Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Belshaw’s World: why are we crushing our schools?

We presently live in a measurement obsessed world, a world of inputs, outputs and outcomes, of key performance indicators. This is a world of league tables, of standardization and uniformity, of professionalisation and accreditation.

We live in a world obsessed with risk avoidance with its associated concepts of informed consent, duty of care and risk management or mitigation strategies.

I was a strong supporter of the education reforms that began in 1988 spear-headed by Commonwealth Education Minister Dawkins because I saw them as a way of freeing up the education and training sector.

I still support many of the concepts. However, I now think that the practical effects have become quite pernicious.

Over the last few years of my daughters’ schooling, I watched what I saw as the erosion of the ethos of their school with sadness and a degree of anger.

This process stands out in my mind as a series of events.

The circulars from the school telling us of new Government requirements increased. We were required to provide new information and sign new forms.

The range of activities open to our daughters began to contract because of perceived risk. We went to our first information session on a forthcoming excursion.

A confused parent said to me “well, that was a waste of time. We know all that. Why are we here?”

“It’s got nothing to do with us”, I replied. “It’s for the school’s legal protection, so that they can say that we have given informed consent.”

Teachers began to complain privately about the new loads placed upon them. The school suddenly demanded that parents sign in at the office before going onto school grounds.

Those of us at the school all of the time for meetings or to attend sporting events simply ignored this. However, I noticed that new parents were beginning to comply.

New security cameras were introduced, followed by guards. Then came a new central security system with various alarms and self locking doors. Lock down and lock out had arrived.

This was being done, the school explained in a circular, “for the protection of your daughters.” You could be forgiven for thinking that the school had a significant security problem. It did not.

Fees continued to rise faster than inflation to pay for the new administrative staff required to meet increasing Government reporting requirements, as well as all the new security arrangements.

On legal grounds, the school decided that it could no longer coordinate the preparation of the traditional year 12 annual. The students would have to do this for themselves.

At eldest’s year 12 formal in 2005, students were banded with hospital style bands that allowed those over 18 to buy single drinks. Parents were allowed to have wine on their tables.

Two years later youngest’s year 12 formal was held at a posh Sydney hotel.

The event had to be completely dry for all. There were the usual pre-formal parties. However, upon arrival at the hotel, the kids were not just bag searched but also breathalysed. Any recording a positive reading were not allowed to enter.

Parents went ballistic. The security guards explained that they had no choice; they must comply with new NSW Government legislation.

By nine o’clock most parents had adjourned to the bar. By 11.30, half an hour before the official close, the ball room was empty as kids moved off to the after-formal parties.

Last year to the fury of my daughters and their friends, the school abolished muck-up day. This had been a pretty mild affair run under tight controls. Even this was now seen as too dangerous.

I could, perhaps, live with all this if the standard of education had improved. It declined, crushed by the growing burden of compliance and risk avoidance.

To answer my last question.

New England’s first major airline was, appropriately, called New England Airways.

Formed by George A Robinson, the Lismore headquartered company began a bi-weekly Lismore-Brisbane service in August 1931. This was later extended to a Lismore-Sydney service, creating the first Brisbane- Sydney service. The company grew to be one of the first national carriers.

Now for my next question. What is the connection between Dorrigo, cattle ranching in Wyoming and the imperial courts of Europe?

Note to readers

This column appeared in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 21 January 2009. This post brings my columns up to date with exception of the column appearing in today's Express.

In future I will publish them on a Wednesday, thus lagging them by one week after publication.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Belshaw’s World: The wonders of blogging

Australia has a long history of literary hoaxes.

Five months in the making, the latest sting was carefully planned. Would Keith Windschuttle as editor of Quadrant accept a bogus article on genetic engineering carefully crafted to appeal to his perceived prejudices?

The answer was yes. Bait taken, the on-line journal Crickey then revealed that it was a hoax.

The bloggosphere, along with many journalists from the conventional media, went wild. Who was the fictitious Sharon Gould who had written the hoax article?

In long comment streams, the bloggers compared notes, using hints in the article to check previous writing. This literary detective work allowed them to quickly zero in on a former blogger and free-lance writer called Katherine Wilson. Finally, Crickey revealed that the author was indeed Katherine Wilson.

Those of you who are interested in finding out more can follow the links through in this post of mine -

Why do I mention this? Well, blogging has changed from its original meaning of web log, a personal diary, to part of main stream journalism. In doing so, it has become a critical personal and professional tool.

Just to put all this in perspective, I am not an A-list blogger, one of those who generate huge traffic volumes. Even so, last year my blogs received over 53,000 visits. The stories I wrote have been picked up by fellow bloggers in many countries and lead, among other things, to this column.

