could be remarkably stubborn. He also liked dissecting things. This sometimes made him a very difficult person at meetings!

Those who remember Erle will find the photo heading the story very familiar. It appears to be a student demonstration, with Erle standing there in characteristic clothes and stance.

Professor Forrest said he had encountered former students whose most vivid memory of their university days was “Erle teaching them ethics”. And Mr Robinson’s colleagues – even those who were his antagonists in one or other of his campaigns for institutional justice – all remember him with fondness and respect.

I was one of the students who studied ethics as part of my Philosophy I course. This whole course was one of the most profoundly influential courses that I did. It taught me to dissect and clarify issues. The ethics course itself with its focus on different ethical schools made me cautious about absolute external ethical values of any type - the derivation of values was central.

As a leading figure in UNE’s development of philosophy programs for external students, Erle upheld the principle that external students should be taught and examined according to the same standards as internal students. It was his “pragmatic advice” (as one former colleague put it) that “helped to shape the University’s external Bachelor of Arts degree”.

This principle of equality of standards was deeply held within the University and important in gaining broader acceptance that external degrees were as good as internal. At the time there was considerable opposition to external studies in Australia's older universities including Sydney, centred on the argument that a university education required continuing on-campus contact. The UNE approach combined external teaching with direct staff-student contact through things such as residential schools.

In 1957 Erle was elected to represent undergraduate students on the UNE Council, and he continued to serve in that role until 1960, when he took a year’s study leave. From 1976 to 1980, and then again from 1982 to 1984, he served as a member of Council elected by the academic staff. He served as President of the UNE Teachers’ Association, and was active in the Student Christian Movement, another organisation that I was a member of as a student.

Erle retained is interests (and causes!) following his retirement. He continued his interests in ethics and ethical issues, participated in forums and was a member of the Council of Civil Liberties.

In 2003 he delivered a paper at the 50th annual Australasian Association of Philosophy conference (photo), just as he had delivered a paper at the first one in 1953!

The UNE story suggests that his life-long pursuit of justice was remarkable for its integrity: his determined opposition to what he believed to be wrong was balanced by a lack of personal rancour. “He never bore malice,” one of his colleagues recalled.

I think that that's right from my own experience.

Erle Robinson’s unique contribution to UNE over 35 years was a product of that integrity.

He is survived by his wife Marcia (whom he married in 1960), their daughter Christine, and their grandchildren Timothy and Genevieve. Their son Stephen was killed in an ice avalanche on Mount Cook, New Zealand, in 1997, something that I had not known.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

New England Sheep Stations - Warrah Station

I noticed that someone found this site through a search on map of New England Sheep stations. There isn't one. However, that search led me to this photo of the Warrah Station woolshed from the Powerhouse Museum collection. The Curator added this note:

Warrah Station (c. 1824 - 1969).

First taken up by the squatter Thomas Parnell around 1824, Warrah Station is situated near Willow Tree, about 60 kilometres south of Tamworth in northern New South Wales. The area itself remained virtually unoccupied by Europeans until Henry Dangar, of the Australian Agricultural Company, explored the region in the
late-1820s and extolled its virtues as a potential pastoral property. The Company, which applied for and received a large rectangular block of 249,600 acres at Warrah, thus began occupying the gentle rise of forest land above Parnell’s hut in 1833.

Under its auspices, Warrah Station emerged as Australia’s finest pastoral property during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. It was predominantly a wool-producing station, carrying a flock of almost 200,000 sheep during its heyday, but at various times Warrah also ran as many as 20,000 head of cattle. Despite the depression and prolonged drought of the 1890s, the Company enjoyed unexampled prosperity during these years. In 1908, however, the push for closer settlement resulted in the Company’s decision to voluntarily subdivide Willow Tree.

The following year, the government publicised its intention to resume a further 45,000 acres on Warrah Station. After a lengthy court case, which the government won, the land was eventually sold in 1911. And although the Company
continued to prosper, these events began a process of resumption (further subdivisions occurred in 1914, 1935 and 1967) which saw the gradual withdrawal of the Company from Warrah Station to properties elsewhere (especially Queensland).

In 1969, the homestead itself was sold, leaving the Company with about 33,000 acres on ‘Windy’ Station in the north-west corner of the original grant. It remains today the only New South Wales property of Australia’s third-largest beef cattle producer.

Source University of New England archives, accessed 11/11/08

Media Hunter's new address

I am very slow, but I have only just caught up with the fact Media Hunter has changed its URL. I have tried to amend links on this site, but there will be some that I will miss.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New England Story - Stockton Beach

Normally New England Story series focuses on people. However, browsing the on-line edition of The Newcastle Herald I came across a story about University of Newcastle communication honours student Thomas Hancock who has set his sights on introducing a new generation of people to the history of Stockton Bight and in particular Tin City by means of a documentary.

