Personal Reflections

Monday, August 03, 2015

Monday Forum - Cilla Black and nostalgia

I had been going to continue my bucket list series, bypassing the usual Monday Forum, but the death of Cilla Black made me pause.

Cilla Black had a wonderful voice. Her death is another step in the ending of a very particular era. Her first hit songs were in 1964 - Anyone who had a heart, You're my world. The Independent has a good piece that consolidates a number of the the Youtube clips on Cilla. This is one example:

The following photo is, I suppose,  something of a period piece. We are having dinner to celebrate my 21st. Compare Steph's hair with Cilla Black's in the clip. The photo is taken at the Alouette Restaurant in Sydney, now closed but then a reasonably posh place where the Sydney socialites sometimes gathered. And no, before you ask, I didn't classify myself as a Sydney socialite! But we did think that we were very sophisticated.

In the year this photo was taken, Cilla had another major hit with Alfie. This was also the year in which the cult film Blowup was made. I saw it in Canberra the following year. Cilla was not connected with this film, rather the film was part of the intense cultural pastiche of the time.

Because of other writing that I have been doing on social history, I have been trying to map some of the dates over the 1950s, 60s and 70s relevant to the major cultural trends of the period. So my response to Cilla's death was both professional and nostalgic.

I think that we are all affected by nostalgia linked to certain periods in our lives as evidenced by the multiple revivals of songs and groups, as well as the constant stream of retrospective documentaries. So the open ended question today is what makes you nostalgic, bringing back past periods in your life?  

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Developing Belshaw's bucket list 2 - what is a bucket list?

The idea of a bucket list, a list of things to do before we die, was popularised by the 2007 film, The Bucket List.

I was curious as to the derivation of the term. According to Wictionary, the term was actually coined by screenwriter Justin Zackham in his screenplay for the 2007 film, its derivation coming from the older phrase to kick the bucket. However, checking around on English Language and Usage suggests that the term may in fact be older, although confusion reigns. What can be said with certainty is that the use of the term has exploded since the film.

Part of this links to the modern concern with goal setting and self discovery. The Bucketlist web site (subtitled Your dreams made possible) claims 267,636 members tracking 3,560,512 goals. Here you can set your goals and get tips as you go along; get inspired with people sharing the same goals; and see how others are achieving their goals.

I have absolutely no problem with this type of approach. It provides focus and motivation. Certainly I have some major things that I would still  like to achieve. However, I don't think of my bucket approach in these terms. I see it rather more as the buckets in the illustration.

To begin with, there is more than one of them, reflecting the range of things that I would have, or have liked to, do over time.  They are somewhat battered and ancient, having been around for a long time. They are also presently empty, waiting to be filled.

I indicated in my introductory post, Developing Belshaw's bucket list 1 - introduction, I said that various events had crystallized a sense of dissatisfaction based on my own inability to take advantage of the many opportunities open to me. Very specifically, I worry about and sometimes cannot do anything about the big things when smaller things offer so many possibilities.

I don't know about you, but I find that the routines of, or sometimes the absence of routine in, daily life have a swamping effect.There are many things that we like to do or might enjoy that just get crowded out. That was the point of my smoked trout example in the first post.

I am not going to attempt to refill the buckets at this point. Rather, in my next post I will reflect on some of the smaller things that I like doing or might do that could possibly be placed in the empty buckets.    

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Developing Belshaw's bucket list 1 - introduction

This photograph might be called Belshaw or an archaeologist up a tree! In fact, I was just seeing how hard it might be to shimmy up, something not helped by the boots I was wearing!

Sometimes I feel the need for a break from real, serious stuff. This is one of those times. For that reason, over the next few days I plan to run a series of posts loosely linked around the concept of a bucket list. I'm not quite sure how many posts there will be. That depends on my mood. I haven't a clear structure in my mind, nor a defined end. I just want to wander. 

Let me explain why I'm doing this.

