Thursday, November 07, 2019

Armidale, drought and the need for balance in thought and reporting

It's been very dry up here on the New England Tablelands. Trees are dying that have survived previous droughts.

Having been through previous droughts, I was sceptical of some of the claims around this drought. I will leave it to the statisticians to decide whether this is the worst drought in the historical record, recognising that the intensity varies from place to place.

It's almost certainly not the worst drought we have had over the last few thousand years. The material I have read, I'm sorry I can't give links: I just picked it up in passing, suggests that there have been a number of very long dry spells since the ending of the Last Glacial Maximum. By long, I mean a thousand or so years.

What I can say is that this is a very bad drought, worse than I had realised. I know Northern NSW well and have been following the media reports and the social media feeds. I don't mean to be  rude, but I don't think that most urban folk have any real understanding of the on-ground position. I didn't until I returned to once familiar walks and saw the dying trees, until I listened to country people talking in passing about areas that I knew and the problems they were experiencing,

I am not happy about the approach to drought policy. At local government level, the councils (at least Armidale Regional Council) have been so caught up the hype that they have introduced what seems to me to be silly restrictions. There seems to be little sense of timing, little focus on addressing the complexities involved in the composition of water restrictions.

The Council web site carries the banner headline 398 days to day zero, the day Armidale runs out of water, down from 420 a few weeks back. That will not happen. It assumes no rain for a very extended period. There will be rain in that period, even if drought continues through out. Water restrictions can be tightened again. The Council has been putting down bores. Some water is available in Puddledock dam.

Mind you, I may be wrong and if so I will acknowledge it. It is a bad drought. It is also a drought that covers a wide geographic area. Water supplies are having to be shared between towns and between towns and country. Scarce town and farm water is also being used for firefighting.

Again to use Armidale as an example. Built to supply Armidale, the Malpas dam is now also supplying Guyra as well as some outlying farming areas where water for household consumption has run out. Water has been trucked for considerable distances. The Puddledock dam, previously Armidale's main supply, is reserved for emergency purposes, including firefighting. 

City folk have picked up all the hyperbole. This includes presentation by the media of Armidale as a basket case (who can resist day zero?) when, in fact, the city is equal to or better off than other places with lower level water restrictions. 

The problem is that at a time when we want people to move to the regions, people have begun to argue why go when there is no water. Better to concentrate in places like Sydney where there is water. This type of argument has begun to worry some of the country mayors who, while recognising current problems, are trying to strike a balance between the short term problems and longer term needs and objectives. 

The argument is in fact silly at multiple levels.

Consider the case of Sydney which is presently on level one restrictions as compared to Armidale's level five, prospectively level six.

The Sydney desalination plant has been fired up to provide supplementary if expensive water. However, 87% of Sydney's water still comes from rainfall. At present, the Sydney water storages are just over 47% capacity as compared to a Malpas dam level of a bit over 38%. Both have been falling. Sydney is wetter than Armidale, but it has a faster growing population and a much heavier water usage in industry and construction. Why then the differences in hype?

This is not meant to be a Sydney v the bush argument, nor am I saying that the drought is not bad. It is simply an argument for balance in reporting. To my mind, some of the emotion surrounding current discussion is interfering with longer term thought, with the development of solutions to meet needs that vary greatly across geographic space as well as time. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

On vanishing down rabbit holes - the case of Arthur Ransome

My family and friends laugh at me because of my ability to find connections between New England and apparently totally disconnected figures.

This is the English children's writer, Arthur Ransome. I really liked his books as a child. My favourite was We didn't mean to go to sea. It was a present from my parents.

Later, I tried to share Ransome with my children, buying Swallows and Amazons. It didn't grab. It was too remote.

Now what has all this to do with vanishing down rabbit holes? Well, I had an email from Cathie L asking me whether a certain homestead near Walcha still existed because it was once owned by Ransome's grandfather.  I had no idea that there was a Ransome connection. That was where the rabbit hole came in, for with info from Cathie I was off on a web search combined with emailing local historians.

 I have a total new story, although I can't write about it yet because I need to clear it with Cathie. But it involves a Dutch battle field, a New England station that carried its name, a squatter and early Australian painter. With the Russian revolution and espionage thrown in.

The only problem is that none of this was on my writing agenda including this blog. Sigh! this is happening all the time now that I am back on the New England.   

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary story of Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville)

In this YouTube video, award-winning author Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary story of Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville) - the first, and the longest serving, female special agent working for Britain in the Second World War. The talk was delivered as part of the Lunchtime Lectures series, - a programme of free talks that takes place at the National Army Museum in London every Thursday at 12.30pm.

I am sharing it with you because this is one of the best talks I have seen. It's just over 49 minutes long, but is absolutely gripping. Enjoy!


Friday, October 11, 2019

Trying to understand foreign policy in a Trumpian and febrile environment

To say that I find President Trump unsettling is an understatement. It's not just what he does, but how he does it.

Since coming to office, he has launched trade wars that are now dragging the global economy down. He has launched a detente with North Korea whose effect appears to have been an entrenchment of the regime without any reduction in its arms program. He has begun and then partially withdrawn from attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan whose primary effect to this point has been a strengthening of the position of the Taliban. He announced that the US would develop a new circuit breaking deal between the Israelis and Palestinians while taking steps that would seem to preclude any such deal. He withdrew the US from the deal with Iran triggering a new round of sanctions and uncertainties. Now President Trump appears to have triggered the long planned invasion by Turkey of parts of Syria designed to break the power of the Kurds.

These various moves have taken place against a backdrop of a rapidly changing international scene and have added to the pace and uncertainty associated with those changes. They have been delivered with a mixture of bluster and blandishment expressed through tweets that I sometimes feel have been composed by a lonely man sitting alone at night seeking to establish relevance and satisfaction through the artificial sugar hits that come from twitter audience and responses. Others have responded, making twitter the dominant news mechanism of this new age. Who would have thought?

Millions of words have been written analysing the man, his policies and actions. I don't have a lot to add here, especially on immediate events  I agree that his approach is transactional. I agree that he has delivered on things he promised during his election campaign. I agree that US domestic political issues including the Muller Inquiry and the impeachment moves play into his responses. To my mind, none of this matters. We just have to wait it out.

The current international scene is as uncertain as I have seen it in my life time. To a degree at least, Europe and the UK are paralysed over the UK's departure from the EU as well as political divides within the UK and EU countries. Relations with Russia are uncertain as President Putin continues to push his own agenda. Fighting continues in the Ukraine.

The Middle East can only be described as a mess with both Syria and Yemen humanitarian disasters. Further west, war continues in Afghanistan, while the sub-continent is tense following Indian actions in Kashmir. China continues its expansion despite US trade actions, has become more authoritarian, is dealing with internal ethnic tensions and faces problems in Hong Kong and potentially Taiwan. South Korea and Japan, two key US allies, are at each other's throats.

Without going further, this simple list indicates the scale of global problems and uncertainties. Within this mix, President Trump has become a random wild card. As I said earlier, it's not just what he does, but also the way he does it.

I suppose that I could make guesses as to what might happen, but with so many cards in play it's perhaps better to wait on events, It must be creating nightmares for the planners and policy advisers in Canberra and other capitals.

From an Australian perspective, this is a time for caution. It is not clear to me that Australian Prime Minister Morrison is capable of exercising the caution and subtlety required to work through the shoal waters we face. I don't have a really solid evidence base to support this conclusion. It is based on his US trip, on his attacks on globalism, his arguments for the reshaping of the trade order, some of his responses to China.

