Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Train Reading - introducing Sabatini's Scaramouche

At the start of my last post I wrote: KDujardinsCommedia

"I almost didn't have a Monday Forum this week, my attention was distracted by Commedia dell'Arte, but I am trying to firm up my weekly program on this blog. Maybe something on the other tomorrow. Still, free to comment in any way you like on anything you like. After all, Commedia dell'Arte was all about improvisation. And masks! "

The reproduction is entitled Karel Dujardin, Commedia dell'Arte show (1657) (Louvre).

But what was Commedia dell'Arte and how did I come to discover it?

Wikipedia describes Commedia dell'Arte in this way.

Commedia dell'Arte is a form of theater characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.

Okay, that seems clear enough. But how did I find out about it?  Well, I got a remarkable lot of my early knowledge from novels just picked up from family shelves. In this context, I have been rereading Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche. My grandfather loved Sabatini, and I acquired that love from him, reading and rereading the books from my grandfather's shelves. The now very old and battered paper back copy I have of Scaramouche was his, as Ralael Sabatiniis my copy of Captain Blood.   

Rafael Sabatini was born in Italy in 1875 to an English mother and Italian father. Until I came to prepare this short piece, I had no idea just how long ago Sabatini was born! His books don't read that way.

Sabatini's parents were opera singers who became teachers. At a young age, he was exposed to many languages. By the time he was seventeen, he spoke five language, later adding English. He was to write in English as a matter of choice. His first novel was published in 1902, but it wasn't until the publication of Scaramouche in 1921 that he attained real success.

Scaramouche tells the story of the young lawyer Andre-Louis Moreau through the turmoil of the French Revolution. The story is somewhat melodramatic, with traditional melodrama memes such as the orphan who discovers his parents! But Sabatini also uses techniques that would appear very modern today including writing as though the story was in fact a biography, referring among other things to theatre bills and the later confessions published by Moreau. He also has a very clear grasp of the detail.

I will return to this theme on Thursday, focused on the theatre elements in the plot.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Forum - has social media become, like, just so last week?

I almost didn't have a Monday Forum this week, my attention was distracted by Commedia dell'Arte, but I am trying to firm up my weekly program on this blog. Maybe something on the other tomorrow. Still, free to comment in any way you like on anything you like. After all,Commedia dell'Arte was all about improvisation. And masks!

Computerworld's  Rebecca Merrett reports (Facebook fights user fatigue, while Twitter is fastest growing: report) on a decline in the number of active Facebook users. The story begins: 

Facebook has seen some growth in its active users, but Twitter has become the fastest growing social platform in the world, according to Global Web Index.

The research firm’s Stream Social Q1 2013 report found Facebook experienced a 35 per cent increase in total active users between Q2 2012 and Q1 2013, while Twitter experienced a 40 per cent increase over the same period. Twitter’s growth in active users also surpassed Google Plus' 33 per cent.

Rebecca goes on to quote figures from Social Bakers suggesting that about 33 per cent of countries on Facebook saw a decline in monthly active users over the last six months, compared to about 11 per cent over the last year. In the Australian case, active users fell by 202,880 over the last six months.

As you might guess, I am fairly active on social media. I am also interested in it in a professional sense. However, I must that admit that I, too, suffer from social media fatigue! I use it as a tool, but I find the constant chops and changes frustrating. I am also increasingly reluctant to invest scare time in new things. I have decided that I actually have no interest in the new, just the useful or the fun.

On Facebook, I am actually a fairly regular user because I find it useful in a personal sense. I have also been experimenting, not very successfully, with a public Facebook page. But I also find that the usefulness of Facebook has actually declined because some people that I am most interested in now post on an irregular basis. They still look from time to time so that they can (if they wish) see what I'm doing. But its now one way.

So what do you think is the future of social media? How do you use it or not? Now I know some of the answers here from my regular readers, but I'm still interested.        

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Essay - on salt, mushrooms and memories of times past

It seems strange now, but when I first started to cook, I never used salt. Salt was something that you added to food later to taste. Salt was placed on the table in a little bowl, silver for formal occasions. It was never sprinkled over food, but added to the side of the plate in a Russian girllittle pile.

Later, my habit of doing this seemed strange to others. By then, salt was incorporated into cooking. "Why don't you wait and see if it's salty enough", I was told when I asked for the salt or added it to the side of the plate. I was reminded of this by a fascinating post  by Asya Pereltsvaig, Russian cuisine: a Melting Pot of Native Sensibilities and Foreign Influences. There, to my astonishment, was a description of my salt tradition! Salt was scarce, so you didn't add it to food, but kept it separate for later use.

As a child staying with my grandparents, I sometimes used to eat my porridge sitting with my grandfather on the front verandah at Mann Street. I say front, but the main verandah was actually at the back of the house. That's another oddity. He ate his porridge in the Scottish way. There was no sugar, but he did sprinkle the porridge with salt. I did likewise! This tradition did not last, at least so far as I was concerned. Brown sugar was just so much more attractive. And with cream, delicious!

Since all this is making me a little nostalgic, this is a photo of my grandparents with that verandah. You can see that it's a quite impressive view!

Fah, Gran frint verandah Many of the traditional cuisines are in fact farm or peasant cuisines. You ate what was around, what was in season.

If you look at the Russian case, the aristocracy brought in newly fashionable food  tastes, but the peasant had to use what was available. You can see this clearly in China. Today, of course, we are all aristocrats and can access whatever we like. The sometimes mess called modern Australian cuisine (I find that word poncy: do you? How about just food?) reflects that. We no longer focus on getting best taste from what we have, but instead focus on buying the things that we believe will give us best taste.

Friday night at dinner overlooking Sydney Harbour, a friend and I chatted about mushrooms. If you look at Asya's piece, you will see the reference to mushrooms. Mushrooms were food of the ordinary people, collected from the fields or forests. There were no mushrooms in the shops when I was a child. All the mushrooms we ate were field mushrooms. We used to pick them ourselves, or sometimes they would come in from a local property. We also learned how to identify those that could be safely eaten. That was kind of important!

The American writer Harry Turtledove specialises in alternative history or, alternatively, new worlds based on historical examples. I learned a lot about the Byzantine Empire, for examDarknessple, from the novels set in or around  Videssos, a world based on Byzantium and its environs. Harry' has a PhD in Byzantine history! 

Mushrooms feature in one series; from memory, I think that it is the Darkness series. Within the series, the Kaunians are a strange melange based on the Roman Empire (the previously defeated Kaunian Empire) plus the Jews (now oppressed minority). The Kaunians  love collecting mushrooms, They also know how to avoid one especially poisonous variety that tastes delightful but leads to very painful death. This mushroom features in a revenge attack towards the end of the series.      

