Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Belshaw's World- evolution of a truly beautiful city

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  24 March 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

Today another of my rambles, this one on my return to Armidale after a gap of several years. I apologise for not contacting people, but I had things that I needed to do. I also wanted to look at the city afresh, as an outsider.

I was quite excited as I drove up. Past Gloucester, the country along Thunderbolt’s Way was absolutely beautiful; lush green highlighted in the late afternoon sun.

Past Walcha I stopped at the Kentucky turn-off for a smoke.

The last time I was there was after Aunt Kay’s death. The extended Drummond family had formed a convoy to visit Glenroy for the last time. There was an air of sadness. It wasn’t just Kay’s death, but the knowledge that we would never again gather as a family in the country that we had all known and loved.

Driving into Armidale in the late afternoon, my first reaction was annoyance at the 50k speed limit along the old highway.

It may sound petty, but instead of looking around me, I had to focus on keeping my speed down. Still, I was reminded of Constable Montgomery on his motor bike who used to exert stern discipline on errant drivers!

Thursday morning I got up early and just drove around town, finishing up at the look out. Armidale is now a remarkably beautiful city. I stood there in the morning light looking out over the town, thinking of Alwyn Jones and his supporters who had played such a role in the tree planting that gave Armidale so much of its grace.

You see, when Dad arrived here in 1938 as the first lecturer at the new University College, Armidale had few trees; it was drought, with red dust blowing in from the plains. He almost caught the first train back!

I got back into the car and decided to check out the University, since I had to be there later that morning.

Talk about culture shock. The traffic was amazing. Yes, I know that I am now living in Sydney, but wending my way along Armidale roads with multiple speed limits, with walkers and bikers, made me feel like a country boy coming to the city!

Thursday morning I spent at the University sorting out things like a University email address, library borrowing etc. This meant walking all over campus, a task made much easier by the help I received from Shirley Rickard in the School, Kim Harris at the Library and the remarkably helpful girl at UNE IT.

Also for the first time, I began to feel that I still belonged in Armidale as I started to meet people that I knew.

Thursday afternoon I spent at the Heritage Centre and Archives.

What remarkable facility this has become! While Archivist Bill Oates collected material for me, I mused on Alan Wilkes and the old archives. I also met fellow researchers including Lionel Gilbert. This led to a dinner invitation with P and J, both of whom I have known for many years.

As we talked local politics, watching the wallabies and the lights of Armidale beyond, I started to fill in the gaps in my local language.

Friday morning was my paper.

One of the first people I saw was cousin Arnold Goode. We were almost ridiculously pleased to see each other!

Arnold told me that a book in his honour was to be launched in Uralla. I thought how well deserved that was.

After the talk, Wendy Beck took me across to the Archaeology Department to look at the thesis library.

In my paper I had spoken of the early days of prehistory at UNE. Now as I looked at the Department, I thought how far the Department had come. Yet I also felt sad that the tides of fashion had taken UNE away from Isabel McBryde’s regional focus, that there had not been a full prehistory of New England published since Isabel’s 1974 book on the Prehistory of New England.

A little later in the bright New England autumn sun, I walked with John Ryan across to the University Printery to see the book that was to be launched in Arnold Goode’s honour.

Chatting to John, I found that he had come to UNE in 1959 and, fifty-one years later, was still teaching!

I will continue this story in my next column.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Writing, film and New England perceptions

Ryan, Niland, Keneally and the New England story on my personal blog looks at some threads in the New England literary and film tradition.

I wrote the story there because I was exploring ideas from a personal perspective. I want to extend the argument here along two dimensions: first, the importance as I see it for all those in New England to have access to their own culture and past; second, the need to redress what I see as an imbalance towards the Tablelands in general and Armidale in particular.

  Take as an example of the first the 1977 Australian movie the Picture Show Man. As I said, when I saw it, I thought that it was familiar. Yet I didn't properly realise that it was shot on the Liverpool Plains and the Clarence. Had I known that, I would have watched the detail much more closely.

When you don't see your world reflected back, it takes much longer to form and refine the iconic images that help define our own worlds. One of the reasons that Harry Pidgeon's paintings so appealed to me is that they live in and capture the world especially of the western slopes. I saw them as iconic in Liverpool Plains terms, capturing too the transition between tablelands and plains.

The colours of New England was part inspired by Harry's paintings. In it, I tried to capture the variations in colour across the broader New England, to write in a way that would make this accessible not just to New Englanders, but also to those beyond.

I think that this remains important. I cannot paint or express things via music. The only instrument I have to show New Englanders their world is my capacity to write, however imperfectly.

This brings me to my second point.

In 1920 the first New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, put a key problem facing the North in this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area[1].

The manifesto was dead right. One outcome of the subsequent campaigns was the establishment of the University of New England. UNE has delivered in spades in terms of the plaint of the authors of Australia Subdivided, yet I remain dissatisfied.

The establishment first of the Armidale Teacher's College in 1928 and then the University College in Armidale in 1938 supported growth in the arts of all types. One element of this was a growth in writing and in writing about writing. Part of this was connected with the Northern mission, part simply reflected the increasing presence in Armidale of an educated group who wanted to write or saw writing as a weapon.

