Thursday, June 30, 2011

Introducing failures in NSW tourism branding

My heart sinks, sometimes! The latest sinking feeling came from news reports that three inland NSW tourism bodies including New England North West were to merge to form a single inland NSW tourism body. Mind you, the idea may have already sunk since one of the three bodies - central west - has apparently already voted against the idea.

Why did my heart sink? Well, in tourism terms there is no such thing as inland NSW, nor can there be because of distance and variety. It's just not brandable in any real sense. Worse, promotion of this as brand just increases the brand fragmentation that already plagues NSW tourism.

I have written a fair bit on these issues. Tomorrow I will pull some of that writing together in a consolidated exploration of the failures of NSW tourism branding, with a special focus on New England.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Belshaw's World - Rugby League, Dem and more nostalgia

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 22 June 2011. 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, here for 2011.

At the end of my last column I said that I would continue the story of my return to Armidale for the Armidale Dem (Armidale City Public) School 150 year celebration in my next column. I was out of words! 

At the end of the first official assembly and our visit to the school library to look at all the memorabilia, we were all cold and hungry so decided to find somewhere warm for lunch. It was almost two, so it depended on what was open. 

We ended up at Impies. This was open, warm and the food was good, so good that we made it our headquarters from that point. There were a number of Dem groups present, so we added to the throng, settling round the table and yarning while we waited for our food. 

Phil Emery reminded of the time we played together for the Methodist Order of Knights Rugby League team down at Narrabri. I had been at TAS too long, Phil suggested. I had forgotten how to play League! 

He was right, of course. However, it reminded me that my football career began playing League for Dem. Coincidentally, my career also finished with a League match, playing for the ANU (Australian National University) in the Molonglo Shield, the ACT first grade Rugby League competition. 

I remember my last game quite vividly. I was playing on the wing for the students against HMAS Harman. 

The Navy boys had two advantages over ANU. First, they were quite fit. More importantly, they knew how to play the game! 

I quickly realised that there was no point in marking my fellow winger because Harman kept scoring long before the ball reached him. I ended up marking the entire Harman back line, forlornly chasing the line across the field hoping that I could bluff them to pass so that I might at least get a tackle in. 

Sometimes I was successful, more often not. I think that the final score was something over 100 to nil!

I may seem to have digressed, but there is a point. 

Most school reunions focus on the class or school. This one was a little different, much broader. 

Even today, Armidale is not a big city. However, it was less than half its present size when I was at Dem. This means, as with Phil and the Okay League team, those attending lap and overlap. This was not just a school function but a city reunion, and that makes for a very special feel. 

The organising committee had arranged for an informal get together at the Armidale City Bowling Club on the Friday night. That gathering was again fun. 

There were the Voisey girls telling me that the Deerfoot the Indian books that their father had lent me were now with his great grand children. 

Doctors Belshaw and Voisey, they became professors later, were friends who campaigned together for regional development. Prof Voisey helped brother David build his first crystal radio. 

There were names from the past – Basset and Madgwick, as well as many others. Talking to Andrew Blackie and Gayle Davies, you have three kids whose parents were all in the economics department. Andrew was in Armidale for just two years, but ended up marrying a local girl. 

At the end of the session we again adjourned to Impies, joined by a group of parents whose children had gone much later to Armidale City Public. That was fun, providing an insight into the later Armidale period. 

Saturday was the procession. It was bright but very cold. We stood outside the court house with waves of photo taking, and then followed the kids back to the school with bands in front and behind. The last time I was actually in an Armidale procession was back in the 1960s for Prosh.  

The following official assembly was very well done, and from there we went to another round of gatherings. 

I seem to have run out of words again with more still to say. Perhaps I should finish by just saying that it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Go south young man - to Lake Macquarie!

I have often complained about the application of mechanistic rules in public policy. I have also complained about the absence of effective regional development policies.

The decision by the new Sydney Government to pay $7,000 to assist up to 40,000 families to relocate to regional areas is a move that I support. However, if a story is the Newcastle Herald is to be believed, the plan has some very odd elements based upon mechanistic rules.