Today, mushrooms come in boxes with brown paper bags for packaging purposes. Then, we picked them.

When Aunt Kay died, we went down to Glenroy, the Vickers' old property, long sold. The house had gone, demolished, as had many of the old features. We drove through the paddocks identifying the features we had all known. There were mushrooms everywhere, huge mushrooms, the biggest I had ever seen. They looked all right, just like the ones that I had known.

Thirty years ago, I would have picked and picked. Like the Kaunians, I adore mushrooms. But they were so big and I had forgotten through my urbanised environment; we all wondered if they were okay. Some were picked, but most were left alone. 

In fact, they were the old field mushroom. So through the decay of old memories and the resulting uncertainty, I missed my chance of collecting mushrooms with the huge, old, full-bodied taste when things were real. I have never seen mushrooms like them. I really haven't. And mushrooms properly cooked are the food of the gods.             

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - Wanderers, Eels and the story of a university


The sound of the drums drew me. I swung off Argyle Street under the railway towards the town square where I could see the flags waving. It was a bright, warm day and the crowd was celebrating the near victory of The Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australian A-League soccer competition. I know that I am meant to call it football, but there are other football codes!

There was something tribal about the scene. Standing there under a tree, I watched the fans go through their ritual dance, waving flags and rhythmically shaking their arm in the air or clapping their hands above their heads. Nobody had expected the club to make the grand final in its first season, so there was reason to celebrate. 

The formal street parade had yet to begin, so I wandered down Church Street past the University of New England's recently opened Future Campus in the old Parramatta post office. This had been officially opened a few days before with a street party supported by another football code, in this case the Parramatta Eels Rugby League team.

In welcoming the opening, Lord Mayor John Chedid had said in a statement that the city was fortunate to now have two leading universities, referring to the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney.. The Mayor went on; “The establishment of the UNE Future Campus is an opportunity for everyone to experience a new generation of distance learning through the use of cutting-edge technology”.

  The University is one of the Eels' main sponsors. Parramatta Eels Help Launch UNE Future Campus proclaimed the team web site. Players were at the openiOpening Parramattang to provide support and to be photographed with their young fans.

I had reservations about the University's move to sponsor a major Rugby League team far from the home campus, but it's turned out to be a quite effective regional marketing strategy, The University now has over 2,000 students in Western Sydney, including a number of Eels' players. The Future Campus itself, don't you love the modern jargon?, has received a fair bit of national press coverage because its actually a demonstration site for the application of new technology.

Looking around me that lunchtime, I realised that I had solved a problem. I have been struggling to write a 3,600 personal memoir of my memories of UNE to go into book that may be published later in the year. My earliest memories of the University, it was then a university college, are as a very young child. I sort of grew up in the place and still have connection today. I had been struggling to work out just how to compress all this, to explain, to tell a story. I now realised I had my answer. 

I would start the piece in Parramatta with the opening of the Future Campus, then jump back in time to where I already had some words in draft.

"Early in February 1938, a young looking thirty year old lecturer in history and economics arrived to take up his appointment at the newly created New England University College. It would be some weeks before theJ P Belshaw October 1940 3next academic staff member arrived. There were just two students enrolled; Jean Dyce, the Warden’s secretary, promptly tried to enrol him as the third and was disappointed to find that he was only a staff member.

The story had begun some six months before. On the journey back to New Zealand from England after completing his PhD at Manchester, the ship had called at Sydney. The young man left the ship to inquire about job prospects at the University and the banks. It was in the Economics Department at the Bank of New South Wales that he heard vague rumours about a proposed university college to be established in a remote part of the state. Those he talked to were not impressed.

Around December, the first five academic positions at the New England University College were advertised. Without much enthusiasm and with decided reservations, he decided to apply, beating thirty five other applicants for the position.

His reservations did not disappear with his arrival in Armidale, nor was his enthusiasm aroused. The town seemed small; it was dry, brown and dusty, a huge contrast to New Zealand’s green. It seemed to be asleep a great part of the time, or at least very drowsy."

So that gives me by bookends if you like, a personal touch to today and that distant past. Mind you, I wasn't personally present in 1938! Come on, I'm not that old, but certainly I wouldn't exist without that arrival in Armidale.

With my problem solved, I wandered slowly back through the Wanderers' fans. I really had to get back to the office and get some work done.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The unique features of ANZAC Day

Southe West Rocks Dawn Service 2013

This photo by Steve Sanders shows this morning's dawn service at South West Rocks, a little seaside town at the mouth of the Macleay River.

My 2011 post, ANZAC Day, national identity & the power of images, was strongly influenced by my experiences in Greece the pervious year. It includes a photo of Turkish and Australian flags that I still think captures the power of image.

Last year's post, ANZAC Day, Toynbee & impermanence, dealt in part with impermanence, including my own family's experiences,

Next week, early on the morning of Friday 3 May, marks the anniversary of the death of Great Uncle Morris Drummond, killed in battle in France. By all accounts, Morris was a remarkable man, the practical but charismatic man who formed the centre of the family, who looked after the others. He did not enlist because he wanted to, but because he believed that it was his duty.Polish ex-servicemen March  ANZAC Day 1967  Photo Paull Barratt 

When I think about Morris, about the potential lost, about the fact that my daughters have had no central contact with this man, I feel sad. Given that I was a late starter in the children stakes, they might never have met him anyway, although they did meet his half sister Ellie (Helen) when they were very young,

The next photo by Paul Barratt shows Polish ex-servicemen marching in the ANZAC Day Parade, Sydney, 1967. The Polish experience in World War Two was bitter. When I saw the photo, I sent it to a Polish Australian friend to show her the Polish Australian links.

ANZAC Day is about remembrance, about continuing contribution and continuing links.

Morris died in 1917. A few weeks ago, cousin Sophie who has been writing for the Financial Review (she has just gone on maternity leave) contacted me about background information for a stAunt Ellie Inverellory she had been writing about. We chatted about Morris, as I did later with her Dad, On Sophie's side of the family, Morris remains a very large figure.  

This is a World War One photo of Ellie, Sophie's grandmother, at my grandfather's property Mawelton near Inverell.

Modern Australia is a migrant country drawing people from many parts of the world who have been in historical conflict with each other and indeed with Australia. In this context, ANZAC Day really is quite distinctive.  It remains not a celebration of military victory achieved by one group, our group, but a celebration of duty, loss and contribution. That is its distinctive feature as compared to other military celebrations. ANZAC was a military loss. Australia celebrates and the victors, the Turks, can join in as can others. They can share the Australian views of the diggers, but without detracting from their own images and history.