With time, this led to a very substantial volume of work across many fields. Yet a problem has emerged.

For a number of reasons that lie beyond the scope of this post, UNE's regional focus narrowed. As a simple example to illustrate this point, the last book on New England prehistory was published in 1974. Increasingly, too, the regional work that has been published focused on the Tablelands and Western Slopes.

Before going on, I would love to be corrected in the argument that I am now about to mount. I accept that my knowledge is imperfect. If I am wrong, please correct me.

I grew up in an expansive Northern or New England world. I am Tablelands, but also knew the North Coast, the Western Slopes, the Hunter and a little late but less perfectly the Plains. I saw all this as, if you like, my world.        

To my mind, the partial withdrawal of the University of New England from its original and broader mission as the Sydney University of the North has created a gap. When I look at writing about writing or Northern or New England culture, for example, I now find a fair bit about just one area of the North, very little about the rest.

I find this very frustrating. As I said, it may be that I simply don't know what is there, yet I think that there is a real gap. I know enough in some ways to write a broad brush descriptions of similarities and links across New England, yet the material I have seen suggests that I barely understand.

[1] E Page and others (eds), Australia Subdivided, The First New State, Examiner Printing Works, Glen Innes, 1920, p10.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Moree train photo puzzle


Can you date this photo of Moree Railway Station carried by Archives Outside? Andrew did a pretty good job when he wrote in a comment:  

The car in the foreground has the licence plate 1775. The photo is between 1910, when the first NSW licence plates were issued, and 1912 when the Govt. started to issue them with NSW on the plate.

Moree Railway Station Archives Outdoors

The photo may in fact be a little bit older than 1912 depending upon then Government attitudes to the retention of older plates.

I was wondering if anybody could add anything more? For example, there appear to be two trains. From the photo, from which directions were the trains running? Or is it just one train passing through, with the other having arrived earlier.

The thing that puzzles me is that the train on the left has clearly unloaded (note the whicker-ware baskets), while the one on the right is getting ready to go. Yet my memory is that goods vans were in the back, which suggests that both trains came in from the same direction. Was one the train to Moree from Sydney, the second the through train to Inverell?  

What else can you see in the photo that I have missed?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Round the New England blogging traps 14 - a media focus

I fear that the University of New England's Senior Management blog remains in suspended animation. The last post was 27 November last year!

Congratulations to Armidale writer Bronwyn Parry for the short listing of Dark Country for the Romance Writers of America's RITA Awards. Bron's partner Gordon Smith's Old news from Armidale and New England continues to distract me far more than it should. I keep wanting to write companion pieces!

The Save Bellingen Hospital Facebook page has now reached 3,120 fans! I am conscious that I have to do an update story here.

Just for the sake of discussion, I created a New England New State Movement Group on Facebook. I don't expect this to become a huge group in the short term - there are two members at this point! - but over the next few months I would like to think that this might build to at least a small discussion group.

I have already mentioned my gratitude to North Coast Voices for alerting me to the death of Patricia Wrightson.  One of the points I made in my response is the need I have to find out more about North Coast writers in a general sense. Do you have any names of writers that I should be aware of? 

Sticking with NCV, I have nothing but sympathy for Clarence Girl's reaction to the tasteless joke in Pushing that misogynistic boulder up Mount Everest. I also liked Imelda Jennings' guest post Brolgas fly into the Clarence Valley.

Turning now to Craig Wilson's Media Hunter. There were several recent posts there of interest.

While I agree in general with Has marketing entered the specialist era?, I have very specific problems with the idea put forward in the following quote:

A few days ago Marc Andreesen advised the old media to “burn the boats”. In particular he was referring to the print media who have been attempting to straddle print and online for the last decade. Andressen feels that these guys need to commit to one or the other, ideally burning their original platform to wholeheartedly embrace their digital futures. Unfortunately too many of these organisations are finding it impossible to let go of their old business model, and perhaps they can’t.

I spend a fair bit of time monitoring the on-line versions of the New England media. My charge, one that I have put to Christian Knight as editor of the Armidale Express, is that I don't think that they manage their on-line presence well. However, to suggest doing away with the print version strikes me as not very sensible.

I say this for three reasons.

First, a fair number of country readers at least either do not use on-line or prefer a print version. So you write these readers off for a start. Then, too, the use of supplements and special editions often carried in several newspapers is a major revenue source not easily available on-line. Finally, on-line and print readers are not same. The on-line readership is broader and needs to be specially targeted. It is this area that I think the papers are especially failing.

Another post that I found especially interesting was Are television networks feeling the digital effects?. I had been wondering what impact the new free-to-air run digital channels had been having on their parents. Cannibalisation seems to be part of the answer. I suspect that there is a nasty side-effect here from a regional perspective. The more audiences are fragmented, the lower the commercial returns from regionalisation.

Well, I am out of time. More later.   

Friday, March 26, 2010

Death of Patricia Wrightson

A grateful Hat tip to North Coast Voices on this one.

I did not know until I read Vale Patricia Wrightson that New England writer Patricia Wrightson had died.