A test before I go on. How many of you know that there is an Armidale based photo blog that has been classified by Australia’s National Library as worthy of permanent preservation in their electronic archive? The answer is Gordon Smith’s lookANDsee -

I love Gordon’s blog and, with his permission, use his photos to illustrate stories.

Blogging is constantly evolving.

The supply of free platforms such as Google’s blogger supported rapid growth to the point that there are now more than seventy five million blogs worldwide. As you might expect with such a huge number, the standard is quite variable. Further, there is a high churn factor with new blogs starting all the time, others stopping. Burn-out is common.

The idea of community is central to blogging.

Each long-running blog gathers its own readership. This is generally small, with most blog traffic generated by search engines. However, these small communities are overlapped and linked because bloggers tend to cluster, drawn together by some shared interest. This creates what I call the village – you have your own personal friends, but then there is a much bigger group that you know or know of and sometimes chat to.

Like any village, there can be wars – flame fights that can get nasty. There are also the normal legal risks that apply to any form of publication. This has led to the development of what we can think of as blogging manners, a set of rules designed to aid polite discussion.

Blogging is a remarkably useful way of keeping in touch. Unlike the conventional search engines, Google blog search allows you to search for posts on topics by date. With such a large number of bloggers worldwide, new developments get picked up very quickly.

Over the tumultuous days of October, I followed the global financial crisis quite closely. To do this, I used conventional web sources such as media and official sites. However, I also used blog search to find out breaking developments from different parts of the world. This was actually far faster than the conventional resources.

In all this, how does New England rank in the blogging world? Not well, I fear.

So far I have identified just thirty three blogs across the broader New England. Some such as Gordon’s are very good, but many are barely updated.

This is a far smaller number than I would have expected, given the area’s population. To my mind, it is a symptom of a broader problem, the area’s failure to use the internet in an effective fashion. However, that’s the subject for another column!

To finish with my usual question. What was the name of the first major airline established in New England? Again, I am talking broader New England. And, no, it wasn’t East West Airlines. That was the second.

Note to readers

This column appeared in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 14 January 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Round the New England Blogging Traps - 2

It has been quite a while since I did a New England blogging round up. Far too long in fact.

Tim Christie from Newcastle seems to have been on blogging leave. However, a little while ago he had a rather nice story of a tour of South Australia. This photo of a SA vineyard is an example of the great photos illustrating the story.  2662059261_cee1591bef

Still in Newcastle, there was a great post on Mulubinba Moments. Updates from this part of the world is simply a report of domestic life and travels, but a very good one.

Michael J Bayly's The Wild Reed is a US based blog written from a Roman Catholic Gunnedah09_006perspective with a special focus on gay issues. I have included it as New England blog because Michael is from Gunnedah.

In this context, a return visit to Gunnedah triggered My "Bone Country", an extremely good nostalgic look at Gunnedah past and present. The post begins with a quote from Rosanne Cash's Western Wall.   

Red dust settles deep in my skin.
I don’t where it starts or where I begin.

Gaye has decided to put her nature blog Hunter Valley Backyard Nature largely on hold for the present. However, she is maintaining her personal blog journal, Snippets and sentiments. This has some very good posts set against a Hunter Valley background.

Rugby League fans should not miss Kurt Gidley's blog simply entitled Kurt Gidley.  Kurt has just been on an overseas trip, lucky bloke, that he obviously enjoyed.

On 18th Century Historical Trekking,1700-1760 (Australia), Keith Burgess has entered a video phase. This is the place for you if you want to know how to make 18th century chocolate or, alternatively, shoot with a muzzle loading musket!

If historical re-enactments do not appeal, try soaring with Jenny's Blog. I see from one post that there were 22 glider launches on one day. Not bad.

I have barely scratched the surface. In future, I will try to do these blogging round-ups on a weekly basis.  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Belshaw’s World: City Spending, Country Saving

This business of writing a weekly column is proving harder than expected.

In blogging, length depends upon purpose. In a column, the length is fixed.

In blogging, if you make a mistake you can correct it. In a column, the mistake is there in cold print for all time, or at least until all copies of the paper decay!

I mention this because in my last column I referred to Kate Henry from Kentucky when I meant Kate Hedges. I emailed Kate as soon as I realized my error. She was, I am relieved to report, very forgiving.

I think that part of my problem was that I was thinking of one Ken Henry at the time, the head of the Commonwealth Treasury. Why? Well, that brings me to the subject of this post.

As you all know, we have just come to the end of a long boom. One feature of that boom was a sharp decline in the savings rate in western countries including Australia. We stopped saving and started spending.

