Friday, July 31, 2009

Moved at last. It should be a fun house

Moving was not fun.

On Tuesday, the removalists did not finish putting the last bed together until nearly nine o'clock. Then on Wednesday I spent the morning at the old house tidying up the garden and then unpacking.

You can always tell something about people from what gets unpacked first. In my case it was the kitchen and then my key books. The second caused some family controversy - why are you doing that now?!

People who have seen the new place so far all have the same reaction. This should be a fun house.

In normal circumstances in Sydney we would never be able to live in a place like this.

It has a big block - I have my vegetable garden back - that slopes first up the side of a hill and then flattens at the top. It is high, with 180 degree views stretching from Coogee in a big arc out to Botany Bay and then to the Blue Mountains. The views are interrupted to some degree by trees and a fence designed to give some privacy, so they peak out at you as you move around.

The house itself is a large, rambling and somewhat run down single level Federation style house, what I would think of as an Armidale style residence. It has a station homestead feel, and indeed could be plonked down on any of the properties around Armidale and would fit in at once.

We could never afford this type of place in normal circumstances. We are here purely by chance because the owners have purchased it to do up for themselves, and are just renting it in the meantime. We know that we are here just for the lease period, fortunately we managed to negotiate a slightly longer lease than normal, but will enjoy it while we can.

Because it is largely in original condition with only a few modernisations, it would not be for all. The paint is peeling in spots, the electrics are a tad ancient (they had to be fixed the day we moved in), the single bathroom is relatively small and old fashioned and there is a fair bit of work in the garden, but from our viewpoint it's great.

The house we were in before was very much modern Sydney. Small block, biggish house, a paved garden area at the back with trees and greenery, open plan. We saw it in summer and the girls loved it. As time past, we found it noisy and somewhat cold, cut off from the sun. The backyard, the centre at Rosebery because of the sun, was rarely used simply because it was cold. The neighbours were always present. The kitchen was really a toy kitchen.

This house will be cold too in some ways, although it does get sun. To heat the whole house would be very expensive. But it has old fashioned internal doors that allow you to close up parts of the house or, alternatively, open up the whole house on hot days.

As a family we have always had an open house. The girls' friends are in and out the whole time, as is my wife's family. This is a house built for people, outward looking, not inward looking and enclosed like so much of modern Sydney. Yes, I know that my biases are showing, but the reaction of the whole family and of the dozen or so visitors this week has been the same, when's the party!

As I write, the sky to the east and north is lightening through the windows that stretch along the eastern and northern walls in the back room.

Moving has been very disruptive in time and also money. My normal time for reading and writing has been very limited, so I am behind in everything. I am really looking forward now to settling in and catching up.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Moving Day

Note to readers: Why should I do all this alone? Instead of posting tomorrow, I am going to bring this up and post as I go along!

I am writing this on the evening before. By the time you read this, moving will be in full swing! I doubt that I will be on line again for at least a few days.

We are already out of book boxes. All I can do is to sort out things in order so that I can pack them when we get more.

This I must do. But it's a real pain.

Postscript One 8.06pm

I have just found a map on NSW railway routes with coach connections. And the height for my daughters when they were young. This is the fourth time I have saved this one. Nostalgia! And our wedding photos.

Postscript Two 8:47pm

Great excitement. Friend Jenny is helping Helen pack. We found a photo of Jenny in her cubby house!

Postscript three 9:20pm

Just been through one of the filing cabinets, material relating to specialist medical colleges, training and intellectual property and innovation. Kept some, but turfed a lot. Memories came flooding back. But I cannot afford posts at the moment!

Dog days 9:50pm

It all becomes very hard. Two filing cabinets done, two to go. The cats have been taken, protesting greatly, across to Dee's mum's place. Back to it.

Signing Off 6am

All systems now going own until further notice!

Report into Australia's health system to be released

According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will today release the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report which warns that the present system is "unlikely to be sustainable without reform".

There is already a fair bit of hype around the report as can be seen from this quote from the SMH story:

Hospital errors claim the lives of 4550 Australians a year, equivalent to the death toll from 13 jumbo jets crashing and killing all on board, says a report to the Government which urges sweeping reforms of the health system.

I will be interested to read the report, but its apparent reported focus on efficiencies and cost savings makes me cautious.

I am not sure that more controls and measures designed to improve efficiency are the answer to inefficiencies introduced by previous controls and measures designed to improve efficiency! But then, perhaps I am being over cynical.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Essay - language, history and Australia's First Peoples

Sue Stanton had a very good guest post on Bob Gosford's The Northern Myth blog dealing with the use of the word "Indigenous" to describe those descended from Australia's first settlers. This is something that has been of concern to me too. I don't really have an answer to the problem, except perhaps to suggest the term "First Peoples".

The word "Indigenous" is used in official circles because it covers both what are now called Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. For the benefit of international readers, the Torres Strait Islanders descend from those living on islands in the Torres Strait between the Australian mainland and what is now Papua New Guinea.

Aboriginal flag Both groups now have their own flag, the Aboriginal flag on the left, the Torres Strait Islander flag on the right.

Torres Strait Islanders or their descendants total around eight per cent of Australia's Indigenous population and resent being lumped in as Aboriginal. For their part, many Aborigines (at least in NSW) equally resent the use of the term Indigtorresenous because they see it as concealing their identity in what is their land.

This view is quite strongly held to the point that it can make writing difficult. At a personal level, I hadn't realised this until quite recently. I try to be careful with my use of English, and was in fact carefully using Indigenous without recognising that it could cause offence.

The terms "Aboriginal", "Indigenous" and "Torres Strait Islander" are of course labels. They would have had no meaning to those living in the past in what is now Australia. Like all labels, they acquire meanings that vary with time.

For a number of reasons, I have decided as much as possible to cease using the term "Indigenous". Not only is it offensive to many Aboriginal people, if you look at the Wikipedia article on Indigenous peoples, you can see how the term has acquired various overlays, overlays that make me uncomfortable. Instead, I plan (as indicated) to use the term Australia's First Peoples instead.

Why not the term "First Nations" as in Canada? To begin with, the concept of "nations' has no meaning in a traditional context. Equally importantly, the language groupings that existed at the time the Europeans arrived in Australia cannot, of themselves, be described as the First Nations. They were not. They were groupings that emerged over the vast history of human occupation of the Australian continent.

My refusal to use the term is quite different from the increasing popular use of the term nation.

We can see this use in the now customary welcome to country. For example:

The President (of the NSW Legislative Council) acknowledged the Gadigal clan of the Eora nation and its elders and thanked them for their custodianship of this land.

This is the best known welcome to country in Australia simply because the Gadigal occupied the territory of what is now central Sydney.

I used to have problems with welcome to country in general because I saw it as ritualistic, problems with the use of the word nation because of the lack of validity.

My position has changed through attendance at sessions where the focus is Aboriginal. That is, the welcome to country is by Aborigines for Aborigines. Here the welcome has meaning as part of a broader pattern. Further, if Aborigines want to use the word nation, then I see that as a current expression of culture and politics. I only object where the word is misapplied to the past, and then as a historian.

Turning now to the terms "Aboriginal" and "Torres Strait Islanders".

I am pretty comfortable with Torres Strait Islanders because it is a geographic term. There were variations in language and culture within Torres Strait, but the term still has meaning.

Aboriginal poses far more difficulties.

Within at least the NSW Aboriginal community, a common question is "which mob are you from?" When talking about themselves they do use the term Aboriginal, but equally often the colloquial usage is simply "black fellas" as compared to "white fellas". This can actually sound quite odd when the term is used by someone who looks as European as me.

The Aboriginal community itself is divided over the question of what constitutes Aboriginality. This holds in NSW, more so I think elsewhere where (as I understand it) those of full Aboriginal ancestry are deeply suspicious of those in the south of part Aboriginal ancestry who claim to be Aboriginal.