Oddly, I was talking about her last week with Professor John Ryan as we walked together through the Armidale autumn sun. This must have been about or soon after the time she died. John was telling me stories about her and her work, and wanted to show me some material on her in the Dixon Library.

I hope that there will be some good obituaries. I have far outrun my capacity to properly record the passing of time and the deaths that result.     

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mining Hunter Valley main environment concern

I have mentioned the environmental wars raging across New England a number of times. Now I see that concerns about mining rank as the number one environmental concern in the Hunter Valley. Hat tip to hunternewsfeed on twitter for the lead.

Driving down from Armidale through the country around Gloucester I couldn't help notice the anti-mining signs there too. And then we have the battles on the same issue presently raging on the Liverpool Plains.

Coal mining royalties from New England are presently the Sydney Government's only real revenue growth stream. I might be more sympathetic to the coal miners if more of this money remained in New England to fund development. All it really does at the moment is fund Sydney overhead. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Belshaw's World - history, Byzantium and the modern world

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  17 March 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

On Friday I am giving a paper in the University’s Classics and History seminar series.

My title is ‘Unrecognised and Now Almost Unknown: Explorations through the History of the Broader New England’. The seminar will start 9.15 am in A3 in the Arts Building.

Morning tea will be served afterwards, and everybody is welcome to attend.

I have long been a fan of Harry Turtledove's Videssos books. They tell the story of Videdoss, the city and empire, centred on imperial politics and battles with neighbouring states.

He creates a very effective world in those books.

I knew that he had based the books on the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, reflecting his studies there. I had no idea just how much he had done so until I read Warren Treadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society.

This is a remarkably good book. However, in reading I was struck at just how closely Mr Turtledove did base his Videssos books on Byzantium. I would now recommend that someone who is interested in Byzantium read the Videssos series first.

In 285 Emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into two, east and west. He did so for governance reasons. Over time, the western half declined. The Eastern Roman Empire survived until 1453, still thinking of itself as Roman.

The exact date marking the formal start of the Roman Empire is almost definitional, it evolved, but 23 BC can be taken as a start because of the constitutional changes in that year. However, it is also important to remember that the Roman republic began some 500 years before this date.

These are huge time spans.

From the foundation of Rome until the end of the eastern empire we have some 1,900 years. Australia has been in existence for 220 years. All recent financial turmoil is just a blink in historical terms.

I provide this history for two reasons.

The first is that the changes that took place over those nineteen centuries were enormous.

From the viewpoint of the ordinary citizen, the person whose thinking was measured in perhaps four generations, the changes that they experienced were often just as great as those we are experiencing today. They had to adjust just as we do. I think it helpful to remember this. We are not unique.

The second is a more complicated point.

I can and do argue that history is important. In doing so, I mount a variety of arguments. Yet the reality is that I just enjoy it. Too me, history is fun. However, in trying to understand history I also struggle to break through to that past world. What was it really like?

At one point Warren Treadgold discusses the decline in Byzantium intellectual activity during a particular period. He suggested, to use my words, that citation had taken the place of scholarship, that scholarship had taken the place of writing. I sometimes think that this is where we are today.

The best history, the best of any discipline, comes from applied imagination. Too few people ask what it was really like, too many are simply prepared to argue present cases and attitudes.

The world of Rome and Byzantium may seem a long way from modern Australia. Yet this ancient past is still remarkably close.

A bit under eighty years ago, my old school presented a classic Greek play in ancient Greek to a Sydney audience. Later, Latin was still a compulsory subject when I started at that school for those in the more academic stream.

More importantly, the history of Byzantium is still present in current politics.

The recent 131 to 130 vote in the Swedish Parliament stating that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against Armenians and other minorities in 1915 is an example. This decision has pleased Armenians and outraged Turkey.

The questions of what happened and whether it was in fact genocide, indeed what is genocide, are beyond the scope of this column.

What we can say is that the complicated events that played out across the Balkans and Asia Minor during the First World War and the immediate post war period were directly linked to Byzantine history and that of the successor Ottoman Empire.

All the various parties involved used their own versions of history to support their causes. The end result was tragedy for millions across many ethnic groups.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Loss of the past

Just finished Literature, locale and license on my personal blog reporting on one aspect of my Armidale trip. I will later bring up a full trip report here. For the moment I just wanted to make a few brief comments.

I came back from Armidale with three new books plus a thesis on Aboriginal languages. I also came back quite enthused, if with a greater understanding of the difficulty of the task I have set myself in trying to preserve and present the New England past.

Literature, locale and license looks at one aspect of this, writing. I was so impressed by John's work that I enthused to my daughters. This actually brought me up short, because the names that I was mentioning like Rolf Boldrewood, Dymphna Cusack or Darcy Niland rang no bells. These are not minor Australian writers. We are dealing with not just a loss of New England memory, but with a broader Australian loss.

My girls aren't dumb. They have done okay at school and at university. They are both intelligent and, by Australian standards at least, well educated young women. It's just that in a crowded modern world, they know new things. Other things have dropped off.

In Armidale, I called into two bookshops looking for local or regional material. There was almost none. Yet the Armidale bookshops used to have sections for local material. One bookshop owner commented that material was simply out of print.