To a degree, the Government seems locked in a time warp still driven by concepts such as the "war on terror", the need to propitiate and manage hard right ideas within the Liberal Party as well as sometimes xenophobic fears within the Australian community driven in part by the Government's own previous rhetoric, fears shared by those on the left as well as the right.

Managing all this requires a clear articulation based on a combination of principles and pragmatism, as well as the capacity not to say things, something that is very hard in Australia's sometimes febrile    political and media environment. It's not easy.

Postscript 13 October

In  a comment kvd wrote:
"Judges 15:16
Twitter is Trump's "jawbone" - in more than one way."
You will find the reference here. I had to laugh.

The BBC's Anthony Zurcher had a useful summary of the apparent confusion of the US position on the Kurds and Rurkey over the last week. Mr Trump's suggestion that he might mediate struck me (and I suspect the Turkish President) as very odd. Meantime, the roller-coaster continues with President Trump proclaiming that a phase one deal had been agreed with China on the trade war. We will have to wait and see what this actually means. 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Monday Forum – as you will

I let the Monday Forums lapse in the turmoil of the move. I think it time to reinstate them, recognizing that my irregular posting plus loss of some commenters means that responses are likely to be very slow initially. I have found them valuable in a personal sense in alerting me to new things, generating new ideas.

This first Monday Forum after the break is an as you will. Feel free to comment on things that have interested/ annoyed you!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Reflections on my first three weeks in Armidale

I have been enjoying my return to Armidale, although the internet is still not functioning properly. That’s not the NBN’s fault, just problems with my ISP.

Apart from the increase in my standard of living (my rent has dropped $215 per week for a much better house compared the increasingly grungy two bedroom semi), I’m enjoying the reduced travel time.

In Sydney it took me two way travel time of an hour thirty to go to the State Library which made it a significant excursion. Here things are much closer.

One day last week I drove into town for coffee then went to the industrial area to buy some wood. I have a wood stove and while I haven’t used it a lot (it’s been warm) I have really enjoyed it. From the hardware store I drove to the Family History Centre to pay my subscription and to do a quick scan of their collection. I also answered some queries from family researchers who called in. From there I popped over to the Heritage Centre and Regional Archives to talk to archivist Bill Oates about a possible UNESCO listing for some of the material. I then went to Coles to buy a few things for the house and then home. All this took two hours thirty.

I have also enjoyed doing some things that I used to do, but which were more difficult in Sydney.

Tuesday evening I went to the Armidale & District Historical Society meeting to hear Bill Crocker talk on “Working on the railroad; memories of a young teacher.”  Having finished Teachers’ College, the 19 year old Bill’s first posting in 1947 was to the provisional school at Kinalung, a small railway settlement near Broken Hill on the line between Menindee and Broken Hill. There were two gangs there, each responsible for maintaining a portion of the line. Their children plus a few from neighboring properties who came in by horseback provided the pupils.

Bill is a skilled raconteur, telling a string of stories that brought railway life in that small community and in Broken Hill and Menindee vividly alive. I was going to take notes, I wish I had, but the bloody pen ran out as soon as Bill started talking. Looking later, I found one nice story on Kinalung and school, if earlier than Bill’s time. I also found that Kinalung was probably a composite element in Tiboonda, a small town that appears in Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, Wake in Fright. I filed some thoughts away for later reference.

Friday I went to a humanities seminar at the University presented by Professor Graham Maddox, “Rome as a model of Republican Liberty?” Graham focused on the constitutional views of Philip Pettit and Quentin Skinner including their views on liberty. Both claim linkages back to republican Rome. There were, he suggested inconsistencies within their views and between their views and the realities of Roman history and political and constitutional expression.

This one stretched me because while I have a reasonable knowledge of Roman history, I lacked the background knowledge on certain political theories. That, of course, was partly why I went, to expand my own knowledge.

As Graham talked about their views, I was struck by the similarities between those views and some of the libertarian views I have seen expounded. I had also noticed a tendency among some libertarians to hark back to Ancient Rome. I also started seeing similarities between the arguments and those set out by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. In the end, I asked a question about possible linkages. This was so badly worded (I was trying to articulate a very ill-formed impression) that it left both Graham and I confused!

Dissatisfied, I came home, did some quick research and put the results in the form of a draft email to Graham. I may or may not send this, I don’t want to bother him, but it has given me a possible post as well.

The next day, Saturday, I went to the official opening of Boobooks’ new sci-fi, fantasy room. They had all dressed up in costumes and had prepared a cake. They also announced new writing prizes to go to younger writers (school age, up to 28) in the New England North West area.  

You can see that I am having quite a social time, if one that fits within my particular intellectual interests. In so doing, I have met or re-met quite a few people. At the end of three weeks, I seem to have slotted right back in even though it is 23 years since we moved to Sydney.

One thing I really like is the availability of resource material linked to my particular interests. I still have my State Library reader’s card which gives me on-line access. I am a member of both the City and University libraries which have some particular collections that I am interested in. I also have access to the big collection at the heritage centre including state records and the smaller collections at the history and family history societies.

So many of the references and the source material I am interested in are not available on-line. I have already found much that I had not seen, that compliments my own collection.

On the negative side, one thing I have noticed is the aging of Armidale combined with an increase in poverty. This is partially a matter of demographics linked to structural and cultural change.

The city grew very rapidly during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Local school numbers exploded with the influx of new families. Then came the changes associated with the Dawkins education reforms, changes that in combination with centralisation of service delivery cost the city a thousand jobs in a short period. Growth went into reverse. The city hollowed out as families left.

Those in permanent positions appointed during the growth phase who have strong connections with the city have now entered retirement. They were replaced to some degree by new arrivals, although these are much more mobile with changes in tenure. The city has attracted retirees (retirement homes are a growth business) and also people with disabilities or on low incomes attracted by services and the relative availability of social housing.

These changes are very visible in the street or in the shopping centres. In Sydney I lived in Daceyville with its aging social housing and retirement populations. Here I have seen more disability chairs, more walkers, in a morning than I saw in Daceyville/Kingsford in a week or even a month.

The effect is just as pronounced in my areas of interest such as history. I find that I know all those interested, the most active. Most were history staff at UNE or the Armidale College of Advanced Education when I was a post grad student in 1981 or 82. Then there were more Australianists than the total number of history staff at UNE today. The Australian history postgrad students from Litt B up outnumber the total number of history postgrads today.

Armidale is growing again. The population has finally passed the previous peak set during the eighties. There is a vibrant cultural life, a proliferation of writers, artists, of small publishing or production houses. There are new start-ups once more. Interestingly, and this is just a perception, the growth is more city, less university focused than in the past.

I suspect that this growth has come just in time to save the place from a severe shock.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

Fire and drought on the New England

It’s very dry in Armidale. Sitting outside at the back table I look across an expanse of dead grass stretching to Queen Elizabeth Drive, the main drag to the University. Fortunately, it’s been close mowed. Otherwise I would be worried about fire hazard.

The fires at Bees Nest and at Tenterfield and Stanthorpe have attracted much attention. The Bees Nest fire has now burned over 90,000 hectares, so it’s a very big fire. News reports describe it as near Armidale. In fact, it’s some considerable distance away, north of Ebor, north-west of Dorrigo. A camp for firefighters has been established at the Dorrigo Polocrosse grounds.

Fire fighting efforts have been hindered by lack of water. In some cases, limited town supplies have had to be diverted to fire fighting. Armidale itself is relatively fortunate, although level 4 water restrictions have been imposed. The main dam, Malpas on the Gara River is 42.9% full, while the much smaller Puddledock and Dumaresq dams are at 70.7% and 58.6% respectively. Puddledock is reserved for emergency use including fire fighting. Malpas now supplies Guyra as well as Armidale. Guyra’s own dams also on the Gara River are very low.

