Personal Reflections

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Forum - things that inspire

My internet connection has been down, system outage, which proved a complete pain! Forcibly removed from my screen, I was sitting there in the battered armchair in the kitchen reading with the radio on in the background. Then a most wonderful interview on ABC Radio National's Conversations came on with writer Louisa Deasey about her new book A Letter from Paris. I put the book down and listened, tearing up at several spots.

The ABC RN web page describes the story in this way:
In 2016 Louisa Deasey received a message, out of the blue, from a stranger in France. 
The woman's grandmother had died, and in her attic was a bundle of love letters. 
They told the story of a dashing Australian man named Denison Deasey, and his love story with a young French girl. 
Denison was Louisa’s late father, and when she was growing up, the family rarely spoke about him. 
The message from France sent Louisa on a voyage of discovery about her father, and herself.
These fairly bland words only hint at the texture of the story. I am not going to tell you more about the story. Instead, this is the link to the Radio National conversation, this a link to another description that includes a chapter from the book. I leave it to you to follow up.

 Think about the conversation, I thought that things that inspire might be a suitable topic for this week's Monday Forum. What thing's have inspired you? They might be a book or film, a scene, a person. Whatever.

As always, feel free to wander as you like.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Can Mr Dutton survive?

There was something quite unseemly about Australian Immigration Minister Dutton's attacks on the former Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, accusing  him (among other things) of  "grooming" a younger woman (and here). I am no fan of Mr Quaedvlieg, but this was over the top.

How things change.

Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Turnbull seemed relatively secure with a functioning government that seemed to be making some progress. Then came his collapse on the National Energy Guarantee followed immediately by his decision to call a Liberal leadership spill with the aim of shoring up his position against the emerging Dutton challenge. From this came the confusing fiasco of the subsequent Dutton challenge that saw Mr Morrison become Prime Minister with Mr Turnbull exiting politics.In the end, everybody, including many Liberal and National Party Parliamentarians, was left wondering what was all that about!

I'm not fond of Mr Dutton. I dislike what I perceive to be his policies and indeed his values. I was also deeply distrustful about the creation of Border Force and the militarisation of previous civil functions. I make this point because it affects my judgments. Accepting this, I would make two points.

The first is that many in the Liberal Party must be feeling a sense of relief that Mr Dutton's challenge failed. Imagine how the Government would be coping now if Mr Dutton were PM instead of a just a Minister.

My second point is that I struggle to see how Mr Dutton can survive as Minister. I am not talking here about the visa issues including Mr Quaedvlieg's attacks. I think Mr Dutton could have survived this, although it is yet another unwelcome distraction for the Government. However. now that he has got down in the ditch to pick up scoops of mud to throw at Mr Quaedvlieg he has lost all the benefits of the high ground. I may be wrong, but I don't think that he can survive that.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Reflections on my latest Armidale trip - drought, Airbnb and still more New England writers

I was up country last week. As I topped the mountain, the southern New England was showing traces of green, but the country then got very dry indeed. All the verges along Thunderbolt's Way showed signs of grazing from travelling stock, although this time there were no stock on the road either coming or going.

I kept a wary eye out for roos, there have been a number of accidents with hungry roos crossing roads looking for grazing. but while I saw some roadkill there were no live ones. Just as well. I was a little tired driving in both directions and it was also raining for a lot of the time. Not enough to break the drought, but it should give some greenpick if the frosts hold off.

I was thinking as I drove about the droughts I have known. The grass gets a gray colour, almost transparent.Then there is the blowing dust coming in especially from the west. This drought has attracted a lot of mainstream media attention, that's good, but its not the worst drought I have seen.

Armidale was cold and damp. It's a pretty place, really quite beautiful in spots even at the end of winter, but I was glad to spend some time in my warm motel room, just reading. I had planned to go the week before, but the city was booked out. Last week, too, accommodation was quite limited with most of the motels showing no vacancy signs. In addition to the hotels and motels, Armidale now has 133 Airbnb places. Most of these were booked as well.

Armidale is a funny accommodation marketplace because of its peaks. There is normally plenty of accommodation, but then you have graduation or some other special event that soaks it all up. From the viewpoint of the provider, it's feast or famine.

I have the strong impression that both base load and peak demand has increased. This is where Airbnb has its advantages, for it has effectively double available bed nights.

In February I saw a small heritage cottage listed for sale at $275,000. It was a funny little three bedroom place, then rented for $275 per week. It was proving hard to sell even though that's a good rental yield by Sydney standards because it didn't quite fit the family market. Checking, it finally seems to have sold for $250,000. It's now on Airbnb at $200 per night and seems to be renting quite well.

Looking at the photos, I estimate that the new owners probably spent $50,000 on a new kitchen and other repairs. Even at an average of just two nights per week, and occupancy seems far higher than this, $400 per week is not a bad gross yield.