Part of the difficulty is that "Aboriginal" itself has very different meanings.

It is used as an ethnic descent marker in just the way I sometimes think of myself as Scottish. It is used as a collective noun to describe all those who are classified as Aboriginal. Indigenous is used in this sense too, with the addition of Torres Strait islanders. This flows across into policy - the term "Indigenous disadvantage" is an example. Then, too, it is used as a cultural descriptor. Aboriginal cultural awareness training is an example of this usage.

Three different usages, each carrying different connotations.

I have no problems with the use of the term as an ethnic descent marker. I see this usage as generally healthy because it attaches interest and pride to descent. 

I do have problems with the second usage, the collective noun.

I have argued quite consistently and indeed persistently that one should be careful of the use of the word Aboriginal in policy terms because it twists policy thinking towards uniformity of treatment when in fact policy should be based on recognition of difference. Bluntly, once something is classified as Aboriginal or Indigenous in policy terms it goes into a strange basket that almost certainly guarantees policy failure.

The third usage, the cultural descriptor, I find remarkably complicated.

Focusing just on NSW, there is no doubt that there is a modern Aboriginal culture. You see it in terms like bro, sister, auntie, uncle. You see it in the question which mob are you from. You see it in language: listen to an Aboriginal person talking to another Aboriginal person and the language changes. There are changes in cadence, words become shortened.

In Saturday Morning Musings - Aboriginal languages and the return of Kamilaroi, I spoke of my lack of linguistic skills in the context of traditional New England languages. The same actually applies to Aboriginal English today. This is partially a matter of discomfort. I am happy to be called bro, but I won't use the term in return, preferring mate. I am not Aboriginal, and feel in a peculiar way that it would be improper of me to do so. But it's also true that I don't have a good enough ear for sounds.

Working with Aboriginal people has not changed my core views formed over time out of study and thought. What it has done is to give me a much greater understanding of complexity and depth, a greater sensitivity.

Before going on, I want to repeat a few points that I have made before that I think are important in setting a context.

The moving frontier hit traditional Aboriginal life in waves that varied in time across the continent from 1788 until the 1960s when the last truly traditional Aboriginal people came out of the desert. That's a long time span.

The actual impact of that moving frontier was affected by Australia's different jurisdictions in a whole variety of sometimes very subtle ways.

As an example, NSW is not the same as Queensland. NSW policy towards the Aborigines was not the same as Queensland's. The experiences of Aboriginal peoples in both states was affected not just by frontier timing, but by the differing policies adopted in those states.

The modern Aboriginal culture in NSW is a sometimes uncomfortable amalgam of traditional life, sometimes more accurately perceived traditional life, with the accumulated experiences of Aboriginal peoples living under NSW law and policy. It has also been formed by the interaction between the Aborigines and the non-Aboriginal community. All of this creates a cycle that then feeds back into the evolving culture of Aboriginal NSW.

This post is in danger of moving into a much larger topic. Keeping strictly to the topic, the accurate use of language, if we are going to use the term Aboriginal as a cultural descriptor we have to be very careful as to the way we are using it.

The very fact that NSW existed as a separate jurisdiction created a clear NSW Aboriginal culture, something that did not previously exist. That culture is not uniform, nor is it necessarily the same as that holding in other places. In turn, the existence of national policies and legal structures has melded to some degree the cultures in different states or territories into a broader Australian Aboriginal culture. Again, I don't know what is in fact now common, what still different.

All this makes me very cautious about the way I use language.

There is actually some absolutely fascinating stuff here for an obsessive like me who starts from the local perspective. For the moment, I would like to finish with a few very simple points.

Australia has just finished NAIDOC week. To quote from the official NAIDOC web site:      

NAIDOC stands for the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee. Its origins can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920s which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Today, NAIDOC is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians in various fields.

Activities take place across the nation during NAIDOC Week in the first full week of July. All Australians are encouraged to participate.

I fear that in the past NAIDOC has largely passed me by. Bluntly, I think that I saw it as another example of politically correct official thinking. This time contracting in an organisation with many Aboriginal people my reactions were very different. NAIDOC was very important to them, so had to be treated in a different light. This created another problem.

By nature I am a joiner. My first reaction to NAIDOC was to feel that I should join in. But then, and some of my Aboriginal colleagues may be surprised at this, I felt that I could not, that it would in some ways be wrong because I was not Aboriginal. I would be an interloper.

The reactions of Aboriginal people to non-Aboriginal people are quite complex.

I came outside one day for a smoke. I had been in a meeting where in my own limited way I had been fighting to protect what I saw as the Aboriginal position. The anger that I feel about well-intentioned failures, policy positions adopted for the best of reasons, sometimes actually impedes my ability to do things.

Anyway, I was sounding off. An Aboriginal colleague who had been involved in a different conversation essentially said that the area I was doing contract work in had too many whities, that it had to have Aboriginal people to do its job. Only Aboriginal people could understand Aborigines. I really got upset, almost reduced to tears I walked sharply away.

I know that the person in question is naturally blunt and did not mean quite what he said, I also understood his position, so later I apologised to him for my abrupt reaction. Still, it explains why I did not feel that I could participate in NAIDOC Week in the way I might have wanted to. Exclusion works both ways in explaining reactions.

On a more positive note, at a NAIDOC function that I did attend there was a slide show running of a school presentation from a North Coast area centred on the experiences of a particular family. The women who had arranged this was so excited. It was her family. She kept pointing to the screen saying that is my grandmother, my auntie, my cousin and so on. She also said that the kids from the community who attended the school got a great kick from seeing their story presented, at being at the centre of school attention.

I actually knew the area in question very well, so I found it very interesting.

There are a lot of problems with NSW Aboriginal young just at present, problems that worry their parents and broader families. Part of the difficulty lies in constant stereotyping, the constant attachment of negative images to words like Aboriginal. Here the Northern Territory intervention and subsequent policy responses has been something of disaster in its constant negative drag on attitudes within and to the Aboriginal community. The problem with stereotypes is that they can become self-fulfilling.

Again, this is moving into a broader issue. However, I will give one non-Aboriginal example, the changing attitudes towards Australia's Lebanese community. Community attitudes towards the Lebanese were over-whelmingly positive. That has become harder to sustain in the face of a constant drip-feed of negative, stereotyping stories. The Lebanese are not in fact one community, but all members suffer from the way in which attitudes and responses within and without become conditioned by perception.

Beyond being careful with my own use of language and argument, there is little that I can do to affect attitudes to or, for that matter, within the Aboriginal community broadly defined. However, and this is what I found so encouraging and interesting about the North Coast NAIDOC example I quoted, I and others like me can do a lot by focusing on the local and specific.

In my case, I guess, the best weapon I have is my research and writing.

In seeking to understand elements of the Aboriginal past as it applies at local or regional level, the Aborigines emerge not as Aborigines but as people and groups. Here my own obsessions can, I think, help by providing information that individuals can access for their own purposes.

It may sound odd, but I don't discuss my research or writing much with the Aboriginal people I know. There are very particular reasons for this, including my own uncertainty. However, I do like to think that (with time) the body of work will build to the point that it does serve a useful purpose.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - Aboriginal languages and the return of Kamilaroi

Another early Saturday morning, another blank screen. We are moving house next week, again!, and I am gloomily contemplating the impossibility of the task.

Some time ago I set myself the objective of writing 300 words per day on my proposed history of Australia's New England. It sounds so simple, just 300 words per day. I have made some progress, but have I managed 300 words? No, I fear.

I have been bogged down on New England's Aboriginal languages, trying to understand more not just about their distribution, but also their structure. This is not easy. I am bad at languages and simply do not properly understand sounds and the notations representing them. Just as bad is my limited knowledge of grammar. References to dative or locative cases have little meaning beyond faint echoes of the time I tried (and failed) to learn Latin. Four years in fact; I think I passed only only one test, the first!