The streams in this immediate area including Gara flow east and have generally wetter catchments than the westerly flowing streams that form part of the Northern Darling Basin. Rainfall declines across the Tablelands from east to west. While it’s dry on the eastern portion of the Tablelands, it’s even drier in the west.

While I accept the statistics that suggest that this may be a record dry spell, I struggle a little with some of the hyperbole, mainly because I have seen so many droughts. Certainly it is very dry and will remain so until we get decent rain.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The 1980s – the missed link in the story of Australia in space: a note

The discussion and sometimes euphoria over the re-establishment of Australia’s space programs has been marked by a total neglect of the attempts to re-establish an Australian Space Program in the 1980s. Discussion slides from the 1960s or early seventies straight to the present time; it is though the 1980s did not exist. And yet, the 1980s were marked by a considerable push including the failed establishment of new institutional structures.

When the grand new initiative began, I became very annoyed at what I saw as the effective re-writing of history; neglect amounts to rewriting. I was also annoyed because the discussion failed to recognize the individuals who tried so hard. Then during the clean-out of my papers prior to the move to Armidale I found a box of documents on the 1980s’ attempts.

That box has disappeared for the moment, lost in the pile of boxes in the garage. It will re-appear in due course, allowing me to write a better documented account. For the moment, I just want to record some of the key events, recognizing that without documentation I may get things wrong including the spelling of names.

Australia’s withdrawal from space has been much canvassed in current discussions. Australia had an active launch site and a not-inconsiderable space sector. In Sydney, Hawker de Havilland employed some 4,000 people in its space division. When the British abandoned its independent space program, Australia had a chance to join ESA, the European Space Agency. This move was opposed by France which had its own plans and saw Australia as a threat to those plans. There was also little support domestically. The then Menzies Government saw it as a waste of money. The net effect was an unwinding of Australian involvement in space and our not inconsiderable space sector.

By the start of the 1980s, things had begun to change. Four factors contributed to this:
  •  Barry Jones, the newly appointed Minister for Science and Technology in the Hawke Government, supported by Deputy Secretary Roy Green, began a space push. This led to the setting up of the Madigan Inquiry, While this proceeded, Jones and Green attempted to use Section 39 funds, part of the IR&D grant scheme, to fund Australian involvement if space projects
  • Meantime, the Department of Industry and Commerce, concerned that the industry policy focus was too dominated by support for cot-case industries, established a new branch (the Electronics, Aerospace and Information Industries Branch) to chart new directions in the high technology sector. I was charged with responsibility with setting that branch up. We focused early on the role that space might play in developing not just the aerospace sector but Australia’s high technology industries in general
  • There were moves in CSIRO too. The Division of Radio Physics under Bob Frater supported by Colin Cooper had not lost its interest in space and supported increased Australian involvement in space. Ken McCracken, head of Minerals Research and a dedicated believer in the value of space based remote sensing began a push to create a special space focused centre within CSIRO. There was growing interest in the universities too where researchers were experimenting with new space focused technologies
  •  In industry, Hawker de Havilland had not forgotten its previous role and supported the push led by (among others) Peter Smith and Stan Schatzel. Stan had had a long involvement with Australian space activities. There were also a growing number of small space related start-ups.
A number of initiatives resulted:
  • We began a series on industry consultations aimed at identifying opportunities and impediments and to gather support for new space initiatives
  •  In CSIRO, Ken obtained endorsement to create a new committee to examine CSIRO’s role in space of which I was a member. This resulted in the creation of the CSIRO Office for Space Science and Applications headed by Ken, supported by Christine Astley Boden
  • A new Australian Space Board was created headed by Bruce Middleton to develop new program activities.
These various moves would finally fail. The reasons for this deserve exploration as does the whole story. In essence, the climate in Canberra was changing. These space initiatives were seen as yet more special pleading for industry subsidation. I remember a frustrating meeting at Treasury where I finally said in frustration how do I satisfy you? David Borthwick carefully explained about benefit-cost analysis. It was actually quite a helpful response, but my problem was that benefit-cost analysis deals with the known, while I was doing with the what might be. I could explain linkages, show where I though benefits would come, but I was really very reluctant to attach numbers or risk assessments. From my perspective, I could show benefits, but so long as we were in the right ball-park precise quantification was meaningless.

When I get my box of papers I will write more. For the moment, I simply wish to assert that the new Australian Space Agency is not the first Australian Space Agency, that what happened in the 1980s deserves to be remembered.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Returning to Blogging

Cross posting to the New England Australia and New England History blogs.

Well, I am now in Armidale. I still don't have the internet working properly, that requires connecting to the NBN, but can access the internet using a hot spot created on the mobile. This is potentially very expensive, but meets my immediate needs.

After such a long delay in blogging, the move was creating distractions and delays long before the intensive move period, traffic to my blogs has declined greatly. I have to rebuild and that will take time.

I will write about the move, after all it has been a big and all consuming one, but for the moment I simply want to record that I am back blogging.

I look forward to a return to regular posting, to the on-going conversation with blogging friends old and hopefully new!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Returning to Armidale

I am sitting here listening to Debussy. I like classical music; it's soothing.

I have had several goes, well more than that actually, in writing a post, posts. But time has been limited, other pressures more important. kvd once said that I could (would) write under wet cement. I fear that's not true.
Lunch in the sun, Armidale, with Rod and Becky Holland. Tobias inside watching TV. Armidale was cold, up to -5 at night, but out of the wind in the sun it was very warm during the day.  
The photo was taken a few weeks' back. I was in Armidale looking at houses. It will be no secret that I have been thinking of moving, I have been for some time, but now the move is actually taking place and in the near term.

Because of my continued involvement with Armidale and the broader New England, people still equate me with the area. Indeed, some people including locals think I still live there! It's just that they haven't seen me down town recently. However, the reality is, to use a politician's phrase equivalent to the facts are, I left Armidale early in 1996, so haven't lived there for some 23 years.

The world changes. Many years ago Rosalba Gustin, a friend in Canberra, lent me a book on English expatriates living in Italy.They had fallen in love with the place, but in the end found that they did not belong there or in a changed English homeland. I have never forgotten the key message of that book. The Armidale I knew no longer exist beyond people's memories. .

I have been working hard over the last few years digging back in while recognising that I won't know the real texture of life until I get there. I should write about that at some point as a case study, For the moment, I just note that people have been kind and welcoming. I don't expect to be lonely, something that has occurred in Sydney. 

Sydney's a funny place. I am fond of the city, I have known it for a long time. But it's also a place where you need money and structure, money because of distance and costs including entry fees, structure because so much of life resolves around the phases of life such as family, immediate friends and work.

I now have a house in Armidale. It's further out than I would like, very near the uni when I wanted something within easy walking distance of the CBD, but it's better than what I have now and $215 less per week than I am paying now.

Some of my friends remarked on its apparent size. It's actually smaller than it looks, but in any case it's big enough for me to have family and friends stay and to store my much loved books. and papers while I continue to sort. It has space for me to have friends round, I have really missed this recently, and a  small but adequate garden bed for a kitchen garden including herbs.

I haven't moved yet. I am going though the painful process of trying to sort. There is so much stuff! I also want to get back to Queanbeyan either before i move or soon after.

In all this, while I have tried to maintain my writing the process has become harder and harder when I am trying to manage basic change. There is some writing I must do including the columns, but otherwise I am stopping. I may find some time for more columns here. but if not you will hear from me after I am settled.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reflections on my visit to the 2019 Archibald exhibition

Established in 1921, the Archibald Prize is Australia's oldest and best known award for portraiture in Australian art. The Archibalds are associated with two other prizes: the Sir John Sulman Prize  awarded each year for the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project executed during the previous two years; and the older (established 1897) Wynne Prize  awarded for the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists completed during the previous twelve months.