To manage this we borrowed. We could do this because asset prices – real estate and shares in particular – kept rising. This allowed us to increase personal debt.

Our increasing spend meant that we were spending more on goods and services from other countries than we were selling to them. As a consequence, the balance of trade in goods and services in most western countries went into deficit.

This deficit had to be funded by international borrowings. The global trade surplus countries, China in particular, lent us the money we needed to buy their goods!

This had to end and explains why this global economic downturn is so severe. We are paying for our own excesses.

But who in Australia spent and who saved? The following table shows Australian states and territories ranked by their net contribution to the balance on goods and services in 2007-2008. All figures are in $Am.

South Australia10,3387,3422,996
Northern Territory4,5442,5811,936

Interesting, isn’t it? All of Australia’s growing private overseas borrowings went to support Victoria and especially NSW. And that means Melbourne and Sydney.

Every Australian economic crash since at least the 1890s has been associated with metropolitan over-spend.

That spend brings more people to the metro cities because that is where the money is.

As the boom ends, some people leave. Emigration from Sydney always increases during the city’s downturns. Yet the sheer concentration of economic activity in Sydney provides a base for the next leveraged upturn as things improve. It seems that we cannot help ourselves.

During the week I had an email from Jack Arnold. Both of us believe that a New England new state is still part of the solution, although we disagree on boundaries. I want the Hunter and Newcastle in, Jack disagrees.

In replying to Jack, I made the point that one of our problems was that since the referendum loss in 1967 we had lost the very intellectual framework required to discuss issues such as new states. Everything has become localized, fragmented, expressed in terms of narrow outputs.

I will deal with this in more detail in later columns. Immediately, I want to answer the question on six New England films.

At random, they include Sons of Mathew (1949), Captain Thunderbolt (1953), Smiley (1953), The Shiralee (1957), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Koya No Toseinin (The Drifting Avenger) (1968) and Bootmen (2000). And that’s only a start.

How many did you recognize?

Note to readers

This column appeared in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 7 January 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Christmas in New England

In my last column I posed the 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 Hedges from Kentucky responded, correctly, with Harry Freame.

I will write later on the full and quite remarkable story of Harry Freame. In the meantime, Kate told me that there is a display in the Kentucky Hall of photos and stories of past Kentuckians including Harry Freame. When you visit Kentucky you can get the key to the Hall and display from the Kentucky store.

Christmas is a very special time for all of us, marked by our own family rituals.

Growing up, Christmas began with a pine branch buried in a pot. Downtown, brother David and I visited Coles and Penneys with our money clutched in our hands to buy presents.

On Christmas Eve people came round to our house for drinks. We had to go to bed, but were allowed to stay up for a while to meet people.

Christmas Day dawns. On our bed is a Santa sack full of presents. We play with these waiting for our parents to wake up. They do, and we get our presents from them.

Mid morning and we go down to Fah and Gran’s, a block away in Mann Street. This was always open house for our grandparents’ friends and electorate workers. The Mackellars who managed Forglen, Fah’s property, were always there with eldest my age. We talk to people and go outside to play.

Once people have gone, we get another set of presents from our grandparents and aunts. Then to Christmas lunch, always a roast chook. We kids sit in a little sun room off the main dining room.

After lunch we play, rolling down the grass slopes. Sometimes there are special events. I remember one Christmas a piper played, striding up and down the lawns at the back of the house.

Later we go up to the Halpins for late afternoon Christmas drinks.

Time passes. I am living in Canberra, joining the great New England diaspora.

Neville Crew’s 1960s’ research showed that for every one person living on the Tablelands there was one Tablelands’ born person living elsewhere. This pattern is replicated across the broader New England, from the lower Hunter to the boarder. As best as I can work out, if we count those born in the broader New England plus their immediate children, we are talking about more than a million people.

By bus, car, plane and train, many of us try to come home, meeting old friends.

The last time I saw Zivan Milanovich was on the train. Zivan’s dad Branco was groundsman at TAS. I knew Branco, but only in a formal sense. By contrast, Zivan and I were in scouts together, 2nd Armidale Troop. We were mates.

I suppose that 2nd Armidale still has a bob a job week equivalent. That year Zivan and I decided to clean shoes in Beardy Street. We stood there, but no one came. Finally we overcame our shyness, started spruking and approaching people. The cash rolled in. I think that we both learned an important lesson, the way in which you have to stand outside yourself to be successful.

Those Christmases were very special times as those dispersed over tens of thousands of miles came together. I cannot do them proper credit in this column, but I remember them well.