I know that problems can arise with Airbnb, but for many places outside the high traffic areas it can really add to tourism opportunities. You can't get the visitors without the accommodation, but the accommodation won't come without the visitors. Airbnb acts as something of a circuit breaker.

There is also a ripple effect. Armidale, for example, does have a certain draw-power. Airbnb adds to Armidale's options but also spreads its effects around Armidale, creating new choices.

I mentioned that I spent a fair bit of time reading. I had one of those green shopping bags with me full of new, well mainly new to me, second hand books. Yes, I know that I am meant to be clearing out my collection and it has shrunk a little, but there have been some opportunities to buy some really good stuff cheaply . As you might expect, my new treasures include history and biography with an especial focus on Northern NSW, my broader New England.

I read very little current fiction. It's partly time, but it's also true that I am put off by the now many writers' festivals. I don't attend, but I hear a fair bit about them including multiple festival sessions repeated on ABC Radio National. Maybe I'm just getting old, but as the festivals search for audience they go more and more into particular types of niche areas that target elements in the audience that do go. And I'm not interested.

I have the same reaction to ABC Radio National's Hub on Books. I have never been very keen on arts or cultural programs. I tell myself I should be, but then I find myself turning the radio or TV off, retreating into silence and my own thoughts. There is so much produced now, so little that I am interested in, that I find myself submerged. I can't process it all. I am out of their frames. I am also tired of angst.

The things that I am most interested in, the stories that I want to tell, relate to my own life and, more importantly, my own area.

On Wednesday I visited Boobooks (on Facebook) and the Readers Companion (on Facebook). These two nearby stores in the Armidale Mall really compliment each other.

Boobooks has taken over the artdeco banking chambers built for the Commonwealth Bank. Now the bank that I knew as a child is the home to 70,000 second hand books. Happiness.

Reader's Companion is a new book shop. It's not easy making money today from a bookshop. Reader's Companion has responded by making the store a centre for new releases and writer activities, including the ever-increasing range of local publications. They also have a Kombi van that takes new books to all the surroundinf centres that lack bookshops.

I sat in the coffee shop across the Mall from Boobooks to review my latest treasures. It was just too cold to sit outside as I normally do,

From Boobooks, I had a signed copy of Zeny Giles' Caught in the Light: A Celebration of Newcastle.  I hadn't heard of Zeny, so many people I haven't heard of!, but she is quite a well known writer.The book was published by Newcastle's Catchfire Press, another small publisher that I did not know.

From Reader's Companion, I bought Jimmy Barnes' Working Class Man, the second volume in his autobiography. Now I here I found myself caught in cross-links between recent purchases.

Jimmy Barnes' first chapter is headed I was a serial runner and is subtitled  On the way to Armidale, 1974. The first 32 pages are a picture of hippy Armidale in the mid 1970s.

I have previously mentioned the New England writer Shirley Walker. Recently. I was able to buy her memoir, Roundabout at Bangalow: an intimate chronicle which includes details of her life on the North Coast and in Armidale. It was Shirley's son, singer and song writer Don Walker, who brought Jimmy Barnes to Armidale when Don decided to do postgraduate studies at the University of New England.

The hippy connection linked to another of my recent purchases, Judy Cassab's Diaries. I first read the diaries because I was interested in Judy Cassab as a painter. There I found that son John had become involved in the counter-culture movement on the North Coast in its early days, so the diaries include references directly relevant to my historical interests. Here the social change that took place in the 1960s and 1970s is part of my story, personal as well as historical.

The copy of the diaries  I was reading belonged to a friend. It's only in the last four week's that I have been able to acquire my own copy.

As so often happens, I drove back from Armidale with more to write about. On the way, I sat in the cafe cum general store and post office at Barrington and tried to gather my thoughts. So much to think about, so much to say. How was I too manage? I still don't have an answer!  

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Saturday Morning Musings - reflections triggered by Hey Jude

In a comment on last week's Monday Forum, kvd referred me to Tim de Lisle's essay in the GuardianNana na naaa! How Hey Jude became our favourite Beatles song. It's a well written piece that attracted a large comment stream, 1548 as I write. Some agreed, many others did not listing their favourite Beatle songs in order. Some attacked the Beatles, including a few lone defenders of classical music!

I do remember Hey Jude coming out, but not really the exact year. Looking it up, it was 1968, roughly when I thought.

One of the difficulties of growing older is that dates tend to blur, along with the detail of events. I am not talking about the aging process as such, although that can happen. It's rather that the present is always more intense, an intensity lost as that present recedes further into the past. The more presents there have been, the lower the intensity of preceding presents, the more memory is lost. Certain things stand out like increasingly distant mountains, but the detail and often accuracy is gone.