You will find the 2019 winners and finalists displayed here for the Archibald Prize,  here for the Sulman Prize, here for the Wynne Prize.have a browse and see what you think.

I try to go each year to see the finalists on show at the NSW Art Gallery. Having missed last year, I was determined to make it this year, so trooped of to the Gallery this morning with a friend.
Jun  Chen's Mao's last dancer - Li Cunxin. Not a winner, but my personal favourite. I rarely agree with the judges! 

There were 107 finalists across the three prizes. That's a lot of pieces of art to absorb in often crowded gallery spaces full of generally well behaved school kids. They were very well behaved, but there were a lot of them!

I no longer pretend that I am capable of making fine judgements on the quality of the finalists, but in broad terms I thought that the quality and variety of the Archibald finalists was up on previous years, that of the Wynne and Sulman finalists down.

That's just a personal view. Others may well disagree.

As in previous years, I was struck by the continued presence of what we might call message pieces, where the supplied description of the paintings reflected current popular political and cultural angsts such as feminism, gender roles and differences, Aboriginal rights and dispossession and the environment.

 I don't have a problem with the idea of art as politics, but I would recommend that you look at the art works as art works before reading the descriptions. I have a bad tendency to quickly scan the work and then read the description before looking in detail at the work. I find that this distorts to some degree because the description affects my independent judgement of the work.

Recognising that space for descriptions is limited, I would also like more information about the artist, especially for the Wynne and Sulman prizes where this was noticeably lacking.  I have a particular interest in art and artists connected in some way with the broader New England. This was significantly down this year. I only spotted four such artists. More broadly, and this reflects that fact that I am out of the art scene, I couldn't work out how the artists and styles might fit together.

Perhaps it's just a volume question. There is so much more Australian art now with that it's become a very crowded palate.

If you are in Sydney, do have a look. If outside, browse the links I have above. I plan to go back again and this time spend more time just sitting and looking.  . 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A new project firms up - launching an introductory course on the history of Australia's New England

For the last few months I have been working on a new project, an introductory course on the history of Australia's New England. While in some ways I need a new project like a hole in the head, this one has the advantage that it pushes forward with some of my major writing projects.

I am trying to do it properly. Delivered through U3A Armidale, it is a full semester course involving 16-18 lectures plus some tutorials.

The first course will run over semester 1 to test interest and develop course ware. I would like to make it available externally - a quick initial market test attracted 35 expressions of interest - but am not sure how to do this easily. Any suggestions would be gratefully received!

If you would like to find out more, this post on my history blog provides further details.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Falling out of the zeitgeist

I have often called myself a social analyst and indeed I am. I am also an historian. Over time, my focus has shifted from economic, policy and social analysis to the more historical. That's actually become a bit of a problem.

As a social analyst, I need to be in touch with the current. I have used various techniques to try to achieve this including talking to people, monitoring economic and other statistical data and reading widely including both current media and other people's research and analysis.  I also use other social media including Facebook and Twitter.

Just recently I realised  how badly out of touch I had become. I was listening to an ABC Radio National Program called Stop Everything presented by Beverley Wang and Benjamin Law. The program bills itself in this way: tune in for a savvy, critical look at pop culture and what's in the zeitgeist. Join our panellists each week for a discussion about what they’re reading, watching and listening to.

I have often found the program mildly annoying because the presenters' emphasis on the need for diversity seems really to mean anyone but me, an older heterosexual white guy. I never thought of myself as a "white guy" until quite recently when we became such a target for criticism. Now I have become a racial stereotype. Increasingly, I didn't properly understand what on earth they were talking about in particular segments. Yes, I could understand the words and indeed some of the tropes, Youngest does give me a window into their world, but the detail meant nothing to me.

Around five years ago, my old TV broke down. I was broke at the time and could not afford to replace it.. I decided that watching TV was a bit of a waste of time when I should be reading or writing, that if I wanted to watch a TV program I could look at it on the computer. That decision has had all sorts of side-effects.

I largely stopped using the lounge room. I used to go in there to watch TV some times for a break, sitting comfortably on the lounge. I used to watch TV while ironing or tidying, including sorting books. That stopped. I spent more time at my computer, adding to the curve in my back since I was now watching some TV there in addition to my other computer viewing. And with my size screen you have to sit to watch, you can't wander unless it's a podcast. Most importantly,  I got out of touch.

To explain this, consider Game of Thrones. I have never seen it. Indeed, I have rarely seen Netflix, never Stan. I am not going to subscribe to a streaming service when I have to watch it on my computer at my desk. Equally importantly, I stopped dipping in and out of TV programs in the way that I used to. This is quite important, for that was the way I identified new things, things I might want to watch.

It's not all bad. I have become a significant fan of YouTube even watching the ads! There are some good ones with high production values. I also mine the ABC and SBS sites for specific things I might want to watch. But these choices are all based on my current interests. My knowledge of things such as the prehistoric past has expanded, as has my knowledge of past aspects of Australian culture. However, my knowledge of the current has greatly diminished. I know nothing of most current programs. Yes, I could browse and check, perhaps I should, but I already spend far too much time stuck in front of my computer.

I have, it appears, dropped almost entirely out of the current zeitgeist. Should I rejoin, or should I just accept my new role as a boring old white guy, leaving social analysis to others more in tune? Perhaps not, because I have increasingly come to think of my research and writing as equivalent to an archaeological rescue dig seeking to preserve and present aspects of history, society and culture before they are submerged by the new cultural and historical high-rises. That's not a bad aim.

Still, I do want a new TV.. I hate being out of touch. I miss just sitting on the couch and watching TV. And I think that it helps to know the "enemy." I don't begrudge Beverley and Benjamin their views, nor do I think that those views are evidence of "progressive" bias within the ABC.

To my mind, my cultural warrior friends on the right miss the point in responding because they present stereotypes to match stereotypes. Both right and left go for the big hit, the re-assertion of views that will appeal to their own base and get the other side riled.

Twitter has not helped here because of the way that it has trivialised discussion. I may be unfair, but it seems to me that simply retweeting every story that agrees with your position, sometimes adding divine right pronouncements, is not an aid to discussion. Worse, the time spent is time taken away from substantive discussion that could actually advance the causes in question or, at least, ensure that issues are clarified. The sugar hit of instant response has replaced the hard thought that is really required to develop and present argument.

We live in a cluttered world. How we respond to that is a matter of individual choice. For my part, I will keep trying to make a difference on matters that are important to me, accepting that I may be out of tune with the times. That may sound pretentious, but it is all that I can do, regardless of whatever the current zeitgeists may be.

I ma still going to buy a new TV though!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Passing of Bob Quiggin, 2tanners: a memoir

Regular readers on this blog will be saddened to learn that Bob Quiggin - 2tanners - died in Canberra on 14 June 2019. He was only 61.

Some months before his death Bob emailed me privately to explain that he had a melanoma that had escaped discovery, the prognosis was bad while the combination of pain and medication made it difficult for him to comment coherently. This meant that he might not be able to comment.

In fact he did continue for a period and then, suddenly,.he stopped. I feared the worst.

Bob's email was characteristic of the man. He wanted me to know the reason if he dropped out, but did not want me to tell anyone. He preserved his privacy. At one point I had remarked in a comment that 2 tanners equalled a bob. Bob got quite cranky because he felt that I was breaching his privacy, his ability to comment freely.