To finish with another question. Can you name six feature films connected in some way with New England?

To make things easier for you, I mean from Newcastle to the border. And, yes, Captain Thunderbolt is one. The making of this film is another story I have to tell you from our shared past.

Note to readers

This column appeared in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 31 December 2008

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rivers Run Black: exhibition by Bundjalung artists, Yamba New England 12 January to 7 February 2009

Brolga Richard Torrens My thanks to North Coast Voices for this story.

Arthouse Australia at Yamba is currently hosting a group exhibition by Bundjalung artists Nancy Torrens, Troy Little, Richard Torrens and Elsie Randal.

More details can found at the exhibition web site,  Rivers Run Black, or phone (02) 6646.1999, email for details.

For international readers and especially those who come from the US searching on New England, the Bundalung are a major New England indigenous peoples whose territory stretched from the Clarence Valley into southern Queensland.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

Belshaw's World: A new column, but why is it Belshaw's World?

In Belshaw's World - a new venture I reported that I was now writing a weekly column for The Armidale Express, the third oldest newspaper in New South Wales.

The column is not in the on-line part of the paper, so I have decided to republish it here. That way it exists on-line.

The First Column

I was flattered when Christian Knight asked me to write a weekly column for the Express. But why me and why the title “Belshaw’s World”?

I have always been a frustrated writer. A bit over two years ago I started blogging, Since then I have written some 1,600 posts on my areas of interest. Some are short, mere notes, but many are quite long essays.

The topics reflect my interests and experiences.

I am an economist and historian by training. So economics and history feature.

After leaving UNE I worked as a public servant in Canberra, including over seven years as a member of the Senior Executive Service. During this time I ran several times for Country Party or National Country Party pre-selection, including one run for Armidale where I lost because of my views on the Vietnam War.

This means that I write a fair bit about public policy, public administration and politics. However, I do not write from a party perspective. My own biases are clear – I describe my political position as Country Party, New England populist or New England New Stater. But in writing I try to explain what is happening and why.

After leaving Canberra, my wife and I established a national consulting business in Armidale in mid 1987. This grew to 17 staff and almost a million dollars in fees, then failed in the crash of 1991. I know what it is like to try to do something new from a regional base and fail. I know what it is like to be broke. Again, I write about this.

We came down to Sydney so that my wife could take a job as CEO with a patent attorney firm. From this point I became primary child care.

I do not regret this. My closeness to my daughters is one of my most valuable assets. However, adjusting working style to this role did impose costs. I write about this.

I also write about the strange tribal customs of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and, more broadly, the fragmented world of modern Sydney. In a very real way, the old Sydney that I knew has vanished. Sydney is now a statistical construct.

Christian said that I could write about what I liked, that this was Belshaw’s World. Yet he also knew that New England was ever present in my writing.

By New England I do not mean the Northern Tablelands, nor that strange Sydney Government construct of Tablelands and a bit of the North-West that everybody seems to accept today as New England. I mean the new state New England.

To my mind, Armidale people and institutions live in a much diminished world.

I have a bias. While I am first generation New England measured by birth, I am third (my daughters’ fourth) measured by location.

On mum’s side, my grandfather, David Drummond, arrived in Armidale in 1907 as a farm labourer after being forced to leave school at twelve. He became a member of parliament and education minister, later described as the pre-eminent Australian education minister of the twentieth century.

My father, James Belshaw, arrived in Armidale in 1938 as one of the first staff members. There he met my mother, the first librarian at the College. Some said that Drummond had founded a university to find a husband for his daughter!

I grew up in a world in which dedication to New England was central. This was a world that was both intensely local and regional, but also national and international.

Word limitations prevent me explaining this in my first column. However, it sets a scene.

Let me finish 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.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gunnedah childhood story

Do not be surprised if posts come up behind this one. I am very behind in my posts and plan to bring some earlier material up at the date I started it.

My thanks to Neil Whitfield for providing a link to an engaging story from a Gunnedah childhood. The story begins:

My grandson, Michael, was an outdoor boy, and was fascinated by my fowls, especially the white rooster. He was three-years-old, big brown eyes, and brown

I have very clear memories of our own fowls in the backyard.

You can find more here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

SCU, Charles Sturt possible merger disturbs La Trobe

In December in SCU, Charles Sturt University consider merger I reported on the proposed merger between Southern Cross and Charles Sturt Universities. Now I see that the merger worries La Trobe University.

La Trobe who wants to expand its own regional operations opposes the concept of broader regional universities. While I have personal reservations about the SCU/SU because of the way it is likely to fragment New England, I have no sympathy with La Trobe.