This problem is not unique to Armidale. A few years ago in Newcastle, I prowled around looking for local historical material. I could find just one book.

It's not all bad, of course. In Armidale I called in to see Bill Oats at the Archives and Heritage Centre. This is a wonderful facility. Bill kept bringing me new material: I need months there just to touch the surface. Yet it remains true that New England's past is simply not accessible to New England people.

One thing, mind you, that really pleased me in talking to Bill is that the folks from State Archives really liked the companion pieces that I wrote in response to Bill's pieces on Archives Outside. I liked Bill's pieces because they made the past available in another small way. The Archives' people liked my responses because they saw it as part of web 2.0; I was responding to their site. I really think that Archives Outside is a great site, so expect more from me on it.

Walking across to the Archaeology Department with Wendy Beck, I confirmed that no general New England prehistory had been published since Isabel McBryde's 1974 book. This made me quite sad, because it is part of the overall pattern, the loss of our past.

The effects in Australian prehistory are, to my mind, quite pernicious. There is now very little general prehistory. Most digs are commissioned digs, carried out as part of heritage studies of one type or another. By their nature, these digs are less structured, while their results are less available. They are also concentrated in particular areas such as the Sydney basin where development is taking place.

I don't see a solution. I guess that we just have to do what we can individually to strike a balance.                  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Belshaw's World - when Latin is double Dutch

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  10 March 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

Both my girls are now back from their first South East Asian trip, and their father is very glad to have them home!

I was the same age that Clare is now, twenty, when brother David and I went on our first trip to Asia. At Christmas, Bing (short for binghi, the old TAS term for brother) gave me a CD full of scanned and restored slides taken by our father and David from that trip. Talk about nostalgia!

The world that David and I saw was very different. The Vietnam War was raging, Bangkok was full of US servicemen on R&R, Cambodia had yet to experience the tragedy of Pol Pot’s killing fields.

As part of the trip, we drove from Bangkok to Seam Reap in Cambodia to visit the temples at Angkor Wat.

We were advised not to go by one of the CIA people in Bangkok because of intelligence reports that the Khmer Serei were about to launch an attack on Seam Reap. We went anyway, in cars with UN plates and with UN flags flying and had a peaceful trip.

The UN connection came about because Dad was working for the UN while on sabbatical. This plus the Armidale connection helped make the whole Asian trip special.

The Armidale connection really was important in easing our way at a time when links between Australia and Asia were less developed than today.

In Singapore, we stayed for a week with an Indian university lecturer and his wife while we toured the city. In Taiping, we stayed for a week with Peng Ng and his family. Peng had been a tutor in economics at UNE. In Chang Mai, we spent a week with Ted Chapman from UNE’s Geography Department who was in charge of the rural development programs around the city. On the night after our arrival in Chang Mai, thirteen Armidale people sat down to dinner!

UNE still has strong Asian links. However, it is not clear to me that modern Armidale remembers just how intense that past overseas, and especially Asian, connection was. Armidale really was at the cutting edge of the changes that were taking place in the broader Australian community.

The 1950 launch of the Colombo Plan brought large numbers of overseas students to Australia. By the time I started at UNE, around one in ten of full time students came from overseas.

The White Australia policy was still strongly enforced at the time and was generally supported in the community, including the Armidale district. Further, the new overseas students came from cultural backgrounds that were very different. There was a degree of incomprehension on both sides.

As an Armidale person, I was and remain very proud of the way the local community handled this. You see, we treated the new arrivals as guests in our community, trying to make them welcome. Of course there were confusions and misunderstandings, but the end result was the creation of powerful links that continue to this day.

My girls did not need to draw on these links in their Asian trip. The routes and support structures for the modern Australian young are well established. Yet I also don’t think that they got quite the depth of exposure that David and I got all those years before.

Now that the girls are back and university has resumed, I face a new challenge.

Youngest is doing Latin this semester as part of her ancient history course. Latin!

I did three years Latin at school. Despite the assorted efforts of Messrs Mattingley, Rupp and Kitley, I failed every exam after the first one.

To make matters worse, I also did Elementary Latin as an extra at UNE because a friend, Brian Harrison, was doing it and it seemed that it might be fun. It was fun, but my results were no better!

Yesterday, Clare came to me for help on her first translation. I was unable to do so.

I do fear that my past is catching up with me. I see a personal crash revision course on Latin looming.

Don’t be surprised if Latin suddenly appears as an on-going topis in this column. I do like to share the pain!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

History of the New England media

Gordon carried a post, David Drummond to open Radio 2AD, on his Old New England blog about the opening of radio station 2AD in Armidale.

The story of the rise and fall of the independent New England media forms an important theme in New England history. It also links to a challenge I posed a few months ago to Christian Knight as editor of the Armidale Express. Was it still possible in a world of media chains for local media to adopt the type of campaigning role for local and regional interests that they once did? Christian said yes, but I remain to be convinced.  

As it happened, a long time (1982) I wrote a piece on David Drummond and the New England media using the board papers of a variety of local companies. It was handwritten, an input into something else, but a copy survived in the UNE archives. Now archivist Bill Oates is copying it for me so that I can use it again.