Bob and I first met in, I think, early 1984 when he came to work in my branch in the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce.  He had completed a degree in economics at the Australian National University and was completing add-on studies that would give him a degree in Political Science and Philosophy. Later he would complete a Masters of  Science in computing at Deakin University

In thinking of this early period, I tried to find some of the comments where Bob talked about it but without success in the time I had. This blog has attracted 10,000 comments, so searching was time consuming. So my response here is working from memory.

We were trying to find a new approach to industry policy that would break through the mind-deadlock between the old protectionist school, neoclassical economics and the emerging neo-liberal forces. We believed that Australia could have a global future in the new communications,  computing, electronics, system and software based industry areas that were emerging but if, and only if, we could break through the dominant mind-locks. And that was hard.

It was Bob, I think, who coined the term the Belshaviks to describe the group. Later, he would paint a picture of me as a pirate attempting to storm the citadel. There was some truth in that.

After I left Canberra I kept coming back for work and marketing reasons, seeing Bob on many trips. The last time we met was in the early 2000s when Bob helped organise a lunch for the old Branch. That was when I learned about the Belshavik tag!

Meantime, Bob's career had gone in new directions. He moved to Finance. There. among other things, he managed the Solomon Islands' budget as part of the RAMSI mission. Later he would do the same in Timor Leste.. From Finance he moved to Foreign Affairs and Trade and then into the private sector as a consultant specialising in PFM (Public Financial Management). This brought him back  to Timor Leste, this time to help in the health sector.   

I lost contact with Bob after the Branch lunch. We came back into contact during the RAMSI period because Bob discovered this blog. For a time, Bob maintained a blog on the Timor Leste period - I'm sorry, I have lost the link.- which gave a fascinating insight into that country at a very human level. I still laugh at the description of the official emu parade!

In Timor Leste, Bob was actively involved with building Rotary and with Rotary projects. I saw but cannot re-find some of them.

Bob was a lovely man with an active mind and a commitment to service. I am sure that you join with me in sending wishes to Diana and all the family. There will be a memorial service for Bob in Canberra in late July. 

Update 2 July

kvd found the Bob kept on his Adventures in Timor Leste. And he added this comment that I thought that I should bring up in the main post. We did talk a lot about cooking!

 "And it was most remiss of Jim to note tanners' other Masters degree - in cooking - to whit, from February 2016 in this blog:

I take a shinbone of beef and slash it with a sharp knife. In the cuts I insert wild garlic and basil. I take three large onions and cut them as finely as possible, then fry them in strongly flavoured olive oil, with pepper and herbs. I wait till the onions are golden brown and melting, then I add a little Douro Shiraz. I have some thin, delicate prosunto which I also chop finely and add to the gravy that is forming. At some stage, everything starts to bubble together and some one says, "Let's just eat that! It smells so good."

That is a signal. The rest of the bottle of wine goes in, along with two carrots (roughly chopped), a sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped and some pieces of parsnip, along with the beef shin.

The beef shin is covered as much as possible by the mixture, the heat is set to extremely low and for the next four hours the house fills with the smell. It's glorious torture for everyone. The weather is cold (this is always best served in the cold) so I warm up the plates. When the last plate is warm I throw in a handful of snow peas. Two minutes later, I ladle out everything into the plates except the meat. Using gloves so as not to burn myself I strip the meat to the bone. It's so tender I can literally do this with a plastic spoon. That leaves the bone itself. Many love to suck the marrow from the bone, but sometimes the cooking has already done it.

If there is no marrow in the bone, say "Sorry, it's already in your meal." Put the empty bone in the bin. If there is still marrow in the bone say "Sorry, it's already in your meal", zip out the back, suck it out and put the empty bone in the bin. Do NOT get caught doing this.

It is a glorious way to spend an afternoon, with house full of cooking smells and a delicious meal at the end of it.

But, I've told you the old fashioned, really good way. You can get something ALMOST as good with the same ingredients. Fry the onions, pepper and prosunto for a few minutes and throw them and everything else in a slow cooker for six hours while you go out, get some exercise, visit a modern art gallery, write 20 pages of a thesis or do unpaid work for your employer.

This meal has red wine in it and some alcohol remains, but you should always drink strong red wine with it. 

2tanners was a fine contributor who taught me many things, or at least explained exactly how and where I was wrong (on the very odd occasion :)"

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Harry Freame Story

Over the last few months, my Armidale Express history columns have been devoted to the mysterious life and death of Harry Freame, soldier, orchardist and spy.

I have not brought links to all the columns up in a single post on my New England History blog.  I think that it's quite a good yarn. You can follow the whole series through here.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Round the blogging tracks - Matthew's trip to the Middle East, more on Israel Folau

All work and and too little play has made Jim rather a dull chap recently. Both my blogs and my fellow bloggers have been somewhat neglected. It's been a miserable day here in Daceyville,  cold and raining quite heavily, so I thought I should take some time just to browse.

Over on Happy Antipodean, Matthew da Silva reports in detail on his Middle Eastern trip, daily reports with photos. It's quite a long series. Perhaps the best way to navigate is to start at the first day, Abu Dhabi on the outward leg, and then follow through using the side bar. This is easy to do because the posts are all in order.

I have not visited any of the places Matthew mentioned. I found it an interesting series, well illustrated with his photographs, although I learned perhaps more on the vagaries of taxi drivers and street touts than I might have wished! And I got a little lost in the multiple pricing references.

Of the sections, I found Amman, Petra and Istanbul, most interesting, Jerusalem less so, although there were still incidental things of interest. I'm not quite sure why I had this reaction, but the picture I got  was very blurred.

On 20 April 2019 in Problems of employment and free speech - Folau, Ridd and Anderson, I explored in a tentative way the issues raised by Israel Folau's sacking by Rugby Australia because of the way he expressed certain religious views. In a comment, marcellous pointed me to a strange case, Gaynor v Local Court of NSW & Ors [2019] NSWSC 516. The summary reads:
CIVIL PROCEDURE – where plaintiff made application that judge should disqualify himself because of apprehended bias – where plaintiff argued that the judge’s apprehended bias is based on the alleged political views of the judge’s tipstaff – whether the alleged political views of the tipstaff would cause an independent observer to believe that the judge could not or might not bring an independent mind to the task of deciding the case – application dismissed.
I read the case with a degree of bemusement trying to work out what it was all about. Fortunately, marcellous provided a later explanation in Twinks and Tipstaves. I leave it too you to read. It's worth it!

In early June, Winton Bates had a parallel column on the Folau case, Does Israel Folau deserve support from advocates of free speech?  Winton's view was yes, although he was not absolutely convinced by John Stuart Mill’s arguments in On Liberty on the question. Interestingly, ethicist Professor Peter Singer (hardly an advocate for Folau's religious views) also quotes Mill from On Liberty in concluding that the Australian Rugby Union had acted unwisely. In Singer's word, the ARU had "scored an own goal". 

I suspect that Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer Raelene Castle would now share that view. The case has blurred together issues associated with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, including the question of the extent to which an organisation can impose conditions on free speech as part of an employment contract. From a purely practical perspective, it has cost the ARU a key player in the lead-up to the World Cup and has divided a code with so many Pacific Islander players who share Mr Folau's religious views. It has also cost the ARU a fair bit of cash with more expense to come to defend an unfair dismissal claim.

I do not know how all this will play out, but it has been an unfortunate experience.


Mr Folau is really making things difficult for those of us who are concerned with underlying principles with his latest public forays. This is but one example of the latest reports. If he wishes to be a preacher he is entitled to argue his views. One could say that now he has been sacked, the matter is under legal dispute, he can say what he likes. But I do think that he needs to recognise that there are other views. I think that there is a conflict between the preaching role and his role as an ARU employee. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

New England Travels Two: What’s in a Name?