I do not need to understand all the detail, but I need to know enough to be sure that when I draw from other people's material that I am not making stupid errors. 

As always, I am reading at different levels.

At a first level, I want to be able to write a description of languages and language distribution as it was around 1788, linking this to social and economic structures. 

In 1788 there were perhaps 250 Aboriginal language groups in Australia incorporating perhaps 700 dialects. Within New England there were some thirteen main language groups, perhaps 50 dialects.

With so many languages and dialects as well as the very different sounds, it is not surprising that the expression of things such as group names into English should lead to widely varied spellings and to subsequent confusion about the exact distribution of peoples.

What is clear, is that with so many languages and dialects only a few languages had many thousands of speakers, with numbers tailing away to hundreds in other cases. In some case, contiguous related languages or dialects covered large areas like links in a chain. People easily understood their neighbours because they shared vocabulary and could at least understand structure and pronunciation. As the chain lengthened, language difficulties increased; people at opposite ends might barely understand each other.

Apart from any shared language features, communication among different languages was made easier because many Aborigines were multi-lingual. Marriage partners were commonly exchanged with other groups while groups mingled as well for social, ceremonial and trade occasions. This was to facilitate European expansion within New England because many settlers made use of Aboriginal guides to bring them into new country.

Despite language diversity, all the New England language groups belong to what has come to be called Pama-Nyungan, the dominant language grouping over much of Australia. Coined by the linguist Kenneth Hale from the words pama (person in Cape York) and nyunga (one in south western Australia), Pama-Nyungun languages have commonalities in the structure of words and the way words to relate to each other.

For a period there were suggestions that the Anaiwan or Nganyaywana language on the southern New England Tablelands did not belong to the Pama-Nyungan group because of its apparently aberrant structure. Anaiwan did not have many speakers and became extinct as a language a long time ago, surviving only in word lists. Thanks to the remarkable early detective work of Terry Crowley, it now seems that Anaiwan was in fact related to other New England Pama-Nyungan languages.

Despite these commonalities, we cannot assume that the languages spoken in 1788 were the same in either structure or vocabulary to those spoken earlier, nor can we assume that language distribution was the same in geographic terms. There have been substantial changes in language even in the last few hundred years, while we know that territorial boundaries shifted with time.

While at a first level I am interested in what was and what it means, at a second level I am interested in the history of research into the languages. This forms part of the history of New England thought, while also reflecting changing attitudes to Australia's Aboriginal people.

There is something here that I do not yet understand, the reason why apparent interest in and research into New England's languages apparently peaked in the 1960s, early 1970s. It re-surfaced later, but in the meantime the opportunity to interview old people with their knowledge was lost through death.

This brings me to my third level, the language revival movement. This forms another part of modern New England history. The languages now being promoted and developed are not the same as they were - whole families of dialects have collapsed into single languages, while processes have had to be developed to introduce new words. Yet they are still clearly linked to their past.

At least so far as NSW is concerned, the language revival movement actually began in New England with Kamilaroi. The last living speaker of Kamilaroi died during the 1970s in the research interregnum that I referred to. Yet, despite this, Kamilaroi suddenly emerged in the internet age as the language with (I think) the greatest on-line presence of any Aboriginal language. Today you can hear Kamilaroi spoken on-line, study it at school or attend further education courses in the language. 

Is the language the same as that spoken in 1788? Clearly not, yet it is still Kamilaroi.

The story of the re-emergence of Kamilaroi is quite an inspirational one. It involves past and present researchers who documented the language to some degree, creating dictionaries and grammars and even (fortunately) recording the sound of the language. It involves locals, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, acting at local level.

Three levels of interest in language, three very different stories.

Note to readers:

If you would like to hear Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) spoken or find out more about the revived language click here.

For a description of Kamilaroi click here, for a history of research into Kamilaroi including the early story of the revival movement click here. These two papers by Peter Austin should be read together.

If you would like to find out about New England's large coastal language groups click here.

I should add that some of the descriptions of Aboriginal languages in this post are drawn from Mulvaney John & Kamminga Johan, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999. 

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Ancient Australia-Indian connection

I read with interest a short story in the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that DNA testing had established possible links between early populations in what is now India and the Australian Aborigines, although I thought that the headline (First Australians were Indian) was a bit silly.

Those who are interested can find the original research piece here. It does seem to add support to the idea that at least some of Australia's early settlers came to Australia via India though the then extended South East Asian landmass and into what is now Australia via the Southern sea route.

I found the story very interesting if not especially surprising. One of the things about Australia's relative isolation from the west of the world and the continent's long human occupation is that the continent provides a window into the human past in a way not possible in other, more fought over, areas.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tools for the home researcher and writer - 1

One of the difficulties we all face in writing or researching is finding that book.

When I first started working so much from home, the on-line world was far less developed. Now there is a wealth of material available to help.

I find Google books the first indispensable tool. I thought that most people were aware of this one, but it seems not.

You can search by author, title or subject. I use the last all the time. At the very least, it provides lists of possible references. In some cases it provides snippet views of content that can be helpful. In others, limited pre-views that actually allow you to check slabs of a book. In further cases for older works out of copyright, an increasing number have actually been digitised and are this fully available on line.

Google books has a find in a library feature that I find very helpful. However, here I also use Worldcat, an on-line tool that allows you to search the catalogues of what seem to be thousands of participating libraries.

Here I found to my surprise that a larger number of my own papers have survived than I had expected, although there are some errors in authors. I am James D, not James P, Belshaw. The second is my father. There is enough still in my old Departmental library written by me and others to get a feel for the things that we were trying to achieve in industry policy during that reform period from 1983.           

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First moon landing anniversary - where, on earth, was the Dish?

The Dish

I know from a wander round the blogosphere that a number of bloggers spotted the significance of the Australian film the Dish. After all, this is the story of the moon landing from an Australian perspective and a very funny film too. However, there is a broad question, one that a reader may be able to answer.

There we were watching TV and my wife said let's watch the Dish. So we searched all the channels, free to air and pay, to find that no-one we could find was running it. It left me wondering just what blithering idiots were in chargé of programming at various channels.

Here you have a world story, the first landing on the moon, in which Australia played a part. And nobody thought to run and promote a very good Australian film that tells the story in a very funny if slightly fictionalised way. Why not?

Quite odd.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confusions over public policy - and the costs of restrictions

There is no way that I am going to win the argument that I am about to mount. I have to accept that nothing will change until the costs become so great that things break down.

The trigger for this post was a story: the headline read P-Plate crashes down 45 per cent. The first paragraph said:

Following the introduction of no-tolerance law reforms in New South Wales, over 88,000 P-Plate drivers have been taken off the roads.

Fair enough you might say. What a good result, crashes down 45%.

A fact first. There has been a decline in the road toll for young drivers in NSW; 38 17 to 20-year-olds died in 2006, while 20 died last year.

So there have been over 88,000 license suspensions over two years for a saving of 18 deaths. My family thought that this was fair enough. I took a different view.

Over the last few years there have been a raft of changes, all intended to reduce the road toll. Just which has been effective is very much open to question.

In May last year in Saturday Morning Musings - the burden of compliance I spoke of the changes in NSW that increased the driving hours required to get a license from 50 hours to 120. I estimated the real cost as at least $350 million. If we could get rid of all young deaths, that's a cost (if my maths is correct) of $17.5 million per death based on the most recent stats.

I wonder how many lives $17.5 million would save if invested in the health system? Doesn't this sound a bit crazy to you?

Worse, we create an incentive among our young to break the rules. At 120 hours many cannot get their licenses, they cannot afford it, so they do what is necessary.

In NSW we lock up in jail four times as many young people relative to population size than Victoria. Seventy per cent of these re-offend within twelve months. The NSW Government has commissioned a study to find out why we jail so many. Part of the answer simply lies in criminal justice rules introduced to get tough on crime.