I think that's important.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Australian Life - death of the stamp man

It's hard to believe now how popular stamp collecting was. I suppose that it provided a window into an exotic world now lost in the constant stream of information about foreign climes. I was reminded of this by John Armati's obituary of Bill Hornadge, Editor with a literary love for life.Bill Hornadge If I am right in just who John is, there is a certain symmetry in the fact that he should write the obituary. 

I don't want to detract from John's obituary, but a need to sketch a little of Bill's life.

Born in 1918, Bill wanted to be a journalist. He started in a temporary job with Smith's Weekly at sixteen, In 1942 he joined the Northern Star at Lismore as a junior journalist where he met his wife to Jean. Restless despite his success at the Star and wanting his own newspaper, he established the North Coast Review at Murwillumbah with his father, Thomas.

Still restless, he joined The Sydney Morning Herald as a subeditor and then took what was meant to be a temporary job at the Dubbo Liberal that turned into a permanent position as editor.

The Dubbo Liberal had been purchased in 1949 by Leo Armati and wife Patricia. Leo had been a leading Sydney journalism figure. When John and Patricia were hurt when their car crashed into a train, Bill kept the paper going. This 2006 obituary of Patricia Marks (Amarti) by Malcolm Brown will tell you a little of the Amarti story. After Leo's death, Patricia and son John continued building a journalism and publishing empire, Macquarie Publications, which owned 65 rural newspapers and was one of the country's largest printers of nationally circulated magazines at the time of its sale to Rural Press.

Leo was a fiery man. After one confrontation graphically described by John Amarti, Bill resigned. As an seventeen year old, Bill had established a stamp business selling stamps from the family home. Shortly after his 18th birthday, launched a bi-monthly The Australian Stamp Collector, with his mother, Lily, as its subeditor. Journalism took him away from this path, but now he and wife Jean returned to that original love,

Bill and Jean established Seven Seas Stamps, sorting and packaging stamps from the spare bedroom. The business grew rapidly. In April 1954, Stamp News was launched, again with great success. It was after this point that Bill came into my view.

Brother David and I were great stamp collectors. Seven Seas used to advertise in comics, something that we could hardly miss! Our parents took out a subscription to Stamp News. We even tried our own hand at selling stamps on approval via an ad in Stamp News!  

While we knew Seven Seas through comics and the magazine, I remembered the name Bill Hornadge through his books. They weren't especially profound books, but they were quite funny with a quirky perspective on the idiosyncrasies of Australian life. I have some still! 


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To airport or not - Sydney's confusion

Back last October, a deal was announced that would allow Geelong's Avalon Airport to become an international airport. Depending on traffic Avalon Airport is about 45 to 60 minutes by road from the Melbourne CBD.   At the time, Victorian Premier Baillieu said the Government had committeAvalaon airportd $50 million to the design, planning, land acquisition and preliminary construction works of a rail link, and $3 million to develop a fuel line to pipe aviation fuel directly from Shell Geelong to the airport.

The desire to turn Avalon into a second Melbourne international airport has been around for a while. I haven't had the time to go back and refresh my mind on the history, but it's certainly more than twenty years. 

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell was distinctly sniffy about the whole thing.

After signing a $30 million tourism marketing partnership with Qantas on Monday, Mr O'Farrell was quick to point out Victoria's planned second international airport was not in Melbourne proper.

''It is an airport at Geelong,'' he said. ''Geelong's about as far from Melbourne as Wyong is from Sydney as Springwood is from Sydney as Bulli is from Sydney.

Barry, try getting from either place to the Sydney CBD in the same time. You couldn't do it.

Mr O'Farrell's sniffiness came from an announcement that an agreement had been signed that would allow direct flights from the Philippines to Avalon. 

The question of a second airport for Sydney has been a vexed question for a very long time. In 1986, the Australian Federal Government announced that a new airport was to be built at Badgerys Creek to the west of Sydney. Land was acquired and planning begun, but the whole project then foundered on local opposition. It became all too hard.

Now the question of a second major airport for the Sydney Basin is firmly back on the agenda. For some obscure reason, the operators of Sydney Airport don't feel that one is necessary, or at least not yet. Mr O'Farrell has his doubts about the whole idea.

I don't think that the operators at Avalon or the Victorian Government should worry too much. Building a major new project like an airport takes a lot of time, the approval processes are even longer and require an equivalent weight in paper to the airport itself.

My best guess would be that Avalon has about twenty years before it needs to worry. It's hard to believe that thirty years ago Tullamarine, Melbourne's main airport, was a very minor international airport compared to Sydney, Brisbane smaller still. How the world changes.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Forum - how do we improve productivity?

Back in February, The first three Federal election issues - the economy, industrial relations and NSW Labor, nominated the first three key issues that I thought were going to be important in electoral terms.

In recent weeks, the question of budget deficits has come to the fore. While the mantra of immediate returns to surplus has dropped away, that's clearly not on, the need to address the structural deficit has become central to discussion. Phrases like "the need to share the pain" have become ritual. I think that a fair bit of the discussion misses the point.

I am not a supporter of productivity improvement for the sake of productivity improvement. Too often, it becomes another squeeze for short term gain. I am a supporter of productivity improvement as a means to longer term growth.

Our problem at the moment is that budget and associated policy discussions have become a zero sum game. If one benefits, another must lose. That leads to fights, fights that will get worse if Government budgets are all, as argued, in structural deficit. Of course, there will always be trade-offs, trade-offs made worse by current obsessions with "the big picture", the "big reform". There have been too many promises, too little focus on simplification and steady improvement. too many expectations. But we need to change focus. If the rules of the game are fixed, change the game!

So what do you think might improve long term productivity, increase growth, help us meet challenges like an aging population? I have my own ideas. I would be interested in yours. 


I suspect that I left this too general to attract responses. So focusing all this a little.

Here is a speech by the Chair of the Australian Productivity Commission setting out what the Commission perceives to be the to to do list required to increase productivity. I agree with some, but find there to be a fairly mechanical flavour. Now these views have been widely reflected in media and business commentary, so that they are not without influence.

To further focus discussion, I pose three questions:

  1. If Gonski is introduced exactly as proposed, will it increase productivity? That's a claim that's often made. How?
  2. Why has Australia been so slow to invest in new infrastructure when there appears to have been general agreement for at least a decade that this is necessary?
  3. COAG, the Council of Australian Governments appears somewhat broken, adding to rigidities and reporting load without achieving reform. Is this true? Does it matter? Obviously I think that it does.