On Thursday, I had an interesting discussion this morning with researcher Michael Bennett (@nthistorian)  from NTSCorp about our shared interests in Aboriginal history. 

NTSCORP Limited is the Native Title Service Provider for Aboriginal Traditional Owners in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The company deals with claims under national land title legislation. Michael's particular role as a researcher is to investigate the often fragmentary early records to try to establish and test connections between people and place.

The discussion re-inspired me in the value of my own work in trying to trace the Aboriginal history of Northern NSW across the last 30,000 years. I am reasonably sure that I have the basic framework right I am also convinced of the value of integrating multiple sources including the archaeological record to try to tell a story. However, it can be quite difficult maintaining enthusiasm focus when working so much alone.   

In our discussion, I referred to the work of my friend Caroline Chapman (@CarolynChapman1) in painstakingly collecting names and details of individual Aboriginal people from a variety of records. 

I greatly admire Caroline and her work This is a photo of Caroline (left) with our blogging companion AC at the Uralla Food and Wine Fair. They are, of course, drinking New England beer! The relevance of all this will become clear in a moment.   

Pioneered in Australia at the University of New England by researchers including Alan Atkinson and Norma Townsend, family reconstruction involves the detailed creation and analysis of family trees to inform details of past life that would not otherwise have been clear. The work is genealogical, but this is then used to inform historical analysis. Alan Atkinson's Camden is an example of the genre.     

This is very important in Aboriginal history in general and in the resolution of land rights issues because it often provides the only vehicle by which the past can be reconstructed. I came home from my meeting with Michael to find a Facebook message from Caroline that she added more names to her New England Aboriginal data base, bringing the total number of people mentioned to 562. She was also now working through the pastoral property records. In Northern NSW, these properties employed many Aboriginal people in the very early days.
I congratulated her and said that we must get together. She responded that she would provide the smoked trout! 

This is the link to the photo at the Uralla Food and Wine Fair because we all bought wine, honey and smoked trout. We would have bought more, but the Fair had been a considerable success, with many things sold out by the time we arrived. Still, I did come back with smoked trout!

This afternoon in what must seem a total segue, I went to see TAS play Newington. in the rugby. In the thirds competition, TAS Firsts beat Newington Thirds 24-0. 

I have written a little bit about my return to watching my old school play rugby, including my sense of shock at just how big the boys were. When I played, I was both heavier and faster than average, giving me an advantage, especially in my favourite role as break-away. Now I would be a smallish forward, even at schoolboy level.

When I began, it seemed all very strange for I knew no-one. Then I started writing for the Green and Gold Rugby Forum on the Thirds competition. 

This photo shows today's match between TAS and Newington. TAS in the Blue and White. Again, the relevance will be clear in a moment.

Initially, Green and Gold was simply an on-line forum on a topic of interest, something that kept me involved. It was still strange going to matches on my own at at which I knew no-one and then coming home to post. 

Slowly a momentum gathered. In my own small way, I became a name connected with my old school. Last year, I wrote the first ever Green and Gold report on the thirds competition. Today in its own small way was a new advance, for I watched the game with Newington parents, Sam and Andrew. Sam is a poster on Green and Gold. When I commented about my solitary habits, she suggested I watch with them. That was good. 

I said that this was a rambling post. These various events have crystallized a sense of dissatisfaction based on my own inability to take advantage of the so many opportunities open to me. Very specifically, I worry about and sometimes cannot do anything about the big things when the smaller things offer so many possibilities.

Caroline's smoked trout is a case in point. There is absolutely no reason why I can't schedule a trip to Armidale to visit the archives, to see Caroline to catch up on our work while eating smoked trout and drinking New England beer or wine. It's just a focus thing!  

I will continue the story in my next ramble.        .     

Friday, July 31, 2015

Adam Goodes, sporting behaviour, stereotyping and the importance of manners and respect

To my mind, the controversy over Aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes has got completely out of hand and I wish everybody would cool it. It's become another flash point in the fissures and divides within Australian politics and society that I have referred to before.