This process is a good thing. How can people heal from tragedy or trauma if the details remain fixed in their memory carrying the same emotional intensity? We need distance to put things in perspective. We need new experiences with new emotions. Healing may not be perfect, scars may remain, but the process allows us to move forward.

I am reminded of all this from time to time because I write so much history, including stories from the relatively recent past. My last Armidale Express column began:
Life can sometimes become too much. On November 18, 1920, William Ogilvie was found lying on his bed at Sydney’s Usher’s Hotel with a bullet wound in his temple, a revolver clasped in his right hand. He was only 58.   
Near his body were found a letter to his solicitor and telegrams to his wife and children. 
“Good-bye, my darling wife,” one telegram read, “I shall never see you alive again. I have written you to Ilparran today, explaining everything. Fondest love, my dearest dear.”      
I felt sad reading the material on his death because here was a man with a loving family, without money worries, for whom it had become just all too much. Yes, he appears to have been drinking too much, this is often a feature in such cases, but this is not a sufficient explanation. Knowing something about he and his broader family, I can surmise far more than I could put in 500 words.

I think it goes back to the decision to send him away to school in England at an early age, separating him from home including his grandmother for whom he seems to have been a favourite. Then after those years in England came his father's decision after William completed Oxford to send him back to Australia to start preparing to take over Yulgilbar. William seems to have been happy in England and close to his brother who was also living there.

Relationships with fathers are often complex, Edward Ogilvie was becoming increasingly irascible and authoritarian. His daughters, poet Robert Browning's beloved octet, would shortly escape into marriage. His brother would remain in England. For William's part, he was sent back to a country he now barely knew to learn his trade from a station manger who continued to live in the big house, who excluded him. When William raised objections and concerns with his father about the way the manager was treating family interests, he was ignored.

Later, his father would be forced to take action, to put aside his extended idyll in Europe and especially Florence, a city Edward had fallen in love with, to return to stabilise the family fortunes. By then, the break between William and his father had become permanent. Now well-off in his own right, it seems that William was left without a proper anchor or degree of purpose.

All this is surmise. although (I think) reasonable surmise. What I had not expected is that the column would draw comments from people whose own fathers had committed suicide, where the wounds were still raw. That past was still very present.

While the passage of time does lead to sometimes necessary blurring, there are times when you would like to remember. Hey Jude is a case in point, That period of my life once so bright, so clearly delineated in bright light, has become vague. But this is where the historian comes in!

Following kvd's comment, I went back checking dates. I find that if I remember something to which I can attach a date, it becomes easier to remember and check events and feelings surrounding that. It was something of a trip down nostalgia lane, Maybe I will write something on that. But not today!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Why everyone can (and should be) a writer

Back in Armidale on a visit, I went down to the Newie (Armidale’s New England Hotel) for a Friday night drink with Uncle Ron and some of his country mates.

The stories flowed, some of them very entertaining indeed.

“Why don’t you write them down”, I said. Everybody suddenly got very self-conscious. “We’re not writers”, they said. This is a not unusual reaction. The problem, I think, is that we have mystified writers and writing, turning it from a simple process into a capitalised art form. This is compounded by school experiences that have taught us not that we should write but that we must write in a particular way, that focus on the mistakes we make in writing.

I am not being critical when I say this, nor am I downplaying the importance of grammar and spelling. Schools need to teach people to read and write effectively, to communicate in a variety of ways. However, I am concerned when school experiences create a barrier that stops people doing things. The reality is, as our politicians would say, that most people write and are therefore writers. In fact, with the internet, I think that there is more writing (and writers) now than at any previous time in human history.

To illustrate.There has been a proliferation of special interest groups across the internet. On Facebook, for example, the Armidale Families Past and Present group has 2,246 members.Not everybody contributes, but hundreds do, exchanging reminiscences and information in threads that can run for pages. Some members of the group had to leave school at twelve, others rebelled at formal schooling. In this friendly, supportive atmosphere, nobody critiques spelling or grammar. What is important is what is said, not how it is said.

We also live in the age of the family historian as more and more seek to discover details of their past. Many are older, seeking to preserve family details for their own interest and in the hope that what they discover will be of interest to younger generations when they choose to become interested. All these people write and are, by definition, writers.

At this point I need to plead a special interest. As a regional historian, all these things are
gold to me. They stimulate me, they tell me about the past and provide the evidence I need
for my own writing.

I don’t think people realise just how important their own stories are. I also think they don’t fully understand just how good some of their writing is. A turn of phrase, an interesting anecdote, grabs my attention and cause me to chortle with laughter. This can be dangerous in the evening if I have just taken a sip of wine! So I wish to encourage all writers and writing regardless.
I am sometimes asked how people might improve their writing. I have one simple

Keep a pen and notepad. This needs to be small enough to fit in you bag or pocket. Date each page and jot down things that are important to you from shopping lists to turns of phrase to random thoughts.