Now I knew Stockton and Stockton Beach, but I had never heard of Tin City. So I decided that I shouldNewcastle to Port Stephens do this New England story on Stockton Beach.

The attached map from NRMA shows the long sweep of Stockton Beach. The beach starts at Stockton on the northern side of the break wall that protects the entrance to Newcastle.

Stockton itself lies on a narrow peninsula and is the only Newcastle suburb on the northern banks of the Hunter River. This was an area I knew quite well at one point because I used to take out a girl from Stockton, driving up from Canberra sometimes to stay there, crossing over the river by ferry.

The town was founded around the same time as Newcastle and at first was known as a nest of pirates. It then became an industrial180px-Stockton_Beach_-_southern_end and mining base. In 1896, in one of those accidents that marked the lower Hunter, the town was struck by tragedy when a gas leak at the local colliery killed 11 people. Today it has become a working-class dormitory marked by a relaxed life style and love of the sea and fishing. The photo shows the southern end of Stockton Beach near Stockton.

Sadly, the beach north of Stockton is also known as the location of the 1989 rape and murder of Newcastle High School student and nearby Fern Bay resident Leigh Leigh. The play, Blackrock (written by Australian playwright Nick Enright) and a subsequent movie of the same name starring Heath Ledger, were inspired by this event. In another New England connection that I did not know, Nick Enright wrote the original book of the Boy from Oz, the Peter Allen musical.

The play is a good one, although I have very mixed views about it because of its popularity with school drama classes. This means that I have had to sit through one version or other, both extracts and full productions, many times. It is a dark play, and I find it quite depressing.

From Stockton, the beach stretches for 32 km (20 mi) in a north-easterly 300px-Stockton_Beach_-_north_eastern_end direction to Anna Bay near Port Stephens. The photo shows the beach looking south near Anna Bay.

In some areas the beach is as much as one km (0.6 mi) wide and has sand dunes over 30 metres (98 feet) high.

I have not researched the geological history of the beach itself, although it is relatively recent in geological terms. Based on the history of the Macleay Valley further north, around 125,00 years ago the sea level was around 25 feet higher than it is now, so what is now Stockton Beach would have been underwater.

In the fourth ice age beginning around 100,000 years ago, the sea level began to fall. This moved the shore line out about six to ten miles, creating a large coastal plain that stretched along the current New England coastline.

Then the sea level began to rise again around 20,000 years ago, submerging the coastal plain. This rise continued until about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, before slowing down. It seems likely that sand deposition created spits that then grew into the present dunes.

I do not know when the first Aborigines arrived in this area, although the Wikipedia article already cited suggests as much as 12,000 years ago. In this event, the original Aboriginal inhabitants would in fact have probably seen the evolution of the beach over multiple generations.

At the time the Europeans arrived, Stockton Beach fell into the territory of the Worimi people. The Worimi gathered pipis and whelks along the beach forming middens, shell deposits. The constant shifting of the beach because of wind means that some middens are concealed, while new ones are revealed.

I don't know about you, but to my mind wind driven sand is not pleasant. I imagine the Worrimi would have camped in the dunes back from the beach where there was some protection from the wind.

The power of the wind is not to be underestimated. If you look again at the map, you will see that the long stretch of the beach north of Stockton, a stretch also known as the Stockton Bight, is directly exposed to the winds and waves. Ship wrecks were common as ships tried to enter the port or were simply driven onto shore. The Pasha Bulka (photo) is only the most recent example. Ship Aground, Nobbys Beach, Newcastle

On 13 June 1928, for example, the North Coast Steam Navigation Company's Uralla was approaching Sydney Heads from Coffs Harbour when a gale forced it to run north. On 14 June the steamer ran aground down the beach from Anna Bay. There was no loss of life. After one failed attempt at refloating, the owners sold it for a thousand pounds. The new owners did refloat the vehicle, but it then drifted ashore and broke up. The remains can still be seen sometimes at low tide.

The collier White Bay suffered a worse fate during the same gale. Also driven ashore, all five crew lost their lives.

The most visible wreck is the MV Sygna, a 53,000 t (52,163 long tons) Norwegian Bulk carrier that ran aground during a major storm on 26 May 1974. Attempts to refloat the ship were unsuccessful. It broke its back and the stern now lies approximately 8.8 km (5.5 miles) from the southern end of the beach.

There is a direct connection between these wrecks and Tin City.

By the late 1800s shipwrecks on Stockton Beach were so common that two tin sheds were constructed on a part of the beach to hold provisions for ship-wrecked sailors. During the Depression a group of squatters constructed a series of tin shacks at the site, which is around 11 km (6.8 mi) south west of Anna Bay. Tin City Shack

The shacks were torn down during World war to make way for an Army camp, but then rebuilt. Eleven of the shacks known collectively as Tin City remain on 99 year squatter's leases, although no new shacks can be built nor can existing shacks be rebuilt if they are destroyed by the elements.