Where and, more importantly, what is this place I call New England? The where is easy enough, the what more difficult. Writing of the work of fellow poet Judith Wright, A D Hope said that New England was an ideal in the heart and mind. That’s true, but as we shall see as we travel, the nature of that ideal has been the subject of much dispute.

In geographical terms, the area covered is Australia’s New England Tablelands and the river valleys that extend from the Tablelands to the north, south, east and west. Defined in this way, we have a natural geographic unit that exists independent of political or administrative boundaries.

This is a large area. From Lake Macquarie in the south to Tweed Heads on the Queensland border is over 700 km (434 miles) by road, from Grafton in the Northern Rivers to Brewarrina on the Barwon River is 716 km (445 miles). To provide an international comparison, by road London to Edinburgh is around 666 km (414 miles, New York to Washington a mere 364km (226 miles). To put this another way, depending upon the precise boundaries adopted, New England at 166,000 plus square kilometres (64,000 square miles) is 25 per cent larger than England.

If that’s where New England is, what is it? This question is not so easy to answer. You see, there is great disagreement about the boundaries, with some going so far as to deny that New England as I have defined it even exists. Certainly, Australian governments with their ever-changing geographic descriptors and administrate boundaries do not recognise the place. Reflecting this, there is disagreement about naming conventions to the point that no-one can agree on a name or even names.

Initially, the area that I call New England was known as the Northern Provinces, the Northern Districts or just the North, Sydney centric terms defined by their relationship to the colonial capital. As European occupation extended north, the use of the terms expanded to fill the occupied space.

The separation of Queensland in 1859 put a new hard border in place. Now Queensland had its own North defined by relationship to Brisbane, the new colonial capital. This created all sorts of perceptual and naming difficulties.

I coined the term border myopia some years ago to describe the way borders affect our thinking, blinding us. Queensland promotes the Granite Belt around Stanthorpe in Southern Queensland as a special, even unique, area with its granite boulders, fruit and cold country wines. This promotion has been a considerable success, for it is a wonderful area. Few realise that the Granite Belt is in fact part of the New England Tablelands. Tenterfield is about 44 minutes by road south of Stanthorpe. Had the border been shifted south just a little bit, Tenterfield would now be the southern part of the Granite Belt and part of Queensland’s successful tourism promotion.

This type of perception problem is reflected in naming conventions. The words “Northern” and “New England” Tablelands are increasingly used as synonyms. In fact, they are different. The Northern Tablelands are defined in relation to Sydney and stop at the Queensland border. The New England Tablelands as a geographical area extends into Queensland to include the Granite Belt.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games provide a second example of the effect of border myopia. Held on Queensland’s Gold Coast, the opening ceremony featured the Yugambeh Aboriginal nation because of its Gold Coast linkages. Less well recognised is that Yugambeh-Bundjalung, also known as Bandjalangic, is the Aboriginal language group that stretched from the north bank of the Clarence into South East Queensland including what is now the Gold Coast. When the Queensland border was created, the hard political line created not only divided Aboriginal groups placing related people under different legal jurisdictions, but also affected the way we see relationships. You cannot write a history of the Aboriginal peoples within Northern New South Wales without addressing cross-border linkages.

Following the creation of Queensland with its own North, the coverage of the terms Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North shrank in New South Wales to the area up to the new political border, setting up its own inconsistencies that have grown with time. You can see this easily if you look at terms in use today.
To begin with, what does the term the North mean? It doesn’t mean all of Northern New South Wales, but actually the north-east of NSW, the territory I call New England. The term Northern New South Wales itself has become very confused.

"Northern New South Wales is a big, fat, subtropical, coconut - and turmeric - laced cliché of heavenliness”,  Valerie Morton wrote in her 2018 book Blame it on the Rain: Life around Byron Bay . Lavishly illustrated with photos, the book is a series of vignettes about beach, bush but mainly locals - with a dash of cane toads, ticks and gold top mushrooms. Did you know that some people lick cane toads because the poison contains a powerful hallucinogenic? That was certainly news to me, although I don’t think that I am going to rush off to find the nearest cane toad!. They are, after all, a poisonous introduced pest that authorities across many parts of Australia are fighting to control.

While Valerie’s book references Northern New South Wales, it is actually about the Northern Rivers, more precisely still that part of it covered by the Byron Shire, even more precisely the town of Mullumbimby and surrounds. This is counter-culture territory. where hippies rub shoulders with wealthy celebrities and socialites attracted by the allure of climate, beaches and fashion. I enjoyed the book, but was struck by the particular and very narrow use of the term Northern New South Wales. This dates to a decision by the Sydney Government for administrative reasons to attach the name Northern NSW to what used to be called the Northern Rivers, a distinct geographic unit made up of the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed river valleys. The end result has been confusion.

This type of naming confusion can be found throughout New England. I have already referred to the Northern as compared to the New England Tablelands. The name North Coast is another example.
Originally the name was attached to the coastal strip from the border to the Hunter Valley. Then came a short gap to the Central Coast, followed by another gap around Sydney and then the South Coast. This at least made a certain sense. Today we have the term Mid North Coast used to describe the area from the Northern Rivers to the Hunter. But where is the South North Coast? Or, indeed, the North Coast itself? It is now hard to say.

But why, in all this, do I use the name New England for the whole area? This name was first attached to the Tablelands by European settlers who saw similarities between the New England Tablelands and home. Some of those settlers with Scottish connections preferred the name New Caledonia, but New England was quickly adopted. Still, the Scottish focus survives today in Glen Innes’s promotion of its past and all things Celtic.

Glen Innes is not alone in celebrating and seeking to capitalise on its Celtic or Scottish connection. Maclean down on the Clarence River is another.

Two quite different groups of Scottish settlers came to the North. One group were relatively wealthy people whose independent means allowed them to build pastoral empires. The homesteads they built remain a feature of New England’s built landscape. The second were Highland people disposed by the troubles and the enclosures, many of whom were brought to Australia by that irascible Presbyterian clergyman John Dunmore Lang, a significant figure in the history of Colonial New England. These Gaelic speakers settled first in the Hunter, but then spread north to the Clarence Valley. For a period, Gaelic was a common language on the streets of the inland Clarence River port of Grafton, along with English, German and the local Aboriginal languages. Grafton had its own Gaelic newspaper. Many Highland settlers also settled at Maclean, just downstream from Grafton. Maclean’s Highland Gathering was founded in 1904 and continues to this day.

I said that John Dunmore Lang was a significant figure in New England Colonial history. He is, in fact, the indirect cause of my use of the name New England, although as a Scot he may have preferred other choices.

Lang was born at Greenock in Scotland on 25 August 1799, the eldest child of small landowner William Lang and his wife Mary Dunmore. Mary was a strong minded woman who had, in the words of Lang’s biographer Don Baker, formidable powers of moral indignation and such capacity for vituperation that in comparison her son's most savage strictures seemed but a mild remonstrance!

Lang trained for the Presbyterian ministry, early displaying that power for work, study and sheer energy that would mark his life. At Glasgow, he came under the influence of the Evangelicals who were beginning to challenge the prevailing order within the Church of Scotland. Dissatisfied with the prevailing system of lay patronage that was anathema to many Evangelicals, Lang looked for new pastures. His younger brother was already in the colony and suggested that it might provide fertile ground for Lang’s preaching. In 1822 Lang sailed for Sydney, arriving in May 1823 as Sydney’s first Presbyterian minister.