The audience is yourself. You will be surprised as you look back at how much you remember, at the increasing value of those notebooks.

This piece appeared in the August edition of the New England Writers' Centre newsletter, The New England Muse.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday Forum - as you will

I found last week's events in Canberra distracting to the point that they reduced my productivity to close to zero. The live reporting format adopted from blogging allows one to follow events in real time. I found myself switching between the ABC and Guardian with sometimes crosses to TV for statements and press conferences.

The pay wall prevented me following the newcorp stable; here I relied on the twitter or FB feeds from the more indefatigable right wing followers who breathlessly reported every utterance as though it were fact. Initially some of that reporting was quite weird, the press as players, but as the hours went on the whole affair became increasingly weird in its own right.

I did do some statistical analysis on those who voted for Mr Dutton in the first round to try to clarify the contusions in expressed in my previous post, What a circus! Mr Dutton et al and my own confusions  I have to look at this in more detail, but a couple of things that stood out were the:
  • relative importance of the Senate (11 out of 35 votes). I guess its easier to be an ideologue because your position depends primarily on votes within the party, although that's not true of the Nats. 
  • the relative concentration of votes in the smaller States - 3 Tasmania, 3 SA, 1 ACT and 6 WA. This compares to 11 in Queensland, you would expect this, 6 in Victoria and just 4 in NSW. The WA vote is instructive when we come to think of Julie Bishop's results. 
I imagine that we are all talked out on the leadership turmoil although further comments always welcome! Instead, a challenge. What are some of the stories (not here!) that you have most enjoyed or have most inspired you. I am thinking of news stories, but you can cite books or anything you like!

Update One 30 August 2018

kvd pointed me to this piece in Medium by Meghan Daum, Nuance: A Love Story (24 August 2018). It's a beautifully written piece, although I have to confess I did not know who most of the people were that she referred too!

Meantime in here in Australia, the resignation of Liberal Party MP Julia Banks as a consequence of alleged bullying by members of her party during the recent leadership spill continues the pressure on the new government.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What a circus! Mr Dutton et al and my own confusions

What a circus! I refer to this morning's events in Canberra when in the face of a leadership threat from now former Minister Peter Dutton, Prime Minister Turnbull called for a leadership spill, thus vacating the Prime Ministerial position as well as that of Deputy Leader of the Liberal party.

The resulting Liberal Party room vote saw the Prime Minister returned as Liberal leader and hence Prime Minister with 48 votes compared to 35 for Mr Dutton. Foreign Minister was the only nomination for the Deputy Leader position and hence was returned unopposed. The vote only involved Liberal Party members. The National Party's leadership including the Deputy Prime Minister were not affected. The size of the vote for Mr Dutton left many speculating on when the next challenge would come.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's  political reporter Jackson Gothe-Snape has a useful short summary of the events leading up to the vote which in many ways came out of the blue, although there had been rumblings.Since the vote, the ether has been saturated with prognostication about the meaning of it all, focused on the question of whether the Prime Minister can in fact survive.

I want to leave that aside, focusing instead on a few things I do not understand.The issues were already fresh in my mind because of a longer piece I have been writing on Senator Fraser Anning's maiden speech. I hope to bring this up Sunday. For the moment, some immediate comments.

I note that my views don't matter. Things will happen as they happen. I am simply seeking to understand.

Mr Dutton

When I first heard that Mr Dutton might mount a challenge, I was incredulous. He is a polarising figure in Australian politics. This began prior to his appointment to the Immigration later Home Affairs portfolios, but accelerated in those roles. He is, I think, the least liked even hated political national figure measured by on-line chatter and commentary. The general consensus expressed before and repeated now is that he might help hold up the Liberal National Party vote in Queensland but would lose elsewhere.

In contrast, Mr Dutton asserts that he ran because he had a better chance of winning than Mr Turnbull, a view that seems to to be shared to some degree at least by 35 of his colleagues. So we have a huge dichotomy between the popular view and that held by Mr Dutton and at least some in the Liberal Party. So what might form the base for such a view?

Australia is a large disparate country with growing divides that reflect history, culture and economic and demographic changes There are considerable and I think growing regional variations. Mr Dutton is a more effective campaigner than Mr Turnbull. Those most opposed to him do not vote Coalition anyway and can be ignored. For the rest, Mr Dutton is more likely to preserve the base from the challenges posed by the proliferating minor parties while attracting votes in at least some marginal seats where issues such as immigration, power prices and services are of particular importance.

The softer, kinder, Mr Dutton who suddenly emerged following his defeated challenge is does seem to be heading in this direction. I'm not sure that it could work, but it is an explanation that at least makes a certain sense.