Those are just three initial questions. I am sure that you have your own. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Essay - the importance of people in technology

Browsing in a second hand book shop some years ago, I found a battered management book. Published at the start of the eighties, it argued that IBM would become the world’s dominant corporation because of its dominance over information technology. Ten years later, very similar arguments were being applied to Microsoft.

Both IBM and Microsoft benefited from a technology shift. Both rode a wave of success. Both remain successful corporations. Neither achieved that long term commercial dominance forecast by the popular management pundits.

The creative destruction unleashed by the application of new computing and communications technologies is huge, dramatically altering the business landscape. However, it is not the first such shift, nor will it be the last.

To illustrate, the invention of the internal combustion engine had equivalent effects and in much the same time horizon as the IT revolution. Over the first two decades of the twentieth century, entire industries vanished as new ones were born. The human landscape was reshaped. How we lived, where we lived, what we ate, all changed.

The rolling effects of the internal combustion engine revolution continued for decades. New industries and activities continued to be born. New fortunes were made. The motor vehicle, aircraft, the shopping complex all became natural and apparently fixed features of the human landscape.

If you look at the hype surrounding the internet as the latest manifestation of the computing and communications revolution, there is a huge focus on winners and losers and on the fads, fashion and social implications of the new technology. I am as fascinated with this as anyone else, yet it helps to keep a sense of perspective.

From a practical personal and business viewpoint, the key thing is the way we use the technology to achieve our objectives. We know that a lot of the froth and especially the kit will vanish. That’s just a fact. What is important is how best to take advantage of it all.

My local tennis club is a good example. I play tennis badly, but enjoy the game and the social interaction. Like many of us, I spend far more time in front of a computer than I really should. I need to get out to do something physical and to talk to people.

My tennis club has an on-line presence. I use that to find out what is going on and to make court bookings. They have a simple system that I can use easily. That’s important. However, that’s not why I go back, that’s not why I am such a supporter.

In simple human terms, there are people behind the technology. I am called Jim. If I have a problem, I can call a human. They recognise me when I come to play. We chat.

The technology helps the club because they get more cash up front, have fewer cancellations, make the courts accessible to more people, Yet it works because it helps me as a customer do the things that I want to do without taking away the things that I value.

I think that we all need to remember this when we consider how we might use the new technology to our own advantage. In the end, it all comes back to people.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - blog tidying

It's wet here in Sydney. I woke very early, restless, unable to sleep. I struggled out to the kitchen and turned my computer on. Looking at one of my blogs, I realised that housekeeping was well overdue.

A week back, a friend said that she could follow the pattern of my writing through the blogs. That's true enough, but looking at them left a dusty taste in my mouth because I realised just how far behind I was. Looking at the twitter link on one blog, it was two years out of date!

Sitting there in the early morning looking at my blogs and some of those of my friends, I felt a little like a forest after a bushfire. It was time for regeneration. This photo by Gordon Smith shows the trees coming back after a fire, You can see the new growth.

In writing, I draw from the things that I have experienced. That's perfectly normal. But when I look back at the writing, I remember the background. The story is no longer a free standing story, but a memory jogger of the past.

I had a long running Greek trip series using the trip as a device to explore all the surrounding history and life. It was fun. I stopped on Rhodes, leaving the series up in the air. Why? Things had happened that took the joy from the memories. They and the series were no longer fun.

The Australian bush regenerates. Looking at my failed housekeeping on the blogs, looking at the way my focus has become, what, well less focused, I am spending today tidying and fixing.

Don't expect huge changes. I am a bit off big things. I have never been afflicted by the dreaded template instability that used to afflict Neil, but change is good. It's just questions of tidying and focus.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The mystery of Armenia

One of my friends, Noric Dilanchian, is Armenian. Over the years we have known each other, he has often Educated (lectured?) me on Armenia. Now this quote from Wikipeda, "the important role played in the history of Byzantium by that talented minority, the Armenians, has been generally unrecognised" may seem like special pleading, but there is a grain of truth to it.

This is a map of Armenia in Byzantine times. A brief comment follows the map. 


Despite all Noric's lecturing and my own writing on the Byzantine period, I do not have a firm historical picture of Armenia or the Armenians. Maybe it's time that I properly educated myself!


In a comment, Ramana pointed me to this Wikipedia entry on Armenians in India. From time to time I have written about the way location affects our view of the world. Growing up in a Western European/Australian/Greek-Roman centric view of the world, I was impressed by the way that Alexander the Great struck of east into the apparently unknown. We can see the same mind-set in classical or ancient history and the way it centres on Rome, Greece, and Egypt.

We tend to forget that between the Mediterranean sea and the Indian sub continent lay a series of big empires. If you look at the Persian invasions of what is now Greece, we (those with a Euro-centric view) see them as Persian invasions of Greece, a threat from the east. If you look at it from a Persian perspective, they were trying to tidy up on the eastern edge of their empire.

When Alexander headed off to India, he wasn't heading into the unknown, just the opposite. There were well travelled routes. To the Persians, I am using that phrase as a generic term to cover all state entities, what is now India was on the western edge of empire. Remote perhaps, but in world view.

To be worth a "history", you have to have an entity in which to centre the history. At a tiny parochial level, I write about my New England, a place that never existed in a formal sense. and is therefore not recognised. The Armenians are New England writ large. They had entities, but they are a people who generally always "belonged" to others, to the various larger bodies that controlled them.

Just interesting, that's all.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Who will fill Australia's current policy vacuum?

In tax terms, hypothecation is the dedication of a particular tax for a particular purpose. This can make perfect sense. For example, a tax on fuel may be used to fund roads. In this case, it's a variant of the user pays principle and can offer real advantages over tolls. However, if the tax on fuel is part of a general tax applying to all or most inputs such as the GST, then it doesn't make sense; revenue is simply part of the general tax system.

Generally with a hypothecated tax, the amount you spend depends on the tax. No money, no spend unless you want to make it up from the general budget.

In the case of both the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the Carbon Tax, the Australian Government effectively hypothecated a significant projection of the potential revenue to compensation and other activities. However, the scale of that spend was not flexible. The Government allocated revenue to fixed spend based on what now appear to be, at best, Commonwealth Treasury guesstimates. It's a bit like buying complex derivatives. You need to be aware of the assumptions or you will end up losing a lot of money. Now we all pay a price.

There was another problem as well. The Government committed a fundamental error. Instead of arguing the merits of the particular tax and articulating the issues involved including costs and possible compensation principles, the Government combined tax and spend in those pretty but boring paste graphic packages so beloved by all Australian Governments at all levels and then tried to sell the spend. How very NSW!