Pedophilia is a problem. We introduce mandatory reporting rules. Such a good idea. The strain placed on the NSW Child Welfare system caused an almost complete collapse (here and here, among others). Children suffer.

This is happening right across our systems.

I really do try to present an alternative view, if with little impact.

In Education Targets and Australia's Universities - delivery problems for the Rudd Government I suggested that at least part of the Rudd Government's higher education targets were unachievable based on simple maths. In Back of envelope calculations - is the purchase of Toorale Station a waste of money? I applied some very crude maths to test the real cost of the NSW/Commonwealth decisions to buy back this property and take it out of production. I suggested that the real costs had simply not been taken into account.

I stand to be corrected on my maths. But you won't find this type of analysis in most reporting.

I get so cranky sometimes.

In another story today, the opposition in Tasmania was suggesting that young people should be prevented from getting a drivers' license if their school attendance was not good. How dumb can you get? School attendance has nothing to do with the question of how well can you drive.

In NSW new restrictions have just come in on the sale of cigarettes. They restrict sales to just one cash register in any store. Will this affect total sales of cigarettes? No, but it does add another little cost for the store, a little inconvenience for the customer.

Staying with NSW, there have always been fines for the growing volume of traffic offences. Then demerit points were added for each offence, so many points and you lose your license. Then demerit points for offences were increased. Suddenly so many ordinary middle class people were suffering license suspension for minor offences that the Government was forced to back-off.

I think that the thing that most gets up my nose in all this is what I see as middle class arrogance as to what people should and shouldn't do, combined with an obsession with risk avoidance that links to protection of personal, economic and social position.

Take the NSW approach to driving licenses. If enforced, it disadvantages those who cannot afford driving lessons or who do not have a family car. I feel that this is just wrong. It creates another barrier that the less advantaged must jump over.

In similar vein, high traffic fines are regressive. A middle class person shrugs and pays. A low income person facing a fine that can equal a week's income if you are on welfare may refuse to pay. In turn, this can lead to loss of license and, sometimes, jail.

My understanding is, I have not checked my facts here, that one reason for the increase in prisoner numbers in NSW lies in the increased numbers of people spending time for non-payment of fines. Another side-effect of the NSW approach appears to have been an increasing number of un-licensed drivers.

At Federal level, opposition leader Turnbull, one of Australia's wealthiest men, wants the minimum price of a packet of cigarettes increased to $20 per week.

There are policy arguments for and against this proposal. But again, it has the effect of hitting hardest at lower incomes. Then, if people on low incomes continue to smoke, the extra cost affects other things such as food purchases.

I know that I sound like a broken record on some of these issues.

I find that in discussions people will accept to some degree that there is a general problem. However, as soon as discussion moves to specific cases or examples such as P plate restrictions views split sharply.

As an example, parents worried about their teen age children are more likely to support P plate restrictions in general because they see them as protecting their kids. It is very hard to mount a case against unless the kids are in some ways adversely affected by other aspects of the system.

In similar vein, these types of restrictions appear to be more strongly supported by non-drivers or non-car owners than by car owners and, also, I think, by those living close to public transport.

Obviously I have my own biases created by my own personal and family circumstances. This affects my views on, for example, the hours required to get a driving license.

In the case of my own daughters, the barriers created are sufficiently high that neither has so far bothered to get their licenses. This worries me somewhat. I would feel a lot more comfortable if they could drive.

It's not just that a driver's license is a requirement for many jobs. I worry about them not being able to take over the wheel if, for example, someone else has had too much to drink or if there is some other form of emergency.

Ah well. Time for work.


One of old colleagues and fellow campaigner for improvement, Bob Q, posted a comment that I thought that I would bring up on the main post. Bob wrote:

I get so cranky too, Jim.

The base cause is a complete failure to understand basic statistics and cost benefit analyses. Swine flu is a good example of this - world mortality figures for swine flu are very low. If the resources thrown at swine flu by the World HEALTH [ie not sickness] Organisation had instead been directed to malaria, malnutrition or clean water, many more lives would have been saved.

So yes, you are not going to win this one. But not because you are wrong.

As it happened, they distributed wipes plus hand disinfectant around the office today in honour of swine flue, along with an official notice about work absences.

I am not complaining. I can always use the stuff. But Bob is quite right.

The difficulty, I suppose, is that if swine flue had proved to be really bad and officials had played a more low key role, we would all have blamed them!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Belshaw Baldwin Marriage Certificate

This post has been by way of a test to see if I can recover images as images from images stored in word documents. I find that if I copy them to Livewriter, post as a draft, I can then save back as an image.

This is a copy of my great grandparents' wedding certificate.

James Belshaw - this makes me the fourth James Belshaw in a direct line - married Ellen Baldwin at the Parish Church in Wigan, 27 January 1850.

If you look at the certificate - I hope that by clicking on it it becomes readable - you can see that both James and Ellen were illiterate as were the witnesses. Each made his or her mark. This was not unusual.

James gives his occupation as collier, the occupation for both fathers is given as labourer.

The home towns are given as Ince and Wigan. Ince is just next to Wigan.

When I get a chance I must investigate the geography properly. I have been to Wigan, but then I knew far less than I do now.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Memories of Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Stadium

This photograph from the National Library of Australia really took me back. It shows Jimmy Sharman's boxing troupe at a country show in 1959.

The drum (centre) would start beating to draw the crowd. Those like my brother and I would be attracted by the noise, and come drifting across the rutted dusty ground towards the stand. There we would stand, while the spruker expounded the virtues of the fighters.

"Come on, come on, come on. Give it a go. Survive three rounds and we will give you five pounds."

Each fighter would be brought forward and introduced to the crowd. "Surely some of you blokes can beat him. Three rounds, five pounds." The locals would hold up their hands and be called into the stand to be fitted out.

Juimmy Sharman Troup

Inside we got near the ring, sat and waited on the hard seats while the dust motes drifted in the sunlight streaming down onto the ring. The fighters were brought out and introduced, the troupe fighter and then the local challenger. The bell sounded, and the fight began.

In today's terms it would all seem quite brutal, although we did not see it that way. It was just sport. It was only when fights were completely unbalanced that it became cruel.

Generally the locals were outclassed and it was over quite quickly. The local retired bearing his scars to the beer tent, there to stand in glory with his friends for giving it a go. However, there was one fight I remember that did not go according to plan.

The troupe boxer was a young, good looking, blonde bloke. He ran up against a very tough local who cut him to pieces. By mid way through the second round the troupe boxer's face was bruised and cut, his lips smashed. He kept going, but the crowd started to call for an end to the fight. It was no longer sport.

I actually saw a fair bit of boxing. Yes, I am aware of the health risks, but I am glad that I did see Jimmy Sharman's touring stadium before new regulations forced an end to the shows.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - musings on three years of blogging

I still find it hard to believe that it is now three years since I started blogging.

This blog started in March 2006, followed by New England Australia in April. Then in July came Managing the Professional Services Firm and Regional Living Australia followed in November by Management Perspectives and New England's History. One year, five blogs, each intended to serve a different purpose. Three years, 2,361 posts later, how has it all gone?

The world has changed a lot over the three years.

My own needs and objectives have changed.

When I began each blog was intended to serve a different purpose.

This blog was purely personal, a chance to reflect. No matter what the pressures may have been, I have kept it going regardless as my lead blog. This is reflected in the number of posts, 1133 or nearly half the total.

The blog has changed. Most recently, it has become more personal, more introspective. There has been less focus on the current, less on reference posts intended to attract search engine traffic. I have also begun to experiment in a small way with different writing forms, although this won't be immediately obvious.

I am presently experimenting with what I think of as my three hundred word posts. I often write very long posts. Now I am trying to limit a number just to three hundred words to make it easier for the reader. You can see this in my current multi-ethnic series.