I also learn from Bill that Don Thomas from 2AD is working on the history of the radio station.

I do love this internet world. Forget the big picture stuff. At a time when so much has moved away from the local or regional, it gives us a weapon to fight back.       

Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome to visitor 30,000

Well, visitor 30,000 finally arrived. I have been waiting, for 30,000 seems such a big number. For those who have noticed that I have two counters with different numbers, sitemeter includes my own visits.


Visitor 30,000 came from Epping in Victoria and actually visited this blog via New England's History and was interested in the Anaiwan or Nganyaywana Aboriginal peoples who occupied the southern and central areas of the New England Tablelands.

The first post on the blog was 8 April 2006. Since then, I have written 591 posts, some small, some not so. I haven't attempted to calculate the number of words. Certainly a lot!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Story of the Hotel Dorrigo

In November, I talked in one of my Express columns, Newcastle, Niagara and the Greeks in Australia, about the Greek influence in New England. This lead John Hamel to send me material on Greek cafes in Armidale that I then used in another column, Belshaw's World - Armidale’s Greek community. Paul Barratt followed up with a related post, Kytherans in Armidale.

Now one of Gordon Smith's photos has provided another link in the chain.   Hotel Dorrigo 1927

Gordon Smith has had his camera out in Dorrigo. One post, Dorrigo: Hotel Dorrigo provides a photo of the Hotel Dorrigo today.

I remember this hotel well because it is a pretty imposing building that we used to drive past all the time on our way to or from the coast. Gordon wondered whether there was an earlier photo of the hotel for comparative purposes. In a comment, Kazza kindly provided a link.

The photo shows the Hotel Dorrigo in 1927, two years after its construction by Michael Feros. This was a seriously big hotel for such a small town, and was hailed at the time it opened as the most modern hotel between Sydney and Brisbane.

The Hotel's web site has a remarkably interesting history of the hotel, providing a snap shot into a past world. It includes a short bio of Mr Ferris himself.

There are just so many sub-texts in the Hotel's story that it is worth several posts. For the moment, I just wanted to make the hotel's story available.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why history is important to tourism

In Has Maitland forgotten its past? I wondered about Maitland's knowledge of its own history. I also suggested that Grafton suffered from the same problem. In both cases, local historians and historical societies might attack me, pointing to the work done. Yet I stand by my point in the context of local tourism. 

I accept that I am a bit of a history nut. Yet my experience has been that most tourists like a historical context, some are directly attracted by history. The reason for this is that tourism is not just attractions and events, but more an experience. The more things that add to that experience the better.

The local tourism marketplace is very competitive. Countries compete with countries, states with states, regions with regions, towns or localities with each other. Sometimes this competition adds to visitor numbers and spend. At other times, it diverts both from one place to another.

In NSW there is a particular problem in that overall tourism promotion is poor. There are very particular reasons for this linked to the size and diversity of NSW. I pointed to some of the underlying reasons for this in The fragmentation of NSW. How do you promote something that lacks a definable identity beyond the simple fact of existence?

In Victoria with its smaller territory and greater cohesion, the State Government has adopted a jigsaw approach. NSW is too big and complicated to do this easily. Instead, the Sydney Government has adopted a two brand approach, Brand Sydney and Brand NSW.  

Back in October 2007 in Why I remain New England New Stater 6 - conflicts in NSW tourism branding, I reported on problems that were being experiencing by the NSW Government in managing these two tourism brands, Brand Sydney and Brand NSW. In August 2008 in"Brand Sydney" relaunched - again!, I reported that the Government would relaunch Brand Sydney to overcome failures. Then, a few days ago, I was struck by a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that said in part:  

The status of the delayed Brand Sydney project also remains in limbo and the government has been unable to clarify when it will be finalised.

So in March 2010, the 2008 relaunch of Brand Sydney appears to remain in stasis.

This is not a criticism of the current NSW Government as such. The opposition would face similar structural problems.

The practical effect is that localities, towns and regions within NSW have to rely on their own tourism promotion efforts. State activity may reinforce, it cannot substitute for.

In the brief comments that follow, I am going to leave aside the question of a New England or Northern NSW brand because while I think this to be important, I also think that it will distract. Instead, I am going to focus just on the Hunter. 

There is, I think, a commonly accepted view that adjoining centres such as a Newcastle, a Maitland or a Cessnock are in competition with each other. I think that this is true at only the most superficial level. In simple terms, the stronger the overall Hunter brand and individual town or city brands, the greater the total number of visitors and the higher the individual spend.