The commenters on this blog appear to share the general view that the policy positions of the current Gillard Government no longer count, but the opposition doesn't count either because, with the exception of the NBN, it doesn't have any articulated policies. With such a long period to the Federal election, a policy vacuum has been created. Into that vacuum others are now rushing to enter, including most recently the Business Council of Australia.

Maybe that's not a bad thing. The PM's decision to provide such a long lead time to an election has created a very rare position, one I think unique in Australian history. It's end April now. The current Government will probably go into caretaker mode in August. We have a number of months where neither Government nor opposition can control the policy agenda. Essentially, we can now chat among ourselves on what we consider to be important.

Of course, there will be special pleading. Both the Financial Review and the BCA are demonstrating elements of that at present. But seriously, there is a fluidity now in national debate that is most unusual, one in which the focus group driven atmospherics that usually drive high level political and policy debate actually don't count!

As the final election campaign kicks in, things will change.  In the meantime, let's make the most of it!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Australian life - R M Williams & Australian Country Style

Back on 10 February 2008, Birthday shopping with my girls - moleskins and double pocketed shirts recorded a Dad's pleasure at being taken shopping by his daughters. The post began:

Now anybody who reads this blog will know that I am a tad, some would say a lot more than a tad, old fashioned.

In buying clothes, I am very cautious about ever buying anything in high fashion. Instead, I go for a more conservative cut because experience has shown me that this is more likely to be long-term wearable.

For a number of reasons I have bought very little new clothing in recent years, no more than a few pairs of socks or some undies. So my wardrobe is in an absolutely parlous condition.

This year for my birthday my daughters took me clothes shopping. This was a major event in its own right because they were paying! But it was also a chance to start filling some gaps.

My first targets were some double pocketed shirts plus some moleskins.RM-Williams

From this point the post went on to talk a little about the story of moleskins, country style and the Australian bush outfitter R M Williams.

Reginald Murray Williams was born on 24 May 1908. You will find a little of his life if you click on his name. It's quintessentially representative of one stream in Australian life.

Williams sold the the company he founded in 1988, but it went into receivership in 1993 and was then purchased by a then partnership of Kerry Stokes and Ken Cowley. Ken Cowley is better known as a former senior associate of Rupert Murdoch's. Mr Cowley, a close friend of Mr Williams, has preserved the firm' integrity. However, Mr Cowley has begun to exit for, as I understand it, family reasons.

On 15 April 2013, R M Williams announced that a 49.9 per cent share had been sold to L Capital Asia, a private equity fund sponsored by French luxury giant LVMH Group, in a deal believed to be worth about $A53 million. The intent is to extend the global reach of the R M Williams' brand.

It's interesting, but after all these the Australian country style remains the most distinctive Australian fashion trait even if, as I suspect, most of the customers now live in urban areas!       

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Internet problems

I have been struggling with a very bad internet connection, making it difficult to post. Hope to be fixed today.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Forum - what do you think of the new school education proposals?

Yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Gillard announced the Government's detailed response to the Gonski report. You will find the official transcript here, you can download the final report here.

It seems to me that there are two very separate sets of issues.  One is the proposals themselves, the second the funding.

On the first, I like some of the elements in the model including the per pupil payments. but also detest the rigidity and doctrinaire approach. On the second, I have already put up the internal UNE response in UNE's response to the higher education funding cuts. The extraction of money from a sector encouraged to expand to meet other Government objectives doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense to me.

What do you think?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Australian life - the CWA and packet mix cakes!

The Country Women's Association is Australia's largest and oldest women's organisation. Back in 2006 (New England, Australia - CWA) I wrote a little of its NSW history.

The CWA  and its members have always been famous for their cooking. I grew up in a world where they normally catered, where country cakes and scones were famous.

In 2010, the candidates on Masterchef were set the challenge of cooking a set of recipes from the CWA cook book to be judged by 100 CWA ladies. As you will see from my story at the time, Masterchef meets the CWA, they bombed big time.

Now given all this, I feel that an era has ended. According to a story by David Chen, the Queensland Branch of the CWA has decided to allow cakes made from packet mixes into baking competitions! I quote from David's story:

"While acknowledging it is a far cry from the tradition of making cakes from scratch, CWA spokeswoman Alison Taylor says it will make the competition more accessible.

"But there is a talent to making packet cakes, it's not as easy as sounds," she said."

I know that's right, I know that the CWA must move with the times, but packet mixes?!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Australian importance of Margaret Thatcher - did it exist?

One of the interesting but not unexpected things about the death of Margaret Thatcher was the polarised nature of the responses, for she has become an iconic figure to left and right. I probably have a somewhat iconoclastic view of her.

Back in 2006, I did a short background series on trends in public administration. If you are interested, the posts were:

I said that my View of Mrs Thatcher was probably somewhat iconoclastic. In the posts, I do refer to Thatcherism as the label attached to the approaches that were emerging. I also try to briefly put Mrs Thatcher in a broader context. However, I don't discuss her ideas, nor do I place great weight on her in an Australian context.

Leaving foreign policy aside and focusing on domestic policy, Mrs Thatcher was first and foremost a British politician dealing with an economy that had become a basket case. She articulated views on the role of the state in life. She became a major symbol to those who had certain if opposing views about the role of the state. But she never (to my knowledge) really articulated a coherent view about the way that the state should work within the bounds that she had set. That was left to others.

In an Australian context, she had some influence on views about the role of the state, but almost no influence on public policy or public administration that I can discern. The changes that took place in Australia were locally driven, although they did take place to some degree within a frame set by global trends of which Mrs Thatcher was a part.

So when I listen or read about the opposing and sometimes heated local responses to Mrs Thatcher, I do wonder. Maybe I'm wrong. Can you point to a single example where Mrs Thatcher's ideas had significant local influence?    

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Untangling the NBN debate - a few stats

Tonight I wanted to make a brief comment on the Opposition's broadband plan. You will find the details here, including a link through to the main policy document. As it happened, the ABS released the latest data on Australian's internet usage yesterday. You will find that here.

The comments that follow are simply my attempt to understand the issues.

Existing Australian Use of Broadband

According to ABS, as at December 2012, there were 11.879 million Australian broadband connections. These were dominated by:

  • DSL 4.727 Million
  • Mobile wireless 5.995 million!

The mobile number is somewhat misleading and I will come back to that later.

Connection Speeds

Labor's NBN promises connection speeds of up to 100 Mbps for 93% of the population by 2021. The Coalition promises a minimum of 25 Mbps by 2016 rising to a minimum of 50 by 2019.

How does this compare with present broad band connection speeds? The following table sets out the ABS numbers. Note that these are advertised connection speeds, something that I will return to in a moment.