The core need is to shift families from Sydney. The Government has added in Newcastle and Wollongong to this list. This has created some bizarre results.

Both Wollongong and Newcastle are growing more slowly than Sydney, below the state average. This led the recent Grattan Report (here and here) to explicitly identify Newcastle as a slow growth area deserving of reduced resources.

Now we have the situation where people are to be paid to relocate from Newcastle not to Armidale or Tamworth but to Lake Macquarie just to the south, one of the fastest growing areas in the current state of NSW.

This is not a shot at Lake Macquarie, another part of southern New England, just a comment on the apparent idiocy of the criteria. Why not limit eligible applicants just to Sydney?

There is a broader issue that I will come back to in a later post. This is just another example of the way in which Sydney policies fragment New England.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Hunter Valley ads released

My thanks to Craig Wilson from Media Hunter for this one.

It appears that new print ads for the Hunter Valley have been released. One of the ads follows. What do you think? Too like Melbourne?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Belshaw's World - the Dem school: memory of a living entity

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 15 June 2011. 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, here for 2011.


I visited Armidale last weekend for the Dem (Armidale City Public) School 150 year celebration. I had a fantastic time. 

I hadn’t known until the day before that I could go. I won’t bore you with the details, but I had some problems that required me in Sydney. Finally, my wife said, just go! You will be sorry if you don’t. She was right. 

I worked out that if I left Sydney about 4am I could get to Armidale in time for the first event. From that point everything was a rush. This proved to be a problem later, for in getting away in the early morning I managed to leave the coat hanger with all my shirts behind. This condemned me to wear the one shirt the whole time! 

As I drove north through the darkness, I wondered what I might find. 

Last year Bruce Hoy, a Dem class mate, sent me a photo of our year five class. When I posted this to one of my blogs, a number of former Dem people contacted me, so I knew that at least some were going.  Still, I wondered how we might all fit in. 

You see, to current staff, students and parents, Armidale City Public School is a living entity. It is their school that is celebrating its birthday. 

To the thousands of ex-students now living outside Armidale, more than twenty for every past or present student now living in Armidale, it is still our school, but it’s also a school frozen in our memories of the past. 

In the early morning I stopped at Barrington for coffee. There I reflected and jotted down some notes for later use. 

Armidale Dem was a remarkable place. 

As pupils, we were lucky that it was a demonstration school, for this affected the school in a variety of ways. The school got very good teachers to assist the thousands of teacher trainees who attended prac classes. We also had a full school library when this was still unusual. 

All this means that the Dem community is not just past and present pupils, not just past and present teachers, but also the thousands who trained there. This makes for a very large school community. 

I arrived in Armidale about fifteen minutes before the assembly that marked the start of the festivities. Parking the car, I found my way through the school building to the assembly hall. 

Any reservations that I might have had about coming vanished in seconds. The entrance to the hall was crowded. The world dissolved in a mixture of handshakes and kisses. 

That first assembly was very well organised. Yes, it focused on the current school as it should (and that was fun), but there was also a welcome feel for those of us coming back. It was still our school. 

At the end of the assembly we made our way to the school library where a special display had been mounted covering the school’s past. 

The large number of visitors crowded the library. Passage was made more difficult but also more fun because people kept meeting and exchanging comments in front of the photos. 

There was Bruce Hoy’s photo of the 1955 year five class. The half dozen or so of us from that class gathered in front and tried to name all the people. Then there was the photo of the 4 stone 7 pound winning Rugby League team including some in the group as well as brother David and Michael Halpin. 

Memories flooded back.  

I had forgotten that we had to form up in classes to march into school. The photo of the boys’ school gathered in assembly brought that back. Then there were the girls! 

In one of the funniest parts of the school assembly, Tony Windsor explained to the kids that they would make links that would last the rest of their lives. In his case, he said, the girl he sat beside in kindergarten became his wife. 

Like many country people, Tony tells a good yarn. The shock on the kids’ faces as they looked at each other was a wonder to behold! 