We forget that Mr Goodes is a human being with weaknesses and faults that we all have and have, instead, made him a symbol. The personal weight must be quite crushing. Sadly, in these fire storms the individual (and their families) get buried.

To start with a point that has concerned me for a number of years, where have we come to when booing is acceptable at a sporting event? I remember the first time I heard it. It was a major Rugby event. As the kicker lined up to take a goal shot, the crowd started booing to try to put him off his kick. I was naively shocked.

Without exploring the matter further at this point, there is now a deeply unpleasant thread running through Australian sport at all levels including school where manners are forgotten, where the fact that a game is a game is forgotten, where spectators including parents loose all emotional restraint.

This decline in manners, in common courtesy runs like a deep oily strain through every aspect of Australian life.Central to it are a failure to recognise the other's point of view, a determination to win points at any cost, a divine belief in the rightness of one's own position. This has been amplified and extended by the megaphone effect of modern on-line communication.

To amplify this point, consider the question of discrimination towards Australia's Aboriginal peoples. I have used the word discrimination, not racial discrimination, because the threads are more complex than a simple question of racial discrimination.

Does discrimination exist? Of course it does. Let me take a simple example. Over the last few years, I have worked in the Aboriginal housing arena. At meeting after meeting with Aboriginal housing providers or, more broadly with Aboriginal groups, I have heard stories of discrimination against Aboriginal people in the private housing marketplace.I have no doubt that those stories are true.

Central to those stories is the problem of stereotyping

Real estate agents and private owners want their properties placed with tenants who will pay the rent on time and not damage the property. The real estate rental market is fairly tight in most places, agents are as much concerned with excluding applicants as they are with picking the best applicant. The stereotypes applied to Aboriginal applicants make it a lot easier just to knock them out at once. It's a risk minimisation thing. This applies even where, as in one case, the applicant was a highly educated lecturer in a mainstream discipline with a good income. I note that this type of stereotyping is not limited just to Aboriginal rental applications, but it is particularly acute there.

In the Aboriginal case, we are also dealing with a long history of dispossession. This creates attitudes within the Aboriginal community that I have sometimes found difficult to deal with. What do I say when, for example, I become involved in a discussion or even a training course where I happen to know that the views being put forward are historically incorrect? Common politeness demands that I listen respectfully, maybe making some gentle points, only becoming involved if it's an issue that I really feel is important and where my intervention may have some useful impact. Usually, a gentle response has the longest term impact.

If you recognise Aboriginal history, then I think that you need to cut Aboriginal people some slack. There is also, and this may sound silly, a question of fun. I have watched and re-watched multiple clips of the now famous Adam Goodes war cry against Carlton. An example is below. Further comments follow the clip.

Clearly Mr Goodes was revving up the Carlton fans. If I had been in the Carlton part of the crowd I may well have booed and given a thumbs down signal! But it was also, or should have been, a bit of fun. Now compare Mr Goodes' performance with the antics of soccer players after scoring a goal. Mild, wasn't it?

The subsequent reaction to the war dance seems to have drawn from a single fact, that it was called an Aboriginal war dance with inevitable comparisons to the Haka. Then there was the case of the thirteen year old girl. who called Adam Goodes a monkey. Again, I have searched the clips.I won't give links in this case, there are too many, but it seems clear that she is another victim, that she did not understand the context of what she was saying, that Adam Goodes over-reacted because of the game tension and background.

The war dance and this incident fed into a storm that has engulfed all participants. Reading the various comment threads is not a pleasant experience because of the apparent divide it reveals. I find, I'm sorry for saying this, that the comments from both sides are equally repulsive because they lack manners are are often blind statements of belief.