Speed December 2011
June 2012
December 2012
256kbps to less than 1.5 Mbps 808 980 609
1.5Mbps to less than 8 Mbps 5 115 5 067 4 213
8Mbps to less than 24 Mbps 3 985 4 094 5 406
24 Mbps or greater 1 214 1 458 1 645

You can see the decline in the numbers in the lower connection ranges.

The advertised download speed range that recorded the highest number of subscribers at 31 December 2012 was the 8Mbps to less than 24Mbps range, with 5.4 million subscribers, a 32% increase from the end of June 2012. Subscriber numbers in the 24Mbps or greater range grew by 13% since the end of June 2012 and accounted for over 1.6 million subscribers at 31 December 2012.

We don't know the distribution of speeds within the broad categories.

Advertised vs Real Speeds

I have a DSL broadband  connection that has a technical download speed of 54 Mbps so I am in the last group. In practice, and as I have complained before, I get nowhere near that rated speed. Further, the connection is unreliable, dropping out regularly. Some of the problems appear connected to the wireless router. but even when I have the cable directly connected, my real spees are very low.

Upload vs download

The primary focus on discussion is on download speeds, but for content creators, upload speeds are very important. My upload speeds are pretty dreadful.

Volume Indicators

Now what can we say about the volume of material downloaded?  The next table shows download volumes measures by terabytes. ABS warns that caution should be exercised in interpreting the numbers. Wireless includes mobile downloads.

Broadband downloads

December 2011 TB

June 2012 TB

December 2012 TB
Fixed line

322 280

389 130 526 472

23 142

25 301 28 196

345 422

414 431

554 668

The numbers show two things. First, the rapid increase in traffic. Second, the way that traffic growth is being driven by fixed line despite the huge number of mobile connections.


I will follow this analysis up in a later posts. Now, I just wanted to get numbers down.  


In a speech reported in IT Wire, Mr Turnbull argued  new technology such as VDSL (very high bit rate DSL) can deliver adequate speeds: “Very, very high speeds are being delivered on VDSL on fibre-to-the-node, especially with vectoring. All the vendors are talking about it, reaching 100Mbps on the so called rotting, degraded, last century copper wires." Mr Turnbull said.

As I sat there this morning with my DSL broadband dropping out or even when working taking almost a minute to load the front page of the SMH, I wasn't convinced! 

Postscript 2

A further report on Mr Tunrbull's belief in the possibilities of copper.

Postscript Three

Thanks to my inveterate commenter and unpaid research assistant kvd, two further links:

In comments on the second article, kvd found a very informative comment from Jonathan in Melbourne that exactly explains some of the problems that I have been experiencing with my notional 54 Mbps connection:

It's not that difficult Mike, but you do have to understand the TCP transport protocol. Basically all download speeds quoted by broadband providers and Telcos is based on line speed. When Turnbull talks about 25Mbps he is quoting line speed. When you download data the real speed that you are actually getting is reduced by distance, number of subscribers sharing the DSLAM and the quality of the line from the DSLAM to the premises. If we take the optimum scenario of a user with a good quality connection who is less than 1000m from the multiplexer and a line speed of 25Mbps the actual amount of data they will receive on their disk is around 3Mbps. If the user has a wireless router and there are several users in the premises the actual data downloaded will halve again (depending on router and number of users) leaving an actual down load speed of around 1.5Mbps. This is a very very long way short of 25Mbps and is the elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring. If you have four users in the premises and they each are downloading HD video you need a minimum of 16Mbps (actual data not line speed). Turnbull quoted BT in the UK as his source of technical advice. BT have been installing FTTN since 2010 and have upgraded their speed requirements three times. They are currently upgrading to an optional service of 330Mbps. Their existing top of line service is currently being offered at 100Mbps. I think the current price is 26 pounds per month, but you can check their website. Incidentally I have a line speed of 16Mbps and because of slow speed due to high traffic in my area, typing this was a bit of a nightmare.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Archibald fountain - people taking photos of each other!

I had been intending to do a follow up post to Off to the Archies. I have been responding to emails since I got home. Tonight, instead, I want to share with you one photos. Comments follow the photos. P1000059(1) Walking back from the exhibition through Hyde Park, I passed the Archibald Fountain. This was funded by J F Archibald.

The fountain was surrounded by people taking photos of each other. More people see the fountain and stop to look each week than the entire numbers that see the Prize exhibition. That's not a bad memorial.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Off to the Archies


This morning I am off to the Archies as they are colloquially known, and am looking forward to it.

The Archies or, to give them the proper title, the Archibald Prize, is Australia's best known annual prize for portraiture. This painting, W. B. McInnes's Portrait of Miss Collins, won the 1924 Prize.

J. F. Archibald (14 January 1856 – 10 September 1919) was was co-owner and editor of The Bulletin during the days of that magazine's greatest influence on Australian politics and literary life. Upon his death, he bequeathed money to create the Archibald Memorial Fountain in Sydney's Hyde Park, a major Sydney attraction, and to establish an annual prize for portraiture.

The first prize was awarded in 1921 and has been awarded annually since with the exception of two years (1964 and 1980) when the judges deemed that no painting was worthy of the award. Over the years since the first award, the Prize has reflected the changes in the Australian art scene and has attracted its fair share of controversies.

portrait-of-an-artist- Joshua Smith by William Dobell Perhaps the most famous came in 1943. In that year, the Prize was won by William Dobell's painting of fellow artist Joshua Smith. This led to a court challenge on the grounds that it was a caricature rather than a portrait.

The case was dismissed in court, but the controversy dogged both men. Smith who won the Prize the next year, found that the painting was more famous than his own work and described it in 1991 as a curse, a phantom that haunts me. It has torn at me every day of my life. For his part, the emotional stress place on Dobell by the court case and surrounding controversy led him to retreat to his sister's home at Wangi Wangi on Lake Macquarie where he began to paint landscapes.

The Australian art world was a small one and also split between cities and schools. Everybody knew everybody, so disputes attracted a personal element. The art world was also part of and affected by broader changes and controversies in Australian life,  This included disputes over the role of art in society and as a representation of culture.

One modern example was the establishment of the Doug Moran Prize for portraiture in 1988 to provide an alternative prize. The Moran Prize has attracted its own controversy including this fascinating legal dispute in my own backyard that I hadn't been aware of until I came to research this story.   

Personally, and I accept that this is a matter of taste, I haven't enjoyed the Archies as much in recent years. The last time I went I was very disappointed with the paintings. There was nothing that made me really stop and look. Still, I am looking forward to seeing this year's exhibition.   