This is actually quite hard. I write first in Word because this makes it easier to check word length, then transfer to Livewriter for final editing and then to the blog. 

New England Australia was intended to promote the story of New England, to carry on one of my longest running obsessions. In my first post I said:

This blog is dedicated to the history, culture and activities of the New England region of Australia. This was to be a campaigning blog.

In many ways New England does not exist. In the words of the Australian poet A D Hope, New England is an idea in the heart and mind.

In formal terms, the term New England is used to describe the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Here locals talk of "the New England." But the term is also used, and this is the way I use the term, to describe a much broader region that has maintained a struggle for self government - the right to govern itself within the Australian federation - since the middle of the 19th century.

We have come close at times, but success still eludes us. The forces of the status quo are very strong. So I thought that a site that focuses just on New England might provide another voice.

Writing on New England, looking at its history, led me in November 2006 to establish another blog dedicated to New England's history. This was not designed as a high traffic blog, more as a resource and place to record jottings.

New England Australia has had its ups and downs. To some degree it has suffered because I keep putting material on Personal Reflections! It has also suffered a little because of varying focus. Still, it has acquired its own character and is now my second traffic blog.

Perhaps more importantly from my perspective, it actually has played a useful if small role in keeping alive the concept of New England as an entity.

Whether called New England, the North or Northern NSW, the area does have its own history and culture. The absence of any form of formal expression of entity has a constant erosive effect, with the area being continually divided into new forms for the sake of administrative convenience. That any sense of identity survives at all is quite remarkable, and reflects underlying geography and history. 

For its part, New England's History has done what was originally intended. However, it has created its own dilemma. My knowledge advances. What do I do about earlier posts that are at best partial, at worst plain wrong? I really need to do a clean up.       

Managing the Professional Services Firm and Management Perspectives were intended to be purely professional blogs.

Managing the Professional Services Firm was intended to promote my personal expertise in professional services consulting, to campaign for improvements in management, while also generating revenue through ads. Management Perspectives began as a blog of record to make available some of the writing of I and my Ndarala colleagues.

With the global financial crisis and my renewed interest in economics, Management Perspectives turned into a vehicle for my economics writing, while Managing the Professional Services Firm actually got sidelined. I thought of merging the two, but they do serve different needs. I am still not sure here.  

Regional Living Australia and its associated web site were intended to be part campaigning, part commercial. Again, in recent times they have been side-tracked by other pressures.

Looking back over three years, a few things stand out.

The first is that blogging actually met the needs that I had at the time I started.

I started blogging at a time of some isolation, loneliness, difficulty and self-doubt. It opened a new world. The fact that I have not achieved some of the original blogging objectives I set is partially a matter of focus, more that my own needs and objectives have changed. In particular, I had no idea that writing of itself would become such an obsession. I cannot help myself, I am hopelessly addicted.  

The next thing that stands out are the people.

I do not even know how to begin to describe the importance of the people. There have been different people at different times as their and my needs change. In all cases, they have forced me to change my views and given me new insights.

Some have simply burned out. I miss them. Others continue, while new people have been added.

Marshall McLuhan, appropriately a Canadian given my current Canada interests, coined the term global village.The Wikipedia article notes that today, the term global village is mostly used as a metaphor to describe the Internet and World Wide Web. This misses the entire point.

I am what is called a townie. This phrase dates back to my days growing up in Armidale where there was town, gown and country. I straddled all three groups, but townie was my identification of myself.

The global village is not about the internet. It is about people.

As a townie, I don't think in these abstract terms. When something happens in Indonesia I think of Tikno, in India Ramana. So to a townie, Tikno or Ramana live in different parts of my town. They are, so to speak, just a few blocks away.

We are all the same. Even the most metro person actually still thinks this way.             

Finishing, I started blogging before the rise of Facebook or Twitter. Facebook in particular has affected blogging, attracting people away.

I find this a problem. Don't get me wrong. Both Facebook and Twitter have their purposes, something I have been meaning to write about. But when an active blogger moves to using these using these two tools in a major way a substitute for blogging, he/she moves away from the central aim of blogging, a universally available discussion. I think that's a pity.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Multi-ethnic communities - Adolf Hitler's contribution

I finished my last post, Multi-ethnic communities - history's lessons, with this comment:

Now that I have got this particular obsession (the capacity of very different
ethnic groups to live together in harmony), it might be interesting to see just
what history tells us about multi-ethnic success stories, as well as

Dealing with a failure first. The picture that Mark Mazower paints of the administration of Hitler’s empire in occupied Europe is absolutely chilling. Hitler should not have lost this war. He lost because his own narrow racist obsessions destroyed the very things he required for success.

The difference between Italian leader Mussolini and Hitler can be simply summarised: whereas Mussolini was driven by visions of Rome recovered, Hitler was driven by visions of Race. Other things came in, but that really sums it up.

Hitler’s only contribution to civilised life, and it is not an insignificant one, is that in his mad obsession he crystallised, took to their logical extreme, ideas that had been built into European thinking and thus discredited them. In doing so, he laid the basis for the Nuremberg trails and for subsequent international action against war crimes.

No matter how weak and conflicted present international approaches to problems like Ruanda or Darfur, the very idea that the international community has the right to intervene to try to limit genocide is largely due to Adolf Hitler.

In The importance of international law - a note, I noted the importance of international law in constraining blind national self interest as well as human savagery.

This remains my view. International law is the first building block in encouraging different ethnic groups to live together in harmony because it imposes sanctions especially on official leaders who want to play the race or ethnicity card.

Of course they will continue to do so, but it is a start.

Note to readers: You will find a full list of posts in this series here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Multi-ethnic communities - history's lessons

I finished my post Train Reading - Mazower's Hitler's empire. Can a multi-ethnic society survive? with a question:

I am left wondering just what it requires for a society with multiple ethnic groups or cultures to survive into the longer term. What are the features that society must possess?

The Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian was a strange ramshackle world. Yet no matter how cumbersome, complicated and decadent it may have been, it was still a structure in which people with differences and hatreds deeply rooted in history could co-exist.

In the decades leading up to the First World War there were great divisions. These divisions were the proximate cause of the First World War. We now forget that the majority view in the Empire was that its preservation was the best way of preserving harmony. We also forget that Austro-Hungarian thinkers had articulated a vision of a Federation of different ethnic groups that would combine central cohesion with individual difference.

My recent reading on Canadian history reminded me just how deep the divides have been between French and English Canada. In many ways, Canada is an historical accident. It should not be here. Yet it has carved out an existence as a modern nation that survives despite its differences. This may or may not continue, although I think that it will. If it does, it will be because Canadians have got something right.

The Roman Empire in its various forms has, I think, been the longest surviving human constitutional entity in history.

I may be challenged here; some would argue the Chinese Empire is older. Even if I were to accept the point on China, Rome is certainly the longest surviving clearly multi-ethnic constitutional entity.

Why did Rome survive? Any central state with sufficient power can suppress dissent. However, no oppressive coercive state has survived for as long as Rome.

Now that I have got this particular obsession, it might be interesting to see just what history tells us about multi-ethnic success stories, as well as failures.

Note to readers: You will find a full list of posts in this series here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Train Reading - Mazower's Hitler's empire. Can a multi-ethnic society survive?

My train reading has switched to Mark Mazower's Hitler's Empire: Nazi rule in occupied Europe (Penguin Books, London 2009). I bought the book at the airport to read on the plane to Canada, but have only now found the time t0 actually start reading.

In many ways this book forms a companion piece to three earlier books. Warren Treadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society sets the scene for the complex mess that became the Balkans.