I said that we should cut Aboriginals people some slack because of the background. I fear that I am not as tolerant so far as Messrs Bolt and Jones are concerned. They are fighting wars for ideological reasons and for apparent readership/listening purposes that extend way beyond the facts of these incidents.I also accept in the case of Mr Bolt, and this is not a popular view in some sections of the Australian community, that he has very particular views on what he sees as as hypocrisy and confusion in some of the discussion, views strengthened by his own court experiences.

Chaps, get over it.You and those on the opposing side have helped turn what was, in the first instance, a question of manners, respect and sporting behaviour into a national issue that is becoming an international disgrace. I don't like that. Nobody wins.Not the people involved, nor the country.

So can we all back off. Let Mr Goodes sort out issues in his own mind. Give him space, recognising his achievements. This must be astonishingly difficult for him to sort through.   Finally, lets reinstate manners and respect.    .          


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Nanny state - Hugos closes

It seems that Hugos in Sydney's Kings Cross has had to shut its doors.

The alcohol restrictions in the city of Sydney were introduced with the best of intents, the desire to reduce alcohol fueled violence in the city. They were always a blunt instrument whose consequences were uncertain.

I don't think that Hugos' closure can be attributed just to the alcohol restrictions.The decline in Kings Cross and nearby Oxford Street as night venues began before the restrictions and reflected in part the rise in alternatives elsewhere. Sydney has just become bigger, more complex. Still, I find the decline sad, in part because I knew both Kings Cross and Oxford Street quite well.

By all accounts, Hugos was a well managed venue without serious alcohol problems. It's demise is best described as collateral damage. The blunt rules will change because of their imposed costs, but in the meantime they have triggered changes in the geographic patterns of entertainment and social life that will not be easily reversed.

On a different but related matter, the Darwin Beer Can Regatta is now, apparently, being challenged by the medical lobby on the grounds that it encourages drinking.

Don't get me wrong. There have been a couple of occasions when I have had to be present in emergency departments on a Friday or Saturday evening watching staff deal with drunken patients. It's dreadful. However, resolution of this type of problem requires a subtlety of approach that cannot be dealt with by rigid rules based approaches.        

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

That Australian life - the importance of labour saving devices and improved health care in the women's revolution.

This post continues the series that began with  That Australian life - bobbed haircuts on the changing life of women, especially Australian women. The series is based on History Revisited columns that I wrote for the Armidale Express.

One of Australia’s best known paintings is Frederick McCubbin’s On the Wallaby Track (1896). It’s a bush scene. The man lights a fire to boil the billy. His young wife leans back against a tree, eyes shut, exhausted. A strapping baby rests upon her lap.

That painting is in the NSW Art Gallery. I always focus on the woman. Each time, I wonder how she coped on the track with a long and apparently heavy dress like that, with shoes or boots that appear quite uncomfortable.

In my last post, I suggested that being a wife and mother in the nineteenth century was hard and sometimes dangerous work, especially for the ordinary woman without access to domestic help to do the really hard work.

Consider an example. Older Australians will remember laundries often to be found in a separate room at the back of the house with their coppers. Fires had to be lit, the water in the copper heated, the clothes washed in the hot water stirred with an old broomstick. Then the water was squeezed out using a mangle and clothes hung on long lines stretched across the back yard.

This was, in fact, relative luxury. Fifty years earlier, clothes were often boiled in a kerosene tin set on bars across an open fire. In both cases, the time and effort involved was substantial.

Once clean, those clothes requiring ironing were ironed with heavy metal irons heated on the stove. There were different types of irons depending on the clothes, but in all cases the irons cooled quite quickly and had to be reheated. Is it any wonder that washing day was an ordeal?

If you look at the time and effort involved in all this, you might see why I rank labour saving devices as the first and most important advance supporting the changing role of women. Many women did do paid work while married, but the time to do so was just so limited.

I rank improvements in health care as the second most important factor in supporting the changing role of women. It meant that fewer women died in child birth, something obviously important from a personal and family perspective. But it also meant that fewer children died.

Infant death was one key reason for the big families of the past. It meant that you needed more children to ensure family survival. You could not choose to have a particular family size, to stop having children to achieve that, because infant and child mortality made such a choice impossible.