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - China, Torbay and the future of Fairfax

Australian Prime Minister Gillard is on an official visit to China along with a gaggle of ministers, officials business people. Over at the Lowy Institute blog, Dirk van der Kley's Can Australia stand out from crowd in China? muses on the difficulty that Australia has in standing out in China. I agree with him about the importance of building relations in depth over time, but I do wonder a little about the question. Why should Australia want to stand out from the crowd in China? What might we gain?

These are genuine questions, for I struggle to see what we have to gain. I am also very uncomfortable at the tendency of Australian leaders to lecture others. 

I have continued to update Thank you Richard Torbay by posting links to news stories. Dear me, Kate McClymont's latest story, 'He could charm the knickers off a nun, 'makes Armidale sound like Sydney on Dumaresq Creek; Dumaresq Creek is the little stream that runs through Armidale.

I am not commenting further on developments here for the moment, although I can see the evolving pattern. However, one thing that has been interesting has been the way that the papers in the Fairfax group have been taking common content and then localising it. A second interesting thing has been the commonality in Fairfax paper web sites. This is not connected to the Torbay story, but is part of the overall Fairfax restructuring. It's partly a matter of common design, more that the web sites take and present feed from across the Fairfax network. One practical effect is to bulk up the smaller paper web sites, making them a source of broader news in the way the country dailies once were.

Rupert Murdoch has been in the country as part of the pre-launch of the new News Corp. The larger Fox Group will hold the other assets. In a strange way, we are seeing the rebirth of the old News before the huge US expansion. The Australian assets of the new News Corp are about 65 per cent of the total, while the virtues of the company are being pitched to Australian investors. Apparently, there is a fear that US investors will dump the new News Corp.

I will be interested to see how all this evolves. My gut reaction is that the new News Corp might actually do quite well because of the content it controls, including the Wall Street Journal. Despite all the travails of the print media, content is still important.

While Rupert was in town, Fairfax announced another restructuring. I am less confident about Fairfax than I am about the new News Corp. Unlike News, I can't see possible development paths. I suppose that my views on Fairfax are biased, I don't like what they have done to the regional press, but I'm also moderately bright and experienced. I don't think the value or imagination is there. It's all restructuring.

Well, the day is now underway and I must move on.    

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The importance of the individual writer and blogger

In one of those give away phrases that shows where my thoughts are heading, on my public Facebook page I used the phrase "Media/News/Publishing" as the short tag before the more detailed description. In this context, the two pieces I wrote yesterday (Sniffyness abounds in New England - Joyce, Windsor, Torbay, Katter and McIntyre - and the Express has fun! and The political importance of New England - a primer) I had a useful reaction on twitter. four retweets  and two new followers. Of the retweets, one came from a NSW National Party MP, a second from the Sydney Branch of the Party, a third from a journalist.

Now in the broad scheme of things, that's tiny, but for my little empire its quite big. Nine of my followers are journalists, excluding fellow bloggers and writers. Just in purely New England terms, one new follower was Claire Coulton (@claire_coulton). Adam Marshall (@A_J_Marshall) was already following me, so I now have the two presently leading National Party candidates for the Northern Tablelands seat on my follower list.

I know that that all this sounds minor, and indeed New England is only one slice of the things that I write on, but it does keep me in touch. It is also part of my readership platform across all my outlets (print, blogs, Facebook and twitter). In all this, I am slowly learning to write for particular audiences and indeed particular readers. Its quite difficult at times and indeed not especially profitable. But its also part of the process by which we individual bloggers and writers more broadly can have an influence.

I have made the point before that our personal influence will always be limited, although sometimes each of us can have an impact. However, it's the collective influence based on interaction that is important. It's the value that each of us adds to the other.

I guess that's the point of my little boast, of my wish to share it with you. I suppose that I want all of you to keep writing (I have just been cleaning out my blog list and am conscious of burn-out among us), to explore your views. I also want you to continue contributing to others, to promoting stories and people that you consider to be important.

You don't have to agree with them, just that they have said something worthwhile or interesting. Give recognition, engage. Then you provide an alternative voice.

This post has gone in a different direction from that I intended. I had actually intended to segue into the changes at News and Fairfax. Still, perhaps it's no worse for that.   

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The political importance of New England - a primer

Today's post, Sniffyness abounds in New England - Joyce, Windsor, Torbay, Katter and McIntyre - and the Express has fun!, was triggered by a conversation I had with a cousin who is a journalist in the Canberra press gallery. It's partially tongue in cheek, but there is also a serious element, for I find that the Australian political significance of New England is not recognised, leading to some sometimes silly reporting.

This post provides a simple political primer. I have tried to write it so that it can be understood by readers with no knowledge of New England.

What and where is New England? 

The term New England has varying meanings. It can refer to the England Tablelands often called the New England, it can refer to a broader area as defined by the NSW State Government that includes the Western Slopes, it can refer to the Federal Electorate called New England. Its boundaries have varied greatly with time, but have generally centred on the Tablelands and Slopes. It can also be used in a broader sense to cover all the North East of NSW. I use it in that sense.

Defined in the way I define it, it covers the Northern or New England Tablelands and the surrounding river valleys to the east, west and south. Geographically, this is a large area equivalent in size to a substantial European country. In population, while diminished in relative terms over the last sixty years, it remains a major unit.

My usage of New England is less common that it was, for the name was attached to the last stages of the self-government or new state campaigns that declined after the 1967 plebiscite loss and the subsequent in-fighting. I use it now in part because of sentiment, more because alternative terms such as the North carry no meaning to those outside NSW. I could say Northern NSW, but that's ambiguous too.

New England's Political Make-up

Up until the 1970s, New England as I define it, was dominated by two political groups, the Labor Party in Newcastle and the coal fields electorates of the Lower Hunter, elsewhere the Country Party. Both Labor and independents had successes further north, but this was Country Party now National Party heartland. This was the Party's most stable base at state and national level.

You can get some feeling for this from the national leadership. Since the Country Party's formation in 1920, it has had twelve leaders, five from New England. Of the nine Country Party/National Party leaders in NSW, six have come from the area that I define as New England. If you look at the ministerial mix, the New England presence is even more pronounced.

If Barnaby Joyce replaces Warren Truss as in due course, he will the sixth Party Leader from New England and, probably, the fourth Deputy Prime Minister or Prime Minister to come from New England.  

Decline of the National Party

From the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, the National Party in New England began to struggle. Part of the reason was due to demographic change, but there was more to it than that.

In demographic terms, inland New England declined quite sharply. As late as 1980, the inland towns were as big as or bigger than the coastal towns. The subsequent explosion of the coastal population both reduced the number of inland electorates and brought in new voters with little traditional affiliation to the National Party. Labor benefited, especially on the Far North Coast.