Then Edmond Taylor’s The fall of the Dynasties, the collapse of the old order 1905-1922 takes the the story up, tracing the interaction between rising nationalism, ethnic and religious rivalries and state (dynastic) failure over the nineteenth and early twentieth century. These led to the First World War, the collapse of the old European dynastic order and then the Second World War.

Published in 1937, J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth is a travel book. However, it provides an insight into the way in which Social Darwinism with its focus on ethnic and national competition, improvement and superiority in the first half of the twentieth century gave added venom to the insanity that was Nazi Germany. Now in Mazower's book we see this working out in Nazi practice.

I suppose the most depressing thing about my reading is that it shows just how hard it is for groups divided by ethnicity and culture to live together in peace. There is a tendency today to blame this on religious divisions, and certainly these have contributed to the troubled pot. However, even if religion was to vanish from the scene, I doubt that results would be much different.

I am left wondering just what it requires for a society with multiple ethnic groups or cultures to survive into the longer term. If so, what are the features that society must possess?

Note to readers:

The posts in this current series are:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Education Targets and Australia's Universities - delivery problems for the Rudd Government

In Ideas, simplicity and continuity in public policy I returned briefly to one of my constant themes, the problems created by the Australian approach to public policy, including the narrow focus on measurable targets. Today there was a story in Australia's Financial Review that rather illustrates my concerns.

As part of its "education revolution" the Rudd Government has set a target of increasing the number of 25 to 34 year olds with university degrees from today's 32 per cent to 40 per cent by 2025. It sounds so good doesn't it? Surely this must be a good thing?

The problem is that no one has really asked whether or not this is a good thing, nor what it might mean for the various parts of the education sector.

Traditionally, Australia has made a distinction between vocational and higher education. The first is intended to provide measurable skills, the second to provide a broader more academic education.

Just what proportion of Australia's population might benefit from a broader academic education as compared to vocational education such as trades training? Can you maintain standards if you have to achieve a higher student target including people who might not really be suitable? And what does it mean for our vocational educational sector if the better students are all drained off to universities? Does it mean that universities now have to provide TAFE (Technical and Further Education) style training?

If the TAFE teachers I know are any guide, previous decisions to force unemployed young people into training has led to a gross deterioration in education conditions at TAFE colleges because of the growing number of students who are there because they have to be. I suspect that the problem is made worse by diversion of better students out of the TAFE system.

To meet the Government's new targets, Australia's universities have to find a way of creating an estimated 544,000 graduates in the 25 to 34 year old range cohort that will exist in in 2025, sixteen years from now. This means that we are talking about students who are 18 or less today. There is no point in putting people older this into universities, they won't help the Government meet its target.

To meet its target, the Australian Government will need to ramp up university numbers for those presently under 18 as the reach university age. That is from about two years out. Further, given that the average university course is now something over three years, the Government actually needs the extra numbers in place by, say, 2021, twelve years from now. So taking into account the first two year lag until the relevant age cohort reaches university for the first time, the Government needs an extra 54,000 graduates per annum over the period 2011 to 2021.

But wait, there is more. Assuming that the average time to graduation is four years, in practice a little bit less, the extra graduates won't start coming out until 2015. Now we have to find 544,000 extra graduates in the period 2015 to 2021.

To achieve this, the Government needs to add 54,000 students each intake starting in 2011. But wait, there is still more.

All Australian universities are worried by growing wastage rates. A significant proportion of students don;t finish their courses. I don't have numbers for this, but if the percentage is 20%, the Government needs to add 64,800 students per annum from the right age cohort from 2011.

I haven't had time to do proper research, but in 2007 Australian universities graduated some 103,000 students at bachelors level. Without bogging down in detailed statistics, this post is back of envelope stuff, 54,000 - 64,800 new students per annum is a high intake relative to this level of graduations.

Now we have another problem, and this is where the Financial Review story comes in. Most if not all of Australia's Vice Chancellors welcomed the new target. Now according to the FR's report, many are running for cover as they realise just what a poisoned chalice they have been offered.

The Gang of Eight, for example, the lobby group representing Australia's self-selected "elite" universities say not us. The growth should be absorbed by smaller universities or institutions with a teaching only mandate. They gang argues this case for reasonably self-evident competitive reasons linked to their perceived place in the now highly competitive academic universe.

I can understand their reasons. I have argued that my own university, the University of New England, should drop out of the big is better rat race and instead concentrate on its greatest strength, the fact that it still offers a university experience. This means, within certain parameters, focusing just on quality. Given its infrastructure, UNE could probably take another three thousand full time undergraduates and maintain culture and standards, but that is not a large number.

So, to summarise, I do not know if the Rudd Government's target can be achieved nor am I sure that it should be achieved.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The importance of family history - revisited

Back in December 2006 I wrote The Importance of Family History. That's less than three years ago, but re-reading the post I felt as though this was another world. So much has happened since that December 2006 feels quite remote, ancient in fact.

The comments on Saturday Morning Musings - more on the Belshaws were very helpful from my perspective. I agree with Kanani that it is better to write fully and then modify if necessary for publication. That way the full story is accessible to future family members at least. Neil also provided a story giving another example of generational span.

I lot of my historical research and writing is connected in some way with my own family.

My current project on the history of Australia's New England deals with a part of the world that has been important to my most immediate family. My next project is to complete the biography of my maternal grandfather that began with my PhD thesis. This is actually about 70 per cent done. The main gap is the period from 1942 to 1967. Now the third project is a history of the Belshaws.

I spoke of my PhD thesis in The changing meaning of words and the historian's craft and then again in a follow up post, Selection, perception and bias in the historian's craft. The problems that I experienced mean that that thesis is in some ways still un-finished business that drives my writing today.

When I began to write, I intended to write on my grandfather's public career. However, as I researched I concluded that Drummond was first and foremost a regional New England politician, that you could not understand his life without understanding the interaction between his troubled childhood, his adoption of and love for New England and his political and public career. These were three corners of a triangle. This insight then influenced the direction of my research and writing.

The reaction of one examiner and then the adjudicator appointed to resolve the dispute among examiners made it inevitable that at some point I would try to write a history of New England. Simply put, I now had a point to prove. I also felt that this would improve the biography of my grandfather by providing a better context, and indeed this has proved to be the case. I know now that some of my PhD was incorrect. The broad sweep of the story remains the same, but individual lines of argument have changed.

Whether I should have allowed the examiners' responses to my thesis to affect me in the way it did is open to question. Family and friends have argued that I should have simply rolled with the punches, been a good boy and did what was asked, then got on with life. Had I done so I would have had a PhD (the feeling was that the matter had become so embarrassing that even nominal compliance would have got me through) and indeed could have got on with life.

I am sure that they were right, but I am not built that way. I finally walked away; now I try to use the experience as a driver.

I use family histories extensively in writing about New England. This is partly a matter of illustration. History is about people, so using people's stories can help bring history alive. Saturday Morning Musings - New England's Ogilvie dynasty provides a good example here. However, individual family histories also provide new insights.

As happened with me in writing about David Drummond, when you write about an individual or family the evidence you are concerned with is driven by your subject(s). Broader history necessarily involves generalisations. Family history - the same applies to local histories - is valuable because it challenges those generalisations.

Many family histories, while interesting to family members, are quite dull to the broader reader. Family trees, dates etc. Yet these histories are still of value to the historian.

On the other side of the ledger, some of the best family histories are quite wonderful reads.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Snippets - notes on the on-line world

Recently I have had a burst of spam comments. Not huge numbers, just annoying because I have to go through and delete the comments. I have also noticed an increase in the Twitter equivalent, followers seeking click-backs to some fairly dubious sites.

Over on Thinkers' Podium in No thanks  Bruce had a very negative take on the transformation of "my on line friends" into "speed dating". I have to agree. When I got the same notification I initially took it as just another piece of spam, then realised the Facebook connection.

Geocities closing, a post on Neil's ESL blog, alerted me to something that had escaped me, Yahoo's decision to close its geocities service. While it is in fact a long time since I looked at geocities, I felt quite nostalgic.