The moves by metro universities into regional areas through campus establishment and student attraction to metro campuses simply locks us into the current metro dominated system. They actually detract from the development of Regional Australia.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New England's low internet savvy

I have complained before about the limited use made in New England of the internet and of the associated social networking tools for business, professional and personal purposes. In national terms, the region is running at least four years behind.

Criag Wilson from Media Hunter had an interesting post, Newcastle businesses, media & agencies dipping toes into the social media pond, looking at one aspect of this from a Newcastle perspective.

Craig's assessment was positive in that there is some movement. I was still struck at just how low the real penetration is.

Does this matter? I think that it does, greatly.

The internet in all its myriad forms remains the single greatest marketing platform available to those with limited budgets and especially to those remote from major centres.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Notes on the New England media

In December my post More on perceptions, selection and bias in the Australian media on my personal blog drew an informed comment from Michael Gorey, the editor of The Border Watch in Mount Gambier. This led me to write a second post, Saturday Morning Musings - more on the media.

I mention this because I used the New England media as my case study in the second post, looking at the history, structure and conduct of the sector.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Importance of Reviving New England

At the end of a post on my personal blog, Would you like to hear Gamilaraay spoken?, I said in passing: 

It seems that as life gets more complicated, our desire to cling to our own special pasts increases. My own desire to revive New England is not, after all, as strange as it seems!

This led to a comment from Neil Whitfield on the post:

Very interesting, though I am not really sure, with all due respect, that the parallel drawn at the end is really valid...

This annoyed me because it turned what was, after all, a gentle dig at myself into a substantive issue. I remarked:

The only way that I can interpret your comment is that my desire to revive New England is somehow less important than the restoration of Gamilaraay or, for that matter, Cornish. If so, your are wrong and on so many levels that I do not even know where to begin.

Neil did not mean to upset me. I think his comment stung in part because of a brief email exchange during the week with an old friend on a possible revival of the New England New State Movement, one but not the only expression of New England identity. There I was forced to say that the ideas and concepts that underpinned the various New England movements, even the sense of Northern identity, had been so diminished that people now lacked the very frameworks required to analyse the issues involved. In the absence of this, revival would be a hard, slow, process.

My own biases are clear. Now in responding to Neil, I want to discuss the importance of New England revival at three different levels, personal, historical and public policy.

Definition of New England

By New England revival I mean simply the recreation of a sense of identity and of our own history for what has been variously known over time as the Northern Districts, Northern Provinces, New England or, simply, the North. The continuing use of the word North over more than 200 hundred years signifies the way in which the area has been defined in juxtaposition to Sydney as the capital of NSW.

In geographic terms, we are talking of the New England or Northern Tablelands, Australia's largest Tableland and the river valleys or catchments that extend from it to the east, south and west.

This geographic area extends into what is now Queensland. The creation of Queensland fragmented New England's underlying geographic unity; the northern extensions such as Queensland's granite belt have been excised. Indeed, you will be hard pressed now to find a description of the New England Tablelands that even mentions the Queensland extension. The Tablelands somehow stop at the border.

Even with the Queensland portions excised, New England or the North is a large geographic area. In broad terms, it includes the Hunter Valley, Mid North Coast, Northern Rivers, Northern Tablelands, Western Slopes and part of the Western Plains.

Within this territory, the mental boundaries people attach to the term North or New England have varied.

The term North itself has generally included Newcastle and the Hunter. However, those fighting for self Government have adopted varying boundaries, with the earlier and most recent boundaries excluding the Hunter. This division reflects different histories and social patterns within New England.

I work with the broader boundaries because they better reflect geography and history. Those who are interested in finding out more about geography and the linkages with history might read Sunday Essay - geography, history and our perceptions of our own past and  Geography, history and our perceptions of our own past 2.

New England Revival - Personal

One of the interesting features of the growth of the European Union has been the parallel fragmentation of Europe. A number of previous national entities - Yugoslavia is an example - have broken up.

Within national entities that still survive, regional and people specific movements seeking recognition of their own unique identity have grown in power and influence. We can see this in the UK. It's not just the nationalist movements in Scotland or Wales, but also the conscious revival of languages such as Cornish previously consigned to the scrap heaps of history.

As Europe has got bigger, as previous national constitutional entities have declined in legitimacy, European peoples have come to identify more with features that they see as linked to their own personal pasts. 

We can see this process in Australia. Measured by the number of people involved, the two big history growth areas have been family history followed some way behind by local history. We all want to know our own pasts, we all want things to identify with.