I doubt that the women’s revolution could have happened without these two things, labour saving devices plus improvements in health care. Labour saving devices gave women extra time while still maintaining family responsibilities. Improvements in health care meant that women had to spend less time in child rearing. The combination led to a social revolution.


In a comment, marcellous suggested that I was barely scratching the surface and pointed to this 2012 Guardian piece. On reading it, my first reaction was to find it odd, my second was to wonder if I was odd in finding it odd. Upon further reflection, it is an interesting period piece, a sort of post feminism class based guilt thing.

I would be interested in your comments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Border myopia - Its impact on economic and policy analysis

This post returns to one of my recurrent themes, the way in which boundaries affect our thinking.

Keeping things very simple, all of our economic and policy analysis and the statistics on which that analysis is based is boundary focused.

Take economics as an example. Modern economic analysis was formed during  a period that saw the rise of the nation state. It is state focused. The simple equations underpinning much economic policy focus on the state entity, relegating the international relations between that state entity and the rest of the world as a residual, an add-on. Important, but secondary.

You can see this in the way the old theory of comparative advantage is applied. As a theory, it attempts to explain why people might choose to specialise in particular activities. I am a good doctor but a great gardener. Comparative advantage dictates, however, that I should focus on being a doctor if that provides a greater return, buying in gardening services even if those services are not as good as those I might provide myself. This approach was then generalised to countries seen as economic entities, dictating that trade and benefits between countries would be maximised if those countries followed the route dictated by comparative advantage. I, Australia, am great at primary production and minerals. I should specialise there. That will maximise local benefits in part because it also maximises the return to others.

While the theory of comparative advantage is still popular, it dropped out of favour because of its inability to properly explain international trade. Comparative advantage is based on difference, yet trade seemed to be dictated by commonality and overlap. Similar countries with apparently similar factor endowments traded more with each other than countries with varying factor endowments.

All this analysis was based on geographic national boundaries. It was focused on trade between entities. But what if those boundaries have reducing meaning? What happens then? How does it affect the analysis?

In similar vein, Australians treat the states within the Federation as though they are economic entities. In one sense they are. But what does it actually mean to speak of the NSW economy? Is there such a thing as compared to a series of regional economies of which Sydney is the largest and therefore dominates the statistics?  Mind you, the definitions of Sydney itself have changed over time. What do we mean by Sydney? Indeed, what do we actually mean by the word economy?

At a different level, Australian policy makers make considerable use of ARIA, a measure of remoteness from major centres with its sub-classifications of major city, inner regional, outer regional, remote and very remote. The Australian Bureau of Statistics describes the intent in this way:
The concept of remoteness is an important dimension of policy development in Australia. The provision of many government services are influenced by the typically long distances that people are required to travel outside the major metropolitan areas. The purpose of the Remoteness Structure is to provide a classification for the release of statistics that inform policy development by classifying Australia into large regions that share common characteristics of remoteness.
The intent of ARIA is summarised in the last sentence: ARIA provides a statistical classification intended to "inform policy development by classifying Australia into large regions that that share common characteristics of remoteness."  Sound reasonable? Well, what does it actually mean? In 2006, Darwin and the small NSW town of Balranald were both classified as outer regional, while Armidale was classified as inner regional. Under what conditions did it make sense for Darwin and Balranald to be treated as identical in policy terms, while Armidale was different? Do social or economic policy measures based on ARIA classifications make any sense at all? Why should an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory be treated differently in policy terms from an equivalent Aboriginal community in NSW simply because the first is classified as remote or very remote, the second as outer regional?

I first came across the interacting problems created by boundaries and statistics based on boundaries many years ago and have been struggling with it ever since. Problems have become more intense with the growing importance of measurement and of performance indicators based on measurement.