I see that Rupert Murdoch is not interested in buying Twitter. I don't think that I would be either. It is still hard to see how just how the service might make money. Facebook, too, is trying to find ways of monetising its service. I can see more opportunities here because people spend slabs of time looking at Facebook, making advertising a better bet.

Mind you, I think that Facebook has become over-crowded. As an aside, I was somewhat amazed to discover via Facebook that my old blogging friend Legal Eagle's robot name is Killing and Accurate Troubleshooting Youth! Now without giving too much away, I have to say that this name stands in marked contradistinction to LE's real character.

Facebook and overcrowding. I suppose, simply, that the volume of posts/comments/updates becomes hard to manage. I have just 44 friends, eldest has 409! I wonder how she copes.

One of the things that I have noticed about the "old media" in their latest responses to the impact of the internet including the rise of social networking tools is the renewed emphasis on subscription models as a way of making money. I still don't think that this is going to work in the way they want.

I would not subscribe to a newspaper on-line as the web sites are presently structured. I might subscribe if the full paper was on line with a decent search facility that allowed me to access back material. I think that part of the problem with the "old media" is that they have an either/or mentality, and its not like that.

Take a newspaper. In Australia at least, there is still a demand for print versions. However, not everybody can or will access this, so there is a basis for an on-line version. However, if you take the whole paper on-line doing away with current sites, you only get access if you pay, then people will stop visiting.

So, or so it seems to me, you have:

  • the print version
  • a free on-line site that contains part of the content. This brings people and provides a base for advertising
  • Then you have a subscription to a full on-line version. This is marketed especially to reach an audience that cannot access the print version.

To all this, you add other value adding features. The papers are very bad here. As an example, their blogs are often irregular and out of date. To my mind, they don't fully engage the audience. Then, too, the papers don't take full advantage of their reader reach.

In all this, I think that experimentation is the key. Try things, and see what works.  

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - more on the Belshaws

This has been a very Canadian period on this blog. This is likely to continue for a while yet. My wife had the camera with her. Now that she is back in the country I can access my photos.

I couldn't help wondering what my university results might have been like if had had put half as much effort into university as I now do in writing and reading. Then I was too interested in student life. Mind you, I probably couldn't do some of the things I can do now without that very particular university background.

I presently have very limited time. I have to squeeze all my reading and writing into a few hours a day. As a student who always left things to the last moment, I had to learn to do things fast. These techniques remain. Fast, intense reading, then write.

In Saturday Morning Musings - five things that I am proud of I discussed the results of the meme I started on pride. Now in Pride comes before a fall, Legal Eagle has written an interesting piece exploring aspects of pride. Of all the seven deadly sins, pride is the most interesting one because, of itself, it is not necessarily a bad thing. There is good pride and bad pride.

Interesting email from KVD on A Belshaw family photo; the photo shows three generations of Belshaws standing in line on the front steps of my grandparents' house. KVD was struck by the way the photo captured differences in dress and stance between the three.

Grandfather in his pullover, with his arms folded. I never knew my grandfather, but Cyril as a child thought of him as a cuddly bear in a pullover. Then we have Horace in his sports coat, hand in coat pockets. Next comes Cyril in what today might be called cargo pants, with his hands in his pocket. As KVD points out, he bears a striking resemblance to Harry Potter. KVD also pointed to the way that Cyril's clothes actually capture a recurring fashion trend - at least 1940s, 1960s and today.

I said that I never knew my grandfather.

The same thing happened with my daughters because I married late. When Dad was born as the youngest, his father was forty five. Dad was thirty three when I was born, so my grandfather in New Zealand was then eighty eight. I was forty two when eldest was born, so Dad would then have been seventy seven. It's a little hard for my daughters to fully understand the Belshaw line given the complete absence of living Belshaw ancestors.

These simple stats explain too why the Belshaws span such a long time period in so few generations. I noted that just three generations took you from modern Sydney back to industrial revolution England of 1867. If we go further, four generations takes you to the early nineteenth century when England was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars, five generations and the First Fleet has still to sail for Sydney.

I actually find it hard to believe that in just five generations, the history of the Belshaw family is older than European settlement in this country.

The Belshaws and our family history have been another theme in my posts since my return from Canada; while I have written about the Belshaws, seeing and talking family history is not something that I do a lot of, simply because the family is nogroup to identifyt there.

This photo, again from around 1943, shows three generations of the New Zealand Belshaws in what must be one of the last of the family snaps. Missing are cousin Michael, my father and Aunt May's husband Vic Fisher.

On the right are my grandfather and mother. At the back are Uncle Horace, his wife Marion and son Cyril. In front Aunt May with son Keith and daughter Elaine. I have check to confirm that I have Marion and May the right way round, by the way. I initially had them the other way round!

I mentioned that I had just four first cousins on the Belshaw side, so this photo shows three of them. You can see the age gaps in the photo between Cyril at the top, Keith and Elaine at the bottom. I am not yet born.

I mentioned in Just back - and another book to complete! that I thought that I should write a history of the immediate family because I thought that it was something of a remarkable story. In an email Cyril suggested that it was perhaps not so remarkable, but more a story of a particular period in history when boundaries, national and intellectual, were not so rigid. His wife's family showed the same pattern.

Writing a good family history, and especially in a small family, is a complicated task because you have to deal with relationships and tragedies. This is hard for an insider to do properly because of personal bias, as well as the likely impact on others.

By reason of doubr The pain created by the tragic murder of Betty Belshaw, Cyril's subsequent arrest for her murder and then his acquittal in Switzerland on grounds of reasonable doubt continue to this day. This was a huge media story at the time and not just in Canada; it made the Australian media as well because of the family's prominence. It wasn't just Cyril, but also Diana's role as one of Canada's better known actresses. It also inspired at least one book, Ellen Godfrey's By Reason of Doubt.

I met Betty once when she, Cyril and Dianna came to Armidale for Christmas. Adrian was probably there as a baby as well, but I do not remember this. Cyril has a photo of Diana and I together in Armidale at the time and has promised to send me a copy when he finds it. After they moved to Canberra, Betty would send us Christmas presents, generally books about Canada.

I remember Betty vanishing. Then, when Cyril was arrested, my father was completely distressed reading clippings from around the world. The pain for the Canadian Belshaws was of course more intense. Adrian and Dianna had first to cope with their mother's disappearance, then the fact that she was murdered, then their father's arrest.

While I don't think that any in the family really doubted Cyril's innocence, the damage done by something like this continues to this day. For Cyril, the case really marked something of an end to what had been a stellar academic career. Everything had changed. The strain and damage on the kids and on Betty's family was at least as great.

Today Cyril talks about Betty and her family, the links between Betty's family and Cyril continue, all the time. I don't mean that this is the sole topic of conversation, but in the many hours I spent with Cyril in Vancouver she was always present. You cannot put the past aside when that past stands like a rock in your memories.

Musing in Vancouver about writing a family history, I asked Cyril his views. If I wrote a proper history I would have to deal with Betty's death and the subsequent murder case. Cyril thought strongly that I should, although he also mentioned that Diana might have different views because of the possible impact on her daughter.

I have no doubt that the Belshaws would make a good book. Yet should I if it might cause pain?

Somewhat similar issues come up when dealing with family relationships.

Over the last few generations, and like most families, the relationships between parents and children has been somewhat complicated.

A Kiwi in Cowboy Country In his A Kiwi in Cowboy Country, cousin Michael Belshaw refers to his complicated relationship with his parents.

I never met Michael, now I know why. Cyril fleshed the details out a little. There were strains between Michael and his parents that finally lead Michael to essentially sever all links soon after his arrival in New York on what had been a horror voyage with his mother.