To understand this, we need to look at where visitors come from. Here we can break the market into at least five parts:

  • The first is the local marketplace, people travelling within the region. This one is often ignored, yet people within a two hour car drive form a discrete market for attractions, activities and events. This one has to be individually promoted.
  • The second are the weekenders, those generally within a four hour drive. This brings in the big Sydney market, one that the Hunter is already tackling. Here the best results are obtained through a combination of individual and coordinated promotion.
  • The third is the through market, those travelling through on their way to somewhere else. Here the aim is to get them to stop or, if they are stopping, to spend more time money. This one is a bit of a zero sum market, stop in one place and you spend less time in another, yet it is also the market that a lot of centres concentrate on. The zero-sum exception is the traveller market, whether back-packer or gray nomad. 
  • The fourth is the other purposes market, those coming to a point for family, personal or business reasons. The conventions or meeting segment is a special class, for here the focus is getting people there in the first place; you have to sell the location first. Otherwise, the focus is on what people do when they get there.
  • The fifth is the national/international market, getting people to come from a distance to stay. Here you need a very specific sales edge.

I accept that this market subdivision is incomplete and imperfect. However, my core point is that the use of history as a marketing tool needs to be linked to the relevant tourism marketplace and to the place's position in that marketplace. At the very least, history can be used to deepen the visitor experience. In other cases, history can actually be used to draw visitors or to persuade them to stop or to stay for a longer period.     

Friday, March 12, 2010

Conundrums with New England real estate

A twit from hunternewsfeed brought me to this NBN story: properties being snapped up in Newcastle. Now this one didn't come as a real surprise. However, this was in fact just one of just one of a number of stories over the last six months or so that has been interesting me.

Almost twelve months ago, I was sitting on a bus in Sydney chatting to a woman who I saw from time to time on that bus. She had just bought a house in Gulargambone, not a normal choice for a Sydneysider. However, she could afford it, had been to the town, and thought that it might be nice to live there in the longer term. I asked if she was going to rent in the meantime. She said no, she could afford rates and upkeep. She then said something that surprised me, that since she bought all the lower price houses that had been on the market in the smaller western towns she had been looking at had been snapped up.

Reading the newspapers especially across inland New England I noticed how the increased first home buyers grant had led to a sharp increase in house prices at the lower end of the market. The effect here was more pronounced than in Sydney because house prices were so much lower, making the increased grant a much higher percentage of the sale price. As a consequence, stock literally vanished for a period at the lower price end.

Since then, overall real estate prices seem to have continued to move up, although I have not done an investigation of the detailed pattern.  In Armidale, for example, a weatherboard cottage in East Armidale, one of the lower price areas, sold for a record $320,000 a few weeks ago, while there is a shortage of rental accommodation in both Armidale and Tamworth.

One of the big problems in inland New England, one that can impede development, is the limited availability of serviced land and of rental accommodation. Normally this is okay, but it doesn't take much of a kick-up in development before pressures appear. Guyra experienced this recently with the growth of the tomato industry. Joint action by the council and state government was required to fund an immediate start to the development of new serviced land.

Guyra also shows the other side of the equation. With the earlier closure of the abattoir and the economic decline of the town, house prices declined, vacancies increased. There was no economic incentive to develop or build. Mind you, those who were prepared to buy at that point really did make some big longer term capital gains.

Just at present, the Government in Sydney is looking at new proposals to forcibly free up land in Sydney to accommodate the projected population increase there. I am not sure that anybody outside Sydney, or in it for that matter, really wants to see the city grow to six million people in the medium term. The Government really would be better off looking more seriously at options elsewhere.

Not every community community in New England wants development and especially along the coast. However, many inland communities would benefit from greater population. The difficulty with planning based on as is projections is that, to some degree, they become self-fulfilling prophecies because of the nature of consequent investment. They actually discourage investment elsewhere.

If we assume, as I think is in fact the case, that the dynamics are shifting in favour of the inland, then there is a case for consciously planning to accommodate greater populations across the spectrum of Government services. Of itself, that is likely to encourage growth.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Belshaw's World - fire sparks golden childhood memories

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  3 March 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

At what age does nostalgia start setting in? There doesn’t seem to be a fixed date, but it has to be sufficiently far in the past for time to dull the bad bits, leaving the fun parts standing out.

I mention this because there seems to have been a fair bit around in the last week or so.

Indian blogging colleague Ramana had a post recalling the wild days of his youth as part of a bunch of wild Hyderabadi young men with plenty of hard earned money in their pockets and a passion for motor cycle racing. Then, New England blogger Le Loup had a post on primitive camping.

I always enjoy LL’s blog because he carries me into the arcane world of living history. I am not sure that I want to reproduce the frontier life style whether Australian or North American, but its quite fun to read about!

LL’s post started a dinner party conversation the other night about fires. Our hosts had recently returned to Australia after thirty years in Hong Kong. Andy grew up in Canberra in the days before the Lake, and recalled the huge bonfires they used to light on cracker night.

When we first moved into the house in Marsh Street, it had three wood fires; the fuel stove in the kitchen, plus open fires in the lounge and dining room. Down the road in Mann Street, my grandparents used gas for cooking, but also had two large open fireplaces in the lounge and dining room.

Marsh Street was a weatherboard cottage, uninsulated and somewhat exposed to Armidale’s cold westerlies. The wind used to rattle my bedroom window, with ever present drafts.

Mann Street was a much larger house in a more sheltered position. Still, it too could get very cold.

Winter life revolved around the fires. Some of my clearest memories as a child involve those fires: the lighting of, toasting bread over them, just lying in front on the rug.