We can also see this in the conscious attempt to re-create Gamilaraay as a living language. This has been driven in part by the efforts of non-Gamillaraay people such as Peter Austin and his colleagues and by the efforts of the NSW Government. However, the still limited success achieved to this point links to the desire of the Kamilaroi to re-establish their identity as a people.

Localism and regionalism are deeply imbued in my writing. I do not write much about "the Aborigines" as an entity. I do write a lot about individual Aboriginal peoples and especially those in New England whom I see in some way as my people.

How could it be otherwise? I am the third generation to have fought for New England development.

In this, not all my family have supported New England self-government. My grandfather was a New England New Stater as am I. My father was not. His experience is instructive.

He arrived in Armidale as the first staff member of the newly created New England University College, the first country university level tertiary institution in Australia whose very existence was due in part to New State agitation.

Like his colleagues, Prof knew that the College had to be better just to survive. Like his colleagues, he absorbed the ethos that the College was there to contribute to New England. He also had strong views on just what a university should be. All this helped make the new institution intensely regional, while also being part of an international academic community.

Towards the end of the war, he and Alan Voisey launched a regional council movement. The belief was that such councils would provide a basis for effective decentralisation and regional development. The new movement grew quite rapidly and, when the Sydney Government would not give the councils the powers they needed to achieve development, the new movement suddenly turned into a revived New England New State Movement.

The irony here is that my father who did not believe in new states as a solution suddenly found himself a key figure in the re-establishment of the New State Movement.

Convinced now that regional councils could not work, my father developed the concept of selective decentralisation, focusing resources on the development of a small number of country centres that might then grow to sufficient size to achieve self-sustaining development.

This work was picked up at the Australian National University and became the basis for the growth centre policies adopted by Gough Whitlam's new Labor Government and, within this, Mr Uren's new mega Department of Urban and Regional Development.

So what began as a New England specific discussion had turned into a major national policy initiative. This failed for reasons beyond the scope of this post. Since then, there has been little real policy at national level dedicated to regional development; the intellectual content required to develop this is no longer there.

To finish this section with three brief points: the views I express are obviously important at a personal level; they are, I think, indicative of a broader trend; and, even at this level, I hope that I have started to indicate why they are important in a broader way.

New England Revival - History

In writing about history, I have tried to make a distinction between history and the past. The past just is, it continues. History, what we write about the past, changes depending not just on new research but on fashion, areas of interest.

All people depend to some degree upon history because of the way it reflects their own past back to them. In my case, Australian history ceased to reflect my own past back to me. It was as though the things that I was interested in had ceased to exist or, alternatively, had become twisted.

Does this matter? Obviously it matters a great deal at a personal level, but does it matter beyond this? I think that it does, and in a number of ways.

The North's sense of self identity, the fact that this was expressed in political and institutional forms, led to a flourish of historical writing. This largely vanished in the decades following the 1967 referendum loss on self-government. Not all this was due to changing local focus and interest, there were broader trends as well. However, the effect was quite pronounced.

Reading High Lean Country, the history of the Northern Tablelands, I was struck by the suggestion that I had mapped what became the archaeological provinces within New England. I was flattered, but I had no intention of achieving this end. My objective was a much simpler one, the establishment of the different geographic zones likely to affect the pattern of Aboriginal life.

At the time I was writing I was part of the burst of interest in local and regional history that followed UNE's development.

Isabel McBryde's pioneering work reflected her belief that you could only understand Aboriginal prehistory if you focused on the local and regional. In writing, she consciously adopted one set of New England new state boundaries and excluded the Hunter. In writing, I consciously adopted a second set and included the Hunter. We can debate boundaries, but the geographic principles remain the same, commonality of interest.

Isabel's synthesis of her work was published in 1974. While some work has continued, I have in mind especially the work of Luke Godwin who corrected some of my own errors, no update synthesis has been published. In some ways with the decline in interest in New England, the work just tapered away.

This is not a limited example. To my knowledge, there has been very little published on the history of the country movements, all the movements including the Country Party concerned with non-metro development, since the 1970s. Movements which had major historic impacts have been relegated to minor and sometimes inaccurate footnotes.

Problems do not end here.

Today Australians are again debating constitutional change. New England New State pressure forced two Royal Commissions in  New South Wales, one at Federal level plus the Federal Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee that had such an influence on Gough Whitlam's views. This was accompanied by books, pamphlets and magazine articles attempting to articulate constitutional principles. It led to reform of the NSW Legislative Council.

All this has vanished. Bluntly, the current level of discussion on constitutional issues is very mechanistic and low grade. It would be better if we had not forgotten past discussions.