It's become an absolute pain from my viewpoint, for now you have to constantly ask two questions: are the boundaries correct for the purposes they intend to serve; and then given the answer to one, are the indicators used appropriate?  In both cases, the answers are often no.

A further difficulty lies in our sometimes inability to actually recognise that boundaries and boundary conditions are deeply embedded in the analytical structures we use.We just take them for granted. As an aside, I wonder to what degree the decline in geography as a discipline has reduced our ability to recognise spatially distributed difference?

All this is just a further gripe at this point. However, I am pretty sure that I will be returning to the issue!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Forum - as you will

Another open forum. What has attracted you attention this week? What would you like to chat about?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Bronwyn Bishop memes, Greece and women's long hair

The troubles of  Bronwyn Bishop; the speaker of the House of Representatives, have been well covered in the Australian media.

For those outside Australia, the troubles began when the speaker hired a helicopter to go from Melbourne to nearby Geelong for a Liberal Party fund raiser and have then continued over other aspects of her expense accounts.

The helicopter journey and subsequent controversy has created its own trope. I missed some of the best ones, but this example (Bronwyn Bishop orders take-away) will give you a feel.

On Greece, the Greek Parliament has passed the next stage of the bail-out legislation, so discussion continues. One of the issues is the extent to which the proposed Greek privatisation fund can actually raise the expected money. Meantime, film star Johnny Depp has reportedly spent 4 million euros ($A5.88 million) on Strongyli, a tiny island near Kastelorizo in the Eastern Aegean.

Now I have to say that there is a confusion here, for the island also appears to be spelt Stroggilo. Under this name, it has been for sale at 4.5 million euros.

It looks a very pretty island and indeed it has water, not something you find on all Greek islands. Still, its a big price to pay for a pocket handkerchief! Meantime, Johnny Depp's wife Amber Herd faces certain continuing problems over the illegal importation of pet dogs into Australia.

Ms Herd is reportedly very upset, and maybe Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce could have displayed a little more tact. He could, for example, have explained why the laws were important. Okay, he did that, but he couldn't resist the headline grab.

Australia's quarantine laws are important and do need to be enforced. The potential costs to Australia of breech far exceed the costs associated with illegal immigration, for example, although one could be forgiven for forgetting that.

On those immigration laws, Opposition Leader Shorten is trying to get through changes at the ALP's National Conference that will allow him to adopt a variant of the Government's turn back the boats policy. To do this, he is offerings various sweeteners including an increase in Australia's refugee intake. It's sad, really. We had something like this before on several occasions, be tough at the frontier but create a real path for genuine refugees, but it's always got lost in the politics of it all.

As I write, more Bishop memes are coming up.This is a Facebook page dedicated to them. Actually, some are fairly laboured. That is not a pun! You need a light touch with a meme.

My post In praise of plump women drew praise from Canadian blogger Barbara Martin. I really like Barbara's blog for its lovely posts on Canadian National Parks and scenery.

In a response to  That Australian life - bobbed haircuts, 2t wrote:
I've been meaning to write this piece forever and now I will, at least in brief. The girls and women here (East Timor), almost without exception, wear their hair in a tight bun (sometimes two buns), often sticking up vertically. Rural and older women will wear it a little further back to assist carrying things on their heads. The bun conceals magnificent long hair. Forgive the cliche, but it truly is a crowning glory. And forgive the lack of pictures, but I am the world's worst photographer.
Younger women often flirt by undoing the hair, letting it fall, shaking it out and then immediately doing it up again. I'd guess that it most often reaches the small of the back. It's not trimmed. The longest hair I have seen was on a university student, whose hair fell to mid-calf.
The bun is practical. It allows work to be done, motor cycles to be ridden and exposes a minimum surface to the ever-present dust. Some women wear their hair cut short (to the collar bone), layered and dyed. These are almost always richer, high-status women or their children.
I don't even know if lice are a problem here, although there is a word for it in my dictionary.
I do know that the long hair, usually curly but sometimes straight, is devastatingly attractive. And I have thought so since my own youth.
Now at the risk of being inconsistent with my own argument about taking women as they are, I too have always liked long hair for its sensuous feel. Ah well, nobody is perfect!