Later, when my parents could afford it, Marsh Street was renovated. The lounge and dining room were combined, with the open wood fires replaced by oil heating: once plentiful wood had become more expensive, while oil was cheap.

Things change.

Oil prices rocketed as a consequence of the oil prices shocks of the 1970s. Not only was oil more expensive, but oil fires were now seen as environmentally unsound at a time when resources, and especially oil, were finite and projected to run out.

Over the next decade, oil fires across Armidale were removed and replaced by the now relatively cheaper and more environmentally friendly wood fire. With a much larger city, winter smoke pollution was one outcome.

I grew up with fire.

It wasn’t just the fires in the house, it was also the burning of rubbish in the back yard and the building of our own fires to play with.

The chook yard lay at the end of the garden.

After my parents decided that keeping chooks was no longer worth the effort, this became a playground.

There were two self-sown gums plus a self-sown pepper tree. We loved that pepper tree because of its smell and shade and always built our camp fires nearby. There we made tea, bad soups and cooked potatoes in the ashes.

We also got burnt from time to time, subsequently sitting in the kitchen with hands stuck in cold tea.

This wasn’t the end of exposure to fires.

Apart from burning off the grass at Glenroy, scouts involved lots of fires.

Fires at lunchtime at the Pine Forest, or other sites, with a chop stuck on a stick. Then more sophisticated fires and cooking on hikes in the country around Armidale.

How to light a fire with one match and no paper when the tinder was wet. Building a fire so that it would light quickly. Camping by a river and knowing which rocks to use for the fireplace: river rocks can explode with heat.

This obsession with fire has continued to the present day. Even after I came to Sydney, I taught the girls how to build a fire in the backyard and then sat there toasting marshmallows.


Finishing with two links.

If you want to find out about Ramana’s motor bike exploits -

For more on primitive camping -

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Has Maitland forgotten its past?

The Newcastle Herald reported on a push to increase train services between Maitland and Singleton. I must say that I thought that this was a very good idea for both places. However, enmeshed as I am at the moment in New England's history, it made me cast my mind back to the time when Maitland was the North's big town. Its newspaper, the Maitland Mercury, was founded in 1843 and is the the second oldest surviving newspaper in NSW.

I wonder how many Maitland people actually know about this part of their city's history? I ask this only because the Maitland tourism web site appears to have almost nothing on Maitland's history, although it does tell us that Maitland is a funky city!

Mind you, Maitland is not alone. Visiting Grafton a year back, I could find almost nothing on that city's history as a major river port. Why did I pick Grafton? Well, at one point in New England's history, Maitland in conjunction with nearby Morpeth and Grafton were rivals for the growing Northern trade. Newcastle's rise came later.  

Monday, March 08, 2010

Old news from Armidale and New England

My long standing blogging colleague Gordon Smith has added a new blog to join his photo blog lookANDsee and personal blog The MacAlba.

The new blog, Old news from Armidale and New England, provides daily random snippets from newspapers of the past, drawing from the National Library of Australia's Historic Australian Newspapers, 1803 to 1954. Here he is in fact following Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite who used the same source for irregular historical posts.

I am really enjoying Gordon's new blog. Obviously the fact that I know the area helps, but I think that most people will enjoy both the randomness and what the entries say about past life.

I was also pleased that Gordon included on lookANDsee a photo and story, Bellingen: Hospital, on the campaign to save services at the hospital. 

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Journeys through New England's history

I said that I was going off-line for a week and indeed have been, apart from posting my Express column on Wednesday. While off-line, I have been trying to complete a first draft of the seminar paper on New England history that I am giving at the university in Armidale on 19 March. This has taken longer than planned, but I now have the bulk of the first draft completed, leaving polishing and refinement.

While I am still working on the paper, it will be very much a personal paper, linking my own life, the people I have known, the work I have done, to my own journey through the history of the broader New England. In so doing, I hope to give a taste not just of themes, but of people and events. The underlying theme is the reason why I decided to write a history of the broader New England. 

The paper starts with an introduction, then moves to Armidale and the University of the 1960s, introducing history and especially the pioneering work of Isabel McBryde in Australian prehistory. I use this as an introduction to two main themes, each with sub-texts.

The first is the emergence of a unique university culture melding the ideals of the founders with the views of the academics who brought to Armidale their own visions of a university. Isabel’s focus on the need for a regional approach to Australian prehistory fitted with this. The result over 18 years was a very large pioneering research output from she and her students that not only added to regional knowledge, but also made a major contribution to Australian prehistory in general. The second theme is geography. I start with Isabel’s definition of the area to be studied, then look at other definitions of New England, before using the distribution of Aboriginal language groups at the time of European settlement to demonstrate the importance of geography and the associated need to adopt broad coverage.

I then return to my own history, my work in Canberra and my re-introduction to New England history following the decision by John Knight (ex Armidale, then Billie Snedden’s senior private secretary, later ACT senator) and I to write a joint bio of my grandfather. John's election to the Senate and later untimely death stopped us proceeding. I decided to continue, coming to the topic from a very different perspective after a period as an economist and a senior public servant. I talk about the way my own views had changed, my re-discovery of my own past, using this as a way to introduce some more of the themes in the European history of New England.        

