Monday, August 30, 2010

New states

My main post today is on the New England, Australia blog, A new state for New England.

It's hard for me to be objective on this one. My grandfather was one of the leaders of the Northern or New England New State Movement. My father, while not a new stater, launched a regional councils movement at the end of the Second World war. When it became clear that NSW would never give the councils any power, the regional councils movement turned into a reformed New England New State Movement. Convinced that existing approaches would not work, my father turned to the concept of selective decentralisation, something that later appeared as the Whitlam Government's growth centre approach.

I grew up thinking of myself as a New Englander. I still do. I was sixteen when I acted as an usher at the Armidale Convention that launched Operation Seventh State, the campaign that led to the 1967 plebiscite. At nineteen, I was a member of the executive of the New England New State Movement representing the University of New England New State Society.

After my move to Canberra and the defeat of the plebiscite, I put the new state issue aside as no longer relevant. It wasn't until I came to write a biography of my grandfather for a PhD thesis that the whole thing came surging back. Then, looking at the evidence through a prism created by my experience as a relatively senior public servant, I suddenly concluded that the arguments for New England self-government were right after all. More, I concluded that systemic problems in policy and politics actually precluded any effective regional development.  That began something of a campaign that has continued to this day.

Looking back, it is hard to re-capture the simple certainties that I held as a sixteen year old. Then, in the world that I lived in, the views that I held were in fact the majority view. Now they are a fringe view. It's actually quite hard to hold to a view when that view is alien to pretty much everybody one meets.

Some time ago, I formed the view that the only way to overcome the loss of history and all the supporting arguments was through writing. Since then, I have written more than 1,000 blog posts on New England, 86 newspaper columns, then this year so far two academic papers on New England history, with a full history on New England about a third of the way through.

All this has come at a cost. I won't bore you with the details, beyond noting that all this writing, this obsession, has been at the expense of things directly related to my professional career.

I guess that I am a stubborn cuss. For much of the time, my writing has taken place in isolation. It's only in the last two years that I have felt that my writing has started to gain some traction.

I don't want to overstate this. I am talking about a person here, a person there. Yet, or so it seems to me, there comes a point at which the critical mass required for organic growth is achieved.

For the moment, I simply take pleasure in the fact that whether it be New England's Aboriginal languages, the history of the New England New State Movement or New England public policy, I now have someone to talk too.

A minor thing perhaps, but once you have a couple of people interested in any topic, then growth in interest is possible.

Quite a bit of my time now is spent in linking and responding. This takes away from both writing and my professional interests. Yet it is very important in building things; just getting people interacting is an advance.

Where will all this go? Realistically, I don't know. I have my own objectives, of course, but experience to this point shows that action triggers responses in ways one cannot predict. So we shall see!         

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