Over coming decades, Lang would play a major role in the life of the evolving colony across multiple fields. He was, Don Baker notes, a Presbyterian clergyman, politician, educationist, immigration organizer, historian, anthropologist, journalist, gaol-bird and, in his wife's words engraved on his Sydney statue, 'Patriot and Statesman”.

From our immediate viewpoint, Lang developed the idea of Australia as a federation of multiple colonies. He played an active role in the moves to separate Victoria from New South Wales. That was achieved in 1851. He then turned his attention north, arguing for the separation of the Moreton Bay colony, now Queensland, from New South Wales. That was achieved in 1859. He then turned his attention to the separation of Northern New South Wales. That move failed, although there would be outbreaks of separatist pressure through to the end of the century.

By 1900, the idea that self-government might provide a solution for Northern problems was well established. There was disagreement over boundaries and means, but separation had become a vehicle for channelling Northern resentments.

In the constitutional discussions leading up to Federation, delegates accepted that new states might be created within the new Commonwealth. Separatist agitation was especially strong in Queensland, seeking to subdivide the colony into three states covering the north, centre and south. The new Australian Constitution therefore contained a specific chapter (VI) dealing with the admission of new states, including subdivision of existing states. Those seeking subdivision were to find these constitutional provisions problematic in the extreme because they effectively required existing state governments to agree to subdivision of their territory with consequent loss of power and prestige.

While Queensland was the centre of subdivision agitation at the time of Federation, new state agitation was about to re-emerge in New England, coming in three main waves. Each failed, but left its imprint on Northern history and life.

The first wave began in 1915 in a dispute over the cancelation by the New South Wales Government of the steam ferry (the Helen) linking South Grafton and Grafton across the Clarence River. A large protest meeting convened by the Mayor of South Grafton, Dr Earle Page, quickly turned from the ferry dispute to calls for a new state in Northern New South Wales.

We will come across Earle Page many times in our New England travels. Born at Grafton on 8 August 1880, Page was a brilliant surgeon with a solid business head. He was also energetic, mercurial, sometimes disorganised, overflowing with ideas that could sometimes cross-over each other. The Helen episode marked the start of a public career that in seven years would take Page to the second highest office in the land, Leader of the Country (now National) Party in the Commonwealth Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister.

Driven by Page, agitation spread quickly, but then died down because of the war. In 1919, Page re-launched the separation campaign. Again, agitation spread quickly. The cause was picked up by Victor Thompson, editor of the Tamworth Daily Observer, now the Northern Daily Leader. Thompson launched a press propaganda league to campaign for separation from New South Wales that soon had 120 member newspapers from the Upper Hunter to the border.

 In 1924, political pressures forced the NSW Fuller Government to appoint a Royal Commission (The Cohen Commission) to inquire into the feasibility of new states in New South Wales. The proposed states were a Northern, Riverina and Monaro new state. Premier Sir George Fuller had no intention of acceding to political pressure that might lead to the break-up of New South Wales. The terms of reference were carefully written in such a way as to reduce chances of success by creating a series of barriers that the new state proponents had to pass to obtain a positive result.

The Cohen Commission reported in 1925. It accepted that the country had been disadvantaged, but believed that had now been addressed. It concluded that new states would not be financially viable and that the same objectives could be more effectively achieved through a system of regional councils with decentralised administration. It was a crippling blow, and agitation declined.

 The second wave of agitation began in February 1931, again launched by Page. These were turbulent times. The very fabric of Australian life was fraying under the impact of the Great Depression. Civil war seemed possible. Again, the agitation spread like wildfire, with another movement springing up in the Riverina under the leadership of Charles Hardy.

For the first time, the name New England came to be attached to the broader new state area when, at its 1932 Maitland Convention, the Northern Separation Movement adopted the name New England for the whole area seeking self government. The move made a certain sense. New England was the name of the North’s central geographic feature. It was also a name locationally independent of Sydney. There were now two New Englands: the first the name attached to the area seeking self-government; the second the New England Tablelands, more commonly known just as the New England.

In August 1933, the New South Wales Government appointed a second Royal Commission into new states, the Nicholas Commission. This time the terms of reference were carefully crafted by David Drummond, the member for Armidale and Minister for Education. Drummond had drafted the 1924 motion setting up the Cohen Royal Commission. However, the wording of the motion had given the freedom required to allow Premier Sir George Fuller to slant the terms of reference towards a negative result. Drummond was mortified and was determined that this would not happen again.

I must to pause here to declare a special interest, for David Drummond was my grandfather and helped form my political views. In 1938, Drummond played a key role in the formation of the New England University College. The first lecturer to arrive at the new College was New Zealand born James Belshaw who was to teach economics and history. There he met the first librarian, Drummond’s eldest daughter Edna. They married in 1944. Drummond, cynics remarked, had founded a university to find a husband for his daughter.

Drummond carefully orchestrated the creation of the new Royal Commission. The focus was on the definition of areas in New South Wales suitable for self-government as states within the Commonwealth of Australia . There would be a single commissioner. The terms of reference were discussed with Nicholas to clarify his role.

After an extended series of public hearings that exhausted all involved, Nicholas finally reported in 1935. He found that two areas would be suitable for self-government as States within the Commonwealth of Australia, a northern region, and a central, western and southern region, with descriptions of the boundaries of each region listed. The mother state was consequently significantly reduced in size. A referendum was recommended in each of the proposed areas, with electors informed of the questions at issue, and of facts relating to the advantages and disadvantages of subdivision.

The movement had what it wanted, but not quite. The recommended boundaries of the Northern state included Newcastle and the Lower Hunter. This made sense in many ways. The boundaries were based on watersheds. They included Maitland, the rail head between the Northern and Southern lines, and a functioning port at Newcastle. They reflected economic and historical linkages and added to economic viability. But they also brought into the proposed state the coal and industrial interests in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter whose political affiliations, culture and interests were very different from those in the more agricultural north.

Following the report, Premier Bertram Stevens offered the movement leadership their referendum based on the proposed boundaries. They were in a quandary. Support for separation had declined as the Depression eased. The movement itself was exhausted after the long grind of the Nicholas Commission hearings where, lacking full time staff, they had had to coordinate witnesses and prepare submissions using volunteer labour.

They knew that there would be strong resentment further north at the inclusion of Newcastle, but could see the logic. The previously adopted boundaries had put a line south of Maitland to include the important railhead and the separatist areas in the Upper Hunter, but this cut the Hunter Valley in two. Apart from some campaigning by Drummond in Newcastle in 1931 where he explored the degree of support, there had been no education of Lower Hunter or Newcastle voters. Could they educate them in time? In the end, the leadership decided that the time was not right for a referendum, a decision that they would come greatly  to regret. Separatist agitation now rested
The third new state wave came from a somewhat unexpected source, David Drummond’s son-in-law. As the Second World War began to wind down in 1944, attention turned to post-war reconstruction. There was a creative bubble of new ideas. Belshaw, then normally called Doc and later Prof, did not agree with his father-in-law that new states were an answer, but was committed to decentralisation and Northern development. To his mind, the answer lay in effective regional councils of the type proposed by the Cohen Commission. Along with geology lecturer Alan Voisey, also from the New England University College, Belshaw launched a regional councils’ movement.

As it became clear that the Sydney Government would never give real powers to the proposed regional councils, this movement turned into a revived New England New State Movement. A somewhat bemused Belshaw found himself as secretary of a movement that had gone in a different direction from that planned. Disillusioned with the idea of regional councils as a vehicle for decentralisation, Belshaw now turned to the idea of selective decentralisation, something that would later be picked up at the Australian National University and become the central point of the Whitlam Government’s growth centres strategy.