I have also firmed up arrangements to deliver a paper to the Armidale and District Historical Society in July on New England's Aboriginal languages. I understand that the paper will be published in the 2010 edition of the journal.

This paper is already about 70% complete and is broken into five parts.

The first part sets a context, looking at Australian Aboriginal languages in a broader sense. New England examples are used to illustrate broader points. This is followed by an overview discussion of the languages’ decline, linking this to history on one side, factors in language survival on the other. Here I attempt to show the linkages between social and cultural dislocation and language decline.

I then review those who recorded New England’s languages in one way or another. This interesting and polyglot lot includes explorers, settlers, missionaries and amateur ethnologists. Later came professional linguists and then, today, local Aborigines themselves trying to discover their linguistic past. The pattern of recording itself provides further insights into the history of New England’s languages in the post-colonial period.

With this background, the paper then reviews the actual physical distribution of the languages, along with some of their key features. This is quite a complex exercise. Language boundaries were linked to watersheds, but the relationship was not precise. In many cases we simply cannot be sure.

The paper concludes with a discussion of the modern language Revival Movement. Extinct and now dormant languages are once again taught. Yet despite the successes, the Movement itself is arguably locked into past mind-sets that may limit its success.

All this means that my time to post here will continue to be very limited for the next week or so, although I will be posting on a regular basis. It also means that you are likely to get both here and on New England's History a fair number of posts with a personal and historical flavour while I am working issues through.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Belshaw's World - a few very Sydney things

Note to readers: While I am taking a short posting break, I do want to maintain posting my column on the due date. This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  24 February 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

Whatever my sometimes complaints about Sydney, there can be no doubt that this is a city of enormous beauty and variety, as well as sometimes ghastly ugliness.

Thursday last week we went to the St George Open Air Cinema at Mrs Macquarie’s Point. An annual event, the site sits on the edge of the water looking over the harbour to the city and bridge.

The gates open at 6.15, with the film starting at 8.30. Between these times, people eat and drink on the site or picnic nearby in the Botanic Gardens. As night falls, the screen is raised and the film begins.

Then, on Sunday, we went to a birthday lunch at the Boy Charlton Pool on the other side of Mrs Macquarie’s Point overlooking Garden Island and Pott’s Point. Not as visually stunning as the first view, but still very attractive.

I have known Sydney well and for a very long time, probably better than many who have lived in the city their whole lives.

Sydney is a very fragmented city, a sprawling patchwork quilt increasingly divided by geography, ethnicity and culture into individual domains that rarely meet even when together.

I love this diversity.

We used to live at Rosebery. For those who don’t know Sydney, Rosebery is just 6.4k south of the city centre, about ten minutes by road.

This was a small industrial suburb whose residents were primarily Greek migrants who entered the country in the first wave of post war migration. The house we lived in had older Greek couples on three sides, while one of the Aristocrat poke machine factories was just across the road.

Rosebery was in fact poker machine central when we moved in, with three major Aristocrat plants in a few blocks. Two other smaller poker machine suppliers had offices nearby.

Aristocrat’s location was quite convenient from my viewpoint, since at one point I was providing Front Line Management Certificate IV and Diploma level training to staff from Aristocrat’s R&D Division. I could just walk down the road.

Rosebery was also on the edge of shopping central, the collection of factory outlets that stretch down Botany Road and some adjoining streets. Sass & Bide’s head office itself was just down our street, with huge queues of girls stretching along the block each time there was a sale.

This location, from my daughter’s perspective, was a very good thing!

At weekends, the streets were sometimes clogged with buses bringing women from Sydney’s outer suburbs on day trips to sample the various factory outlets. I hadn’t seen this type of shopping tourism before, and found it quite fascinating to watch.

Over the nine years we lived in Rosebery, we watched the suburb change.

To the north, the wave of inner city gentrification and associated medium density development marched steadily out from the city. By the time we left, this wave had penetrated to a few blocks from our street.

Aristocrat closed its plants, moving to North Ryde, while the big RTA facility in nearby Rothschild Avenue closed.

House prices doubled as Sydneysiders discovered Rosebery’s convenience, passing a million dollars for a small three bedroom house. Rents increased by more than 50 per cent.

Eastlakes lies next to Rosebery to the south west, a ten minute walk from our old house. Now we enter a different world, for this must be one of the most ethnically diverse spots in the country.

The Eastlakes shopping centre is Chinese owned and comes complete with Chinese shops and script. There is a small Buddhist temple at the rear entrance.

In the park nearby, young Muslim men from the nearby public housing flats sporting mullet hair styles congregate in the park. There is much inspection of cars and engines.

On the benches inside the shopping centre and in the cafes at the front, older Greek men sit and talk, passing the time of day.

Inside the centre, the checkout operators at the Woolworth’s supermarket come from a dozen nationalities. Girls in headscarves operate check-outs next to Chinese or Indian staff.

An older Greek staff member chats in Greek to the aging Greek customers. A young Indian man tells me about his study plans.

Multiple worlds, all in one city in close proximity. Herein lies part of Sydney’s fascination.