In my case, I looked at the photos of display dancing and thought that the sheilas – we still used that term then – were a very strange breed.  

We used to go into kindergarten in lines, boy-girl, holding hands. Then the girls left for that segregated place up the hill.  

Do you know, in all my time at Dem I never went into the girls’ school? I never saw the cedar staircase that Gayle Davies described to us and that was destroyed when the old school was demolished.  

Looking at the word count, I will continue this story in my next column.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nostalgia and all that

While my main internet connections are down, I have been sorting out papers and books that have essentially been in stasis sine we moved house a few months back. In doing so, I have been caught by multiple possible stories. I have also been swept by waves of nostalgia.

So far I have written two stories connected with the 150th year celebration of the Armidale Demonstration School (now Armidale City Public School) - Armidale Dem turns 150 , Do you want your reunion publicised?

I have also written two columns for the Armidale Express that will appear here over the next two weeks. My editor is pleased with both.

There is no doubt that nostalgia is a powerful thing. However, it is a little more than that.

In writing about the Dem reunion I have been trying to bring back a little of the feel of Armidale in the past.

If we broaden this, each part of New England has a different texture of life. Each is unique. I can't bring back all this, I can only select, recognising that the picture I present is partial.

I think that the distinctive thing about the Dem reunion is that it wasn't just a school reunion, but also a city reunion drawing together many who had gone around the world. The connections overlapped well beyond the school.

For most of us, to be a New Englander is to leave. In the absence of our own state, New England just doesn't have the jobs to hold us.

The numbers are actually staggering. For every past and present Dem student in Armidale, more than twenty live elsewhere.

Something like 1.4 million people now live in New England. I haven't calculated the number accurately, but the number of us living elsewhere is now well over 5 million if we included kids. The number could be higher than 10 million if we include grandchildren.

New England is like a Greek island, a place that bleeds its people.

The thing that stood out with the Dem reunion was the pleasure of those who made it back. Most could not return now. My own girls still think of New England as the place where they were born, but life has taken then away. They won't return. But the links remain.

In Armidale, I was asked a number of times how my history of New England was going. I had to answer that I was making slow progress,.

There was a very real interest in the book because it may tell a story to people about their own history, a history now ignored. I came back determined to make progress.

In the meantime, my blogs and column remain my weapons. I will continue to tell the story as best I can.      


Sunday, June 19, 2011

New links page

I am still struggling to make substantive posts because of my computer problems. My box is with the repairers to see if it can be fixed. In the meantime, I am working off borrowed equipment, mainly my wife's lap top. This is hardly satisfactory. She needs it too!

When the computer went down, I lost all my blog bookmarks. I have therefore created a new page, New England Australia blogs, recording New England blogs with a brief description. This turns disadvantage to advantage, since it makes them more easily accessible.

It will take me a little time to find them all again, so bear with me while I complete the page over the next week or so.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Belshaw's World - regional university analysis ‘pretty meaningless’

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 8 June 2011. 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, here for 2011.

In my last column I spoke of the Grattan Institute report into regional development in Australia. I was very critical and said that in this column I would look at their comments on regional universities.

Why is this important?

Well, Grattan recommended that Governments re-consider whether additional funding to regional universities was justified by social and cultural benefits given limited economic impact. Instead, the report proposed that the Government should consider providing additional support to regional students to attend capital city universities.

So how did the Grattan authors reach this conclusion?

The first plank in their methodology was to compare university cities with non-university cities that had roughly comparable populations. So Armidale was compared with Nowra-Bomaderry, Wollongong with the Sunshine Coast.

The Sunshine Coast actually has a university with over 8,000 full time student equivalents. However, it was counted as a non-university city on the grounds that the university was a relatively small proportion of the local economy.

Note that this comparison has very little to do with regional economic performance or contribution. We are talking cities, not regions. In Armidale’s case, the analysis was actually restricted just to the old city of Armidale.

Having defined cities as a comparative substitute for regions, just what data was used?