At a personal level, when I said to Jack that the ideas and concepts that underpinned the various New England movements, even the sense of Northern identity, had been so diminished that people now lacked the very frameworks required to analyse the issues involved, I was talking in part of the loss of history. 

My point in all this is that in saying that I want to revive New England in history terms, I am talking not just about ensuring that New England people have access to their own history, but also about recognition of the contribution that that history has made to broader Australian history.

New England Revival - Public Policy

  I have a reasonable degree of expertise in public policy. However, I sometimes struggle to get key principles across, in part because my views have been formed by experiences that are outside the experiences of most Australians. 

The form taken by public policy depends upon institutional structures. It also depends upon the world views adopted by those developing and approving policy and programs. Very few people understand the way these things interact. 

For a variety of reasons, New England or the North has been suffering from the death of a thousand cuts.

Because it is not a state in its own right, it does not have a place at the table. This means that it depends on the NSW share and then on Sydney for its share of the NSW share. This affects everything.

The institutional structures within the North are set by Sydney and change as Sydney perceptions change. This affects every aspect of life, including local perceptions of regional identity.

Then what the North gets in information and cash depends upon Sydney and on the nature of Commonwealth-State relations. This creates further instability.

I do not want to argue these points in detail. I am simply noting them.

I am, I think, the only analyst left at the present time trying to look at the broader New England picture, at patterns across the whole area. This leads me to different conclusions.

As a simple example, I do not expect the new Rudd Government initiatives designed to bridge the gap between indigenous conditions and the broader community to have any impact at all so far as New England's indigenous people are concerned. Unless, of course, they (the people) all move.

I say this for one key reason. There is no linkage between Mr Rudd's policies based on national averages and the New England position.

The single most important thing that New England's Aborigines need is access to work. They share this need with other locals. Without this, every thing else will fall over.  Yet to create work, you have to address issues associated with New England development.

No one talks about this. Why should they? New England in the broader sense has ceased to exist. You cannot even begin to address the issues I talk about if you do not recognise the existence of at least the geographic entity and use it as a basis for analysis.

In theory, this problem might be overcome by a broader regional or country focus. In practice, this suffers from two problems.

The first problem lies in the great variations across non-metro Australia. To manage this, we adopt the type of approaches that I complained about in Saturday Morning Musings - Byzantium, ARIA and Australian public policy. These approaches fail because they ignore the impact of geography.

The second problem lies in the fact, I believe that it is a fact, that we no longer have an effective political voice for regional Australia.

Yes, we have the New England independents - the very existence of the New England independents is a sign of the continuation existence of at least vestigial forms of the old New England - and the National Party. However, both suffer from the absence of new ideas that might force them to articulate new approaches.

Mr Uren's growth centre plans may have failed. However, they did at least draw from an independent New England intellectual tradition dating back for many decades. I know of no equivalent today. Everything is fragmented, bitsy. We have multiple output measures but few positive results. 

I know that I am not alone in feeling this. In fact, I hear complaints all the time. The problem is to know what to do about it.

Here the advantage of the New England tradition is that it operated within a geographical and historical unity that provided a measure of coherence to its ideas. In turn, those ideas could be applied and tested in a broader environment.


My aim in this post is simply to indicate why I think that a revival of New England is important.

It is obviously important to me at a personal level. At this level, I find the extinction of New England quite hard to handle. However, I also believe that it is important at a broader level.

I hope that this post will give you some indication as to why I hold this view.     

Monday, January 05, 2009


I will finish the 2008 review that I began with New England Australia - 2008 in review: January - April. However, in the meantime I have been sidetracked by gardening.

In a post on another blog written over two years ago, Australian Regional Food - Looking Back 2: The Home Garden, I spoke of the joy of home gardens. This drew from my own childhood.

Today we are breeding a generation of kids to whom the joys of home gardening are very remote. They do not know. The joy is crowded out by other things, by the very absence of dirt in which to plant.

I learned to garden from my father. Even though I am a gardener, my now Sydney metro kids have neither the time nor interest. I find that sad.

Country people know the smell that comes with rain as it sweeps in across the dry ground. City people do not.

I find that sad.

Things change and I must accept that. I do not have to like it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New England Australia - 2008 in review: January - April

This post reviews some of the items that have appeared on this blog and New England's History over 2008. I have also included some New England related items from my personal blog, Personal Reflections. I have not provided individual story links on the two New England blogs, that would be too messy, just links to the relevant monthly archives. 


January began with a short note on the history of the Newcastle Stock Exchange. Founded in 1937 as a rival to Sydney, the Exchange had 300 listed companies at its pMaclean dancerrseak.