Tin City was used for several scenes in the 1979/80 Australian movie Mad Max.

Tin City remains a unique community that cannot be reached by road, although it has become a popular four wheel drive destiMaking history Thomas Hancock on setnation.

History and location attracted Thomas Hancock to make his film on Tin City. He stayed at Tin City for two days, interviewed residents, built his own sets (Herald photo)and used experimental techniques and dramatisation to create historical context.

"I just wanted to make an interesting film about an interesting place," he told the Newcastle Herald.

War is another element that has left its imprint on the Beach.

RAAF Base Williamtown., now also Newcastle's civil airport, lies just to the north of Stockton. Military jets are a constant presence. Remains of tank traps built during the Second War can be found, as sometimes can unexploded munitions since the Beach was used as a bombing range.

Vehicular access to the Beach is limited. There is no vehicular access at the southern end of the beach. Vehicle entry is via Lavis Lane in Williamtown or one of the two entrances in Anna bay. A permit needs to be purchased before entering the beach.

A number of operators run four wheel drive tours of the Beach, and this is one of the best ways of exploring the area. Details can be obtained from Port Stephens or Newcastle Tourism.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rugby League's confusions over Green

My thanks to North Coast Voices for pointing me to this story.

The story is a simple one. The National Rugby League wanted to celebrate the contribution of indigenous players to the code. To this end, they established the George Green Medal. Each year the medal will be awarded to a rising star of indigenous background playing his rookie year in the NRL or the Toyota Cup.

The move is to be applauded. However, as Andrew Moore pointed out, they should have checked George Green's ancestry. Now here my interest is not in the NRL's mistake, but the fact that the mistake drew out another thread in New England's history.

The critical problem lies in the question of George Green's ancestry. Was he an indiGreengenous Australian?

Andrew notes that the surviving photographs of Green, a highly regarded hooker-forward with the North Sydney RLFC in their premiership years of 1921- 22, establish that he was black, as well as extremely handsome, with immaculate hair always parted neatly in the middle.

Andrew also states that almost every sports historian and rugby league website, from Wikipedia to  Colin Tatz and Douglas Booth, claim that George was Aboriginal. In fact, Andrew suggests, his pedigree is a little murky.

According to Andrew,  Edward George Green's birth certificate shows that he was born on December 17, 1883, the son of Thomas Green and his wife, Hannah McMahon, of Bulli. The place of birth is given as Dalmorton, a locality near Grafton on the old Glen Innes Road (photo), not in the strongly indigenous Emmaville, as some Grafton Dallmorton Road Powerhouse have claimed.

While being born near Grafton may add credence to the view that George was Aboriginal and a member of the large Bundjalung community, Thomas Green's occupation is given as a master mariner. This is not surprising given that in the 1880s Grafton was a major port.

Further, on George's birth certificate Thomas Green recorded his birthplace as St Kitts, West Indies. Though Thomas was not consistent in recording his personal details - on his marriage certificate he suggested he was born in England - Andrew suggests that it is likely, nonetheless, that George Green was of Afro-Caribbean background.

Now this struck me as a fascinating story in its own right. How did Thomas Green become a master mariner. how and when did he arrive in Grafton?

Andrew also notes that George's maternal line did not establish any claim to Aboriginality. Hannah McMahon arrived in Australia from Ireland in 1860 as a 13-month-old baby, part of a Donegal family emigrating in the wake of the Great Famine.

George himself muddied the issue further by telling various people he was a Pacific Islander or Maori.

Andrew claims that mystery can be solved. It seems there were two George Greens from northern NSW, born six months apart. Andrew suggests that the NRL named the medal after the wrong one. Another George Green was born at Emmaville, north west of Glen Innes, on June 24, 1883, the son of Chas Green, a miner, and his wife, Annie Coltern, formerly of Ipswich. This E.G. Green secured work as a mechanic with the Postmaster-General's Department in April 1911,

This George Green was indigenous. Andrew notes that the Green family is still well known among Bundjalung people around Emmaville.Grafton to Inverell

Now here a number of things puzzle me.

To begin with, I was struck by the reference to the Bundjalung people at Emmaville. I have no reason to doubt this, but Emmaville is 188k north west of Grafton. How did Bundalung people end up in Emmaville?

I ask this question because the exact relations between the coastal, Tablelands and Kamilaroi language groups to the west is one of the interesting issues in New England history. I would have thought that Emmaville was on the edge of Kamilaroi territory.

Unless Mr Green from Emmaville was a known Rugby League player, I can also see no reason why he should even have entered the equation beyond pure coincidence. I suspect that here are far simpler explanations.