The revived new state movement re-adopted the name New England and also accepted the Nicholas boundaries, including Newcastle. It had also learned from the past. It knew that with fluctuating popular support, you must have staff to maintain pressure over time. This was done.

Over the 1950s, campaigning was maintained even though the end point still seemed far away. In 1961 a new campaign, Operation Seventh State, was launched culminating in a decision by the newly elected New South Wales Askin Liberal/Country Party Government to grant a plebiscite based on the Nicholas boundaries. The movement was now in the position that it had been in just over twenty years before.

The 1967 plebiscite campaign was a difficult one. The Labor Party was strongly opposed, the Liberal Party officially neutral, while only the Country Party was strongly in support. There was support in Newcastle and the coal fields, but polling showed that people were reluctant to go against Labor Party opposition. Asked if Newcastle should be included if there were a New England new state, a majority said yes. Rephrasing the question to say that Labor opposed separation, are you in favour, the yes vote dropped to 32 per cent.

In the end, the plebiscite was lost 53 per cent to 47 per cent. Newcastle and the coal fields voted solidly no, as did the dairy farming areas of the Hunter and Manning Valleys who were fearful of losing their preferential access to the Sydney milk market. These no votes just offset the high yes vote elsewhere in New England.

There was bitter disappointment. It had been a long and expensive campaign. The movement redrew the boundaries to exclude the Hunter and decided to run new state candidates at the next state election. Many Country Party new state supporters saw this as a betrayal. In the end, the movement collapsed, exhausted, amidst recriminations.

In the years since the 1967 plebiscite, the ideal of New England or the North has declined, lost in the turbulence of continuing social, economic, political and administrative change. And yet, and as we shall see, despite the constant change the basic identity survives, if sometimes like the shadows of the past upon paddocks revealed only by modern archaeological techniques. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Monday Forum - Australia's voted!

I'm still absorbing the election results. What do you think it all means?

As always, feel free to go in any direction (or topic) you want!

Update 21 May 2019

Since discussion is very quiet here, I thought that I would share with you a few short observations on the election. I was going to hold this off pending discussion, but since things are so quiet I will proceed.

When I wrote in February just before the election was called I suggested that there was likely to be a very substantial Labor victory. While things were tightening at the end, I still thought that a Labor victory.was pretty certain. I was not alone in that view. As an analyst, I did place some weight on the polls because they are one reasonably objective measurement, although I have always been aware of the importance of regional variation. In this case, I would have been better off relying on my more subjective feelings based on qualitative material.

Although it's not been discussed, I think that the polls did affect the results. I know that they had some impact on my vote. Expecting a Labor win but concerned that the Coalition parties might be decimated, I did not see this as healthy, I actually voted Liberal in the House of Representatives for the first and probably only time in my life. There, that's a confession. I'm probably not alone.

Over the election, I listened or read the media commentary and reporting. I also followed the social media feeds, if in a somewhat eclectic fashion. I say eclectic because you have my Facebook friends, the various Facebook groups or pages I like  plus the 208 or so people or news outlets I follow on Twitter. And then you have all the retweets and FB repeats. In this you do have a bias towards particular areas and causes including, not surprisingly, a strong New England cohort. But it is much broader than that.

I suppose that the first thing I would say here is that this was a nasty campaign across a number of dimensions. I am not talking so much about negative campaigning by major parties, but the personal attacks that appeared on line. It also had a real bubble feel in that people were clearly talking like to like, assuming that their views were self-evidently right in moral terms. In so doing, they became more convinced, as well as distracted from what might be happening outside their bubble.

I will use the New England campaign to illustrate. Among the candidates I especially followed Adam Blakester (Independent) and Yvonne Langenberg (Labor). I did see some material from Barnaby Joyce (National Party) but wasn't especially following him because I was interested in his competitors and the impact they might have.

The material from Adam or Yvonne or  Rob Oakeshott (Independent, Cowper),  Fiona Leviny (Independent Page) or Nanette Radeck (Katter's Australian Party) was generally issue and campaign focused. And, yes, I did have a particular focus on independents and minor parties. The nastiness I saw came especially from supporters surrounding the campaigns.

 It was perhaps most virulent in New England. Apart from being wearing, I thought that it was distracting.  At one point former member Tony Windsor tweeted; "Gina has opened the cheque book in New England ...The adulterer and Clive Palmer dominating TV ads ...the Independent @adamblakester with a much lower budget but the best ads ...honest , ethical  and integrity his theme." I tweeted in reply: "Tony, this is over the top." Tony replied: "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept Jim . Family values , sanctity of marriage etc , you recall all that nonsense Jim or have you forgotten . If that’s what floats your boat then you have a chance to vote for it".

I was annoyed with myself because I know the back story. including the bitterness between Mr Joyce and Mr Windsor. A little earlier, they had traded tweets threatening legal action against each other. I wanted Mr Windsor to cool it because the attacks on Mr Joyce from he and others were draining the oxygen out of Mr Blakester's campaign. I should have phrased it better, instead adding my own kerosene to the the end, Mr Joyce had a very clear victory, in part because of the reaction of people to the negative campaigning.   

 It's not easy mounting an independent or small party campaign because of the time it takes to build supporting infrastructure. This election was made more complicated because of the multiplicity of parties on the centre right and right.

I followed  school teacher Nanette Radeck's campaign in Herbert over several months  I was interested in her because she had been drawn into politics because she supported self-government for North Queensland. It was clear that she had charisma and was running a solid campaign, if below the radar because of the obsession with One Nation and Clive Palmer. She got no external media coverage until late in the campaign when she was suddenly picked up in the polling.

Nanette had no chance of winning Herbert because of the multiplicity of parties splitting the vote. The six right, centre right minor party candidates in Herbert scored some 28.5 per cent of the vote, but preferences from One Nation and the United Australia Party delivered the seat to the Liberal National Party. On the votes, Nanette could not have won, but the number of candidates made it much harder for her.

One thing about the vote is the way it revealed a gradient from the inner city areas through outer city and regional. The existence of the gradient cam as no surprise, although it was a little larger than I expected. This was a particular problem for Labor. It was caught along several dimensions. It had to balance the need to defend electorates from the Greens. It was caught between the views .of its progressive wing and its traditional working class base. It was also suffering from the need to sell a complex set of policies in a centralised way provided limited room for localisation or local focus.

I think Yvonne's campaign in New England suffered from. One example was the move of the APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority) headquarters to Armidale, something which had become a major external issue, playing into the narrative against Mr Joyce. She hoped that it would be retained, but could not provide any guarantee or offer an alternative development option. I suspect that the need for a university campus might be a second example.

One side effect of all this has been the sudden campaign by senior Labor frontbencher .Joel Fitgibbon for Labor to increase its focus on the regions and on its core working class base.

Mr Fitgibbon had a nasty shock this election when his ultra safe Labor coal mining and agricultural seat of Hunter suddenly swung against him. He will hold the seat, but he saw his vote decline by 14.1 per cent, with the One Nation candidate scoring 21.8 per cent.

This has become a longer note than I intended, but I want to finish with a brief note on the National Party results. Prior to the election there was a fair bit of commentary about the tensions between the Nationals and Liberal Party over issues such as coal mining. There were also problems with water and the Murray Darling Basin and apparent leadership tensions within the Party The return of the independents and the rise of the minor parties were much discussed as threats. There was almost an expectation that the Nationals might be reduced to a rump.          .

.In the end, the Nationals held all their seats. I think that there a number of reasons for this, including failures in the independent campaigns, something I might come back to later. For the moment, I just wonder if the greater freedom of National party members to campaign on local issues might not be one of the reasons for the Party's apparent success.