I said that there was more to it than that. New England was large enough and far enough from Sydney to develop its own sense of identity. This was expressed partly in cultural and political terms, but was also reinforced by the presence of the self-government or new state movement. This waxed and waned in strength over the first seventy years of the twentieth century, but had the effect of creating a sense of New England identity that could best be captured by the Country Party. While it was not clear at the time, its removal took a critical underpinning away from the National Party.

The Rise of the New England Independents

I am presently trying to write a proper historical piece on the rise and fall of the New England independents. Almost by accident, they became a political movement without becoming a political party, something that they could not do. At their peak, they controlled a swath of New England state and Federal seats, networked with other independents and tried to support other independent candidates in New England and, as we are seeing now, well beyond. Their activities were well recognised in New England and especially by the Nationals, but less so beyond. They were effective because they could most effectively capture elements in the New England political tradition. 

The progressive collapse of the Labor Party in NSW, the consequent polarisation of the electorate, weakened the independents' position. Then the decision of Messrs Windsor and Oakshott to support the Gillard Government set in train a series of political events whose affects are still working themselves out. This is not a criticism, just an observation. This included the severe damaging of the entire electoral machinery underpinning the independents success. 

Return of the Nationals

I don't think that the Nationals can believe their luck in all this, although I doubt that they would put in quite that way. With Federal Labor on the nose and the independents severely weakened, they now have a chance of restoring their electoral position in New England to a level not seen for decades.

Whether they can hold it is another question, for the National brand in New England (to use that dreadful political cliche) has become indistinct. The Liberal Party has been extending its influence north. Electoral arrangements may prevent them running again on the Tablelands or elsewhere for the moment, although the desire is there. And nobody should assume that Labor will not regain strength, drawing from the Green vote as well.

Can Tony Windsor hold his seat and thus hold the immediate tide? I don't think that Rob Oakshott can, although I'm not really close enough to on-ground conditions. Its hard to see it. But it all remains very interesting.                        

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

NBN - oh for a few more cable splicers!

Recently, I have referred from time to time the emerging problems in the roll-out of Australia's new National Broadband Network by the NBNCo. I haven't written a lot on it because its outside my present area of technical expertise. Now the Australian Financial Review has obtained NBNCo internal documents showing jut how bad the problem had become. This story, NBN at war with contractors, paints part of the scene.

A key part of the problem relates to shortages of, and lack of skills of, the fibre splicers who connect the cables. Interestingly, if my memory serves me correctly, it was actually the Union Movement who first pointed to this emerging problem last year, noting that low pay rates were hindering recruitment. I discounted this at the time because of my perception that other games were involved, but they were clearly right.

Initial teething problems are quite normal in a project of this size. However, I have the strong impression that they were compounded by the political need to roll-out over a wide geographic area, thus increasing ramp-up difficulties. I also have the impression that problems were compounded by policy and regulatory reigidities.  In the meantime, it appears that Opposition communications shadow minister Malcolm Turnbull will be revealing his alternative plan tomorrow.

And the commercial winner in all this? Telstra says thank you very much!     

Monday, April 01, 2013

Round the blogging traps - on writers and writing 1

It probably won't come as a surprise, it shouldn't, that a remarkable number of bloggers are writers. I suppose one could say that all bloggers are writers, that's the nature of the medium after all, but it's more than that. To illustrate this, I want to take you on something of a literary wander around that small slice of the blogosphere that I follow.

By the way, do you find spell checkers as problematic as I do? I really hate the Americanisation of English. But that's another story.

To start my wander, you may have noticed the relative quietness over at skepticslawyer, although they are becoming more active. Why? As I understand it, three of the main contributors have been involved with other writing projects. That's actually a feature of the blogosphere, for many of us have multiple outlets, multiple writing projects. In my own case, far too many for my own good!

Not all bloggers do this. Faced with hard choices, they focus. Denis Wright is dying from a brain tumour. In his case, My Unwelcome Stranger has become the vehicle for his literary expression. I have known Denis for many years; we first met when sharing the history staff room at the University of New England while I was a post grad student. He writes with simplicity and great clarity. There is a little of his illness, although much of that is kept in a separate section within the blog. Instead. much of Denis's writing is story based, tales from his past.

Bronwyn Parry's first blog focused on her professional role within the University of New England. Now a very successful romance thriller writer, her current blog focuses on her writing. This is an example of the blog as a support, a promotional device, for other writing. Her latest entry announced that that Dead Heat was a finalist in the romantic suspense category of the Romance Writers of America RITA awards. Bronwyn comments:

The RITA awards are often described as the ‘Oscars’ for the romance genre – the winners are announced at the gala awards night at the end of the Romance Writers of America conference, which this year will be in Atlanta, Georgia, from July 17-20th. I will be going to the conference this year, and I’m very much looking forward to it! When Dark Country finalled in the RITAs in 2010, sadly I couldn’t go because of pending brain surgery – but this time I’ll be there!

Bronwyn is a very good writer indeed. Even if you aren't into romance, do try one of her books. I don't think that you will be disappointed. Partner Gordon is also a blogger with lookANDsee, a photo blog focused especially on New England. 

Looking at this post so far, the New England connection is already dominating! That's not surprising, for it reflects my network and interests. But just to balance a little.        

Back in June 2009, I wrote Visiting Vancouver - 3: Canadian history through Australian eyes, early days. This provided an introduction to early Canadian history based on Craig Brown (Editor), The Illustrated History of Canada, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 2007. In return, I received a rather nice compliment from Christopher Moore, one of the book's authors. He wrote:

You have digested a lot of Canadian history very effectively! -- and I say this as one of the authors of The Illustrated History of Canada, the book you were reading.

I have been following Christopher's blog, Christopher Moore's History News, ever since. Christopher is somewhat unusual; he is a full time history writer who makes his living outside the groves of academe. Like Bronwyn, the blog is a support to his other activities. The entries are short but regular. It provides a remarkably good introduction to Canadian history.

Returning to the New England connection, Sophie Masson is one of Australia's better known writers. Now living in Armidale and chair of the New England Writers' Centre, her blog A la mode frangourou is all about food with a dash of self-promotion thrown in. And why not? Those who want to make a living from writing have to learn to focus and to promote. Lesson to self!

Browsing Sophie's blog, I see that she is now using YouTube to promote her work. Again, lesson to self! In the meantime, Sophie's blog contains some mouth watering stuff.

Oops! Looking at the time, I am out of it today. I need to clean up and get ready to go out to lunch at Helen's place. Maybe more later. I will mark this post 1 to remind me to come back.