I reported on the deaths of David Evans and Rod Gerber and of Jo Woolmington, all people with long connections with the University of New  England. I discovered that Maclean was to hold its 104th Highland Games, Boggabri its the third annual Drover’s Campfire Weekend.

There were major fish kills on the Richmond River, New England's universities released their second round offers, while the New England Tablelands achieved GI status as a wine province.

There was a short piece on Armidale's St John's Hostel, while the month ended with another grab by the Sydney Government for New England money.

On New England's History, January focused on the Dainggatti Aboriginal peoples of the Macleay Valley and of the linkages between them and Armidale.


February began with a post providing a consolidated list of previous posts about the University of New England across all my blogs.

Southern Cross University and Richmond Valley Council signed an MOU to jointly support and promote the economic development of the Richmond  Valley, the joint University of Newcastle/University of New England School of Rural Medicine accepted its first students, while storm clouds gathered over the future of UNE's colleges because of growing maintenancThis is your life - Peter Woolnough Allen, Peter's Aunt nancy, Clare Napier-Mccann, Roger Climposn, Channel 9 1977e costs.

In something of a nostalgia post, I looked at the connection between singer Peter  Allen, Armidale and the Napiers.

February finished with a look at the newly re-opened Minimbah House, one of the Hunter Valley's historic homes.

On New England's History, the February focus was on the Anaiwan or Nganyaywana Aboriginal peoples who occupied the southern and central areas of the New England Tablelands. This is the other side the Macleay Valley Dainggatti equation.

These were really note posts. However, I fleshed the story out in two longer posts on Personal Reflections.

At the start of the month, Saturday Morning Musings outlines the reasons for my particular focus on the Dainggatti and the Armidale connection. Then at the end of the month Contact with Sue Hudson looks further at the ways in which different forms of evidence can be used to bring the Aboriginal past alive.


Margaret Olley, Eucharist Lillies, 1983 March began with a look at Australian painter Margaret Olley's New England connections. She was born in Lismore and then grew up in the Tweed Valley.

I followed this with one of my periodic posts looking at the reasons why I continued to support self-government for New England; those interested can find the whole series here. 

Two posts followed looking at New England films, Streetsweeper (2007: Newcastle) and the Japanese spaghetti western The Drifting Avenger (1968: Nundle).

The cultural theme continued with a discussion of Peter Skrzynecki's poem Summer in the Country. This post and the subsequent discussion triggered a major post on my personal blog, Saturday Morning Musings - literature, locale and license, in part using the New England case including its writers to tease out issues in the writing of history.  A post on another blog, What makes a writer - or artist - a local?, dealt with related issues.

In a completely different direction, I provided a list of forthcoming autumn events on the Northern Tablelands and Western Slopes, tracked down into the Manning Valley to look at an 1896 bush wedding, then wandered around the Comboyne Plateau.

On New England's History, I provided some notes on the Grafton Steam Navigation Company along with a Clarence Valley timeline and some notes on the history of the ABC in Newcastle. On my personal blog, John Ferry's "Colonial Armidale" reviews one of Australia's best written local histories.


April in New England began with the death of Armidale's Dr Harold Royle, a well know figure from my childhood. EWA's first Focker

After a peek at the arrival in Tamworth under the command of James Swan of East West Airlines first Focker Friendship, for many years the mainstay of New England civil aviation, I start exploring the Kamilaroi Highway.

Following a visit to the Oakhampton Farmstay at Manilla, April finishes with a somewhat nostalgic look at the past grandeur of Newcastle's Great Northern Hotel.  

The posts on New England's History over April provide a more detailed backdrop to some of these posts.

My first post on teaching at Braefield lifted a whole lot of material from Neil Whitfield's blog. It was included because provided a snapshot of the life of a teacher in a New England country school just south of Quirindi on what is now the Kamilaroi Highway in the period 1916-1926. In including it, I wanted to preserve it.

The posts on the Kamilaroi Highway on the main New England blog, as well as the posts on this blog on Werris Creek timelines and on the Kamilaroi Aboriginal peoples are all connected, with the Braefield story.

Another post on James Swan, the pilot who flew the Focker into Tamworth, is also designed to preserve supporting material.

The post on how fast horses travel serves a different purpose. Here my aim was to present information on travel speeds. This is very important because it helped form past views of the size, complexity and texture of the world around.

I will continue this review in my next post.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Blog Performance 2008

A new year and, like most bloggers, I have been looking back over what has been done and not done.

Just for my own interest, the table below shows the number of visits to this blog by month over the year. While the numbers have bounced around, there has been an upward trend.

June (June/July average)636
July (June/July average)636

May 2009 be a good year for all of us.