Liberal Party Ideology, Power and Factions

I'm not sure that I properly understand just how the Liberal Party works. Perhaps I never have. It's never been an especially ideological party, more interested in power, something that has contributed to sometimes instability. It's always been a centrist party with a socially conservative or status quo wing that has varied in power. In many ways, the Party and its predecessors have defined themselves in opposition to Labor. However, it has had a core of values that provided continuity.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the Liberal Party has become very confused, that it has been taken over by ideologues who in many ways are in conflict with the Party's traditional ethos. Some in the Liberal Party complain about its shift to the left, suggesting that it is abandoning its traditional conservative base. My difficulty is that I don't know what this means.

There appears to me, and this is something I will explore in my Fraser Anning piece, to be a fundamental conflict within what people are calling the "right" between the neoconservatives, the libertarians, the traditionalists and the populists. This is exactly reflected in the Liberal Party. The Party appears to be struggling to span the divide, to find a way to cover the rifts, to respond to the forces that it has itself helped to create. The result is a lack of coherence, indeed of conflict, in values, ideas and policy. Mr Dutton appears to reflect this.

I am not saying Labor is necessarily better, although that's another story. I am saying that I don't understand the Liberal Party any more, that I don't know what the Party stands for, that I simply can't predict what might happen. I guess that it's just a question of going with the flow.  


Monday, August 13, 2018

The story behind that 1976 Queanbeyan $100,000 Yowie reward

It was a FB comment from eldest that alerted me. Suddenly I found myself staring at myself in an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) repeat of a  1976 This Day Tonight program on the search for a Yowie. For the benefit of those outside Australia, a Yowie is the Australian equivalent of a Yeti.

This was the most successful publicity stunt I have ever been involved in by many country miles. It began simply and innocently enough.  I was chair of the Queanbeyan Festival. With the festival coming up, we were looking for ways of attracting publicity.

The Queanbeyan Age had just carried a story on Rex Gilroy's search for the the Yowie. "Why don't we offer  a reward for the capture of a Yowie" someone suggested? "That should grab some attention.".

We needed  attention. Queanbeyan lies just across the NSW border from the ACT. In many ways we were a poor neighbour. Struggletown the ABC's Four Corners program had called us a few years' before. We had renamed ourselves Supercity - you have left the ACT, welcome to reality, some of our festival signs said - but it was a struggle getting Canberra people to be aware and actually come to Queanbeyan events.

The idea grabbed. "Let's offer a million dollar reward!" I was cautious. Nobody would believe that we could pay that amount of money. We needed a sum large enough to grab attention, but small enough that people might just believe it to be credible. In the end, we settled on $100,000.

Rob Wall, our secretary, and I drafted the press release. Since Monday was often a soft news day, we decided to release the story on Sunday night to try to capture Monday attention. With the release printed off,  we drove into Canberra to distribute it to the press boxes at what is now Old Parliament House.We couldn't do this now. But then there was no rigid security, while I knew the place well because of my community, work and political involvements. All you had to do was to walk in looking as though you knew what you were doing and the attendants would ignore you.

Monday morning all hell broke loose. Rob rang me early in a bit of a panic to say that it was all over Canberra talk back radio AND that someone had rung in saying that they had captured a Yowie and wanted to know how to claim the reward! I hastily dressed and headed to work. By 10 it was clear that we had a major story with both ABC and commercial TV flying crews in from Sydney.

ABC interviewed me outside the Treasury at lunchtime. I asked them not to identify my department since this was a community matter. Silly boy. They did not name my department, I was a called Canberra public servant, but the camera pans made Treasury clear.

It was very important that I not laugh. They knew that it was a stunt, I had no idea what other material they might have, but I needed to appear reasonably serious,. At the end of the interview, the reporter said that's the end but we just want to get a few camera shots. While the camera rolled an ABC crewman jumped up and down off screen waving his arms and making faces to try to break me up. I adopted a passive face staring straight at the camera.

Back to work, I fielded more radio talk back calls. Fortunately, I had my own office. I remember the tea lady coming in when I was chatting over Toowoomba radio. She looked at me strangely. I just gave her a token and pointed at my desk while I talked. At 6.30 back at Parliament House I did my last interview for Radio Australia.

Tuesday it was all over, the story was dead. That Monday remains one of the strangest days in my experience. Still, we did get our publicity!    

Monday, July 30, 2018

Monday Forum - rebuilding community cohesion

Today's Monday Forum focuses on one current issue in Australia life: declining community cohesion. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.

Yesterday's post was a parochial one dealing with the proposed redevelopment of Astrolabe Park. This has energised the small Daceyville community. This is another shot of of the Bayside Council information session. The woman on the left is the Council GM, beside her in the jeans stands the project manager for the Sydney Water, UNSW, Cricket NSW and AFL consortium In that post I mentioned that in the few weeks since the protest  started I had met more people in Daceyville than in the previous three years.