Friday, July 24, 2015

In praise of plump women

I have a confession to make. I really like plump women. Actually, I like all women, but I have a special fondness for those with curves.

This painting by E Phillips Fox, the Butterfly, is from the current New England Regional Art Museum exhibition, The Female Nude. She is not really plump, but she definitely has curves!

I'm not sure how many diets I have suffered from over the years in pursuit of health or, more often, some idealised weight. I know that there have been dozens and dozens.

I don't mind weight reduction for the purpose of health. I will support that whole-heartedly. But it's very difficult to explain to one's female friend or partner that you actually like them the way they are. Worse, dieting with the aim of bodily improvement creates pressure on me, wondering just how I might improve. to get rid of my imperfections, to match this new desired self demanded by the other.

Sitting on the couch having cooked for the non-dieting members of my family while the dieter eats her lean cuisine or whatever leaves me feeling inadequate and dissatisfied. Inadequate because my cooking is not good enough, dissatisfied because it is just so anti-social. Needless to say, perhaps, my interest in the other person is reduced.

It is a fact of life, I think, that women as they grow older and have children tend to add cellulite and curves. That doesn't stop them being physically attractive. In fact, some of the sexiest women I have known, those who make you want to make love to them, have been apparently overweight. There is a sparkle there that has nothing to do with weight. Or, perhaps, it does. Perhaps plump women are simply sexier. Who wants to make love to a skeleton?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Sydney real estate prices appear not to make medium term sense

I have become very fond of Australia's Reserve Bank. That may sound a dumb thing to say about an institution, but I do like the balanced if cautious commentary on economic matters.

Back at the start of June, Belshaw's prognostications on Australia's economic outlook provided a stocktake on the economic outlook as I saw it. Nothing profound, just a benchmark that I could assess later developments against. My view as an analyst is that on some issues you need to put down what you think is happening, why its happening, what it means. If you don't do that, how are you going to make a rational future assessment of your own views?

As I write, the median house price in Sydney has reached a million dollars. So half the houses are under a million, but half are over a million. Despite the arguments for and against, I have no doubt that there is a housing bubble in Sydney. 

I say this for two reasons. The first is that the ratio between median Sydney house prices and those in the rest of the country seem out of kilter in historical terms. The second is that even with high Sydney rents, the rental yield on Sydney properties is now very low. Low rental yield means that future returns on investment properties are more heavily dependent on the combination of future rent increases with capital gain. For the life of me, I cannot see how in terms of simple maths current Sydney real estate prices can hold.

In a useful and interesting speech yesterday, Reserve Bank Governor Glen Stevens explored some of the longer term issues facing the Australian economy. Here I want to pick up just a few points from that speech.

Mr Stevens suggested that the long term trend rate of growth in the Australian economy may have fallen. This is quite important, for things such as budget estimates are based on a return to trend growth. If the trend rate has fallen, then this will create problems not just for things such as budget surpluses, but will also place pressure on spend and tax collections.

Mr Stevens suggested that a fall in immigration may be one of the causes. The official economic projections are based in part on assumptions about population increase. If actual numbers are lower than projections, this feeds through into lower growth. This is a particular problem for Sydney as the largest entry point for migrants.

Mr Stevens also pointed to stagnant income growth. If people don't have increased income, then they can't increase their spending. Now you would expect income growth to be slow following the ending of a boom period. I would argue that some fall in Australian real incomes is almost inevitable as exchange rates adjust, as the economy restructures. Mr Stevens and the Reserve Bank want a lower Australian dollar to assist the adjustment process. That keeps cash incomes up, aids exports, but also means some reductions in real incomes as imports including overseas travel becomes more expensive. 

Turning now to the detail of his remarks, there is nothing there that conflicts with my own June prognostications. I can let those stand.