Some data was derived from the 2006 census – prime labour force, higher education level and the unemployment rate. Other data looked at changes between the 2002 and 2006 censuses – private sector and population growth. Then patents per 100,000 people was used as a proxy for innovation.
I cannot comment on the patents numbers because I don’t know how the number was derived.

Looking at the other numbers, they strike me as pretty meaningless.

The jobs lost in Armidale during the 1990s from changes to education led to actual population losses. The city has just begun to recover.

By contrast, Nowra-Bomaderry’s growth has been affected by the sea change phenomenon. You would expect both population and private sector growth to be faster.

In similar vein, the sun and sea change phenomenon makes the Sunshine Coast one of Queensland’s fastest growing areas. By contrast, while Wollongong is fast changing, it remains an industrial city.
I could go on to examine all the city pairs. I don’t think that I need to.

My point is that the analysis is pretty meaningless in a general sense, more so if it is to be used as a measure for economic contribution from regional universities.

The report also purports to challenge the idea that regional universities increase either the regional participation rate or the retention of university graduates in regional areas. Again we have city based comparisons.

I really struggled to understand the logic in the analysis.

The raw data actually does suggest a positive effect. Leaving that aside, the small area comparisons fatally affects the analysis. Again, I will take UNE as an example.

UNE is a national university (I have said before why I hate the word regional) with a majority of students now external coming from many places. If you want to measure local or regional effects on participation or retention, you have to net out most of the external students.

If you focus just on UNE’s local and regional students, then you have to factor in transport and time costs.

I don’t think that there can be any doubt that in the immediate area around Armidale – perhaps a sixty-mile radius – participation is higher. Once you move outside that area, then people have to live in residence at whatever university they study. This is one reason why country participation rates are lower than the city. Study costs are higher.

Beyond the sixty-mile radius from Armidale, UNE still has an effect on participation rates because of lower residential costs and, to a diminishing degree, lower transport costs. Parents with cash with cash will send their kids where those kids want to go. Not all parents are so lucky.

So far as retention is concerned, it remains a hard fact of life that most people studying at UNE have to go where the jobs are. However, there is now plenty of evidence, including my own work, to indicate that country education does help retain people in areas like medicine and law. You can’t pick this up in the gross statistics.

Finally, the absurdity of suggesting that country kids should be redirected to metro universities can be seen simply in the accommodation problems now being experienced by kids attending Sydney universities. Reasonable rental accommodation is no longer available despite the huge student accommodation building programs now underway.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Belshaw's World - blueprint is wearing no clothes

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 1 June 2011. 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, here for 2011.

I was saddened to hear of Maris Cash’s death. 

The Cashs arrived in Armidale in my last year at TAS. The relationship was then a more formal one – of school boy and headmaster and his wife. It was much later before I really go to know them as people. 

Mum used to say it’s getting thin around here dear. I know how she felt. It’s just a function of age, added to long connection to an area. 

The on-line edition of Monday’s Express carried a story by Peter Barrett reporting on the Evocities program. The headline ‘Bush image slows growth, says Treloar’ captures the message. 

As I have previously commented, the difficulty in putting aside the label ‘country’ in favour of ‘regional’ lies in the way regional itself has acquired the connotation of second rate.

In a discussion during the week on one of my blogs, one of my regular commenters suggested that the growing disconnect between the bush and city reflected the breakdown in family connections between the people living in metro areas and the rest of the country. 

I think that he is right. 

Once, many city people had immediate links or connections to country Australia. This is less and less true today. 

You only have to look at the migration numbers to understand why. Most new settlers come to the capital cities and stay there. The partners their children select generally come from that city or, sometimes, from the home country. 

At the last census, 40 per cent of Sydney’s population was born outside Australia. If you add their children, a substantial majority of the Sydney population belongs to that group least likely to have connections with non-metro Australia. 

This is not a comment on migration, simply an observation on social trends. 

Last week, we saw an example of the problems created by current perceptions and lack of knowledge in a new report issued by the Melbourne based think tank, The Grattan Institute. 