On 30 January 2017, Australian social analyst Hugh Mackay delivered the Gandhi Oration on the topic the state of the nation starts in your street. In April 2018 he returned to the the broad topic in a new book, Australia Reimagined. On 17 May 2018 he explored his ideas in an ABC Radio National Program, Conversations with Richard Fidler. This one is on-line so you can listen to his views.

On objective measures, he suggests, Australia has done very well. And yet Australians have become more insecure, edgier: :"We are a society in the grip of epidemics of anxiety, obesity and depression."
"How did this happen? Where did this edgy, anxious, too-violent society come from? This uneasy blend of arrogance and timidity?"
Noting that the problem is not unique to Australia but can be found in other Western countries, Mackay provides various explanations including:
  • growing social inequity that affects those involved but also Australians' perceptions of themselves with a growing disconnect between those perceptions and external reality
  • rise of individualism creating a me first mentality, a decline in real social connection, a focus on the pursuit of happiness
  • a decline in respect for our social institutions
  • a growing feeling of powerlessness accentuated by the growing rumble of the three big threats – climate change, international terrorism and the threat of a major global economic disruption.
These things interconnect and feed each other. To Mackay's mind and recognising how little influence we have over broader matters, the solution begins by focusing on repairing and rebuilding those things that we can influence and that starts with our neigbourhood and local community.

What do you think of all this?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sydney's growth problems - Astrolabe Park

Proposed Sporting Developments, Astrolabe Park Daceyville

Update 8 August. Since I wrote this post Sydney Water has stated that it is not part of the consortium, had received no formal proposal from the proponents and had not been invited to the community forum. I have therefore corrected the story. 

From time to time I have written about the problems brought by growth in the area of Sydney in which I presently live. Now those problems have come to roost just two hundred metres from the house.

If you look at Astrolabe Park from the air using Google maps satellite view it seems a small but well located part of a swath of green.  For that reason it was identified by a consortium consisting of  the University of NSW, Cricket NSW and AFL NSW as a possible site for sporting redevelopment. Each party has different interests:

The consortium

Sydney Water own the land. They recently undertook some storm water drainage work and landscaping, with park management resting with Botany Bay and now Bayside Council following recent council mergers. While the details are unclear, it appears that remediation work is required on the site because of previous use as a tip.

When I wrote the post, I listed Sydney Water as a member of the consortium. As outlined above, Sydney Water has now denied this, although the use of the word formal approaches suggests that there may have been some informal discussions. My feeling is, and it's only a feeling, is that Sydney Water might be interested because the other parties in funding the development will have to fund any remediation.

The University of NSW (and here), more correctly now just UNSW since they have re-branded to facilitate global business activities, is the area's largest business by a country mile with over 6,000 staff and 53,000 students across various campuses.

In 2006, UNSW decided that land at Little Bay where its sports fields were located was surplus to requirements and sold the area to developers. developing new facilities on the David Phillips Field next door to Astrolabe Park. This site has now become over-crowded. UNSW has also entered into a deal with NSW Rugby Union whereby that body has shifted its headquarters to David Phillips which will also become the training ground for the Waratahs super rugby side. NSW Rugby is presently accommodated in temporary buildings on the site pending construction of new buildings.

UNSW appears to be the main driver in the proposal, providing project management with the intention of finally managing the whole complex. The proposed redevelopment  of Astrolabe Park will allow cricket and AFL to be accommodated and cement UNSW's role as a sporting powerhouse.

The two sporting bodies involved are Cricket NSW and AFL NSW/ACT. There is some confusion about their role here that I have not been able to clarify. One story is that the new facilities will become the training ground for the Sydney Sixers (cricket) and Sydney Swans (AFL) plus some admin. However, the lassie I talked to from Cricket NSW suggested that the cricket focus would be on community cricket where there is an acute shortage of grounds. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Both codes face development pressures and are affected by the redevelopment of the Moore Park sports complex.

Outline of the development 

A map of the proposed development is at the top. It is substantial, involving:
  • demolition of the current toilet/park maintenance block
  • the development of  AFL and cricket ovals, each with their own pavillion
  • construction of a large admin/indoor training/rehab/cafe facilities.block
  • new outdoor cricket nets
  • a playground area
  • additional parking both road and on-site.   

Not unexpectedly, the proposal has created a degree of outrage in the local community. This began with dog owners in Daceyville and beyond concerned about the loss of one of the remaining few leash free areas, but quickly spread. In the last three weeks I have met more local residents than in the preceding three years. There is a certain irony here because I will be leaving the area later this year.

It would be easy to conclude that this is another NIMBY (not in my backyard) protest  Discussions with people outside the area makes this clear. There is, some suggest, something selfish about local opposition at a time when Sydney is in desperate need of new sporting facilities. By implication, local residents should take a hit for the good of the whole. It's not quite as clear-cut as this.