Finishing with Sydney real estate prices, here are just four reasons why I think that they will either crash or, as has happened in the past, enter into a long period of no real growth.

  1. Interest rates will rise, reducing real estate returns. If interest rates don't rise, it will be for economic factors that will, of themselves, act to reduce real estate prices. 
  2. Lower immigration, reducing Sydney's population growth.
  3. Better returns from other investment activities, including investment in real estate in other places.  
  4.  Low rental returns in Sydney with limited immediate capacity to increase rents given stagnant incomes. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

That Australian life - bobbed haircuts

The absence of women Archibald Prize Winners  led to a discussion in comments on Milsom wins the 2015 Archibald prize between kvd and AC that, in turn, lead to this post by AC: Feministic Observations.

AC's post is interesting. It includes her experiences growing up in communist Poland: "I was brought up in communist Poland and one positive aspect of the political system was that it considered everybody equal. Women were riding tractors, worked as bricklayers and moved up in business hierarchies with the same speed as men did." This comment struck a cord and sent my mind wandering.

When I first studied history at school, it was all about war, politics, kings and battles. There was very little about domestic life or, indeed, life in general. Now, fortunately, the historical canvas is painted in much broader terms.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like war, politics, kings and battles and even economics! However, the details of life are not just interesting, but set a basic context that helps explain other things.

Take, as an example, the rise of the women’s bobbed hair cut.

Traditionally, women wore their hair long. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” really only makes sense if you know that women wore their hair long. The modern miss would have to say “I’m sorry, I can’t, but here’s a rope.” Practical, but not quite as romantic!

To my mind, bobbed hair is a symbol of the changes that have taken place in women’s life over the twentieth century. Shorter hair became necessary during the First World War when women started working in factories. It was practical. When, to the shock of the traditionalists, it became a fashion statement during the 1920s, it was again in part because it was practical.

The long and complex clothing worn by women in the last part of the 19th century may have been fashionable and attractive, but it could be an absolute pain. Quite literally, in fact. The high necked dresses with their multiple buttons stretching up to the back of the neck caught hair that had to be painfully and carefully untangled.

I had enough problems with my daughters getting knots out as I brushed their hair. I hate to think how I would have gone with a wife or partner with hair caught in her high-necked dress.

Today, we think of women’s liberation in political or gender relation terms. That’s true, but it’s also very misleading.

In the nineteenth century, being an Australian wife and mother was hard and sometimes dangerous work.

It was hard because of the absence of any form of labour saving device. With the man of the house often absent for extended period, women had to undertake hard physical labour including sawing wood so that it could be chopped. Hard labour continued even when the man was home in washing, cooking and cleaning.

It was dangerous, too. It wasn’t just the dangers of childbirth at a time when so many women had very large numbers of children with limited medical knowledge or support. Open fires, fuel stoves, moving heavy pots or kerosene lamps all provided their own dangers and challenges. Severe burns were common.

Is it any wonder that women formed powerful support networks, that men were judged first and foremost by a single rule, is he a good provider? If he was, much could be forgiven. If not, there was much to forgive.

I may seem to have drifted away from AC's opening point. I have not. Gender roles are set in the social construct holding at the time. 

AC refers to communist Poland, but she also links this in with Virginia Wolf, Strachey, Carrington and the Bloomsbury set. The photo of Dora Carringtom posing comes from the Daily Mail.The link is worth visiting because of the archival photos. Note the bobbed hair, by the way.

I first started reading about the Bloomsbury set in a simpler past life. I found the complexities of their relationships and the relationship between them and the external world a little baffling. How did one make life so complicated?

I am a little more sympathetic now because of the evolved complexities in my own life. Still, I think of them very much as a period piece, as I suppose I am too, set within the context of their time.

I have actually written a fair bit on the texture of family, relationships and society, the actual detail of domestic life over time. It interests me as I seek to understand the changing patterns of human and especially Australian life. Perhaps time I shared more of that here.