The report carried the innocuous title ‘Investing in regions: making a difference.’ The report itself was hardly innocuous, nor was the national media coverage it attracted. 

In essence, the report argued that government resources and support should be re-allocated from lagging to fast growing or bolting ‘regions’. I have put the word regions in inverted commas because the report’s focus is actually on cities, not regions. 

The report also suggested that additional resources provided to regional universities could not be justified on economic grounds and that more resources should be provided to assist regional students to attend capital city universities. 

In NSW, the ‘bolting’ regions worthy of more support were Western Sydney, Coffs Harbour and Tweed Heads. The slow growth or laggard regions included Newcastle, Wollongong, Tamworth, Bathurst, Orange, Albury-Wodonga and Port Macquarie. The regional universities included the University of New England and Charles Sturt. 

Not unexpectedly, the report was welcomed by my old work colleague Alison McClaren who is president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils. 

I am in the process of writing a detailed critique of the report for it’s a deeply flawed document. For the moment, I want to concentrate on some of the issues that I have previously explored in this column.

The report starts from the premise that present government policies are based on historical populations and ignore future trends. 

As I have shown a number of times, the opposite is in fact true. Most Government policies take into account population projections that actually limits resources going to slow growth areas, thus reinforcing the population projections. 

The report is confused and confusing in its use of terms. I have written about this too, for the geographic terminologies used in policy development fragment and confuse policies. Regional is a case in point.

The report’s authors appear to have little understanding of the history of regional policy in Australia, of the variations across the country, or of the nature of structural changes that have taken place across time and space. 

They are not alone. I wrote of this most recently in the context of the ABC’s Q&A program. Those who forget their past are easy victims to current fads.

Finally, the economic and demographic analysis used in the report is deeply flawed, so deeply that a simple cross-check on on-ground conditions would have cast doubt on the methodologies used. 

Had the report been issued as a discussion paper challenging some current nostrums, I would have welcomed it. However, its claim to be in some ways a definitive analysis, its likely use in current debate and its role in reinforcing current misconceptions all combine to make it a dangerously misleading document.  

In my next column I plan to examine in detail the report’s analysis on regional universities because this is so important to Armidale.

Do you want your reunion publicised?

Armidale Dem turns 150 marked the start of a series of posts on this reunion. It was just so much fun.

This photo shows a Dem group from our period, but also an Armidale High/TAS group. From left to right Phil Emery (High), Paul Barratt and myself (TAS), then Laurie Placing (High). I am carrying my writer's notebook that I now take everywhere! Further comments follow the photo.

One of the reasons why the Armidale Dem reunion was so good that a number of us came together through the miracle of blogging. Without this blog, many of the out-of-towners would not have been there.

Now this brings me to my point.

If you come from my New England, the Hunter to the boarder, and want your reunion promoted, I am happy to do so. It really does work. Just let me know.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Armidale Dem turns 150

This last weekend I drove to Armidale for the Armidale Demonstration (City Public) School 150 year celebration.

I had a fantastic time, one that I am featuring in this week and next week's Armidale Express column and will write about here as well.

The following photo was sent to me by the Armidale Express.
From left to right, yours truly (Dem 1950-1956), our friend Rob Richardson and fellow blogger Paul Barratt (Dem 1949-1955).
There is a certain symmetry in the photo. My dad was first lecturer to arrive at the newly formed New England University College, Paul's the first student to be enrolled at NEUC. Both our parents became professors, our families and Rob's were friends, while Paul and I went to the Misses Coopers, then Dem, then TAS and UNE and from there to the Commonwealth Public Service.

Armidale was a strange city, the only real university city in Australia. But more on that later.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Computer crashs & delays in posting

I am sorry for the long delay in posting. I have been struggling with the combination of other pressures and computer problems. My box finally crashed last week.

Sadly, the full back-up I did was not effective. Hopefully, they can get the box going again , or at least recover material from the hard disk. My biggest problem is the lost emails.

Another annoying thing is that I actually had a number of part completed drafts saved in Livewriter ready to roll out.