Everybody agrees that the Park could be better developed. It has had a checkered history. Built on an old rubbish dump, it was a very popular place that many locals remember from their childhood. Then the land subsided forcing closure of facilities. The Park became something of a no go zone.Writing in January 2015, Postcard Sydney described the Park in this way:
Walking around the hilly, windblown expanse of Astrolabe Park you can’t help but feel like you’re walking through a horror film. This place is scary. It feels too big for it’s size. It doesn’t help that there are fences along one side where the golf course meets the car park, or the prominent feature is two giant flood lights rising out of the ground like something out of war of the worlds....... 
For such a large area there seems to be a dearth of facilities at Astrolabe Park. You might find the lone basketball half court tucked away behind the creepy looking brick maintenance shed. Further afield there’s a couple of woefully inadequate bench seats in ditch and the aforementioned flood lights.
Recent drainage and landscape work has opened it up again to recreational use, but it remains lacking in facilities. One of the difficulties facing residents and indeed probably the development's proponents is that nobody seems to know just what development can be carried out without expensive remediation work. However, simple development carried out including benches, BBQs, tree planting and playgrounds is likely to require minimal remediation. Still, we don't actually know.

There is pressure on existing community sports facilities across Sydney. However. the apparent desire of UNSW and the sporting bodies to effectively make Daceyville a sports complex catering to big as opposed to community sport raises different issues. There is a fair degree of local resentment at what many see as a land grab triggered by developments elsewhere. More importantly, there is a conflict between what we might think of as passive as opposed to sporting space.

I have described in past posts the way the area surrounding Daceyville has become subject to high and medium density development progressively adding large numbers of people. All these developments feature nearby parks and green space as sale points.This growth is adding to pressure on sports fields, but these people also want more passive space in which they can relax, play with the kids and indeed walk the dog. . Astrolabe Park is the last  large passive area left.within walking. cycling or easy driving distance.

Daceyville residents vote against the development proposal. 
Beyond these issues, access is a huge problem. This applies to passive recreation too, but is more acute with the proposed development. Daceyville is a little triangle between two main roads with its top at the junction.

Access to Astrolabe Park is via the biggest drag, Gardners Road. Three roads provide access to the Park, two of one block, the third longer.

As presently configured, east bound traffic has access to one road, the narrowest. With cars parked both sides, traffic is reduce to a single car passage. Westbound traffic has two limited options. This creates problems with both access and parking, problems that are likely to be acute if you have both AFL and cricket matches on, worse if you have a significant rugby carnival on at the Dave Phillips field such as the State rugby schools championship. .

I think that this is likely to be a big problem for the proponents as well as the residents. Let me try to give some scale indications.

Yesterday I went to see my old school play St Joseph's College at Hunters Hill. With existing resident parking, the combination of buses and cars occupied an area greater than Daceyville. I got there early. By the time I left, the cars were circling looking for a parking spot for the later games.

A few weeks back I went down the road to watch the state under 16 school rugby trial at the David Phillips Field. All the nearby available car spots in Astrolabe Park were occupied with some spill-over into Astrolabe Road. Yesterday, I went down to watch Clare play hockey. Parking here is generally on the other side of the David Phillips field, but it often spills into Astrolabe Road. Now add to this cricket and AFL.

It should be clear that I am not opposed to sport nor sport in my immediate neighbourhood. My problem is that I cannot see how access and parking will be handled if you add in two more codes.

Decision Processes

Part of the resident frustration lies in lack of clarity in decision processes, with the proposal coming from left field.

The land is owned by Sydney Water, a State Owned Enterprise. Bayside Council manages the park, bearing maintenance costs. The consortium came to Bayside with the proposal. This placed Bayside in a difficult position. If they knocked it back, the consortium could simply bypass Council and go direct to Sydney Water and the NSW Government. Bayside took the view, correctly to my mind, that they should put the matter out for public consultation before reaching any conclusion.

At the community information session, the proponents emphasised that the project was still at the concept stage, that the detailed work had still to be done. I think that's right, but the proposal has still gone a fair bit down track. I think Council will likely knock it back given the issues involved, but I don't know. In that event, the proponents will have to decide whether or not to bypass Council and go to the State Government. In all, there is some way to go.

Update 30 August 2018

I was advised today that the consortium has withdrawn its proposal because of community opposition.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A very nasty internet blackmail attempt

I receive multiple phishing attempts. This is the first time I have been subject to a direct personal blackmail attempt. I am sharing it because of its sheer nastiness and in case anybody else has been hit.

Needless to say, the email address attached to the name Laurella Campo is not Laurella Campo. I imagine its been hacked. For that reason, I am not sharing it.

I have blocked out the stated password because it was an old password that I used for convenience but dropped a long time ago. It's just possible that there may be an old now non-used not changed site. The fact that they actually have the password means some form of data breach somewhere. The fact that it is an old password suggests that it comes from an older record set.