It is a little easier for me to write about Michael because I did not know him. He is also, like so many family members, a fascinating person. Overshadowed in some ways by father and brother, he carved out a fascinating life in the US. The Quivira Coalition description of his autobiography gives a feel for part of the man:

Initially the author had the privilege of being on the faculty of Prescott College, until its bankruptcy. This became the launching pad for what might be considered the adventures, misadventures, and learning experiences recounted herein. These included: being hung in effigy for having the temerity to challenge a bunch of land speculators; being exposed to the morass of bureaucracy in a state planning agency and an Indian tribe; developing a new way of building with the earth; solving to his satisfaction the site and perpetrators of the murder of John Wesley Powell's men; living with a pack of wolves for almost twenty years; learning about rattlesnakes with more than desired intimacy; building homesteads in wild and lonesome places in New Mexico; surviving both cancer and bush flying. All this with a sense of wonder at life in the Southwest, yet unable to sunder his roots down under.

You can see why I think that that it might be an interesting story. But should I write it and if so how?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ideas, simplicity and continuity in public policy

Briefly continuing the discussion began in When reform fails, I concluded in that post:

To my mind, they (modern approaches to public policy and administration) are no longer either, to use the jargon, especially efficient or effective. They tend to exclude the non-measurable from consideration. They impede innovation and creativity, making it hard to get things done, harder still to get new things done. Without fundamental change, I have little hope that things will improve.

Maybe I am too pessimistic or perhaps just wrong. However, I do feel that the current emphasis on activity, measurement and control actually crowds out new approaches.

I have used the term command and control, one borrowed from the military, to describe one central element in current approaches. The key feature of a command and control system is that it is machine like, intended to make things happen in a defined way within defined bounds. It also aims to give those in charge a broader span of control.

Such systems can work effectively, but can also struggle should things change in unexpected ways. They also act to limit new ideas and initiatives that fall outside defined processes.

Public policy changes all the time. Sometimes these are changes at the margin, at other times we have major shifts. We can see the same thing in the private sector in the emphasis on constant re-structuring. The desire of new CEOs to reshape organisations seems a constant.

This gives rise to a number of problems.

To begin with, the more complicated the system the harder it is to change. We see this in modern computer systems all the time. If you were to flow chart modern Government, you would find that it is just as complex in its interactions as any computer system. This adds to the risks of  perverse outcomes.

Then, too, constant change ignores a basis reality of life: it takes time to do things. Time is required to define, to implement and then to learn from experience. The difficulty with constant changes in direction is that those changes often wipe out the potential gains from previous approaches. They impose a double cost whammy - the cost of doing plus the opportunity cost of things lost.

Perhaps my biggest complaint, I accept that this is a personal thing, is that I find current approaches simply boring!

If you look at Mr Rudd's education revolution, there is very little that is new. To argue, as one presently has to, about things such as school league tables, the nature of uniform national curricula or institutional mechanisms for control and quality in vocational education is not very interesting from my perspective.

There is nothing in the discussion that is in any way original. It's all a rerun of past arguments. I get a bit tired of just recycling past arguments.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

When reform fails

I have, in my own way, been something of a reformer. Looking back, I find it remarkable how many of the changes that I have been involved with have failed to achieve the desired results or, worse, have had quire perverse side-effects.

I was reminded of this by my continued reading of Jonathan Vance's book, the book that I referred to in Train Reading – Jonathan F Vance’s History of Canadian Culture.

The last part of the book deals with the post Second World War period. Here Vance traces the rise of the Arts bureaucracy, along with the idea of culture as an industry and of expenditure on the Arts as something that can and should be justified on economic grounds.

We can trace exactly the same process in Australia. Canadian wording and program structures could, with relatively minor wording modifications, stand as Australian examples.

I have never been an Arts bureaucrat. Where I enter the scene is as one of those who helped create the framework that would lead to concepts such as "the cultural industries."   

Robert S. McNamara, the great exponent of quantification and program structures, died this week. McNamara, a brilliant man, was in many ways the father of modern public service systems with their inputs, outputs and outcomes. Here, too, I stand condemned, although my guilt is less because I never shared the blind faith in measurement for its own sake. Measurement was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

There were good reasons to change previous structures and approaches.

From the time I was introduced to program budgeting in 1970 in my masters at ANU I argued in favour of its application in Australia as a way of better directing and integrating government activities. From 1983 I argued strongly that we needed to think of areas such as telecommunications, the arts and education as industry sectors since this would allow us to better identify and understand industry structure, conduct and performance. I saw this as important in improving sector performance.

I had no influence in the adoption of program budgeting approaches, rather more influence on the second. Now I wonder just how things went so wrong.

I am still a reformer. I do not want to go back to previous approaches, although that might actually be better than some current approaches. However, I do believe that our current approaches to management and public policy need fundamental change if they are to improve.

My core charge against our current systems is simply this.

To my mind, they are no longer either, to use the jargon, especially efficient or effective. They tend to exclude the non-measurable from consideration. They impede innovation and creativity, making it hard to get things done, harder still to get new things done. Without fundamental change, I have little hope that things will improve.      

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Australia's remoteness


I was struck by this photo from Gordon Smith. It gives a feel for just how sparsely populated Australia's outback is. As Gordon comments, travellers really need to take this into account in planning. People who fail to do this can and do die.  

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Train Reading – Jonathan F Vance’s History of Canadian Culture

One thing that I did not do in Vancouver was to visit either an art gallery or a museum. I had intended to do so, I know very little about Canadian art, but ran out of time.

Instead, on my last day I bought a copy of Jonathan F Vance’s A History of Canadian Culture (Oxford University Press, Ontario, 2009). Reading Professor Vance’s book, I was struck by similarities as well as the differences with the Australian experience.

As in Australia, there has been a clear divide between what we can think of as popular as compared to “high” culture, a divide that has caused great stress in both countries to those propounding the importance of the arts to a sometimes uncaring populace.

Again, both countries have seen an emphasis on the role of the arts in expressing and articulating national identity. Both have suffered something of a cultural cringe expressed in the lines such as what’s the difference between yogurt and Canadian culture? Yogurt has an active culture!

There are also interesting differences.

Reflecting Canada’s longer history including the long presence of small farming communities, craft has been far more important in Canada than in Australia. Canadian craft motifs drawn from both the Indian and European experiences continue to be important in a way, I think, not seen in Australia.

Canada also possesses greater regional diversity that affects the form and direction of all types of cultural activity in a way not seen here, or at least not to the same extent.

I get the strong impression, however, that Australians were more comfortable and at an earlier date with Australian culture broadly defined as an expression of Australian identity.

Both countries struggled to some degree with problems created by a small local market, but Australia had neither the historical diversity nor the overwhelming presence of a huge neighbour just across the border that created difficulties (and opportunities) for Canadians. To a degree, we were able to just be in a way not possible in Canada.

I was also fascinated to discover the way in which religious and social conservatism limited the emergence of a Canadian theatre equally in French and English speaking Canada. To use an Australian phrase, Canada was a far more wowser society.

A full list of posts in the visiting Vancouver series can be found here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Belshaw family photo

Just a family interlude.

James Horace Cyril This photo from cousin Cyril and taken in New Zealand around 1943 shows three generations of Belshaws.

In the front is my grandfather, also James Belshaw.

He was born in Platt Bridge near Wigan in 1867. That is, if my maths is correct, 142 years ago.

Just behind him is his son, Uncle Horace,  Horace himself born at 33 Walthew Lane, Platt Bridge, Hindley on 28 February 1898. That's just 111 years ago.

Behind him is his son, first cousin Cyril, born 3 December 1921, at  Waddington near Christchurch. So Cyril is now around 88.

You wouldn't think it. While nearly blind, Cyril took us all over Vancouver.

I have commented before on the space of time in my family. There is a very great distance between industrial England at the peak of the industrial revolution and my daughters' worlds.