I can still access new emails on-line and also hope to resume posting using other computers, but am not going to be able to post in quite the same way.  


Thursday, June 02, 2011

New England Australia blog performance May 11

I am still bogged down on issues associated with New England's universities. I want to report on this in detail.

stats May11 2 For the moment, end month report time again.

This graph shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) to this blog over the period to end May 2011. You can see how the decline in traffic over the last part of 2010 has been reversed.

The most popular posts on this blog in May were:

The posts are an interesting mix of current such as NBN & Armidale and recurrent favourites, the Judith Wright posts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Belshaw's World - witnessing the nation’s capital grow and evolve

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 25 May 2011. 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, here for 2011.

At the weekend, Dee and I went down to Canberra for a friend’s 50th birthday party.

The party was held at a restaurant at Emubank in Belconnen. Now I had never been to Emubank before, and this got me thinking.

I was sixteen when I first visited Canberra. It was January, and I was on my way to hitchhike in Tasmania having just completed the Leaving Certificate for the first time.

My father had arranged for me to stay with the Hohnens. Ross, later to be known as Mr ANU, had become registrar at the New England University College in 1946 and then assistant registrar at the ANU in 1948, registrar in 1949.

I had just obtained my driver’s license, and the Hohnens lent me their second car, a big old yank tank. It was an absolute cow to drive for an inexperienced driver, low to the ground and very heavy.

Still, the population of Canberra at the time was a only a bit over 50,000 (Armidale’s population then was 12,500) and very spread out with almost no traffic. So accompanied by one of the Hohnen boys, I weaved my way all over the ACT.

I was nineteen when I next visited Canberra, this time with my parents. Again, we took advantage of Armidale connections.

Alf Maiden had been in the 1939 student intake at the New England University College and was now secretary of the Department of Primary Industry. The Maidens lent us their house while they were away on holidays, so we were there for several weeks.

ANZAAS (Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science) was on, so I was able to go to the Australian prehistory sessions. This was fun.

Canberra’s population was now over 90,000, Lake Burley Griffin had been created, and the city was starting to take its modern form.

Two years later I came to Canberra again, this time to work in the Public Service. Now, with some breaks, I was to work there for the next twenty years.

At the time I started work in Canberra, the city’s population had reached 100,000, although it still had fewer pubs and not all that many more licensed restaurants than Armidale!

By the time I left to come back to Armidale in the middle of 1987, Canberra’s population had grown to 270,000. Today, it is over 345,000, with fast growing populations as well in the adjoining parts of New South Wales.

Given my long connections with the city, I knew it very well as did my wife.

As we drove round Canberra this time, I thought how much it had changed. It is those changes that I want to talk about in the last part of this column.

One change is simply increased size.

If you look at various maps of NSW including those used for the planning purposes, the ACT often appears as a blank. Yet the reality is that that blank spot conceals Australia’s eight largest city.

If you add in the immediately surrounding areas, around six per cent of the combined NSW/ACT population lives within an hour’s drive of the centre of Canberra, with Canberra’s economic city reach extending all the time.

This has all sorts of effects. One is the growth of the Canberra-Sydney economic corridor, a second the progressive ripple effects spreading out to places like Wagga Wagga. The economic locus of NSW has been shifted south.

You can get a feel for the scale of the effects quite easily by assuming that Armidale had been selected as national capital and that we now had a population of 345,000.

This would have transformed the entire demography of Northern NSW at the expense of the south. Something similar would have happened if we had got state hood, if on a much smaller scale.

This one can be measured, if roughly. A far more complicated effect lies in the changing composition of the Canberra population.

When I arrived in Canberra, everyone came from elsewhere in Australia, and especially from centres outside Melbourne and Sydney. This meant that the Commonwealth Public Service was broadly representative of the nation.

Today things are very different. I don’t have the numbers, but I do have the strong impression that the Commonwealth Public Service draws quite heavily from Canberra, with second and third generation public service families not uncommon.

If I’m right, it may explain why Canberra official advice so often seems insensitive or at least out of touch. They just don’t have the broader experience.