To my knowledge, I have never visited the site in question. I had to look it up. It is also unlikely that they could access my computer in the way they describe. Among other things, I have an old box without any camera!

As you might expect, the email caused me to review everything they might have accessed in all ways that might be embarrassing if released. If they have got stuff, they can bloody well release it. That increases the chances of tracking them.      


In a comment, kvd pointed me to two sites reporting on the scam. The comments on the second are especially instructive because they provide multiple examples of the scan email. It began a bit over two weeks ago, is global, uses old lists of emails and passwords derived from previous data breaches, most long changed. Some people have been sucked in. The key is not to respond and alter your password if its still current on any sites. It is really very nasty.

"From: Laurella Campo
Date: 24/07/2018 1:05:03 PM
To: ndarala
Subject: ndarala - xxxxxx
I am well aware xxxxxx is your pass. Lets get right to the purpose. You do not know me and you're probably wondering why you're getting this e mail? No-one has paid me to check about you.

In fact, I installed a malware on the X vids (porn) web-site and do you know what, you visited this website to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching videos, your browser began operating as a Remote Desktop having a key logger which provided me with access to your screen and cam. Just after that, my software obtained your complete contacts from your Messenger, FB, and emailaccount. And then I created a double-screen video. 1st part displays the video you were watching (you've got a good taste omg), and next part shows the view of your cam, yeah it is u.

You have got just two solutions. Shall we analyze each one of these solutions in aspects:

1st option is to just ignore this e mail. In such a case, I most certainly will send out your actual recorded material to all of your contacts and also just consider concerning the awkwardness you can get. And likewise if you are in a loving relationship, just how it will certainly affect?

2nd choice would be to compensate me $7000. I will name it as a donation. In this case, I most certainly will asap remove your videotape. You will continue on your daily life like this never took place and you surely will never hear back again from me.

You'll make the payment through Bitcoin (if you don't know this, search "how to buy bitcoin" in Google search engine).

BTC Address: 1BpGi36WXepSbkAqukXgX9BkphXfVnRVyp
[case sensitive so copy & paste it]

If you are planning on going to the law enforcement, well, this e mail cannot be traced back to me. I have dealt with my moves. I am just not trying to ask you for so much, I want to be compensated. I have a unique pixel within this email message, and right now I know that you have read through this email message. You now have one day to pay. If I do not get the BitCoins, I will certainly send your video recording to all of your contacts including members of your family, colleagues, and so forth. However, if I receive the payment, I'll erase the recording right away. If you need evidence, reply  Yeah then I definitely will send your video to your 10 contacts. It is a nonnegotiable offer thus please do not waste my personal time & yours by responding to this email.".

Monday, July 23, 2018

Monday Note - President Trump

Just over a month since my last post discussing President Trump. Since then, he has continued to flutter the dovecotes.A lot of the commentary that I have read as well as the reactions on social media has been very stereotyped. I see little point in getting my nightie in a knot over the man. He just is, a somewhat random element on the international stage stirring things up for worse or, maybe, better in some cases.

We cannot forecast, well at least I can't, just what he might do, although there are consistent themes. When faced with a somewhat random variable that we cannot control, the only thing that we can do is to manage our own reactions.

From a purely Australian perspective, the brewing trade war poses clear threats. Australia depends upon trade and indeed trade to those countries likely to be most adversely affected by the war. I think that we should maintain our efforts to support the freer global trading order. The US's share of the global economy has dropped below 20%. We should focus our efforts on the remaining 80%. I also think that we should become involved in China's Belt and Road Initiative since this is the largest global initiative focused on global economic development.

The strategic scene is obviously more complex. Australia wants the US to maintain its global role because this has provided a stable framework that has, to my mind, helped maintain global order despite mistakes. However, the US has had a long history of isolationism that President Trump seems to be playing too.

The US did over-extend. The withdrawal began under President Obama and seems to be continuing under President Trump.We have to deal with this in increasingly clouded circumstances. This creates problems from a narrow Australian perspective,  We are a wealthy country, but a small player by global standards outside narrowly defined economic measures. Crudely, we count, but only in a smallish way.

 I think that Australia has to do five things. we need to maintain the relationship with the US while recognising that the world is changing; we need to focus on maintaining the world economic order; we need to build new relationships, including supporting our neighbours;and we are going to have to continue to build our defence capabilities. In many ways the last is a waste of money because money spent on defence means that we cannot spend money on other things that will yield greater returns, but I think that it is necessary; and we need to extend what is often called soft power.

In doing these things, I think that we also need to adopt a low public profile. Australian political leaders cannot help but lecture, perform, playing to the domestic political marketplace. They also like telling people what to do.I wish that they would shut up, talking quietly while carrying the biggest stick that we can manage.